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Fed’s Dilemma: Debt-to-GDP Ratios Dramatically Understate the Debt Problem

Reader Lars writes Debt-to-GDP ratios understate the true nature of the problem. He uses Greece as an example.

Reader Lars from Oslo, the capital of Norway, and a long-time reader of this blog, questions the widespread use of debt-to-GDP as the true measure of the debt problems of a country.

Hello Mish

As we approach the next debt crisis it’s time to ask some questions.

The widespread measurement of the debt problems of a country is DEBT as a percentage of GDP.

Few analysts question this ratio. But this is how I see things.

GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + Net Exports.

In simpler terms, GDP is the sum of the private sector plus the public sector plus the net trade balance.

However, only the Private Sector pays taxes and that is what enables debt service. In fact, the private sector must service its own debt as well as that of the public sector.

Thus, a better metric to measure debt levels is private sector GDP as reflected in tax income. This tells us the true brutal story of the debt problem.

Using Greece as an example, the real public debt is over 300% of GDP. Given that Greece’s private sector is less than 50% of GDP, the brutal reality is that Greece has a debt level which is over 600% of Private Sector GDP.

The Greek state takes in around €65 billions in tax. This is approximately 10% of total debts.

During the previous Greek debt crisis, economists noted that Greek debt was less than 2% of global debt.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not going to service the Greek debt. The Greek taxpayer will service the Greek debt, and for him the bill is insurmountable.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Canadian Banks See Mortgage Growth Stall As Interest Rates Rise

As anybody who was around for the housing collapse will remember, nothing bursts a bubble in home prices faster than rising mortgage rates. And while US home prices have surpassed their pre-crisis peak, Canadian home prices have risen much more quickly than home prices in the US, and what’s more, they didn’t see nearly as large of a pullback during the crisis.

Housing

Instead, they’ve ridden a wave of hot foreign money to all time highs…

Canada

…in the process, leaving housing and construction as one of the focal points of the Canadian economy.

But in the latest sign that home prices could be due for a pullback, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank reported that mortgage lending fell sharply during the fiscal second quarter, compared with a year earlier.

However, a spike in business lending has helped soften the blow to the bank’s bottom line.

But yields on 10-year Canadian bonds have moved higher since the end of last quarter, meaning mortgages would be more expensive now than then.

Business

One analyst said it’s good that the banks are finding more business customers, because with the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, Canadian banks shouldn’t rely on growth from the consumer end.

“It’s really a favorable macro-economic environment in Canada and the U.S. right now that’s driving really healthy business demand,” Shannon Stemm, an analyst with Edward Jones & Co., said in a phone interview.

“It’s a smart pivot for some of these banks to really focus in on their efforts on the business side when you think about the looming risks and the fact that they’re potentially not getting credit for the growth on the consumer side.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up

I’ve said the title of this issue a few times before in The 10th Man, here and here. When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates.

Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates.

Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out.There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up. As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out.

I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. I wrote about it in The Daily Dirtnap. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week:

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream.

Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

When interest rates rise in the US, it makes US securities more attractive relative to emerging markets, and capital flows reverse—which is exactly what is happening today. Emerging markets happen to be the most leveraged player when it comes to US rates. But let’s talk about some more obvious examples.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Summer Of Disappointments Will Lead To An Extended Economic Crash

A Summer Of Disappointments Will Lead To An Extended Economic Crash

The summer season is often about renewed hope and revelry in comfort, and this goes for economic comfort as much as anything else. In parallel to the old tale of The Ant And The Grasshopper, we are all tempted to act like the grasshopper, forget about the trials and tribulations of the world and take a vacation from awareness.

I am seeing quite a lot of this in the past month as mounting global tensions appear to have subsided. But appearances can be deceiving…

I am reminded of the summer of 2008 when those of us in alternative economic analysis were warning of the overwhelming evidence of a debt based deflationary disaster. There seemed to be widespread complacency back then as well. September finally struck and reality began to sink in, and the rest is a history we are still dealing with to this day. Right now, economic optimism is desperately clinging to news headlines rather than data fundamentals, but this can just as easily sink markets as it can keep them artificially afloat.

Consider the numerous powder keg events coming our way over the next few months and what they will mean for economic sentiment if they go the wrong way.

Federal Reserve Meeting June 12-13

The next week will be packed with public statements from various Fed officials which may hint at how aggressive the central bank will be for the rest of the year in its tightening program. However, I think I can guess rather easily what they will do. The Fed has been sticking to its policy of interest rate hikes and balance sheet cuts as I predicted they would for the past couple years. Nothing has changed under new Fed chairman Jerome Powell.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Rigged Stock Market Is Guaranteed to Crash Again, But When?

In this podcast, I talk about monetary policy as a whole – why I think its insane and why our current policy ensures that we are going to have another financial crisis much larger than the one we had in 2008. I talk about how the Fed is making problems worse by selectively bailing out companies and I give examples of actual free markets. If the stock market is just guaranteed to always go up and guys like Warren Buffett predict the Dow is just going to keep going to 1,000,000, is that really a market – or is it one of the biggest long cons in history? Hint: it’s the latter.

 

America’s long-term challenge #3: destruction of the currency

America’s long-term challenge #3: destruction of the currency

On April 2, 1792, George Washington signed into law what’s commonly referred to as the Mint and Coinage Act.

It was one of the first major pieces of legislation in the young country’s history… and it was an important one, because it formally created the United States dollar.

Under the Act, the US dollar was defined as a particular amount of copper, silver, or gold. It wasn’t just a piece of paper.

A $10 “eagle” coin, for example, was 16.04 grams of pure gold, whereas a 1 cent coin was 17.1 grams of copper.

The ratios between gold, silver, and copper were all fixed back then.

But if we apply today’s gold price of $1292 per troy ounce, we can see that the current value of the original dollar as defined by the Mint and Coinage Act of 1792 is roughly $66.75.

In other words, the dollar has lost 98.5% of its value since 1792.

What’s incredible about this constant, steady destruction of the currency is how subtle it is.

Few people seem to notice, because modern day central bankers try to “manage” inflation between 2% to 3% per year.

2% to 3% per year is pretty trivial. But it happens again the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

After a decade or so, it really starts to add up.

But there’s an important, other side of the equation: income.

Costs are clearly rising. And it’s fair to say that incomes have been rising too. But which one has risen more?

In 1982, back when I was a toddler, the price of a Ford Mustang was $6,572. Today the cheapest Mustang starts at $25,680 according to Ford’s website.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Debt Deflation Italian Style

New York – This week The IRA will be at the MBA Secondary Market Conference & Expo, as always held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.  The 8th floor reception and bar is where folks generally hang out.  Attendees should not miss the panel on mortgage servicing rights at 3:00 PM Monday.  We’ll give our impressions of this important conference in the next edition of The Institutional Risk Analyst.

Three takeaways from our meetings last week in Paris:  First, we heard Banque de France Governor Villeroy de Galhau confirm that the European Central Bank intends to continue reinvesting its portfolio of securities indefinitely.  This means continued low interest rates in Europe and, significantly, increasing monetary policy divergence between the EU and the US.

Second and following from the first point, the banking system in Europe remains extremely fragile, this despite happy talk from various bankers we met during the trip.  The fact of sustained quantitative easing by the ECB, however, is a tacit admission that the state must continue to tax savings in order to transfer value to debtors such as banks.  Overall, the ECB clearly does not believe that economic growth has reached sufficiently robust levels such that extraordinary policy steps should end.

Italian banks, for example, admit to bad loans equal to 14.5 percent of total loans. Double that number to capture the economic reality under so-called international accounting rules.  Italian banks have packaged and securitized non-performing loans (NPLs) to sell them to investors, supported by Italian government guarantees on senior tranches. These NPL deals are said to be popular with foreign hedge funds, yet this explicit state bailout of the banks illustrates the core fiscal problem facing Italy.

And third, the fact of agreement between the opposition parties in Italy means that the days of the Eurozone as we know it today may be numbered.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This Federal Policy Enabled the Fracking Industry’s $280 Billion Loss

This Federal Policy Enabled the Fracking Industry’s $280 Billion Loss

Most people probably aren’t familiar with the acronym ZIRP. It stands for zero interest rate policy and is the policy that unintentionally created the American fracking bubble — just one of its many consequences.

And while most people may not know much (if anything) about ZIRP or the Federal Reserve (Fed), it is likely that they are aware of the impact this policy has on their own lives.

Do you have money in your checking account? Are you lucky enough to have savings? Have you noticed how you don’t make any interest on that money and haven’t for almost 10 years?

You can thank the Fed and ZIRP for that. One of the results of the Fed’s zero interest rate policy is that the average American saver ends up with close to zero interest on their money in the bank. This is one of the reasons that ZIRP is often described as a wealth transfer from American savers to debtors. Because the shale industry is deeply in debt, these companies directly benefit from this arrangement.

Below is a chart of rates for certificates of deposit (CD) since 1980 — historically a safe investment that gave people a decent return on their savings.

Since 2010,  if you put your money in a CD, you would not even be keeping up with inflation due to the low interest rate. That isn’t supposed to be how it works.

And as this next chart shows, historically that hasn’t been how it works. The graph below is the federal funds rate since 1950 (this is the interest rate that banks charge each other to lend excess cash overnight). It’s very clear that starting in 2008, the chart flatlined (due to ZIRP) and stayed that way for years — something that had not happened before.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Weekly Commentary: Disequilibrium

Weekly Commentary: Disequilibrium

Much to the consternation of our allies, President Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal. WTI crude adds another 1.5% (up 17% y-t-d) this week to the high since November 2014. Iran and Israel moved closer to direct military confrontation. With even 40% rates unable to staunch the bleeding, a stunned Argentine government warily negotiates an IMF bailout. Italy’s far right and far left parties – both populist, anti-establishment, anti-euro and anti-immigration – begin negotiations to form a coalition government. Malaysians elect 92-year old Mahathir Mohamad, ending the 60-year reign of the Barisan Nasional party (including Mahathir as prime minister between 1981 and 2003).

Some astounding developments, but not enough these days to shake financial markets. Why fret a complex and increasingly unstable world, not with the timely return of Goldilocks. She’s back… Headline U.S. April CPI was up 0.2% vs. expectations of 0.3%. Core CPI was up only 0.1% against expectations of 0.2%. April Import Prices were up 0.3% vs. estimates of 0.5%. Forget surging energy prices, rather quickly the rosy narrative shifts to peak inflation.

May 11 – Reuters (Howard Schneider): “St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard on Friday spelled out the case against any further interest rate increases, saying rates may already have reached a ‘neutral’ level that is no longer stimulating the economy… ‘We should be opening the champagne here,’ not raising interest rates with unemployment low and inflation in no seeming danger of accelerating, Bullard said… ‘The economy is operating quite well right now.'”

I suggest the Fed and global central bankers hold back on carting out the bubbly. “Opening the champagne” is reminiscent of Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince’s summer of 2007 “still dancing.” Bullard focuses on traditional yield curve analysis. “I would say the yield curve inversion is getting close to crunch time.” “The yield curve inversion would be a bearish signal for the US economy if that develops.”
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

BIG BANG is Here and Ticking

QUESTION:  Dear Marty,
due to 5,000-year lows in interest rates, in 2011 the US was able to triple the debt but keep the payments the same as in 1998. With interest rates rising (but still historically low) in 2017 the US paid the highest interest payment on the debt in history. Could you please elaborate on that?

Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Kind regards,
M

ANSWER: This is going to be a major topic at the WEC. This is a major time bomb that amazingly nobody seems to be paying attention to. Rates are going higher for they need that to help the pension crisis. The USA is nowhere as bad as it appears in Europe from a debt perspective. This whole mess is going to explode in our face and this is going to be the serious trend going into the next ECM turning point.

The debts of governments around the globe are going to move up exponentially. This is very serious for some will raise taxes to try to keep the game going but that will cause even more deflation. I cannot express how SERIOUS this is. While everyone is looking at the stock market, others at the dollar and gold, they are missing the greatest threat to civilization since the 12th century.

Interest rates began to rise as soon as we passed the peak in this 8.6-year was – 2015.75. The Fed raised interest rates for the first time once the ECM turned.

The number of institutions calling and governments has been rising ever since the ECM turned. This is not going to get better and it is not going to just fade away. Sorry, if we keep our eyes closed and even hide under the bed, it will not matter.

EM FX Plunges: Argentine Peso Re-Crashes, Turkish Lira Tumbles To Record Low

Just hours after Fed Chair Jay Powell implied that ’emerging markets are on their own’, EM FX is re-collapsing…

with Argentina (despite a 1275bp rate hike) and Turkey both crashing to new record lows…

“There is good reason to think that the normalization of monetary policy in advanced economies should continue to prove manageable for EMEs,” Powell said, adding that “markets should not be surprised by our actions if the economy evolves in line with expectations.

So much for the unprecedented Argentina rate-hike and Treasury Minister’s reassuring comments last week…

How much more can BCRA do? They have a scheduled meeting today.

“If the ARS remains under pressure and continues to drift upward we do not rule out further rate hikes at the scheduled May 8 meeting, or even ahead of it,” Goldman Sachs said

Goldman expects central bank to reiterate it is “ready to do more to anchor the currency and inflation expectations (preserve a hiking bias) and to signal that monetary policy will remain very tight for as along as needed”

Bloomberg reports that Argentina’s central bank sold Lebacs due in June in the secondary market at 40%, according to two people with direct knowledge (it used these notes last week to signal commitment to tighter monetary policy).

And the Turkish Lira broke above 4.3 per USD – weakest on record – and is now down 7 days in a row…

 

And as we detailed earlier, as for the indicator that markets should keep an eye on to decide when it’s time to panic, we reported yesterday that Bank of America is keeping an eye on one specific catalyst for imminent contagion: “EM FX never lies and a plunge in Brazilian real toward 4 versus US dollar is likely to cause deleveraging and contagion across credit portfolios.”

 

Fed Chair Powell To Emerging Markets: You Are On Your Own

Over the weekend, when commenting on the ongoing rout in emerging markets, Bloomberg published an article titled “Rattled Emerging Markets Say: It’s Over to You, Central Bankers.” Well, overnight the most important central banker of all, Fed Chair Jay Powell responded to these pleas to “do something”, and it wasn’t exactly what EMs – or those used to being bailed out by the Fed – wanted to hear.

As Powell explained, speaking at a conference sponsored by the IMF and Swiss National Bank in Zurich on Tuesday the Fed’s gradual push towards higher interest rates shouldn’t be blamed for any roiling of emerging market economies – which are well placed to navigate the tightening of U.S. monetary policy. In other words, with the Fed’s monetary policy painfully transparent, Powell’s message to EM’s was simple: “you are on your own.

Arguing that the Fed’s decision-making isn’t the major determinant of flows of capital into developing economies (which, of course, it is especially as the Fed gradually reverses the biggest monetary experiment in history) Powell said the influence of the Fed on global financial conditions should not be overstated, despite Bernanke taking the blame five years ago for the so-called taper tantrum.

“There is good reason to think that the normalization of monetary policy in advanced economies should continue to prove manageable for EMEs,” Powell said, adding that “markets should not be surprised by our actions if the economy evolves in line with expectations.

Powell’s comments were enough to propel the dollar to new highs…

… in the process slamming the EM complex, which as shown below has been a bloodbath over the past month and explains the escalating rout among emerging markets. Powell’s remarks came amid growing concerns about emerging markets and ongoing dollar strength. As shown above, the dollar has soared against most developing-nation currencies in the past month.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is the US Exporting a Recession?

  • The Federal Reserve continue to raise rates as S&P earnings beat estimates
  • The ECB and BoJ maintain QE
  • Globally, corporations rely on US$ financing, nonetheless
  • Signs of a slowdown in growth are clearer outside the US

After last week’s ECB meeting, Mario Draghi gave the usual press conference. He confirmed the continuance of stimulus and mentioned the moderation in the rate of growth and below-target inflation. He also referred to the steady expansion in money supply. When it came to the Q&A he revealed rather more:-

It’s quite clear that since our last meeting, broadly all countries experienced, to different extents of course, some moderation in growth or some loss of momentum. When we look at the indicators that showed significant, sharp declines, we see that, first of all, the fact that all countries reported means that this loss of momentum is pretty broad across countries.

It’s also broad across sectors because when we look at the indicators, it’s both hard and soft survey-based indicators. Sharp declines were experienced by PMI, almost all sectors, in retail, sales, manufacturing, services, in construction. Then we had declines in industrial production, in capital goods production. The PMI in exports orders also declined. Also we had declines in national business and confidence indicators.

I quote this passage out of context because the entire answer was more nuanced. My reason? To highlight the difference between the situation in the EU and the US. In Europe, money supply (M3) is growing at 4.3% yet inflation (HICP) is a mere 1.3%. Meanwhile in the US, inflation (CPI) is running at 2.4% and money supply (M2) is hovering a fraction above 2%. Here is a chart of Eurozone M3 since 1999:-

EU M3 Money Supply

Source: Eurostat

The recent weakening of momentum is a concern, but the absolute level is consistent with a continued expansion.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Russell Napier: The Rising Dollar Will Trigger The Next “Systemic Banking Crisis”

Fresh off his successful call earlier this year that the US dollar would strengthen in the coming months, macroeconomic strategist and market historian Russell Napier joined MacroVoices host Erik Townsend to discuss why he favors deflation and why he has such a bullish view on the US dollar.

Echoing David Tepper’s concerns that the equity highs for the year might already be in, and that a 10-year yield above 3.25% could lead to market chaos, Napier said he sees interest rates rising sharply in the coming months as the dollar strengthens – a phenomenon that will push the US back into deflation.

Napier’s thesis relies on one simple fact: With the Fed and foreign buyers pulling back, who will step into the breach and buy Treasurys?

The answer is – unfortunately for anybody who borrows in dollars – nobody. In fact, the Fed is expected to allow $228 billion in Treasury debt to roll off its balance sheet this year.

Fed

This “net sell” will inevitably lead to higher interest rates in the US, as well as a stronger dollar. And once the 10-year yield reaches the 4% area, signs of stress that could be a lead up to a global “credit crisis” could start to appear.

We know what the Federal Reserve plans to sell this calendar year, $228 billion. We know what the rise in global foreign reserves is, and about 64% of that will flow into the United States’ assets. Slightly less of that will flow into Treasuries. $228 billion, at the current rate at which foreign reserves are accumulating, we are not going to see foreign central bankers offsetting the sales from the Fed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Effects of Monetary Pumping on the Real World

Effects of Monetary Pumping on the Real World

As long time readers know, we are looking at the economy through the lens of Austrian capital and monetary theory (see here for a backgrounder on capital theory and the production structure). In a nutshell: Monetary pumping falsifies interest rate signals by pushing gross market rates below the rate that reflects society-wide time preferences; this distorts relative prices in the economy and sets a boom into motion – which is characterized by widespread malinvestment of scarce capital and over-consumption; eventually, the distorted capital structure proves unsustainable – interest rates begin to rise, and boom turns to bust. Many businessmen belatedly realize that the accounting profits of the boom were an illusion – in reality, capital was consumed. Many as yet unfinished investment projects have to be abandoned, as they either turn out to be unprofitable at higher rates and/or the resources needed to complete them are lacking.

When capital runs short: several of countless housing developments in Spain which had to be abandoned when the bust of 2007-2009 started. The image on the right hand side shows a Spanish construction machinery graveyard in 2010. Money supply growth in the US and the euro area exploded after the turn of the millennium, as central banks pumped heavily to combat the demise of the tech boom. In the process they egged on an even more dangerous bubble in real estate. In their great wisdom they have now replaced the expired real estate boom with an even larger, more comprehensive bubble in everything.

Below we show updates of a chart that depicts the effect of money supply and interest rate manipulation on the capital structure. The caveat to this is that such statistical data have to be viewed with a critical eye: one must always to ask to what extent the economy is actually amenable to “measurement” – often such aggregated data obscure more than they reveal.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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