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Why Fed Chair Powell is a Laughingstock

Why Fed Chair Powell is a Laughingstock

Fake Work

Clarity.  Simplicity.  Elegance.  These fundamentals are all in short supply.  But are they in high demand? As far as we can tell, hardly a soul among us gives much of a rip about any of them.  Instead, nearly everyone wants things to be more muddled, more complicated, and more crude with each passing day.  That’s where the high demand is.

One can always meet the perils of overweening bureaucracy with pretend happiness… [PT]

For example, executing and delivering work in accordance with the terms and conditions of a professional services contract these days is utterly dreadful.  The real work is secondary to fake work, trivialities, and minutia.  Superfluous paperwork and an encumbrance of mandatory web-based tools are immense time and capital sucks.

While each T & C may have been developed for one good reason or another, over time, they’ve piled up into something that’s an unworkable mess.  But like tax law, or local zoning codes, they must be followed with arduous rigor.

Crushing futility… [PT]

What’s more, many livelihoods depend on all the fake work that’s now built into what should be a simple contract.  Auditors, contract administrators, accountants, MBAs, spreadsheet jockeys, risk managers, and many other fake professionals, run about with rank importance.  What would happen to these plate spinners if the fake work disappeared?

Without all the unnecessary rigmarole, the unemployment rate would quadruple overnight.  Hence, like fake money, fake work is piled on by the boatload to stimulate the need for more fake work.  And like a handshake agreement – or sound money – the return to an era of greater clarity, simplicity, and elegance is mere wishful thinking.

Plotted Dots

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

Unsolicited Advice to Fed Chair Powell

Unsolicited Advice to Fed Chair Powell

American businesses over the past decade have taken a most unsettling turn.  According to research from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, as of November 2018, non-financial corporate debt has grown to more than $9.1 trillion [ed note: this number refers to securitized debt and business loans, other corporate liabilities would add an additional $11 trillion for a total of $20.5 trillion].

US non-financial corporate debt takes flight – the post 2008 crisis trajectory is breath-taking, to say the least [PT]

What is the significance of $9.1 trillion?  And what are its looming repercussions?  Here, for your edification, we’ll take a moment to properly characterize this number.

For one, non-financial corporate debt of $9.1 trillion is nearly half of real U.S. gross domestic product.  Hence, the realization of profits by private businesses has required a substantial accumulation of debt.  And this debt, like much of today’s outstanding debt, is shaping up to be reckoned with at the worst possible time.

Remember, when corporate debt is increasing faster than profits, it is like a plucked tomato sitting on a store shelf.  It goes bad with little notice.  Frank Holmes, by way of Forbes, offers the grim particulars:

This by now slightly dated chart shows the upcoming wall of maturities in junk bonds and leveraged loans as of mid 2017 – n.b., this doesn’t even include BBB-rated liabilities, which represent the by far biggest potential concern (“Titans’ debt” refers to the debt maturity profiles of the companies carrying the largest securitized debt in absolute terms, such as e.g. AT&T). [PT]

But that is not all…

Compounding Dishonesty

Whereas $9.1 trillion of non-financial corporate debt is nearly half of real U.S. GDP.  And whereas this $9.1 trillion of non-financial corporate debt is the junkiest corporate debt ever seen.  This $9.1 trillion of non-financial corporate debt is nearly double what it was just moments before the financial system exploded a decade ago.

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

As the Madness Turns

As the Madness Turns

A Growing Gap

The first quarter of 2019 is over and done.  But before we say good riddance.  Some reflection is in order.  To this we offer two discrete metrics.  Gross domestic product and government debt.

US nominal GDP vs total federal debt (in millions of USD) – government debt has exceeded  total economic output for the first time in Q4 2012 and since then its relative growth trajectory has increased – and it seems the gap is set to widen further. [PT]

GDP for the quarter, as estimated by the March 29 update to the New York Fed’s GDP Nowcast, grew at an annualized rate of 1.3 percent.  For perspective, annualized GDP growth of 1.3 percent is akin to getting a 1.3 percent annual raise.  Ask any working stiff, and they’ll tell you… a 1.3 percent raise is effectively nothing.

By comparison, the U.S. budget deficit for fiscal year 2019 is estimated to hit roughly $1.1 trillion.  This amounts to an approximate 5 percent increase of the current $22.2 trillion national debt.  In other words, government debt is increasing about 3.85 times faster than nominal GDP, which is about $21 trillion.

These two metrics offer a rough perspective on the state of the economy.  Deficit spending is grossly outpacing economic growth.  Heavy treatments of fiscal stimulus are being applied.  Yet the economy’s practically running in place.  In short, the state of the economy is not well.

A case of restricted maneuverability…  [PT]

And as the economy slows and then slips into reverse later this year, and as Washington then applies more fiscal stimulus, these two metrics will move even further towards madness.  What’s more, the Fed is gearing up to promote this greater state of madness in any and every way possible…

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

One Day the Volcano Will Erupt – Precious Metals Supply and Demand

One Day the Volcano Will Erupt – Precious Metals Supply and Demand

Keynesian Rot

The prices of the monetary metals rose $11 and ¢27 last week. The supply and demand fundamentals is the shortest section of this Report [ed note: we are excerpting the supply-demand section for Acting Man – readers interested in the other part of the report can find it here].

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 – prior to the cataclysmic event, numerous small earth quakes and steam venting from fissures warned that something big was about to happen, even if no-one suspected the actual magnitude of the outbreak. The eruption was so powerful that a fairly large chunk of the mountain went missing in the proceedings. There are always accidents waiting to happen out there somewhere, and the modern-day fiat money system is clearly one of them. There will be warning signals before it keels over – in fact, the final cataclysm usually happens fairly quickly, while the period that leads up to it tends to be a drawn-out affair. [PT]

This is because the actual data can be seen in a simple chart for each metal. If central banks were really buying mass quantities of gold in anticipation of a new gold-based global monetary system, or India were really importing all marketable gold, or the mainstream American public were desperately trading its dollars for gold, or China were really buying up all the physical gold to prepare for a gold-backed yuan (while selling paper gold, natch)…

…then the data would show this.

Mount Saint Helens was quiescent for a long time, until all of a sudden in 1980 it went wild with activity. There was an earthquake, then steam venting, then the side of the mountain began to bulge, then a second earthquake triggered that side to collapse. Then the volcano finally exploded.

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

Extrapolating The Recent Past Can Be Hazardous To Your Wealth

Extrapolating The Recent Past Can Be Hazardous To Your Wealth

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” remarked George Santayana over 100 years ago.  These words, as strung together in this sequence, certainly sound good.  But how to render them to actionable advice is less certain.

George Santayana – purveyor of eminently quotable wise words by the wagon-load, but what shall one do with them in practice? [PT]

Aren’t some facets of the past – like the floppy disk – not worth remembering?  And aren’t others – like a first taste of romance – worth repeating… if only it were possible?

Where investing is concerned, remembering the past – and discerning what to make of it – can actually be a handicap.  Where does the past begin?  How does it influence the future?  How does one invest one’s capital accordingly?

These are today’s questions.  What follows, with purpose and intent, is an attempt to scratch out an answer.  Where to begin?

Many investment gurus in the early 1980s were predicting the future while projecting the past.  After a decade of raging price inflation, the popular dogma was to pack one’s portfolio with gold coins, fine art, and antiques.  This was the proven, surefire way to preserve hard earned wealth.

The United States, remember, was just a year or two away from going full Weimar Republic circa 1921-23.  The dollar was going to quickly turn to hyper-inflationary ash, like conifer trees in a California wildfire.  Everyone just knew it.  You could darn near count down the days.

Right On The Money

Conventional wisdom, when it comes to the economy, markets, and investing, eventually leads to trouble.  While everyone is busy watching the status quo unfold with Swiss watch like precision, the conditions that first brought this state of affairs to fruition subtly changes.  Yet almost no one takes notice.

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

Incrementum Inflation Signal Update – A Reversal To “Rising Inflation”

Incrementum Inflation Signal Update – A Reversal To “Rising Inflation”

Introductory Remarks by PT

We have discussed the proprietary Incrementum Inflation Indicator in these pages on previous occasions, but want to quickly summarize its salient features again. It is a purely market-based indicator, this is to say, its calculation is based exclusively on market prices and price ratios derived from market prices.

However, contrary to most measures of inflation expectations, the Incrementum Inflation Signal is not primarily focused on yield differentials, such as is e.g. the case with 5-year breakeven inflation rates.

The 5-year breakeven inflation rate is derived from the differential between 5-year treasury note yields and 5-year TIPS yields. Interestingly, it has recently begun to tick up as well after declining sharply for several months.

The Incrementum Inflation Indicator instead focuses on the prices of traditional inflation beneficiaries (several of them are mentioned below), many of which tend  to lead CPI by a considerable margin.

The indicator has recently switched from “falling” to “rising inflation”, which has important implications for investors. Below follows the official announcement of the shift by our friends Mark J. Valek and Ronald-Peter Stoeferle, the co-managers of the Incrementum fund family.

The Incrementum Inflation Signal Reverses – by Mark J. Valek and Ronald-Peter Stoeferle

Growing Concerns About Economic Growth

As of the beginning of January, our proprietary inflation indicator has switched from “FALLING INFLATION” to a full blown “RISING INFLATION” signal.

The reversal was triggered by the latest development in the gold/silver-ratio, which has weakened from 87 to currently 83. Moreover, gold mining stocks (HUI) broke out vs. the broad equity market (SPX) and gold itself also switched to a long signal. Only the broad commodity market (BCOM) still shows a somewhat lackluster performance, but seems to be in the process of building a base as well.

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

Washington’s Latest Match Made In Hell

Washington’s Latest Match Made In Hell

Almost Predictable

One of the more enticing things about financial markets is not that they’re predictable.  Or that they’re not predictable.  It’s that they’re almost predictable… or at least they seem they should be.

For a long time people believed – and from what we read and hear, many still do – that economic cycles move in easily predictable, regular time periods. All you had to do was create a chart of the up and down waves of your favorite cycle model and extrapolate it into the future, and presto, your prediction was ready to be sold. But it turns out it is not that simple. The chart above was published by the “Inflation Survival Letter” in the late 1970s and purported to show the future trend of the so-called Kondratiev Wave, a cycle invented by Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratiev (who was eventually deported to the GULAG and killed by the Stalin regime, after a fellow American economics professor denounced him to the communists in Moscow as a “counter-revolutionary”). Interestingly, their forecast of the trend in wholesale prices turned out to be correct, but everything else they predicted in this context was incorrect. According to the K-Wave theory, the year 2000 was supposed to have been the trough of a major economic depression, with extremely high unemployment, a plunging stock market and all the other symptoms associated with a giant bust. In reality, the year 2000 was the peak of a major boom, with unemployment almost reaching a record low and stock prices soaring to unprecedented valuations. There was a time when the seeming elegance and simplicity of models like Kondratiev’s had our attention as well. There are ways of rationalizing such models.

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

Drain, drain, drain…

Drain, drain, drain…

Money from thin air going back whence it came from – circling the drain of a ‘no reinvestment’ black hole strategically placed in its way by the dollar-sucking vampire bat Ptenochirus Iagori Powelli.

Our friend Michael Pollaro recently provided us with an update of outstanding Fed credit as of 26 December 2018. Overall, the numbers appear not yet all that dramatic, but the devil is in the details, or rather in the time frames one considers.

The pace of the year-on-year decrease in net Fed credit has eased a bit from the previous month, as the December 2017 figures made for an easier comparison – but that is bound to change again with the January data. If one looks at the q/q rate of change, it has accelerated rather significantly since turning negative for good in April of last year.

Below are the most recent money supply and bank lending data as a reminder that   “QT” indeed weighs on money supply growth rates. It was unavoidable that the slowdown in money supply growth would have an impact on asset prices and eventually on economic activity.

Note that in the short to medium term, the effects exerted by money supply growth rates are far more important than any of the president’s policy initiatives, whether they are positive (lower taxes, fewer regulations) or negative (erection of protectionist trade barriers). The effects of changes in money supply growth are also subject to a lag, but in this case the lag appears to be over.

Any effects seemingly triggered by “news flow” are usually only of the very short term knee-jerk variety, and they are often anyway the opposite of what one would normally expect – particularly in phases when news flow actually lags market action (see the recent case of disappointingly weak PMI and ISM data). The primary trend cannot be altered by these short term gyrations.

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

 

The Recline and Flail of Western Civilization and Other 2019 Predictions

The Recline and Flail of Western Civilization and Other 2019 Predictions

Darts in a Blizzard

Today, as we prepare to close out the old, we offer a vast array of tidings.  We  bring words of doom and despair.  We bring words of contemplation and reflection.  And we also bring words of hope and sunshine.

Famous stock market investment adviser Field Marshal D. Trump [PT]

After all, the New Year’s nearly here.  What better time than now to turn over a new leaf?  New dreams, new directions, and new delusions, are all before us like a patch of ripe strawberries.  Today’s the day to make a double-fisted grab for all of them – and more.

Rest assured, 2019 will be the year that everything happens precisely as it should.  Some good.  Some bad.  Indeed, each day shall unfold before you in symbiotic disharmony.  You can count on it.

But what else?  What are the essential anticipations as we embark on a new voyage around the sun?  What about stocks, the 10-Year Treasury note, gold, and everything else?  Are we fated for complete societal breakdown?  Will this be the year the Fed put finally bites the dust?

Today we attempt to answer these questions – and many others – with meekness and modesty.  Predicting the future, like Fed monetary policy, is primarily guesswork.  But unlike the Fed, we acknowledge we’re merely throwing darts in a blizzard.

By all accounts, our methodology is as unscientific as prophecy via tarotology.  We shun common forecasting techniques for a conjectural approach.  First, we engage all matters of fact, fiction, fakery, and fraud.  Then, through induction, deduction, biased interpolation, gut check filtration, and metaphysical reduction, we arrive at precise, unequivocal answers.

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

 

The Once and Future Unit of Finance – Precious Metals Supply and Demand

The Once and Future Unit of Finance – Precious Metals Supply and Demand

Sally Forth and Speculate on my Behalf!

Last week, the price of gold was down ten bucks and silver four cents. Someone on Twitter demanded if we didn’t find it odd that the biggest sovereign debt bubble has managed to inflate a bubble in virtually every asset price except for gold.

 

Snapshot from a recent Goldbugs Anonymous meeting. Why, oh why have you failed to bubble my asset, dear fellow speculators? [PT]

 

Given that he went on to assert there is a bubble in paper gold claims, he is trying to say that gold has to besuppressed. Otherwise its price would be much higher. We won’t reiterate here the proof that this conspiracy theory is false.

Instead, we want to address two points. One, the term bubble is used quite flexibly. Does it mean the price of something is too high? For example, the S&P Index at nearly 3000. Or does it mean there is too much quantity of something, e.g. debt.

Or that something is being done to unhealthy degree, e.g. sending non-students off to university to get degrees that will not increase their employability? One should use each word with care and precision. Otherwise ambiguity permits one to migrate freely between different concepts.

Clearly, this guy is jealous that the prices of other assets have gone up, making other speculators rich. But the price of gold has not, thus not making him rich. Instead of admitting he was wrong to believe the gold-to-$10,000 story, he blames the world. Also, he is wrong about something else. The price of oil has not exactly gone up;  or real estate in many non-trendy locations.

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

How Faux Capitalism Works in America

How Faux Capitalism Works in America

Stars in the Night Sky

The U.S. stock market’s recent zigs and zags have provoked much squawking and screeching.  Wall Street pros, private money managers, and Millennial index fund enthusiasts all find themselves on the wrong side of the market’s swift movements.  Even the best and brightest can’t escape President Trump’s tweet precipitated short squeezes.

The Donald mercilessly hits the shorts with a well-timed tweet. But as it turns out, this market is in a really bad mood at the moment. [PT]

The short-term significance of the DJIA’s 8 percent decline since early-October is uncertain.  For all we know, stocks could run up through the end of the year.  Stranger things have happened.

What is also uncertain is the nature of this purge: Is this another soft decline like that of mid-2015 to early-2016, when the DJIA fell 12 percent before quickly resuming its uptrend?  Or is this the start of a brutal bear market – the kind that wipes out portfolios and blows up investment funds?

The stars in the night sky tell us this is the latter.  For example, when peering out into the night sky even the most untrained eye can identify the three ominous stars that are lining up with mechanical precision.

These stars include a stock market top, followed by a monster corporate debt buildup, and a fading economy.  In short, the stock market’s latest break is presaging a corporate credit crisis and global recession.

 

BofA/Merrill Lynch US high yield Master II Index yield – this looks like a quite convincing breakout, impossible to tweet down. In other words, the corporate debt build-up is beginning to bite back – and rather bigly, if we may say so (ed note, in case you’re wondering: the little poems are from a Spectator competition in which people used phrases from actual tweets to put together Donald haikus and poems). [PT]

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

The Big Picture: Paper Money vs. Gold

The Big Picture: Paper Money vs. Gold

Numbers from Bizarro-World

The past few months have been really challenging for anyone invested in gold or silver; for me personally as well. Despite serious warning signs in the economy, staggering debt levels and a multitude of significant geopolitical threats at play, the rally in risk assets seemed to continue unabated.

Bizarro-World intrudes into our reality, courtesy of central banks. [PT]

In fact, I was struggling with this seeming paradox myself. As I kept looking at the state of the markets, I couldn’t help but wonder “what if they just keep kicking the can down the road for the next 20 years, or even longer?”

Since the peak in 2011, gold and silver have been in a strong correction period and overall, prices haven’t benefited from all the trillions that have been injected into the markets since 2008. Total credit growth was approximately $80 trillion, climbing from $160 trillion to around $240 trillion in a mere 10 years.

The major central banks combined increased their balance sheet by buying government and institutional debt from $6 trillion to $21 trillion (FED, ECB, BOJ, PBoC), but none of it went into gold. However, even though these days we read and hear these numbers so often, it is still almost impossible for the true meaning of these sums to really sink in.

A trillion is hard to truly take in and understand; $80 trillion in debt is something already so far beyond our grasp that it might as well be $100, $200, or $300 trillion and it would almost make no conceptual difference. A good way to correct this dissonance is just think about the fact that 1 million seconds are 8 days, 1 billion seconds are 35 years and 1 trillion seconds translate into 32,000 years – bringing us back to the Stone Age.

Assets held by major central banks.

PBoC balance sheet

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

Paper Lanterns

Paper Lanterns

Mud Volcanoes

There are numerous explanations for just what in the heck is going on with the economy.  Some are good.  Many are bad.  Today we’ll do our part to bring clarity to disorder…

 

Two data series it is worth paying attention to at the moment: the unemployment rate (U3) and initial claims. As the chart at the top shows, when the former makes a low it is time to worry about the economy. Low points in the U3 UE rate slightly lead the beginning of recessions. Claims on the other hand are near coincident indicators of the stock market, this is to say, lows in initial claims tend to happen within a time period of four to six weeks surrounding major stock market peaks (in most cases they lead slightly, but small lags have occasionally occurred as well). Note: neither indicator confirms an imminent turning point as of yet – initial claims would e.g. have to rise to around 300k in order to do so. The same is true of other major recession indicators, their most recent readings do not yet confirm that the business cycle is about to turn down. However, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that indicates such a downturn may soon be confirmed, including recent market moves (i.e., deteriorating stock prices and rising credit spreads). [PT]

Several backward looking economic fundamentals show all is well. Third quarter gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent. And the unemployment rate, if you exclude something called discouraged workers, is just 3.7 percent – a near 50 year low.  By these metrics, the economy’s never been better.

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

A Global Dearth of Liquidity

A Global Dearth of Liquidity

Worldwide Liquidity Drought – Money Supply Growth Slows Everywhere

This is a brief update on money supply growth trends in the most important currency areas outside the US (namely the euro area, Japan and China)  as announced in in our recent update on US money supply growth (see “Federal Punch Bowl Removal Agency” for the details).

Nobody likes a drought. This collage illustrates why.

The liquidity drought is not confined to the US – it is fair to say that it is a global phenomenon, even though money supply growth rates in the euro area and Japan superficially still look fairly brisk. However, they are in the process of slowing down quite rapidly from much higher levels – and this trend seems set to continue.

Euro Area – Money Supply Growth Still High, But Slowing Fast

The chart below shows the euro area’s narrow money supply aggregate M1 (stock) and its year-on-year growth rate. M1 in the euro area is almost equivalent to US TMS-2, which makes it a good enough stand-in (it includes savings deposits that are in practice payable on demand; however, it lacks euro deposits belonging to foreign residents and central government deposits).

It is worth noting that a slowdown to a 0% growth rate triggered crisis conditions in 2008. After a sharp, but short term spike in money supply growth after the ECB made emergency liquidity facilities available to European banks to mitigate the fallout from the US housing bubble implosion, crisis conditions promptly returned when these facilities expired and money supply growth fell to around 1% in 2011.

Euro area, M1 (~TMS-2): Total in millions of EUR (blue line) and y/y rate of change (orange line). We have highlighted the three most recent slowdowns in money supply growth associated with economic crises and declining asset prices.

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

Debt, Death, and the US Empire

Debt, Death, and the US Empire

Yosemite Sam Gets Worried About Federal Debt

In a talk which garnered little attention, one of the Deep State’s prime operatives, National Security Advisor John Bolton, cautioned of the enormous and escalating US debt.

Deep State operative John Bolton, a.k.a. Yosemite Sam [PT]     Photo credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Speaking before the Alexander Hamilton Society, Bolton warned that current US debt levels and public obligations posed an “economic threat” to the nation’s security:

 

 

Annual federal surplus/deficit and total federal debt. Things have clearly gotten a bit out of control in recent years. [PT]

What was most surprising about Bolton’s talk was that there has been little reaction to it from the financial press, the markets themselves, or political commentators. While the equity markets have been in the midst of a sell-off, it has not been due (as of yet) to US deficits, currently in excess of $1 trillion annually.  Instead, the slide has been the result of fears over increase in interest rates and the continued trade tensions with China.

Interventionism is Expensive

While Bolton’s warning about the debt is self-serving, it is accurate in the sense that the US Empire which, in part, he directs is ultimately dependent on the strength of the economy.

“National security” is not threatened by a debt crisis which would mean a compromised dollar, but such an event would limit what the US could do globally.  Real national security is defense of the homeland and border control – not intervention abroad.

War mongers like Bolton are fearful that a debt crisis would necessitate a decline in US power overseas.  America is fast approaching what took place with the British Empire after its insane involvement in the two World Wars and its own creation of a domestic welfare state which exhausted the nation and led to the displacement of the British pound as the “world’s reserve currency.”

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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