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“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

We’ve all seen zombie movies where the good guys shoot the zombies but the zombies just keep coming because… they’re zombies!

Market observers can’t be blamed for feeling the same way about former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke was Fed chair from 2006–2014 before handing over the gavel to Janet Yellen. After his term, Bernanke did not return to academia (he had been a professor at Princeton) but became affiliated with the center-left Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bernanke is proof that Washington has a strange pull on people. They come from all over, but most of them never leave. It gets more like Imperial Rome every day.

But just when we thought that Bernanke might be buried in the D.C. swamp, never to be heard from again… like a zombie, he’s baaack!

Bernanke gave a high-profile address to the American Economic Association at a meeting in San Diego on Jan. 4. In his address, Bernanke said the Fed has plenty of tools to fight a new recession.

He included quantitative easing (QE), negative interest rates and forward guidance among the tools in the toolkit. He estimates that combined, they’re equal to three percentage points of additional rate cuts. But that’s nonsense.

Here’s the actual record…

That QE2 and QE3 did not stimulate the economy at all; this has been the weakest economic expansion in U.S. history. All QE did was create asset bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate that have yet to deflate (if we’re lucky) or crash (if we’re not).

Meanwhile, negative interest rates do not encourage people to spend as Bernanke expects. Instead, people save more to make up for what the bank is confiscating as “negative” interest. That hurts growth and pushes the Fed even further away from its inflation target.

What about “forward guidance?”

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

Central Banks Continue “Remarkable” Gold-Buying Spree

Central Banks Continue “Remarkable” Gold-Buying Spree

Central banks continued their remarkable gold-buying spree in November and remain on pace to eclipse 2018’s near-record purchases.

According to the latest numbers from the World Gold Council, central banks added 27.9 tons on a net-basis to official gold reserves in November. That brings the yearly total for 2018 with one month left to calculate to 570.2 tons, 11% higher than the same period in the previous year.

In 2018, central banks purchased just over 650 tons. According to the WGC, that was the highest level of annual net central bank gold purchases since the suspension of dollar convertibility into gold in 1971, and the second-highest annual total on record

The World Gold Council bases its data on information submitted to the International Monetary Fund.

Turkey led the pack for the third straight month, adding another 17 tons of gold to its reserves in November. The Turks have leapfrogged the Russians as the number-one gold-buyer in 2019 with over 181 tons added to their hoard. Turkish consumers are also flocking to the yellow metal. According to Bloomberg, gold demand was up 3.7% in the first nine months of 2019. The country’s government has loosened rules governing gold imports to meet the growing demand.

Russia added another 9.7 tons of gold to its reserves in November. That brings its total gold purchases to nearly 149 tons so far in 2019. Russia’s quest for gold has paid off in a big way. The Russian Central Bank’s gold reserves topped $100 billion in September thanks to continued buying and surging prices.

The Russians have been buying gold for the last several years in an effort to diversify away from the US dollar.  Russian gold reserves increased 274.3 tons in 2018, marking the fourth consecutive year of plus-200 ton growth. Meanwhile, the Russians sold off nearly all of its US Treasury holdings. According to Bank of America analysts,  the amount of US dollars in Russian reserves fell from 46% to 22% in 2018.

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

Is This “The Top”?

Is This “The Top”?

Parabolic moves end when the confidence that the parabolic move can’t end becomes the consensus.

The consensus seems to be that the stock market is on its way to much higher levels, and soon. The near-term targets for the S&P 500 (SPX, currently around 3,235) range from 3,500 to 4,000, with longer-term targets reaching “the sky’s the limit.”

The consensus reasoning goes like this:— Central banks can print a lot more money– Stocks rise when central banks print more money.

The history of the 2009-2019 era strongly supports this simple cause-effect, and so just about everyone is on the same side of the boat, the “don’t fight the Fed” side of ever-higher stock multiples and ever-higher prices.

Simply put: sales and profits no longer matter, the only thing that matters is whether central banks are printing more money. And since we all know they’ll have to print more money to keep the flying pig (the stock market) aloft, then it follows as night follows day that stocks will rise essentially forever.

As soon as the consensus has settled complacently on one side of the boat, contrarians take notice as history has a perverse habit of foiling any overwhelmingly complacent consensus.

The contrarian asks: what if this is “The Top”? Not just the top of the current rally, but The Top of the Bull Market that ignited in March 2009? Impossible, say the Bulls; there’s cash on the sidelines, Uber/Lyft drivers aren’t yet touting obscure stocks, i.e. “everybody” is not yet in the market, central banks haven’t even warmed up their digital printing presses, corporations are flush with cash/credit to continue their decade-long gorging on stock buy-backs and the global economy is back on track for another decade or three of tepid “growth.”

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

Prelude to Crisis

Prelude to Crisis

Simple Conceit
Radical Actions
Ballooning Balance Sheet
Merry Christmas and the Happiest New Year

Ignoring problems rarely solves them. You need to deal with them—not just the effects, but the underlying causes, or else they usually get worse. The older you get, the more you know that is true in almost every area of life.

In the developed world and especially the US, and even in China, our economic challenges are rapidly approaching that point. Things that would have been easily fixed a decade ago, or even five years ago, will soon be unsolvable by conventional means.

There is almost no willingness to face our top problems, specifically our rising debt. The economic challenges we face can’t continue, which is why I expect the Great Reset, a kind of worldwide do-over. It’s not the best choice but we are slowly ruling out all others.

Last week I talked about the political side of this. Our embrace of either crony capitalism or welfare statism is going to end very badly. Ideological positions have hardened to the point that compromise seems impossible.

Central bankers are politicians, in a sense, and in some ways far more powerful and dangerous than the elected ones. Some recent events provide a glimpse of where they’re taking us.

Hint: It’s nowhere good. And when you combine it with the fiscal shenanigans, it’s far worse.

Simple Conceit

Central banks weren’t always as responsibly irresponsible, as my friend Paul McCulley would say, as they are today. Walter Bagehot, one of the early editors of The Economist, wrote what came to be called Bagehot’s Dictum for central banks: As the lender of last resort, during a financial or liquidity crisis, the central bank should lend freely, at a high interest rate, on good securities.

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

Dr. Fed Frankenstein Kept Alive by Zombies

Dr. Fed Frankenstein Kept Alive by Zombies 

Did you know Dr. Frankenstein created a monster that stays alive to this day by eating zombies? Neither did the zombies. Neither, apparently, did Dr. Frankenstein. In fact, the zombies, being braindead as zombies are, do not realize that they are also keeping alive the diabolical doctor who made the monster that is eating them.

This little article, however, is going to tell you how all of that has become the strange case of the world as we all know it today. And, at the end of the article, I’m going to give everyone access to the first “Patron Post” I wrote as my thank-you to supporters who chose to keep this blog alive at the close of last year. That post was titled “2019 Economic Headwinds Look Like Storm of the Century.” 

Before I do, I want to recap 2019 by shining a light on the occulted diabolical nature of the single most important economic event this past year … so that you can read the article in an appropriate frame of mind. You would not, after all, watch a horror movie without first turning out the lights to set the mood. In this case, however, I must also turn on a single small lamp to shine a light on the face of the monster hidden the dark corner of the banking world. Then we will be ready to review the article in context of all that transpired.

One purpose I had for laying out what I thought would be the prevailing headwinds in 2019 was, of course, to help people realize what they should keep their eyes on for their own sakes. That may or may not give them information they factor into investment decisions, but investments decisions are not at all what this blog is about.

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

Life Comes At Us Way Too Fast: One Banker’s Striking Explanation Why Nothing Makes Sense Any More

Life Comes At Us Way Too Fast: One Banker’s Striking Explanation Why Nothing Makes Sense Any More

Deutsche Bank’s postmodern philosopher-cum-credit strategist Aleksandar Kocic, who missed his true calling and instead of writing a sequel to Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake or some other pomo stream of consciousness piece in the style of Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze (or even Foucault, Beckett, Ginsberg or Burroughs) was reduced, no pun intended, to predicting the future by describing the shift in yield curves or their “Greek” derivatives, has always had a way with words and he certainly uses them in his 2020 vol market outlook which can be summarized – and we use the term very loosely – as follows, in his own words: “We see last year as the final stage of an on-going process of vega collapse caused by the chronic lack of demand, disruption of the vol/leverage cycle, and activity of the Central Banks. At the core of these developments resides an emerging new perspective of uncertainty: On top of the structural drivers, low volatility levels, compressed vol risk premia, and flat vol forwards present an articulation of the flattening of horizons.”

Like we said, “a way with words.”

While it would be an injustice to the Deutsche Banker to summarize what he talks about in simplistic terms (the problem with post-modernism is that it can’t by definition be reduced, hence why nobody really reads it), what the Serbian strategist focuses on in broad strokes is the ongoing collapse of vega (and its deficit), which however may be approaching the “boundaries of vol decline” (i.e., the moment when the Fed loses control so to speak)…

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

The Wealth Redistribution Scam that Is “Inflation”

The Wealth Redistribution Scam that Is “Inflation”

The world over people are told that central banks pursue “price stability” by making sure that consumer goods prices do not rise by more than 2 percent per annum. This is, of course, a big sham. If the prices of goods rise over time, it does not take that much to understand that prices do not remain stable. And if the prices of goods increase over time, it necessarily means that the purchasing power of the money unit declines.

As money loses its purchasing power, income and wealth are stealthily redistributed. Some individuals and groups of people are enriched at the expense of others. Savers and workers are swindled out of their deserved income and retirement benefits, while those who own goods that rise in value or who borrow money typically reap a windfall profit. Clearly, the banking industry is a major beneficiary of monetary debasement.

“Inflation” Is a Rise in the Quantity of Money 

Central banks are the very source of the phenomenon that all prices of goods tend to rise over time. They hold the money production monopoly and increase — in close cooperation with commercial banks — the outstanding quantity of money through credit expansion, an increase in the supply of credit that is not backed by real savings. It goes without saying that it is rather profitable to be active in the money-production business.

The increase in the quantity of money results, and necessarily so, in higher prices compared to a situation in which the quantity of money has not been increased. This is no arbitrary assertion but stems from logical reasoning: a rise in people’s money holding lowers the marginal utility of the additional money unit, meaning that the marginal utility of other goods that can be exchanged against money rises.

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

Negative Rates, The Destruction Of Money. Sweden Ends Its Experiment.

Negative Rates, The Destruction Of Money. Sweden Ends Its Experiment.

Negative Rates, The Destruction Of Money. Sweden Ends Its Experiment.

Negative rates are the destruction of money, an economic aberration based on the mistakes of many central banks and some of their economists who start from a wrong diagnosis: the idea that economic agents do not take more credit or invest more because they choose to save too much and therefore saving must be penalized to stimulate the economy. Excuse the bluntness, but it is a ludicrous idea.

Inflation and growth are not low due to excess savings, but because of excess debt, perpetuating overcapacity with low rates and high liquidity and zombifying the economy by subsidizing the low productivity and highly indebted sectors and penalizing high productivity with rising and confiscatory taxation.

Historical evidence of negative rates shows that they do not help reduce debt, they incentivize it, they do not strengthen the credit capacity of families, because the prices of non-replicable assets (real estate, etc.) skyrocket because of monetary excess, and the lower cost of debt does not compensate for the greater risk.

Investment and credit growth are not subdued because economic agents are ignorant or saving too much, but because they don’t have amnesia. Families and businesses are more cautious in their investment and spending decisions because they perceive, correctly, that the reality of the economy they see each day does not correspond to the cost and the quantity of money. 

It is completely incorrect to think that families and businesses are not investing or spending. They are only spending less than what central planners would want. However, that is not a mistake from the private sector side, but a typical case of central planners’ misguided estimates, that come from using 2001-2007 as “base case” of investment and credit demand instead of what those years really were: a bubble.

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

Skyrocketing Costs Will Pop All the Bubbles

Skyrocketing Costs Will Pop All the Bubbles

The reckoning is coming, and everyone who counted on “eternal growth of borrowing” to stave off the reckoning is in for a big surprise.

We’ve used a simple trick to keep the status quo from imploding for the past 11 years: borrow whatever it takes to keep paying the skyrocketing costs for housing, healthcare, college, childcare, government, permanent wars and so on.

The trick has worked because central banks pushed interest rates to zero, lowering the costs of borrowing more as costs continued spiraling higher.

But that trick has been used up. The next step–negative interest rates–has failed to spark the “growth” required to pay for insanely overpriced housing, healthcare, college, childcare, government, etc.

We’ve reached the end of the line on lowering interest rates as a way of borrowing more to keep our heads above water. We’ve reached the point where households and enterprises can’t even afford the principle payments, i.e. no interest at all.

How are banks supposed to make money at zero interest rates? By charging outrageous overdraft fees and offering marginally qualified borrowers sky-high credit cards, and getting in on the federally guaranteed mortgage/student loan racket, that’s how.

The point here is the discipline of rising costs has been destroyed by easy money. Take higher education as an example. If there was no federally backed student loan “industry,” universities would have been forced to innovate 20 years ago to lower costs and improve the market value of their “product.”Instead, they left their bloated cost structure untouched as it spiraled ever higher, and simply passed the higher costs onto students, who have had to borrow over $1.5 trillion to feed the bloated higher education cartel.

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

Rabobank: “We’re Toast”

Rabobank: “We’re Toast”

I have made this reference before, but looking at euphoric markets I am again reminded of comedian Caroline Aherne as fake TV chat-show host Mrs Merton asking glamorous blonde Debbie McGee of her very short, plain, hair-piece wearing husband: “So what attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” 

Indeed, So what attracted you to central-bank-liquidity-driven markets? Because where would very short, plain, wig-wearing assets be without the Fed throwing in hundreds of billions in repo operations and NOT-QE, and China going down the same old unsustainable debt path to juice GDP for 2-3 quarters? Feeling pretty unloved, one would guess – and probably very shorted. Yet having studiously failed to learn that this extra-liquidity doesn’t drive sustainable recoveries, or prevent socio-economic unrest–in fact it drives it–we are set for a whole lot more from central banks, no doubt.

Of course, the phase one trade deal, which virtually nobody sees as realistic or sustainable, also continues to drive market sentiment. Yet CNY is still only around the 7 level, underlining what I have said about the risk/reward being mostly to the downside from here. Presumably, however, when the trade deal does break down, which could be even sooner than many expect, more central-bank liquidity will be required. So let’s celebrate that in advance too, why not?

The afterglow of the UK election also seems to be encouraging markets. And on that front we see that fiscal stimulus is going to pick up, the right kind of liquidity for once, and in the north and midlands for once too, which is set to become BoJo’s mojo dojo as he hopes to release animal spirits in left-behind locations. However, Johnson is also going to amend the UK Brexit legislation such that December 2020 is a hard exit date with no extension of the looming post-Brexit transition period possible.

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

Really Bad Ideas, Part 8: Yield Curve Control And Mega-Stimulus

Really Bad Ideas, Part 8: Yield Curve Control And Mega-Stimulus

It’s been obvious for a while that the next phase of global monetary madness would be both spectacular and very different from the previous phase. The question was whether the difference would be in degree or kind. 

Now the answer is looking like “both.”

Let’s start with “yield curve control,” in which central banks, instead of just pushing down interest rates, intervene to maintain the relationship between short and long-term rates. 

In a recent interview, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said the following:

“I have been interested in exploring approaches that expand the space for targeting interest rates in a more continuous fashion as an extension of our conventional policy space and in a way that reinforces forward guidance on the policy rate. In particular, there may be advantages to an approach that caps interest rates on Treasury securities at the short-to-medium range of the maturity spectrum — yield curve caps — in tandem with forward guidance that conditions liftoff from the [effective lower bound] on employment and inflation outcomes.

To be specific, once the policy rate declines to the ELB, this approach would smoothly move to capping interest rates on the short-to-medium segment of the yield curve. The yield curve ceilings would transmit additional accommodation through the longer rates that are relevant for households and businesses in a manner that is more continuous than quantitative asset purchases.” 

She sounds a bit like Alan Greenspan back in his peak obscurity days, so here’s a quick translation:

In the next recession, the Fed will promise to keep short rates at or below zero for a long time and also promise to hold longer-term rates a pre-set distance from short rates, thus freezing the slope of the yield curve in place.

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

Central Banks Alarming Move Towards Social Engineering

Central Banks Alarming Move Towards Social Engineering

Recently the central banks have found themselves grasping at straws when it comes to moving the economy forward. Signs have begun to appear on the horizon that in the future they will attempt to expand their power by increasing their role in social engineering. This is a term that refers to efforts to influence particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale. Its goal is to produce or change certain desired social characteristics in a population. In the past, this has been more the role of governments with the consent of the people often through laws and tax policies.

In America, the Fed was initially given the mandate to create a stable monetary environment. Since that time it has been expanded into what is now known collectively as the “dual mandate.” Now its two goals also include achieving maximum sustainable employment in conjunction with price stability. The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which sets U.S. monetary policy, has translated these mandates in rather broad terms.

In the last few weeks, Christine Lagarde, the new head of the ECB, said something that shocked many people. She stated, “We should be happier to have a job than to have our savings protected… I think that it is in this spirit that monetary policy has been decided by my predecessors and I think they made quite a beneficial choice.”  If this is true we are in big trouble. It is a sign that something is terribly wrong, the idea that you can have a job but you can’t save anything, places workers in a position of servitude where they are dependent on, at the total mercy of the economy and the government.

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

Three Major Imbalances – Financial, Trust and Geopolitical

Three Major Imbalances – Financial, Trust and Geopolitical

But greed is a bottomless pit
And our freedom’s a joke
We’re just taking a piss
And the whole world must watch the sad comic display
If you’re still free start running away
Cause we’re coming for you!

– Conor Oberst, “Land Locked Blues”

It’s hard to believe 2020 is just around the corner. If the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s the extent to which a vicious and corrupt oligarchy will go to further extend and entrench their economic and societal interests. Although the myriad desperate actions undertaken by the ruling class this past decade have managed to sustain the current paradigm a bit longer, it has not come without cost and major long-term consequence. Gigantic imbalances across multiple areas have been created and worsened, and the resolution of these in the years ahead (2020-2025) will shape the future for decades to come. I want to discuss three of them today, the financial system imbalance, the trust imbalance and the geopolitical imbalance.

Recent posts have focused on how what really matters in a crisis is not the event itself, but the response to it. The financial crisis of ten years ago is particularly instructive, as the entire institutional response to a widespread financial industry crime spree was to focus on saving a failed system and then pretending nothing happened. The public was given no time or space to debate whether the system needed saving; or more specifically, which parts needed saving, which parts needed wholesale restructuring and which parts should’ve been thrown into the dustbin. Rather, unelected central bankers stepped in with trillions in order to prop up, empower and reward the very industry and individuals that created the crisis to begin with. There was no real public debate, central bankers just did whatever they wanted. It was a moment so brazen and disturbing it shook many of us, including myself, out of a lifetime of propaganda induced deception.

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

Trapped

Trapped

What? You thought a 850+ point drop in the $DJIA would result in a down week? No Sir. The unholy alliance has struck again. Massive jawboning by multiple administration officials about how well the China trade deal was going, a favorable jobs report and above all, the US Federal Reserve, all contributed to a furious rally to make markets green for the week on (when else?) magic risk free Friday.

What was the tell? The same tell it’s been every week since the beginning of October. When the Fed’s balance sheet rises so does the market. One down week in the Fed’s balance sheet coincided with the only down week in markets since then.

Before you know it you have a trend (via zerohedge):

This is how predictable our markets have become. Tell me the size of Fed’s balance sheet next week and I’ll tell you what markets will do next week. Is it really this farcical? It appears so.

By that measure of course we can presume markets will just keep rising until next June as the Fed has indicated “not QE” will continue until then and their daily repo operations are now the ones on autopilot.

Investors are rightfully cheering gains having now realized that nothing matters but the Fed.

But be careful in cheering too much. All this action hides a rather very uncomfortable fact, a fact that may eventually see the air come out of this ballon faster than it is going in.
And that fact is that the Fed, and all other central banks, are trapped. Trapped in a coming disaster of their own making.

And be clear: As we saw this week again, the air can come out quickly. After all 90% of November gains simply disappeared in a matter of a couple of days. The subsequent furious comeback leaving a rather unusual weekly candle on $SPX (I’ll discuss this separately in an upcoming technical update).

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

Costs Are Spiraling Out of Control

Costs Are Spiraling Out of Control

And how do we pay for these spiraling out of control costs? By borrowing more, of course. 

If we had to choose one “big picture” reason why the vast majority of households are losing ground, it would be: the costs of essentials are spiraling out of control. I’ve often covered the dynamics of stagnating income for the bottom 90%, and real-world inflation, i.e. a decline in purchasing power. 

But neither of these dynamics fully describes the relentless upward spiral of the cost basis of our economy, that is, the cost of big-ticket essentials: housing, education and healthcare.

The costs of education are spiraling out of control, stripping households of income as an entire generation is transformed into debt-serfs by student loan debt. The soaring costs of healthcare are a core driver of higher costs in the education complex (and government in general), and to cover these higher costs, counties raise property taxes, which add additional cost burdens to households and enterprises as rents rise. 

Rising rents push the cost structure of almost every enterprise and agency higher.

Then there’s the asset inflation created by central bank ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) which has inflated a second echo-bubble in housing that has pushed home ownership out of reach of many, adding demand for rental housing that has pushed rents into the stratosphere in Left and Right Coast cities.

The increasing dominance of monopolies and cartels has eliminated competition in sector after sector. Monopolies and cartels skim immense profits even as the value, quality and quantity of their products and services decline: The U.S. Only Pretends to Have Free Markets From plane tickets to cellphone bills, monopoly power costs American consumers billions of dollars a year.

Thanks to their political influence, monopolies and cartels have legalized looting, raising prices and evading anti-trust regulations because they can pay whatever it takes in our pay-to-play political system.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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