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Collapse Is A Process, Not An Event

Look, I’m a systems guy.  I think in systems terms.  You should as well.

Why?

Because we’re entering a period of time when the major systems that have supported humanity are going to fail.

Or, put more accurately: they are already failing.

As just one example, our monetary system delivers outsized gains to the already stupendously-wealthy while piling up massive debts on the backs of we citizens, both born and yet-to-be-born.  The US Federal Reserve is the unelected and unaccountable body that is most responsible for have made America’s billionaires nearly $1 trillion ‘richer’ since the pandemic hit.

These next three Fed-related data points are, in a word, obscene.

The first shows that the US Federal Reserve now “owns” more US federal debt than all foreign central banks. The second shows how billionaires are getting grotesquely wealthier from the Fed’s “rescue’” efforts. And the last shows how the Fed’s record-low interest policy has resulted in an explosion in federal debt:

(Source)

(Source)

This is obscene (and infuriating!) to anyone who cares about the future.  Leaving aside the morality issues for a moment, we can at least conclude that the behaviors and values on display are thoroughly unsustainable.

Eventually spending more money than you have ends in ruin.

Speaking of spending what you don’t have, a similar story can be told about ecological overshoot and humanity’s extractive practices —  it’s akin to spending both the entirety of the interest income as well as some principal each year from our environmental trust fund.

There aren’t many resources that one can point to which aren’t in some serious form of either concerning decline or depletion, or both.  Already thousands, if not millions, of people in the American West are considering relocating because of the ever-present danger of disruptive if not life-threatening fires:

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

America’s Fiscal Follies Are Dangerously in the Red

The Congressional Budget Office has recently issued a federal “Budget Outlook Update” for the next ten years in the context of the government’s fiscal condition in the face of the coronavirus and Washington’s spending spree. The message: the deficit for fiscal year 2020 is huge, and the national debt is getting bigger, faster than had been projected before America’s lockdowns that brought much of the economy to a halt.

Normally, serious recessionary downturns are the result of central bank monetary mismanagement that generates unsustainable investment and housing booms and bubbles through money, credit and interest rate manipulation. Eventually, the credit expansion house of cards comes tumbling down as various sectors of the economy discover the need for a rebalancing of resource, labor, and capital uses in the face of numerous mismatches between supplies and demands.

The Government Directly Caused the Downturn of 2020

There were many signs that ten years of nearly zero interest rates and a large expansion of bank credit were setting the stage for an eventual “correction” in the economy. However “inevitable” this might have been at some point, there was no indication at the beginning of 2020 that a serious recession was on the immediate horizon. No, what happened in the first half of 2020 had one source and cause only – the coercive commands of the federal and the state governments ordering people to stay at home, limit their shopping trips to politically-approved “essentials,” and not to go to work, as all part of a counterproductive and damaging attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Instead, its most important outcome was to wreak havoc on not just the U.S. economy, but much of the world’s economy, as well, as most other governments imposed similar compulsory clampdowns on the citizens of their countries.

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

The Four D’s That Define the Future

The Four D’s That Define the Future

When the money runs out or loses its purchasing power, all sorts of complexity that were previously viewed as essential crumble to dust.
Four D’s will define 2020-2025: derealization, denormalization, decomplexification and decoherence. That’s a lot of D’s. Let’s take them one at a time.
I use the word derealization to describe the inner disconnect between what we experience and what the propaganda / marketing complex we live in tells us we should be experiencing.
Put another way: our lived experience is derealized (dismissed as not real) by official spin and propaganda.
The current state of the economy is a good example. We see the real-world economy declining yet the officially approved narrative is that there’s a V-shaped recovery underway because Big Tech stocks are hitting new highs. In other words, we don’t need a real-world economy, all we need is a digital economy provided by Big Tech platforms.
This is derealization at its finest: the everyday world you experience directly no longer matters; what matters is stock prices and various statistics that all paint a rosy picture.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest class is fleeing soon-to-be-bankrupt cities. The wealthiest class has the means to buy the best advice and also has the most to lose, so I give their actions far more credence than official propaganda.
This is why denormalization is an extinction event for much of our high-cost, high-complexity, heavily regulated economy. Subsidizing high costs doesn’t stop the dominoes from falling, as subsidies are not a substitute for the virtuous cycle of re-investment.
The Fed’s project of lowering the cost of capital to zero doesn’t generate this virtuous cycle; all it does is encourage socially useless speculative predation. Collapse isn’t “impossible,” it’s unavoidable.

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

Massive Lines Form Outside Virginia Food Bank As Demand Hits One Million Meals Per Month

The economic recovery has stalled, and in some cases, reversed. The $600 unemployment benefits that Americans received following the virus pandemic that crashed the economy in March-April expired on July 31, which means a fiscal cliff has been underway for 44 days (as of Sept. 14).

Millions of people are still out of work, their emergency savings wiped out, and insurmountable debts are increasing. As former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen warned in August, Congress’ inability to pass another round of stimulus checks could weigh on the economic recovery.

Readers may recall about a quarter of all personal income is derived from the government – so when a lapse in stimulus checks extends for well over one month – that could lead to new consumer stress.

In Richmond, Virginia, about 125 miles south of Washington, D.C., a food bank has been shelling out more than one million meals per month as the metro area battles deep economic scarring sustained by the virus-induced recession.

Kim Hill, the Chesterfield Food Bank CEO, told ABC 8News, “a lot of Chesterfield residents are showing up to get food would be an understatement — they’ve been averaging over a million meals a month.”

“You roll down that window, and you see the tears in that person’s eyes who never thought they would need the help of a food bank,” Hill said. “It breaks your heart.”

She said the volume of people her food bank is feeding is more than triple the levels versus last year. With increased demand, Hill said more volunteers are needed to handle the greater volumes.

“The life at the food bank here, we think it has changed forever,” Hill said. “Hunger should not exist in our country. We are one of the richest countries in the world, we need to be able to take care of our own people.”

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

Frederick Soddy’s Debt Dynamics

Frederick Soddy’s Debt Dynamics

In the field of ecological economics, Frederick Soddy looms large. Born in 1877, Soddy became a chemist and eventually won a Nobel prize for work on radioactive decay. Then he turned his attention to economics.

Between 1921 and 1934, Soddy wrote four books that looked at how money relates to the physical economy. For his ground-breaking work, Soddy was rewarded with deafening silence. Here’s how ecological economist Eric Zencey puts it:

… Soddy carried on a quixotic campaign for a radical restructuring of global monetary relationships. He was roundly dismissed as a crank.

Although ignored during his life, Soddy’s work would become a central part of ecological economics. Let’s have a look at Soddy’s thinking.

Wealth vs. virtual wealth

Like a good natural scientist, Soddy insisted that human society is constrained by the laws of physics. Humans survive, he noted, by consuming natural resources. Exhaust these resources and we’re done for.

Think of humans (and our economy), says Soddy, like a machine. We transform energy into physical work. Like all machines, we’re bound by the laws of thermodynamics, which say that you can’t get something for nothing. Energy output requires energy input. That means humans are forever dependent on natural resources.

Now comes the problem. Our biophysical stock of resources — what Soddy called ‘wealth’ — is bound by the laws of thermodynamics. But money — which Soddy called ‘virtual wealth’ — is bound only by the laws of mathematics. Money can grow forever. Natural resource extraction cannot. This mismatch, Soddy claimed, is the root of most economic problems.

Cows and virtual cows

Here’s an example of Soddy’s thinking. Suppose that Alice is a would-be cattle farmer. She inherited some land and wants to use it to farm cattle. The problem is she has no money.

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

In The Long Run We Are All Alive

In The Long Run We Are All Alive

In 1976, economist Herbert Stein, father of Ben Stein, the economics professor in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, observed that U.S. government debt was on an unsustainable trajectory.  He, thus, established Stein’s Law:

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

Stein may have been right in theory.  Yet the unsustainable trend of U.S. government debt outlasted his life.  Herbert Stein died in 1999, several decades before the crackup.  Those reading this may not be so lucky.

Sometimes the end of the world comes and goes, while some of us are still here.  We believe our present episode of debt, deficits, and state sponsored economic destruction, is one of these times.

We’ll have more on this in just a moment.  But first, let’s peer back several hundred years.  There we find context, edification, and instruction.

In 1696, William Whiston, a protégé of Isaac Newton, wrote a book.  It had the grandiose title, “A New Theory of the Earth from its Original to the Consummation of all Things.”  In it he proclaimed, among other things, that the global flood of Noah had been caused by a comet.

Mr. Whiston took his book very serious.  The good people of London took it very serious too.  Perhaps it was Whiston’s conviction.  Or his great fear of comets.  But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to Londoners that he was a Category 5 quack.

Like Neil Ferguson, and his mathematical biology cohorts at Imperial College, London, Whiston’s research filled a void.  Much like today’s epidemiological models, the science was bunk.  Nonetheless, the results supplied prophecies of the apocalypse to meet a growing demand.

It was just a matter of time before Whiston’s research would cause trouble…

Judgement Day

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

Is High Inflation Now A Bigger Danger Than A Deflationary Crash?

Is High Inflation Now A Bigger Danger Than A Deflationary Crash?

What’s the more likely event at this point: a deflationary crash or runaway inflation?

For a long time, Peak Prosperity co-founder Adam Taggart and I have hewed to the “Ka-POOM!” theory, which states that a major deflation will scare the central banks so badly that they overreact and pour too much liquidity into the system, thereby destroying it.

To visualize how this will play out, think of what happened in Beirut this week. Customs officials there stored thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer at their seaport, for years.  The pile just sat there doing absolutely nothing.

After years of inaction, the port authorities became lulled into the erroneous conclusion that nothing would ever happen.

But then one day a spark came to life, starting a fire, and then all at once — POOM! — the entire thing blew up with devastating effect.

This analogy works pretty well here as we approach the Keynesian endgame facing the global economy.  The pile of $trillions in bad debts issued over the past decades has been the fertilizer.  Covid-19 was the spark. And now we’re simply waiting for the entire economic and financial system to explode.

The same process began in the US and has been unfolding across the world ever since after the gold standard was abandoned in 1971.  Untethered from any restraint, all that was left to staunch the flow of red ink was self-restraint and a concern for the future, both of which were in short supply.

Not only has debt been growing far faster than income (GDP) at the national level, but debts have been growing exponentially (i.e., ‘compounding’) ever since 1971:

That debt growth is a nearly perfect exponential curve upon which the entire systems of politics, banking and the economy have come to rely.

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

On Inflation (& How It’s Not What Happens Next)

Everyone is convinced the dollar is going to inflate because more dollars are entering the system.

But are they really?

That is the question that sparked a succinct Twitter thread by Travis K (@ColoradoTravis) explaining why inflation is not what happens next (emphasis ours):

Let’s take a look at how dollars are born and how they die.

A dollar is ‘born’ when a loan is made against collateral on a bank’s balance sheet. Banks can issue multiples of dollars for every dollar of collateral they have.

It’s this multiplication effect that expands the amount of total dollars.

Generally, banks are limited in how much they can lend – let’s say it’s 10x their collateral. So for every dollar of collateral they have, they can lend 10 dollars.

By so lending, they ‘birth’ new dollars into the system.

As banks lend more, more dollars are created and the money supply increases. This multiplicative lending is the chief driver of total dollars in the system.

Banks lending a lot → more total dollars and inflation.

When do dollars die?

Dollars ‘die’ when debts are paid back. This reverses the multiplication effect of lending, leading to less total dollars in the system and a contraction of total dollars in circulation.

So what is the Fed ‘printer’ doing – creating dollars, right? Actually no, not really.

The printer only increases the collateral banks have to lend against. It does not directly ‘birth’ dollars, only *potential* dollars.

Banks are still the midwives, and the only ones who birth dollars into the system by lending.

The Fed can increase collateral by 1000x but unless the banks lend against that collateral, dollars will not enter circulation for you and I to interact with.

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

Weekly Commentary: Moral Hazard Quagmire

Weekly Commentary: Moral Hazard Quagmire

The Nasdaq100 jumped another 3.5% this week, increasing 2020 gains to 32.3%. Amazon gained 4.3% during the week, boosting y-t-d gains to 77.8% – and market capitalization to $1.626 TN. Apple surged 8.2% this week, increasing 2020 gains to 69.4%. Apple’s market capitalization ended the week at a world-beating $2.127 TN. Microsoft rose 2.0% (up 35.1% y-t-d, mkt cap $1.612 TN). Google rose 4.8% (up 18.2% y-t-d, mkt cap $1.073 TN), and Facebook gained 2.2% (up 30.1%, mkt cap $761bn). The Nasdaq100 now trades with a price-to-earnings ratio of 37.4.
This era will be analyzed and debated for decades to come – if not much longer. Market Bubbles, over-indebtedness, inequality, financial instability and economic maladjustment – festering for years – can no longer be disregarded as cyclical phenomena. Ben Bernanke has declared understanding the forces behind the Great Depression is the “Holy Grail of economics”. It’s ironic. That the Fed never repeats its failure to aggressively expand the money supply in time of crisis is a key facet of the Bernanke doctrine – policy failing he asserts was a primary contributor to Depression-era financial and economic collapse. Yet this era’s unprecedented period of monetary stimulus is fundamental to current financial, economic, social and geopolitical instabilities.

August 18 – Bloomberg (Craig Torres): “The concentration of market power in a handful of companies lies behind several disturbing trends in the U.S. economy, like the deepening of inequality and financial instability, two Federal Reserve Board economists say in a new paper. Isabel Cairo and Jae Sim identify a decline in competition, with large firms controlling more of their markets, as a common cause in a series of important shifts over the last four decades. Those include a fall in labor share, or the chunk of output that goes to workers, even as corporate profits increased; and a surge in wealth and income inequality, as the net worth of the top 5% of households almost tripled between 1983 and 2016. 

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

They’ve Done It Again

They’ve Done It Again

The stars are back in their courses. The angels are back in the heavens. And the Perfections are back within sight…

For merely 148 trading days after bottoming… the S&P returned to record heights today.

The index closed the day at 3,389 — eclipsing its February 19 height of 3,386.

Thus Jerome Powell’s maniacal persistence has yielded a reward truly fantastic. He has successfully reflated the bubble.

The Federal Reserve has itself become the market.

Shannon Saccocia, Boston Private’s chief investment officer:

Equity markets are reflecting the massive monetary and fiscal stimulus that has been injected over the past four months… the rationale to diversify away from risk assets is hard to pinpoint.

For many the rationale to diversify away from risk assets is indeed hard to pinpoint…

No Longer Considered a Bear Market Rally

Bank of America has concluded its August Global Fund Manager survey. This survey revealed that:

The majority of professional investors no longer believe this market spree represents a bear market rally.

It is as genuine as gold itself, they believe.

What is more, 31% of those surveyed believe it is “early cycle” — the highest percentage since the financial crisis.

Meantime, Deutsche Bank reports, “companies have already restarted buybacks or are considering doing so.”

Buybacks were of course a primary source of helium for the bubble presently reflating.

And the Federal Reserve’s artificially depressed rates opened the taps…

Corporations Take on More Debt Than Ever

These exorbitantly low rates enabled corporations to pile on cheap debt.

With this debt they often purchased their own stock… which reduced shares outstanding… and raised the price per share.

That is, corporations often took on debt to conduct financial sorcery.

And now — as Deutsche Bank reports — the sorcerers are at their tricks again.

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

Panic in Real Estate

COMMENT: I live in central West Texas, I am passing on to you the fact that there is a “rush” of sales in rural property’s. Houses with small amounts of land attached are “flying off of the shelves” so to speak. This is occurring throughout all of West Texas and in the Panhandle. The effort to getting out of the cities. Even cities as small as 25,000 is in full swing! People are well aware of the potential of what is in the near future and are not sitting around wondering what they should do.

They are acting!

J

REPLY: There is a massive exodus from California and New York in particular. Even in North New Jersey, houses are selling in just days and over asking prices for cash. People are bailing out of New York City in herds. Here in Florida, condos are selling as fast as they can get them up in St Petersbourg. These lockdowns and COVID restrictions that are insane in the major cities have set in motion a massive exodus that these authoritarians never anticipated. As they flex their muscles to try to make this so draconian over nothing, they are complete the cycle which has been pointing to the collapse of urbanization, and the rich will flee.

One of my favorite stories of the Sovereign Debt Crisis is the City of Mainz, in Germany, around 1440. The goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which began the Printing Revolution that enabled the Renaissance to flourish with the printing press which could produce up to 3,600 pages per workday compared to the hand-copying by scribes which would produce only about 40 pages per day. The printing press then spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries.

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

Here’s Why the “Impossible” Economic Collapse Is Unavoidable

Here’s Why the “Impossible” Economic Collapse Is Unavoidable

This is why denormalization is an extinction event for much of our high-cost, high-complexity, heavily regulated economy.

A collapse of major chunks of the economy is widely viewed as “impossible” because the federal government can borrow and spend unlimited amounts of money because the Federal Reserve can create unlimited amounts of money: the government borrows $1 trillion by selling $1 trillion in Treasury bonds, the Fed prints $1 trillion dollars to buy the bonds. Rinse and repeat to near-infinity.

With this cheery wind at their backs, conventional pundits are predicting super-rebounds in auto sales and other consumption as consumers weary of Covid-19 and anxious to blow their recent savings borrow and spend like no tomorrow.

As for the 30+ million unemployed–they don’t matter. Conventional analysts write them off because they weren’t big drivers of “growth” anyways–they didn’t have big, secure salaries and ample wealth/credit lines.

What this happy confidence in near-infinite money-printing and V-shaped spending orgies overlooks is what I’ve termed denormalization, an implosion of the Old Normal so complete that the expected minor adjustment to a New Normal is no longer possible.

The “New Normal” Is De-Normalization

We’re already in a post-normal world because the expansion of globalization and financialization needed to fuel the Old Normal has reversed into contraction. This reversal is an extinction event for all sectors and institutions with high fixed costs: air travel, resort tourism, healthcare, higher education, local government services, etc. because their fixed cost structures are so high they are no longer financially viable if they’re operating at less than full capacity.

Only getting back to 70% of previous capacity, revenues, tax receipts, etc. dooms them to collapse.

And there’s no way to cut their fixed costs without fatally disrupting all the sectors that are dependent on them.

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh II

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Monte Alban, Mexico (1988) Photo by author.

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

No Payment, No Problem: Bizarre New World of Consumer Debt

No Payment, No Problem: Bizarre New World of Consumer Debt

All kinds of weird records are being broken. But it’s scheduled to expire, and then what?

The New York Fed released a doozie of a household credit report. It summarized what individual lenders have been reporting about their own practices: If you can’t make the payments on your mortgage, auto loan, credit card debt, or student loan, just ask for a deferral or forbearance, and you won’t have to make the payments, and the loan won’t count as delinquent if it wasn’t delinquent before. And even if it was delinquent before, you can “cure” a delinquency by getting the loan deferred and modified. No payment, no problem.

Nearly all student loans go into forbearance, delinquencies plunge.

Student loan borrowers were automatically rolled into forbearance under the CARES Act, and even though many students had stopped making payments, delinquency rates plunged because the Department of Education had decided to report as “current” all those loans that are in forbearance, even if they were delinquent. Yup, according to New York Fed data, the delinquency rate of student loan borrowers, though many had stopped making payments, plunged from 10.75% in Q1, to 6.97% in Q2, the lowest since 2007:

Student loan forbearance is available until September 30, and interest is waived until then, instead of being added to the loan. In a blog post, the New York Fed said that 88% of the student-loan borrowers, including private-loan borrowers and  Federal Family Education Loan borrowers, had a “scheduled payment of $0,” meaning that at least 88% of the student loans were in some form of forbearance. Until September 30. And then what?

Delinquent loans are “cured” without catch-up payments.

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

US Facing Mounting Debt Amid Global Pandemic – ABC

US Facing Mounting Debt Amid Global Pandemic – ABC

Good interview with Professor Barry Eichengreen of UC Berkeley, a good friend of GMM, and odds on favorite to be a Nobel laureate one day.   We agree with him that now is not the time to worry about the public debt as we are already down this rabbit hole and the economy is on the verge of complete implosion, risking plunging our society into anarchy without another rescue package.

We also hate what we see: large well-capitalized corporations and entities getting PPP loans, which will be forgiven, some dead beats using their PPP loans to buy Teslas, trade stocks, and gamble in Las Vegas, not to mention the lack of planning and total incompetence of the policymakers.    He quotes Voltaire’s famous exhortation,  used many times here at the Global Macro Monitor,  “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Voltaire

No MMT Discussion? 

Did you also notice not one peep about the Fed buying up all the Treasury debt and effectively monetizing the deficit…err MMT…and supporting other debt markets?

We heard some bozo on CNBC today saying the Treasury is having no problem floating its debt to the market.  Are. You. Fricking. Kidding. Me?  What market?

Nobody really knows for certain,  but our priors are if the U.S. Treasury was completely dependent on the markets to finance itself – that is no central bank (Fed and foreign) buying of its marketable debt — the 10-year yield would be well north of 6 percent, and that is very generous, in our opinion.

Do Your Homework

Folks, do your homework.   Granted, it’s impossible to completely grasp all the intricacies of the global economy and markets with their infinite feedback loops, and futile to even try,  but at least try and grasp the basics.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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