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The Antidote to Optimism

The Antidote to Optimism

It is always brightest before they turn the lights out.

You can quote us on that, Dear Reader.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get better… guess what?

They don’t. They go dark as a dungeon.

Antidote to Optimism

Our task today is to show that however wonderful things may appear in today’s markets and economy, they may not be all that great.

We put our backs into this grim work neither for love nor for money, but simply out of a sense of stern duty.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Someone must put forward an antidote to the optimism now raging through markets around the world.

Someone must make the case for cynicism, suspicion, and mockery.

Someone must take the other side of the trade.

And so… the work, like shucking oysters on a cold day, falls to us. We open them up… hoping to find a pearl.

Donald Trump, Davos ManInstead, we find claptrap.

“The elite gathering at Davos [including Donald Trump],” begins a Financial Timesarticle, “takes place against a backdrop of improving economic activity across the world.”

The IMF says it is the “broadest synchronized global growth upswing since 2010.”

The FT goes on to tell us that the world economy is supposed to grow a healthy 3.9% “this year and next” thanks, at least in part, to the sweeping tax reform measure just implemented in the U.S.

Well, well, well. Gosh, it looks as though we were wrong about everything. You can predict the future after all.

As for the tax cut, we didn’t believe that the tax measure would have any positive consequences other than giving us more money.

What economic benefit could be reaped by taking money from one pocket and putting it in another?

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

A Fly in the Economic Ointment?

A Fly in the Economic Ointment?

The holidays are fading from memory, and 2018 is off to a good start, economically speaking. Most of the forecasts I’ve read expect a good year – not a blockbuster year or a horrendous one, but a mild pickup that ought to satisfy investors. Even the bears seem less confident than usual.

The stock market is off to a rip-roaring start. For the first time ever, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has spent an entire quarter above its upper Bollinger band. That is, it’s more than two standard deviations above its 21-day moving average. You can click on the link for more detail. This might be a little technical for some of you, but it does demonstrate that there’s a great deal of exuberance in the market.

Tony Sagami

Further, Howard Silverblatt at S&P just came out with his forecasted earnings for 2018 (hat tip Ed Easterling for sending this to me). He revised 2017 earnings down by a few dollars to $110 as S&P analysts realized that companies are going to have to take write-downs for their deferred tax losses. But oh my is Howard positive about 2018. Look at this table straight from the S&P site. Focus on the reported earnings highlighted in yellow. Howard is expecting earnings to grow from $110 to $138 in 2018. That $28 jump in earnings represents about 25% earnings growth. If it actually materializes, the S&P 500 is going to be on a royal tear upwards.

Standard & Poors

The contrarian part of me wants to scream, “Aha! No one expects catastrophe, so that’s exactly what we’ll get.” While I don’t completely rule out anything, I’ve lived through several recessions and bear markets. This just doesn’t feel like another one.

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

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Pretty Much Everywhere – John Rubino

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Pretty Much Everywhere - John Rubino

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising.

This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not.

In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible.

Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016.

But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending:

Japan plans extra budget of $24-26 billion for fiscal 2017

(Hellenic Shipping News) – Japan’s government is set to compile an extra budget worth around 2.7-2.9 trillion yen ($24-26 billion) for the fiscal year to March 2018, with additional bond issuance of around 1 trillion yen to help fund the spending, government sources told Reuters. Following October’s big election win, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has made plans to beef up childcare support, boost productivity at small and medium-sized companies, and strengthen competitiveness of the farm, fishery and forestry industries.

In the UK, a balanced budget has been pushed back from 2025 to 2031:

Britain in the red until 2031: Bid to balance the books pushed back yet again

(Daily Mail) – Philip Hammond’s ambition to get Britain’s finances back into the black receded further last night – as the Treasury watchdog said he would struggle to eliminate the deficit before 2031. The Chancellor had promised to balance the books by 2025. The target has been pushed back twice already, after George Osborne’s pledge in his 2010 Budget to balance the books ‘within five years’, before he revised the figure to 2020. 

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

Caution: Slowdown

Caution: Slowdown

Many of you know I keep posting charts keeping taps on the macro picture in the Macro Corner. It’s actually an interesting exercise watching what they do versus what they say. Public narratives versus reality on the ground.

I know there’s a lot of talk of global synchronized expansion. I call synchronized bullshit.

Institutions will not warn investors or consumers. They never do. Banks won’t warn consumers because they need consumers to spend and take up loans and invest money in markets. Governments won’t warn people for precisely the same reason. And certainly central banks won’t warn consumers. They are all in the confidence game.

Well, I am sending a stern warning: The underlying data is getting uglier. Things are slowing down. And not by just a bit, but by a lot. And I’ll show you with the Fed’s own data that is in stark contrast to all the public rah rah.

Look, nobody wants recessions, They are tough and ugly, but our global economy is on based on debt and debt expansion. Pure and simple. And all that is predicated on keeping confidence up. Confident people spend more and growth begets growth.

But here’s the problem: Despite all the global central bank efforts to stimulate growth real growth has never emerged. Mind you all this is will rates still near historic lows:

And central banks supposedly are reducing the spigots come in 2018:

I believe it when I see it. In September the FED told everyone they would start reducing their balance sheet in October. It’s November:

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

The Normalization Delusion

The Normalization Delusion

LONDON – There is a psychological bias to believe that exceptional events eventually give way to a return to “normal times.” Many economic commentators now focus on prospects for “exit” from nearly a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy, with central banks reducing their balance sheets to “normal” levels and gradually raising interest rates. But we are far from a return to pre-crisis normality.

After years of falling global growth forecasts, 2017 has witnessed a significant uptick, and there is a good case for slight interest-rate increases. But the advanced economies still face too-low inflation and only moderate growth, and recovery will continue to rely on fiscal stimulus, underpinned if necessary by debt monetization.

Since 2007, per capita GDP in the eurozone, Japan, and the United States are up just 0.3%, 4.4%, and 5%, respectively. Part of the slowdown from pre-crisis norms of 1.5-2% annual growth may reflect supply-side factors; productivity growth may face structural headwinds.

But part of the problem is deficient nominal demand. Despite central banks’ massive stimulus efforts, nominal GDP from 2007-16 grew 2.8% per year in the US, 1.5% in the eurozone, and just 0.2% in Japan, making it impossible to achieve moderate growth plus annual inflation in line with 2% targets. US inflation has now undershot the Federal Reserve’s target for five years, and has trended down over the last five months.

Faced with this abnormality, some economists search for one-off factors, such as “free” minutes for US cell phones, that are temporarily depressing US inflation measures. But mobile-phone pricing in the US cannot explain why Japan’s core inflation is stuck around zero. Common long-term factors must explain this global phenomenon.

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

Toxic Loans Around the World Weigh on Global Growth

Toxic Loans Around the World Weigh on Global Growth

Yes, this was published a year ago, but it is still as relevant today as it was then.  Good articles like this so rarely come out that it’s worth preserving them for later when things fall apart to understand what happened.

Related article: February 5, 2016 The Chart of Doom: When Private Credit Stops Expanding

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]

Eavis, P. February 3, 2016. Toxic Loans Around the World Weigh on Global Growth. New York Times.

Beneath the surface of the global financial system lurks a multi-trillion-dollar problem that could sap the strength of large economies for years to come.

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

The Global Growth Funk

The Global Growth Funk

NEW YORK – The International Monetary Fund and others have recently revised downward their forecasts for global growth – yet again. Little wonder: The world economy has few bright spots – and many that are dimming rapidly.

Among advanced economies, the United States has just experienced two quarters of growth averaging 1%. Further monetary easing has boosted a cyclical recovery in the eurozone, though potential growth in most countries remains well below 1%. In Japan, “Abenomics” is running out of steam, with the economy slowing since mid-2015 and now close to recession. In the United Kingdom, uncertainty surrounding the June referendum on continued European Union membership is leading firms to keep hiring and capital spending on hold. And other advanced economies – such as Canada, Australia, Norway – face headwinds from low commodity prices.

Things are not much better in most emerging economies. Among the five BRICS countries, two (Brazil and Russia) are in recession, one (South Africa) is barely growing, another (China) is experiencing a sharp structural slowdown, and India is doing well only because – in the words of its central bank governor, Raghuram Rajan – in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Many other emerging markets have slowed since 2013 as well, owing to weak external conditions, economic fragility (stemming from loose monetary, fiscal, and credit policies in the good years), and, often, a move away from market-oriented reforms and toward variants of state capitalism.

Worse, potential growth has also fallen in both advanced and emerging economies. For starters, high levels of private and public debt are constraining spending – especially growth-enhancing capital spending, which fell (as a share of GDP) after the global financial crisis and has not recovered to pre-crisis levels.

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

2016, The Year Of The Red Monkey: Expect Wild, Unending Volatility

2016, The Year Of The Red Monkey: Expect Wild, Unending Volatility

The past 25 years of “growth” and brief recessions may not be a good guide to the next few years.

In the lunar calendar that started February 8, this is the Year of the Red Monkey.

I found this description of the Red Monkey quite apt:

“According to Chinese Five Elements Horoscopes, Monkey contains Metal and Water. Metal is connected to gold. Water is connected to wisdom and danger. Therefore, we will deal with more financial events in the year of the Monkey. Monkey is a smart, naughty, wily and vigilant animal. If you want to have good return for your money investment, then you need to outsmart the Monkey. Metal is also connected to the Wind. That implies the status of events will be changing very quickly. Think twice before you leap when making changes for your finance, career, business relationship and people relationship.”


In other words, the financial world will be volatile. And few will have the agility and wile to outsmart the market-monkey.

For those who don’t believe in astrological forecasts, there are plenty of other reasons to anticipate sustained volatility in 2016 that strips certainty and cash from bulls and bear alike.

What’s the Source of Volatility?

Why are global markets now so volatile? The basic answer is as obvious as it is officially verboten: the global growth story is unraveling, and central banks and governments are increasingly desperate to re-ignite stagnating growth.

When solid evidence of flagging trade, sales and profits surfaces, markets drop. When central banks and states talk up monetary and fiscal stimulus, markets leap higher, as seven years of stimulus programs have rewarded those who “buy the dips.”

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

World Trade Collapses Most Since Crisis

World Trade Collapses Most Since Crisis

One question now dominates the global macro discussion: has subdued global growth and trade become the norm in the post-crisis world?

That is, have lackluster growth and trade become structural and endemic rather than transient and cyclical?

Those are the burning questions that keep central bankers (not to mention sellside economists) up at night and they are front and center at the G-20 in Shanghai.

Warning signs abound. The Baltic Dry is in a veritable free fall. Germany’s manufacturing juggernaut is showing signs of faltering. The BRICS have ceased to be a reliable driver of global growth. US freight volumes are falling for the first time in years. And the list goes on.

“We have seen this burst of globalization, and now we’re at a point of consolidation, maybe retrenchment,” WTO chief economist Robert Koopman said last autumn. “It’s almost like the timing belt on the global growth engine is a bit off or the cylinders are not firing as they should.

As we noted earlier this month, to the extent Maersk is a bellwether, things are looking pretty grim. Maersk Line – the company’s golden goose and the world’s largest container operator – racked up $182 million in red ink last quarter and the outlook for 2016 isn’t pretty either. The company now sees demand for seaborne container transportation rising a meager 1-3% for the year.

On Thursday we got the latest evidence that the wheels are falling off. According to new data from the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis’s World Trade Monitor, global trade (defined as the value of goods that crossed international borders) plunged nearly 14% in 2015.

That’s the first contraction since 2009.

“The new data released on Thursday represent the first snapshot of global trade for 2015,” FT notes. “But the figures also come amid growing concerns that 2016 is already shaping up to be more fraught with dangers for the global economy than previously expected.”

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

2016: The Year Wishful Thinking Fails

2016: The Year Wishful Thinking Fails 

If we collectively choose wishful thinking, catastrophic consequences are guaranteed.

Wishful thinking has been an integral driver of the “recovery” 2009-2015:asset bubbles aren’t bubbles, central bank policies are brilliantly successful, unemployment has dropped to levels of full employment, and so on.

The problems with wishful thinking that I describe in my book A Radically Beneficial World are becoming more apparent by the day:

1. Elite/Technocrat self-confirmation: Those in the top technocrat/financial layer of the economy look at their own success and think since the status quo is working great for me and my peers, it’s working for everyone.

2. This wishful thinking reinforces the positive bias of status quo institutions run by the technocrat caste and state apparatchiks: the mainstream financial media, government agencies, etc.

3. Wishful thinking appears less risky that gambling on new ideas that might not pay off; wishful thinking is thus viewed by those benefiting from the status quo as the safe bet.

4. When we face difficult problems, wishful thinking is counter-productive because it doesn’t generate solutions. Wishful thinking satisfies our preference for low-risk comfort, but it doesn’t solve problems.

If you’re running a real enterprise, i.e. one that will bankrupt you if you fail to solve problems, wishful thinking is catastrophic.  There are few guarantees in life, but wishful thinking guarantees failure.

Consider a short list of conventional economic/financial beliefs that are shot through with wishful thinking:

— China will manage to slowly depreciate its currency without upsetting the apple carts of global growth and capital flows (never mind that China’s leadership has no history of managing such a transition.)

— Unemployment in the U.S. is less than 5%, a rate that signals full employment and a robust, durable job market (never mind the number of full-time jobs that can support a household remains anemic.)

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

Ifo WorldEconomic Climate Index: 1Q 2016

Ifo WorldEconomic Climate Index: 1Q 2016

Global growth leading indicators are screaming it, Baltic Dry Index is screaming it, PMIs are screaming it, BRICS are living it, and now Ifo surveys are showing it: global economy is heading into a storm.

The latest warning is from the Ifo World Economic Climate Index.

Per Ifo release: “The Ifo Index for the world economy dropped from 89.6 points to 87.8 points this quarter, drifting further from its long-term average (96.1 points). While assessments of the current economic situation brightened marginally, expectations were less positive than last quarter. The sharp decline in oil prices seems to be having no overall positive economic impact. Growth in the world economy continues to lack impetus.”

In numbers, thus:

  • Headline World Economic Climate Index is now averaging 88.7 over the two quarters through 1Q 2016, which is statistically below 97.7 average for the 2 quarters through 3Q 2015 and 93.2 average for 4 quarters through 1Q 2016. Current 2 quarters average is way lower than 8 quarters average of 98.4. Historical average is 94.9, but when one considers only periods of robust economic growth, the index average is 98.9. Again, current 2 quarters average is significantly below that.
  • Present Situation sub-index 2 quarters average is at 87.0, which is woefully lower than 2 quarters average through 3Q 2015 at 91.6 and is well below 96.0 average for the historical series covering periods of robust economic expansions.
  • Expectations for the next 6 months sub-index is at 90.4 on the 2 quarters average basis, down from 103.5 2 quarters average through 3Q 2015 and below historical (expansion periods only) average of 101.5.

Geographically, per Ifo release: “The economic climate deteriorated in all regions, except in Oceania, Asia and Latin America. In Oceania the climate index stabilised at a low level, and in Asia and Latin America it edged upwards. The indicator is now below its long-term average in all regions, with the exception of Europe.

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

The Paris Gravity Well, Part II: Trillionization

The Paris Gravity Well, Part II: Trillionization

“We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams.”

Charlie said, “That’s the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You’ve spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers’ money over the lifetime of the bank and there’s nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops. Then, when the prices of those crops collapse, you call this “nicely competitive” on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy….

“You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and instead you’ve been carpetbaggers.”

— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).

“With fundamentals changing slowly and risk appetite falling rapidly, the stage is set for a longer period of risk asset underperformance,” Jabaz Mathai, a strategist at Citigroup Inc., said.  “There is no quick fix to the headwinds facing global growth.”
“Similar periods of weakness have occurred in only five other instances since 1985: (1) the majority of 1988, (2) the first half of 1991, (3) several weeks in early 1996, (4) late 2000 and early 2001, and (5) late 2008 and the majority of 2009 … all either overlapped with a recession, or preceded a recession by a few quarters.” There has been a storm brewing since the last trifle with full-on collapse in 2008-2009. The extend-and-pretend debt balloon was reinflated and stretched to new enormities as Keynesian cash infusions fueled a Minsky Moment, if not a Korowicz Crunch.

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

Extreme Weather and Global Growth

Extreme Weather and Global Growth

CAMBRIDGE – Until recently, the usual thinking among macroeconomists has been that short-term weather fluctuations don’t matter much for economic activity. Construction hiring may be stronger than usual in a March when the weather is unseasonably mild, but there will be payback in April and May. If heavy rains discourage people from shopping in August, they will just spend more in September.

But recent economic research, bolstered by an exceptionally strong El Niño – a complex global climactic event marked by exceptionally warm Pacific Ocean water off the coast of Ecuador and Peru – has prompted a rethink of this view.

Extreme weather certainly throws a ringer into key short-term macroeconomic statistics. It can add or subtract 100,000 jobs to monthly US employment, the single most-watched economic statistic in the world, and generally thought to be one of the most accurate. The impact of El Niño-related weather events like the one this year (known more precisely as “El Niño Southern Oscillation” events) can be especially large because of their global reach.

Recent research from the International Monetary Fund suggests that countries such as Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Africa suffer adversely in El Niño years (often due to droughts), whereas some regions, including the United States, Canada, and Europe, can benefit. California, for example, which has been experiencing years of severe drought, is finally getting rain. Generally, but not always, El Niño events tend to be inflationary, in part because low crop yields lead to higher prices.

After two crazy winters in Boston, where I live, it would be hard to convince people that weather doesn’t matter. Last year, the city experienced the largest snow accumulation on record. Eventually, there was no longer any place to put it: four-lane highways narrowed to two lanes, and two-lane roads to one. Roofs collapsed and “ice dams” building up from gutters caused severe flooding.

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

Why Big Oil Should Kill Itself

Why Big Oil Should Kill Itself

LONDON – Now that oil prices have settled into a long-term range of $30-50 per barrel (as described here a year ago), energy users everywhere are enjoying an annual income boost worth more than $2 trillion. The net result will almost certainly accelerate global growth, because the beneficiaries of this enormous income redistribution are mostly lower- and middle-income households that spend all they earn.

Of course, there will be some big losers – mainly governments in oil-producing countries, which will run down reserves and borrow in financial markets for as long as possible, rather than cut public spending. That, after all, is politicians’ preferred approach, especially when they are fighting wars, defying geopolitical pressures, or confronting popular revolts.

But not all producers will lose equally. One group really is cutting back sharply: Western oil companies, which have announced investment reductions worth about $200 billion this year. That has contributed to the weakness of stock markets worldwide; yet, paradoxically, oil companies’ shareholders could end up benefiting handsomely from the new era of cheap oil.

Just one condition must be met. The managements of leading energy companies must face economic reality and abandon their wasteful obsession with finding new oil. The 75 biggest oil companies are still investing more than $650 billion annually to find and extract fossil fuels in ever more challenging environments. This has been one of the greatest misallocations of capital in history – economically feasible only because of artificial monopoly prices.

But the monopoly has fallen on hard times. Assuming that a combination of shale development, environmental pressure, and advances in clean energy keep the OPEC cartel paralyzed, oil will now trade like any other commodity in a normal competitive market, as it did from 1986 to 2005. As investors appreciate this new reality, they will focus on a basic principle of economics: “marginal cost pricing.”

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

The Chilling Thing Gartner Just Said About a Once Hot Engine of Global Growth

The Chilling Thing Gartner Just Said About a Once Hot Engine of Global Growth

Hope took another hit from the reality of fickle, strung-out consumers.

Apple sold 1.5 million watches during the first week, about 200,000 a day, its most successful product launch ever. Before the launch, media hype had become a total-immersion program. No company has ever dominated the media like this. Today,MarketWatch reported that sales, based on data from Slice, might have plunged 90% since that week, to fewer than 20,000 watches a day, and on some days fewer than 10,000.

“The value of a smartwatch for the average user is still not compelling enough,” explained IT research and advisory company Gartner in its report on worldwide electronic device shipments.

But it’s not just smartwatches.

The other beacon of hope in the electronic device sector, the smartphone, got broadsided today by Samsung, which cut its Q2 guidance, expecting revenues to drop 8% from a year ago. Yet, in April, the company had launched its flagship Galaxy S6 which was supposed to boost sales. Samsung didn’t give details, but there are a few culprits, such as lousy S6 performance against its competitors, weak demand in China and Europe, and the old standby, currency headwinds.

Gartner now expects shipment growth in the once sizzling mobile phone market to slow to a barely perceptible 3.3% in 2015. The report points at China:

The global market has been affected by a weaker performance in China. We have witnessed fewer and fewer first time buyers in China, a sign that the mobile phone market there is reaching saturation. Vendors in China will have to win replacement buyers and improve the appeal of their premium offerings to attract upgrades, if they want to maintain or increase their market share.

So it’s going to get tough in the Promised Land of 1.36 billion consumers. Hence, hope has to move beyond China:


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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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