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Fiat’s failings, gold and blockchains

Fiat’s failings, gold and blockchains 

The world stands on the edge of a cyclical downturn, exacerbated by trade tariffs initiated by America. We know what will happen: the major central banks will attempt to inflate their way out of the consequences. And those of us with an elementary grasp of economics should know why the policy will fail.

In addition to the monetary and debt inflation since the Lehman crisis, it is highly likely the major international currencies will suffer a catastrophic loss of purchasing power from a new round of monetary expansion, calling for a replacement of today’s fiat currency system with something more stable. The ultimate solution, unlikely to be adopted, is to reinstate gold as circulating money, and how gold works as money is outlined in this article.

Instead, central banks will struggle for fiat-based solutions, which are bound to face a similar fate with or without the blockchain technology being actively considered. The Asian and BRICS blocs have an opportunity to do something with gold. But will they take it?

Introduction

Central banks around the world are praying that there won’t be a recession, and if there is that a further monetary stimulus will ensure economic recovery. Their problem is Keynesian theory says it will work, but last time it didn’t. In fact, it has never worked beyond a temporary basis. The big surprise this time was the lack of officially recorded price inflation. But this is due to the system gaming the numbers, making it appear there has been some moderate growth when a proper deflator would confirm most Western economies have been contracting in real terms for the last ten years. 

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America’s trade policy will end up destroying the dollar

America’s trade policy will end up destroying the dollar 

America’s tariffs against China are already showing signs of undermining the global economy and will create a funding crisis for the Federal Government when it leads to foreigners no longer buying US Treasury debt and selling down their existing dollar holdings. A subversive attempt by America to divert global portfolio investment from China by destabilising Hong Kong will force China into a Plan B to fund its infrastructure plans, which could involve actively selling down her dollar reserves and hastening the introduction of a new crypto-based trade settlement currency.

The US budget deficit will then be financed entirely by monetary inflation. Furthermore, the turn of the credit cycle, made more destructive by trade tariffs, is driving the global and US economy into a slump, further accelerating all indebted governments’ dependency on inflationary financing. The end result is America’s trade policies have been instrumental in hastening the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, ultimately leading to its destruction.

Introduction

For almost two years President Trump has imposed various tariffs on imported Chinese goods. He advertised his tactics as hardball from a tough president who knows the art of the deal, taking his business acumen and applying it to foreign affairs. He even proudly described himself as a tariff man.

His opening gambit was to impose tariffs on some goods to get leverage over the Chinese, with the threat that if they didn’t cooperate, then further tariffs would be introduced. The Chinese declined to be cowed by threats, introducing tariffs themselves on US imports, particularly agricultural products, to bring pressure to bear in turn on President Trump. 

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The monetary lessons from Germany

The monetary lessons from Germany 

Germany suffered two currency collapses in the last century, in 1920-23 and1945-48. The architect of the recovery from the former, Hjalmar Schacht, chose to cooperate with the Nazi successors to the Weimar Republic, and failed. In that of the second, Ludwig Erhard remained true to his free market credentials and succeeded. While they were in different circumstances, comparisons between the two events might give some guidance to politicians faced with similar destructions of their state currencies, which is a growing possibility.

Introduction

Let us assume the next credit crisis is on its way. Given enhanced levels of government debt, it is likely to be more serious than the last one in 2008. Let us also note that it is happening despite the supposed stimulus of low and negative interest rates, when we would expect them to be at their maximum in the credit cycle, and that some $17 trillion of bonds are negative yielding, an unnatural distortion of markets. Let us further assume that McKinsey in their annual banking survey of 2019 are correct when they effectively say that 60% of the world’s banks are consuming their capital before a credit crisis. Add to this a developing recession in Germany that will almost certainly lead to both Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank having to be rescued by the German government. And note the IMF recently warned that $19 trillion in corporate debt is a systemic timebomb, and that collateralised loan obligations and direct exposure to junk held by the US commercial banks is approximately equal to the sum of their equity.

Then we can say with some confidence that a major credit crisis is developing, and that it will almost certainly be far greater than Lehman.

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Precious metals round-up

Precious metals round-up 

 By October 24, 2019 

Growing evidence of an economic downturn despite unprecedented monetary inflation since Lehman means a new credit and systemic crisis is becoming increasingly certain. In an attempt to prevent a new crisis developing, this time the scale of monetary inflation by the authorities will have to be even greater. The rise in the price of gold since December 2015 and its break-out from a three-year consolidation period earlier this year confirms that the risks of a credit and systemic crisis undermining fiat currencies have been increasing for some time. 

It is now likely that in future portfolio managers will increase their investment allocations in favour of gold and actively consider investing in silver and platinum as well. It is in this context that this article looks at the price relationships between the three precious metals and their relevant monetary and investment characteristics.

Introduction

Markets are playing a dangerous game of chicken with economic reality, which every passing day tells us that trade is slowing, and credit everywhere is maxed out. Key economies are beginning to reflect this in statistics, having for much of this year screamed the message at us through business surveys. Central banks know their monetary policies have failed. The ECB has already announced deeper negative deposit rates and is reviving its asset purchase programme (printing) from next month. The Fed is injecting liquidity (more printing) through repos in far larger quantities into its monetary system which, mysteriously, is short of money despite commercial banks having combined reserves of $1.44 trillion at the Fed.

We should not be surprised at its inability to join the dots between cause and effect, but warnings from the IMF about a $19 trillion corporate debt timebomb, coming from an organisation that is the deep-state of the economic system and has been consistently advocating monetary inflation, is tantamount to an official admission of global monetary failure. Where to now? Print, and print again. 

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Monetary failure is becoming inevitable

Monetary failure is becoming inevitable 

This article posits that there is an unpleasant conjunction of events beginning to undermine government finances in advanced nations. They combine the arrival of a long-term trend of rising welfare commitments with an increasing certainty of a global-scale credit crisis, in turn the outcome of a combination of the peak of the credit cycle and increasing trade protectionism. We see the latter already undermining the global economy, catching both governments and investors unexpectedly.

Few observers seem aware that an economic and systemic crisis will occur at a time when government finances are already precarious. However, the consequences are unthinkable for the authorities, and for this reason it is certain such a downturn will lead to a substantial increase in monetary inflation. The scale of the problem needs to be grasped in order to assess how destructive it will be for government finances and ultimately state-issued currencies.

Introduction

Water graph

Listening to recent commentaries about the repo failures in New York leads one to suppose there is insufficient money in the system. This is not the real issue, as the chart below of the fiat money quantity for the dollar clearly shows. 

The fiat money quantity is the amount of fiat money (in this case US dollars) both in circulation and held in reserve on the central bank’s balance sheet. Before the Lehman crisis, it grew at a fairly constant compound growth rate of 5.86%. Since the Lehman crisis, it has grown at an average of 9.45%, even after the slowdown in its rate of growth that started in January 2017. FMQ is still $5 trillion above where it would have been today if the massive monetary expansion in the wake of the Lehman crisis had not happened. If there is a shortage of money, it is because the process of debt creation to fund current expenditure is spiralling out of control.

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An Inflationary Depression

An Inflationary Depression 

Financial markets are ignoring bearish developments in international trade, which coincide with the end of a long expansionary phase for credit. Both empirical evidence from the one occasion these conditions existed in the past and reasoned theory suggest the consequences of this collective folly will be enormous, undermining both financial asset values and fiat currencies.

The last time this coincidence occurred was 1929-32, leading into the great depression, when prices for commodities and output prices for consumer goods fell heavily. With unsound money and a central banking determination to maintain prices, depression conditions will be concealed by monetary expansion, but still exist, nonetheless.

Introduction

The unfortunate souls who are beholden to macroeconomics will read this article’s headline as a contradiction, because they regard inflation as a stimulant and a depression as the consequence of deflation, the opposite of inflation. 

An economic depression does not require deflation, if by that term is meant a contraction of the money in circulation. More correctly, it is the collective impoverishment of the people, which is most easily achieved by debasement of the currency: in other words, monetary inflation. Fundamental to the myth that an inflation of the money supply is the path to economic recovery are the forecasts by the economic establishment that the world, or its smaller national units, will suffer no more than a mild recession before economic growth resumes. It is not only complacent central bank and government economists that say this, but their followers in the private sector as well. 

It is for this reason that the S&P 500 Index is still only a few per cent below its all-time high. If there was the slightest hint that Corporate America risks being destabilised by a depression, this would not be the case.

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The Ghost of Failed Banks Returns

The Ghost of Failed Banks Returns 

Last week’s failure in the US repo market might have had something to do with Deutsche Bank’s disposal of its prime brokerage to BNP, bringing an unwelcome spotlight to the troubled bank and other foreign banks with prime brokerages in America. There are also worrying similarities between Germany’s Deutsche Bank today and Austria’s Credit-Anstalt in 1931, only the scale is far larger and additionally includes derivatives with a gross value of $50 trillion. 

If the repo problem spreads, it could also raise questions over the synthetic ETF industry, whose cash and deposits may face escalating counterparty risks in some of the large banks and their prime brokerages. Managers of synthetic ETFs should be urgently re-evaluating their contractual relationships.

Whoever the repo failure involved, it is likely to prove a watershed moment, causing US bankers to more widely consider their exposure to counterparty risk and risky loans, particularly leveraged loans and their collateralised form in CLOs. The deterioration in global trade prospects, as well as the US economic outlook and the likelihood that reducing dollar interest rates to the zero bound will prove insufficient to reverse a decline, will take on a new relevance to their decisions.

Problems under the surface

Last week, something unusual happened: instead of the more normal reverse repurchase agreements, the Fed escalated its repurchase agreements (repos). For the avoidance of doubt, a reverse repo by the Fed involves the Fed borrowing money from commercial banks, secured by collateral held on its balance sheet, typically US Treasury bills. Reverse repos withdraw liquidity from the banking system. With a repo, the opposite happens: the Fed takes in collateral from the banking system and lends money against the collateral, injecting liquidity into the system. The use of reverse repos can be regarded as the Fed’s principal liquidity management tool when the banks have substantial reserves parked with the Fed, which is the case today.

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Silver prices with explosive upside

Silver prices with explosive upside 

Silver prices have lagged gold prices since 2017 which has pushed the gold-to-silver ratio close to the all-time high. Silver prices are also significantly below what is predicted by our pricing model. We think that the reasons for this subdued performance are transitory and that silver will outperform gold again as the next precious metals cycle continues to rapidly unfold. 

In spring 2017, we introduced a framework for understanding the formation of silver prices (Silver price framework: Both money and a commodity, March 9, 2017). In this report we are going to use this framework to analyze the recent performance of silver and give an outlook for where we think silver is heading over the coming months. In our framework piece, we concluded that silver is both money (store of value) and an input commodity and thus the impact of both industrial and monetary demand needs to be taken into consideration:

  • On the one hand, silver is a counterparty-risk-free form of money where replacement costs set the lower boundary for prices – the same energy proof of value that underlies gold prices. Thus, silver should be impacted by the same drivers as gold prices: Real-interest rate expectations, central bank policy, and longer-dated energy prices.
  • On the other hand, silver is a commodity with extensive industrial applications. Hence, changes in industrial activity should impact the price of silver as well.

In our framework note, we also discussed the two main reasons why we think that silver tends to outperform gold in bull markets and underperform in bear markets:

  • Because the value of global silver stocks is much smaller than that of global gold stocks – which is the result of silver being used in industrial applications – a rise in monetary demand for silver has a disproportionally large effect. In other words, when demand for metals increases as an alternative to fiat currency, there is simply less silver around to change hands.

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Post-tariff considerations

Post-tariff considerations 

President Trump has declared he will extend tariffs of 25% on all America’s imports of Chinese goods. China is responding with tariff increases of its own. The consequences of this action and reaction will be to kick-start higher monetary inflation in America and an economic slump. This article explains how an overdue credit crisis will be made considerably worse by trade protectionism. It could become the credit crisis to end all credit crises and undermine the whole fiat currency system.

Introduction

Following President Trump’s imposition of 25% tariffs on all Chinese imports, it is time to assesses the consequences. Already, we have seen a contraction in US-China trade of 20% in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same quarter last year, and also compared with the average outturn for the whole of 2018.[i] This contraction was worse than that which followed the Lehman crisis.

In assessing the extent of the impact of Trump’s tariffs on the US economy, we must take into account a number of inter-related factors. Clearly, higher prices to US consumers will hit Chinese imports, which explains why they have dropped 20% so far, and why they will likely drop even more. Interestingly, US exports to China fell by the same percentage, though they are about one quarter of China’s exports to the US. 

These inter-related factors are, but not limited to:

  • The effect of the new tariff increases on trade volumes
  • The effect on US consumer prices
  • The effect on US production costs of tariffs on imported Chinese components
  • The consequences of retaliatory action on US exports to China
  • The recessionary impact of all the above on GDP
  • The consequences for the US budget deficit, allowing for likely tariff income to the US Treasury.

These are only first-order effects in what becomes an iterative process, and will be accompanied and followed by:

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Cyber wars and all that

Cyber wars and all that 

Behind the Huawei story, we must not forget there is a wider financial war being waged by America against China and Russia. Stories about China’s banks being short of dollars are incorrect: the shortage is of inward capital flows to support the US Government’s budget deficit. By attracting those global portfolio flows instead, China’s Belt and Road Initiative threatens US Government finances, so the financial war and associated disinformation can be expected to escalate. Hong Kong is likely to be in the firing line, due to its role in providing China with access to international finance.

Introduction

Huawei is hitting the headlines. From ordering the arrest of its Chief Financial Officer in Vancouver last December to the latest efforts to dissuade its allies from adopting Huawei’s 5G mobile technology, it has been a classic deep state operation by the Americans. Admittedly, the Chinese have left themselves open to attack by introducing a loosely-drafted cybersecurity law in 2016/17 which according to Western defence circles appears to require all Chinese technology companies to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. 

Consequently, no one now knows whether to trust Huawei, who have some of the leading technology for 5G. The problem for network operators is who to believe. Intelligence services are in the business of dissembling, which they do through political puppets, all of which are professionals at being economical with the truth. Who can forget Weapons of Mass Destruction? More recently there was the Skripal poisoning mystery: the Russians would have been bang-to-rights, if it wasn’t for Skripal’s links through Pablo Miller to Christopher Steele, who put together the dodgy dossier on Trump’s alleged behaviour in a Russian hotel.

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The US Government Debt Crisis

The US Government Debt Crisis 

This article explains why the US Government is ensnared in a debt trap from which there is no escape. Its finances are spiralling out of control. In the context of a rapidly slowing global economy, the budget deficit can only be financed by QE and bank credit expansion. Do not draw comfort from trade protectionism: it will not prevent the trade deficit increasing at the expense of domestic production, unless you believe there will be an unlikely resurgence in personal saving rates. We can now begin to see how the debt crisis will evolve, leading to the destruction of the dollar.

Introduction

At the time of writing (Thursday April 24) bond yields are crashing, the euro has broken down against the dollar and equities are hitting new highs. Obviously, equities are taking their queue from bonds. But bond yields are crashing because the global economy is sending some very worrying signals. Equity investors will be hoping monetary easing (which they now fully expect) will kick the can down the road once again and economies will continue to bubble along. They are ignoring some very basic economic facts…

Regular readers of my Insight articles will be aware of strong indications that the expansionary phase of the credit cycle is now over, and that we at grave risk of falling headlong into a global credit and systemic crisis. The underlying condition is that economic actors and their bankers accustomed to credit expansion are beginning to realise the assumptions behind their borrowing commitments earlier in the credit cycle were incorrect. 

That’s why it is a credit cycle. It is driven by prior credit expansion which corrals all producers into acting in an expansionary manner at the same time. Random activity, the condition of a true laissez-faire economy, ceases. Instead, credit conditions act on profit-seeking businesses in a state-managed context.

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The return to a gold exchange standard 

The return to a gold exchange standard 

This article makes the obvious point that a return to a gold standard is the only way nations can contain the interest cost of servicing debt, given the alternative is inflationist policies that can only lead to far higher interest rates and currency destruction. The topic is timely, given the self-harm of American economic and geopolitical policies, which are already leading America into a cyclical slump. Meanwhile, American fears of Asian domination of global economic, monetary and political outcomes have come true. The upcoming credit crisis is likely to kill off the welfare state model in the West by destroying their unbacked paper currencies, while China, Russia and their Asian allies have the means to prosper.

The fragility of state finances

In my last Goldmoney article I explained why the monetary policies of inflationist economists and policy makers would end up destroying fiat currencies. The destruction will come from ordinary people, who are forced by law to use the state’s money for settling their day-to-day transactions. Ordinary people, each one a trinity of production, consumption and saving, will eventually wake up to the fraud of monetary inflation and discard their government’s medium of exchange as intrinsically worthless.

They always have, eventually. This has been proved by experience and should be uncontroversial. For the issuer of a currency, the risk of this happening heightens when credit markets become destabilised and confidence in the full faith and credit, which is the only backing a fiat currency has, begins to be questioned either by its users or foreigners or both. And when it does, a currency starts to rapidly lose purchasing power and the whole interest rate structure moves higher.

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Currencies threatened by a credit crisis

Currencies threatened by a credit crisis 

In this article I draw attention to the similarities between the current economic situation and that of 1929, and the threat to today’s unbacked currencies. There is the coincidence of trade protectionism with the top of the credit cycle, and there are the inflationary events that preceded it. The principal difference today is in modern macroeconomic delusions, which hold that regulating inflation of money and credit is the solution to all ills. I conclude that economic salvation can only come from ditching today’s macroeconomic theories and by returning to monetary stability through credible gold exchange standards.

Introduction

There is an assumption in economic circles that when the general level of prices changes, it is always due to changes in supply and demand for goods and services. Prices change all the time, but without a change in the public’s preference for or against holding money and with all else being equal, the general level of prices simply cannot change. Changes in the general level of prices are due to changes in the purchasing power of the money, which stems from the public’s preferences for or against it and do not emanate from goods and services.

This may not at first sight appear to matter, but it calls into question the widespread assumption that price changes are only due to changes in supply and demand for goods and services. It is a basic error behind modern monetary theory (MMT), whose supporters are busy reviving Georg Knapp’s Chartalist theories of money, the theories that permitted Bismarck’s inflationary pre-war armament financing and the subsequent collapse of the German currency in 1923. Believers in a divine right for the state to issue currency will not let themselves be distracted by inconvenient facts. MMT followers are only one group of neo-Keynesian inflationists, who are generally blind to the blunders of their revisionist economics.

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The Tragedy Of The Euro

The Tragedy Of The Euro

After two decades, the euro’s minders look set to drive the Eurozone into deep trouble. December was the last month of the ECB’s monthly purchases of government debt. A softening global economy will increase government deficits unexpectedly. The consequence will be a new cycle of sharply rising bond yields for the weakest Eurozone members, and systemically destabilising losses in the bond portfolios owned by Eurozone banks

The blame-game

It’s the twentieth anniversary of the euro’s existence, and far from being celebrated it is being blamed for many, if not all of the Eurozone’s ills.

However, the euro cannot be blamed for the monetary and policy failures of the ECB, national central banks and politicians. It is just a fiat currency, like all the others, only with a different provenance. All fiat currencies owe their function as a medium of exchange from the faith its users have in it. But unlike other currencies in their respective jurisdictions, the euro has become a talisman for monetary and economic failures in the European Union.

Recognise that, and we have a chance of understanding why the Eurozone has its troubles and why there are mounting risks of a new Eurozone systemic crisis. These troubles will not be resolved by replacing the euro with one of its founding components, or, indeed, a whole new fiat-money construct. It is here to stay, because it is not in the users’ interest to ditch it.

As is so often the case, the motivation for blaming the euro for some or all the Eurozone’s troubles is to shift responsibility from the real culprits, which are the institutions that created and manage it. This article briefly summarises the key points in the history of the euro project and notes how the mistakes of the past are being repeated without the safety-net of the ECB’s asset purchases.

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Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

Gold – A Perfect Storm For 2019

This article is an overview of the principal factors likely to drive the gold price in 2019. It looks at the global factors that have developed in 2018 for both gold and the dollar, how geopolitics are likely to evolve, the economic outlook and how it is worsened for the dollar by President Trump’s tariff war against China, the availability and likely demand for bullion, and the technical position in paper markets. Taken together, the outlook is bullish for gold.

2018 reprise

For gold bulls, 2018 was disappointing. From 11 December 2017, when gold made a significant bottom against the dollar at $1243, it has ended virtually unchanged today, after being 4.2% up. Gold had to struggle against a rising dollar, whose trade-weighted index rose a net 3.7% over the same period, and as much as 9.4% from its mid-February low.

Dollar strength has been driven less by trade imbalances and more by interest rate differentials. A speculating bank for its own book or for a hedge fund client can borrow 3-month Euro Libor at minus0.354% and invest it in 3-month US Treasury bills at 2.36%, for a round trip of over 2.7%. Gear this up ten times or more, either on a bank’s capital, or through reverse repos for annualised returns of over 27%. To this can be added the currency gain, which at times has added enough to overall returns for an unhedged geared position to double the investment.

Not that these forex returns have been guaranteed, but you get the picture. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have been frozen into inactivity, reluctant to raise rates to correct this imbalance, and the punters have known it.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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