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Wrong… Again

Wrong… Again

The Federal Reserve met last week and voted to keep interest rates unchanged. What a shock!

The Fed also gave an upbeat forecast of economic growth, predicting that the U.S. economy will grow 6.5% this year, its highest rate in nearly 40 years. Its December 2020 forecast projected 4.2% growth.

The Fed also expects that the economy could return to full employment next year and that inflation could hit 2.4% this year before declining again.

In effect, the central bank said they were willing to let the economy run “hot” and risk higher inflation in order to capture the benefits of stronger growth.

Zero rates are essentially a given as far as the eye can see. What about that growth forecast?

The Fed has one of the worst forecasting records of any financial institution in the world. My expectation is that growth is slowing now and will get worse as the year progresses.

I believe this will be especially true as the Biden administration policies of higher taxes, more regulation, and open borders that import cheap labor take effect.

Biden has also shut down new oil and gas exploration and wants to push a Green New Deal that will guarantee higher energy prices. Higher energy prices are a burden on the economy.

Little Cause for Optimism

Where’s the evidence that growth is slower than the Fed expects?

Inflation measures remain weak. The annual core consumer price inflation rate moved down from 1.7% in September 2020 to 1.3% in February 2021.

The overall consumer price inflation rate (including food and energy) rose modestly from 1.4% in September 2020 to 1.7% in February 2021.

On a year-over-year basis, the core personal consumption expenditures rate of increase (the Fed’s preferred index) moved from 1.4% in October 2020 to 1.5% in January 2021.

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

daily reckoning, james rickards, fed, us federal reserve, inflation, price inflation, cpi, consumer price inflation,

The Foundation for Potential Price Hyperinflation is Being Laid

The Federal Reserve sure seems to have a tough time finding and reporting signs of rising inflation — especially when it’s hidden in other sectors like a lack of demand for energy.

A recent example of the Fed’s “inflation blindness” comes from a speech Chairman Jerome Powell gave to the Economic Club of New York. According to a MarketWatch piece that reported on that speech:

Powell said he doesn’t expect “a large nor sustained” increase in inflation right now. Price rises from the “burst of spending” as the economy reopens are not likely to be sustained.

It’s odd that Powell would say he doesn’t expect a sustained increase in inflation, because food price inflation has consistently run 3.5 to 4.5 percent since April last year. That sure seems like a sustained increase in food prices.

What Powell seems to have “forgotten” is that some of the overall inflation includes negative energy price inflation (as low as negative 9 percent at one point). But now that the demand for fuel is returning, the official gasoline index rose 7.4 percent in January.

It will be much more challenging for Powell to keep downplaying the risk of hyperinflation once energy price inflation rises back to “pre-pandemic” levels.

In fact, Robert Wenzel thinks the main inflation event is “just about to hit.” If it does, and inflation does rise past Powell’s two percent target, it isn’t likely to stop there. Jim Rickards thinks that’s when hyperinflation can gain momentum:

If inflation does hit 3%, it is more likely to go to 6% or higher, rather than back down to 2%. The process will feed on itself and be difficult to stop. Sadly, there are no Volckers or Reagans on the horizon today. There are only weak political leaders and misguided central bankers.

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

 

The Only Way Out of the Death Trap

The Only Way Out of the Death Trap

I’ve said the U.S. is caught in a debt death trap. Monetary policy won’t get us out because the velocity of money, the rate at which money changes hands, is dropping.

Printing more money alone will not change that.

Fiscal policy won’t work either because of high debt ratios. At current debt-to-GDP ratios, each additional dollar spent yields less than a dollar of growth. But because it must be borrowed, it does add a dollar to the debt. Debt becomes an actual drag on growth.

The ratio gets higher, and the situation grows more desperate. The economy barely grows at all while the debt mounts. You basically become Japan.

The national debt is $27.8 trillion. A $27.8 trillion debt would not be an issue if we had a $50 trillion economy.

But we don’t have a $50 trillion economy. We have about a $21 trillion economy, which means our debt is bigger than our economy.

The debt-to-GDP ratio is about 130%. Before the pandemic, it was about 105% (the policy response to the pandemic caused the spike).

Already in the Danger Zone

But even a ratio of 105% is in the danger zone.

Economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart carried out a long historical survey going back 800 years, looking at individual countries, or empires in some cases, that have gone broke or defaulted on their debt.

They put the danger zone at a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90%. Once it reaches 90%, debt becomes a drag on growth.

Meanwhile, we’re looking at deficits of $1 trillion or more, long after the pandemic subsides.

In basic terms, the United States is going broke. We’re heading for a sovereign debt crisis.

I don’t say that for effect. I’m not looking to scare people or to make a splash. That’s just an honest assessment based on the numbers.

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

 

The Bogus Case Against Gold

The Bogus Case Against Gold

Gold is in the early stages of its third great bull run that will take it to record heights.

The first two great bull markets were 1971-1980 (gold up 2,200%) and 1999-2011 (gold up 760%). After peaking in 2011, gold fell sharply from that peak to below $1,100 per ounce by 2015.

Now the third great bull market is underway. It began on December 16, 2015, when gold bottomed at $1,050 per ounce at the end of the 2011-2015 bear market. Since then, gold is up significantly, but it’s small change compared to 2,200% and 760% gains in the last two bull markets.

Still, most mainstream economists dismiss gold. They call it a barbarous relic and say it has no place in today’s monetary system.

But today, I want to remind you of the three main arguments mainstream economists make against gold and why they’re dead wrong.

There’s Just Not Enough Gold to Support the Money Supply!

The first one you may have heard many times. “Experts” say there’s not enough gold to support a global financial system. Gold can’t support all the world’s paper money, its assets and liabilities, its expanded balance sheets of all the banks and the financial institutions in the world. They say there’s not enough gold to support that money supply.

That argument is complete nonsense. It’s true that there’s a limited quantity of gold. But more importantly, there’s always enough gold to support the financial system. The key is to set its price correctly.

It is true that at today’s price of about $1,875 an ounce, pegging it to the existing money supply would be highly deflationary.

But to avoid that, all we have to do is increase the gold price. In other words, take the amount of existing gold, place it at, say, $14,000 an ounce, and there’s plenty of gold to support the money supply.

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

Inflation

Inflation

Inflation

Remember all those “green shoots?”

That was the ubiquitous phrase used by White House officials and TV talking heads in 2009 to describe how the U.S. economy was coming back to life after the 2008 global financial crisis.

The problem was we did not get green shoots, we got more like brown weeds.

The economy did recover, yes, but it was the slowest recovery in U.S. history.

After the green shoots theory had been discredited, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner promised a “recovery summer” in 2010.

That didn’t happen either.

The recovery did continue, but it took years for the stock market to return to its previous highs and even longer for unemployment to come down to levels that could be regarded as close to full employment.

Now, in the aftermath of the 2020 pandemic and market crash, we’re getting the same happy talk.

Green Shoots, or Brown Weeds?

The White House is talking about “pent-up demand” as the economy reopens and consumers flock to stores and restaurants to make up for the lost spending during the March to July pandemic lockdown.

But, the data shows that the “pent-up demand” theory is just as much of a mirage as the green shoots we heard about a decade ago..

Many of the businesses that closed have failed in the meantime. They will never reopen and those lost jobs are never coming back. Even people who kept their jobs are not spending like it’s 2019, they’re saving at record levels.

Meanwhile, the “reopening” of the economy is now in doubt.

In some cities, the reopening was derailed by riots that left shopping districts in ruins. In other cities, the reopening was stopped in its tracks by new outbreaks of the virus that led to new lockdowns and strict application of rules on wearing masks and social distancing.

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

Rickards: This Time IS Different

Rickards: This Time IS Different

Rickards: This Time IS Different

Stocks stumbled out of the gate today, at least partially on fears about a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

South Korea, which did an excellent job containing the virus, has reported a new batch of cases. Japan and Singapore also reported new cases. Infections are increasing in Germany as well, where lockdown restrictions are being lifted.

We can also expect a rise in U.S. cases as several states lift their own restrictions.

From both epidemiological and market perspectives, the pandemic has a long way to go. Its economic effects are already without precedent…

In the midst of this economic collapse, many investors and analysts return reflexively to the 2008 financial panic.

That crisis was severe, and of course trillions of dollars of wealth were lost in the stock market. That comparison is understandable, but it does not begin to scratch the surface.

This collapse is worse than 2008, worse than the 2000 dot-com meltdown, worse than the 1998 Russia-LTCM panic, worse than the 1994 Mexican crisis and many more panics.

You have to go back to 1929 and the start of the Great Depression for the right frame of reference.

But even that does not explain how bad things are today. After October 1929, the stock market fell 90% and unemployment hit 24%. But that took three years to fully play out, until 1932.

In this collapse the stock market fell 30% in a few weeks and unemployment is over 20%, also in a matter of a few weeks.

Since the stock market has further to fall and unemployment will rise further, we will get to Great Depression levels of collapse in months, not years. How much worse can the economy get?

Well, “Dr. Doom,” Nouriel Roubini, can give you some idea.

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

Worst Recession in 150 Years

Worst Recession in 150 Years

Worst Recession in 150 Years

The stock market had another big day today, spurred by the Fed’s massive recent liquidity injections.

But you really shouldn’t be terribly surprised by the rally. Even the worst bear markets see substantial bouncebacks. And you can expect the market to give back all of its recent gains in the months ahead as the economic fallout of the lockdowns becomes apparent.

This bear market has a long way to run. And we could actually be looking at the worst recession in 150 years if one economist is correct. Let’s unpack this…

My regular readers know I have a low opinion of most academic economists, the ones you find at the Fed, the IMF and in mainstream financial media.

The problem is not that they’re uneducated; they have the Ph.D.s and high IQs to prove otherwise. I’ve met many of them and I can tell you they’re not idiots.

The problem is that they’re miseducated. They learn a lot of theories and models that do not correspond to the reality of how economies and capital markets actually work.

Worse yet, they keep coming up with new ones that muddy the waters even further. For example, concepts such as the Phillips curve (an inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment) are empirically false.

Other ideas such as “comparative advantage” have appeal in the faculty lounge but don’t work in the real world for many reasons, including the fact that nations create comparative advantage out of thin air with government subsidies and mercantilist demands.

Not the Early 19th Century Anymore

It’s not the early 19th century anymore, when the theory first developed. For example, at that time, a nation that specialized in wool products like sweaters (England) might not make the best leather products like shoes (Italy).

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

Markets and Black Swans

Markets and Black Swans

Markets and Black Swans

I began studying complexity theory as a consequence of my involvement with Long-Term Capital Management, LTCM, the hedge fund that collapsed in 1998 after derivatives trading strategies went catastrophically wrong.

After the collapse and subsequent rescue, I chatted with one of the LTCM partners who ran the firm about what went wrong. I was familiar with markets and trading strategies, but I was not expert in the highly technical applied mathematics that the management committee used to devise its strategies.

The partner I was chatting with was a true quant with advanced degrees in mathematics. I asked him how all of our trading strategies could have lost money at the same time, despite the fact that they had been uncorrelated in the past.

He shook his head and said, “What happened was just incredible. It was a seven-standard deviation event.

In statistics, a standard deviation is symbolized by the Greek letter sigma. Even non-statisticians would understand that a seven-sigma event sounds rare. But, I wanted to know how rare. I consulted some technical sources and discovered that for a daily occurrence, a seven-sigma event would happen less than once every billion years, or less than five times in the history of the planet Earth!

I knew that my quant partner had the math right. But it was obvious to me his model must be wrong. Extreme events had occurred in markets in 1987, 1994 and then 1998. They happened every four years or so.

Any model that tried to explain an event, as something that happened every billion years could not possibly be the right model for understanding the dynamics of something that occurred every four years.

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

Rickards: It’ll Get Worse it Before It Gets Better

Rickards: It’ll Get Worse it Before It Gets Better

Rickards: It’ll Get Worse it Before It Gets Better

We’re well into the coronavirus pandemic at this point. As of this writing, there are 360,765 reported infections and 15,491 deaths worldwide.

Over the next few days, you may be certain that those numbers will be significantly higher.

That’s how pandemics work. The cases and fatalities don’t grow in a linear fashion; they grow exponentially.

It’s widely acknowledged that this pandemic will get much worse before it gets better. There’s no doubt about that.

It didn’t take long for the coronavirus crisis to turn into an economic and financial crisis.

The Worst Collapse Since the Great Depression

The U.S. is falling into the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression in 1929. This will be worse than the dot-com collapse of 2000–01 and worse than the Great Recession and global financial crisis of 2008–09.

Don’t be surprised to see second-quarter GDP drop by 10% or more and for the unemployment rate to race past 10% on its way to 15% or higher.

The questions for economists are whether the lost output will be permanent or temporary and whether U.S. growth will return to trend or settle on a new path that is below the pre-virus trend.

Some lost expenditure may just be a timing difference. If I plan to buy a new car this month and decide not to buy it until August, that’s just a timing difference; the sale is not permanently lost.

But if I don’t go out for dinner tonight and then do go out a month from now, I’m not going to order two dinners. The skipped dinner is a permanent loss.

Unfortunately, 70% of the U.S. economy is based on consumption and the majority of that consists of services rather than goods. This suggests that much of the coronavirus impact will consist of permanent losses, not timing differences.

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

How Gold Is Manipulated

How Gold Is Manipulated

How Gold Is Manipulated

Is there gold price manipulation going on? Absolutely. There’s no question about it. That’s not just an opinion.

There is hard statistical evidence to make the case, in addition to anecdotal evidence and forensic evidence. The evidence is very clear, in fact.

I’ve spoken to members of Congress. I’ve spoken to people in the intelligence community, in the defense community, very senior people at the IMF. I don’t believe in making strong claims without strong evidence, and the evidence is all there.

I spoke to a PhD statistician who works for one of the biggest hedge funds in the world. I can’t mention the fund’s name but it’s a household name. You’ve probably heard of it. He looked at COMEX (the primary market for gold) opening prices and COMEX closing prices for a 10-year period.

He was dumbfounded.

He said it was is the most blatant case of manipulation he’d ever seen. He said if you went into the aftermarket, bought after the close and sold before the opening every day, you would make risk-free profits.

He said statistically that’s impossible unless there’s manipulation occurring.

I also spoke to Professor Rosa Abrantes-Metz at the New York University Stern School of Business. She is the leading expert on globe price manipulation. She has actually testified in gold manipulation cases.

She wrote a report reaching the same conclusions. It’s not just an opinion, it’s not just a deep, dark conspiracy theory. Here’s a PhD statistician and a prominent market expert lawyer, expert witness in litigation qualified by the courts, who independently reached the same conclusion.

How do these manipulations occur?

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

“1984” Has Come to China

“1984” Has Come to China

“1984” Has Come to China

You’re probably familiar with George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four; (it’s often published as 1984). It was written in 1948; the title comes from reversing the last two digits in 1948.

The novel describes a world of three global empires, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, in a constant state of war.

Orwell created an original vocabulary for his book, much of which is in common, if sardonic, usage today. Terms such as Thought Police, Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak and memory hole all come from Nineteen Eight-Four.

Orwell intended it as a warning about how certain countries might evolve in the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. He was certainly concerned about Stalinism, but his warnings applied to Western democracies also.

When the calendar year 1984 came and went, many breathed a sigh of relief that Orwell’s prophesy had not come true. But that sigh of relief was premature. Orwell’s nightmare society is here today in the form of Communist China…

China has most of the apparatus of the totalitarian societies described in Orwell’s book. China uses facial recognition software and ubiquitous digital surveillance to keep track of its citizens. The internet is censored and monitored. Real-life thought police will arrest you for expressing opinions opposed to the government or its policies.

Millions of Chinese have been arrested and sent to “reeducation” camps for brainwashing (the lucky ones) or involuntary organ removal without anesthetic (the unlucky ones who die in excruciating pain and are swiftly cremated as a result).

While these atrocities are not going to happen in the U.S. or what passes for the West these days, the less extreme aspects of China’s surveillance state could well be. And while you might not be arrested for expressing unpopular opinions or challenging prevailing dogmas (at least not yet), you could face other sanctions. You could even lose your job and find it nearly impossible to find another.

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

Contagion!

Contagion!

Contagion!

The world is confronting the effects of the “coronavirus.” It likely originated in Wuhan, China, where it jumped from animals to humans at a local food market. It has since spread to other parts of China and beyond.

So far, there are 2,886 confirmed total cases of the coronavirus. All but 61 of them are in mainland China. The death toll so far is 81.

But cases have also been found in France, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. That list includes the world’s three largest economies (the U.S., China and Japan).

For many, it recalls the SARS outbreak of 2003, which also originated in China. It ultimately killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 in different parts of the world.

Not surprisingly, global markets are on edge over fears of the “coronavirus” contagion spreading. And the U.S. stock market sold off today.

The Dow lost 454 points. The S&P and Nasdaq also had awful days. But gold has a good day, up over $10 to $1,582, as investors looked for safety.

But let’s discuss the word “contagion,” because it applies to both human populations and financial markets — and in more ways than you may expect.

There’s a reason why financial experts and risk managers use the word “contagion” to describe a financial panic.

Obviously, the word contagion refers to an epidemic or pandemic. In the public health field, a disease can be transmitted from human to human through coughing, shared needles, shared food or contact involving bodily fluids.

An initial carrier of a disease (“patient zero”) may have many contacts before the disease even appears.

Some diseases have a latency period of weeks or longer, which means patient zero can infect hundreds before health professionals are even aware of the disease. Then those hundreds can infect thousands or even millions before they are identified as carriers.

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

Don’t Mess With the U.S. (Financially)

Don’t Mess With the U.S. (Financially)

Don’t Mess With the U.S. (Financially)

I’ve been documenting financial warfare in my articles for years, but it still doesn’t get the mainstream attention it deserves.

Because as you’ll see below, it can directly impact your wealth.

Financial warfare tools include account seizures and freezes, expulsion from global payment systems, secondary fines and penalties on banks that do business with targeted entities, embargoes, tariffs and many other impositions.

These tools are amplified by the unique role of the U.S. dollar, which is the currency behind 60% of global reserves, 80% of global payments and almost 100% of transactions in oil.

The U.S. controls the banks and payments systems that process dollar transactions. This leaves the U.S. well positioned to impose dollar-related sanctions.

Much has been made of the recent killing of Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani. Many say it was an act of war. But guess what, folks?

We’ve been in a full-scale war with Iran for two years now. It’s just that most people don’t realize it.

It’s not a kinetic war with troops, missiles and ships (except Iran’s use of terrorist bombs and the U.S.’ use of drones). And it’s severely damaged the Iranian economy, which has led to protests against the regime.

From the U.S. side, it’s a financial war. People need to stop thinking about financial sanctions as an extension of trade policy, for example.

This is warfare. It’s just a different form of warfare.

It’s critical to understand that financial war is not a sideshow. It may actually be the main event in today’s deeply connected and computerized world.

North Korea is also the current target of a U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign, where harsh sanctions are applied to a wide range of banks, companies and individuals.

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

Helicopter Money Is No Panacea

Helicopter Money Is No Panacea

Helicopter Money Is No Panacea

In recent decades, the Fed has engaged in a series of policy interventions and market manipulations that have paradoxically left it more powerful even as those interventions left a trail of crashes, collapses and calamities.

This contradiction between Fed omnipotence and Fed incompetence is coming to a head. The economy has been trapped in a prolonged period of subtrend growth. I’ve referred to it in the past as the “new depression.” And the Fed has been powerless to lift the economy out of it.

You may think of depression as a continuous decline in GDP. The standard definition of a recession is two or more consecutive quarters of declining GDP and rising unemployment. Since a depression is understood to be something worse then a recession, investors think it must mean an extra-long period of decline. But that is not the definition of depression.

The best definition ever offered came from John Maynard Keynes in his 1936 classic, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Keynes said a depression is, “a chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency towards recovery or towards complete collapse.”

Keynes did not refer to declining GDP; he talked about “subnormal” activity. In other words, it’s entirely possible to have growth in a depression. The problem is that the growth is below trend. It is weak growth that does not do the job of providing enough jobs or staying ahead of the national debt. That is exactly what the U.S. is experiencing today.

Long-term growth is about 3%. From 1994 to 2000, the heart of the Clinton boom, growth in the U.S. economy averaged over 4% per year.

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

Trade Wars Just Getting Started

Trade Wars Just Getting Started

Trade Wars Just Getting Started

Markets are eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the so-called “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Both parties are trying to reach a mini-deal involving simple tariff reductions and a truce on new tariffs along with Chinese purchases of pork and soybeans from the U.S.

The likely success or failure of the mini-deal has been a main driver of stock market action for the past year. When the deal looks likely, markets rally. When the deal looks shaky, markets fall.

A deal is still possible. But investors should be prepared for a shocking fall in stock market valuations if it does not. Markets have fully discounted a successful phase one, so there’s not much upside if it happens.

On the other hand, if phase one falls apart stock markets will hit an air pocket and fall 5% or more in a matter of days.

But even if the phase one deal goes through, it does not end the trade wars. Unresolved issues include tariffs, subsidies, theft of intellectual property, forced transfer of technology, closed markets, unfair competition, cyber-espionage and more.

Most of the issues will not be resolved quickly, if ever.

Resolution involves intrusion into internal Chinese affairs both in the form of legal changes and enforcement mechanisms to ensure China lives up to its commitments.

These legal and enforcement mechanisms are needed because China has lied about and reneged on its trade commitments for the past 25 years. There’s no reason to believe China will be any more honest this time around without verification and enforcement. But China refuses to allow this kind of intrusion into their sovereignty.

For the Chinese, the U.S. approach recalls the Opium Wars (1839–1860) and the “Unequal Treaty” (1848–1950) whereby foreign powers (the U.K., the U.S., Japan, France, Germany and Russia) forced China into humiliating concessions of land, port access, tariffs and extraterritorial immunity.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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