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Destruction By Definition

Destruction By Definition

Major U.S. stock market indexes yo-yoed about all week.  On Monday, panic selling from last week turned to panic buying.  Decades of Fed intervention have conditioned stock market investors to step in front of semi-trucks to scoop up nickels.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) jumped 1,290 points.  This marked its biggest-ever single day gain in terms of points.  Can the economic destruction wrought by coronavirus containment really be overcome with what former New York Fed President, Benjamin Strong, once called stock market “coup de whiskey?”  We doubt it.

But we are fairly confident Fed stimulus will have the offensive consequence of widening the gap between sky high asset prices and weak economic fundamentals.  Fed Chairman Powell certainly understands this.  Nonetheless, on Tuesday, he went forward with the dirty deed.

After an early morning teleconference with various G7 poohbahs, Powell cut the federal funds rate by 50 basis points.  This took the Fed’s target range to between 1 and 1.25 percent.  As far as we can tell, Powell’s dirty deed achieved the exact opposite of its intent.

U.S. stock market indexes didn’t go up.  Rather, they went down.  In fact, they went down a lot.  The DJIA, for example, gave back 785 points.  Here’s why…

The Fed’s rate cut was an act of fear.  Investors smelled it out and circled like a pack of wild hyenas.  Powell may be able to expand the supply of money and credit.  But he can’t make up for the economic destruction of a global economy that’s grinding to a halt to stem the spread of coronavirus.  Cutting rates 50 basis points won’t cut it.

“This Sucker’s Going Down”

Bull markets, like myths and legends, die hard in America.  By Wednesday, the bulls were back at it…bidding up share prices like 17th century tulip bulbs.  The DJIA, baited by promises for fiscal stimulus, jumped 1,173 points – back above 27,000.

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

The Triumph of Madness

The Triumph of Madness

Viewing the past through the lens of history is unfair to the participants.  Missteps are too obvious.  Failures are too abundant.  Vanities are too absurd.  The benefit of hindsight often renders the participants mere imbeciles on parade.

Was George Armstrong Custer really just an arrogant Lieutenant Colonel who led his men to massacre at Little Bighorn?  Maybe.  Especially when Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and numbers estimated to be over ten times his cavalry appeared across the river.

Were George Donner and his brother Jacob naïve fools when they led their traveling party into the Sierra Nevada in late fall?  Perhaps.  Particularly when they resorted to munching on each other to survive the relentless blizzard.

Certainly, Custer and the Donner brothers were doing the best they could with the information available to them.  The decisions they made must have seemed reasoned and calculated at the time.  But what they couldn’t see – until it was too late to turn back – was that with each decision, they unwittingly took another step closer to their ultimate demise.

Still they were human just like we are human…no smarter, no dumber.  We’re not here to ridicule them; but rather, to learn from them.

A Good Man in a Bad Trade

Rudolf von Havenstein had been president of the Reichsbank – the German central bank – since 1908.  He knew the workings of central bank debt issuances better than anyone.  He was good at it.

Thus, when he was called upon by history to deliver a miracle for the Deutches Reich in the aftermath of WWI, he knew exactly what to do.  He’d deliver monetary stimulus.  In fact, he’d already been at it for several years.

On August 4, 1914, at the start of the war, the Goldmark – or gold-backed Reichmark – became the unbacked Papermark.  With gold out of the picture, the money supply could be expanded to meet the endless demands of war.

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

How Xi Jinping will Save the World from Coronavirus

How Xi Jinping will Save the World from Coronavirus

In 1349, when Black Death was ravaging Europe, many of the day’s best and brightest banded together in pursuit of a common cure.  They had little choice.  Black Death was rapidly spreading across the continent.  Nothing could stop it.

Boils were lanced with precision.  Blood was let with vigor.  But there was no escape from the plague’s instant death.  It was efficient.  It was relentless.  People would go to bed at night perfectly healthy; by morning, they’d wake up perfectly dead.

Then, at the exact moment of maximum death and despair, flagellants came to the rescue.  Processions marched to and fro, seeking relief through forcefully whipping themselves in public displays of self-mutilation.  According to the History Channel:

“Some upper-class men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on. 

“For 33 1/2 days, the flagellants repeated this ritual three times a day. Then they would move on to the next town and begin the process over again.”

This may seem strange, weird, and, quite frankly, a bit nuts.  But something miraculous happened.  The Black Death epidemic soon exhausted itself.  The flagellants saved Europe from the mid-14th century onslaught of Black Death.

Or did they?

Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything

To be clear, flagellants had no influence on the eventual relenting of Black Death.  Remember, correlation does not imply causation.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc – “after this, therefore because of this” – or simply the post hoc fallacy, recognizes that just because one event happened to follow another, doesn’t mean the initial event caused the later event to occur.

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

The Impulses of Lunar Fed Policy Under Repo Madness

The Impulses of Lunar Fed Policy Under Repo Madness

This week, while you were busy working, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, took time out from rubbing elbows with fellow movers and shakers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to share his trepidations:

“The only thing I have trepidation about is negative interest rates, QE, and the diversion between stock prices and bond prices and yield and stuff like that….  I think it’s very hard for central banks to forever make up for bad policy elsewhere, that puts them in a trap.  We’re a little bit in that trap today with rates so low around the world.”

Fair enough.  Though Dimon, in what we presume was an inadvertent omission, failed to share that his firm may have recently walked the Federal Reserve into an elaborate policy trap.  Now the Fed’s stuck.  JP Morgan’s thrown away the keys.  And Dimon’s reaped a significant windfall.

If you recall, between Monday night and Tuesday morning September 16/17 the overnight repurchase agreement (repo) rate hit 10 percent.  Short-term liquidity markets essentially broke.  The Fed had to intervene in the repo market, via overnight repo operations, to push the repo rate back below 2 percent.

Since then, overnight repo operations by the Fed have become a near daily occurrence.  What’s more, these daily operations have ballooned to the order of up to $120 billion and are being maintained indefinitely.

On Tuesday, for example, the Fed created $90.8 billion out of thin air.  Of this, $58.6 billion was added to the overnight repo.  The remaining $32.2 billion was added to the 14-day repo.  Then, on Thursday, the Fed created another $74.2 billion out of thin air.  Of this, $44.15 billion was added to the overnight repo, and the remaining $30 billion was added to the 14-day repo.

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

Every Bubble Eventually Finds its Pin

Every Bubble Eventually Finds its Pin

The transfer of wealth from workers and savers to governments and big banks continued this week with Swiss-like precision.  The process is both mechanical and subtle.  Here in the USA the automated elegance of this ongoing operation receives little attention.

NFL football.  EBT card acceptance at Del Taco.  Adam Schiff’s impeachment extravaganza.  You name it.  Bread and circuses like these – and many others – offer the American populace countless opportunities for chasing the wild goose.

All the while, and with little fanfare, debts pile up like deadwood in Sequoia National Forest.  These debts, both public and private, stand little chance of ever being honestly repaid.  According to the IMF, global debt –  both public and private – has reached an all-time high of $188 trillion.  That comes to about 230 percent of world output.

Certainly, some of the private debt will be defaulted on during the next credit crisis and depression.  But when it comes to the public debt, governments do everything they can to prevent an outright default.  Central banks crank up the printing press and attempt to inflate it away.

After Nixon temporarily suspended the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1971, the money supply could be expanded without technical limitations.  This includes issuing new debt to pay for government spending above and beyond tax receipts.  Hence, since 1971, government directed money supply inflation has been the standard operating procedure in the U.S. and much of the world.

Downright Disgraceful

Expanding the money supply has the effect of dissipating wealth from the currency.  The process allows governments, which are first in line to spend this newly created money, a back door into your bank account.  Without levying taxes, they get access to your wealth and future earnings and leave you with money of diminished value.

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

The Fed’s Answer to the Ghastly Monster of its Creation

The Fed’s Answer to the Ghastly Monster of its Creation

The launch angle of the U.S. stock market over the past decade has been steep and relentless.  The S&P 500, after bottoming out at 666 on March 6, 2009, has rocketed up over 370 percent.  New highs continue to be reached practically every day.

Over this stretch, many investors have been conditioned to believe the stock market only goes up.  That blindly pumping money into an S&P 500 ETF is the key to investment riches.  In good time, this conditioning will be recalibrated with a rude awakening.  You can count on it.

In the interim, the bull market may continue a bit longer…or it may not.  But, to be clear, after a 370 percent run-up, buying the S&P 500 represents a speculation on price.  A gamble that the launch angle furthers its steep trajectory.  Here’s why…

Over the past decade, the U.S. economy, as measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), has increased about 50 percent.  This plots a GDP launch angle that is underwhelming when compared to the S&P 500.  Corporate earnings have fallen far short of share prices.

Hence, the bull market in stocks is not a function of a booming economy.  Rather, it’s a function of Fed madness.  And its existence becomes ever more perilous with each passing day.

Central planners at the Fed – like other major central banks – have taken monetary policy to a state of madness.  Zero interest rate policy, negative interest rate policy, quantitative easing, operation twist, quantitative tightening, reserve management, repo market intervention, not-QE, mass-asset purchases, and more.

These schemes have fostered massive growth in public and private debt with nothing but lackluster economic growth to show.  What’s more, these schemes have produced massive asset bubbles that have skyrocketed wealth inequality and inflamed countless variants of new populism.

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

Is the Fed Secretly Bailing Out a Major Bank?

Is the Fed Secretly Bailing Out a Major Bank?

Prettifying Toxic Waste

The promise of something for nothing is always an enticing proposition. Who doesn’t want roses without thorns, rainbows without rain, and salvation without repentance?  So, too, who doesn’t want a few extra basis points of yield above the 10-year Treasury note at no added risk?

The yield-chasing hamster wheel… [PT]

Thus, smart fellows go after it; pursuing financial innovation with unyielding devotion.  The underlying philosophy, as we understand it, is that if risk is spread thin enough it magically disappears. In other words, the solution to pollution is dilution.

With this objective, new financial products are fabricated into existence. The risk free rewards of several extra basis points are then packaged up into debt instruments and sold off to pension funds and institutional investors. The search for yield demands it.

Yet as an economic expansion progresses, especially one that has been extended and distorted with the Fed’s cheap credit, these derived financial securities are polluted with more and more toxic waste. Spreading the risk ultimately pollutes the entire pool of liquidity.

At this moment in the business cycle, after a lengthy bull market in stocks and bonds, countless manifestations of the greater fool theory have bubbled up to the surface. Bonds with negative yields epitomize this. Buyers accept a guaranteed coupon loss with the hopes of scoring capital appreciation as yields fall. But when yields rise, it is game over.

German Bund futures contract, weekly. The recent blow-off and subsequent reversal illustrates the convexity effect on bond prices… [PT]

Of course, the greater fool theory extends much deeper and wider than negative yielding debt. It also extends to the polluted world of corporate debt…

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

The Federal Reserve is a Barbarous Relic

The Federal Reserve is a Barbarous Relic

The Sky is Falling

The man from the good place. “As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, Oh how I wish he’d go away!” [PT]

Ptolemy I Soter, in his history of the wars of Alexander the Great, related an episode from Alexander’s 334 BC compact with the Celts ‘who dwelt by the Ionian Gulf.’  According to Ptolemy’s account, which survives via quote by Arrian of Nicomedia some 450 years later, when Alexander asked the Celtic envoys what they feared most, they answered:

Today, at the risk of being called Chicken Little, we tug on a thread that weaves back to the ancient Celts.  Our message is grave: The sky is falling.  Though the implications are still unclear.

Various Celts – left: fearsome warriors; middle: fearsome warriors afraid of the sky falling on their heads; right: Cernunnos, fearsome Celtic horned god amid his collection of skulls. [PT]

The sky, for our purposes, is the debt based dollar reserve standard that has been in place for the past 48 years. If you recall, on August 15, 1971, President Nixon “temporarily” suspended convertibility of the dollar into gold.  The dollar  became wholly the fiat money of the Treasury.

At the G-10 Rome meeting held in late-1971, Treasury Secretary John Connally reduced the new dollar reserve standard to a bite-sized nugget for his European finance minister counterparts, stating:

The Nixon-Connally tag team in the White House. [PT]

Predictably, without the restraint of gold, the quantity of debt based money has increased seemingly without limits – and it is everyone’s massive problem.  What’s more, over the past 30 years the Federal Reserve has obliged Washington with cheaper and cheaper credit.

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

How to Prepare as the Fed Scorches the Earth

How to Prepare as the Fed Scorches the Earth

Wildfire Surge

The hillsides are always brown in the land of fruits and nuts come autumn.  After baking away all summer long in the hot sun, the dense sage and chaparral covering the coastal hillsides and canyons are dry and toasty. Though, before conditions get better, they must first get worse.

Photo credit: Noah Berger / AP
California is ablaze again… as every year.  [PT]

High pressure systems form over the high-elevation deserts of the Great Basin, between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, each fall like clockwork. The pressure builds and forces the air to the south and west. The warm, dry winds of Santa Ana then race towards Southern California where they scorch the earth.

The winds howl from the east, across the inland deserts, where they funnel through the mountain passes and then blast across the LA Basin and out to the Pacific Ocean.  As the winds conduit from high to low elevation they compress and rise in temperature at a rate of almost 30 degrees per mile of descent. What’s more, as the temperature of the air spikes upward, its relative humidity plunges downward below 10 percent.

The already brown and parched vegetative cover is further convection dried by the Santa Ana winds to form a giant tinderbox. Just one spark – from a downed power-line or a backfiring semi-truck – and the whole thing conflagrates into a blistering windblown wildfire. At last count, there were 13 active wildfires blazing across the state.

Photo credit: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images
What pyromaniacs dream of… [PT]

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

Fiat Money Cannibalization in America

Fiat Money Cannibalization in America

An Odd Combination of Serenity and Panic

The United States, with untroubled ease, continued its approach toward catastrophe this week.  The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate 25 basis points, thus furthering its program of mass money debasement.  Yet, on the surface, all still remained in the superlative.

S&P 500 Index, weekly: serenely perched near all time highs, in permanently high plateau nirvana. [PT]

Stocks smiled down on investors from their perch upon what Irving Fischer once called “a permanently high plateau.”  As of the market close on Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average held above 27,000, the S&P 500 above 3,000, and the NASDAQ above 8,000.  401k accounts, to the delight of working stiffs of all ages, origins, and orientations, are swollen beyond expectations.

Below the surface, however, the overnight funding market was subject to much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning the overnight repurchase agreement (repo) rate hit 10 percent. Short-term liquidity markets essentially broke.

After several technical glitches, the Fed executed its first repo operation in a decade – $53 billion – to keep the interbank funding market flowing.  Zero Hedge documented the chaos real time.  

This was followed up with additional repo operations on Wednesday and Thursday – at $75 billion a pop, and both oversubscribed.  Perhaps Fed repo operations will be a daily occurrence, at least until the Fed launches QE4.

US overnight repo rate – as Fed chair Jerome Powell remarked: “Funding pressures in money markets are elevated this week”. Evidently, nothing escapes his eagle eyes. [PT]

At the same time, the effective federal funds rate – the upper range limit of the federal funds rate – continues to push above the rate the Federal Reserve pays on excess reserves (IOER).  In other words, the Fed’s primary tool for price fixing credit markets is not behaving according to plan.  Greater Fed intervention will be needed to keep things in line.

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

Dead Meat in Jackson Hole

Dead Meat in Jackson Hole

The Pointlessness of Negative Yields

If there are any virtues of debt instruments with negative yields we have yet to realize them. Certainly, we understand that as bond yields fall, bond prices rise, and bond investors are rewarded with capital appreciation. But when capital is appreciating as a consequence of negative yields, we suspect there is something fundamentally wrong with the capital itself.

Not only is the stock of negative-yielding debt at a new record high of almost $17 trillion, lately there has been a big surge in corporate debt sporting negative yields-to-maturity. [PT]

Capital markets, as we have always understood them, are centered around lenders buying debt – such as a bond – at a yield that compensates for the risk of default over a contracted duration. The acceptance of negative yield is an abstraction that violates the form and function that capital markets are built on.  In fact, negative interest rates undermine the foundational business model of banking in general.

How can banks lend money if they’re not compensated for the risk that some loans will go bad?  And if banks can only lend money at a loss, why lend money at all?  If there is no profit motive, what is the point?

There is currently about $17 trillion in combined government and corporate negative yielding debt in existence.  The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, with policies of mass money debasement that far exceed those of the Federal Reserve, are the primary culprits.  Their fake money and fake interest rates have produced fake capital markets.

In effect, Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP) destroys a commercial banks ability to build capital and offset losses. In other words, NIRP destroys commercial banks.  By extension, NIRP via central banks leads to the implied nationalization of commercial banks.

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

Writing on the Wall

Writing on the Wall

Not Adding Up

One of the more disagreeable discrepancies of American life in the 21st century is the world according to Washington’s economic bureaus and the world as it actually is.  In short, things don’t add up.  What’s more, the propaganda is so far off the mark, it is downright insulting.

Coming down from the mountain with the latest data tablet… [PT]

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent.  The BLS also reports price inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), of 1.8 percent.  Yet big city streets are lined with tents and panhandlers grumble “that’s all” when you spare them a dollar.

In addition, good people of sound mind and honest intentions are racking up debt like never before.  Mortgage debt recently topped $9.4 trillion. If you didn’t know, this eclipses the 2008 high of $9.3 trillion that was notched at the precise moment the credit market melted down.

Total American household debt, which includes mortgages and student loans, is about $14 trillion – roughly $1 trillion higher than in 2008.  Credit card debt, which is over $1 trillion, is also above the 2008 peak.  To be clear, these debt levels are not signs of economic strength; rather, they are signs of impending disaster.  Moreover, they’re signs that American workers have been given a raw deal.

US CPI, “core” CPI and total consumer credit outstanding. 

How is it that the economy has been growing for a full decade straight, but the average worker has seen no meaningful increase in his income?  Have workers really been sprinting in place this entire time?  How did they end up in this ridiculous situation?

US mortgage debt outstanding and real household wages (real hourly earnings of production and non-supervisory employees) [PT]

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

Getting to a Special State of Ugly

Getting to a Special State of Ugly

There are certain phrases – like “trust me” or “I got this” – that should immediately provoke one’s suspicion.  When your slippery contractor tells you, “trust me, your kitchen renovation will be done before Christmas,” you should be wary.  There’s no way it’ll be done until late spring.

Or when your incompetent client says, “I won’t be needing your services at this time, I got this.”  You should expect a panicked phone call at 5pm on Friday.  “This is way more than I can handle,” your client will say, “take care of it.”

On Monday, when the sky was falling, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, the Chinese yuan weakened to above 7 per dollar for the first time in over a decade.  This prompted U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to waft out a suspicious phrase of his own.  He called China a “currency manipulator.”

Mnuchin’s logic, as far as we can tell, is that China manipulated their currency because their central bank didn’t adequately intervene in foreign exchange markets to prop up the yuan.  Conversely, direct intervention into markets, to maintain a centrally planned price that’s acceptable to Mnuchin, is not currency manipulation.  Go figure!

On Tuesday, to restore confidence in the yuan, and refute accusations of being a malevolent currency manipulator, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) announced a plan to price fix the yuan.  Specifically, the PBOC will sell 30 billion yuan ($4.2 billion) of offshore bills in Hong Kong on August 14.  This move is designed to drain liquidity offshore, thus strengthening the yuan against the dollar.

Why bother?

Cooperative Currency Debasement

The world, circa 2019, is a fabricated reality.  Debt, piled upon debt, piled upon debt, ad infinitum, has erected a financial order that’s at perilous odds with the underlying economy.  Central bankers attempt to manipulate fake money and fake foreign exchange rates to keep the debt pile from cascading down.

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

Realizing the Full Implications of the Forthcoming Catastrophe

Realizing the Full Implications of the Forthcoming Catastrophe

Delivering Tomorrow’s Curses

Roman poet Virgil penned these words in his epic, The Aeneid, roughly a generation before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  They can be loosely translated to, “the descent to hell is easy.”  Those who’ve traversed this passage can attest to the veracity of this axiom.

Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia and Livia. Contrary to what one might think at first blush, Octavia didn’t fall asleep because she was bored by it – rather, when Virgil recited Book Six, she fainted (the veracity of this account is not undisputed, but it’s a good story anyway). A little side note: Virgil caught a fever while returning from to Rome from Greece and died in Brundisium in 19 BC. It was Virgil’s wish that the poem be burned, but Augustus ordered his literary executors to preserve it and publish it with as few editorial changes as possible. Thus Augustus rescued the Aeneid for posterity. [PT]

Though not apparent in the milieu of Virgil’s poem, for our purposes today, we will extend its application to the insidious progression of currency debasement.  What short utterance more aptly characterizes the steady degradation, as currently practiced by today’s church of state?

On Thursday, for example, the House acted with untroubled ease to further America’s descent to hell.  With little resistance, federal spending was increased and the debt ceiling was suspended for two years.  Having delivered tomorrow’s curses, the nation’s Representatives can skip town without missing a moment of summer recess.

As you can see, the allure of getting something for nothing is far too enticing for even the most honest politician to pass up.  And with an endless supply of fake money behind you, why stick your neck out and get clobbered?  The public debt encumbered is already well beyond honest repayment.  But that’s a problem for tomorrow; not today.

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

Feeling the Heat of a Civilization on the Downside

Feeling the Heat of a Civilization on the Downside

An Epic Folly for the Ages

Today we begin with a list.  A partial list.  And in no particular order…

Angela Merkel. Donald Tusk. Mario Draghi. Donald Trump. Jerome Powell.  Shinzo Abe.  Haruhiko Kuroda.  Theresa May. Boris Johnson. Mark Carney. Xi Jinping.  Emmanuel Macron.  Vladimir Putin. Justin Trudeau. Juan Trump.  And many, many more…

Politicians and bureaucrats of the modern age of statism and central planning… fighting a rearguard action doomed to fail. [PT]

These central planners – though they may not know it – are facing a no-win situation. They have extrapolated the past and are attempting to preserve the status quo into the future.  Yet their efforts to perpetuate the upward growth curve of their countries and unions are useless against the relentless turn of history.

The political, financial, economic, and social foundations that have been in place over the last 75 years – and perhaps, over the last 220 years – are breaking down.  And no policy directive, no interest rate adjustment, no trade tariff, no five year plan, no extraordinary measures, no green new deal, and no technocratic prevarication is going to stop it. Big Government doesn’t stand a chance.

The entire apparatus, from social welfare programs to a ridiculously complex capital structure, is based on perpetual growth. But growth, as we are all presently discovering, is ephemeral. The rapid creation of fake money by central planners may be able to forestall the downside that follows a mega-growth cycle. But it cannot avert it.

Still, the central planners are doing anything and everything to resist the downside. They are taking emergency actions. They are employing extreme currency debasement. They are slapping price controls across the economic landscape. They are starting wars. They are harnessing populism. They are doing all of these – and more.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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