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Recipe for Collapse: Rising Military and Social Welfare Spending

Recipe for Collapse: Rising Military and Social Welfare Spending

Leaders faced with unrest, rising demands and dwindling coffers always debauch their currency as the politically expedient “solution.”

Whatever you think of former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, he is one of the few public voices identifying runaway entitlement costs as a structural threat to the economy and nation. We can summarize Greenspan’s comments very succinctly: there is no free lunch. The more money that is siphoned off for entitlements, the less there is for investment needed to maintain productivity gains that are the foundation of future income generation: Greenspan: Worried About Inflation, Says “Entitlements Crowding Out Investment, Productivity is Dead” (via Mish)

Many people look to the rising costs of the U.S. military as the structural problem, and they have a point: there is no upper limit on military spending, and the demands (by the civilian leadership of the nation) on the services and the Pentagon’s demands for new weaponry are constantly pushing budgets higher.

But the truth is entitlement spending now dwarfs military spending:entitlements are more than $1.75 trillion, half of all Federal spending, while the Pentagon, VA, etc. costs around $700 billion annually.

We have a model for what happens when military and social welfare spending exceed the state’s resources to pay the rising costs: the state/empire collapses. The Western Roman Empire offers an excellent example of this dynamic.

As pressures along the Empire’s borders rose, Rome did not have enough tax revenues to fully fund the army. Hired mercenaries had become a significant part of the Roman army, and if they weren’t paid, then the spoils of war became their default pay.

This erosion of steady pay also eroded the troops’ loyalty to Rome; their loyalties switched to their commanders, who often decided to take his loyal army to Italy and declare himself Emperor.

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Whose QE Was it, Anyway?

Whose QE Was it, Anyway?

Spanning a decade (2003-2013), QE0 was the most sustained and uninterrupted surge in central banks’ purchases of Treasuries on record. It is difficult to determine the extent to which the Fed’s QE1 during the crisis owed its success in bringing interest rates down to the fact that it was being reinforced by what foreign central banks worldwide – notably in Asia – were doing simultaneously.

CAMBRIDGE – Between 1913 (when the United States Federal Reserve was founded) and the latter part of the 1980s, it would be fair to say that the Fed was the only game in town when it came to purchases of US Treasury securities by central banks. During that era, the Fed owned anywhere between 12% and 30% of US marketable Treasury securities outstanding (see figure), with the post-World War II peak coming as the Fed tried to prop up the sagging US economy following the first spike in oil prices in 1973.

We no longer live in that US-centric world, where the Fed was the only game in town and changes in its monetary policy powerfully influenced liquidity conditions at home and to a large extent globally. Years before the global financial crisis – and before the term “QE” (quantitative easing) became an established fixture of the financial lexicon – foreign central banks’ ownership of US Treasuries began to catch up with, and then overtake, the Fed’s share.

The purchase of US Treasuries by foreign central banks really took off in 2003, years before the first round of quantitative easing, or “QE1,” was launched in late 2008. The charge of the foreign central banks – let’s call it “QE0” – was led by the People’s Bank of China. By 2006 (the peak of the US housing bubble), foreign official institutions held about one-third of the stock of US Treasuries outstanding, approximately twice the amount held by the Fed. On the eve of the Fed’s QE1, that share stood at around 40%.

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Who Will Raise Rates? The Market or the Fed?

Int Rate Rise

Some people are confused by what I mean when I say that rates will rise as we move into the sovereign debt crisis, which will pick up steam in 2017 moving into 2020. We are NOT talking about central banks raising rates; we are looking at the FREE MARKET. As people realize that government debt comes with a risk, capital will begin to shift into the private assets. The market will not buy all the government debt that appears ready to explode. With central banks moving negative on short-term rates, smart money will wake up and flip into equities. If equities break-even, that is better than a guaranteed loss in government bonds. In Japan, the 10 year rate just went NEGATIVE so you want to park money with the government for 10 years and pay them to hold it?

Plus, the risk with government bonds will be that they can convert even short-term paper, of say 90 days, to 10-year bonds. Governments have done this before. As banks begin to get in trouble again, smart money will try to get off the grid. Banks will have to pay more for money as those keeping money in banks move out.

The FREE MARKET will force rates higher. Sure, central banks can keep short-term rates NEGATIVE as long as they buy the government debt. But this cannot continue indefinitely. The FREE MARKET will always win. This is how governments fail. The game remains on as long as there are bids at their auctions to sell new debt. What happens when there is NO BID? That is how the FREE MARKET will raise rates. Smart capital will move from public to private debt and equities in addition to gold and real estate on a VERY SELECTED basis.

The Cycle of War turned up in 2014. We have seen an escalation in international war (Russia-Ukraine) and in the Middle East while civil unrest spreads everywhere. This trend will pick up also in 2017 and move into 2020.

Who Owns the Federal Reserve Bank and Why is It Shrouded in Myths and Mysteries?

Who Owns the Federal Reserve Bank and Why is It Shrouded in Myths and Mysteries?

Federal Reserve

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

— Henry Ford

“Give me control of a Nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws.”

— M. A. Rothschild

The Federal Reserve Bank (or simply the Fed), is shrouded in a number of myths and mysteries. These include its name, its ownership, its purported independence form external influences, and its presumed commitment to market stability, economic growth and public interest.

The first MAJOR MYTH, accepted by most people in and outside of the United States, is that the Fed is owned by the Federal government, as implied by its name: the Federal Reserve Bank. In reality, however, it is a private institution whose shareholders are commercial banks; it is the “bankers’ bank.” Like other corporations, it is guided by and committed to the interests of its shareholders—pro forma supervision of the Congress notwithstanding.

The choice of the word “Federal” in the name of the bank thus seems to be a deliberate misnomer—designed to create the impression that it is a public entity. Indeed, misrepresentation of its ownership is not merely by implication or impression created by its name. More importantly, it is also officially and explicitly stated on its Website: “The Federal Reserve System fulfills its public mission as an independent entity within government. It is not owned by anyone and is not a private, profit-making institution” [1].

To unmask this blatant misrepresentation, the late Congressman Louis McFadden, Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee in the 1930s, described the Fed in the following words:

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The U.S. Dollar Has Already Caused A Global Recession And Now The Fed Is Going To Make It Worse

The U.S. Dollar Has Already Caused A Global Recession And Now The Fed Is Going To Make It Worse

Dollar Hands - Public DomainThe 7th largest economy on the entire planet, Brazil, has been gripped by a horrifying recession, as has much of the rest of South America.  But it isn’t just South America that is experiencing a very serious economic downturn.  We have just learned that Japan (the third largest economy in the world) has lapsed into recession.  So has Canada.  So has Russia.  The dominoes are starting to fall, and it looks like the global economic crisis that has already started is going to accelerate as we head into the end of the year.  At this point, global trade is already down about 8.4 percent for the year, and last week the Baltic Dry Shipping Index plummeted to a brand new all-time record low.  Unfortunately for all of us, the Federal Reserve is about to do something that will make this global economic slowdown even worse.

Throughout 2015, the U.S. dollar has been getting stronger.  That sounds like good news, but the truth is that it is not.  When the last financial crisis ended, emerging markets went on a debt binge unlike anything we have ever seen before.  But much of that debt was denominated in U.S. dollars, and now this is creating a massive problem.  As the U.S. dollar has risen, the prices that many of these emerging markets are getting for the commodities that they export have been declining.  Meanwhile, it is taking much more of their own local currencies to pay back and service all of the debts that they have accumulated.  Similar conditions contributed to the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Asian currency crisis of the 1990s and the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

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U.S. jobs and global gloom may mean more mortgage relief: Don Pittis

U.S. jobs and global gloom may mean more mortgage relief: Don Pittis

Interest rate hikes fade into the future as economic recovery appears to go flat

It seems a terrible thing to cheer about, but a new feeling of gloom may be good for Canadians weighed down by mortgage debt.

worse-than-expected U.S. jobs report and increasing fears for the state of developing world economies mean that U.S. central banker Janet Yellen may have to once again delay a hike in interest rates.

Fed chair Yellen has repeatedly warned that U.S. interest rates are on the way up. Last month, she delayed that rate rise once again while suggesting the increase could very likely come by the end of this year.

Now a growing number of analysts say a hike in U.S. interest rates will be delayed to 2016 or beyond.

Why U.S. rates matter in Canada

Before going on, I should insert a quick reminder of why U.S. interest rates matter to so many Canadian mortgage holders.

While short-term rates are set by the Bank of Canada, mortgage rates depend on the cost of borrowing money on international bond markets. Before lending long-term cash, Canadian banks like to make sure they can spread the load if rates begin to rise. That means they look to the bond market to set the price of the long-term cash they lend.

When the U.S. Fed rates begin to rise, international bond rates begin to rise as well, and banks must pass along those increased interest interest costs to their customers.

As recently as June, Yellen foresaw not just an autumn rate rise, but her advisers on the Federal Open Markets Committee also suggested that rates would continue to rise at about a whole percentage point each year. In other words, long-term rates that were four per cent this year would be five per cent next and six per cent the year after.

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The Margin Debt Time-Bomb

The Margin Debt Time-Bomb

A terrible threat created by terrible decision-making

What is perhaps the greatest risk to individual investors these days?

Is it the potential for a decline in corporate earnings based on a slowing global economy?  Is it that current valuation levels in both equities and fixed income instruments are much nearer historic highs than not? Is the biggest risk a US Fed that will soon raise interest rates for the first time in close to a decade?

Although all of these are specific investment risks we face in the current cycle, my contention is that the single largest risk to investors is a risk that has been present since the beginning of what we have come to know as modern financial markets.  The single largest risk to investors is themselves.  By that, I mean the influence of human emotion and psychology in decision making.

We Are Our Own Worst Enemies

After many years of managing through market cycles, it seems pretty clear to me that humans are uniquely wired incorrectly for long-term investment success.  When asset prices double, we want those assets twice as bad. When asset prices drop in half, we want nothing to do with them. Isn’t this exactly what we saw in US residential real estate markets a decade ago?  Isn’t this what we experienced with the rise in dot-com stocks in 1999 and their demise over the three following years?  Human decision making shapes the rhythmic bull and bear market character of asset prices. We know the two most prominent emotions that drive markets higher and lower are those of fear and greed.


If we turn the clock back far enough in early human history, we know that humans ran in packs.  Strength and protection was found in a pack or herd.  It was when humans ventured away from the protection of the herd (consensus thinking) that they were physically vulnerable.  The fight or flight mechanism has been an integral part of human development over time.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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