Marjory Collins “Italian girls watching US Army parade on Mott Street, New York” 1942
“The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years..” But the old rule said nothing about QE. It talked about functioning markets, not what we see now.
The head of the US central bank is busy preparing America, its new president, and indeed the world, for rising interest rates – and for a new economic era. The story of US interest rates this decade is simple to the point of tedium. The key fed funds rate has been dragging along just above zero ever since the banking crash. In December 2015, it was nudged up by a quarter of a%age point by Ms Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve. A whole year later, they nudged it up again, which means that seven years after the notional end of the US recession it stands at mere 0.75%. That is set to change. Over the past few weeks, rate setters at the Fed have dropped broader and broader hints that interest rates will go up as soon as next Wednesday – and will keep going up.
Last Friday was the turn of Ms Yellen. Speaking in Chicago, she said: “We currently judge that it will be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate if the economic data continue to come in about as we expect.” That is about as straightforward as you get in central-bank speak. Nor is that likely to be the end of the rises: according to the Fed’s charts, committee members now forecast three interest-rate rises this year alone, and more in 2018. There are geopolitical reasons to hold off making too early a move. Next month, France’s presidential election, in which rightwing, anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen is leading the polls, kicks off. Last year, the Fed held off in June before the Brexit vote. While the timing is still moot, there are few betting that rates won’t rise.
Considering this, three observations can be made. First, even while all this briefing has been going on, US asset markets have remained remarkably buoyant. That is very different from the nerves exhibited by investors in US Treasury bonds in 2013, when Ms Yellen’s predecessor, Ben Bernanke, dared to suggest he might turn off the tap marked “easy money”. Even with a much more volatile figure in the White House, financial markets seem far more confident on the prospects for the US. Second, by raising rates now the Fed is giving itself vital room for manoeuvre ahead of the next downturn. The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years – which would mean, going by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that the next bust is not far away.
“All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.”
Make no mistake. Unlike most in the markets, I remain a secular bond bull and do not think this 35 year long bull bond market is over. I believe the US Fed has created another massive credit bubble that will, when it bursts, lay the global economy very low indeed. Combine this with the problems of a Chinese economy dependent on increasingly ineffective injections of credit to produce increasingly pedestrian GDP growth and you have a right global mess. The 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis will look like a soft-landing when the Fed blows this sucker sky high. The seeds for that debacle have already been sown with the Fed having presided over one of the biggest corporate credit bubbles in US history. All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.
Accelerated Fed rate hikes will cause tremors in the Treasury bond markets, forcing rates up, most especially in the 2 year – just like 1994. But as yet another central bank-inspired global recession unfolds, I believe US 10y bond yields will ultimately converge with Japanese and European yields well below zero – in other words, buy 10y bonds on weakness! [..] For those few of us in the markets of a certain age, Orange County conjures up only one thing: 1994 goes down in infamy as one of the biggest ever bond market bloodbaths in history culminating at the end of the year with Orange County in California going bankrupt (younger clients in their late 20s will only know the OC as the mid-2000s teen programme based in Newport Beach, which I watched religiously with my then teenage son and daughter).
I remember the 1994 period as if it were yesterday (unlike yesterday itself). Despite the Fed telegraphing the series of rate hikes and market participants forecasting multiple hikes, it was most curious how the market went into total convulsion. I was chatting to my ‘similarly young’ colleague Kit Juckes about this and he reminded me that the whole yield curve gapped up some 50bp immediately! It was a bloodbath, especially for 2y paper.
Remember Nicole talking about multiple claims to underlying real wealth: “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
Bill Gross has never been one to mince words – and his March investment outlook is no anomaly in his oeuvre of outspoken manifestos. In his latest investor letter, out Thursday morning, Janus Capital’s billionaire bond guru warns against putting too much faith in the market exuberance inspired by President Trump and his agenda. “‘Don’t lose it’ is my first and most important conceptual lesson for [my kids] despite the Trump bull market and the current ‘animal spirits’ that encourage risk, as opposed to the preservation of capital,” Gross writes. (Though more a matter of coincidence, the reference to animal spirits is a canny turn of phrase: JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon said in an interview Thursday morning that business and consumer confidence has “skyrocketed” because Trump has “woken up the animal spirits.”)
Gross goes on: “Don’t be allured by the Trump mirage of 3-4% growth and the magical benefits of tax cuts and deregulation. The U.S. and indeed the global economy is walking a fine line due to increasing leverage and the potential for too high (or too low) interest rates to wreak havoc on an increasingly stressed financial system. Be more concerned about the return of your money than the return on your money in 2017 and beyond.” This not the first time Gross has gone after Trump: he levied criticism in November (“I write in amazed, almost amused bewilderment at what American voters have done to themselves,” he said at the time) and again in December (“investors must consider the negatives of Trump’s anti-globalization ideas”). But the rationale in his latest investor letter is different from his prior notes, centering less on Trump’s policies and more on the global credit situation.
The world economy, Gross says, currently holds more credit relative to GDP than it did at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. In the U.S., credit is 350% of annual GDP, “and the ratio is rising,” he says. In China, that ratio sits close to 300%. Gross acknowledges that capitalism depends on credit expansion, but says that credit creation has its limits, and interest rates must be carefully monitored so that borrowers can repay their debts. But if rates are too low, “the system breaks down,” because savers and pension funds can’t earn a high enough rate of return to service those debts. “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”
“We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance..”
The US cognitive linguist George Lakoff characterises politics as a clash between two opposing models of parenting. Rightwingers subscribe to the strict, responsible parent with a firm grip on the purse strings, while leftwingers prefer the nurturing, providing version. Everyone is currently in thrall to the strict-parent model. Politicians and supposedly impartial broadcasters are constantly noting that, of course, “times are tight”. The beneficent state is a luxury we can no longer afford. “We can’t go back to 1945,” government ministers intone wearily, as if explaining to a child, before blithely announcing a return to other mid-century relics – such as grammar schools. Despite being thoroughly discredited by economists, and despite Theresa May’s promised investment programme, the zombie creed of austerity staggers on.
On what basis, exactly, do we live in straitened times? Yes, there’s the cost and uncertainty of Brexit. But a year or two ago, it was something else – the fallout from the recession, or turbulence in the eurozone. This is opportunistic shock doctrine stuff, where any bungling failure or general sense of global adversity can lend partisan political choices the air of necessity. The annual ritual of the budget reanimates the pernicious myth that the economy is like a household budget. Since we have our own currency, we actually enjoy capacious fiscal elasticity. The “strict” parent is really a mean parent. The “fairer funding formula”, by which the government is proposing to take money from some schools to give to supposedly more deserving ones, is a pointless zero-sum game. Instead of making children fight over measly slivers of cake, why not just bake a bigger one?
There are extraordinary funds in private hands, if only we conceived of them as part of our common wealth. A report last week by property consultants Knight Frank predicted that the number of UK-based ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with more than £24m in assets) will rise by 30% over the next decade. There is more than £10trn squirrelled away in the UK. The NHS costs £110bn a year; total government spending on education is £85bn a year. We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance, with luxury housing developments springing up in plain sight across the capital. If you question the basis on which we deem these evident riches untouchable, you are dismissed as hopelessly naive. There’s something doubly infantilising about this reaction: aren’t you aware that belts need to be tightened? And don’t you know the difference between public and private money?
“We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world..”
The U.S. government must get a grip on the massive opening that the CIA, through its misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance, has created. If Tuesday’s WikiLeaks document dump is authentic, as it appears to be, then the agency left open electronic gateways that make all Americans vulnerable to spying, eavesdropping and technological manipulation that could bring genuine harm. That the CIA has reached into the lives of all Americans through its wholesale gathering of the nation’s “haystack” of information has already been reported. It is bad enough that the government spies on its own people. It is equally bad that the CIA, through its incompetence, has opened the cyberdoor to anyone with the technological skills and connections to spy on anyone else.
The constant erosion of privacy at the hands of the government and corporations has annihilated the concept of a “right to privacy,” which is embedded in the rationale of the First, Third, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are sliding down the slippery slope toward totalitarianism, where private lives do not exist. We have entered a condition of constitutional crisis that requires a full-throated response from the American people. I have repeatedly warned about the dangers of the Patriot Act and its successive iterations, the execrable national security letters that turn every FBI agent into a star chamberlain, the dangers of fear-based security policies eroding our republic. We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world, and it’s time we tell the government and the corporations who have intruded to stop it.
The CIA should have shared its info with Apple et al, to make phones etc safe. It did not.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them. “This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said. “It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said. Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012. He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.
“We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out. “Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring,” he added. [..] WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors. “The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It’s quite possible numerous people already might have it,” Assange said.
is WikiLeaks going to share info with China tech as well?
China expressed concern on Thursday over revelations in a trove of data released by Wikileaks purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization’s revelations, although some said they needed more details of what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to. Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and Taiwan supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China expressed concern about the reports and reiterated its opposition to all forms of hacking. “We urge the U.S. side to stop listening in, monitoring, stealing secrets and internet hacking against China and other countries,” Geng told a daily news briefing. China is frequently accused by the United States and other countries of hacking attacks, which it always denies. The Chinese government has its own sophisticated domestic surveillance program and keeps tight control of the internet at home, saying such measures are needed to protect national security and maintain stability.
“They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on.”
Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that Truman came to see the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” at work, which posits that all organizations – particularly government bureaucracies – eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:
Truman: I think [creation of the CIA] was a mistake. And if I’d know what was going to happen, I never would have done it. [..] But it got out of hand. The fella … the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they’ve got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I’ve told you, one Pentagon is one too many. Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don’t just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there’s nobody to keep track of what they’re up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on. They’ve become … it’s become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.
That’s a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it’s got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there’s got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don’t care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things. And when you can’t do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we’re on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn’t have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
“..by the time he was assassinated, Kennedy was at full war against the U.S. national-security establishment. He was challenging all of their Cold War assumptions. He was proposing peaceful coexistence with what the CIA and the military had said was an implacable foe that was determined to take over America. And he was doing the unthinkable — making friends with the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Cuba, and the communist world.”
Kennedy came into office as a standard cold warrior. That is, like most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he had bought into the notion that had been inculcated into the American people since the end of World War II — that America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), was coming to get us and subject the American people to communism. To combat what was billed as an international communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Americans were told, it would be necessary to adopt the same type of governmental structure that existed in Russia — a national-security apparatus grafted onto America’s original limited-government structure that had been established by the Constitution. That apparatus included a giant, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, or what President Eisenhower would later call “the military-industrial complex.”
It also consisted of a secretive agency called the CIA, which would come to wield omnipotent powers within what continued to be billed as a “limited government.” Such powers would include assassination, regime-change operations, foreign coups, kidnapping, torture, rendition, involuntary medical experimentation (e.g., MKULTRA), spying and surveillance of Americans — the types of things that characterized the KGB and even the Hitler’s Gestapo. Kennedy believed in this apparatus. Even though it had been adopted without a constitutional amendment, he believed it was necessary to keep America free and safe from the Reds, who, it was said, were coming to get us. He experienced his first dose of reality a few months after being sworn into office, when the CIA presented its secret plan to invade Cuba and effect regime change there.
The plan called for using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to do the invading, with the U.S. government denying any role in the operation. Kennedy’s job, under the CIA plan, would be to lie about U.S. involvement in the invasion, thereby making him America’s liar-in-chief (and indirectly subjecting him to blackmail by the CIA). The CIA assured Kennedy that the invasion could succeed without U.S. air support, and JFK made it clear that no air support would be furnished. The CIA lied. In fact, they knew that there was no way that the operation could succeed without air support. But they figured that once the invasion got underway, Kennedy would have no effective choice but to change his mind and provide the needed air support. It was a classic CIA set up of a newly elected president.
When the invasion started to fail, the CIA urged the president to change his mind. He refused to do so, and the invasion force was easily defeated. The CIA considered Kennedy’s action to be a grave betrayal of America and the CIA’s Cuban “freedom fighters.” Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the debacle but privately he was outraged. He knew that the CIA had set him up, with the aim of maneuvering him into intervening with air support. He fired the much-revered and much-respected CIA Director Allen Dulles (who, in a classic conflict of interest, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission). Reflecting his disdain for the CIA, Kennedy promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
Yes, it’s come to this. That door is now wide open.
China lashed out at the United States for its “terrible human rights problems” in a report on Thursday, adding to recent international criticism of Washington on issues ranging from violence inflicted on minorities to U.S. immigration policies. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on rights in nearly 200 countries last week accused China of torture, executions without due process, repression of political rights and persecution of ethnic minorities, among other issues. In an annual Chinese response to the U.S. report, China’s State Council, or cabinet, said the United States suffered from rampant gun violence and high levels of incarceration. U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria had caused thousands of civilian deaths, according to the report, which was carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the State Council said. “The United States repeatedly trampled on human rights in other countries and wilfully slaughtered innocent victims,” it said, referring to deaths in U.S. drone strikes. On Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about migrants, Mexicans and Muslims were “harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses” and that his immigration policies could lead to breaches of international law. Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Muslim ideologies, though the president has disavowed their support.
“President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system..”
One way to gauge China’s longer term intentions is to assess what Chinese leaders are saying today. President Xi Jinping has articulated a vision for China over the next few decades. This vision has been termed the “Chinese Dream” or the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” These slogans capture goals, milestones, and timelines. In terms of timeframe, the Chinese refer to the “two one hundreds”: i) the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021; and ii) the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. By 2021 China hopes to become what the Chinese call a “moderately well-off society.” By mid-century China hopes to be on par with other developed countries.
Most measures for tracking China’s progress are socio-economic in nature: disposable income, socioeconomic equality, access to higher education, access to healthcare and so forth. To achieve these objectives, China still hews to the basic principle laid out by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, namely, peace and development. The concept of peace and development derives from the notion that China needs a peaceful external environment to develop economically. But there are also external components to China’s long term goals, particularly China’s relations with the rest of the world. President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system. This is code for a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world.
As China rises, China envisions the emergence of a new global configuration in which China is a great power among other coequal great powers, including the European Union, India, and Russia, in the international system. This aligns with the “rise of the rest” hypothesis. As China gets very strong, it would also seek to amend the rules that have governed the current international order in ways that accommodates China’s interests as a great power. China’s rise thus raises a series of important questions about the implications for Asia. What does China want in East Asia as it rises? Would China seek to become the dominant power in East Asia? Would it seek a dramatically reduced role for the United States? More troubling, would China seek a Sino-centric regional order in which many of its neighbors, including Japan, must acquiesce to its strategic prerogatives?
“..German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009 [..] January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.”
Germany is often described as the “powerhouse” of Europe, but the health of the world’s fourth largest economy is not as rosy as most people think, according to one economist. “The crack in Germany’s economy has become most evident in consumer spending. Retail sales volumes have slowed consistently since growth rates peaked in mid-2015. They have crashed in the last six monthly reports,” Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note earlier this week. Hard data shows that Germany’s economy has been facing problems for at least the past six months, despite an uptick in growth at the end of last year. At the same time, income has been slowing dramatically and the reasons behind this are far from clear.
“As domestic demand is imploding, so is foreign demand,” Weinberg added. “Exports are flat year-on-year. This is not to say that net exports are not rising. However, the flat gross exports mean industrial output to make goods for export is not growing.” “Without growth of either exports or domestic consumer spending, industrial production has stalled,” Weinberg said. On Tuesday, data showed German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009. According to Reuters, a breakdown of the January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.
Second part of the show. Last week, Steve ‘submittied evidence’ on QE to a Treasury Committee in the UK.
“If these conventional theories of economics actually worked, you and I wouldn’t have an audience.”
In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy discuss why neoliberalism didn’t make us richer. In the second half, Max interviews professor Steve Keen about Quantitative easing (QE) and its role in financial crisis.
But they will tell you this is normal.
Home prices in 31% of the U.K.’s local authority districts have risen more than the total average take-home pay of workers in the area over the past two years, according to Halifax. While homeowners would have to sell their houses to realize those gains, it illustrates how quickly prices have risen, as well as how hard it is for new buyers to get on the property ladder. Rising house prices have helped underpin consumption, the backbone of Britain’s economy, even as wage increases have been more modest. Still, the distribution of gains highlight regional disparities. More than 90% of the areas were in London, the South and East of England, the report published Friday said.
The biggest gap was in Haringey, a borough in the north of the capital city, where house prices increased by an average of 139,803 pounds ($169,805), exceeding average take-home earnings by 91,450 pounds or 3,810 pounds per month. “While it’s no longer unusual for houses to ‘earn’ more than the people living in them in some places, there are clearly local impacts,” said economist Martin Ellis. “Homeowners in these areas can build up large levels of equity quickly, but for potential buyers whose wages have failed to keep pace, the cost of buying a home has become more unaffordable.” The only areas where earnings exceeded house price increases were the North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The peak AND the bottom of EU democracy. Tusk is in Brussels to represent Poland. But Poland doesn’t want him to do that. The EU doesn’t care.
Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU. The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury. “We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.
Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration. News of his re-election was broken by Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, who tweeted his congratulations less than two hours after the meeting had started. In a rare formal vote, 27 of the EU’s 28 governments supported Tusk. The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, confirmed that Poland would retaliate by blocking the EU summit communique, a statement summarising EU policy on economic growth, migration and the western Balkans. But the document can still be approved in a different procedure, a manoeuvre likely to deepen the wedge between Warsaw and other EU capitals.
For some reason the text with the graph is about the UK, though that’s obviously not where the problem is.
Around one in six U.K. households had “great difficulty” or “difficulty” in making ends meet in 2015, according to Eurostat. While that’s below the estimated average of 26% across the European Union, it’s more than triple the proportion of struggling Swedes and about double the%age in Germany. With inflation forecast to accelerate this year and grocers such as Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc warning price increases will soon hit, British consumers look set to face a further squeeze on living standards this year.