Mar 072019
 
 March 7, 2019  Posted by at 3:12 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Succession 1935

 

 

While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.

Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse.

Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best.

Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:

 

 

Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point:  that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure.  One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious.  People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.” 
 
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter.  Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. WHY that is in the back of OUR minds (and only ours, they often say “humans” are violent, mean or exploitative, but Algonquins or Kalahari Bushmen might show otherwise), is another whole question, however, it is the root of our, and only OUR, western culture: limitless growth and progress. A religion of Progress that replaces God himself, as the Archdruid would say.
 
However, here we are. And our system parameters, of our western system do NOT permit ANY contraction of growth or progress. At this point, the entire economic and financial system would collapse, and as we no longer have any religion, community, or moral framework, or possibly even reason, our whole society would collapse with it. 
 
That’s a lot to take on, so let’s just simply ask in public why we are calling for 20 years of furious concrete/CO2-producing growth must occur to rebuild those windmills and 4,000 buildings a day, or whether we should just take the Yankee mantra (and no doubt a Norwegian one too) to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is so much wasted you could dumpster dive and Craigslist the first 10 years, giving us enormous resources to apply to raw energy use. But we won’t, and no one will even say it, although everyone knows it, has done it, and CLAIMS there’s an urgent crisis. 
 
So let’s start here and ask why we’re not doing the most stupid, basic, cheap, things, like turning down the thermostat and walking to the store AT ALL, instead of (sorry to pick on this) saving the bats in Mauritania, or the whales in Japan. Why?  Because then SOMEBODY ELSE has to take a boot to the teeth, not me in Brooklyn or London. And we will MAKE THEM take in the teeth for me, so I DON’T HAVE TO. We were already down this road in 1970 as the Archdruid has said, we already made this decision not to wear sweaters way back. Instead, I can claim rights to $100 Trillion in wealth and dole it out like the queen, making friends and fame without limit. 
 
But it won’t work, and we need to get on it right away. I believe the leaders already know we’re going to hit the wall and are purposefully trying to hit the accelerator as with outlawing seeds, meat, poisoning soil and water, outlawing gardens, controlling travel – these are all the foundations of Stalin about to approach Ukraine. I can see that in 20 approaches they’re pushing, but I don’t expect them to be very successful.  Such as, WE are going to have to do it, not the other guy. And I in fact do, but I’m pretty busy, so this is the best I can do right now. 
 
And perhaps you too.

 

 

The Real New Deal

 

Dr. D: The Green New Deal has taken front page headlines lately, and the discussion on how to green the economy and become more ecological is real. Certainly all sides have wide agreement, where while the Left may call for salvation from Global Warming, yet the Right will call for efficient resource use, preserved farmland and better hunting camps. Everyone loves National Parks, being one of the largest tourist draws in our nation and also for our fellow nations worldwide, nobody likes to see animals run down or the environment destroyed.

With so much agreement, so widespread, it’s difficult to see why a consensus cannot be agreed on. Even if the means are different – statist control vs volunteer capitalism – surely the goals would be reached in any case. Perhaps with two methods, approaches, and visions, attaining our common goals could be far easier. If so, then why does there seem to be such obstacles and reluctance in our joint moment into a greener, better future? The Left says it’s because of the Right, and the Right because of the Left. Yet I can tell you it’s neither: it’s simply math and physics.

An “Economy” is the “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.” That is to say they are the static things, like land, rivers, and copper mines, as well as the specific ways in which those blank resources are put to use: the transportation of them to factories, their manufacture, sale, and disposal. This encompasses things not on-ledger, like where environmental and social costs are offloaded, and who is enjoying the benefit of a resource that will run out for our children. This is also the things that are on-ledger, such as who benefits from profits or productivity, and which sectors are subsidized and which are starved. The Financial System rides atop of the Economic System, simply accounting it, keeping track of it, and sending the messages to it about where the needs are and which products should go where.

But neither exist in a vacuum. Although we generally overlook it, the Economic and Financial Systems are an expression of our personal beliefs and values, and those of our nation and national culture or personality. So in the U.S., we have chosen to measure our national prosperity using headline metrics such as the S&P and the GDP. These change character from time to time, as we used to measure the GNP, and now follow the NASDAQ. And the way we characterize them is also relevant: in the U.S., for instance, we measure all government spending in GDP as if it were private spending; that is, as if it were a profit, not an expense.

Nor is this financial arcana: although when this choice was made to make it seem the economy was stronger during the Great Depression, “you optimize what you measure”, and now the government itself has become the economy, with $22T in debts owed, and is directing most resources, but at a LOSS, not a profit. We then record that loss as prosperity. Nor is that different for the S&P or NASDAQ: if the popular financial numbers decline, the Fed will openly take money from the people and push the numbers back up again to indicate “success” and “prosperity” as we measure it. Yet the money borrowed from the taxpayers, the currency holders, makes them poorer, not richer.

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2003 data from the International Energy Agency

 

What does this have to do with the Green New Deal and our joint goal of a cleaner, greener world? Well, the Green New Deal proposes to spend vast sums of money to transfer energy use to renewables and carbon-free sources, and there are unimaginable profits to be made should anyone do this. Unfortunately, the fact this hasn’t occurred is strong proof that it’s not possible. Not that green energy can’t be made or doesn’t exist, but that it’s not PROFITABLE to do so – that’s why the government, or rather the taxpayers, are asked to pay for it. But profit is only money, as the MMT-believers will avow.

What really matters is that thermodynamically, the EROEI, the “energy returned on energy invested” is too low. That is to say, you put in 90 calories and get out only 91. Or worse, put in 101 calories and get out only 90. This is easily shown in a wide variety of green projects, from solar – it’s estimated the electric produced over 20 years is equal to the glass-and-silicon manufacture – to ethanol, where despite enormous carbon, petrol, and water use in the cement, steel, shipping, and manufacturing of the distilling plant, the corn may only produce 10 units gain per 90 invested, or possibly none at all.

This is likely true for windmills, which if needing repair will add costs, while requiring a full-scale standing grid behind them at all times, as well as electric cars, which not only require a grid, but also may use more energy and cause more pollution in mining and smelting the batteries than the vehicle saves over a lifetime. Nor was this a surprise: again, as bad a system as financial accounting is in a system riddled with stock frauds and subsidies, nevertheless, if any of these saved energy, the huge drop in input costs – no gas used – would immediately render all these projects profitable, and not in need of a subsidy.

This is how coal replaced wood, and tractors replaced horses – sometimes in as little as 10 years. This is how LEDs instantly replaced incandescents, or the Prius replaced the K-car –lower costs, better products. And is how the U.S. has had one of the largest drops in CO2 emissions despite shutting down green subsidies and pulling out of the Paris Accord – organically, by market forces. Because despite our terrible, corrupt, interventionist system screwing up all the incentives, everybody loves a deal, and those arbitrages, those improvements still stand out.

 

Since we’re already using our technical limit, there is another way we can join together, reduce energy use, reduce waste and green the planet: lower demand.

The U.S. uses about half our energy for transportation, and if you’ve been to America, you know that most of that transportation is unnecessary: people live on average +20 minutes from work, and our oversized, centralized schools mean they are nearly as far. It’s not uncommon for every child to have a 40-minute bus ride each morning and night to and from school, and although more efficient than cars, there’s little need, only habit. We concentrated millions of small schools into a few huge ones from 1950 to 2000, just as we concentrated millions of small towns and shops into a few mega-centers. The remaining small businesses – dentists, phone stores, pizza shops – are randomly distributed, without any location in neighborhoods nor any access to public transit, and this would take decades to transform.

Nor is this a thing the people prefer. Commuting is one of the least-liked aspects of modern life as well as the most energy-intensive one. So instead of following massive hundred-trillion debt expenditures that show no promise of returning value, shouldn’t we grasp the low hanging fruit of efficiency? In fact, thermodynamically, efficiency is the only game in town, a 100 or 1,000:1 EROEI instead of 1.2:1. We have even done this from time to time during wars when massive campaigns led to massive efficiency, massive production, massive savings, ration books, and near-total recycling.

But nobody wants that. And that’s why the Green New Deal is structured exclusively as a SPENDING program, and not a SAVING one, because we don’t want to save, we want to SPEND. Part of this of course is that it’s more fun to spend than to save, but more importantly, it’s what we do, it’s what we measure. If you were to have a Green New Deal that is easy to implement and proven to work like the WWII model, GDP and profits would fall sharply. Although much, perhaps most, energy is wasted on unimportant things, the higher efficiencies would mean lower sales, lower production, and lower throughput EVEN IF IT MEANT A HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE. This is easily seen in the U.S. vs Japan or Europe comparisons:

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2013 data from the World Bank

 

The U.S. uses 10,000kg oil while Japan uses 5,000 and Portugal uses 2,500, and while there are important differences between nations, we don’t think of Japan or Portugal as sacrificing quality of life. This is strictly a choice, a design built up over lifetimes of effort. So if we could become as efficient as Japan and live far better too, why don’t we? This is a no-argument left-right win that can be implemented in hours, why isn’t capturing this easy gain the real target of the GND?

“You get what you incentivize.” If efficiency were the Real Green Deal, money would NOT be spent in Congress, Companies would NOT be paid, and lobbyists go home empty and poor. People would NOT be employed for the new projects and they would NOT vote for the new Congressmen. Government spending falls, even private-sector GDP would decline, and falling with it would be protected sectors of the economy like oil and utilities. How do you sell “Let’s cancel the party and stay home with the lights out”?

But it’s far worse than that in ways we don’t see. We think about New Deal SPENDING because spending has been exclusively incentivized for 100 years. The economy, the society, the financial system have all been built around GROWTH, not efficiency; MORE, not less, until the systems themselves can no longer function with anything less than unceasing expansion, ever-increasing, forever.

If GDP drops for any reason, even for efficiency and an easy increase in the quality of life – even to save all life on earth – consumption drops. A simpler life with fewer miles driven means less gas wasted and fewer cars sold. Fewer cars means fewer meals out. Sales drop. Employment drops. Stock markets drop. The lower valuation of companies means bond quality drops. Lower sales and lower activity mean tax revenue drops. Government programs drop. Treasury bonds drop and with it, military power drops. As stocks, bonds, and T-bill drop, pensions drop. Insurance drops. In short, the entire economy drops, contracts, goes into a sharp deflation and depression with world-wide unemployment and mass bankruptcies.

But worse than that. Economies come and go, wax and wane and adjust to the new realities. However, unlike previous eras, under a debt-based fiat-money system, one thing does NOT drop: debt. As the value of all things declines, the debt owed only increases. By companies. By citizens. By whole governments. And so soon as the numbers in a debt-based system stop increasing, that debt defaults.

 

Now in previous times, the relative values of debts, assets, and money would simply re-adjust. Bonds would fall, gold (cash) would rise. Bad companies and inefficiencies would be driven out, and the system would recover without the dead weight and bad ideas at a more accurate pricing. But that won’t happen this time. Because everything is so highly leveraged and centralized, and the financial system is our primary means of directing the economy, that system under a debt-based fiat system would almost entirely collapse, and the disruptions of reforming and restarting it would almost certainly take years, during which the economy itself, the production of wheat bread and toothpaste, heating oil and electric lights, would come to a virtual halt, threatening the lives of millions, hundred millions, even billions worldwide.

Wars would start. Nations would fall. So while we don’t think of these things, the reality is, if one were to have a major contraction, much less plan a voluntary, intentional one, the pressure to stop it would be overwhelming and from every side: retail, political, financial, human, ecological, economic, military; there is no way such a plan could be seriously considered, much less implemented. WE ARE NEVER MOVING TO EFFICIENCY UNDER A DEBT-BASED MONETARY SYSTEM. End of story. To the contrary: such a system incentivizes and even DEMANDS new waste and expensive, ruinous ideas like the Green New Deal. And even if they fail, they must ever-increase.

So why are we not having a Green New Deal of easy efficiency, one that we know works, but instead spending ever-more on ever more massive expenditures that are ever-less fruitful? Because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s what it depends on. And as you get what you incentivize, every body, everywhere in the system, will be incentivized to do this or die trying. And this will continue until we change the base assumptions, what we measure, what we capture and profit by. Left or Right, big or small, town or country, public or private, nothing can change in our system until we change it, until we change our beliefs about who we are, what we want, and what we are doing.

For me, I prefer easy, provable gains and a higher, easier quality of life, and I’m not afraid to make those changes that improve us without being at the expense of others. And we will need to face where we are and the challenges of the steps before us. Because essentially we all agree. We not only need a New Green Deal, we need a New Deal altogether. A better one, a fairer one. A possible one. One with a future. So let’s start acting like it and begin.

 

 

Jan 092019
 
 January 9, 2019  Posted by at 7:27 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

 

In the New Year, after a close to the old one that was sort of terrible for our zombie markets, do prepare for a whole lot of stories about China (on top of Brexit and Yellow Vests and many more windmills fighting the Donald). And don’t count on too many positive ones that don’t originate in the country itself. Beijing will especially be full of feel-good tales about a month from now, around Chinese New Year 2019, which is February 5.

And we won’t get an easy and coherent true story, it’ll be bits and pieces stitched together. What will remain is that China did the same we did, just on steroids. It took us 100 years to build our manufacturing capacity, they did it in under 20 (and made ours obsolete). It took us 100 years to borrow enough to get a debt-to-GDP ratio of 300%, they did it in 10.

In the process they also accumulated 10 times more non-productive assets than us, idle factories, bridges to nowhere and empty cities, but they thought that would be alright, that demand would catch up with supply. And if you look at how much unproductive stuff we ourselves have gathered around us, who can blame them for thinking that? Perhaps their biggest mistake has been misreading our actual wealth situation; they didn’t see how poorly off we really are.

 

Xiang Songzuo, “a relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing”, expressed some dire warnings about the Chinese economy in a December 15 speech. He didn’t get much attention, not even in the West. Not overly surprising, since both Beijing and Wall Street have a vested interest in the continuing China growth story.

But with the arrival of 2019, that attention started slowly seeping through. Former associate professor of business and economics at the Peking University HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, Christopher Balding, left China 6 months ago after losing his job. At the time, he wrote: “China has reached a point where I do not feel safe being a professor and discussing even the economy, business and financial markets..”. And, noting a change that very much seems related to what is coming down the road:

”One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.”

A few days ago, Balding wrote this on Twitter:

“Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo (claiming Chinese GDP growth could be as low as 1.67%) as implausible…”. No, we didn’t. The GS PE guy and the PKU dean have every reason to deny it. Car and mobile phone shipment down 2% and 16% are not a 6.5% growth economy.”

That certainly sets the tone of the discussion. GDP growth of 1.67% vs the official 6.5%; smartphone shipments down 16%, car sales slumping. Not the kind of numbers you’ll hear from Beijing. And Balding does know China, whether they like it or not. On Monday, Bloomberg, where he was/is a regular contributor, published this from his hand:

 

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction

Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion . For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year .

Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017 . External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.

 

The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor.

The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.

 

Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure.

To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars . If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.

 

The Xiang Songzuo speech was also noted by the Financial Times this week. Their conclusions are not much rosier. Recent US imports from China look good only because both buyers and sellers try to stay ahead of tariffs. And whole some truce or another there may smoothen things a little, China must launch a massive stimulus against the background of twice as much investment being needed for a unit of GDP growth.

 

Nervous Markets: How Vulnerable Is China’s Economy?

A relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing sparked a minor furore last month when he claimed a secret government research group had estimated China’s growth in GDP could be as low as 1.67% in 2018 — far below the officially published rate of 6.7% for the year up to September. 

Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo as implausible, despite longstanding doubts about the reliability of China’s official GDP data. Yet although discussion of his claims was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, the presentation has been viewed more than 1.2m times on YouTube — an indication of the raw nerve Mr Xiang touched with his doom-laden warnings.

[..] the question that is hanging over global markets is just how vulnerable is China to a much sharper slowdown? Ominously, the recent downturn has occurred even though the expected hit to Chinese exports from the trade war has not yet materialised. In fact, analysts say exports probably received a one-off boost in recent months as traders front-loaded shipments to beat the expected tariff rise from 10% to 25% that US president Donald Trump threatened would take effect in January. That rise is now on hold due to the 90-day truce that Mr Trump agreed with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Argentina last month.

[..] The amount of new capital investment required to generate a given unit of GDP growth has more than doubled since 2007 , according to Moody’s Analytics. In other words, investment stimulus produces little bang for Beijing’s buck, even as it adds to the debt levels.

[..] “They [Beijing] will soon have no choice but to launch massive stimulus,” says Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. “They do not want to give away their credibility because they said they wouldn’t do it, but there is no time to be cautious any more. Not having growth is ultimately the worst outcome of all.”

 

Christopher Whalen picks up on Xiang Songzuo’s speech as well, and quotes him saying that “Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash”. Whereas the China Beige Book states that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Which leads to the conclusion that deflation is, or should be, Beijing’s main worry.

Oh, and Chinese consumer demand has weakened, something we’ve seen more off recently. Reuters headlines “China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption” today, but that headline could have come from any of the past 5 years or so. Domestic consumption is precisely China’s problem, and they can’t achieve nearly enough growth there.

 

China’s Stability Is at Risk

Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking.

China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.

Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.

Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.

 

So, China phone shipments are down 16%, as per Balding. But Tim Cook says Apple’s never done better. Still, if that 16% number is correct, either Apple or its Chinese suppliers are doing worse, not better. And 16% is a lot.

 

Despite Recent Battering, Tim Cook Says Apple’s ‘Ecosystem Has Never Been Stronger’

Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.

“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.”

“We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached . “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.

 

16% fewer phones, that gets you the second production cut at Apple and its ‘magnificent ecosystem’ in short order. Now sure, Cook can try and blame the tariffs. but Samsung’s Q4 2018 sales fell 11%, and its operating profit fell by 29%. It’s a bigger and wider issue, and China is at the heart of it.

 

Apple Cuts Q1 Production Plan For New iPhones By 10%

Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10% for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States.

Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.

 

And very much not least there was this graph of Chinese investments in Africa. What are the conditions? At what point will they call back the loans? And when countries can’t pay back, what’s the penalty? How much of this has been provided by Beijing in US dollars it doesn’t have nearly enough of?

 

 

It’s like the much heralded Belt and Road project, or Silk Road 2.0, isn’t it, where the first batch of participating nations have started sounding the alarm over loan conditions. Yes, it sounds great, I admit, but I have long said that in reality Belt&Road is China’s ingenious scheme to export its industrial overcapacity and force other countries to pay for it. It’s like the model Rome had, and the US still do, just all in one single project. And this one has a name, and it can be expanded to Africa.

But no, I don’t see it. I think China’s debt, combined with the vast distance it still has from owning a global reserve currency, will call the shots, not Xi Jinping.

China won’t be taking over. At least, not anytime soon.

 

 

Oct 192018
 
 October 19, 2018  Posted by at 1:04 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Meeting (Encounter) 1940

 

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

 

 

The first thing I thought when I saw that was: how on earth is it possible that in an economy that’s supposedly been growing 6%+ for a decade, stocks have gone nowhere at all? And obviously the role of the Shanghai index is different from that of the S&P, the DAX or the FTSE, but at the alleged Chinese growth rate, the economy would have almost doubled in size in 10 years. And none of that is reflected in stocks?

 

 

And if you think Shenzhen is a better barometer of ‘real’ China, Tyler Durden had this graph yesterday. Not the same as Shanghai, but similar for sure.

 

 

But other aspects of the Chinese economy are perhaps more interesting, I think. China’s mom and pop are not typically in stocks. In the Zero Hedge article I took that graph from, there is also this:

“There’s a liquidity crisis in the stock market, and pledged shares are again starting to sound the alarm,” said Yang Hai, analyst at Kaiyuan Securities. [..] The fear is that if Beijing does nothing, the self-reinforcing liquidation is only set to get worse: with $603 billion of shares pledged as collateral for loans – or 11% of China’s market capitalization, – traders are increasingly concerned that forced sellers will tip the market into a downward spiral.

[..] China in June told brokerages to seek approval before selling large chunks of stock that have been pledged as collateral for loans, while the top financial regulator in August warned the industry that it’s closely watching corporate stock pledges. Neither of those warnings appears to have generated the desired outcome, and the result is that two-thirds of Shenzhen Composite stocks are now at 52-week lows or worse.

[..] what are investors to do in this time of panicked selling? Why demand more bailouts of course, like begging the National Team to step in and rescue them (just like in the housing market): “If there are no real policies to cure the array of problems and ailments in our market, no one will be willing to take the risk,” said Hai. “Authorities keep saying that there is room for more polices, but where are they?”

“It’s high time the state stepped in,” said Dong Baozhen, a fund manager at Beijing Tonglingshengtai Asset Management. “The national funds cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”

It’s this clamoring for the state to come to the rescue of people who are losing money that would appear to define China today, where there is a stock market and housing market, and many ‘investors’ making lots of money, but where the mentality still seems to lurk back to days of old whenever things don’t only go up in a straight line.

There was another report recently of people demonstrating outside a property developer’s office because the firm had lowered purchase prices by 30%. Those that had paid full price now stood to lose that 30%. This happens frequently, and it can get violent. Mom and pop are not in stocks, they are in real estate:

Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities.

The Chinese are thinking about leaders from Deng Xiao Ping to Xi Jinping that it’s great if they steer the country in a direction where everyone can get rich, but when things go awry, it’s still Beijing’s task to solve the problems if and when they occur. I would expect the same kind of thing in many western countries where people have borrowed heavily into housing bubbles, I don’t see mass foreclosures in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, but bailouts of people who grossly overpaid.

But the Chinese go a step further in their demands from central government. And that is an enormous problem for Xi going forward. One crucial facet of all this is psychological: when people count on being bailed out by their government, they will take much more risk, borrow more, with higher leverage etc. If you allow people things like pledging shares to buy more shares, or homes, and shares fall, you have an issue.

China’s well-known for companies buying each other’s shares to appear viable. It’s also known for local governments borrowing heavily from shadow banks in order for party officials to look as if they’re performing real well.

Now of course, if Beijing keeps on presenting all those growth numbers that look so solid, it’s asking for it. Moreover, the Party has lost control over the shadow banks, and it couldn’t act to regain that control if it wanted. It could initiate a program to forgive debt owed to national banks, but what’s owed to the shadows will have to be paid. We’re talking many trillions.

The Party has let the shadows in, because it made its own debt numbers look so much better. But when this whole debt balloon, on which so much of the GDP growth has rested, and the roads to nowhere and empty apartment blocks and cities, starts to pop, who are the Chinese going to turn to? For that matter, who is Xi going to turn to?

Yes, much of the western wealth has turned into a mirage, but in that respect, too, China has done what we did in a fraction of the time. Trump’s tariffs may play a role in a slowdown, but wait until the western economies deflate their debt bubbles and stop buying much of China’s products.

Bubbles vs balloons, that seems a proper way to phrase this. And for better or for worse, Jerome Powell is hiking interest rates. There’s your Needles and Pins.

 

 

Oct 152018
 
 October 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Haymaking in Brittany 1889

 

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)
Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)
How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)
Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)
Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)
Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)
The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)
Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)
‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)
The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)
Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)
Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

 

 

The essential discussion of our times.

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)

The late Prof Mick Moran, who taught politics and government at Manchester University for most of his professional life, had, according to his colleagues, once had “a certain residual respect for our governing elites”. That all changed during the 2008 financial crisis, after which he experienced an epiphany “because it convinced him that the officer class in business and in politics did not know what it was doing”. After his epiphany, Moran formed a collective of academics dedicated to exposing the complacency of finance-worship and to replacing it with an idea of running modern economies focused on maximising social good. They called themselves the Foundational Economy Collective, based on the idea that it’s in the everyday economy where there is most potential for true social regeneration: not top-down cash-splashing, but renewal and replenishment from the ground upwards.

Foundational activities are the materials and services without which we cannot live a civilised life: clean, unrationed water; affordable electricity and gas without cuts to supply; collective transport on smooth roads and rails; quality health and social care provided free at the point of use; and reliable, sustainable food supply. Then there’s the “overlooked economy” – everyday services such as hairdressing, veterinary care, catering and hospitality and small-scale manufacturing – which employ far more people, across a wider geographical range, than the “high-skill, hi-tech” economy with which recent governments have been obsessed.

For the Foundational Economy authors, focusing on the fundamental value of invisible and unglamorous jobs “restores the importance of unappreciated and unacknowledged tacit skills of many citizens”. It’s a way of looking at economics from the point of view of people rather than figures, and doing something revolutionary (yet so blindingly obvious) in the process. What is the point of “growth” if the basic elements of a decent life are denied to a large and growing number?

Read more …

A license to kill, then?!

Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusation,” a government source reportedly told the official Saudi Press Agency. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” Hence, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s general manager Turki Aldakhil, in our call of the day, warned we could see an explosive move in oil prices. “If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” he wrote in an op-ed.

“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.” This mess could ultimately throw the entire Muslim world “into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington,” Aldakhil said. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh.”

Read more …

Or the end of OPEC?

How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a privileged position both in geopolitical and economic terms. It will have a powerful hand to play if tensions with the US and the west escalate and it follows through with Sunday’s warning of retaliation. Its vast oil reserves – it claims to have about 260bn barrels still to extract – afford the most obvious advantage. The kingdom is the world’s largest oil exporter, pumping or shipping about 7m barrels a day, and giving Riyadh huge clout in the global economy because it wields power to push up prices. An editorial in Arab News by Turki Aldhakhil, the general manager of the official Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, offers a hint of what could be in the offing.

He said Riyadh was weighing up 30 measures designed to put pressure on the US if it were to impose sanctions over the disappearance and presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. These would include an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400, more than double the all-time high of $147.27 reached in 2008. This would have profound consequences globally, not just because motorists would pay more at the petrol pump, but because it would force up the cost of all goods that travel by road.

Read more …

Wonder why the UN has acted now. And did it do so after consulting with the US?

Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)

The Ecuadorian government has decided to partly restore communications for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. They were cut in March, denying the Australian access to the internet or phones and limiting visitors to members of his legal team. He has been living inside Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than six years. The Ecuadorian government said in March it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, added: “It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited. “The UN has already declared Mr Assange a victim of arbitrary detention. This unacceptable situation must end. “The UK government must abide by the UN’s ruling and guarantee that he can leave the Ecuadorian embassy without the threat of extradition to the United States.”

Read more …

Thought PropOrNot was done, but the Atlantic Council did not.

Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)

Media outlets removed by Facebook on Thursday, in a massive purge of 800 accounts and pages, had previously been targeted in a blacklist of oppositional sites promoted by the Washington Post in November 2016. The organizations censored by Facebook include The Anti-Media, with 2.1 million followers, The Free Thought Project, with 3.1 million followers, and Counter Current News, with 500,000 followers. All three of these groups had been on the blacklist. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations it claimed were part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign.”

The Post said the report “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” The publication of the blacklist drew widespread media condemnation, including from journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, forcing the Post to publish a partial retraction. The newspaper declared that it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.” While the individuals behind PropOrNot have not identified themselves, the Washington Post said the group was a “collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Read more …

Long expected.

Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)

After years of Sears Holdings staying afloat through financial maneuvering and relying on billions of CEO Eddie Lampert’s own money, the 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy. The filing comes more than a decade after Lampert merged Sears and Kmart, hoping that forging together the two struggling discounters would create a more formidable competitor. It comes after Lampert shed assets and spun out real estate, all to pay down the debt the retailer accumulated when that plan went askew. The company still has roughly 700 stores, which have at times been barren, unstocked by vendors who have lost their trust.

Many of the stores have never been visited by a generation of shoppers that can barely recall it was once the the country’s biggest retailer. Lampert, who has a controlling ownership stake in Sears, personally holds some 31 percent of the retailer’s shares outstanding, according to FactSet. His hedge fund ESL Investments owns about 19 percent. Ultimately, it was a $134 million payment that did the company in. The company had a payment due Monday it had not the money to pay.

Read more …

Why does this still need to be explained?

The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)

With great flourish, Theresa May last week announced that she was lifting the borrowing cap which constrains local councils’ ability to finance new housebuilding. “We will only fix this broken market by building more homes,” the prime minister said. “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that cap.” Nope. In reality, councils – or anyone else for that matter – building more homes will do very little to address the fundamental problem in the housing market, and if you want to understand why, there’s a new book which explains it.

‘Why Can’t You Afford To Buy A Home?’ by Josh Ryan-Collins – a researcher at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose – is about the phenomenon which he dubs ‘residential capitalism’. It follows on from his less snappily-titled volume ‘Rethinking The Economics of Land and Housing’, which was written jointly with fellow economist Laurie Macfarlane and policy wonk Toby Lloyd and published last year. Both books address the question of why a growing number of people are being priced out of the property market, with rising house prices accelerating away from household incomes. The answer is financialisation – and it is not an aberration, according to Ryan-Collins.

The ‘housing crisis’ needs to be understood primarily as a product of the banking system. For starters it’s not just a British problem; this is a trend which has gripped developed economies across the world over the past three decades. “Two of the key ingredients of contemporary capitalist societies, private home ownership and a lightly regulated commercial banking system, are not mutually compatible,” he writes. Instead they “create a self-reinforcing feedback cycle”. [..] In the early 1980s, business lending equated to around 40 per cent of GDP on average in advanced economies, while mortgage lending was around 25 per cent. By the time of the financial crisis, mortgage lending had grown to 75 per cent of GDP while business lending had only grown slightly, to 45 per cent.

Read more …

The Chinese will hold Beijing responsible when their housing bubble bursts.

Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)

Last March, we discussed why few things are as important for China’s wealth effect and economy, as its housing bubble market. Specifically, as Deutsche Bank calculated at the time, “in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice their total disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion.” The German lender added that this (rather fleeting) wealth effect “may be helping to sustain consumption in China despite slowing income growth” warning that “a decline of property price would obviously have a large negative impact.” Naturally, as long as the housing bubble keeps inflating and prices keep rising, there is nothing to worry about as the population will keep spending money buoyed by illusory wealth appreciation.

It is when housing starts to drop that Beijing begins to panic. Fast forward to today, when Beijing may be starting to sweat because whereas Chinese property developers usually count on September and October to be their “gold and silver” months for sales, this year has turned out to be different. As the SCMP reports, not only were sales figures grim for September, but the seven-day national holiday last week also brought at least two “fangnao” incidents – when angry, and often violent, homeowners protest against price cuts offered by developers to new buyers.

These protests are often directed at sales offices, with varying levels of intensity – from throwing rocks to holding banners and putting up funeral wreaths. The risk, of course, is that as what has gone up (wealth effect) will come down, and as home ownership has remained the most important channel of investment for urban households in China in the past decade, price cuts have become increasingly unacceptable and a cause for social unrest. Just last week, angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.

Read more …

There is no solution that everyone can accept.

‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain’s point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks between the European Union and Britain. Barnier and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, met in Brussels for surprise talks on Sunday. The discussion prompted rumors that a full agreement might be imminent, but Barnier says the future of the border on the island of Ireland remain a serious obstacle. He says the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues. An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc. After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished. The EU’s “backstop” solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Read more …

Budget was accepted by almost two thirds in Senate and Parliament.

The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)

Over the last three years, net exports shaved 0.5 percent off Italy’s quasi stagnant 1.1 percent GDP growth. And while exports in the first seven months of this year increased 4 percent from the year earlier, that did absolutely nothing to revive the country’s manufacturing output. The industrial production during the January-to-July period dropped at an annual rate of 0.5 percent. That, of course, bodes ill for business investments because the weakness in the manufacturing sector indicates plenty of spare production capacity. In other words, Italian businesses need no new machines and bigger factory floors; they already have what they need to meet the current and expected sales demand.

So, what’s left to support Italy’s jobs and incomes? Nothing — emphatically nothing — keeps screaming the German-run EU: Italy has no independent monetary policy, and, according to the EU Commission, the fiscal stance should remain frozen in a restrictive mode of indefinite duration. Italy knows what that means. Before the onset of the last decade’s financial crisis, and the German-imposed fiscal austerity, Italy’s budget deficit in 2007 was whittled down to 1.5 percent of GDP (compared to nearly 3 percent of GDP in France), the primary budget surplus (budget before interest charges on public debt) was driven up to 1.7 percent of GDP, helping to bring down the public debt to 112 percent of GDP from an annual average of 117 percent in the previous six years.

But then all hell broke loose once the Germans — defiantly rejecting Washington’s call to reason — set out to teach a lesson to “fiscal miscreants” by imposing austerity policies on the euro area’s sinking economies. Italy should never allow that to happen again. What, then, should Italy do? The answer is simple: Exactly what it says it wants to do in the 2019 budget passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the Senate (61 percent of the votes) and in the Parliament’s Lower House (63.4 percent of the votes).

Read more …

Not just conservatives, the SPD is going going gone as well.

Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative partners in Bavaria have had their worst election performance for more than six decades, in a humiliating state poll result that is likely to further weaken Germany’s embattled coalition government. The Christian Social Union secured 37.3% of the vote, preliminary results showed, losing the absolute majority in the prosperous southern state it had had almost consistently since the second world war. The party’s support fell below 40% for the first time since 1954. Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, called it a “difficult day” for the CSU, but said his party had a clear mandate to form a government.

Among the main victors was the environmental, pro-immigration Green party, which as predicted almost doubled its voter share to 17.8% at the expense of the Social Democratic party (SPD), which lost its position as the second-biggest party, with support halving to 9.5%. Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens, said: “Today Bavaria voted to uphold human rights and humanity.” Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD, delivered the briefest of reactions at her party’s headquarters in Berlin, calling the results “bitter” and blaming them on the poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.

Read more …

But this suggests that gene editing would be very expensive.

Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays. The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

Read more …

Oct 112018
 
 October 11, 2018  Posted by at 1:22 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562

 

Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.

And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.

Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.

The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.

Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?

Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.

And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:

 

 

But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.

Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.

For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.

 

 

For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.

Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.

And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.

Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.

Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.

 

How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.

It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.

America was once prosperous. What changed?

Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).

In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:

 

 

The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:

 

 

And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.

But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):

 

 

Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.

Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.

Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.

It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Green field 1888

 

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)
Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)
Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)
Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)
Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)
Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)
‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)
Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)
Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)
558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)
Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

 

 

Presented as a surprise.

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)

The west’s leading economic thinktank has warned that the expansion in the global economy may have peaked after cutting its growth forecasts for an array of rich and developing countries. In its latest update on the health of the world economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said the outlook for both 2018 and 2019 was less good than it had predicted in May. The Paris-based OECD called for immediate action to halt the “slide towards protectionism”, noting that trade tensions were already having an impact on confidence and investment. “The expansion may now have peaked,” the OECD said in its interim economic outlook. “Global growth is projected to settle at 3.7% in 2018 and 2019, marginally below pre-crisis norms, with downside risks intensifying.”

The OECD said it was cutting its 2018 forecast by 0.1 percentage points and its 2019 forecast by 0.3 points. Britain has had its growth forecast shaved by 0.1 points in both years to 1.3% and 1.2%, respectively – with the OECD saying the squeeze on living standards was affecting consumer spending and uncertainty about Brexit leading to soft investment. [..] The US is expected to be the fastest growing of the G7 group of industrialised countries in both 2018 and 2019, and the OECD said that in contrast to the broad-based expansion in late 2017 there were widening differences in growth performance between countries.

Read more …

You break it, you own it.

Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)

The S&P 500 hit another all-time high today and president Donald Trump tweeted, in his usual fashion, “S&P 500 HITS ALL-TIME HIGH Congratulations USA!” Though I am a conservative myself, president Trump’s stock market cheerleading angers me because he’s fanning the flames of a dangerous asset bubble, which is extremely irresponsible. I believe that the current stock market bubble will cause severe damage to the economy and our society when it ultimately pops. Imagine if George W. Bush constantly touted how surging U.S. housing prices were making Americans rich in the mid-2000s? We all know how that ended. Well, that’s what president Trump is doing with his stock market cheerleading – history will not look kindly upon it.

To make matters worse, Donald Trump knew that we were in a dangerous stock market bubble back in 2016 before he became president – he even called it a “big, fat, ugly bubble.” Now, the S&P 500 is 35% higher (and even more overvalued), but Trump is acting as if it’s an organic, sustainable boom rather than the debt-driven bubble that it really is. This is disingenuous behavior, plain and simple. The S&P 500 has surged over 300% since March 2009 due to the Federal Reserve’s pro-asset inflation policies:

[..] According to the U.S. stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio (also known as Warren Buffett’s “favorite indicator”), the market is more overpriced and inflated than it was during even the dot-com bubble:

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“..the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.”

Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)

One of the frustrating aspects of the orgy of “ten years after Lehman” stories is that writers and pundits, many of whom are old enough to have missed the credit excesses that were evident in 2006 and 2007, are now screeching “A crisis is nigh” without necessarily focusing on likely triggers. As an aside, we are already in the midst of emerging market crises. The IMF agreed to give yet another monster bailout to Argentina. Pakistan is seeking an IMF rescue (or more accurately, trying to get shored up by any one other than the IMF but keeping the agency on the front burner in case other options fail). Turkey is still on the ropes. So calling a crisis is trivial because they are on now.

However, many of these writers are presumably anticipating something more like the global financial crisis, and too often are looking in the wrong places. There is a difference between market crashes that don’t impair the financial system, like the dot-com bust, because the assets that fell in price weren’t highly leveraged. You get real economy damage but not a financial crisis. You can also have lots of loans go bad and not impair the banking system because the credit risk was either well distributed among banks and/or significantly shifted onto investors who losses aren’t leveraged back to the financial system. However, one of the sources of systemic risk being overlooked is derivatives. That is particularly worrisome since the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.

Even though the US and other housing markets were certain to suffer a nasty bust, a housing crisis alone would have resulted in something like a bigger, badder saving and loan crisis, not the financial coronary of September and October 2008. Derivatives allowed speculators to create synthetic exposures to the riskiest subprime housing debt that were 4-6 times its real economy value. Those bets wound up heavily at systemically important, highly leveraged financial institutions like Citigroup, AIG, the monolines, and Eurobanks.

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“’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard..’

Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)

After two years of exhaustive research for his book, Woodward says that he has found no evidence of collusion between Putin’s government and Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. Zilch, nada, zero. And Woodward strained very hard looking for it. This largely ignored blockbuster admission came in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt reported by Real Clear Politics [..] “In an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Friday, Bob Woodward said that in his two years of investigating for his new book, ‘Fear,’ he found no evidence of collusion or espionage between Trump and Russia. Woodward said he looked for it ‘hard’ and yet turned up nothing.

“’Did you, Bob Woodward, hear anything in your research in your interviews that sounded like espionage or collusion?’ Hugh Hewitt asked Woodward. “’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard,’ Woodward answered. ‘And so you know, there we are. …..’ “’But you’ve seen no collusion?’ Hewitt asked again to confirm. “’I have not,’ Woodward affirmed. “Hewitt would once again ask Woodward about collusion at the conclusion of the interview. “’Very last question, Bob Woodward, I just want to confirm, at the end of two years of writing this book, this intensive effort, you saw no effort, you, personally, had no evidence of collusion or espionage by the president presented to you?’ Hewitt asked. “’That is correct,’ Woodward said.”

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“The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation..”

“..no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.”

Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)

Donald Tusk’s clear rejection of Theresa May’s Chequers plan at the Salzburg summit yesterday should not come as a surprise. The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation, and never has been. Blessed with superior size, wealth and power, the EU has been able to dictate the framework and substance of the talks, and has refused any deviation from its red lines. The second most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that the EU will prioritise its economic and political cohesion above all else. That cohesion rests on two key outcomes: an undivided single market and an open border on the island of Ireland. It is these principles that have led us to Salzburg. The EU will not accept the Chequers plan, which proposes a single market in goods but not in services, capital or people.

It will also not accept any possibility of border infrastructure in Ireland, which is anathema to Dublin and, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, presents a credible risk of sectarian violence. That has duly paved the way for the Brexit endgame, which EU negotiator Michel Barnier has now confirmed: there will be a border for goods in the Irish Sea. The EU does not, however, want to antagonise or humiliate the UK, and has scrambled to defuse the drama of this development. Barnier stresses that most checks between Britain and Northern Ireland will take place in offices and warehouses, and only live animals and food products will need to be examined at ports themselves. But no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.

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“..they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.”

Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has branded the leaders of the campaign for Brexit “liars”, in an extraordinary attack at the close of the Salzburg summit. The Leave victory was “pushed by those who predicted easy solutions”, the French president said, adding: “Those people are liars. They left the next day so they didn’t have to manage it.” At the press conference, Mr Macron also made clear he would not accept a “blind deal” – which would leave the nature of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU to be decided after departure day. The stance is another blow to Theresa May, given that the EU’s rejection of her Chequers plan has increasingly left a “blind Brexit” as the only possible agreement.

Mr Macron did not name the “liars” behind Brexit, but he targeted those who had promised that leaving the EU would “bring a lot of money home”. The Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, infamously pledged it would deliver an extra £350m a week for the NHS – a claim now widely discredited. “Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home, are liars,” Mr Macron added. “It’s even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.” Mr Macron made clear the prime minister would need to come up with fresh proposals by the next summit in October. “We all agreed on this today, the proposals in their current state are not acceptable, especially on the economic side of it. The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it.”

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Someone’s going to take this to court.

‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)

A referendum on the Brexit deal would take at least six months to organise legally, making it very difficult to have a second vote before the UK is scheduled to exit the EU on 29 March next year, constitutional experts have said. As EU leaders including the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis called on Theresa May to change firm government policy and put a vote to the people, academics said there was not enough time if article 50 is enacted as scheduled. There are indications that a delay to the enactment of article 50 could be acceptable to the EU, but without this agreement time stands in the way of a second referendum, experts believe.

“It is just possible to hold one within six months, but the shorter the timescale, the higher the chance of the question or other aspects of the referendum being challenged over their legitimacy,” said Prof Robert Hazell of the constitution unit at the department of political science, University College London. Fresh legislation, testing of the question by the Electoral Commission and a 10-week regulated period for a campaign are all required before a referendum can take place, he pointed out. David Cameron’s Brexit referendum took just over a year to get to the ballot box.

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Liquidation. But: “Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold..”

Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)

Archaeologists and sites Guards are up in arms after the Greek Finance Ministry issued a decision ordering the trasnfer several historical sites and buildings, museums, monuments and historical buildings to the Super Privatization Fund. “They belong de facto to the state and are off any trade,” the Greek Archaeologists Association said in a statement with the title “No to sale of the country’s monuments” issued on Wednesday. According to the archaeologists a total of 10,119 archaeological sites, museums and historical buildings have been transferred to the Privatization Fund, many of them from the area in and around Chania on the island of Crete.

“Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold,” the Association said, adding that this unprecedented transfer became known when the catalogue of the monuments in and around Chania became public. Among those monuments and museums in Chania are the new Archaeological Museum, the archaeological museum located inside the St Francis Church, the National Museum Eleftherios Venizelos, the Historical Archive of Crete, several Venetian and Byzantine moats, fortifications and bastions as well as properties where important Minoan architectural remains have been discovered. “Is Acropolis next?” the Association of Guards at archaeological sites said in an equally angry statement on Thursday adding that also land plot where excavations take place have been transferred. They threaten with strikes.

“Our response will be very tough. Our cultural heritage belongs to all Greeks, no government has the right to negotiate about it or transfer ownership,” they said in their statement.

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Yeah, smart species.

Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)

As global warming outpaces efforts to tame it, scientists have proposed building massive underwater structures to prevent an Antarctic glacier the size of Britain from sliding into the sea and lifting the world’s oceans by several metres. The more modest of two engineering schemes — which is still on the scale of a Panama or Suez Canal — to shore up Thwaites Glacier would require the construction of Eiffel Tower-sized columns resting on the seabed to support the glacier’s ocean-facing edge, or ice shelf. Option Two is a 100-metre tall underwater wall, or berm, running 80-100 kilometres (55-60 miles) beneath the ice shelf to block bottom-flowing warm water that erodes the glacier’s underbelly, rendering it unstable.

The ambitious projects, detailed Thursday in the European Geophysical Union journal The Cryosphere, reflect a gathering awareness that slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions — while essential — may not happen quickly enough to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts. “Thwaites could easily trigger a runaway ice sheet collapse that would ultimately raise global sea levels by about three metres,” said lead author Michael Wolovick, a researcher at Princeton University’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Nor will reducing carbon pollution be enough: any credible pathway to a world in which global warming is capped below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (3.6º Celsius) — the target enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate treaty — depends on sucking large quantities of CO2 out of the air.

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In the beginning there was nothing.

558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)

A fossilised lifeform that existed 558m years ago has been identified as the oldest known animal, according to new research. The findings confirm that animals existed at least 20m years before the so-called Cambrian explosion of animal life, which took place about 540m years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods. The new fossils, of the genus Dickinsonia, are the remains of an oval-shaped lifeform and part of an ancient and enigmatic group of organisms called Ediacarans. These creatures are some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth, but their place within the evolutionary tree has long puzzled scientists. Suggestions as to what they were have ranged from lichens to failed evolutionary experiments to bacterial colonies.

Now, by identifying the remains of organic matter on newly discovered Ediacaran fossils as ancient cholesterol, the scientists have been able to confirm Dickinsonia was an animal, which makes it the oldest known animal. “It is the exact type and composition of that fat that was the giveaway that Dickinsonia was in fact an animal”, said Jochen Brocks of the Australian National University, one of the authors on the study. He added that the study solves “a decades-old mystery that has been the holy grail of palaeontology”. The fossils were discovered on two surfaces on a cliffside in the remote wilderness of north-west Russia by PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy, who is lead author on the paper, published in the journal Science.


Dickinsonia fossils found in north-west Russia. Composite: Ilya Bobrovskiy/Ilya Bobrovskiy/ANU

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“This generation being born now… is the last free generation..”

Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

Before his links to the world was cut by his Ecuadorian hosts, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave an interview on how technological advances are changing humankind. He said global surveillance will soon be totally unavoidable The interview was provided to RT by organizers of the World Ethical Data Forum in Barcelona. Assange, who is currently stranded in the Ecuadorean embassy in London with no outside communication except with his legal team, has a pretty grim outlook on where humanity is going. He says it will soon be impossible for any human being to not be included into global databases collected by governments and state-like entities.

This generation being born now… is the last free generation. You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally. Your identity in one form or another –coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications– is known to all major world powers. “A small child now in some sense has to negotiate its relationship with all the major world powers… It puts us in a very different position. Very few technically capable people are able to live apart, to choose to live apart, to choose to go their own way,” he added. “It smells a bit like totalitarianism – in some way.”

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Sep 172018
 


René Magritte Companions of fear 1942

 

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)
The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)
What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)
Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)
Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)
Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)
Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)
Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)
Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)
The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)
7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

 

 

Lehman sold bad loans to banks for a fee so it could look better, only to buy them back days later. It was very basic fraud. And Dick Fuld walked away.

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)

Every time Dick Fuld’s publicists succeed in getting a “redemption story” published in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, I’m going to write an Epsilon Theory brief about Repo 105, the fraudulent scheme that Lehman Brothers ran for years to hide its deteriorating financial condition from investors and regulators alike.

[..] Repo 105 was a multiyear scheme by Lehman to defraud the government and its own investors by falsifying the actual amount of loans it had on the books, making Lehman look safer than it actually was. It worked like this. A few days before the end of the calendar quarter, Lehman would “sell” billions of dollars worth of loans to another bank. I put “sell” in quotation marks, because Lehman ALSO had an agreement with these other banks to buy the loans back a few days after the quarter ended for the same price as they were sold, plus enough money to cover whatever the going interest rate was on that cash for the few days it was in Lehman’s hands. This is what’s called a repurchase agreement, or repo, hence the name Repo 105 (the 105 refers to the 5% overcollateralization that counterparty banks required to lend the cash to Lehman even for a few days – THEY knew Lehman was in trouble).

Since financial reporting happens at the end of the quarter, Lehman’s books would look like they had more cash and fewer loans than they actually did. Surely, you say, no law firm would bless this blatant attempt to cook the books? And I say, don’t call me Shirley. I say, well … no US law firm would bless this, so naturally Lehman found a UK firm, Linklaters, to say that this was, in fact, technically a “true sale”. Even then, to pull this off Lehman had to run Repo 105 through their offshore subsidiaries, not through their US-chartered entities. It was really expensive for Lehman to run Repo 105. But also entirely necessary, or else the entire house of cards that WAS Lehman would have collapsed well before September, 2008.

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Risk. It’s back.

The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)

By now, it’s a very familiar question: how high can the Fed hike rates before it causes a major market “event.” Two weeks ago, Stifel analyst Barry Banister became the latest to issue a timeline on how many more rate hikes the Fed can push through before the market is finally impacted. According to his calculations, just two more rate hikes would put the central bank above the neutral rate – the interest rate that neither stimulates nor holds back the economy. The Fed’s long-term projection of its policy rate has risen from 2.8% at the end of 2017 to 2.9% in June. As the following chart, every time this has happened, a bear market has inevitably followed.

A similar argument was made recently by both Deutsche Bank and Bank of America, which in two parallel analyses observed last year that every Fed tightening cycle tends to end in a crisis. In a report issued on Friday, BCA’s strategists make the key point that the performance of bonds – and stocks – in an inflation scare would depend on the relative size of the inflationary impulse compared with the disinflationary impulse that resulted from sharply lower risk-asset prices. They make the point that if central banks were more concerned about the inflationary impulse, which at least for Fed chair Powell appears to be the case for now – Janet Yellen’s “lower for longer revised forward guidance” notwithstanding – they would have to keep tightening – in which case, bond yields would be liberated to reach elevated territory.

Conversely, if the bigger worry was the disinflationary impulse, which arguably is the case from a legacy standpoint, central banks would quickly reverse course, and bond yields would return to the lowlands. Thus, the disinflationary impulse from lower risk-asset prices would end up as the bigger issue. [..] BCA estimates that the total value of global risk-assets is $400 trillion, equal to about five times the size of the global economy. The takeaway is that any inflationary impulse would – through higher bond yields – undermine the valuation support of global risk-assets that are worth several times the size of the global economy.

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“In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.”

What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)

Mortgage delinquencies at all commercial banks in the US inched down to 3.14% in the second quarter, the lowest since Q2 2007, according to the Federal Reserve. But after those soothingly low delinquency rates in 2007, something happened. By Q3 2008, the delinquency rate hit 5.2%, and in Q4 2009, it went over 10%, and stayed in the double-digits until Q1 2013. This was the mortgage crisis. And we’re a million miles away from it, thank God. Or are we? This chart compares home prices in the US (green, left scale) to delinquency rates (red, right scale). Delinquency rates started surging after home prices started falling. The inflection point is marked by the vertical purple line, labeled “it starts”:

Home prices began falling in 2006. By 2008, some homeowners were seriously “underwater” – they owed more on their house than the house was worth. When they ran into financial trouble because they were in over their heads, or because one of the breadwinners in the household lost their jobs, or because they’d lied on their mortgage application and never had enough income to begin with, or because they were investors who couldn’t make the math work out anymore, or whatever, they were stuck. In a rising housing market, they would just sell the home and pay off the mortgage. But they couldn’t sell their home because it was worth less than the mortgage, and default was the only option. The chart above shows the relationship between home prices and delinquencies. In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.

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“The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD.”

Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)

Investment advisor and former Assistant Secretary of Housing, Catherine Austin Fitts, predicts the global financial system “will take some big hits before the end of the year.” Fitts explains, “Right now, economists say the dollar is ‘dangerous and dominant.’ It’s still, if you look at the market shares around the world, it’s still very, very significant portion of total reserves. So, it’s still very important. At the same time, the U.S. dollar hegemony is probably not going to last forever . . . So, I think the long term dollar looks very weak. Short term, it doesn’t look like it’s coming apart anytime soon, as far as I can see. What that means is when you have something that is dangerous and dominant, you have the possibility of extreme volatility events.

That’s the new code word for the ‘you know what’ hits the, you know what. Whether it’s different countries exploding economically, or we whether are pressuring people that makes them very uncomfortable, these kinds of fights over shrinking pies are very dangerous because they mean covert wars. They mean overt wars, and the more we steal pies from each other instead of make new pies, the worse the situation gets. That’s what you are seeing. The system is not stable.” [..] There is good reason people are going to real assets. The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD. This fact was uncovered by Fitts and economist Dr. Mark Skidmore last year.

What was the government’s answer to this gigantic accounting fraud that is the size of the federal deficit? Give the government’s budgets basically classified national security status. Fitts says, “Apparently, the people leading the audit have come to them and said if we do this audit, we will disclose classified projects. So, the board (Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board – FASAB) came out with a new policy. I say it is illegal. You cannot do it under the financial management laws, and you certainly cannot do it under the Constitution, and it said you can keep classified off the books, which means you can cook the books and you can basically do whatever you want.

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What was that about reality and fiction?

Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)

Giant oil companies, offshore accounts, ex-MI6 agents, champagne lunches, a former Nigerian president and allegations of one of the biggest bribes ever paid – the corruption case against Shell and Italy’s Eni filed by prosecutors in Milan over a shady $1.3bn deal for a vast African oil field has all the elements of an espionage thriller. The latest twists thicken the plot further with a cache of documents seized in a raid on a Swiss financier’s apartment that could be crucial to the case, leaving prosecutors in a race against time to get them to Milan as trial hearings get underway this week. The Geneva raid uncovered a briefcase belonging to Emeka Obi, a middleman who received millions of dollars from the deal and is in the dock along with several senior Shell and Eni executives.

Inside the briefcase, Swiss prosecutors found a laptop, two Nigerian passports, five sim cards and a hard drive containing 41,000 documents that prosecutors believe could be crucial to the trial playing out on the other side of the Alps. The stakes are high. Italian prosecutors allege that, of the total $1.3bn fee paid by Shell and Eni for the oil field, $1.1bn went not into the coffers of the Nigerian state but the accounts of former oil minister Dan Etete who then distributed hundreds of millions to well-connected individuals, including former president Goodluck Jonathan. The amount distributed as bribes is more than the entire Nigerian healthcare budget for 2018, in a country where 87 million people live in extreme poverty – more than any other country on earth.

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She’s stuck. Dangerous position.

Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)

May said: “I believe we will get a good deal. We will bring that back from the EU negotiations and put that to parliament. I think that the alternative to that will be not having a deal.” The Chequers plan prompted the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. May tried again to remake the case for it by claiming the other options put forward by the EU were unacceptable. “The European Union had basically put two offers on the table. Either the UK stays in the single market and the customs union – effectively in the EU – that would have betrayed the vote of the British people,” she said.

“Or, on the other side, a basic free trade agreement but carving Northern Ireland out and effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union and Great Britain out. That would have broken up the United Kingdom, or could have broken up the United Kingdom. Both of those were unacceptable to the UK. “We said ‘no’ … we’re going to put our own proposal forward and that’s what Chequers is about … It unblocked the negotiations.”

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Preparing to blame the EU for failing.

Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)

The EU is proving unable to convince Theresa May that by using “trusted trader schemes” and technology its proposal to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market will not draw a border in the Irish sea. The Brexit negotiations have reached an impasse over the failure to find an acceptable solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. The solution proposed by Brussels in which Northern Ireland has a different status from the rest of the UK has been rejected by the prime minister as involving the economic and constitutional “dislocation” of the country. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has nevertheless repeatedly insisted that the issue can be “de-dramatised”.

Barnier has sought to show that the level of trade between Belfast and the rest of the UK is minimal, and that the checks that would be required do not pose a constitutional threat to the British government. But according to what is described as a diplomatic note seen by the Times, the EU is struggling to convince the UK that it is significant that checks at a border could be avoided entirely for many companies through trusted trade schemes. The diplomatic note, said to have been drafted following a meeting of EU ambassadors last Wednesday with Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, reports that the UK has not been “helpful” over the issue. The note says: “The biggest unsolved problem is Northern Ireland. There is a political mobilisation in the UK in this regard. Therefore, we are trying to clarify the EU position. The controls or checks only have to be organised in a way that would not endanger the EU single market.”

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How about you start by picking your own strawberries?

Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)

A large minority of people in the UK believe multiculturalism has undermined British culture and that migrants do not properly integrate, according to some of the broadest research into the population’s attitudes to immigration. The study, conducted over the last two years, also reflects widespread frustration at the government’s handling of immigration, with only 15% of respondents feeling ministers have managed it competently and fairly. On balance, the UK population appears to be slightly more positive than negative about the impact of immigration; however, 40% of respondents agreed that having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture. More than a quarter of people believe MPs never tell the truth about immigration and half the population wants to see a reduction in the numbers of low-skilled workers coming into Britain from the EU.

The study was based on a survey of 3,667 adults carried out in June by ICM, as well as 60 citizens’ panels carried out on behalf of the thinktank British Future and the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate. “The lack of trust we found in the government to manage immigration is quite shocking,” said Jill Rutter, the director of strategy for British Future. “People want to have their voices heard on the choices we make, and to hold their leaders to account on their promises. While people do want the UK government to have more control over who can come to the UK, most of them are ‘balancers’ – they recognise the benefits of migration to Britain, both economically and culturally, but also voice concerns about pressures on public services and housing.”

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“Should be solved shortly..”

Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)

Tesla Inc’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Sunday acknowledged that the electric carmaker’s problems have now shifted to delivery logistics from production delays, the latest speed bump in its efforts to achieve profitability. “Sorry, we’ve gone from production hell to delivery logistics hell, but this problem is far more tractable. We’re making rapid progress. Should be solved shortly,” Musk said in a tweet here in response to a customer complaint on delivery delay. The 47-year-old billionaire who earlier this month faced investor ire over smoking marijuana on a live web show, has indicated in the past that Tesla’s customers may face a longer response time because of a significant increase in vehicle delivery volume in North America.

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238 academics signed. But it’s not the conversation we’ll have.

The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)

This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe. For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.

Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy. Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as “sustainable”, “green”, or “inclusive” – but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN sustainable development goals include the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.

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Another way to put it. You could easily do this for 70 species, or 700, 7000.

7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

Some species are so close to extinction, that every remaining member can fit on a New York subway carriage (if they squeeze). All estimates come from the IUCN Red List, 2018.

 

 

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Aug 042017
 
 August 4, 2017  Posted by at 1:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


William Blake Europe Supported by Africa and America 1796

 

Earlier this week I was struck by the similarities and differences between two graphs I saw float by. And the thought occurred that they are as scary as they are interesting. The graphs show eerily similar trends. And complement each other. The first graph, which Tyler Durden posted, shows productivity, defined as more or less the same as GDP per capita. It goes all the way back to 1790 and contends that 2017 productivity is about back to the level it was at in 1790. In the article, Tyler suggests a link with the amount of time people spend on Instagram et al, but perhaps there is something more going on.

That is, America and Western Europe exported almost their entire manufacturing capacity to China etc. And how can you be productive if you don’t manufacture anything? Yeah, I know, ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘service economy’ and all that, but does anyone still really believe those terms? Sure, that may have worked for a while as others were still actually making stuff (and nobody really understood the idea anyway), but it’s a sliding scale. As productivity plunged, so did GDP per capita. We can all wrap our heads around that.

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app. According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too.

 

When asking the question “What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?”, a next question should be: what is the technology used for? And if the answer to that is not “for making things”, then what do you think could its effect on productivity could possibly be?

Tyler took that graph from an article posted August 22, 2015, also on Zero Hedge, by Eugen Bohm-Bawerk, who at the time had some interesting things to say about it:

Productivity In America Now On Par With Agrarian Slave Economy

[..] it is time to take a closer look at productivity measured in terms of GDP per capita. While this is not an entirely correct way to measure productivity, it does adhere to new classical growth model theories which posit that in a developed economy, reached steady state, the only way to increase GDP per capita is through increased total factor productivity. In plain English, growth in GDP per capita equals productivity growth. The reason we use this concept instead of more advanced productivity measures is to get a long enough time series to properly understand the underlying fundamental forces driving society forward.

In our main chart we have tried to see through all the underlying noise in the annual data by looking at a 10-year rolling average and a polynomial trend line. In the period prior to the War of 1812 US productivity growth was lacklustre as the economy was mainly driven by agriculture and slaves (slaves have no incentive to work hard or innovate, only to work just hard enough to avoid being beaten). From 1790 to 1840 annual growth averaged only 0.7%. As the first industrial revolution started to take hold in the north-east, productivity growth rose rapidly, and even more during the second industrial revolution which propelled the US economy to become the world largest and eventually the global hegemon [..]

Adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold. The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2% from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago.

[..] With hindsight we know that finance did more harm than good so we can conservatively deduct finance from the GDP calculations and by doing so we essentially end up with no growth per capita at all over a timespan of more than 15 years! US real GDP per capita less contribution from finance increased by an annual average of 0.3% from 2000 to 2015. From 2008 the annual average has been negative 0.5%!

In other words, we have seen a progressive (pun intended) weakening of the US economy from the 1970s and the reason is simple enough when we know that monetary policy broken down to its most basic is a transaction of nothing (fiat money) for something (real production of goods and services). Modern monetary policy thereby violates the most sacred principle in a market based economy; namely that production creates its own demand. Only through previous production, either your own or borrowed, can one express true purchasing power on the market place.

The central bank does not need to worry about such trivial things. They can manufacture the medium of exchange at zero cost and express purchasing power on the same level as the producer. However, consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption. Do this on a grand scale, over a long period of time, even a capital rich economy as the US will eventually be depleted. Capital per worker falls relative to competitors abroad, cost goes up and competitiveness falls (think rust-belt). Productive structures cannot be properly funded and the economy must regress to align funding with its level of specialization.

Eugen gets close to what I said earlier about productivity. That is, you have to make stuff, to manufacture things, in order to have, let alone grow, productivity (aka GDP per capita). An economy based -too heavily- on services and finance is not going to do it for you. Because “the most sacred principle in a market based economy” is that “production creates its own demand.”

Now, combine that graph with the next one, from Lance Roberts, which unmistakably depicts the same trendline, though on a different -shorter- time scale. Lance’s graph shows more or less the same as Tyler’s, if you allow me that freedom, namely: GDP per capita growth equals productivity equals GDP growth, but it adds a crucial component (unless you ask someone like Paul Krugman): debt.

Together, the graphs show how we have ‘solved’ the issue of falling growth and productivity: with debt. It doesn’t get simpler than that. We exported our productive capacity to China, and now we can only afford to buy their products -which are mostly inferior in quality to what our ancestors once made- by getting into -more- debt. Big simplification, granted, but we’re doing broad strokes here.

 

 

All this is simple enough for a 6-year old to grasp. It’s actually likely easier for them than for most trained economists. Problem is, the 6-year olds are probably busy on Instagram. Tyler’s right on that one. But then, at least they’re not stuck in outdated modelling.

Ergo: we have a precipitous decline in productivity, which also translates into a decline in GDP. Even if we come up with all sorts of accounting tricks to hide this fact. And what do we do, or rather, what have we done? Enter central banks, stage right. That second graph inevitably raises the question: Without all the debt, where would the growth rate stand today? And I know what you want to say, because just like you, I am afraid to ask.

We’ve used all those trillions in new debt to, as far as productivity is concerned, run to not even stand still: productivity (GDP per capita) continues to decline despite all the debt. Why is that? Well, Bohm-Bawerk answers that question earlier: “.. consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption.” In other words, as I said before, if you don’t use it to actually make things, you’re basically just burning it. Plus, in the process, as we see ever clearer in the effects of QE, you can grossly distort an economy, by blowing bubbles, propping up zombies etc.

Things would look different if we used the “zero cost money” for production instead of consumption. But that’s not what the central bank money is used for at all. The net effect of all that debt, be it QE or new mortgage debt, is less than zero. Quite a bit less, actually. How do we solve that problem? The answer is deadly simple, though not easy to put into practice: start making stuff again! Or put it this way: debt must be used to raise production, not consumption.

 

 

Apr 122017
 
 April 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Trocadero, Paris 1950

 

The Tesla Ponzi Is Not ‘Inexplicable’ At All (WS)
Millennials Are Abandoning Postwar Engines of Growth: Suburbs and Autos (CHS)
Slowdown in US Borrowing Defies Easy Explanation (WSJ)
US Companies Now Have $1.6 Trillion Stashed In Tax Havens (Ind.)
Trump Declines To Endorse Bannon, Says US ‘Not Going Into Syria’ (MW)
Beware The Dogs Of War: Is The American Empire On The Verge Of Collapse? (JW)
A Breakthrough Alternative To Growth Economics – The Doughnut (G.)
The Commodification of Education (Steve Keen)
The Fed Could Use Less Book Learning and More Street Smarts (Ricketts)
Spectre Of Russian Influence Looms Large Over French Election (G.)
Moment Of Reckoning In Turkey As Alleged Coup Plotters Go On Trial (G.)
Greece: Cash and Apartments for Refugees with UNHCR Aid (GR)
Why The Human Race Is Heading For The Fire (G.)

 

 

People tend to forget that there are no functioning asset markets left. But there really aren’t.

The Tesla Ponzi Is Not ‘Inexplicable’ At All (WS)

Electric cars have been around for longer than internal combustion engines. When they first appeared in the 1800s, they competed with steam-powered cars and horses. What Tesla has done is put them on the map. That was a huge feat. Now every global automaker has electric cars. They all, including Teslas, still have the same problem they had in the 1800s: the battery. But those problems – costs, weight or range, and time it takes to charge – are getting smaller as the technology advances. And the competition from the giants, once batteries are ready for prime-time, will be huge, and global. So in March, Tesla sold 4,050 new vehicles in the US, according to Autodata. All automakers combined sold 1.56 million new vehicles in the US.

This gave Tesla a record high market share of an invisibly small 0.26%. Volume-wise, it’s in the same ballpark as Porsche. GM sold 256,007 new vehicles in March, for a market share of 16.5%. In other words, GM sold 63 times as many new vehicles as Tesla did. For percent-lovers, that’s 6,221% more. Even if Tesla quadruples its sales in the US, it still will not amount to a significant market share. Then there is Tesla’s financial performance. It lost money in every one of its 10 years of existence. Here are the “profits” – um, net losses – Tesla racked up, in total $2.9 billion:

We constantly hear the old saw that stock prices reflect future earnings and/or cash flows, and that looking back ten years has no meaning for the future. Alas, after 10 years of producing losses, Tesla shows no signs of making money in the future. It might instead continue burning through investor cash by the billions. Based on the logic that stock prices reflect future earnings, its shares should be at about zero. This chart compares Tesla’s net losses (red bars) and GM’s net income (green bars), in millions of dollars. Over those eight years going back to 2010, Tesla lost $2.7 billion; GM earned $47.1 billion:

[..] In comparison with GM, Tesla is ludicrously overvalued. But it’s not “inexplicable.” It’s perfectly explicable by the wondrously Fed-engineered stock market that has long ago abandoned any pretext of valuing companies on a rational basis. And it’s explicable by the hype – the “research” – issued by Wall Street investment banks that hope to get fat fees from Tesla’s next offerings of shares or convertible debt. The amounts are huge, going back ten years: Last month, Tesla raised another $1.2 billion, after having raised $1.5 billion in May 2016. There will be more. Tesla is burning a lot of cash. Investment banks get rich on these deals. The bonuses are huge. So it’s OK to hype Tesla’s stock and sell it to their clients. Everybody wins in this scenario – except for a few despised short sellers who’re hung up on their silly notion of reality.

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They simply can’t afford it.

Millennials Are Abandoning Postwar Engines of Growth: Suburbs and Autos (CHS)

If anything defined the postwar economy between 1946 and 1999, it was the exodus of the middle class from cities to suburbs and the glorification of what Jim Kunstler calls Happy Motoring: freeways, cars and trucks, ten lanes of private vehicles, the vast majority of which are transporting one person. The build-out of suburbia drove growth for decades: millions of new suburban homes, miles of new freeways, sprawling shopping malls, and tens of millions of new autos, trucks, and SUVs, transforming one-car households into three vehicle households. Then there was all the furnishings for those expansive new homes, and the credit necessary to fund the homes, vehicles, furnishings, etc. Now the Millennial generation is turning its back on both of these bedrock engines of growth.

As various metrics reveal, the Millennials are fine with taking Uber to work, buying their shoes from Zappos (return them if they don’t fit, no problem), and making whatever tradeoffs are necessary to live in urban cores. Simply put, the natural progression of this generation is away from suburban malls, suburban home ownership and the car-centric commuter lifestyle that goes with suburban homeownership. Saddled with insanely high student debt loads imposed by the rapaciously predatory higher education cartel, Millennials avoid additional debt like the plague. Millennials have relatively high savings rates. As for a lifetime of penury to service debt–hey, they already have that, thanks to their “I borrowed $100,000 and all I got was this worthless college degree” student loans.

Consider the secondary effects of these trend changes. If Millennials are earning less and already carrying heavy debt loads, who is going to buy the Baby Boom’s millions of pricey suburban McMansions? The answer might be “no one.” If vehicle sales decline, all the secondary auto-related sales decline, too. Auto insurance, for example. Furnishing a small expensive urban flat requires a lot less furnishings than a 3,000 square foot suburban house. What happens to sales of big dining sets and backyard furniture? As retail malls die, property taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes decline, too. Many cheerlead the notion of repurposed commercial space, but uses such as community college classes pay a lot less per square foot than retail did, and generate little in the way of sales and payroll taxes. Financial losses will also mount. Valuations and property taxes will decline, and commercial real estate loans based on nose-bleed valuations and high retail lease rates will go south, triggering significant financial-sector losses.

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I’d think it couldn’t be easier.

Slowdown in US Borrowing Defies Easy Explanation (WSJ)

One of the great mysteries and biggest concerns in the economy right now is the slowing growth in bank lending. Economists are searching for answers but none are entirely satisfying. Total loans and leases extended by commercial banks in the U.S. this year were up just 3.8% from a year earlier as of March 29, according to the latest Federal Reserve data. That compares with 6.4% growth in all of last year, and a 7.6% pace as of late October. The slowdown is more surprising given the rise in business and consumer confidence since the election. And it is worrisome because the lack of business investment is considered an important reason why economic growth has remained weak. Loans to businesses have slowed most sharply, with the latest data showing commercial and industrial loans up just 2.8% from a year earlier, compared with 8.9% growth in late October.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate the slowdown in commercial and industrial lending alone equates to a $100 billion shortfall in loans. Investors may start to get more clarity on what is causing the slowdown when banks start reporting first-quarter earnings on Thursday. One explanation is that many companies have been tapping corporate bond markets to lock in low rates, and in some cases to pay down more expensive bank debt. In the first quarter of this year, corporate bond issuance rose by 18% from a year earlier, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. But one reason for the increase is that the first quarter of 2016 was dismal because of market turmoil. The rise isn’t enough to explain the entire shortfall in lending.

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The Trump tax plan is way off schedule.

US Companies Now Have $1.6 Trillion Stashed In Tax Havens (Ind.)

The 50 biggest US companies stashed another $200bn of profits in offshore tax havens in 2015 alone, taking the total to approximately $1.6 trillion, according to new analysis. Donald Trump’s plans to slash taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals and impose a border tax will harm average consumers further, Oxfam said in a report published on Tuesday. The 50 largest companies disclosed use of 1,751 subsidiaries in countries classed as tax havens by the OECD and the US National Bureau of Economic Research, an increase of 143 on a year earlier, the charity found. The true number may be far higher as only “significant” subsidiaries have to be disclosed. Big multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Apple have come under fire for routing sales through countries such as Bermuda, Ireland and Luxembourg, which offer them low tax rates.

While this is legal, critics say it does not reflect where the firms actually do business. The top rate of US corporate tax is 35% – one of the highest rates in the world, incentivising many companies to hold billions offshore. Mr Trump has pledged to reduce this to 15% and a one-off rate of 10% for money currently held abroad. That will hand a $328bn tax break to the 50 biggest companies, with Apple, Pfizer and Microsoft the biggest gainers, accounting for 40% of the total, Oxfam estimated. While some have welcomed the move as a sensible way to bring profits of US companies back to the country, Oxfam warns that it risks accelerating a race to the bottom that will harm consumers in America as well as the world’s poor as global tax rates plummet.

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Scott Adams forecast three phases for opinion of Trump. First people would call him Hitler, then incompetent, then ‘competent but I don’t like it’. Is he on track?

Trump Declines To Endorse Bannon, Says US ‘Not Going Into Syria’ (MW)

President Donald Trump declined to give top adviser Steve Bannon a vote of confidence during a New York Post interview published Tuesday, in which he also said the U.S. was not headed toward a ground war in Syria. There have been reports of discord among Trump’s top White House advisers, and rumors that controversial chief strategist Bannon may be on the way out. Last week, Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were reportedly told to iron out their differences. When asked Monday by Post columnist Michael Goodwin if he still had confidence in Bannon, Trump didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.”

“I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump said. In the same interview, Trump told Goodwin that, despite last week’s airstrike, U.S. policy toward Syria has not changed. “We’re not going into Syria,” Trump said. “Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.” Trump also acknowledged a growing rift with Russia — “We’re not exactly on the same wavelength with Russia, to put it mildly” — again called the nuclear deal with Iran “the single worst deal ever,” and said of the worsening nuclear situation with North Korea: “I knew I was left a mess, but it’s worse than I thought.”

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Cue Rome.

Beware The Dogs Of War: Is The American Empire On The Verge Of Collapse? (JW)

Waging endless wars abroad (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Syria) isn’t making America—or the rest of the world—any safer, it’s certainly not making America great again, and it’s undeniably digging the U.S. deeper into debt. In fact, it’s a wonder the economy hasn’t collapsed yet. Indeed, even if we were to put an end to all of the government’s military meddling and bring all of the troops home today, it would take decades to pay down the price of these wars and get the government’s creditors off our backs. Even then, government spending would have to be slashed dramatically and taxes raised.

You do the math.
• The government is $19 trillion in debt.
• The Pentagon’s annual budget consumes almost 100% of individual income tax revenue.
• The government has spent $4.8 trillion on wars abroad since 9/11, with $7.9 trillion in interest. As the Atlantic points out, we’re fighting terrorism with a credit card.
• The government lost more than $160 billion to waste and fraud by the military and defense contractors.
• Taxpayers are being forced to pay $1.4 million per hour to provide U.S. weapons to countries that can’t afford them.
• The U.S. government spends more on wars (and military occupations) abroad every year than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.
• Now President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion.
• Add in the cost of waging war in Syria, and the burden on taxpayers soars to more than $11.5 million a day. Ironically, while presidential candidate Trump was vehemently opposed to the U.S. use of force in Syria, and warned that fighting Syria would signal the start of World War III against a united Syria, Russia and Iran, he wasted no time launching air strikes against Syria.

Clearly, war has become a huge money-making venture, and the U.S. government, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers. Yet what most Americans—brainwashed into believing that patriotism means supporting the war machine—fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense. The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Syria. However, the one that remains constant is that those who run the government—including the current president—are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex and fattening the bank accounts of its investors.

Case in point: President Trump plans to “beef up” military spending while slashing funding for the environment, civil rights protections, the arts, minority-owned businesses, public broadcasting, Amtrak, rural airports and interstates. In other words, in order to fund this burgeoning military empire that polices the globe, the U.S. government is prepared to bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push the nation that much closer to eventual collapse. Obviously, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhauling.

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Interesting but hardly a breakthrough. It’s not all that hard.

A Breakthrough Alternative To Growth Economics – The Doughnut (G.)

Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital. This recognition of inconvenient realities then leads to her breakthrough: a graphic representation of the world we want to create. Like all the best ideas, her doughnut model seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But achieving this clarity and concision requires years of thought: a great decluttering of the myths and misrepresentations in which we have been schooled. The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy.

Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. As well as describing a better world, this model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.

An economics that helps us to live within the doughnut would seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Wealth arising from the gifts of nature would be widely shared. Money, markets, taxation and public investment would be designed to conserve and regenerate resources rather than squander them. State-owned banks would invest in projects that transform our relationship with the living world, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. New metrics would measure genuine prosperity, rather than the speed with which we degrade our long-term prospects.

Such proposals are familiar; but without a new framework of thought, piecemeal solutions are unlikely to succeed. By rethinking economics from first principles, Raworth allows us to integrate our specific propositions into a coherent programme, and then to measure the extent to which it is realised. I see her as the John Maynard Keynes of the 21st century: by reframing the economy, she allows us to change our view of who we are, where we stand, and what we want to be. Now we need to turn her ideas into policy. Read her book, then demand that those who wield power start working towards its objectives: human prosperity within a thriving living world.

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Hungry for knowledge, or hungry for a paycheck? Our education systems are a giant failure.

The Commodification of Education (Steve Keen)

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A real life consequence of Commodification of Education. Intellectual Yet Idiot.

The Fed Could Use Less Book Learning and More Street Smarts (Ricketts)

I’ll bet pundits and pollsters will forever ponder how Donald Trump got elected. For me, it’s straightforward: The American people—or at least enough of them to propel Mr. Trump into office—wanted to infuse practical business experience into the government. To borrow a phrase from my friend, the economist Larry Lindsey, voters rejected the political ruling class in favor of real-world experience. Which brings me to the Federal Reserve. In 2012 Jim Grant, the longtime financial journalist, delivered a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution,” he said, “America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard.” Central banking, in other words, is now dominated by academics. And while I don’t blame them for it, academics by their nature come to decision-making with a distinctly—you guessed it—academic perspective.

The shift described by Mr. Grant has had consequences. For one thing, simplicity based on age-old practice has been replaced by complexity based on econometric theory. Big Data has played an increasingly prominent role in how the Fed operates, even as the Fed’s role in the economy has deepened and widened. Rather than enlisting business leaders and bankers to fulfill the Fed’s increasingly complex mission, the nation’s political and monetary authorities turned primarily to the world’s most brilliant economists, who can be thought of more and more as monetary scientists. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink,’” argues former Dallas Fed analyst Danielle DiMartino Booth in a new book.

Ten of the 17 current Fed governors and regional bank presidents have doctorates in economics. Few have much experience in the private economy. Most have spent the bulk of their careers at the classroom lectern or in Washington. This is a sea change. In past decades, Fed members and governors frequently had experience in banking, industry and agriculture. Do the results indicate that our pursuit of intellectual horsepower has produced a stronger economy? Today’s labor-force participation rate is lower than at any time since the late 1970s; an oven from Sears that cost $160 in 1975 would cost more than $400 today; and despite unprecedented intervention in the economy, America has experienced its worst recovery since the Great Depression.Given the cumulative genius of the leaders of the Federal Reserve System, and the highly sophisticated quantitative tools and policies the Fed has developed under their direction, why aren’t we doing better?

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Just one example of how deluded the UK, like the US, has fast become when it comes to Russia. ‘Putin Did It’ is very much alive. It’s getting mighty tiresome.

Spectre Of Russian Influence Looms Large Over French Election (G.)

The golden domes of one of Vladimir Putin’s foreign projects, the recently built Russian Holy Trinity cathedral in the heart of Paris, rise up not far from the Elysée palace, the seat of the French presidency. Dubbed “Putin’s cathedral” or “Saint-Vladimir”, it stands out as a symbol of the many connections the French elite has long nurtured with Russia, and which the Kremlin is actively seeking to capitalise on in the run-up to the French presidential election. France is an important target for Russia’s soft power and networks of influence. The country is a key pillar of the European Union, an important Nato member and home to Europe’s largest far-right party, the Front National, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to reach the 7 May run-off in the presidential vote and has benefited from Russian financing.

Le Pen took the extraordinary step of travelling to Moscow to meet Putin in March, just a month before the French vote, to boost her international profile and showcase her closeness to the Russian president’s worldview – including his virulent hostility towards the EU and his vision of a “civilisational” clash with radical Islam. Yet she is far from being the only presidential candidate to favour warmer relations with Russia, nor to reflect a certain French fascination with the Kremlin strongman. [..] Russian meddling in elections has become a hot political topic in the US, and there has been much speculation about Russia’s attempts to favour Brexit as well as anti-EU parties in the Netherlands and Germany. But France is now widely seen as the key country where Russia has a strategic interest in encouraging illiberal forces and seeking to drive wedges between western democracies.

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One shudders to imagine what happens if Erdogan loses the Sunday April 16 referendum. And also what happens if he wins.

Moment Of Reckoning In Turkey As Alleged Coup Plotters Go On Trial (G.)

Turkish prosecutors are laying the groundwork for large-scale trials of hundreds of people accused of participating in a coup attempt last July, an undertaking that is already transforming society and will be a reckoning of sorts for a nation that has endured much upheaval in recent years. Authorities say the trials will shed light on alleged links between the accused and Fethullah Gülen, an exiled US-based preacher with a vast grassroots network. The onset of the trials has refocused attention on the large-scale purges of Turkey’s government, media and academia after the coup attempt, in which tens of thousands of people – many with no known links to the Gülenists – were dismissed or jailed. Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing for a referendum on Sunday on greater presidential powers, which could prove the most significant political development in the history of the republic.

“What happened on 15 July [the day of the attempted coup] and what is now happening for months is completely transformative for Turkey,” said a journalist who worked for a Gülen-affiliated media outlet and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “One big part of society has been subjected to extreme demonisation in a process that cost them their jobs, reputation, freedom or ultimately their lives. Another part of the society has been filled with anger and radically politicised. “Nothing can be the same as before 15 July any longer – ever,” he added. Turkish courts have already begun several parallel trials over the coup attempt. Last month prosecutors demanded life sentences for 47 people accused of attempting to assassinate the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the night of the putsch, and the largest trial yet opened on 28 February in a specially built courtroom outside Ankara filled with more than 300 suspects accused of murder and attempting to overthrow the government.

About 270 suspects, including Gülen, went on trial in absentia in Izmir in January, and an indictment issued in late February alleges that Gülenists infiltrated the state and charges 31 members of the military with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. The state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (MIT), has sent prosecutors in Ankara a list of 122,000 individuals who allegedly used a secure messaging app, ByLock, which security officials say was widely used by the Gülen network for communications.

Read more …

Handing out money and housing to refugees while Greeks themselves are hungry and homeless. Great plan.

Greece: Cash and Apartments for Refugees with UNHCR Aid (GR)

Migration Deputy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas announced on Monday that refugees will be getting cash instead of free meals and will be staying in rented apartments in order to decongest migrant camps. In a joint press conference with the participation of Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece Philippe Leclerc, President of Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly Giorgos Kotsos and Larissa Mayor Apostolos Kaloyiannis, Mouzalas explained the project of decongestion of migrant camps and relocation of refugees in urban centers and smaller municipalities. Mouzalas said that refugees will be getting cash in hand for their meals instead of rations and will be staying in apartments under the UNHCR program, so that they will be getting primary care. The program applies for 10,000 asylum seekers in 2017 and another 10,000 in 2018.

The deputy minister clarified that the apartments will be rented by owners under free market conditions and the municipalities will assist the implementation of the program. This way, he said, local communities will benefit financially. The program will apply provided that the EU-Turkey agreement for refugee returns will continue to apply. This way, Mouzalas continued, the 40 camps across Greece that host 40,000 asylum seekers will be reduced to 17-20 with a maximum of 500 people each for 2017. In 2018, another 10,000 asylum seekers will be relocated under the program. The project will start with 500 refugees leaving the Koutsohera camp and moving to Larissa, a municipality that expressed interest in the program. As the program progresses, the camps in Thessaly (Koutsohera, Volos and Trikala) will eventually close and refugees will relocate in municipalities.

“The UN will help in the expansion of the hospitality program for refugees in apartments to improve their living conditions,” Leclerc said. The program has already been implemented in Athens, Thessaloniki and Livadia. The president of the Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly underlined that the program gives municipalities the opportunity to inject money to local communities through the leasing of the apartments and the cash the refugees would spend on food. The Larissa Mayor said that “The municipality of Larissa will work in this direction. Previously there was pressure to accommodate migrants in apartments, but it was too early. Today we are not afraid to do it.”

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The green movement condemns itself by offering only half solutions. Saving the planet would require drastic changes to everyone’s lifestyle and comfort. Instead we get CON21.

Why The Human Race Is Heading For The Fire (G.)

The future for humanity and many other life forms is grim. The crisis gathers force. Melting ice caps, rising seas, vanishing topsoil, felled rainforests, dwindling animal and plant species, a human population forever growing and gobbling and using everything up. What’s to be done? Paul Kingsnorth thinks nothing very much. We have to suck it up. He writes in a typical sentence: “This is bigger than anything there has ever been for as long as humans have existed, and we have done it, and now we are going to have to live through it, if we can.” Hope finds very little room in this enjoyable, sometimes annoying and mystical collection of essays. Kingsnorth despises the word’s false promise; it comforts us with a lie, when the truth is that we have created an “all-consuming global industrial system” which is “effectively unstoppable; it will run on until it runs out”.

To imagine otherwise – to believe that our actions can make the future less dire, even ever so slightly – means that we probably belong to the group of “highly politicised people, whose values and self-image are predicated on being activists”. According to Kingsnorth, such people find it hard to be honest with themselves. He was once one of them. “We might tell ourselves that The People are ignorant of The Facts and that if we enlighten them they will Act. We might believe that the right treaty has yet to be signed, or the right technology yet to be found, or that the problem is not too much growth and science and progress but too little of it. Or we might choose to believe that a Movement is needed to expose the lies being told to The People by the Bad Men in Power who are preventing The People from doing the rising up they will all want to do when they learn The Truth.”

He says this is where “the greens are today”. Environmentalism has become “a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots”. As a characterisation of the green movement, this outbreak of adolescent satire seems unfair. To suggest that its followers become activists only because their “values and self-image” depend on it implies that there is no terror in their hearts, no love of the natural world, nothing real other than their need for a hobby.

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Mar 302017
 
 March 30, 2017  Posted by at 2:40 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Rene Magritte Memory 1948

 

We are witnessing the demise of the world’s two largest economic power blocks, the US and EU. Given deteriorating economic conditions on both sides of the Atlantic, which have been playing out for many years but were so far largely kept hidden from view by unprecedented issuance of debt, the demise should come as no surprise.

The debt levels are not just unprecedented, they would until recently have been unimaginable. When the conditions for today’s debt orgasm were first created in the second half of the 20th century, people had yet to wrap their minds around the opportunities and possibilities that were coming on offer. Once they did, they ran with it like so many lemmings.

The reason why economies are now faltering invites an interesting discussion. Energy availability certainly plays a role, or rather the energy cost of energy, but we might want to reserve a relatively larger role for the idea, and the subsequent practice, of trying to run entire societies on debt (instead of labor and resources).

 

 

It almost looks as if the cost of energy, or of anything at all really, doesn’t play a role anymore, if and when you can borrow basically any sum of money at ultra low rates. Sometimes you wonder why people didn’t think of that before; how rich could former generations have been, or at least felt?

The reason why is that there was no need for it; things were already getting better all the time, albeit for a briefer period of time than most assume, and there was less ‘want’. Not that people wouldn’t have wanted as much as we do today, they just didn’t know yet what it was they should want. The things to want were as unimaginable as the debt that could have bought them.

It’s when things ceased getting better that ideas started being floated to create the illusion that they still were, and until recently very few people were not fooled by this. While this will seem incredible in hindsight, it still is not that hard to explain. Because when things happen over a period of decades, step by step, you walk headfirst into the boiling frog analogy: slowly but surely.

 

At first, women needed to start working to pay the bills, health care and education costs started rising, taxes began to rise. But everyone was too busy enjoying the nice slowly warming water to notice. A shiny car -or two, three-, a home in the burbs with a white picket fence, the American -and German and British etc.- Dream seemed to continue.

Nobody bothered to think about the price to pay, because it was far enough away: the frog could pay in installments. In the beginning only for housing, later also for cars, credit card debt and then just about anything.

Nobody bothered to look at external costs either. Damage to one’s own living environment through a huge increase in the number of roads and cars and the demise of town- and city cores, of mom and pop stores, of forest land and meadows, basically anything green, it was all perceived as inevitable and somehow ‘natural’ (yes, that is ironic).

 

 

Damage to the world beyond one’s own town, for instance through the exploitation of domestic natural resources and the wars fought abroad for access to other nations’ resources, only a very precious few ever cared to ponder these things, certainly after the Vietnam war was no longer broadcast and government control of -or cooperation with- the media grew exponentially.

Looking at today’s world in a sufficiently superficial fashion -the way most people look at it-, one might be forgiven for thinking that debt, made cheap enough, tapers over all other factors, economic and otherwise, including thermodynamics and physics in general. Except it doesn’t, it only looks that way, and for a limited time at that. In the end, thermodynamics always beats ‘financial innovation’. In the end, thermodynamics sets the limits, even those of economics.

 

That leads us into another discussion. If not for the constraints, whether they emanate from energy and/or finance, would growth have been able to continue at prior levels? Both the energy and the finance/political camps mostly seem to think so.

The energy crowd -peak oilers- appear to assume that if energy would have been more readily available, economic growth could have continued pretty much unabated. Or they at least seem to assume that it’s the limits of energy that are responsible for the limits to economic growth.

The finance crowd mostly seems to think that if we would have followed different economic models, growth would have been for the taking. They tend to blame the Fed, or politics, loose regulation, the banking system.

Are either of them right? If they are, that would mean growth can continue de facto indefinitely if only we were smart enough to either make the right economic and political decisions, or to find or invent new sources of energy.

But what kind of growth do both ‘fields’ envision? Growth to what end, and growth into what? 4 years ago, I wrote What Do We Want To Grow Into? I have still never seen anyone else ask that question, before or since, let alone answer it.

We want growth by default, we want growth for growth’s sake, without caring much where it will lead us. Maybe we think unconsciously that as long as we can secure growth, we can figure out what to do with it later.

But it doesn’t work that way: growth changes the entire playing field on a constant basis, and we can’t keep up with the changes it brings, we’re always behind because we don’t care to answer that question: what do we want to grow into. Growth leads us, we don’t lead it. Next question then: if growth stops, what will lead us?

Because we don’t know where we want growth to lead us, we can’t define it. The growth we chase is therefore per definition blind. Which of necessity means that growth is about quantity, not quality. And that in turn means that the -presupposed- link between growth and progress falls apart: we can’t know if -the next batch of- growth will make us better off, or make our lives easier, more fulfilling. It could do the exact opposite.

 

And that’s not the only consequence of our blind growth chase. We have become so obsessed with growth that we have turned to creative accounting, in myriad ways, to produce the illusion of growth where there is none. We have trained ourselves and each other to such an extent to desire growth that we’re all, individually and collectively, scared to death of the moment when there might not be any. Blind fear brought on by a blind desire.

As we’ve also seen, we’ve been plunging ourselves into ever higher debt levels to create the illusion of growth. Now, money (debt) is created not by governments, as many people still think, but by -private- banks. Banks therefore need people to borrow. What people borrow most money for is housing. When they sign up for a mortgage, the bank creates a large amount of money out of nothing.

So if the bank gets itself into trouble, for instance because they lose money speculating, or because people can’t pay their mortgages anymore that they never could afford in the first place, the only way out for that bank, other than bailouts, is to sign more people up for mortgages -or car loans-, preferably bigger ones all the time.

 

 

What we have invented to keep big banks afloat for a while longer is ultra low interest rates, NIRP, ZIRP etc. They create the illusion of not only growth, but also of wealth. They make people think a home they couldn’t have dreamt of buying not long ago now fits in their ‘budget’. That is how we get them to sign up for ever bigger mortgages. And those in turn keep our banks from falling over.

Record low interest rates have become the only way that private banks can create new money, and stay alive (because at higher rates hardly anybody can afford a mortgage). It’s of course not just the banks that are kept alive, it’s the entire economy. Without the ZIRP rates, the mortgages they lure people into, and the housing bubbles this creates, the amount of money circulating in our economies would shrink so much and so fast the whole shebang would fall to bits.

That’s right: the survival of our economies today depends one on one on the existence of housing bubbles. No bubble means no money creation means no functioning economy.

 

What we should do in the short term is lower private debt levels (drastically, jubilee style), and temporarily raise public debt to encourage economic activity, aim for more and better jobs. But we’re doing the exact opposite: austerity measures are geared towards lowering public debt, while they cut the consumer spending power that makes up 60-70% of our economies. Meanwhile, housing bubbles raise private debt through the -grossly overpriced- roof.

This is today’s general economic dynamic. It’s exclusively controlled by the price of debt. However, as low interest rates make the price of debt look very low, the real price (there always is one, it’s just like thermodynamics) is paid beyond interest rates, beyond the financial markets even, it’s paid on Main Street, in the real economy. Where the quality of jobs, if not the quantity, has fallen dramatically, and people can only survive by descending ever deeper into ever more debt.

 

 

Do we need growth? Is that even a question we can answer if we don’t know what we would need or use it for? Is there perhaps a point, both from an energy and from a financial point of view, where growth simply levels off no matter what we do, in the same way that our physical bodies stop growing at 6 feet or so? And that after that the demand for economic growth must necessarily lead to The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt?

It’s perhaps ironic that the US doesn’t appear to be either first or most at risk this time around. There are plenty other housing markets today with what at least look to be much bigger bubbles, from London to China and from Sydney to Stockholm. Auckland’s bubble already looks to be popping. The potential consequences of such -inevitable- developments are difficult to overestimate. Because, as I said, the various banking systems and indeed entire economies depend on these bubbles.

The aftermath will be chaotic and it’s little use to try and predict it too finely, but it’ll be ‘interesting’ to see what happens to the banks in all these countries where bubbles have been engineered, once prices start dropping. It’s not a healthy thing for an economy to depend on blowing bubbles. It’s also not healthy to depend on private banks for the creation of a society’s money. It’s unhealthy, unnecessary and unethical. We’re about to see why.