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 252018
 
 September 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:55 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Galatea of the Spheres 1952

 

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan “broke” the story yesterday morning that Rod Rosenstein was going to resign before he would be fired, and he was on his way to the White House for that. Just about every would-be journalist in the US followed suit with speculation and ‘updates’ by anonymous sources either close to the White House or to Rosenstein.

Through the day it became clear that Swan’s entire story was pure speculation (though he just published an alleged resignation letter), and at the end of the day Rosenstein is still the Deputy AG, scheduled for a talk with Trump on the entire matter on Thursday. In short, Jonathan Swan dented Axios’ credibility by more than he will admit. So who has any credibility left by now? It’s not a long list anymore. Where can you get your news? Not where you used to.

Several voices volunteered that the White House had pumped the Rosenstein story in order to deflect attention from the Kavanaugh narrative. That made little sense: why would they do that? There may be some who think that Kavanaugh means a whole lot of trouble from Trump, but are they really paying attention, or merely thinking wishfully?

Kavanaugh himself didn’t look all that destroyed in his interview last night. And he made a very bold move: he said he was a virgin until well past high school. All it would take to break down that claim is one woman to step forward and say she had sex with him. And if he did have consensual sex even just once, nothing to do with assault, he’d still be exposed as a liar, so why make such a claim unless it’s true?

All this puts the allegations made against him in an eery light. Christine Blasey Ford’s story looked shaky from the start, because of all the things she said she couldn’t remember, but many people were granting her the benefit of the doubt. Then Deborah Ramirez added an allegation that if anything looked even less coherent. Even the New York Times could find no-one to corroborate her story, and she herself couldn’t, either.

Now, for all we know Kavanaugh may have been an adolescent monster, but we would still need proof of that before we nail him to a cross, or, worse still, keep him off the Supreme Court. Which is, obviously, what got the whole circus started.

 

Thursday will be yet another eventful day in the guaranteed to be always entertaining presidency of Donald Trump, and we wonder in eager anticipation how Axios and all the other news outlets will cover the events. Their Kavanaugh narrative looks shot right now, but we’d expect another woman, or two, or ten, to pop up with inflammatory tales.

Look for the one about consensual sex, that would seem to have a better chance than another assault with a penis chapter, and he set it up himself last night by his virgin declaration. Also, look for desperate attempts to smear the judge. There are still many people in Washington and beyond who really really don’t want him confirmed.

But then, everything they tried so far has backfired, even if that’s not what they see. That same thing may well happen in the Rosenstein saga. It’s no secret, never has been, that Trump has different opinions than Rosenstein, or for that matter Jeff Sessions, have on several matters. But they’re both still in their jobs.

Trump appointed Rosenstein, and he appointed Sessions, who turned around and recused himself from the Russian collusion case, putting Rosenstein in charge of that. Rosenstein appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, though it was obvious from miles away that the FBI was heavily involved in the case.

Now, after all the Strzok/Page mails and the Andrew McCabe bumbling, we know that Robert Mueller, after almost two years, still hasn’t found any proof of collusion. We know this because he hasn’t presented any, which he would have been obliged to do if he had any, simply because the allegation of working with a foreign government to undermine the US is so serious; you can’t hold back that sort of information.

 

That all said, is it so strange that Trump has perhaps had enough of this? That he might like an actual Attorney General who actually takes charge of the case, and a Deputy AG who has some distance from Mueller and asks him to finish up the investigation which hasn’t produced anything but tax evasion charges for Manafort and 14 days in jail for Papadopoulos, who presumably pled guilty because, like Michael Flynn, he couldn’t afford to defend himself?

There are times one gets the impression the whole thing only continues because newspapers and TV channels make so much money off of painting Trump as the modern Antichrist. And while the man undoubtedly is full of flaws, that’s not what they’re all aiming for. They go for Russiagate, because it sells to have an archenemy to talk about, and they go for Stormy Daniels and Kavanaugh’s penis, because sex sells more than anything.

Along with all the anti-Trump rhetoric, there is a running story about a Blue Wave that will hand the Democrats back control over the House and perhaps the Senate. But while I think it might be good to restore some balance in Washington, if only so people must actually talk, I also think that Blue Wave thing is perhaps the biggest mistake America’s formerly left can make.

Because the Democrats, no matter how they see themselves, have no identity. Other than they’re not Trump and they hate the man. We saw that loud and clear the other day when they helped the GOP push a record military budget through the House. They’re merely a flipside of a coin. They have nothing of their own.

Yes, there’s Ocasio-Cortez and a handful others who try to define something different, but surely they must know that when you call yourself Socialist in America you’re tying an arm and a leg behind your back. Kudos for trying, but that’s not going to work. Bernie Sanders is done after allowing Hillary’s DNC to push him aside; people remember such things.

That leaves the usual suspects, Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, calcifying in their seats, with Hillary in the wings for a glorious return to viability in 2020. And they think that combo will make them win elections, and win them big, just because voters are so sick of Trump? Methinks perhaps they have started to believe their own stories, while neglecting those of their one-time voters.

 

But sure, let’s see what happens on Thursday, and before, with Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, and with Rosenstein’s friendly chat with the President. I’m thinking there’s nothing so bizarre I would count it out, but I may have to rethink that. Maybe Robert Mueller will resign tomorrow before Rosenstein can be fired -assuming Trump would want to-, maybe Kavanaugh had sex with an entire boys’ choir twice a week, leaving him technically still a virgin.

Our fantasy is just about endless. But that’s the exact biggest problem with everything about this: there’s far too much fantasy involved, far too many allegations that remain unproven but leave traces left and right, far too many accusations that nobody is made to own up to.

One last thing: if it turns out Christine Blasey Ford can prove none of her accusations vs Kavanaugh, and he’s been telling the truth all along, what does that mean for all the women who’ve told their stories of rape and assault under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag? How betrayed will they feel, how tricked? Or will they continue to insist that he must be guilty even if there is zero proof?

And no, it’s not Just the Democrats, it’s Washington as a whole, egged on by despairing media who see their revenues and credibility plunge and resort to cheap tricks. The Republicans with their inane plans to re-open the hunt on grizzlies are just as bad. Want to Make America Great Again? Start with protecting the grizzlies and manatees and moose and eagles. They are what makes the country rich. There won’t be anything great about a barren desert land devoid of life.

But the urgent question in Washington right at this moment is, in light of Rosenstein and Kavanaugh: how deeply can you divide a country, for political ends, before it bursts? And what will it take, what can still be done today, to pull it away from the looming abyss?