Feb 272017
 
 February 27, 2017  Posted by at 2:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Bruce Davidson Iran 1964

 

Let’s see. On February 18, I wrote an essay called “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, in which I said “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s”.

That provoked a wonderfully written reaction from long-time Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, which I published on February 23 as “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?”. Ken put peak wealth sometime in the late ’50s to early 60’s. As I said then, I really liked his definition of ‘wealth’ as being “best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”. The article spawned a series of nice comments, for some reason largely by people in his age bracket (Ken’s 73).

Which is nice, but it poses as many questions as it provides answers. Like: why does the Automatic Earth have so many ‘older’ readers? Should that be a reason for worry? And also: why don’t the young react in equal numbers? Don’t younger Americans have as many ideas as the generation(s) before them about when America’s peak wealth might have occurred?

Must one have been an eye-witness to the decline to know that it happened? Do only old farts ponder these things? Are there lessons to be learned, be they personal or history-wide? Interesting, all of it, if you ask me. Do younger people not acknowledge that peak wealth is behind us, and perhaps occurred before they were even born? Me, I like history lessons, and Ken’s for sure.

Tomorrow, I’ll have another take on all this written by Charles A. Hall, Emeritus Professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Charlie thinks neither Ken nor myself have given nearly enough attention to the role energy plays in wealth, and the peak thereof.

But first, here’s Ken Latta’s response to the comments on his article.

 

 

Ken Latta: The responses to my article on peak wealth were so thought-provoking that a follow-up article seemed appropriate. You can’t cover the history of the world in one blog post and I appreciate the additional ideas from the commentariat.

John Day: I remember 1969 as better than 1970. That first moon landing was a real high point for all of us. Everybody thought 1971 sucked. Things were different after November 1963. LBJ was a “sonofabitch”, as he put it. It’s hard to nail a year down, but after we lost our president, things were never the same.

John Day: Reminded us of a substantial breaking point the assassination of John Kennedy represented to the flow of history. But, history has its own problems. The finer details are oh so often swamped by a popular narrative. JFK was way more beloved dead than alive. Like Trump he could draw big crowds, but he very narrowly beat Nixon. Detractors favored referring to him as weak on foreign affairs.

I clearly recall were I was when the news came in about him being shot in Dallas. I was hanging out with some of my squadron mates in our team office when our Captain came by to inform us. He was African-American and clearly disturbed by it. It was much less concerning to the enlisted ranks. He had not been popular with most of us. It was a divided nation even then. I think his mourners should not forget that JFK presided over the early stages of the Viet-Nam adventure. With Green Berets and meddling in the South Viet-Nam government’s affairs, as is our custom.

It was just another case of his bad luck really. The American War on Viet-Nam could have happened to Eisenhower. My older brother was staged in a Korean Port waiting for orders to board a troop ship for transport to what was then still usually known as French Indo-China to support the French Army in their losing battle against the Viet Minh. But, Ike was a fairly sensible man and called it off.

 

 

V. Arnold: Wow, great thread. I’m 72 and was there also; I remember it pretty much as you tell it. I’d agree with your time-line also as to when peak wealth occurred. The beginning of the downturn was very late in the 50’s/early 60’s with our war in Vietnam and then; Nixon going off the gold standard. That allowed the next chapter of crony capitalism.

I attribute an accelerating deterioration to Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics and the age of the neo-liberal. Don’t forget Reagan; I felt the effects of his union busting first hand with stagnant wages until I retired over seas in 2007. I hope to read more of your writings from time to time. Cheers.

V. Arnold: Wrote very derogatory words about Uncle Miltie Friedman and the Chicago School of Terror. For that I salute him or her. Hell is too good for Milton and his apostles.

Forget Reagan? Not as long as I live. I also remember where I was when he was declared the next president. Sitting in the nicest bar in the little mountain town of Boulder Creek, Ca, nursing a drink. The bar was crowded and broke into loud celebration at the news. All I could think of was how f**king doomed we were. How I wish I had been wrong.

 

 

Hotrod: Thank you for your thought provoking article. I sometimes look at the health of the surviving car companies after WWII as a bellwether to the shape of the economy. Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard all were struggling mightily by the mid 50’s. For the farming community the peak was about 1952. After the post war demand had been met, and greatly exceeded, farming declined into a real recession during the middle and late 50’s and never was quite the same.

Since then, machinery and technology, mostly purchased on credit, has kept production up and prices down for farmers, typically at or below the cost of production. Many of these labor saving and production enhancing tools stand unused, but are still being paid for. The only exception to this situation is massive drought, or massive flooding which can temporarily insert profitability to those not affected.

Hotrod: Reminisced on the tribulations of many car makers [Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard], some of them long established, in the early 1950’s. I remember that too. I think a substantial part of their problems probably stemmed from not having enough dealerships. People were traveling more and wanted reassurance that a dealer with parts and experienced mechanics would be available in the next town. I think it actually surprising that those companies lasted as long as they did. Actually Nash and I think it was Packard merged to become American Motors and lasted another three decades.

He (my assumption) also mentioned farming and its trials. Farming is not the easy route to riches. The compensation has always been that if you hadn’t pledged your feal to the Lord of a Manor or signed up to be a share cropper, you were your own boss.

The late 40’s thru early 50’s were pretty good on our farm. When I was a little tike, we had an already ancient Macormick-Deering 10-20 tractor and a team of draught horses. My eldest brother having been told of his tour of northern and central Europe under the guidance of a man named Patton, wrote to dad asking him to take the money he had been sending home and buy a new tractor. All dad could find at a local dealer was a Minneapolis-Moline as they were about the only company allowed to build tractors during the war.

Many of them were shipped to England to help the British increase their food production. That was the only brand new tractor our family has ever owned right up to this day. My nephew still has it, but it’s in bits and pieces now. By around 1950 we were fully mechanised. Shortly after dad died in 1959, my brother rented out the land got himself a factory job. The prices of equipment steadily increased. The value of crops did not.

Crop prices did increase substantially about a decade ago, but not nearly enough to pay for new equipment unless you operated a very large farm. And more recently crops have declined in value again. I think a lot of farmers are in trouble.

 

 

Patricia: I am worried. Everybody who comments here is in their 70s as I am. Is that because we have more time to reflect and write down our thoughts or is it because the youth of today aren’t interested in anything except Facebook? If that is the case then I am so glad I am at the end of my life but what about my darling grandchildren.

Patricia: Expressed concern over whether the prevalence here of geezers was due to us having too much time on our hands or the youth having no time for anything except Facebook. Based on my own family, I can say that their devotion to Facebook is tempered by addiction to gaming. I mean video not casino. I think we can say that Patricia is right on both counts.

I too feel a certain gratitude for having been born during the war years with the expectation that I may be expired before the ordure collides with the air circulator. We oldies do have a psychological quandary with regard to our descendants. Knowing as we do that it’s coming. I too have grandchildren and a great grandchild. I desperately wanted to make them aware and try to offer some guidance.

What I learned was that they are at least vaguely aware of the looming threats and don’t want to hear more about it. They know there isn’t really much they can do about it. I think they believe that when it happens they will just do what they can to deal with it. All things considered (apologies to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I wonder if that program is still on) that is probably about the best attitude any of us can have.

What bothers me most about our youth is what they don’t seem to know. I’m talking about the kinds of knowledge that will likely be very useful when things get stinky. Larding debt onto the kids so they could go to college and learn computer science, physics, art history and how to be a social justice warrior was probably to their detriment.

I don’t exactly know what would be absolutely best for them to know, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t those kinds of things. I tend to believe that it will be good to know, as examples, how to shoot, how to fish, how to tell the difference between weeds and food, how to loosen rusted bolts and how to turn hemp into rope in addition to dope.

 

 

Aug 052016
 
 August 5, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)
UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)
UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)
China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)
For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)
Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)
The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)
US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)
How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)
War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

 

 

Maybe we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we do NOT have functioning markets. Central banks buying up corporate bonds is of course about as distorting for markets as it comes.

We will yet take debt to its inevitable conclusion.

New Tool for Central Banks: Buying Corporate Bonds (WSJ)

Central banks have a new favorite tool for boosting lackluster growth: corporate-debt purchases. Two months after the ECB started buying corporate bonds, the Bank of England said Thursday that it would adopt a similar strategy. It will buy as much as £10 billion ($13.33 billion) of U.K. corporate debt starting in September as part of a larger package of stimulus measures, including £60 billion of additional government-bond purchases. The move, investors and analysts say, is likely to drive down borrowing costs even further around the globe for large companies already benefiting from ultralow interest rates.

But the decision again raises concerns about possible side effects of unconventional monetary policies, including excessive risk taking by investors, and faces substantial skepticism from investors who doubt such programs meaningfully address the global economy’s core deficiencies, centering on soft demand for goods and services. Already this year, negative-interest-rate policies and aggressive bond buying by central banks in Japan and Europe have helped create trillions of dollars of negative-yielding government bonds. That in turn has driven down corporate-bond yields, leading to robust debt issuance among companies in the U.S., if not all developed countries.

In the U.S., the average yield of investment-grade corporate bonds was 2.85% Wednesday, compared with 3.67% at the end of 2015, according to Barclays data. The average spread to Treasury yields also has shrunk, to 1.48 percentage points from 1.72. Companies have issued $519.2 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds this year, just below their pace at this time last year when issuance ultimately reached a record $794.6 billion, according to Dealogic.

Read more …

Wait till the stock market crashes, that’s when pensions will be hit.

UK Interest Rate Cut Is A ‘Hammer Blow’ For Workplace Pensions (G.)

Pension savers could be big losers from the Bank of England rate cut, as critics warned of a “hammer blow” to workplace schemes and forecast that pension payouts would fall to record lows. Within minutes of the Bank’s decision to cut the base rate to 0.25%, yields on government bonds, otherwise known as gilts, dived to all-time lows. Companies that still offer final salary pension schemes will as a result see the cost of maintaining them soar. Hymans Robertson, a pensions consultancy, said the rate cut meant a £70bn increase in the amount company schemes needed to meet their commitments to scheme members, to a total of £2.4trn. “To put this in context, UK GDP currently stands at £1.8trn. This has pushed the aggregate UK [company scheme] deficit up to £945bn – the worst it has ever been,” it said.

Companies will have to find the money to fill the gap in their pension schemes, or like most already have, close them to new members. In extreme cases, some may attempt to redraw pension contracts to cap their future liabilities. Patrick Bloomfield of Hymans Robertson said: “Pension schemes are being hit hard by recent events, but we need to remember that the impact will not be felt equally by all … There are schemes with robust funding plans that don’t take more risk than they need to, which will be able to weather this. The gap between pension schemes that hedged their risks and those that haven’t is starker than ever before.”

Read more …

A forced reset is not necessarily a bad thing.

UK Labor Market Enters “Freefall” After Brexit Vote (R.)

Britain’s labour market entered “freefall” after the vote to leave the European Union, with the number of permanent jobs placed by recruitment firms last month falling at the fastest pace since May 2009, a survey showed on Friday. The monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed starting salaries for permanent jobs rose in July at the slowest pace in more than three years. Overall, the survey added to evidence that business confidence and activity slowed sharply after the June 23 vote to leave the European. “The UK jobs market suffered a dramatic freefall in July, with permanent hiring dropping to levels not seen since the recession of 2009,” said REC chief executive Kevin Green. “Economic turbulence following the vote to leave the EU is undoubtedly the root cause.”

Read more …

Different countries have different ways of hiding their debt.

China Regulator Tells Banks to Evergreen Loans of Troubled Companies (ET)

On the surface, China is talking the reform talk. But is it also walking the walk? There are many examples to demonstrate it isn’t. The most recent one is a directive from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) to not cut off lending to troubled companies and evergreening bad loans. This first reported by The Chinese National Business Daily on Aug. 4. “A Notice About How the Creditor Committees at Banks and Financial Institutes Should Do Their Jobs” tells banks to “act together and not ‘randomly stop giving or pulling loans.’ These institutes should either provide new loans after taking back the old ones or provide a loan extension, to ‘fully help companies to solve their problems,’” the National Business Daily writes.

“It’s big news. A couple of weeks ago they were threatening Liaoning Province to cut off all lending to them if they didn’t tighten loan standards,” said Christopher Balding, a professor of economics at Peking University in Shenzen. “This is a pretty significant turn-around for them to do and it indicates how significant the problem is.” The official reform narrative is espoused in this Xinhua piece which claims China has to reform because there is no Plan B. “Supply-side structural reform is also advancing as the country moves to address issues like industrial overcapacity, a large inventory of unsold homes and unprofitable ‘zombie companies.’” Clearly resolving the bad debt of zombie companies is not high on the priority list.

Goldman Sachs complained in a recent note to clients that companies can default on payments and often nothing happens. The investment bank notes that companies like Sichuan Coal default on payments of interest and principal for weeks or months and then maybe pay creditors later. The company in question defaulted on 1 billion yuan ($150 million) worth of commercial paper in June but made full payments later during the summer, a somewhat arbitrary process. Another case is Dongbei Special Steel, which missed at least five payments on $6 billion of debt since the beginning of the year, but has done nothing to resolve the problem. This is why creditors wrote an angry letter to the local government to help resolve the issue.

Read more …

Why the EU can’t be reformed.

For Europe’s Elite the Party Lives On After Brexit (BBG)

Europe’s political elite may have missed the Brexit memo. Six weeks since U.K. voters rebuked the ruling class by choosing to leave the European Union, the region’s establishment has reacted by carrying on as before. The revolving door of former policy makers joining the finance industry has spun again, with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signing up with Goldman Sachs and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King joining Citigroup. Meanwhile departed Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for nominating numerous aides for honors, including his wife’s stylist.

The perception of elite coziness risks further disenfranchising those backing Brexit, and peers across the continent who share the feeling of being left behind by the powerful and wealthy in the era of globalization and financial crises. A potential upshot is more support for populist parties that tap into alienation such as the U.K. Independence Party or France’s National Front. “Anything that doesn’t show government or public institutions in a good light merely confirms some of the attitudes that probably contributed to the Brexit vote,” said Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School. For some voters, “there is a group of people out there who aren’t normal people like you or me, who have benefited since the financial crisis – because they’re an elite.”

Read more …

Tsipras already lost the ‘fight’. Beppe Grillo may lead such an alliance, not Tsipras.

Tsipras Eyes Southern EU Alliance To Back Debt Deal (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is planning to forge an alliance with the leaders of other countries in Southeastern Europe in a bid to bolster Greece’s bid for a debt restructuring and lower the primary surplus targets set by creditors. Tsipras is expected to explore the prospects for such an alliance at a meeting of European socialist heads of state scheduled to take place in Paris on August 25, particularly with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande. The meeting had originally been planned for May 20 in Rome but was postponed after an Egyptian passenger plane crashed in the Mediterranean. The Greek premier’s aim, according to sources, is to arrange a subsequent meeting in Athens, probably on September 9, and in any case before a scheduled European Union leaders’ summit on September 16, to further explore the prospect of forming a Southeastern European alliance.

Tsipras and Renzi had agreed at their last meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit on June 28 on the need for southern states to create their own growth-focused agenda, compared to the austerity prescribed by Northern European countries. At the time, Hollande and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa had appeared open to the prospect of such an alliance. In Athens, sources close to Tsipras believe the time is right to pursue the creation of a strong southern “axis” to counter the stance of countries in Northern Europe. The idea of a united front of Southern European countries was first mooted by leftist SYRIZA before the general elections of January 2015 that brought it to power.

At the time, Tsipras thought Athens would attract the solidarity of Southern European countries in SYRIZA’s rhetoric against austerity and that those countries would stand by Greece in its negotiations with international creditors. That solidarity did not transpire then. However, sources close to Tsipras believe the current situation is potentially more beneficial for Athens as the protracted imposition of austerity on Greece and elsewhere has increased the pressure on countries in Southern Europe. Athens is also hopeful about forming a common front on another crucial issue that has divided Southern and Northern European countries: the ongoing refugee crisis. Indications by Turkey that it might not honor a migrant deal with the EU have fueled concerns in Greece that a slowed migrant influx could pick up again.

Read more …

Nostalgia. “And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.”

The 60-Year Decay of American Politics (Bacevich)

Presidential campaigns today are themselves, to use Boorstin’s famous term, “pseudo-events” that stretch from months into years. By now, most Americans know better than to take at face value anything candidates say or promise along the way. We’re in on the joke — or at least we think we are. Reinforcing that perception on a daily basis are media outlets that have abandoned mere reporting in favor of enhancing the spectacle of the moment. This is especially true of the cable news networks, where talking heads serve up a snide and cynical complement to the smarmy fakery that is the office-seeker’s stock in trade. And we lap it up. It matters little that we know it’s all staged and contrived, as long as — a preening Megyn Kelly getting under Trump’s skin, Trump himself denouncing “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, etc., etc. — it’s entertaining.

This emphasis on spectacle has drained national politics of whatever substance it still had back when Ike and Adlai commanded the scene. It hardly need be said that Donald Trump has demonstrated an extraordinary knack — a sort of post-modern genius — for turning this phenomenon to his advantage. Yet in her own way Clinton plays the same game. How else to explain a national convention organized around the idea of “reintroducing to the American people” someone who served eight years as First Lady, was elected to the Senate, failed in a previous high-profile run for the presidency, and completed a term as secretary of state? The just-ended conclave in Philadelphia was, like the Republican one that preceded it, a pseudo-event par excellence, the object of the exercise being to fashion a new “image” for the Democratic candidate.

The thicket of unreality that is American politics has now become all-enveloping. The problem is not Trump and Clinton, per se. It’s an identifiable set of arrangements — laws, habits, cultural predispositions — that have evolved over time and promoted the rot that now pervades American politics. As a direct consequence, the very concept of self-government is increasingly a fantasy, even if surprisingly few Americans seem to mind.

At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai. Today, with almost double the population, we get — well, we get what we’ve got. This does not represent progress. And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.

Read more …

Can’t see US handing Gulen over on a platter, but Turkey is not done demanding his head. And many others.

US Unlikely To Extradite Imam Turkey Blames For Coup (CNBC)

U.S. officials weren’t likely to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an imam Turkey blames for plotting the recent failed coup, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the discussion. Those people said the evidence presented so far by Turkey wasn’t convincing and U.S. officials were also concerned about Turkish officials’ threatening public statements, which made the fairness of his potential treatment questionable, the report said. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied wrongdoing, the report said.

Separately, Reuters reported that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Thursday to cut off revenues from businesses tied to the 75-year-old Gulen, which include schools, firms and charities. Even before the failed coup, authorities in Turkey had seized Islamic lender Bank Asya, closed media businesses and arrested businessmen on accusations of funding the imam’s movement, Reuters reported. The failed coup, which took place on July 15, left more than 230 dead. Since then, more than 60,000 people across various branches of government have been detained, suspended or put under investigation, Reuters reported. That’s spurred concerns Erdogan was cracking down on all dissent.

Read more …

“68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

How Europe Is Getting Rich by Fueling Its Own Terror Epidemic (TAM)

Though Europe does not have the rates of gun violence the United States continues to grapple with, European governments have made over a billion euros by fueling gun violence in the Middle East and North Africa. A report conducted by a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found a group of European nations has been funneling arms into the Middle East region since 2012, making at least 1.2 billion euros in the process. According to the report, 68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”

The report also notes that these flights make up only a small portion of the 1.2 billion euros in arms deals between Europe and the Middle East since 2012. The report’s conclusions are horrifying, to say the least. The report states: “Arms export licenses, which are supposed to guarantee the final destination of the goods, have been granted despite ample evidence that weapons are being diverted to Syrian and other armed groups accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities.” Considering Europe is battling a continually rising terrorist threat, they seem to be going about tackling this issue the wrong way. Surely the best way to counter terrorism is to cease funding it in the first place.

One astounding aspect of the report is that the lucrative war-profiteering business involves nations the world would not usually regard as overly-interested in war. The countries contributing to the rising terror threat, as identified by the report, are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Romania, among others. This report adds to the already glaring problem of European countries making billions of dollars off the death and destruction of Middle Eastern civilian life. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in arms sales, making up 10.4% of the total $401 billion worth of arms sold around the world for the 2014 period.

Read more …

Trump for Peace. We have 3 months left to get used to that.

War Or Peace: The Essential Question For American Voters On November 8th (RI)

In matters of substance as opposed to character assassination that both parties’ candidates have engaged in freely, what separates the candidates and makes it worthwhile to register and vote on November 8th is the domain of international relations. This, as a general rule, is the only area where a president has free hands anyway, whatever position his party holds in the Congress. Here the choice facing voters is stark, I would say existential: do we want War or Peace? Do we want to pursue our path of global hegemony, which is bringing us into growing confrontation with Russia, meaning a high probability of war, (the policy of Hillary Clinton), or do we want a harmonious international order in which the U.S. plays its role at the board of governors, just like other major world powers (the policy of Donald Trump).

Let me go one step further and explain what “war” means, since it is not something that gets much attention in our media, whereas it is at the top of the news each day in Russia. “War” does not mean Cold War-II, a kind of scab you can pick to indulge a pleasure in pain that is not life threatening. War means what our military like to call “kinetics” to mask the horror of it all. It means live ammunition, ranging from conventional to thermonuclear devices that can devastate large swathes of the United States if we play our hand badly, as would likely be the case for reasons I explain below should Hillary and her flock of Neocon armchair strategists take the reins of power in January 2017.

Read more …