Pablo Picasso Minotauromachie 1935
The shadow Fed Funds rate is already rising sharply. Wiggle room approaches zero.
As a result of debt growing faster than our underlying economy, America’s debt as a percent of GDP soared from just over 150% in the early-1980s to approximately 350% in recent years. This higher debt burden is the reason why our economy simply cannot handle interest rates as high as they were before 2008. Particularly worrisome is the fact that U.S. federal debt is at a record of over 100% of the GDP (vs. 62% before the Great Recession), which will make it a much greater challenge to keep the economy afloat in the coming recession:
As the Fed Funds rate chart below shows, the interest rate threshold necessary to trigger recessions (recessions are designated by the gray bars) keeps falling as our debt burden increases:
Though many optimists are quick to point out that the benchmark Fed Funds rate was only increased from 0% to 2.5% during the current tightening cycle, the reality is that the current tightening cycle is even more aggressive than the past several cycles when the Fed Funds rate is adjusted for quantitative easing (this is known as the shadow Fed Funds rate). According to this methodology, interest rates have increased by the equivalent of 5.41% in the current cycle versus just 3.62% before the 2001 recession and 4.26% before the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009:
It’s like hearing my own echo.
Long-term interest rates just fell off a cliff. And if you think they can’t keep falling, think again. Albert Edwards, a strategist at SG Securities, pointed out in a recent note that none of the experts surveyed by the Wall Street Journal at the start of the year predicted 10-year Treasury yields would fall below 2.5%. Current level: 2%. I guess we can toss those forecasting models out the window. He adds that mainstream economists have been saying for years that long-term rates would never end up at zero percent. Yet rates in Europe are now negative. People are paying half a percent a year for the privilege of lending money to the government of Switzerland. Even in the U.S., 10-year rates adjusted for inflation are only 0.29%. A generation ago, they were typically 2% or better.
Western economists used to say that zero percent rates were a weird and unique thing you only saw in Japan — like people eating raw puffer fish and hoping not to die. It would never catch on over here, they said. But they already have. Today European rates are even lower than those in Japan. When U.S. rates first collapsed in 2011-2012, we were assured it was a freak one-off event and was never going to happen again. When it happened again in 2016, we were told it was, well, a “two-off” event that was certainly never going to happen a third time. Now it’s happening a third time, and I guess we’re waiting for the official line on why, once again, this is just a temporary derangement and nothing to worry about.
But the Bank for International Settlements says there is something to worry about, and it’s the reason that economic growth, inflation and interest rates can’t get off the ground: zombies. No, I’m not making this up. The BIS says there are way too many zombies around, and they’re killing the economy, and it’s all the fault of low interest rates. We’re talking “corporate zombies,” of course. The BIS found that, ever since the 1980s, falling interest rates have made it easier and easier for bad companies with lousy management and terrible products and dismal prospects to stay in business long after they should have gone the way of all flesh. These “zombie” companies can stay alive — or whatever the correct term is for zombies — if they can just keep borrowing.
And when money gets cheaper, that’s great for zombies. Lower interest rates are correlated with rising numbers of zombie companies, the BIS found. And there are a lot of zombies around. The BIS reckons no fewer than 12% of the non-financial companies on major developed stock markets could be “zombie” companies, at least by a loose definition. This is an epidemic. In the early 1990s, the figure was about 2%.
“Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.”
Should the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to a man who resolves his own crises and then chooses to kill innocent people with sanctions rather than bombs as a way to achieve a political end? Even a blind man can see that Trump’s actions toward Iran have been entirely belligerent, all with the aim of squeezing the Iranian citizenry and bullying their government officials into complying with his dictates or else face a “defensive” U.S. bombing attack. It’s helpful to remind ourselves of what happened here. Iran entered into a deal with the U.S. government under the presidency of Barrack Obama. Pursuant to the deal, Iran would agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and the U.S. government would lift the brutal U.S. sanctions that were impoverishing and even killing the Iranian citizenry.
Complying with the agreement, Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programs, fully expecting the U.S. government to comply with its end of the bargain by lifting its sanctions. Then Donald Trump entered the presidency and proceeded to immediately tear up the deal, knowing full well that Iran had compiled with it with the expectation that the U.S. government would fulfill its end of the bargain. Not only did Trump not lift the sanctions, he doubled down and began enforcing them even more brutally than Obama had. In other words, Iran was double-crossed by the U.S. government operating under Trump. (I wonder if North Korean officials are noticing this.)
[..] The problems began when the U.S. government abandoned its founding policies of a limited-government republic and non-interventionism and instead became a national-security state and embraced a foreign policy of empire and interventionism. This is what gave the country a huge, permanent military establishment, both domestically and in foreign countries. It also gave the nation assassinations, torture, coups, regime-change operations, alliances with dictatorial regimes, installation of dictatorial regimes, sanctions, embargoes, illegal invasions and occupations, undeclared wars, wars of aggression, terrorism, a war on terrorism, out-of-control spending and debt, and, of course, the destruction of American liberty and privacy.
[..] There is but one solution to all this mayhem: Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.
Sanctions as a military tool. May not be that wise.
Iran said Tuesday US sanctions on its leaders represent the “permanent closure” of diplomacy with Washington, after President Donald Trump tightened the screws on a nation he has threatened with “obliteration”. “Imposing fruitless sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path to diplomacy with Trump’s desperate government,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet. Washington imposed new sanctions against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Monday ahead of blacklisting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later this week, its latest salvo in a tense standoff that has raised fears of a regional conflict.
“Trump’s government is destroying all established international mechanisms for keeping global peace and security,” he added. Tehran and Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 over the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran following Iran’s Islamic revolution. US President Donald Trump also imposed new sanctions Monday against top Iranian military chiefs, pressuring the country it has threatened with “obliteration” if a war breaks out.
Oil prices fall in this climate. That’s remarkable.
Oil fell on Tuesday amid concerns over the outlook for crude demand, but prices were supported after Washington announced new sanctions on Iran amid mounting tensions in the Middle East. Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 34 cents, or 0.5%, at $64.52 a barrel by 0639 GMT. They dropped 0.5% on Monday. U.S. crude futures were down 24 cents, or 0.4%, at $57.66 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark rose 0.8% in the previous session. Brent climbed 5% last week and U.S. crude surged 10% after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday in the Gulf, adding to tensions stoked by attacks on oil tankers in the area in May and June. Washington has blamed the tanker attacks on Iran, which denies having any role.
U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions on Monday, taking an unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of the drone. “This would appear to effectively rule out any talks or negotiations to end the crisis,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of energy and security consultancy Mathyos Advisory.
Derivatives and oil again.
As if the political and military situation at this time were not tense and complex enough, the two most important power groups in the United States, the Fed and the military-industrial complex, both face problems that threaten to diminish Washington’s status as a world superpower. The Fed could find itself defending the role of the US dollar as the world reserve currency during any conflict in the Persian Gulf that would see the cost of oil rise to $300 a barrel, threatening trillions of dollars in derivativesand toppling the global economy. The military-industrial complex would in turn be involved in a war that it would struggle to contain and even win, destroying the United States’ image of invincibility and inflicting a mortal blow on its ability to project power to the four corners of the world.
Just look at how surprised US officials were about Iran’s capabilities to shot down an advanced US Drone: “Iran’s ability to target and destroy the high-altitude American drone, which was developed to evade the very surface-to-air missiles used to bring it down, surprised some Defense Department officials, who interpreted it as a show of how difficult Tehran can make things for the United States as it deploys more troops and steps up surveillance in the region.” The US dollar-based economy has a huge debt problem caused by post-2008 economic policies. All central banks have lowered interest rates to zero or even negative, thus continuing to feed otherwise dying economies.
The central bank of central banks, the Bank for International Settlements, an entity hardly known to most people, has stated in writing that “the outstanding notional amount of derivative contracts is 542 trillion dollars.” The total combined GDP of all the countries of the world is around 75 trillion dollars. With the dimensions of the problem thus understood, it is important to look at how Deutsche Bank (DB), one of the largest financial institutions in the world, is dealing with this. The German bank alone has assets worth about 40 trillion dollars in derivatives, or more than half of annual global GDP. Their solution, not at all innovative or effective, has been to create yet another bad bank into which to pour at least 50 billion dollars of long-term assets, which are clearly toxic.
Don’t know what to call it? No worries, mate, Jim can help.
“..as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.”
As the first of 12 presidential debates blows in at mid-week like an evil patch of bad summer weather, twenty candidates vie for the position of Ole Massa on the Democratic Party plantation, and the air is gravid with bad vibes. One highly-favored entry, Mayor Pete (Buttigieg) of charming South Bend, Indiana, stepped into (and tripped over) a big fresh patty of mule poop over the weekend at a “town hall” meeting that was called to address the June 16 shooting of one Eric Logan, 54, by a police officer dispatched to check out “a suspicious individual going through cars” at 2:30 a.m. The officer said the suspect came at him with a knife. The officer failed to switch on his body-cam, or so the police department said. Conclusions were jumped to. Then, in the wee hours just before Mayor Pete’s June 24 town hall, another black man was killed and 10 other people wounded in the shoot-up of a watering hole called Kelly’s Pub.
God knows what that was about — no police were involved in the shoot-up — but Mayor Pete caught the blame for it, of course, and the Sunday town hall meeting turned into a shriek-in by outraged “community” members. He was hardly allowed to admit his failures, issue apologies, and promise to do better. After the ordeal, Mayor Pete struggled to hold in his tears talking to the media. No doubt he will be pressured to keep ‘splainin’ these matters until either his campaign folds up its tent or he is anointed at the national convention in Milwaukee.
Leader-of-the-Pack (in the polls, anyway) Joe Biden stepped into it perhaps even deeper than Mayor Pete last week when he bragged about how well he was able to work with the old southern segregationist fossils, Herman Talmadge (GA) and James O. Eastland (MS), who were still around in the senate when “Uncle Joe” first came on the scene decades ago. “We didn’t agree on much,” the former Veep said, “but we got things done.” What’s more, the candidate averred, going perhaps a bridge too far, Senator Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.
The divide has widened enormously. So much so that Brexit has become very dangerous.
No-one should be fooled by the British media’s attempts to present this contest as a presidential battle like that between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is nothing of the kind. The people of the U.K. will have no say in who leads them. That will be decided by about 160,000 Tory party members, mainly old, white, rich and male. Representative of the population of the U.K., they are not. Both leadership candidates have offered tax policies designed to please these people. Boris Johnson’s proposal to cut taxes for the very rich and pay for it by raising payroll taxes was described by The Economist as “a shameless bribe to the elderly and prosperous Tory party members who choose the leader.”
Jeremy Hunt’s approach is more subtle: lowering corporation tax to match Ireland’s rate is still a bung to the rich, but it can be dressed up in supply-side economic language to give the impression of benefiting wider U.K. society. Americans might recall that President Trump’s corporate tax cuts were advertised as benefiting middle-income people through trickle-down effects, though they have primarily benefited the very rich. The Economist – hardly a bastion of lefty economics – was decidedly lukewarm about Hunt’s proposal, pointing out that corporation tax had already been cut considerably and it might be better to tax cashflows rather than profits.
But this contest is really about Brexit. Tory party members are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU, and very frustrated by what they see as May’s delay. They want Brexit now, even if that means leaving with no deal. And they will vote for the candidate they think is most likely to deliver that regardless of the consequences. A recent poll showed that most of them would accept the breakup of the U.K. and/or the death of their own party as the price of Brexit.
Boris Johnson set up this scene of him and his girlfriend after reports of police being called to a big fight the two had. And then someone added a few words. Priceless.
“This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.”
Excellent. Needless transport is our biggest scourge.
U.S. furniture company RC Willey Home Furnishings is so concerned that new global clean air rules will cause transport disruption that it brought forward the shipment of arm chairs and sofas from China by two months. The tougher regulations, set by the United Nations shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), come into force on Jan 1. Costs will rise for ships towards the end of this year and there will be a knock on effect for trucks and other transporters that move goods around the world. For shipping companies it is the biggest shakeup in decades and adds to the pressures of an economic slowdown and the threat of an escalating trade war between the United States and China.
While consumers are not expected to pay more for goods, higher transport bills and disruption to company deliveries could further dent economic growth. Ship owners must cut sulphur emissions to 0.5% from 3.5%. They can do this by using low-sulphur fuel, installing exhaust gas cleaning systems or opting for other, more expensive, clean fuels such as liquefied natural gas or traveling more slowly. Jeff Child, president of Berkshire Hathaway’s RC Willey Home Furnishings, moved the delivery of about 450 containers from September and October to July and August. He wants to avoid any disruption in the peak fourth quarter as ships prepare for the changes, including refitting equipment. “We just don’t want to get caught in a situation where it affects our inventory,” he told Reuters.
Analysts say the container industry, which transports consumer goods such as sofas, designer clothes and bananas, will be one of the worst hit with extra costs of about $10 billion. The world’s two biggest container shipping lines – Denmark’s Maersk and Swiss headquartered MSC – say they face annual extra costs of over $2 billion each. Twenty-five logistics company executives told Reuters they would pass along any IMO-related costs, such as ship upgrades or more expensive fuel, to customers. “The sulphur cap will further put pressure on ocean freight rates and we… will have to pass those costs on to remain competitive,” Peder Winther, global head of ocean freight with Swiss transportation company Panalpina Group said.
[..] “Higher fuel prices would result in higher transport costs,” said Peter Nagle, an economist with the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group. “This would have the potential to lead to slower economic growth and trade.” Trucking companies will also suffer. The IMO rules do not apply to them but they will face new competition from ships for lower sulfur fuel. This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.
But nobody listens to the UN anymore.
The world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers, a report from a UN human rights expert has said. Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. Alston is critical of the “patently inadequate” steps taken by the UN itself, countries, NGOs and businesses, saying they are “entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat”. His report to the UN human rights council (HRC) concludes: “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”
The report also condemns Donald Trump for “actively silencing” climate science, and criticises the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, for promising to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining. But Alston said there were also some positive developments, including legal cases against states and fossil fuel companies, the activism of Greta Thunberg and the worldwide school strikes, and Extinction Rebellion. In May, Alston’s report on poverty in the UK compared Conservative party welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. Ministers said his report gave a completely inaccurate picture, but Alston accused them of “total denial of a set of uncontested facts”.
Alston’s report on climate change and poverty will be formally presented to the HRC in Geneva on Friday. It said the greatest impact of the climate crisis would be on those living in poverty, with many losing access to adequate food and water. “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis, the report said, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.
The beauty of mathematics (gravity vs force tension) in pendulum motionpic.twitter.com/F2tebomR4t
— Ahmed Ben-Mussa (@Ben_Mussa) June 23, 2019