Sep 272017
 September 27, 2017  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  

Fan Ho Construction 1952


You would think, certainly if you were as naive and innocent as I am, that when you get offered the job of Chair of the Federal Reserve, you must be sure, before accepting, that you have the credentials and the knowledge required. If you don’t, it looks as if you don’t take the job seriously. Janet Yellen, who’s been Chair since January 2014, doesn’t seem to agree.

In a speech Tuesday for the National Association for Business Economics Yellen ‘honestly’ admitted that she doesn’t understand inflation, control of which is the Fed’s no.1 task (it’s debatable whether that’s a good idea). She doesn’t understand a bunch of other issues either. Those are her own words, not mine. Here are these own words:

“My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective, or even the fundamental forces driving inflation..”

Clear enough, you would think. But she didn’t offer her resignation. And for an important post like Fed chair, that is a major problem. As she undoubtedly does. So why is she keeping her job? Doesn’t she realize that when you don’t understand the issues you deal with, you’re prone to make disastrous mistakes?

Yellen and her colleagues work with models, and the models are wrong. The Fed’s predictions for things like inflation are ridiculously off, all the time. That may be news to her, but it’s old hash for many people in her field. So that she’s surrounded solely by people who don’t understand these things either is not an excuse.

So what does she expect now? That she will start to understand them all of a sudden, after years and years of not being able to? That reality will change to comply with her models? We can discount the option that she will suddenly begin using entirely different models, they’re all she has. But what then?

Under her predecessor Ben Bernanke, who never conceded he had no idea either but still didn’t, the Fed lowered interest rates to near zero Kelvin and bought trillions of dollars in bonds and securities. Now Yellen for some reason thinks it’s time to get rid of the stuff.

But on what basis does she make such a decision, if she self-admittedly doesn’t even understand the fundamental forces in play? How is that different from handing a box of matches to a 3-year old? Isn’t she really simply an academic dropped in a casino? From CNBC:

Yellen said a regular pace of rate hikes ahead is likely still warranted, though Fed officials are looking closely at the assumptions underlying those projections. While conceding that the Fed may need to slow the removal of accommodation, she also said the central bank “should also be wary of moving too gradually.”

There comes a point when naive innocent me starts asking: what does that even mean? Rate hikes are warranted but we don’t know why? Accommodative policies have been going too fast but they shouldn’t be too slow? Based on what? It can only be based on models that have proven faulty, can’t it, because they have no others.


Here are a few pointers for the occupants of the Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building. Inflation is money velocity multiplied by money and credit supply. MV = PY. M is money supply, V is velocity, P is price level and real GDP is Y.

Velocity of money means consumer spending. 70% of US GDP is consumer spending. But American consumers are neck deep in debt and have very little money left to spend. Much of what they spend, they must borrow.78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So forget about money velocity.



Moreover, as for the Fed’s second mandate after inflation, full employment, they don’t get that one either. They seem to act on the presumption that any one job is just like the other. And then bleat: “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market”.

But America has turned into a nation where the gig economy (the natural successor to first the knowledge economy, then the service economy), waiters, greeters and people working 3 jobs just to make ends meet have become the norm. When in the present circumstances you claim to have almost ‘achieved’ full employment, as Yellen and the Fed do, you must really be blind as a bat.

The other side of the equation is money supply. Interestingly, the Fed has issued tons of it, but handed it all to its owner banks. If they had spent it inside the economy itself, we could have been looking at a whole other picture. If those trillions would have gone to investment, manufacturing etc., instead of propping up banks and companies buying their own shares, Yellen might have actually seen some inflation.

If Americans have no money to spend, there can not be inflation. Simple. But the same stupid faulty predictions just keep coming:



So why is anybody still paying attention to Janet Yellen? Well, because she has her finger on the biggest financial trigger on the planet. No matter how shaky and uneducated that finger may be. Or do we pay attention exactly because we know what’s behind that shaky finger? Do we all put everything on red just because grandma does it too?

The craziest thing of all is that in reactions in the media to Yellen’s speech, she’s praised for admitting she has no clue what she’s doing. That takes the cake. And eats it too. Praised for admitting you’re terribly unfit for your job. That’s just great. That’s Bizarro world.

It’s well past best before time to get rid of Janet Yellen, and all the intellectual but idiots who work at the Fed. What is it, 1,000 PhDs, or was that 10,000? But the only thing that makes any real sense of course, the only thing that can save the nation, is to get rid of the Fed and its braindead mandates, interests and occupants altogether.

Hedgeye got this one painfully right:



And yeah, I know Yellen could be fired too if she doesn’t resign, but with Goldman Sachs all over the White House, what are the odds? And who would come in when she goes? She’s ideal, who’s going to get angry at a barely 5′ grandmother even is she clearly out of her depth and league?



Sep 242016
 September 24, 2016  Posted by at 8:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 24 2016

DPC “Unloading fish at ‘T’ wharf, Boston, Mass.” 1903


Austerity Only Benefits Germany But Destroys Europe, Renzi Says (BBG)
€18 In ECB QE Generated Just €1 In GDP Growth (ZH)
IMF Calls For More Greek Pension Cuts, Greater Debt Relief (Kath.)
Plunging Velocity of Money Closes Fed Window (Roberts)
Russia’s Central Bank Criticizes The Easy Money Policies Of Its Peers (CNBC)
BIS, OECD Warn On Canadian Housing Bubble Debt, See No Exit (WS)
Oil Slumps 4% As No Output Deal Expected For OPEC (R.)
Kingdom Comedown: Falling Oil Prices Shock Saudi Middle Class (WSJ)
Health Warning! “Realism” Virus Afflicting Mainstream Economists (Steve Keen)
Obama Vetoes 9/11 Saudi Bill, Sets Up Showdown With Congress (R.)
EU Refuses To Revise Canada CETA Trade Deal (BBC)
NATO’s Expansion Parade Makes America Less Secure (Forbes)



Renzi should have made these statements years ago. Now they look like cynical ways to get votes.

Austerity Only Benefits Germany But Destroys Europe, Renzi Says (BBG)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had some fighting words for German leader Angela Merkel: Your obsession with austerity is strangling Europe and your country is the only one profiting. That view, held by others in the EU, rarely gets aired publicly quite so forcefully. Especially by Renzi, who until recently had deployed priceless ancient Roman art and Ferraris in some of Merkel’s recent visits to Italy. But Brexit, which exposed cracks in the European project, has made the EU more vulnerable to jabs. In New York for the United Nations General Assembly, while Merkel hung back at home to face an angry electorate, Renzi lashed out. “Stressing austerity means destroying Europe,” Renzi told an audience of policy experts at the Council on Foreign Relations.

”Which is the only country which receives an advantage from this strategy? The one which exports the most: Germany.” The 41-year-old premier has staked his political future on a referendum on constitutional reform that polls show he could narrowly lose. Confronted with an economy in trouble, he’s stepped up criticism of the EU’s rigid budget deficit limits and of the nations seen as wielding the most power in the 28-nation bloc: Germany and France. His appeal for more flexibility has grown more strident as pressure mounts for him to pick a date for when Italians will vote on cutting back the Senate with the aim of making governments more stable and simplifying the passage of legislation. The referendum is expected to take place by the end of the year, and Renzi has said he would quit if he loses.

Read more …

“..€80 billion have been wasted almost every month!..”

€18 In ECB QE Generated Just €1 In GDP Growth (ZH)

After almost two years of the quantitative easing program in the Euro Area, economic figures have remained very weak. As GEFIRA details, inflation is still fluctuating near zero, while GDP growth in the region has started to slow down instead of accelerating. According to the ECB data, to generate €1.0 of GDP growth, €18.5 had to be printed in the QE, which means that €80 billion have thus been wasted almost every month! This year, the ECB printed nearly €600 billion within the frame of asset purchase programme (QE). At the same time, GDP has increased by… €31 billion; even if up to the end of 2015 the ECB issued €650 billion during its QE program. Needless to say that the Greek debt is “only” €360 billion and there has been no chance of a relief, so far.

The question is where this money from the QE goes and who benefits from it. Clearly it is not the real sector, the so called Main Street of French, Italian or Portuguese cities (Greece is not under the QE program). European stocks are still weak, too, while stock exchanges in the USA are hitting their records. So, is the ECB serving Europeans?

Read more …

More pension cuts is an immoral demand.

IMF Calls For More Greek Pension Cuts, Greater Debt Relief (Kath.)

The International Monetary Fund called for Greece to cut pensions and taxes and for its lenders to provide significant debt relief in order for the country to make a convincing exit from the crisis. In its annual report on the Greek economy, following so-called Article Four consultations in Athens, the Fund described the country’s pension system as “unaffordable” despite recent reforms. It argued that the pension system’s deficit remains too high at 11%, compared to a 2.5% average in the eurozone, and that too much of a burden has been placed on Greeks currently in work, while existing pensioners have largely been protected. The Fund also said that Greece’s tax credit system was too generous, exempting around half of salary earners compared to a euro area average of 8%.

The IMF proposes a reduction in taxes and social security contributions, arguing that recent increases created incentives for undeclared work. “Greece needs less austerity, not more,” said IMF mission chief Delia Velculescu as she presented the report in a teleconference with journalists. The Fund, whose role in Greece’s third bailout program has yet to be clarified, also stressed the need for European lenders to deliver on their debt relief pledge as “growth prospects remain weak and subject to high downside risks.” “Even with full implementation of this demanding policy agenda, Greece requires substantial debt relief calibrated on credible fiscal and growth targets,” the report said.

Read more …

Plunging velocity is the most important deflation indicator.

Plunging Velocity of Money Closes Fed Window (Roberts)

The problem for the Federal Reserve remains the simple fact there is NO evidence that “Quantitative Easing” actually works as intended. The artificial suppression of interest rates was supposed to spur economic activity by encouraging lending activities through the banks. Such an outcome should have been witnessed by an increase in monetary velocity. As the velocity of money accelerates, demand rises and inflationary pressures increase. However, as you can clearly see, the demand for money has been on the decline since the turn of the century.

The surge in M2V during the 90’s was largely driven by the surge in household leverage as consumers turned to debt to fill the gap between falling wage growth and rising standards of living. The issue for the Fed is the decline in the “unemployment rate,” caused solely by the shrinking labor force, is obfuscating the difference between a “real” and “statistical” full employment level. While it is expected that millions of individuals will retire in the coming years ahead; the reality is that many of those “potential” retirees will continue to work throughout their retirement years. In turn, this will have an adverse effect by keeping the labor pool inflated and further suppressing future wage growth.

[..] It is quiet evident the financial markets, and by extension, the economy, have become tied to Central Bank interventions. As shown in the chart below, the correlations between Federal Reserve interventions and the markets is quite high. Of course, this was ALWAYS the intention of these monetary interventions. As Ben Bernanke suggested in 2010 as he launched the second round of Quantitative Easing, the goal of the program was to lift asset prices to spur consumer confidence thereby lifting economic growth. The problem was the lifting of asset prices acted as a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to the top-10% providing little catalyst for a broad-based economic recovery. Unwittingly, the Fed has now become co-dependent on the markets. If they move to tighten monetary policy, the market sells off impacting consumer confidence and pushes economic growth rates lower. With economic growth already running below 2%, there is very little leeway for the Fed to make a policy error at this juncture.

Read more …

The smartest kid on the block.

Russia’s Central Bank Criticizes The Easy Money Policies Of Its Peers (CNBC)

Russia’s economy is facing a different range of issues than those facing the U.S., Japan and the euro zone and so the central bank has to take a different approach, Russia’s central bank governor told CNBC, questioning whether other central banks still had the means to influence their economies. “Whether (other) central banks still have in their possession the types of tools to influence this situation (is the subject of a very broad discussion),” Russia Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina told CNBC in Moscow. “Whether they are already finding themselves on the brink of negative interest rates and some are already in negative interest rate territory. These are most certainly not trivial problems. But as far as the Russian economy is concerned, we find ourselves in a totally different situation,” she said.

Nabiullina was critical of the environment of easy monetary policy that other central banks have created in recent years with their quantitative easing (QE) programs. These were aimed at boosting liquidity, investment and economic growth but they have not necessarily translated into investment in the real economy. Rather, there has been increased liquidity in financial markets, prompting concerns of an equity and bond bubble that will burst when QE programs are eventually wound down and monetary policy “normalized.” Nabiullina warned that “because of the continued easing of monetary policy in many countries there is also the possibility that a higher level of financial market volatility will persist.”

Read more …

Tragedy waiting in the wings.

BIS, OECD Warn On Canadian Housing Bubble Debt, See No Exit (WS)

Everyone is fretting about the Canadian house price bubble and the mountain of debt it generates – from the IMF on down to the regular Canadian. Now even the Bank for International Settlement (BIS) and the OECD warn about the risks. Every city has its own housing market, and some aren’t so hot. But in Vancouver and Toronto, all heck has broken loose in recent years. In Vancouver, for example, even as sales volume plunged 45% in August from a year ago – under the impact of the new 15% transfer tax aimed at Chinese non-resident investors – the “benchmark” price of a detached house soared by 35.8%, of an apartment by 26.9%, and of an attached house by 31.1%. Ludicrous price increases!

In Toronto, a similar scenario has been playing out, but not quite as wildly. In both cities, the median detached house now sells for well over C$1 million. Even the Bank of Canada has warned about them, though it has lowered rates last year to inflate the housing market further – instead of raising rate sharply, which would wring some speculative heat out of the system. But no one wants to deflate a housing bubble. During the Financial Crisis, when real estate prices in the US collapsed and returned, if only briefly, to something reflecting the old normal, Canadian home prices barely dipped before re-soaring. And this has been going on for years and years and years.

The OECD in its Interim Economic Outlook warned: “Over recent years, real house prices have been growing at a similar or higher pace than prior to the crisis in a number of countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The rise in real estate prices has pushed up price-to-rent ratios to record highs in several advanced economies.” Canada stands out. Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, Canadian home prices have long ago shot through the roof. The OECD supplied this bone-chilling chart. The top line (orange) represents Canadian house price changes, adjusted for inflation.

[..] Real estate is highly leveraged. It’s funded with debt. Many folks cite down-payment requirements in rationalizing why the Canadian market cannot implode, and why, if it does implode, it won’t pose a problem for the banks. However, an entire industry has sprung up to help homebuyers get around the down-payment requirements. So household debt has been piling up for years, driven by mortgage debt. Statistics Canada reported two weeks ago that the ratio of household debt to disposable income has jumped to another record in the second quarter, to a breath-taking 167.6%:

Read more …

Even if there were a deal, global output would barely fall.

Oil Slumps 4% As No Output Deal Expected For OPEC (R.)

Oil prices tumbled 4% on Friday on signs Saudi Arabia and arch rival Iran were making little progress in achieving preliminary agreement ahead of talks by major crude exporters next week aimed at freezing production. Also weighing on sentiment was data showing the United States was on track to add the most number of oil rigs in a quarter since the crude price crash began two years ago. Lower equity prices on Wall Street and other world stock markets was another bearish factor. Brent crude futures settled down $1.76, or 3.7%, at $45.89 a barrel. For the week, it rose 0.3%, accounting for gains in the past two sessions. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.84, or 4%, to settle at $44.48. On the week, WTI gained 3%.

Crude futures slumped after sources said Saudi Arabia did not expect a decision in Algeria where the OPEC and other big oil producers were to convene for Sept 26-28 talks. “The Algeria meeting is not a decision making meeting. It is for consultations,” a source familiar with Saudi oil officials’ thinking told Reuters. Earlier in the day, the market rallied when Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia had offered to reduce production if Iran caps its own output this year. Oil prices are typically volatile before OPEC talks and Friday’s session was tempered with caution despite market sentiment on a high this week after the U.S. government reported on Wednesday a third straight weekly drop in crude stockpiles. “A ‘No Deal’ result in our definition will be one where OPEC not only failed to get an explicit deal out of the meetings, but also failed to develop a forward plan,” Macquarie Capital said, referring to the Algeria talks. “This would be another epic fail by OPEC.”

Read more …

People keep on suggesting that SA has a choice, without acknowledging that any output cut would promptly be filled by some other producer. Cutting output equals losing market share.

Kingdom Comedown: Falling Oil Prices Shock Saudi Middle Class (WSJ)

[..] a sharp drop in the price of oil, Saudi Arabia’s main revenue source, has forced the government to withdraw some benefits this year—raising the cost of living in the kingdom and hurting its middle class, a part of society long insulated from such problems. Saudi Arabia heads into next week’s meeting of major oil producers in a tight spot. With a slowing economy and shrinking foreign reserves, the kingdom is coming under pressure to take steps that support the price of oil, as it did this month with an accord it struck with Russia. The sharp price drop is mainly because of a glut in the market, in part caused by Saudi Arabia itself. The world’s top oil producer continues to pump crude at record levels to defend its market share.

One option to lift prices that could work, some analysts say, is to freeze output at a certain level and exempt Iran from such a deal, given that its push to increase production to pre-sanction levels appears to have stalled in recent months. Saudi Arabia has previously refused to sign any deal that exempts arch-rival Iran. As its people start feeling the pain, that could change. The kingdom is grappling with major job losses among its construction workers—many from poorer countries—as some previously state-backed construction companies suffer from drying up government funding. Those spending cuts are now hitting the Saudi working middle class.

Read more …

Funny. What I wonder about is, the criticism of mainstream economics is going mainstream, but the ‘solutions’ are not the same.

Health Warning! “Realism” Virus Afflicting Mainstream Economists (Steve Keen)

Some papers that are remarkably critical of mainstream economics have been published recently, not by the usual suspects like myself, but by prominent mainstream economists: ex-Minneapolis Fed Chairman Narayana Kocherlokata, ex-IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard, and current World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer. I discuss these papers in a tongue-in-cheek introduction to another key problems of unrealism in economics–the absence of any role for energy in both Post Keynesian and Neoclassical production functions. I also address Olivier Blanchard’s desire for a “widely accepted analytical macroeconomic core”, explain the role of credit in aggregate demand and income, and identify the countries most likely to face a credit crunch in the near future. I gave this talk to staff and students of the EPOG program at the University of Paris 13 on Friday September 23rd.

Read more …

He’s stuck. Allowing it would open up one Pandora’s Box, not allowing it opens yet another.

Obama Vetoes 9/11 Saudi Bill, Sets Up Showdown With Congress (R.)

President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, which could prompt Congress to overturn his decision with a rare veto override, the first of his presidency. Obama said the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act would hurt U.S. national security and harm important alliances, while shifting crucial terrorism-related issues from policy officials into the hands of the courts. The bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives in reaction to long-running suspicions, denied by Saudi Arabia, that hijackers of the four U.S. jetliners that attacked the United States in 2001 were backed by the Saudi government. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Obama said other countries could use the law, known as JASTA, as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, members of the military or companies – even for actions of foreign organizations that had received U.S. aid, equipment or training. “Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel,” Obama said in a statement. Senator Chuck Schumer, who co-wrote the legislation and has championed it, immediately made clear how difficult it will be for Obama to sustain the veto. Schumer issued a statement within moments of receiving the veto, promising that it would be “swiftly and soundly overturned.”

Read more …

Sure, why don’t you, against the will of your own people. Should work just fine.

EU Refuses To Revise Canada CETA Trade Deal (BBC)

The European Commission has ruled that a controversial EU-Canada free trade deal – CETA – cannot be renegotiated, despite much opposition in Europe. “CETA is done and we will not reopen it,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. Ms Malmstrom was speaking as EU trade ministers met in Slovakia to discuss CETA and a similar deal with the US, TTIP, which has also faced criticism. A draft CETA deal has been agreed, but parliaments could still delay it. Thousands of activists protested against CETA and TTIP in Germany on Saturday and thousands more in Brussels – outside the EU’s headquarters – on Tuesday. Activists fear that the deals could water down European standards in the key areas of workers’ rights, public health and the environment.

There is also great anxiety about proposed special courts where investors will be able to sue governments if they feel that legislation hurts their business unfairly. Critics say the mere existence of such courts – an alternative to national courts – will have a “chilling” effect on policymakers, leading to slacker regulation on the environment and welfare. Ms Malmstrom said CETA would dominate Friday’s meeting in Bratislava. The Commission hopes the deal can be signed with Canada at the end of October, so that it can then go to the European Parliament for ratification. But it will also need to be ratified by national parliaments across the EU. “What we are discussing with the Canadians is if we should make some clarifications, a declaration so that we can cover some of those concerns,” Ms Malmstrom said. She acknowledged fears in some countries that politicians might see their “the right to regulate” diluted. “Maybe that [right] needs to be even clearer in a declaration,” she said, admitting that the CETA negotiations were still “difficult”.

Read more …

Surprisingly lucid overview. Not everyone’s turned into a Putin basher yet.

NATO’s Expansion Parade Makes America Less Secure (Forbes)

The transatlantic alliance was created in 1949 to protect war-ravaged Western Europe from the Soviet Union, an opportunistic predator after its victory over Nazi Germany. The threat to America reflected both Moscow’s control over Eastern and Central Europe and the USSR’s role as an ideologically hostile peer competitor. The end of the Cold War changed everything. The Soviet subject nations were freed, a humanitarian bonanza. More important, the successor state of Russia went from hostile superpower to indifferent regional power. NATO lost its essential purpose, since the U.S. no longer needed to shield Western Europe from Moscow. Yet the alliance proved to be as resilient as other government bureaucracies. NATO officials desperately sought new reasons to exist.

Explained Vice President Al Gore: “Everyone realizes that a military alliance, when faced with a fundamental change in the threat for which it was founded, either must define a convincing new rationale or become decrepit.” The latter was viewed as inconceivable, not even worth considering. So the alliance expanded both its mission (to “out-of-area” activities) and membership (inducting former Warsaw Pact members). Washington’s military obligations multiplied even as the most important threat against it dissipated. Objections to this course were summarily rejected. Not a single Senator voted against admitting the three Baltic states. Then no one imagined that the U.S. might be expected to fight on their behalf. The alliance was seen as the international equivalent of a gentleman’s club, to which everyone who is someone belongs.

Those who pointed to possible conflicts with Moscow were dismissed as scaremongers. Expansion was expected to be all gain, no pain. Alas, Russia did not perceive moving the traditional anti-Moscow alliance up to its borders as a friendly act. Despite coming from the KGB, Vladimir Putin originally didn’t seem to bear the U.S. or West much animus. However, NATO compounded expansion with an unprovoked war against Serbia, a traditional Slavic ally of Moscow, and proposals to include Georgia and Ukraine, the latter which long had especially close historical, cultural, economic, and military ties with Russia. Over time Putin, as well as many of his countrymen, came to view the transatlantic alliance as a threat.

Read more …

Aug 212016
 August 21, 2016  Posted by at 1:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  

Dorothea Lange Home of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, CA 1938


Our by now regular contributor Dr. Nelson Lebo III, the New Englander ‘lost’ in New Zealand, sent me another article, and it’s great (well, in my view). His title for the article may put some people on the wrong foot, but I think that’s alright.

I’ve been to New Zealand a few times, and Nicole of course has even moved there, so I was aware of how poorly constructed many homes are -and often made of wood-, but I’d never heard of ‘curtain banks’. Still, they exist all over the country. Turns out, lots of New Zealand homes are so damp and moldy that curtains can literally save lives, and certainly make them more comfortable/bearable. But many people are too poor to be able to afford curtains. Hence the curtain banks. I’d be curious to know if similar initiatives exist anywhere lese on the planet. Do let me know.

Nelson’s second ‘bank’ is made of/filled with water. Agriculture, in particular the one-trick pony of the dairy industry, has caused the land to deteriorate so badly that water washes off the hillsides and the land without natural barriers like trees and shrubs left to stop and naturally regulate it. In other words, there is no ‘water bank’ or ‘stream bank’ left. I really like Nelson’s comparing this velocity of water to the velocity of money in a financial system.



Dr. Nelson Lebo III: Banks…what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? If you read the Automatic Earth, if you watch Max Keiser, if you’ve followed The Crash Course, there is no comment about financial institutions I can make that would add to the critique. That’s not my gig anyway. My gig is to offer realistic, achievable, grass roots, no-excuses alternatives to the dominant neoliberal consumerist paradigm. One approach I’ve gravitated toward over the years goes by the name of permaculture.

Permaculture has been around for decades. You’ve probably heard of it but do you know what it is? Yeah, that’s the problem. My observations are that the eco design methodology known as permaculture suffers in two fundamental ways: a confusing name and dogmatic application by inexperienced converts. The name is the name – no changing it at this point – and there is no antidote for dogma. But for a general audience of readers I’d like to lay out the ethics and practice of permaculture in the clearest ways possible – by using concrete examples.


Example One: The Permaculture Ethics

When engaging with permaculture as a design methodology, practitioners are bound to follow a simple code of ethics: care for the environment; care for people; and, share surplus resources. I appreciate this ethical code because it helps distinguish a permaculturist from anyone else who may be involved in some aspect of the ‘sustainability movement’ such as an organic farmer, recycler, green builder, eco-entrepreneur or local currency advocate.

This is not to say that a permaculturist cannot engage in all of these (indeed they do), but that anyone who practices one or more than these is not necessarily engaging with the permaculture ethics. Think of large-scale organic farms in California that truck in “certified organic” inputs and ship out bags of lettuce thousands of miles to the East Coast. Not permaculture.

People may take a permaculture course or buy a permaculture book for various reasons, but these do not necessarily make them a practicing permaculturist. I like to make the point that the difference between a permaculturist and a survivalist is 100 cases of baked beans and a gun. If you ain’t sharing, it ain’t permaculture.

I also appreciate the ethics because they are an integral part of the design process. In other words, the ethics can be used to help shape a larger project. An example of this is the ‘curtain bank’ that we recently opened in our community.



Those unfamiliar with curtain banks can be forgiven as many developed countries around the world have decent standards for housing that include high performance windows and central heating. But most of the New Zealand housing stock has been variously described as “sub-standard”, “abysmal”, “horrid”, and “a joke.” Mind you, that’s a bad joke instead of a funny one.

The majority of homes in this country are so cold that curtains must be used as a serious way to reduce heat loss. It is not uncommon for overnight indoor temperatures to drop into the mid-single-digits Celsius and daytime indoor temperatures to barely reach double-digits. I’ve heard stories of frost on the inside of windowpanes.

To add insult to injury, we also suffer from wealth and income inequality that make the purchase of new or even second-hand curtains out of reach for many families. As a result curtain banks have popped up in cities around the nation to redistribute second-hand curtains free of charge.


Applied Permaculture Ethics

Sharing surplus resources : People of means replace their curtains for various reasons, but most often for aesthetic ones. If the curtains are still in good condition and free of mould, they can be dropped off at the curtain bank, which makes them available for other households. Like any bank it accepts deposits and grants withdrawals. No fees. No contracts. No interest rates.

While traditional banks have the privilege to ‘lend money into existence’ we cannot lend curtains into existence, although it would be nice. We rely on donations from good people in our community to be passed on to other good people in our community. Which brings us to the next ethic.

Caring for people : It’s no secret that there is a link between sub-standard housing and illness in New Zealand. Sadly, most of the housing in our city is cold and/or damp. These unhealthy homes are especially hard on children and seniors. Many lack adequate curtaining.

Getting properly installed curtains, insulating blinds and window blankets into as many homes as possible helps make the occupants more comfortable and healthier. This is straight up caring for people by addressing some fairly basic needs.

Care for the earth : Improving the ‘thermal envelope’ of a home is the best way to save the energy required for heating and cooling. Saving energy is generally considered good for the environment by reducing carbon emissions or reducing the number of rivers dammed or even reducing the number of solar panels that need to be manufactured.

In these ways curtain banks tick all of the boxes for the permaculture ethics.


Example Two: Applied Eco-Design

The other example I’ll share is a direct application of eco-design: imitating nature to develop or reestablish robust ecological systems. The latter of these is sometimes called ‘regenerative design’.

Most of New Zealand is plagued by a legacy of bad farming practices most easily described as overgrazing steep slopes and allowing stock to foul streams.

We took possession of our small farm two years ago and have been working persistently to – dare I say it – ‘heal the land.’ Currently we are in the process of reestablishing a wetland and protecting the streams from stock. Additionally, we are planting native trees and poplar poles on steep hillsides to prevent slips, reduce erosion and provide bee fodder.

We are doing all this because that’s what nature wants. In other words, that’s the way the land was 1,000 years ago (less the non-native poplars) and given enough time that’s what it would revert to after the permanent removal of large hooved mammals. Our work just speeds up the process and allows for a continued agricultural function, which we are still figuring out.

All of this work is supported by our amazing Regional Council, which offers expert advice, low-cost poplar poles, and matching funding for fencing and native plantings. I cannot speak highly enough of these programmes. Horizons Regional Council does a fantastic job of looking at the big picture and applying holistic solutions. Unlike most government bodies and agencies, they get it.


Lake Horowhenua Planting Day


Forests and wetlands play important roles in moderating seasonal water flows across large land areas. In other words they store water high on the landscape during wet periods and release it slowly during dry periods. It works like a bank by accepting deposits and granting withdrawals.

Much of the farmland in our region suffers from extreme weather on both ends – wet and dry. Neither is good for stock, nor good for farmers, nor good for water quality, nor good for anyone living downstream. It’s a lose-lose-lose-lose situation and the reasons are clear: not enough trees on hillsides and streamsides. That’s basically it.

The solution is to build resilient waterways by imitating nature. Projects like ours are the best way that landowners and supportive communities can directly address the extreme weather events associated with a volatile changing climate.

The restoration work on our farm will help – to a tiny degree – everyone who lives and works downstream and downriver from us by keeping water out of the system during peak rain events. This is critical to our community that already faces tens of millions of dollars in repair bills from the last two major rain events that occurred just 13 months apart.

Given enough farmers with enough will and enough government assistance there is no reason we could not fence off all the streams in our region and plant all the steep hillsides to appropriate species. It’s much cheaper than cleaning up over and over again after serial flood events.


Alternative Banking

So what this is all about is developing alternative banking systems – stream banks and curtain banks among others – and getting communities involved. This is what resilience is all about (see also Resilience is The New Black and Climate, Energy, Economy: Pick Two)

This is the heart and soul of permaculture design thinking, and it is the best way to address the two biggest issues facing humanity: wealth inequality and climate change.

When I dip my toe into the financial news media on occasion I hear this phrase: “the velocity of money” as it pertains to the “health of the economy.”

I thought of the phrase the other day while meeting with a client on managing storm water on their large rural property after they had already done everything wrong. Yes, they had done absolutely everything wrong and I was trying to get them to understand that channelizing water only makes it go faster and cause more damage. The damage was obvious after the last major rain event – that’s why they called me in for an assessment.

As I explained the biological – rather than engineering – solutions, I felt we were going around in circles because they did not really want to hear what I had to say. They just wanted to be rid of the water. Sorry, but that’s not an option without over half a million dollars to spend on massive underground drains, which don’t solve the problem but simply pass it on to everyone downstream. And besides, they don’t have the money anyway.

Finally, I simply said, “The only possible solution is to slow the water and spread the water. It’s the only way to stop the damage.”

And that has me thinking. Should we apply the same approach to dollars?

I reckon a critical piece of the puzzle for neglected rural economies like ours is to slow and spread the flow of money as much as possible before it inevitably drains back to the major centres of power and wealth.



Dorothea Lange wrote about the photograph at the top, back in November 1938:

“Home of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, California. They bought 20 acres of raw unimproved land with a first payment of 50 dollars which was money saved out of relief budget (August 1936). They received a Farm Security Administration loan of $700 for stock and equipment. Now they have a one-room shack, seven cows, three sows, and homemade pumping plant, along with 10 acres of improved permanent pasture. Cream check approximately 30 dollars per month. Husband also works about ten days a month outside the farm. Husband is 26 years old, wife 22, three small children. Been in California five years. ‘Piece by piece this place gets put together. One more piece of pipe and our water tank will be finished’. From Shorpy.



Jul 022016
 July 2, 2016  Posted by at 4:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  

Jack Delano “Lower Manhattan seen from the S.S. Coamo leaving New York.” 1941

Brexit is nowhere near the biggest challenge to western economies. And not just because it has devolved into a two-bit theater piece. Though we should not forget the value of that development: it lays bare the real Albion and the power hunger of its supposed leaders. From xenophobia and racism on the streets, to back-stabbing in dimly lit smoky backrooms, there’s not a states(wo)man in sight, and none will be forthcoming. Only sell-outs need apply.

The only person with an ounce of integrity left is Jeremy Corbyn, but his Labour party is dead, which is why he must fight off an entire horde of zombies. Unless Corbyn leaves labour and starts Podemos UK, he’s gone too. The current infighting on both the left and right means there is a unique window for something new, but Brits love what they think are their traditions, plus Corbyn has been Labour all his life, and he just won’t see it.

The main threat inside the EU isn’t Brexit either. It’s Italy. Whose banks sit on over 30% of all eurozone non-performing loans, while its GDP is about 10% of EU GDP. How they would defend it I don’t know, they’re probably counting on not having to, but Juncker and Tusk’s European Commission has apparently approved a scheme worth €150 billion that will allow these banks to issue quasi-sovereign bonds when they come under attack. An attack that is now even more guaranteed to occcur than before.


Still, none of Europe’s internal affairs have anything on what’s coming in from the east. Reading between the lines of Japan’s Tankan survey numbers there is only one possible conclusion: the ongoing and ever more costly utter failure of Abenomics continues unabated.

It’s developing in pretty much the exact way I said it would when Shinzo Abe first announced the policies in late 2012. Not that it was such a brilliant insight, all you had to know is that Abe and his central bank head Kuroda don’t understand what their mastodont problem, deflation, actually is, and that means they are powerless to solve it.

That Abe said somewhere along the way that all that was needed was his people’s confidence to make Abenomics work, says more than enough. The multiple flip-flops over a sales-tax increase say the rest. People don’t become more confident just because someone tells them to; that has the opposite effect. Deflation results from reduced spending, which in turn comes from not only decreasing confidence as well as a decrease in money people have available to spend.

That modern economics sees everything not spent as ‘savings’ adds significantly to the failure -on the part of Abe, Kuroda and just about everyone else- to understand what happened in Japan over the past 2-3 decades. To repeat once again, inflation/deflation is the velocity of money multiplied by money- and credit supply. The latter factor has in general gone through the roof, but that means zilch if the former -velocity- tanks.

That this velocity is -still- tanking, in Japan as well as in the western world, is due to, more than anything else, an unparalleled surge in debt. At some point, that will catch up with any economy and society. Even if they are growing, which our economies are not. Growth has been replaced with credit, and credit is debt. It’s safe to say that money velocity cannot possibly ‘recover’ until large swaths of debt have been cancelled, one way or another.

For Japan we saw this week that “..household spending fell for the third straight month in May and core consumer prices suffered their biggest annual drop since 2013..” (Reuters) while “..The Topix index dropped about 9% in June, plunging on June 24 with the Brexit vote, the most since the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The yen strengthened about 8% against the dollar in June.. (Bloomberg).

Japan has an upper-house election in a little over a week, and it seems like Abe can still feel comfortable about his position. A remarkable thing. The country needs to stop digging, it’s in a more than 400% debt-to-GDP hole, but Abe won’t listen. The rising yen is suffocating what is left of the economy, as are the negative interest rates, but all the talk is about ‘further easing’.


Still, Japan is outta here, and this has been obvious for a long time to the more observant observer. In the case of China, it is a more recent phenomenon, and it will even be disputed for a while to come. It’s also one that will have a much more devastating effect on the west. We’ve seen problems in various markets in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, but the real issues on the mainland are still to be sprung on us.

Mainland stock exchanges are as good a place as any to begin with. The combined tally for Shanghai and Shenzhen looks like this -data till June 23-; yes, that’s a loss of over 40% in the past year.

Beijing has been trying very hard to paper over these numbers, even quit supporting it all for a while through 2014, only to do a 180º when they didn’t like what they saw (foreign reserves drawdown), and now PBoC injections have gone bonkers: $316 billion in one month would mean $4 trillion on a yearly basis in what is really nothing but monopoly money.

Meanwhile, corporate bonds are, perhaps partly because of volatility, becoming an endangered species. Maybe the PBoC can do something there as well, the way Draghi does in Europe (must be high on the agenda), but there’s already so much bad debt we hardly dare watch.

China must and will try to keep boosting exports by devaluing the yuan. It’s just waiting for an opportunity to do it without being accused of currency manipulation. Perhaps it can create that opportunity?! Create a crisis and then use it?! Regardless, this Reuters headline yesterday sounded very tongue in cheek:

China To ‘Tolerate’ Weaker Yuan

China’s central bank would tolerate a fall in the yuan to as low as 6.8 per dollar in 2016 to support the economy, which would mean the currency matching last year’s record decline of 4.5%, policy sources said. The yuan is already trading at its lowest level in more than five years, so the central bank would ensure any decline is gradual for fear of triggering capital outflows and criticism from trading partners such as the United States, said government economists and advisers involved in regular policy discussions. Presumptive U.S. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump already has China in his sights, saying on Wednesday he would label China a currency manipulator if elected in November.

Note: remember Japan above? The yen rose 8% against the USD just in June, as the yuan fell by just 4.5% in all of 2015 (6.8% over the past 2 years). Now you go figure what’s happening to Japan-China trade. And the yuan is still hugely overvalued. But the desire to be part of the IMF basket of currencies comes with obligations. Trump doesn’t help either.

I said in the beginning of this year that a 30% devaluation was something of a minimum, and that certainly continues to stand. So yeah, creating a crisis may be the only way out. An accident in the South China Sea perhaps. Combined with a ‘tolerance’ for a 50% weaker yuan….

All of the above leads us to the title of this essay: deflation is coming in from the east. China’s economy’s already in deflation, even though it will take some time yet to be acknowledged. A very ‘nice’ report from Crescat Capital provides a bunch of clues.

China QE Dwarfs Japan and EU

In July of 2014, we wrote about the huge imbalance with respect to China’s M2 money supply and nominal GDP relative to the US. At the time, China’s M2 money supply was 71% higher than the US but its economy was 56% smaller, which we said was an indication of the overvaluation of the Chinese currency. Since that time, the yuan has fallen by only 6.8% relative to the dollar. We haven’t seen anything yet.

Today, the circumstances have significantly worsened. Money supply has continued to grow faster than GDP. With over $30 trillion of assets in its banking system and an underappreciated non-performing loan problem, we are convinced that China is headed for a twin banking and currency crisis. Money velocity has reached historically low levels which reflects China’s extreme credit imbalance and its crimping impact on its ability to generate future real GDP growth.

Just as worrying as the immense amount of credit built up, China has been reporting major downward revisions in its balance of payments (BoP) accounts. For more than a decade, China had been reporting an impossible twin surplus in its BoP accounts. When we wrote about this issue in 2014, we emphasized the likelihood of massive illicit capital outflows that not been accounted for. At that time, according to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China (SAFE), China had accumulated a BoP imbalance that was close to $9.4 trillion surplus since 2000 which we believed represented capital outflows that should have been recorded in the capital account.

The same accumulated BoP number today, revised by SAFE several times since, is now a deficit of about $2.8 trillion. Essentially, with its revisions, the SAFE has acknowledged even more capital outflows over the last 16 years than we had initially identified. On the capital account side, there was a downward revision of $10.1 trillion – from a $4.2 trillion surplus to a $5.9 trillion deficit. On the current account side, the revisions show that Chinese exports have not been as strong as initially reported over the last decade and a half. China’s current account surplus has been reduced by $2.1 trillion– going from $5.1 trillion to $2.9 trillion over the last 16 years. What we initially considered to be a $9.4 trillion imbalance has been more than proven by a $12.2 trillion revision.

Those are some pretty damning numbers, if you sit on them for a bit. There was another graph that came with that report that takes us head first into deflationary territory. China’s velocity of money:

That is utterly devastating. It’s what we see in the US, EU and Japan too, but ‘we’ have thus far been able to export our deflation -to an extent- to … China. No more. China has started exporting its own deflation to the west. Beijing MUST devalue its currency anywhere in the range of 30-50% or its export sector will collapse. It is not difficult.

That it will have to achieve this despite the objections of Donald Trump and the IMF is just a minor pain; Xi Jinping has more pressing matters on his mind. Like pitchforks.

The ‘normal’ response in economics would be: in order to fight deflation, increase consumer spending (aka raise money velocity)! But as we’ve seen with Japan, that’s much easier said than done. Because there are reasons people are not spending. And the only way to overcome that is to guarantee them a good income for a solid time into the future, in an economy that induces confidence.

That is not happening in Japan, or the US or EU, and it’s now gone in China too. Beijing has another additional issue that (formerly) rich countries don’t have. This is from a recent Marketwatch article on Andy Xie:

China Is Headed For A 1929-Style Depression

[..] Xie said China’s trajectory instead resembles the one that led to the Great Depression, when the expansion of credit, loose monetary policy and a widespread belief that asset prices would never fall contributed to rampant speculation that ended with a crippling market crash. China in 2016 looks much the same, according to Xie, with half of the country’s debt propping up real-estate prices and heavy leverage in the stock market – indicating that conditions are ripe for a correction. “The government is allowing speculation by providing cheap financing .. China “is riding a tiger and is terrified of a crash. So it keeps pumping cash into the economy. It is difficult to see how China can avoid a crisis.”

And then check this out:

China’s GDP grew 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace in a quarter-century. For 2016, Beijing has set a GDP target of 6.5% to 7%; The latest spate of global uncertainties prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank to trim their forecasts to 6.4% and 6.6%, respectively. The export sector, long a driver of Chinese growth, is sputtering due to global saturation and household consumption is barely 30% of China’s GDP, Xie said. In the U.S., household consumption accounted for more than 68% of GDP in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Yeah, China is supposed to be going from an export driven- to a consumer driven economy. Problem with that seems to be that those consumers would need money to spend, and to earn that money they would need to work in export industries (since there is not nearly enough domestic demand). Bit of a Catch 22. And definitely not one you would want to find yourself in when the global economy is tanking.

The more monopoly money Beijing prints, the more pressure there will be on the yuan. And if they themselves don’t devalue the yuan, the markets will do it for them.

Kyle Bass says China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is “freezing up” (see the third graph above), which threatens to undermine the $3.5 trillion market for the wealth management products Chinese mom and pops invest in. He expects a whopping $3 trillion in bank losses, an amount equal to the entire corporate bond market (!) “to trigger a bailout, with the central bank slashing reserve requirements, cutting the deposit rate to zero and expanding its balance sheet – all of which will weigh on the yuan.”

With the yuan down by as much as it would seem to be on course for, wages and prices in the west will plummet. This wave of deflation is set to hit western economies already in deflation and already drowning in private debt, and therefore equipped with severely weakened defenses.

Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called “Democracy Is Coming To The USA”. Maybe someone can do a version that says deflation is coming too. Not sure that’s good for democracy, though.

Have a great Holiday Weekend.

Jan 222016
 January 22, 2016  Posted by at 6:55 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

Berenice Abbott Murray Hill Hotel, New York 1937

When David Bowie died, everybody, in what they wrote and said, seemed to feel they owned him, and owned his death, even if they hadn’t thought about him, or listened to him, for years. In the same vein, though the Automatic Earth has been talking about deflation (for 8 years, it’s our anniversary today) and the looming China Ponzi disaster for a long time, now that these things actually play out, everybody talks as if they own the story, and present it as new (because, for one thing, well, after all for them it is new…).

And that’s alright, it’s how people live, and function, they always have, and no-one’s going to change that. It’s just that for me, I’ve been wondering a little about what to write lately, because I’ve already written the deflation and China stories, many times, before most others tuned into them. But still, it’s strange to now, as markets start plunging, read things like ‘Deflation is Here’, as if deflation is something new on the block.

Deflation has been playing out for years. Central bank largesse has largely kept it at bay in the public eye, but that now seems over. Debt deflation is inevitable when -debt- bubbles burst, and when these bubbles are large enough, there’s nothing that can stop the process, not even miracle growth. But you’re not going to understand this if and when you look only at falling prices as the main sign of deflation; they’re merely a small part of the process, and a lagging one at that.

A much better indicator of deflation is the velocity of money, the speed at which ‘consumers’ spend money. And velocity has been going down for years. That’s where and how you notice deflation, when combined with the money and credit supply. Which have soared in most places, but were no match for a much faster declining velocity. People have much less money to spend. Which shouldn’t be a surprise if, just to name an example, new US jobs pay 23% less than the ones they’re -supposedly- replacing.

As I said a few weeks ago, it’s probably only fitting, given its pivotal role in our economies and societies, that it’s oil that’s leading the way down. Other commodities are not far behind, because demand for -and spending on- them has been plummeting too, as overproduction and overinvestment, especially in China, do the rest.

However you look at present global debt, percentage wise, or in absolute numbers, you name it, there’s never been anything like it. We outdid ourselves by so much we don’t have the rational or probably even subconscious ability to oversee what we’ve done. We live in the world’s biggest bubble ever by a margin of god only knows how much. And that bubble will deflate. It is already doing just that.

The next steps in the debt deflation process will of necessity be chaotic. A substantial part of that chaos is bound to emerge from denial, and the reluctance to accept reality. Which often rise from a poor understanding of the processes taking place. It certainly looks as if there’s lots of that in China, where both the working principles of financial markets and the grip authorities -can- have on them, seem to be met with a huge dose of incomprehension.

Mind you, given the levels of comprehension vs outright ‘theoretical religion’ among leading western politicians and economists, the ones who most often rise to decision-making positions in governments and financial institutions, we have nothing on China when it comes to truth and denial.

From all that follows what will be the next leg down in the ‘magnificent slump’: the awfully messy demise of currency pegs.

In a short explainer for the uninitiated, allow me to steal a few words from Investopedia: “There are two types of currency exchange rates—floating and fixed, still in existence. Major currencies, such as the Japanese yen, euro, and the US dollar, are floating currencies—their values change according to how the currency is being traded on forex markets. Fixed currencies, on the other hand, derive value by being fixed (or pegged) to another currency.”

While there are more currency pegs in the world today than we should care to mention -there are dozens-, it seems fair to say that in today’s deflationary environment, practically all are under siege. Most African currencies are pegged to the euro, and they do have to wonder how smart that is going forward. Still, the main, and immediate, problems seem to arise in pegs to the US dollar (with one interesting exception: the Swiss franc – more in a bit).

Most oil producing Gulf nations are pegged to the greenback. So is Hong Kong. And, for all intents and purposes, so is China, though you have to wonder what a peg truly is if you change it on a daily basis. China is on its way to a peg vs a basket of currencies, but that seriously interferes with its stated intention to become a reserve currency -of sorts-. If your currency can’t stand on its own two feet, i.e. float, you’re per definition weak.

China’s vice president Li Yuanchao said this week in Davos that Beijing has no plans to devalue the yuan, i.e. to cut the peg to the dollar. Then again, he also stated that “central command” would ‘look after’ stock market investors. Put the two statements together and you have to wonder what the one on the yuan (couldn’t help myself there) is worth.

The first “link in the chain” that appears vulnerable is the Hong Kong dollar, which is stuck between China and the US, and unlike the yuan still has a solid dollar peg, but, obviously, also has a strong link to the yuan. The issue is that if China continues on its current course of daily small yuan devaluations, the difference with the HKD will grow so large that ever more investments and savings will move to Hong Kong, despite a maze of laws designed to keep just that from happening.

And that is the overall danger to currency pegs as they still exist in today’s rapidly changing global financial world: all economies are falling, but some are falling -much- faster than others.

Not so long ago, the World Bank called on Saudi Arabia to defend its USD peg with its FX reserves. It even looked as if they meant it. But Saudi Arabia has no choice but to deplete those reserves to prevent other nasty things from happening that are much more important than a currency peg. Like social chaos.

It’s somewhat wonderfully ironic that the main most recent experience with abandoning a peg comes from a source that faced -and now feels- the exact opposite of what nations like Saudi Arabia and China do. That is, it became too costly and risky for Switzerland to keep its franc pegged (or ‘capped’, to be precise) to the euro any longer a year ago, because of upward, not downward pressure.

Since then, the euro went from 1.20 franc to 1.09 or thereabouts, which perhaps doesn’t look all that crazy, and many ‘experts’ seek to downplay the effects of the move, but it’s still estimated to have cost the Swiss some $25 billion. For comparison, the US has 40 times as many people as Switzerland’s 8 million, so the per capita bill would be close to $1 trillion stateside. That wouldn’t have added to Yellen’s popularity. Currency pegs and caps can be expensive hobbies.

And that’s why the Saudis and Chinese are so anxious about letting go of their pegs. That and pride. In their cases, their respective currencies wouldn’t, like the franc, rise versus the one they’re pegged to, they would instead lose a lot of value. And in the fake markets we live in today, where price discovery has long since been left behind, there’s no telling how much. Well, unless they seek to keep control, but then it would be just a matter of time until they need to rinse and repeat.

Even if it seems obvious to make a particular move, and if everybody knows you really should, showing what can be perceived as real weakness could be a killer when everything else around you is manipulated to the bone.

Still, neither Beijing nor Riyadh stand a chance in a frozen-over hell, to ultimately NOT sharply devalue their currencies or just simply let go of their pegs. Simply because China’s economy is falling to pieces, and the Saudi’s dependence on oil prices is dragging it into a financial gutter. Just look at what falling prices had done to the riyal vs non-pegged oil producer currencies by October 2015, when Brent was still at $45:

The Saudis could have been paid for their oil in a currency worth perhaps twice as much as their own, the one their domestic economy runs on. That’s overly simplistic, because the Saudi tie to the USD runs far and deep, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

What will bring down the Chinese and Saudi pegs, along with a long list of other pegs, is, how appropriately, the very same markets they’ve been relying on to NOT function. The bets against Hong Kong’s ability to maintain its USD peg have already started, and China is next, along with the House of Saud (the latter two just take more fire-power). Which of course is exactly why they speak their soothing ‘confident’ words. Words that are today interpreted as the very sign of weakness they’re meant to circumvent.

What worked for George Soros in his bet vs the Bank of England and the pound sterling in 1992, will work again unless these countries are ahead of the game and swallow their pride and -ultimately- smaller losses.

Granted, so much will have to be recalibrated if the yuan devalues by 50% or so, and the riyal does something similar (it’s very hard to see either not happening), that it will take some serious time before everyone knows where they -and others- stand. And since volatility tends to feed on itself once there’s enough of it, it seems to make sense that governments would seek control. But that doesn’t mean they -can- actually have any.

Today’s major currency pegs are remnants of a land of long ago lore; they have no place in this world, they are financial misfits. Who’ve been allowed to persist only because central banks and governments have been able to distort markets for as long as they have. But that ability is not infinite, and it’s in nobody’s longer term interest that it would be.

Not even those that now seem to profit most from it. We will end up with societies that function no better for the ridiculous Davos elites than they do for the bottom rung. But no elite will ever see that, let alone admit it voluntarily.

Deflation and foreign exchange chaos. There’s your future. As for stocks and oil, who’s left to buy any? Not the consumer who’s 70% of US and perhaps 60% of EU GDP, they’re maxed out on private debt. So why would investors put their money in either? And if they don’t, where do you see prices go?

Even more importantly, deflation makes a lot of money, and even much more virtual money, vanish into overnight thin air. That’s what everyone is running into when all these currencies, China, Saudi, Gulf states et al, are forced to recalibrate. $17 trillion disappeared from global equities markets in the past 6 months.

How much vanished from the value of ‘official’ oil reserves? How much from iron ore and aluminum? How much do all the world’s behemoth corporations and banks and commodity-exporting countries have their resource ‘wealth’ on their books for in their sunny creative accounting models? And how much of that is just thin hot air too?

We’re about to find out.

Dec 182015
 December 18, 2015  Posted by at 6:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  

DPC Times Square seen from Broadway 1908

I was reading something yesterday by my highly esteemed fellow writer Charles Hugh Smith that had me first puzzled and then thinking ‘I don’t think so’, in the same vein as Mark Twain’s recently over-quoted quote:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I was thinking that was the case with Charles’ article. I was sure it just ain’t so. As for Twain, I’m more partial to another quote of his these days (though it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Told you it had nothing to do with anything.

Charles’ article deals with money supply and the velocity of money. Familiar terms for Automatic Earth readers, though we use them in a slightly different context, that of deflation. In our definition, the interaction between the two (with credit added to money supply) is what defines inflation and deflation, which are mostly -erroneously- defined as rising or falling prices.

I don’t want to get into the myriad different definitions of ‘money supply’, and for the subject at hand there is no need. The first FRED graph below uses TMS-2 (True Money Supply 2 consists of currency in circulation + checking accounts + sweeps of checking accounts + savings accounts). The second one uses M2 money stock. Not the same thing, but good enough for the sake of the argument.

In his piece, Charles seems to portray the two, money supply and velocity of money, as somehow being two sides of the same coin, but in a whole different way than we do. He thinks that the money supply can drive velocity up or down. And that’s where I think that just ain’t so. I also think he defeats his own thesis as he goes along.

Before going into details, two things: One, he doesn’t mention the term deflation even once, though he shows money velocity has been going off a cliff like a mountain range and a half full of lemmings. I find that curious.

Two, he doesn’t mention consumers in the context. That can’t be right either. 70% of US GDP is consumers. You can’t ignore that. You can’t just look at financial markets, at investors, even though they use up most of the stimulus, and think they are the main factor determining money velocity. Not when they’re less than a third of GDP.

Moreover, and this I think is crucial, the velocity of money talks to you about consumers in a way that the money supply never could.

There may be ‘positive’ reports coming out of the BLS on jobs numbers, but with 94+ million Americans not in the labor force, with the quality of jobs diminishing so fast and so profoundly that the middle class is all but disappearing, and with 40+ million US citizens on foodstamps, the impact of the deteriorating spending power of ‘consumers’ on money velocity had to be so enormous you can’t ignore them.

Simply because if and when people have a lot less to spend, velocity comes down. That there is even the very heart of deflation. Here’s Charles with my comments:

Money Velocity Is Crashing – Here’s Why

The inescapable conclusion is that Fed policies have effectively crashed the velocity of money.

I’ll get back to that, but no, it is not true.

That the velocity of money has been crashing while the money supply has been exploding doesn’t seem to bother the mainstream pundits. There is always a fancy-footwork explanation of why whatever is crashing no longer matters. Take a look at these two charts and tell me money velocity doesn’t matter.

No argument about that from me.

First, here’s money supply: notice how money supply leaped from 2001 to 2008 as the Federal Reserve pumped liquidity and credit into the economy, and then how it exploded higher as the Fed went all in after the Global Financial Meltdown.

Now look at a brief history of the velocity of money. There are various measures of money supply and various interpretations of velocity, but let’s set those quibbles aside and compare money velocity in the “golden era” of the 1950s/1960s and the stagflationary 1970s to the present era from 2008 to 2015-the era of “growth”:

Notice how the velocity of money remained in a mild uptrend during both good times and not so good times. The inflationary peak of 1979-1982 (Treasury yields were 16% and mortgages were 18%) generated a spike, but velocity soon returned to its uptrending channel. The speculative excesses of the dot-com era pushed velocity to unprecedented heights.

Given the extremes in velocity, it is unsurprising that it quickly fell in the dot-com bust. The Federal Reserve launched an unprecedented expansion of money, credit and liquidity that again pushed velocity up in the speculative frenzy of the housing bubble. But note that despite the vast expansion of money supply, the peak in the velocity of money was considerably lower than the dot-com peak.

OK, that’s the core of why I started thinking I was sure it just ain’t so. What Charles asserts here is that an expansion of the money supply lifts the velocity of money. In other words, that the velocity of both the pre-existing supply AND the additional supply increases as more supply is added. Even BECAUSE it is added. The more money, the faster it moves. The bigger you get, the faster you run.

And I don’t see that. To me, it’s counterintuitive. This implied correlation does not exist. The velocity of money doesn’t rise when you pump more of it into an economy, it rises because people feel more confident about spending it. For whatever reason that may be.

What’s happening today, and what Charles neglects to mention, is that huge amounts of Americans simply no longer have money to spend. And no matter how much extra is pumped in through QE, it fails to reach them. Moreover, they’re all maxed out on debt. So even if they would get some extra, it would go towards debt repayment. And it does.

That’s what the money velocity graph tells us. Velocity began to tank around 1997, and apart from the housing bubble borrowing boom, has kept tanking until now. Beware of the differences between the graphs: the first one, money supply, runs from 1986 to 2015, while the second one, velocity, covers 1960 to 2015. So you can focus on the second part of graph no.2 to get them to line up.

And the first growth spurt in the velocity graph doesn’t correspond with a similar spurt in supply. In fact, the correlation looks pretty much inverse: the more supply, the less velocity. Apart from the housing casino boom blip perhaps. Which Charles attempts to address next:

Since the collapse of that speculative bubble, the Fed’s all-in expansion of money, credit and liquidity has failed to stem the absolutely unprecedented collapse of money velocity. Clearly, expanding money, credit and liquidity no longer generates any velocity.

That’s because it never has. Expanding money, credit and liquidity has never generated any velocity. It’s always been only about confidence – and private debt levels.

Rather, the inescapable conclusion is that Fed policies have effectively crashed the velocity of money.

No, that conclusion is not just not inescapable, it’s flat out wrong. Unless perhaps you would mean that the policies have greatly impoverished the consumer, but that’s not what Charles is saying. He doesn’t mention consumers. His point seems to be that in earlier days, increases in supply did indeed lead to increases in velocity, ostensibly in the financial world.

To the extent that policies, Fed or otherwise, have tempted Americans to enter the ‘investment casino’, one might claim that down the road, such policies have crashed velocity. But the money supply was not rising all that much when the bubble was happening, and when the real big supply kahuna came, velocity crashed.

Not because of Fed policies, but because of debt, and of people being maxed out. And one could, if one were inclined to do so, blame that as much on the repeal of Glass-Steagall as on the Fed.

How is this possible? Longtime correspondent Eric A. proposed an insightful explanation. Here is Eric’s commentary:

“You know how you say that the economy is locked up in fiefdoms, and they’re picking winners and losers, as part of colluding the prices? Well this adjustment of prices locks out certain people, like say, the young from housing. So houses don’t sell, they stagnate. But what are we really looking at? Velocity.

Velocity is an indicator that buyers and sellers agree on a price, that the price is “right” and not an outlier. That’s why you see a stock move on high volume “confirming” the move, because it means the price wasn’t “right” at the previous level, while more people agree the new price is fair.

If prices are allowed to go where they need to without pressure and manipulation, you will always have velocity, as the most buyers and sellers will always agree at some price. Because this is true, low velocity cannot happen in a free market.

That is half right, but only half. because it suggests that there’s always a price at which people will buy. There isn’t if people have no money to buy with. That’s why the housing market crashed the way it did, and would be much worse to this day without ZIRP tempting people once more into foolish purchases (foolish because ZIRP distorts markets, but can’t do that forever).

Which means the only reason for low velocity (in this or the previous Depressions) is that someone has somehow managed to get an edge that prevents them from selling, from liquidating, at the true price, i.e. the one the buyers will agree to.

This has another corollary, that the measure of velocity on the Fed’s own chart is the measure of the level of unnatural price manipulation on the market. We can watch this aggregate indicator of their failure in real time, by the Fed’s own hand, and we can know the manipulation is ending when it rises.

Sort of right, but… You can’t even begin to understand the velocity of money without including what consumers have to spend. That’s essentially what the velocity of money measures. What they have to spend plus how confident they are of having it to spend (again) tomorrow.

And you can throw in price manipulation, but that’s not the core, though it can’t be said to have zero influence. What’s certain is that the connection to Fed policies is very weak, if not tenuous. The Fed didn’t blow the housing bubble (money supply remained just about flat from 2005-2008), politics did.

So yes, the Fed, the governments, the insiders can manipulate to their heart’s content, as they’ve been doing, but that unnatural pressure goes somewhere. And the pressure diverts into velocity. As we saw in the Great Depression, or the Roman Empire, velocity can stagnate for 10, 20, or 1,000 years until the manipulation ends, property rights are restored, and we have a free market. History has shown that may be a bargain they’re willing to make, but it won’t do the rest of us a lot of good.”

Sounds about right, but ignores the role of millions of Americans with nothing left to spend. To repeat: 94+ million Americans not in the labor force, the quality of jobs diminishing so fast and so profoundly that the middle class is all but disappearing, and 40+ million US citizens on foodstamps.

There’s what’s the velocity of money graph reflects. And that part of that is due to manipulation, sure. But without including debt, the whole argument rings kind of hollow.

Thank you, Eric, for an explanation that intuitively rings true. Manipulating the PR optics (i.e. perception management) as a substitute for an open market doesn’t make you omnipotent, it makes you a hubris-soaked fool.

No argument on the last sentence, but that is not the core of what ‘just ain’t so’ here. You essentially can’t tell anything from the US velocity of money without looking at the American people.

Velocity of money does not rise because -or when- the money supply does, it rises when consumer spending does. And that happens when people feel confident. No additional supply is needed for that, just for money to move faster. And money doesn’t move faster just because -or when- there’s more of it.