Russia Adopts Blockchain In Response To US Sanctions

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Russia’s largest exchange group has announced plans to trade cryptocurrencies on the Moscow Exchange.

The central depository for the Moscow Exchange, National Settlement Depository (NSD), announced that it is developing a platform to provide accounting services for digital assets like cryptocurrencies.

The platform looks to be build a unit of account, very important in the volatile crypto-space, for people to value their assets in and have access to through a wallet platform.

In short, the Moscow Exchange is taking a page out of Dan Larimer’s BitShares and its OpenLedger exchange to provide trading and accounting and banking services all validated and accessible through the blockchain.

In essence, by the end of 2018, cryptos will be trading on the Moscow Exchange and integrated into the banking system to stand beside stocks, bonds and other derivative assets.

CEO Eddie Astanin:

“Our goal is to create a secure and user-friendly accounting infrastructure for digital assets. We consider the platform would not only provide technological and legal protection of all parties involved, but also extend variety of post-trade services for investors, custodians and new institutions emerging in this sector of economy.”

Building Blockchains off the Putin/Buterin Meeting

This is yet another example of Russia’s rapid response to the changing environment of cryptos.  Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Ethereum designer, Vitalik Buterin, in May at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum must have been truly eye-opening for Putin.

Since then I can almost not keep up with the news flow coming out of Russia relative to the widespread adoption of the blockchain to rapidly modernize those areas of its economy that need it in order to compete over the next generation or two.

Putin, ever the long-game strategist, must have had a ‘eureka’ moment talking with Buterin about Ethereum for people close to the Kremlin to be reacting this quickly.

And the news this morning that Buterin is working on the fix for Ethereum’s scaling issues is welcome news on this front as well.

Blockchains as Sanctions Defense

But this goes deeper than just banking modernization, which is a priority for the Russian government.  These moves into crypto are direct responses to the new sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S.

These are moves to make Russia a diversified destination for capital fleeing the chaos of the Western political breakdown that we are watching unfold before our eyes in real time.

There has been a lot of smoke about Russia (and China) backing their national currencies with Gold. And, while as a gold bug, I appreciate this sentiment I also understand that Russia couldn’t do that in this environment without creating insane capital flow issues in the current environment.

The better plan is to loosen central bank policy, issue some ruble-denominated debt (or yuan) while building up the crypto infrastructure to absorb those capital flows without creating dislocations within the ruble market.

This creates a more natural and organic flow of capital into the country without it causing social upheaval. Like the announcement of Russian Miner Coin, his move by the NSD is just another building block in the foundation of a more resilient Russian financial system to better coordinate the flow of capital and smooth the development of the chain of production.

This, in turn, limits the effects of U.S. sanctions. Once the market comes to the conclusion that Russia treats capital better than the U.S. does, the current trickle will become a torrent. And Russia has to be ready to handle this.

Diversifying into the blockchain is one of those important avenues.

Source: Coindesk

 

 

Austerity Isn’t Dead, It Will Come Back With A Vengeance

There’s been a steady stream of recent articles claiming that austerity is dead. The “magic” of false measurements, animal spirits and money printing are used to convince the gullible that there is an easy way out.

This one from James McCormack at Fitch argues that populist politicians are responsible for killing off pragmatic economic policy.

Whilst I don’t deny the medium term tide is against austerity, the very high levels of sovereign debt mean austerity will return.

To understand why this must happen we need to deal with the three key fallacies that austerity opponents are propagating.

First, austerity is wrongly blamed for reducing economic growth. This is such a deceitful lie as it seems so logical and seems to be backed up by examples like Greece. However, the deception here is the false starting point used to measure the “reduction” in growth once austerity is implemented. Countries facing austerity have used debt financed government spending to inflate their GDP, in the same way Lance Armstrong used performing enhancing drugs to inflate his cycling abilities. No one questions that Armstrong was better as a result of using drugs. Yet it is hard for many to acknowledge that GDP is similarly inflated when governments spend excessively. Greece and many others cheated their way to inflated GDP levels and measuring against that is clearly spurious.

Second, there is the avoidance of the reality that increasing debt drags down future economic growth. Anyone that has personal debt understands that those repayments reduce their ability to spend until the debt is cleared. Yet when it comes to government debt, many cite “animal spirits” as the magic that will allow governments to grow into their debts. Even with low interest rates, which also ultimately undermine economic growth, the debt is still there and spending must eventually be reduced to cover the higher repayments. It is true that government investment in a small number of areas can promote long term growth but this isn’t where the vast majority of government spending is going.

Third, many are propagating the view that printing money isn’t the bogeyman it has been made out to be. Nothing bad has happened to Japan, Europe and the US so why worry? This argument conveniently ignores centuries of human history of money printing, including recent examples in Argentina, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. There’s no magic at play, it’s just a matter of time before investors flee dodgy currencies. They will flood to the safety of hard assets and to countries with responsible monetary and fiscal policies.

Austerity isn’t in favor and it could be a while yet before the consequences play out.

The “magic” of false measurements, animal spirits and money printing are used to convince the gullible that there is an easy way out. Governments with loose fiscal and monetary policies can get away with it for a while, but in the long term they will exhaust their credibility with investors and lose control over their spending levels. At the exact time when standard economics would advocate governments running a deficit, these governments will be cut off from borrowing more. Austerity isn’t dead, it is just taking a break before it comes back with a vengeance.

Source: ZeroHedge

What Is Going On In The Vintage Auto Market?

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The fate of asset bubbles under the new regime.

Everyone is hoping that next Friday and Saturday, at Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, California, the global asset class of collector cars will finally pull out of their ugly funk that nearly matches that during the Financial Crisis. “Hope” is the right word. Because reality has already curdled. Sotheby’s brims with hope and flair:

Every August, the collector car world gathers to the Monterey Peninsula to see the magnificent roster of best-of-category and stunning rare automobiles that RM Sotheby’s has to offer. For over 30 years, it has been the pinnacle of collector car auctions and is known for setting new auction benchmarks with outstanding sales results.

This asset class of beautiful machines – ranging in price from a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta that sold for $38.1 million in 2014 to classic American muscle cars that can be bought for a few thousand dollars – is in trouble.

The index for collector car prices in the August report by Hagerty, which specializes in insuring vintage automobiles, fell 1.0 point to 157.42. The index is now down 8% year-over-year, and down 15%, or 28.4 points, from its all-time high in August 2015 (186).

Unlike stock market indices, the Hagerty Market Index is adjusted for inflation via the Consumer Price Index. So these are “real” changes in price levels.

The index has now fallen nearly 7 points below the level of August 2014. That was three years ago! In fact, the index is now at the lowest level since March 2014.

The chart below from Hagerty’s August report shows how the index surged 83% on an inflation-adjusted basis from August 2009 to its peak in September 2015, and how it has since given up one-third of those gains. This is what the inflation and deflation of an asset bubble looks like (I added the dates):

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During the Financial-Crisis, the index peaked in April 2008 at 121.0, then plunged 16% (20 points) to bottom out in August 2009 at 101.39. By then, the liquidity from the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy and QE was washing across the world, and all asset prices began to soar.

The current drop of 15% from the peak in “real” terms is just below the 16% drop during the Financial Crisis. But the current 28.4-point-drop from the peak exceeds the 20-point drop during the Financial Crisis.

Concerning the current market, the Hagerty report added:

While the auction activity section of the rating had been kept strong by increases in the number of cars sold at auction so far this year, the trend hasn’t continued and auction activity decreased for the second consecutive month thanks to a 2% drop in the number of cars sold compared to last month.

Private sales activity also experienced its second consecutive decrease, again thanks to a small drop in the average sale price as well as a small drop in the number of vehicles selling for above their insured values.

The number of owners expressing the belief that the values of their vehicles are increasing continues to gradually decline, and this is true for the owners of both mainstream and high-end vehicles. The drop is particularly pronounced, however, for owners of previously hot models like the Ferrari 308 and Ford GT.

For the second month in a row, expert sentiment dropped more than any other section.

The asset class of vintage automobiles was among the first bubbles to pop. This didn’t happen in one fell swoop. It’s a gradual process that started in the fall of 2015, and observers brushed it off because it was just a minor down tick as so many before. But since then, it has become relentless and persistent, with plenty of ups and downs. Every expression of hope that it would end soon has been frustrated along the way.

And every day, there’s still hope. For example, back in May, the Hagerty report commented that “prices have started to normalize.” Since then, the index has continued its methodical decline.

This may be what asset class deflation looks like under the new regime. There will be talk of “plateauing,” as is currently the case in commercial real estate. Then there will be talk of prices “normalizing,” as is the case in collector cars. Then there will be talk of “buying opportunities,” and so on. And there are ups and downs, and this may drag on for years.

But month after month, buyers of vintage cars become a little less enthusiastic and sellers a little more eager. Yet, unlike during the Financial Crisis, there are no signs of panic. The tsunami of liquidity is as powerful as before. Financial conditions are easier than they were a year ago. There’s no forced selling. Just an orderly one-step-at-a-time asset bubble deflation.

Now the Fed is tightening. QE ended about the time the classic car bubble peaked. The Fed has raised its target for the federal funds rate four times so far in this cycle. It will likely announce the QE unwind in September and “another rate hike later this year,” New York Fed president William Dudley told the AP. And the below-target inflation is not a problem. Read… Fed’s Dudley Drops Bombshell: Low Inflation “Actually Might Be a Good Thing”

By Wolf Richter | WolfStreet

Fed Warns Markets “Vulnerable to Elevated Valuations” [charts]

Hussman Predicts Massive Losses As Cycle Completes After Fed Warns Markets “Vulnerable to Elevated Valuations”

Buried deep in today’s FOMC Minutes was a warning to the equity markets that few noticed…

This overall assessment incorporated the staff’s judgment that, since the April assessment, vulnerabilities associated with asset valuation pressures had edged up from notable to elevated, as asset prices remained high or climbed further, risk spreads narrowed, and expected and actual volatility remained muted in a range of financial markets…

According to another view, recent rises in equity prices might be part of a broad-based adjustment of asset prices to changes in longer-term financial conditions, importantly including a lower neutral real interest rate, and, therefore, the recent equity price increases might not provide much additional impetus to aggregate spending on goods and services.

According to one view, the easing of financial conditions meant that the economic effects of the Committee’s actions in gradually removing policy accommodation had been largely offset by other factors influencing financial markets, and that a tighter monetary policy than otherwise was warranted.

Roughly translated means – higher equity prices are driving financial conditions to extreme ‘easiness’ and The Fed needs to slow stock prices to regain any effective control over monetary conditions.

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And with that ‘explicit bubble warning’, it appears the ‘other’ side of the cycle, that Hussman Funds’ John Hussman has been so vehemently explaining to investors, is about to begin…

Nothing in history leads me to expect that current extremes will end in something other than profound disappointment for investors. In my view, the S&P 500 will likely complete the current cycle at an index level that has only 3-digits. Indeed, a market decline of -63% would presently be required to take the most historically reliable valuation measures we identify to the same norms that they have revisited or breached during the completion of nearly every market cycle in history.

The notion that elevated valuations are “justified” by low interest rates requires the assumption that future cash flows and growth rates are held constant. But any investor familiar with discounted cash flow valuation should recognize that if interest rates are lower because expected growth is also lower, the prospective return on the investment falls without any need for a valuation premium.

At present, however, we observe not only the most obscene level of valuation in history aside from the single week of the March 24, 2000 market peak; not only the most extreme median valuations across individual S&P 500 component stocks in history; not only the most extreme overvalued, overbought, over bullish syndromes we define; but also interest rates that are off the zero-bound, and a key feature that has historically been the hinge between overvalued markets that continue higher and overvalued markets that collapse: widening divergences in internal market action across a broad range of stocks and security types, signaling growing risk-aversion among investors, at valuation levels that provide no cushion against severe losses.

We extract signals about the preferences of investors toward speculation or risk-aversion based on the joint and sometimes subtle behavior of numerous markets and securities, so our inferences don’t map to any short list of indicators. Still, internal dispersion is becoming apparent in measures that are increasingly obvious. For example, a growing proportion of individual stocks falling below their respective 200-day moving averages; widening divergences in leadership (as measured by the proportion of individual issues setting both new highs and new lows); widening dispersion across industry groups and sectors, for example, transportation versus industrial stocks, small-cap stocks versus large-cap stocks; and fresh divergences in the behavior of credit-sensitive junk debt versus debt securities of higher quality. All of this dispersion suggests that risk-aversion is rising, no longer subtly. Across history, this sort of shift in investor preferences, coupled with extreme overvalued, overbought, over bullish conditions, has been the hallmark of major peaks and subsequent market collapses.

The chart below shows the percentage of U.S. stocks above their respective 200-day moving averages, along with the S&P 500 Index. The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.

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Market internals suggest that risk-aversion is now accelerating. The most extreme variants of “overvalued, overbought, over bullish” conditions we identify are already in place.

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A market loss of [1/2.70-1 =] -63% over the completion of this cycle would be a rather run-of-the-mill outcome from these valuations. All of our key measures of expected market return/risk prospects are unfavorable here. Market conditions will change, and as they do, the prospective market return/risk profile will change as well. Examine all of your investment exposures, and ensure that they are consistent with your actual investment horizon and tolerance for risk.

Source: ZeroHedge

Housing Starts Unexpectedly Sink, Multi-Family in Huge 34% Retreat Year-Over-Year

Construction spending for the second quarter is off to a slow start as judged by housing starts. The Econoday consensus was for a 1% rise. Instead, starts declined nearly 5% from the initial June report, now revised lower.

Construction Indicators Slide

Mortgage News Daily reports Construction Indicators Slide, Housing Starts Suffer.

After posting unexpectedly high numbers in June, all three residential construction indicators lost ground in July, and one, housing starts, is now running below its year-ago rate. While the softening is primarily in the multi-family sector, starts have declined in four of the last five months and permits in three of the last four.

The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said privately owned housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,155,000 units, a 4.8 percent decline from June’s estimate of 1,213,000, which was revised down from 1,215,000. July starts were down 5.6 percent from the 1,223,000-unit annual rate in July 2016.

Starts failed to meet even the lowest predictions of analysts polled by Econoday. Their estimates ranged from 1.174 million to 1.250 million with a consensus of 1.225 million.

Single family starts were at a rate of 856,000, down 0.5 percent from a month earlier but 10.9 percent higher than the same month in 2016. Multifamily starts plunged 17.1 percent to 287,000 units and are down 35.2 percent year-over-year.

The performance of permits was like that of housing starts, down 4.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,223,000 units. Permits however held on to an annual increase of 4.1 percent. The June permitting rate was revised higher, from 1,254,000 to 1,275,000.

Analysts had expected permits to decline, with a consensus estimate of 1.246 units. Here again the drop was outside the low end of the range of 1.230 to 1.270 million units.

Authorizations for single-family homes were at a seasonally adjusted rate of 811,000, unchanged from June and 13.0 percent higher on an annual basis. Multi-family permits were 12.1 percent lower than the previous month at 377,000. This was down 11.7 percent year-over-year.

Permits:

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Starts:

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Units Under Construction:

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Second-Half Outlook:

Econoday came up with this overall assessment: “Putting all the pieces together: starts are down 5.6 year-on-year in weakness offset by permits which are up 4.1 percent. Permits are the forward looking indication in this report and today’s news, despite July weakness and general volatility in the data, is good. The housing sector, even with starts being soft, looks to be a contributor to the second-half economy.”

While it’s true that it takes a permit to begin construction, a permit does not guarantee construction will start anytime soon. At economic turns, they won’t.

Even assuming those permits turn into starts, the data still does not look to be a contributor to the second-half economy.

The number of permits and starts for multifamily explains what you need to know. 5-unit or more buildings will add more to construction spending numbers than 1-unit buildings. Permits and starts for multifamily structures plunged.

By Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Serious Credit Card Delinquencies Rise for the Third Straight Quarter: Trend Not Seen Since 2009

Every quarter, the New York Fed publishes a report on Household Debt and Credit.

The report shows serious credit card delinquencies rose for the third consecutive quarter, a trend not seen since 2009.

Let’s take a look at a sampling of report highlights and charts.

Household Debt and Credit Developments in 2017 Q2

  • Aggregate household debt balances increased in the second quarter of 2017, for the 12th consecutive quarter, and are now $164 billion higher than the previous (2008 Q3) peak of $12.68 trillion.
  • As of June 30, 2017, total household indebtedness was $12.84 trillion, a $114 billion (0.9%) increase from the first quarter of 2017. Overall household debt is now 15.1% above the 2013 Q2 trough.
  • The distribution of the credit scores of newly originating mortgage and auto loan borrowers shifted downward somewhat, as the median score for originating borrowers for auto loans dropped 8 points to 698, and the median origination score for mortgages declined to 754.
  • Student loans, auto loans, and mortgages all saw modest increases in their early delinquency flows, while delinquency flows on credit card balances ticked up notably in the second quarter.
  • Outstanding student loan balances were flat, and stood at $1.34 trillion as of June 30, 2017. The second quarter typically witnesses slow or no growth in student loan balances due to the academic cycle.
  • 11.2% of aggregate student loan debt was 90+ days delinquent or in default in 2017 Q2.

Total Debt and Composition:

https://mishgea.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/household-debt-2017-q2a.png?w=768&h=545

Mortgage Origination by Credit Score:

https://mishgea.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/household-debt-2017-q2b.png?w=988&h=700

Auto Origination by Credit Score:

https://mishgea.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/household-debt-2017-q2d.png?w=975&h=700

30-Day Delinquency Transition:

https://mishgea.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/household-debt-2017-q2e.png?w=994&h=700

90-Day Delinquency Transition:

https://mishgea.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/household-debt-2017-q2f.png?w=941&h=700

Credit card and auto loan delinquencies are trending up. The trend in mortgage delinquencies at the 30-day level has bottomed. A rise in serious delinquencies my follow.

By Mike “Mish” Shedlock

The Fed Issues A Warning As Household Debt Hits New All Time High

After we first reported last week that US credit card debt hit a new all time high with both student and auto loans rising to fresh records with every new report…

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… it won’t come as a surprise that according to the just released latest quarterly household debt and credit report by the NY Fed, Americans’ debt rose to a new record high in the second quarter on the back of an increase in every form of debt: from mortgage, to auto, student and credit card debt. Aggregate household debt increased for the 12th consecutive quarter, and are now $164 billion higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion set in Q3, 2008. As of June 30, 2017, total household indebtedness was $12.84 trillion, or 69% of US GDP: a $114 billion (0.9%) increase from the first quarter of 2017 and up $552 billion from a year ago. Overall household debt is now 15.1% above the Q2 2013 trough.

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Mortgage balances, the largest component of household debt, increased again during the first quarter to $8.69 trillion, an increase of $64 billion from the first quarter of 2017. Balances on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) were roughly flat, and now stand at $452 billion. Non-housing balances were up in the second quarter. Auto loans grew by $23 billion and credit card balances increased by $20 billion, while student loan balances were roughly flat.

  • Confirming the slowdown in mortgage activity, mortgage originations in Q2 declined to $421 billion from $491 billion. Meanwhile, there were $148 billion in auto loan originations in the second quarter of 2017, an uptick from the first quarter and about the same as the very high level in the 2nd quarter of 2016.
  • Auto loan balances increased by $23 billion, continuing their 6-year trend. Auto loan delinquency rates increased slightly, with 3.9% of auto loan balances 90 or more days delinquent on June 30. The aggregate credit card limit rose for the 18h consecutive quarter, with a 1.6% increase.
  • Outstanding student loan balances rose modestly, and stood at $1.34 trillion as of June 30, 2017. The second quarter typically witnesses slow or no growth in student loan balances due to the academic cycle. As discussed previously, a perilously high 11.2% of aggregate student loan debt was 90+ days delinquent or in default in 2017 Q2.

In a troubling development, the report noted that the distribution of the credit scores of newly originating mortgage and auto loan borrowers shifted downward somewhat, as the median score for originating borrowers for auto loans dropped 8 points to 698, and the median origination score for mortgages declined to 754. For now this credit score decline has not impacted the credit market: about 85,000 individuals had a new foreclosure notation added to their credit reports in the second quarter as foreclosures remained low by historical standards.

And while much of the report was in line with recent trends, and the overall debt that was delinquent, at 4.8%, was on par with the previous quarters, the NY Fed did issue a red flag warning over the transitions of credit card balances into delinquency, which the New York Fed said “ticked up notably.”

Discussing the troubling deterioration in credit card defaults, first pointed out here in April, the New York Fed said that credit card balance flows into both early and serious delinquencies increased from a year ago, describing this as “a persistent upward movement not seen since 2009.” As shown in the chart below, the transition into 30 and 90-Day delinquencies has, over the past two quarters, surged to the highest rate since the first quarter of 2013, suggesting something drastically changed in the last three quarters when it comes to US consumer behavior.

https://i0.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/08/12/Credit%20Card%20delinquency.jpg

“While relatively low, credit card delinquency flows climbed notably over the past year,” said Andrew Haughwout, senior vice president at the New York Fed. This is occurring within the context of loosening lending standards, as borrowers with lower credit scores recover their ability to access credit cards. The current state of credit card delinquency flows can be an early indicator of future trends and we will closely monitor the degree to which this uptick is predictive of further consumer distress.

That bolded statement, is the first official warning by the Fed that the US consumer is sick, and the Fed has no way reasonable explanation for this troubling jump in delinquencies. Timestamp it, because this will certainly not the be the last time the Fed warns about the dangerous consequences of all-time high credit card debt.

As for the “further uptick in consumer distress”, we are just guessing but the fact that credit card defaults are jumping at a time when sales at fast food and other restaurants have declined for 17 consecutive quarters, and when $250 billion in US household savings was just “revised” away, may all be connected.

Source: ZeroHedge