Tag Archives: inflation

Their Plan: Pay All Future Obligations By Impoverishing Everyone

The only way to pay all these future obligations is by creating new money.

I’ve been focusing on inflation, which is more properly understood as the loss of purchasing power of a currency, which when taken to extremes destroys the currency and the wealth/income of everyone forced to use that currency.

The funny thing about the loss of a currency’s purchasing power is that it wipes out every holder of that currency, rich and not-so-rich alike. There are a few basics we need to cover first to understand how soaring future obligations–pensions, healthcare, entitlements, interest on debt, etc.–lead to a feedback loop which will hasten the loss of purchasing power of our currency, the US dollar.

1. As I have explained many times, the only possible output of the way we create and distribute “money” (credit and currency) is soaring wealth/income inequality, as all the new money flows to the wealthy, who use the “cheap” money from central and private banks to lend at high rates of interest to debt-serfs, buy back corporate shares or buy up income-producing assets.

The net result is whatever actual “growth” has occurred (removing the illusory growth that accounts for much of the GDP “growth” this decade) has flowed almost exclusively to the top of the wealth-power pyramid (see chart below).

2. Much of the “growth” that’s supposed to fund public and private obligations is fictitious. Please read Michael Hudson’s brief comments for a taste of how this works: The “Next” Financial Crisis and Public Banking as the Response.

The mainstream financial media swallows the bogus “growth” story without question because that story is the linchpin of the entire status quo: if it’s revealed as inaccurate, i.e. statistical sleight of hand, the whole idea that “growth” can effortlessly fund all future obligations goes up in flames.

Combine that “growth” has been grossly over-estimated with an increasing concentration of wealth and income in the top .1% of 1%, and the only possible conclusion is there’s less available to pay fast-rising obligations out of what’s left to the bottom 99.9%.

3. We’ve been paying our obligations with debt for the past decade. Look at the chart below of the debt to GDP ratio–it has skyrocketed as GDP has inched higher while debt has exploded. (Remove the fictitious “growth” in GDP and the picture worsens significantly.)

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/debt-gdp2.png?itok=ngrFbGtM

Look at the chart of federal debt and explain how the steepening trajectory of debt is sustainable in a stagnating real economy with stagnating wages for the bottom 95% of the populace.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/US-debt1-17.png?itok=pjxq533w

4. Recall that the federal, state and local governments pay interest on all the money they borrow to fund deficit spending, i.e. every dollar spent above and beyond tax revenues. All that interest is an increasing obligation that must be paid in the future. Borrowing more to pay interest increases the interest payments due in the future–a classic self-reinforcing runaway feedback loop.

5. Politicians get re-elected by increasing entitlements and obligations without regard to how they will be funded. “Growth” will effortlessly take care of everything–that’s the centerpiece assumption of all conventional economics, free-market, Keynesian and socialist alike.

6. The core constituencies of politicians are government employees and contractors, as these interest groups are funded by the government, which is nominally managed by elected officials and their appointees. Nobody’s more generous (or demanding) than those feeding directly at the government trough. (By “contractors” I mean the vast array of Corporate America cartels that feed off government spending: defense, Big Pharma, Higher Education, etc.)

7. The obligations that have been promised are expanding at a nearly exponential rate, as healthcare costs continue to soar and the number of government pensioners is rising rapidly. This chart illustrates the basic dynamic: the tax revenues required to fund these obligations are far outstripping the income and wealth of the bottom 95% of the populace.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/taxpayers-pensions.png?itok=Pxot12Tl

Consider this chart of real GDP per capita. Real GDP is adjusted to remove inflation from the picture, so this is supposed to be “real growth.” How many people are demonstrably 19% better off than they were in 2000?

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/GDP-per-capita10-17.png?itok=oy1jbuA5

Not many, judging by the decline in family financial wealth since 2001:

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/assets-family1017a.png?itok=q2ptNEML

Income increases flow disproportionately to the top .1%. Adjusted for real-world inflation, the bottom 95% have actually lost ground:

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/inequality-NYT8-17a%20%281%29_1.png?itok=nBmjhhR7

Here’s the uncomfortable reality: the means to pay all these future obligations— the real-world economy, and the wealth and income of the vast majority of the populace– are far too modest to fund the fast-expanding obligations,which include interest due on the ever-increasing mountain of public and private debt.

The current “everything” asset bubbles have temporarily boosted the wealth and income of corporations and the wealthy, but all bubbles eventually pop as the marginal elements that are propping up the expansion weaken and implode.

Once the asset bubbles pop, the illusion that “taxing the rich” will pay for all the obligations pops along with the bubble. And as I’ve noted many times, those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid wield political power, so they have the means and the motive to limit their tax burden to roughly 20% or less–(sometimes much less, as in zero.)

That 20% is an interesting threshold, as once federal tax burdens rise above 20%, the higher taxes trigger a recession which then crushes tax revenues.This makes sense– if I pay an extra $2,000 annually in higher junk fees and taxes, that’s $2,000 less I have to invest or spend.

Put these dynamics together and you get one outcome: the federal government cannot possibly pay all its obligations out of tax revenues nor can it raise taxes high enough to do so without gutting tax revenues via a recession.

The only way to pay all these future obligation is by creating new money, which in a stagnant, dysfunctional economy can only reduce the purchasing power of the currency, in effect robbing every holder of the currency of wealth and income.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/bolivar-USD6-18_0.png?itok=FFAm1Hn9

Here’s the end-game, folks: Venezuela. The nostrum has it that “the government can’t go broke because it can always print more money.” True, but as the wretched populace of Venezuela has discovered, there is a consequence of that money-creation to meet obligations: the destruction of the currency, and thus the wealth and income of everyone forced to use that currency.

Source: by Charles Hugh Smith | ZeroHedge

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Boom: Argentina raises interest rates to 40%

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/660/cpsprodpb/10F50/production/_101165496_gettyimages-501612114.jpg

Argentina’s central bank has raised interest rates for the third time in eight days as the country’s currency, the peso, continues to fall sharply.

On Friday, the bank hiked rates to 40% from 33.25%, a day after they were raised from 30.25%. A week ago, they were raised from 27.25%. The rises are aimed at supporting the peso, which has lost a quarter of its value over the past year.

Analysts say the crisis is escalating and looks set to continue.

Argentina is in the middle of a pro-market economic reform programme under President Mauricio Macri, who is seeking to reverse years of protectionism and high government spending under his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Inflation, a perennial problem in Argentina, was at 25% in 2017, the highest rate in Latin America except for Venezuela. This year, the central bank has set an inflation target of 15% and has said it will continue to act to enforce it.

‘Aggressive steps’

Despite the twin rate rises, the peso, which was fixed by law at parity with the US dollar before Argentina’s economic meltdown in 2001-02, is now trading at about 22 to the dollar.

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/504C/production/_101165502_argtousd-nc.png

“This crisis looks set to continue unless the government steps in to reassure investors that it will take more aggressive steps to fix Argentina’s economic vulnerabilities,” said Edward Glossop, Latin America economist at Capital Economics. “Risks to the peso have been brewing for a while – large twin budget and current account deficits, a heavy dollar debt burden, entrenched high inflation and an overvalued currency.

“The real surprise is how quickly and suddenly things seem to be escalating.”

Mr Glossop said “a sizeable fiscal tightening” was planned for 2018, but it might now need to be larger and prompter. “Unless or until that happens, the peso is likely to remain under pressure, and there remains a real risk of a messy economic adjustment.” Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri is a controversial figure in a country that is still strongly divided ideologically. But among international investors he is unanimously praised. Since coming to office, he moved swiftly to end capital controls and re-establish trust in economic data coming from Argentina. However, he is not winning a crucial battle in the country – the one against inflation. Markets are taking notice and there has been a sell-off of the peso. The opposition wants to stop Macri from removing subsidies in controlled prices, such as energy and utility tariffs, which may bring more inflation in the short term but could help bring it down from above 20% now to about 5% by 2020.

Friday was a day for emergency measures – a massive hike to 40% in interest rates and another promise to bring down government spending.

Investors still believe Macri has a sound plan to recover Argentina, but they are not convinced he can see it through.

By Daniel Gallas, BBC South America Business Correspondent

***

Argentina Raises Interest Rates To 40% To Support Their Currency

https://d33wjekvz3zs1a.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Paradox-of-Bell-Curve.jpg

Argentina has just raised interest rates to 40% trying to support the currency. I have explained many times that interest rates follow a BELL-CURVE and by no means are they linear. This is one of the huge problems behind attempts by central banks to manipulate the economy by impacting demand-side economics. Raising interest rates to stem inflation will work only up to a point and even that is debatable. The entire interrelationship between markets and interest rates has three main phase transitions and each depends upon the interaction with CONFIDENCE of the people in the survivability of the state.

https://d33wjekvz3zs1a.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/IntSprd-MA.jpg

PHASE TWO: Raising interest rates will flip the economy as Volcker did in 1981 ONLY when they exceed the expectation of profits in asset inflation provided there is CONFIDENCE that the government will survive as in the USA back in 1981 compared to Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Russia during 1917 or China back in 1949. In other words, if the nation is going into civil war, then tangible assets will collapse and the solution becomes assets flee the country.

In the case of the USA back in 1981, the high interest rates worked because we were only in Phase Two where there was no civil war or revolution so the survivability of the government did not come into question. Hence, Volcker created DELATION as capital then ran away from assets and into bonds to capture the higher interest rates. Then and only then did rates begin to decline between 1981 into 1986 reflecting the high demand for US government bonds, which in turn drove the US dollar to record highs and the British pound to $1.03 in 1985 resulting in the Plaza Accord and the creation of the G5 (now G20).

So many people want to take issue with me over how the stock market will rise with higher interest rates. It is a BELL-CURVE and you better begin to understand this. If not, just hand-over all your assets to the New York bankers now, go on welfare and just end your misery.

https://d33wjekvz3zs1a.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Argentina-Peso-Y-5-5-2018.jpg

https://d33wjekvz3zs1a.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Argentina-Merval-Y-5-5-2018.jpg

Here are charts of the Argentine share market the currency in terms of US dollars. You can see that the stock market offers TANGIBLE assets that rise in local currency terms because assets have an international value. Here we can see the dollar has soared against the currency and the stock market has risen in proportion the decline in the currency. I do not think there is any other way that is better to demonstrate the BELL-CURVE effect of interest rates than these two charts.

To those who doubt that the stock market can rise with rising interest rates, I really do not know what to say. Keep listening to the talking heads of TV and all the pundits who claim only gold will rise and everything else will fall to dust. Then we have the sublime blind idiots who never look outside the USA and proclaim the dollar will crash and burn not the rest of the world so buy gold and cryptocurrency you cannot spend and certainly with no power grid.

https://d33wjekvz3zs1a.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/London-Destroyed.jpg

PHASE THREE

Is when no level of interest rate will save the day. Capital simply flees the political state for the risk of revolution or civil war means that tangible assets which are immovable will not hold their value such as companies and real estate. This is the period that Goldbugs envision. At that point, the value of everything will even move into the extreme PHASE FOUR where even gold will decline and the only thing to survive is food. There, the political state completely collapses and a new political government comes into being.

Source: By Martin Armstrong | Armstrong Economics

***

Meanwhile, the following is an analysis update on the pending 2021 LIBOR reset that will affect trillions in debt and derivative instruments across the globe…

 

“It’s Foolish to Believe The Endgame is Anything But Inflation…”

Authored by Kevin Muir via The Macro Tourist blog,

I am going to break from regular market commentary to step back and think about the big picture as it relates to debt and inflation. Let’s call it philosophical Friday. But don’t worry, there will be no bearded left-wing rants. This will definitely be a market-based exploration of the bigger forces that affect our economy.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/20180323-keith.png?itok=y_3ovh1C

One of the greatest debates within the financial community centers around debt and its effect on inflation and economic prosperity. The common narrative is that government deficits (and the ensuing debt) are bad. It steals from future generations and merely brings forward future consumption. In the long run, it creates distortions, and the quicker we return to balancing our books, the better off we will all be.

I will not bother arguing about this logic. Chances are you have your own views about how important it is to balance the books, and no matter my argument, you won’t change your opinion. I will say this though. I am no disciple of the Krugman “any stimulus is good stimulus” logic.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-krugman.jpg

The broken window fallacy is real and digging ditches to fill them back in is a net drain on the economy. Full stop. You won’t hear any complaints from me there.

Yet, the obsession with balancing the government’s budget is equally damaging. In a balance sheet challenged economy the government is often the last resort for creating demand. Trying to balance a government deficit in this environment (like the Troika imposed on Greece during the recent Euro-crisis) is a disaster waiting to happen.

Have a look at these charts from the NY Times outlining the similarity of the Greece depression to the American Great Depression of the 1930s.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-greece1.png

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-greece2.png

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-greece3.png

Now you might look at these charts and say, “Greece spent too much and suffered the consequences. Ultimately they will be better off taking the hit and reorganizing in a more productive economic fashion.” If so, you probably also still have this poster hanging in your room at your parent’s house where you grew up.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-austrian.jpg

Personally, I don’t want to even bother discussing the possibility of this sort of Austrian-style-rebalancing coming to Western democracies. Yeah, it might be your dream, but it’s just a dream. I have Salma Hayek on my freebie list, but what do I think of my chances? About as close to zero without actually ticking at the perfect zero level. It’s not a “can’t happen,” but it’s certainly a “it’s not going to happen in a million years.”

Governments were faced with a choice during the 2008 Great Financial Crisis. Credit was naturally contracting, and the economy wanted to go through a cleansing economic rebalancing where debt would be destroyed through a severe recession. Yet, governments had practically zero appetite to allow this sort of cathartic cleansing to happen. Instead, they stepped up and stopped the credit contraction through government spending and quantitative easing.

I believe that government spending is not all bad, and at times, it plays an important role in our economy. I am a huge fan of Richard Koo’s work. When economies’ interest-rate policies become zero bound, governments are crucial in engaging in anti-cyclical spending. All debt is not bad. Take debt your company might issue for instance. Borrowing a million dollars to invest in capital equipment to make your firm more productive is a much different prospect than taking out a loan to engage in a Krugman-inspired-all-you-can-drink-party-headlined-by-the-Killers. Sure, the party sounds like fun, but it’s not going to benefit your firm past one night of excitement. Governments shouldn’t perpetuate unproductive pension grabs by workers, but instead actually spend money on infrastructure that will make the economy more productive. During the 1950s Eisenhower invested in the American highway system, helping America secure its place as the world’s most economically dominant country. Today that sort of infrastructure spending would be shouted down as irresponsible. Well, not continuing to invest in your country’s productive capacity is the irresponsible part.

The point is that not all spending is bad, but nor is all spending good. And even more importantly, government spending should be anti-cyclical. No sense spending more when your economy is rocking. Better to save the bullets to ebb the natural flow of the business cycle.

But I digress. Let’s get back to debt.

Creating debt is inflationary, while paying down debt is deflationary. That’s pretty basic.

The easiest way for me to demonstrate this fact is to look at an area where debt has been created for spending in a specific area. No better example than student loans.

Over the past fifteen years, inflation in college tuition has exploded. It’s been absolutely bonkers. Here is the chart of regular CPI versus tuition CPI.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-cpi.png

But it should really be no surprise. If we add the student loan debt versus Federal debt series, it becomes clear that a tremendous amount of credit has been extended to students.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-cpiversus.png

So let’s agree that credit creation is inflationary, and by definition, credit destruction should be deflationary.

Therefore when the market pundits that I like to affectionately call deflationistas argue that this next chart is ultimately deflationary, I understand where they are coming from.

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-percent.png

If you assume that this debt needs to be paid back, then it’s easy to understand their argument. When debt starts to contract and this chart heads lower, this will be deflationary. And if you assume that governments start to balance their books, then there is every reason to expect that future deflation is the worry, not inflation. After all, the money has already been spent. The inflation from that spending is already in the system.

I can already hear the deflationistas argument – over 100% of GDP is unsustainable therefore credit growth will at worst go sideways, but most likely actually contract in coming years.

Really? How about Japan?

https://www.themacrotourist.com/img/posts/05/20180323-japan.png

The same argument was made at the turn of the century when Japan was running a debt that was over 150% of GDP, yet they somehow managed to push that up another 80% to 230% without causing some sort of apocalyptic collapse.

Now before you send me an angry email about the moral irresponsibility of suggesting debt can go higher, save your clicks. I understand your argument. I am not interested in debating what should be done, but rather I am trying to determine what will be done. You might believe governments and Central Banks will gain religion and start conducting prudent and responsible policies. So be it. If you believe that, then by all means – load up on long-dated sovereign bonds as they will continue to be the trade of the century.

I, on the other hand, believe that Central Banks will continue printing until, as my favourite West Coast skeptic Bill Fleckenstein says, “the bond market takes away the keys.” And even when Central Banks are mildly responsible, politicians are sitting in the wings waiting to spend at any chance they get. Take Trump’s recent stimulus program. We are now more than eight years into an economic recovery, and he just pushed through one of the most stimulative fiscal policies of the past couple of decades. Regardless of where you stand politically regarding these tax cuts, there can be no denying they were much more needed in 2008 than today.

This is a long-winded way of saying that although I agree that the creation of debt is inflationary, and that the destruction of debt is deflationary, I don’t buy the argument that any sort of absolute amount of debt means the trend has to change. I don’t look at the 100% debt-to-GDP figure and worry that the US government will somehow institute deflationary policies to pay that back. Nope, I don’t see anything but a sea of growing deficits and debts. And in fact, the larger debts grow, the less likely they are to be paid back.

How will Japan pay back their debt that is 230% of GDP? The answer is that they can’t. It will be inflated away.

It’s foolish to believe that the end-game is anything but inflation. And even though increasing debt seems scary, if there is one thing that I am sure of, it’s that they will figure out a way to make even more of it.

Rant over. And no more big picture philosophy for a while – I promise.

Black Pilled Channel

Source: ZeroHedge

Visualizing Real Inflation – A Decade Of Grocery Prices For 30 Common Items

Over the span of 2000-2016, the amount of money spent on food by the average American household increased from $5,158 to $7,203, which is a 39.6% increase in spending.

Despite this, as Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes, for most of the U.S. population, food actually makes up a decreasing portion of their household spending mix because of rising incomes over time. Just 13.1% of income was spent on food by the average household in 2016, making it a less important cost than both housing and transportation.

That said, fluctuations in food prices can still make a major impact on the population. For lower income households, food makes up a much higher percentage of incomes at 32.6% – and how individual foods change in price can make a big difference at the dinner table.

FLUCTUATING GROCERY PRICES

Today’s infographic comes from TitleMax, and it uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show the prices for 30 common grocery staples over the last decade.

https://i1.wp.com/2oqz471sa19h3vbwa53m33yj.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/grocery-items-prices.jpg

Source: ZeroHedge

The Fed’s “Magic Trick” Exposed

In 1791, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the US, Alexander Hamilton, convinced then-new president George Washington to create a central bank for the country.

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson opposed the idea, as he felt that it would lead to speculation, financial manipulation, and corruption. He was correct, and in 1811, its charter was not renewed by Congress.

Then, the US got itself into economic trouble over the War of 1812 and needed money. In 1816, a Second Bank of the United States was created. Andrew Jackson took the same view as Mister Jefferson before him and, in 1836, succeeded in getting the bank dissolved.

Then, in 1913, the leading bankers of the US succeeded in pushing through a third central bank, the Federal Reserve. At that time, critics echoed the sentiments of Messrs. Jefferson and Jackson, but their warnings were not heeded. For over 100 years, the US has been saddled by a central bank, which has been manifestly guilty of speculation, financial manipulation, and corruption, just as predicted by Mister Jefferson.

From its inception, one of the goals of the bank was to create inflation. And, here, it’s important to emphasize the term “goals.” Inflation was not an accidental by-product of the Fed – it was a goal.

Over the last century, the Fed has often stated that inflation is both normal and necessary. And yet, historically, it has often been the case that an individual could go through his entire lifetime without inflation, without detriment to his economic life.

Yet, whenever the American people suffer as a result of inflation, the Fed is quick to advise them that, without it, the country could not function correctly.

In order to illustrate this, the Fed has even come up with its own illustration “explaining” inflation. Here it is, for your edification:

https://d24g2nq85gnwal.cloudfront.net/images/domestic-external-drivers-of-inflation.png

If the reader is of an age that he can remember the inventions of Rube Goldberg, who designed absurdly complicated machinery that accomplished little or nothing, he might see the resemblance of a Rube Goldberg design in the above illustration.

And yet, the Fed’s illustration can be regarded as effective. After spending several minutes taking in the above complex relationships, an individual would be unlikely to ask, “What did they leave out of the illustration?”

Well, what’s missing is the Fed itself.

As stated above, back in 1913, one of the goals in the creation of the Fed was to have an entity that had the power to create currency, which would mean the power to create inflation.

It’s a given that all governments tax their people. Governments are, by their very nature, parasitical entities that produce nothing but live off the production of others. And, so, it can be expected that any government will increase taxes as much and as often as it can get away with it. The problem is that, at some point, those being taxed rebel, and the government is either overthrown or the tax must be diminished. This dynamic has existed for thousands of years.

However, inflation is a bit of a magic trick. Now, remember, a magician does no magic. What he does is create an illusion, often through the employment of a distraction, which fools the audience into failing to understand what he’s really doing.

And, for a central bank, inflation is the ideal magic trick. The public do not see inflation as a tax; the magician has presented it as a normal and even necessary condition of a healthy economy.

However, what inflation (which has traditionally been defined as the increase in the amount of currency in circulation) really accomplishes is to devalue the currency through oversupply. And, of course, anyone who keeps his wealth (however large or small) in currency units loses a portion of their wealth with each devaluation.

In the 100-plus years since the creation of the Federal Reserve, the Fed has steadily inflated the US dollar. Over time, this has resulted in the dollar being devalued by over 97%.

The dollar is now virtually played out in value and is due for disposal. In order to continue to “tax” the American people through inflation, a reset is needed, with a new currency, which can then also be steadily devalued through inflation.

Once the above process is understood, it’s understandable if the individual feels that his government, along with the Fed, has been robbing him all his life. He’s right—it has.

And it’s done so without ever needing to point a gun to his head.

The magic trick has been an eminently successful one, and there’s no reason to assume that the average person will ever unmask and denounce the magician. However, the individual who understands the trick can choose to mitigate his losses. He or she can take measures to remove their wealth from any state that steadily imposes inflation upon their subjects and store it in physically possessed gold, silver and private cryptocurrency keys.

Source: ZeroHedge

 

The ‘Dilemma From Hell’ Facing Central Banks

We present some somber reading on this holiday season from Macquarie Capital’s Viktor Shvets, who in this exclusive to ZH readers excerpt from his year-ahead preview, explains why central banks can no longer exit the “doomsday highway” as a result of a “dilemma from hell” which no longer has a practical, real-world resolution, entirely as a result of previous actions by the same central bankers who are now left with no way out from a trap they themselves have created.

* * *

It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world” – Chaos Theory.

There is a good chance that 2018 might fully deserve shrill voices and predictions of dislocations that have filled almost every annual preview since the Great Financial Crisis.

Whether it was fears of a deflationary bust, expectation of an inflationary break-outs, disinflationary waves, central bank policy errors, US$ surges or liquidity crunches, we pretty much had it all. However, for most investors, the last decade actually turned out to be one of the most profitable and the most placid on record. Why then have most investors underperformed and why are passive investment styles now at least one-third (or more likely closer to two-third) of the market and why have value investors been consistently crushed while traditional sector and style rotations failed to work? Our answer remains unchanged. There was nothing conventional or normal over the last decade, and we believe that neither would there be anything conventional over the next decade. We do not view current synchronized global recovery as indicative of a return to traditional business and capital market cycles that investors can ‘read’ and hence make rational judgements on asset allocations and sector rotations, based on conventional mean reversion strategies. It remains an article of faith for us that neither reintroduction of price discovery nor asset price volatility is any longer possible or even desirable.

However, would 2018, provide a break with the last decade? The answer to this question depends on one key variable. Are we witnessing a broad-based private sector recovery, with productivity and animal spirits coming back after a decade of hibernation, or is the latest reflationary wave due to similar reasons as in other recent episodes, namely (a) excess liquidity pumped by central banks (CBs); (b) improved co-ordination of global monetary policies, aimed at containing exchange rate volatility; and (c) China’s stimulus that reflated commodity complex and trade?

https://i1.wp.com/www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/11/07/macquarie%20central%20banks.jpg

The answer to this question would determine how 2018 and 2019 are likely to play out. If the current reflation has strong private sector underpinnings, then not only would it be appropriate for CBs to withdraw liquidity and raise cost of capital, but indeed these would bolster confidence, and erode pricing anomalies without jeopardizing growth or causing excessive asset price displacements. Essentially, the strength of private sector would determine the extent to which incremental financialization and public sector supports would be required. If on the other hand, one were to conclude that most of the improvement has thus far been driven by CBs nailing cost of capital at zero (or below), liquidity injections and China’s debt-fuelled growth, then any meaningful withdrawal of liquidity and attempts to raise cost of capital would be met by potentially violent dislocations of asset prices and rising volatility, in turn, causing contraction of aggregate demand and resurfacing of disinflationary pressures. We remain very much in the latter camp. As the discussion below illustrates, we do not see evidence to support private sector-led recovery concept. Rather, we see support for excess liquidity, distorted rates and China spending driving most of the improvement.

We have in the past extensively written on the core drivers of current anomalies. In a ‘nutshell’, we maintain that over the last three decades, investors have gradually moved from a world of scarcity and scale limitations, to a world of relative abundance and an almost unlimited scalability. The revolution started in early 1970s, but accelerated since mid-1990s. If history is any guide, the crescendo would occur over the next decade. In the meantime, returns on conventional human inputs and conventional capital will continue eroding while return on social and digital capital will continue rising. This promises to further increase disinflationary pressures (as marginal cost of almost everything declines to zero), while keeping productivity rates constrained, and further raising inequalities.

The new world is one of disintegrating pricing signals and where economists would struggle even more than usual, in defining economic rules. As Paul Romer argued in his recent shot at his own profession, a significant chunk of macro-economic theories that were developed since 1930s need to be discarded. Included are concepts such as ‘macro economy as a system in equilibrium’, ‘efficient market hypothesis’, ‘great moderation’ ‘irrelevance of monetary policies’, ‘there are no secular or structural factors, it is all about aggregate demand’, ‘home ownership is good for the economy’, ‘individuals are profit-maximizing rational economic agents’, ‘compensation determines how hard people work’, ‘there are stable preferences for consumption vs saving’ etc. Indeed, the list of challenges is growing ever longer, as technology and Information Age alters importance of relative inputs, and includes questions how to measure ‘commons’ and proliferating non-monetary and non-pricing spheres, such as ‘gig or sharing’ economies and whether the Philips curve has not just flattened by disappeared completely. The same implies to several exogenous concepts beloved by economists (such as demographics).

The above deep secular drivers that were developing for more than three decades, but which have become pronounced in the last 10-15 years, are made worse by the activism of the public sector. It is ironic that CBs are working hard to erode the real value of global and national debt mountains by encouraging higher inflation, when it was the public sector and CBs themselves which since 1980s encouraged accelerated financialization. As we asked in our recent review, how can CBs exit this ‘doomsday highway’?

Investors and CBs are facing a convergence of two hurricane systems (technology and over-financialization), that are largely unstoppable. Unless there is a miracle of robust private sector productivity recovery or unless public sector policies were to undergo a drastic change (such as merger and fiscal and monetary arms, introduction of minimum income guarantees, massive Marshall Plan-style investments in the least developed regions etc), we can’t see how liquidity can be withdrawn; nor can we see how cost of capital can ever increase. This means that CBs remain slaves of the system that they have built (though it must be emphasized on our behalf and for our benefit).

If the above is the right answer, then investors and CBs have to be incredibly careful as we enter 2018. There is no doubt that having rescued the world from a potentially devastating deflationary bust, CBs would love to return to some form of normality, build up ammunition for next dislocations and play a far less visible role in the local and global economies. Although there are now a number of dissenting voices (such as Larry Summers or Adair Turner) who are questioning the need for CB independence, it remains an article of faith for an overwhelming majority of economists. However, the longer CBs stay in the game, the less likely it is that the independence would survive. Indeed, it would become far more likely that the world gravitates towards China and Japan, where CB independence is largely notional.

Hence, the dilemma from hell facing CBs: If they pull away and remove liquidity and try to raise cost of capital, neither demand for nor supply of capital would be able to endure lower liquidity and flattening yield curves. On the other hand, the longer CBs persist with current policies, the more disinflationary pressures are likely to strengthen and the less likely is private sector to regain its primacy.

We maintain that there are only two ‘tickets’ out of this jail. First (and the best) is a sudden and sustainable surge in private sector productivity and second, a significant shift in public sector policies. Given that neither answer is likely (at least not for a while), a coordinated, more hawkish CB stance is akin to mixing highly volatile and combustible chemicals, with unpredictable outcomes.

Most economists do not pay much attention to liquidity or cost of capital, focusing almost entirely on aggregate demand and inflation. Hence, the conventional arguments that the overall stock of accommodation is more important than the flow, and thus so long as CBs are very careful in managing liquidity withdrawals and cost of capital raised very slowly, then CBs could achieve the desired objective of reducing more extreme asset anomalies, while buying insurance against future dislocation and getting ahead of the curve. In our view, this is where chaos theory comes in. Given that the global economy is leveraged at least three times GDP and value of financial instruments equals 4x-5x GDP (and potentially as much as ten times), even the smallest withdrawal of liquidity or misalignment of monetary policies could become an equivalent of flapping butterfly wings. Indeed, in our view, this is what flattening of the yield curves tells us; investors correctly interpret any contraction of liquidity or rise in rates, as raising a possibility of more disinflationary outcomes further down the road.

Hence, we maintain that the key risks that investors are currently running are ones to do with policy errors. Given that we believe that recent reflation was mostly caused by central bank liquidity, compressed interest rates and China stimulus, clearly any policy errors by central banks and China could easily cause a similar dislocation to what occurred in 2013 or late 2015/early 2016. When investors argue that both CBs and public authorities have become far more experienced in managing liquidity and markets, and hence, chances of policy errors have declined, we believe that it is the most dangerous form of hubris. One could ask, what prompted China to attempt a proper de-leveraging from late 2014 to early 2016, which was the key contributor to both collapse of commodity prices and global volatility? Similarly, one could ask what prompted the Fed to tighten into China’s deleveraging drive in Dec ’15. There is a serious question over China’s priorities, following completion of the 19th Congress, and whether China fully understands how much of the global reflation was due to its policy reversal to end deleveraging.

What does it mean for investors? We believe that it implies a higher than average risk, as some of the key underpinnings of the investment landscape could shift significantly, and even if macroeconomic outcomes were to be less stressful than feared, it could cause significant relative and absolute price re-adjustments. As highlighted in discussion below, financial markets are completely unprepared for higher volatility. For example, value has for a number of years systematically under performed both quality and growth. If indeed, CBs managed to withdraw liquidity without dislocating economies and potentially strengthening perception of growth momentum, investors might witness a very strong rotation into value. Although we do not believe that it would be sustainable, expectations could run ahead of themselves. Similarly, any spike in inflation gauges could lift the entire curve up, with massive losses for bondholders, and flowing into some of the more expensive and marginal growth stories.

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While it is hard to predict some of these shorter-term moves, if volatilities jump, CBs would need to reset the ‘background picture’. The challenge is that even with the best of intentions, the process is far from automatic, and hence there could be months of extended volatility (a la Dec’15-Feb’16). If one ignores shorter-term aberrations, we maintain that there is no alternative to policies that have been pursued since 1980s of deliberately suppressing and managing business and capital market cycles. As discussed in our recent note, this implies that a relatively pleasant ‘Kondratieff autumn’ (characterized by inability to raise cost of capital against a background of constrained but positive growth and inflation rates) is likely to endure. Indeed, two generations of investors grew up knowing nothing else. They have never experienced either scorching summers or freezing winters, as public sector refused to allow debt repudiation, deleveraging or clearance of excesses. Although this cannot last forever, there is no reason to believe that the end of the road would necessarily occur in 2018 or 2019. It is true that policy risks are more heightened but so is policy recognition of dangers.

We therefore remain constructive on financial assets (as we have been for quite some time), not because we believe in a sustainable and private sector-led recovery but rather because we do not believe in one, and thus we do not see any viable alternatives to an ongoing financialization, which needs to be facilitated through excess liquidity, and avoiding proper price and risk discovery, and thus avoiding asset price volatility.

Source: ZeroHedge

Running Hot

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Summary

✖  Janet Yellen is kicking around the idea of backing off of the Fed’s 2% inflation target.

✖  If the Fed lets the economy run hot, the yield curve will steepen.

✖  Equities should rally.

✖  Gold looks vulnerable with real yields still too low.

Janet Yellen, in a speech on Friday mentioned that the Fed could choose to allow the U.S. economy to “run hot” to allow for an increase in the labor participation rate. In typical Fed fashion, the goalposts are being moved once again, and the implication for the yield curve is important.

In Holbrook’s Q2 newsletter, “Brexit is not the Problem, Central Bank Policy is,” we wrote:

“Another scenario, one which Holbrook recognizes but does not represent our base forecast, is that the Federal Reserve will continue to drag its feet and not respond to accelerated wage gains. In this environment, longer-term yields will rise as inflationary expectations rebound. Larry Summers, among others, has recently advocated for such Fed policy, calling for them to increase their inflation targets. If this materializes, short-term rates will remain low, and the yield curve will steepen.” – July 1st, 2016

Janet Yellen’s comments on Friday indicate that this scenario is increasingly likely. It seems that the Federal Reserve, rather than taking a proactive stance against inflation as it has done in the past, it is going to be reactionary. If this is the case, investors can shift their attention from leading indicators like unemployment claims and wage growth, and instead focus on lagging indicators like PPI and CPI when assessing future Fed action.

The fixed income market is still pricing in a 65% likelihood of a rate hike in December, and given the abundance of dissenters at the September meeting, as well as recent remarks from Stanley Fischer, we expect the Fed to raise in December. After which, we presume the Federal Reserve will declare all meetings live and “data-dependent.” We expect that the Federal Reserve will NOT raise rates again until the core PCE deflator (their preferred measure) breaches 2%.

If they do choose to let the economy “run hot,” the market will need to figure out what level of inflation the Federal Reserve considers to be “hot.” Is it 2.5%? Is it 3%? At what level does the labor participation rate need to reach for further Fed normalization?

These questions will be answered in time as investors parse through the litany of Fed commentary over the next couple of months. In any case, a shift in the Fed mandate is gaining traction. Rather than fighting inflation, the Federal Reserve is now fighting the low labor participation rate. Holbrook expects such a policy to manifest itself in the following manner:

  1. Steepening yield curve
  2. Weakening dollar
  3. Further commodity appreciation

In terms of the equity markets, we expect the broad market to rally into year-end after the election – whatever the outcome. Bearish sentiment is still pervasive, and Fed inaction in the face of higher inflation should be welcomed by equity investors, at least in the short run. Holbrook is also cautious regarding gold. Gold is often described as an inflation hedge. However, this is incorrect. It is a real rate hedge. As real rates move lower, gold moves higher, and vice versa. With real rates at historical lows, we think there could be further weakness in the yellow metal.

The fixed income market is in the early stages of pricing in a “run-hot” economy. The spread between the yield on the thirty-year bond (most sensitive to changes in inflation) and the two-year bill (sensitive to Fed action) is testing its five-year downtrend. A successful breach indicates that the market has changed. The Federal Reserve is willing to keep rates low, or inflation is on the horizon, or both.

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Holbrook’s research shows that during the current bull market, a bear steepening trade (long yields rise more than short-term yields) has implied solid market returns. The S&P 500 advances an average of 2% monthly in this environment. This environment is second only to a bull steepening trade (where short-term rates fall faster than long-term rates) during which the S&P 500 rose more than 3.5% monthly.

Flattening yield curves were detrimental to equity returns. You can see the analysis in our prior perspective, “Trouble with the Curve.” In any case, a steepening yield curve should bode well for equity prices.

Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that inflation is starting to make a comeback. Global producer price indices generally lead the CPI and they have been spiking this year. CPI will likely follow, and not just in the United States.

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And finally, although the dollar has rallied over the last couple of weeks in expectation of a late-year rate hike, much of the deflationary effect from a stronger dollar is behind us. The chart below tracks the year-over-year percentage change in the dollar (green line, inverted) versus the year-over-year change in goods inflation (yellow line). The dollar typically leads by four months and as such is lagged in the graph.

As you can see, the shock of a stronger dollar is behind us and it is likely that the price deflation we have experienced will wane. If, over the next four months, the price of goods is flat year over year, which we expect, the core PCE deflator should register above the Fed’s 2% target. The real question is: How will the Fed react when this happens? Will they initiate additional rate hikes? Or will they let the economy “run hot?”

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By Scott Carmack | Seeking Alpha