Tag Archives: inflation

Fed Gives Up On Inflation, Welcome To The United States Of Japan

On Wednesday, the Fed cut rates for the third time this year, which was widely expected by the market.

What was not expected was the following statement.

I think we would need to see a really significant move up in inflation that’s persistent before we even consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.
– Jerome Powell 10/30/2019

The statement did not receive a lot of notoriety from the press, but this was the single most important statement from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell so far. In fact, we cannot remember a time in the last 30 years when a Fed Chairman has so clearly articulated such a strong desire for more inflation.

Why do we say that? Let’s dissect the bolded words in the quote for further clarification.

  • “really significant”– Powell is not only saying that they will allow a significant move up in inflation but going one better by adding the word significant.
  • “persistent”– Unlike the prior few Fed Chairman who claimed to be vigilant towards inflation, Powell is clearly telling us that he will not react to inflation that is not only well beyond a “really significant” leap from current levels, but a rate that lasts for a period of time.
  • “even consider”– If inflation is not only a really significant increase from current levels and stays at such levels for a while, they will only consider raising rates to fight inflation.

We are stunned by the choice of words Powell used to describe the Fed’s view on inflation. We are even more shocked that the markets or media are not making more of it.

Maybe, they are failing to focus on the three bolded sections. In fact, what they probably think they heard was: I think we would need to see a move up in inflation before we consider raising rates to address inflation concernsSuch a statement would have been more in line with traditional “Fed-speak.”

There is an other far more insidious message in Chairman Powell’s statement which should not be dismissed.

The Fed just acknowledged they are caught in a “liquidity trap.”

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“We’re Being Robbed” – Central Bank ‘Stimulus’ Is Really A Huge Redistribution Scheme

When an economy turns from expansion to contraction there is an order of events. The first signs are an unexpected increase in inventories of unsold goods, both accompanied with and followed by business surveys indicating a general softening in demand. For monetarists, this is often confirmed by an inverting yield curve, which tells them that at the margin the short-term rates set by the central bank are becoming too high for business conditions.

That was the position for the US 10-year bond less the 2-year bond very briefly at the end of August, since when this measure, which is often taken to predict recessions, has turned mildly positive again. A generally negative sentiment, fueled mainly by the escalating tariff war between America and China, had earlier alerted investors to an international trade slowdown, expected to undermine the American economy in due course along with all the others. It stands to reason that backward-looking statistics have yet to reflect the global slowdown on the US economy, which is still buoyed up by consumer credit. The German economy, which is driven by production rather than consumption is perhaps a better guide and is already in recession.

So reliant have markets become on monetary expansion that the default assumption is that an economy will always be rescued from recession by an easing of monetary policy, and furthermore that monetary inflation will prevent it from being any more than mild and short. We see this in the performance of stock market indices, which reflect perpetual optimism.

There is a further problem. Other than a rise in bankruptcies, unemployment and negative indications from business surveys, there may be no statistical evidence of a slump. The reason this is almost certainly the case is we are dealing with a combination of funny money and statistics which are simply not fit for measuring anything. The money and credit are backed by nothing, and when expanded by the banking system simply dilutes the quantity of existing money, which if continued is bound to end up impoverishing everyone with cash balances and whose wages and profits do not increase at least as fast as the surge in the quantity of money.

Indeed, the official purpose of the expansion of money and credit is to somehow persuade economic actors that things are better than they really are, and to stimulate those animal spirits. You’d think that with this policy now being continually in operation that people would have become aware of the dilution fraud. But as Keynes, the architect of it all said, not one man in a million understands money, and in this he has been proved right.

For five years, the ECB has applied negative interest rates on commercial bank reserves, and commercial banks have paid €21.4bn to it in deposit interest. Since it introduced negative interest rates, it has injected some €2.7 trillion of base money into the Eurozone economy, increasing M1, the narrower measure of the money quantity, by 61%. Almost all of it has supported the finances of Eurozone governments.

The effect on broader money, which includes bank credit, has been to increase M3 by 30%. Far from stimulation, this is daylight robbery perpetrated on everyone’s liquidity and cash deposits. It is a tax on the purchasing power of their wages.

The ECB is not alone. Since Lehman went under, the major central banks have collectively increased their balance sheets from $7 trillion to $19.4 trillion, an increase of 177%. Most of this monetary expansion has been to buy government bonds, providing a money-fountain for profligate governments. The purpose of money-printing is always to finance government spending, not to stimulate or ease conditions for the private sector: while some trusting souls in the system believe it is for the latter, that amounts to just a myth.

Due to the flood of new money the yields on government debt have been depressed, giving holders of this debt, principally the banks, a nice fat capital profit. But that is not the purpose of all this monetary largess: it is to make it ultra-cheap for governments to borrow yet more and to encourage banks to expand credit in their governments’ favor. Just listen to the central bankers now encouraging governments to take the opportunity to ease fiscal policy, extend their debts and borrow even more.

Central banks pretend all these benefits come at no cost to anyone. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perpetual motion of money creation, and someone ultimately pays the price. But who pays for it all? Why, it is the wage-earner and saver and anyone else with deposits at the bank. They are also robbed of the compounding interest their pension funds would otherwise receive. These are the very people who, in a bizarre twist of macroeconomic logic, we are told benefit from having the prices of their everyday purchases continually increased.

Attempts to measure the supposed benefits of inflation on the general public are in turn dishonest, with the true rise in prices concealed in official calculations of price inflation. Suppressed evidence of rising prices is then applied to estimates of GDP to make them “real”. For the purpose of measuring the true condition of an economy these official statistics are taken as gospel by both the commentariat and investors.

We cannot know the accumulating economic cost of cycles of progressively greater monetary inflation, because all government statistics are based on the lie that money is a constant, when in fact it has become the greatest variable in everyone’s life. The transfer of wealth from all consumers through monetary debasement is an act of impoverishment, and to the extent it is not offset in other ways the economy as a whole suffers.

Source: Authored by Alasdair Macleod via The Mises Institute, | ZeroHedge

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Are The Rating Agencies Complicit In Another Massive Scandal: A WSJ Investigation Leads To Shocking Questions

“It’s pretty eye-popping if you’ve been doing this for 20-plus years, to see how much more leverage a number of these companies can incur with the same credit rating.”

Battle Of The ‘Flations’ Has Begun

Inflation? Deflation? Stagflation? Consecutively? Concurrently?… or from a great height.

We’ve reached a pivotal moment where all of the narratives of what is actually happening have come together. And it feels confusing. But it really isn’t.

How can we stuff fake money onto more fake balance sheets to maintain the illusion of price stability?

The consequences of this coordinated policy to save the banking system from itself has resulted in massive populist uprisings around the world thanks to a hollowing out of the middle class to pay for it all.

The central banks’ only move here is to inflate to the high heavens, because the civil unrest from a massive deflation would sweep them from power quicker.

For all of their faults leaders like Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini and even Boris Johnson understand that to regain the confidence of the people they will have to wrest control of their governments from the central banks and the technocratic institutions that back them.

That fear will keep the central banks from deflating the global money supply because politicians like Trump and Salvini understand that their central banks are enemies of the people. As populists this would feed their domestic reform agendas.

So, the central banks will do what they’ve always done — protect the banks and that means inflation, bailouts and the rest.

At the same time the powers that be, whom I like to call The Davos Crowd, are dead set on completing their journey to the Dark Side and create their transnational superstructure of treaties and corporate informational hegemony which they ironically call The Open Society.

This means continuing to use whatever powers are at their disposal to marginalize, silence and outright kill anyone who gets in their way, c.f. Jeffrey Epstein.

But all of this is a consequence of the faulty foundation of the global financial system built on fraud, Ponzi schemes and debt leverage… but I repeat myself.

And once the Ponzi scheme reaches its terminal state, once there are no more containers to stuff more fake money into the virtual mattresses nominally known as banks, confidence in the entire system collapses.

It’s staring us in the face every day. The markets keep telling us this. Oil can’t rally on war threats. Equity markets tread water violently as currencies break down technically. Gold is in a bull market. Billions flow through Bitcoin to avoid insane capital controls.

Any existential threat to the current order is to be squashed. It’s reflexive behavior at this point. But, as the Epstein murder spotlights so brilliantly, this reflexive behavior is now a Hobson’s Choice.

They either kill Epstein or he cuts a deal or stands trial and hundreds of very powerful people are exposed along with the honeypot programs that are the source of so much of the bad policy we all live with every day.

These operations are the lifeblood of the power structure, without it glitches in the Matrix occur. People get elected to power who can’t be easily controlled.

The central banks are faced with the same problem. To deflate is worse than inflating therefore there is no real choice. So, inflation it is. Inflation extends their control another day, another week.

Whenever I analyze situations like this I think of a man falling out of a building. In that state he will do anything to find a solution to his problem, grasp onto any hope and use that as a means to prolong his life and avoid hitting the ground for as long as possible.

Desperate people do desperate and stupid things. So as the mother of all Battles of the ‘Flations unfolds over the next two years, remember it’s not your job to take sides because they will take you with them.

This is not a battle you win, but rather survive. Like Godzilla and Mothra destroying the city. If Epstein’s murder tells you anything, there’s a war going on for control of what’s left of the crumbling power structure.

And since inflation is the only choice that choice will undermine what little faith there is in the current crop of institutions we’ve charged with maintaining societal order.

As those crumble that feeds the inflation to be unleashed.

For the smart investor, the best choice is not to play. Wealth preservation is the key to survival. That means holding assets whose value may fluctuate but which cannot be taken from you during a crisis.

It means having productive assets and being efficient with your time.

It means minimizing your counter-party risk. Getting out of debt. Buying gold and cryptos on program or on pullbacks. Most importantly, it means keeping your skills up to date and your value to your employer(s) high.

And if you’re really smart, diversifying your income streams to keep your options open.

Deflation and inflation are two sides of the same coin (or the same side of two coins). Both are just as destructive.

Source: by Tom Luongo, | ZeroHedge

Lower Income Americans Are Begging The Fed For Less Inflation

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While the Fed may be surprised that low income workers aren’t as enthused about inflation as they are, we are not. A recent Bloomberg report looked at the stark disconnect between Fed policy and well, everybody else but banks and the 1%.

While the Fed sees low inflation as “one of the major challenges of our time,” Shawn Smith, who trains some of the nation’s most vulnerable, low-income workers stated the obvious: people don’t want higher prices.  Smith is the director of workforce development at Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia.

In fact, he said that “even slight increases make a huge difference to someone who is living on a limited income. Whether it is a 50 cents here or 10 cents there, they are managing their dollars day to day and trying to figure out how to make it all work.’’ Indeed, as we discussed yesterday, it is the low-income workers – not the “1%”ers, who are most impacted by rising prices, as such all attempts by the Fed to “help” just make life even more unaffordable for millions of Americans.

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Fears, and risks, associated higher prices comprise much of the feedback that the Fed has getting as part of its “Fed Listens” 2019 strategy tour, labeled as a multi-city “outreach tour”. So much for objectivity. Fed Governor Lael Brainard faced additional feedback from community leaders earlier this week in Chicago when she chaired a panel on full employment. 

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Patrick Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, told the audience in Chicago: “I have heard a lot about price stability and fiscal sustainability from the Fed for a very, very long time. Maybe I wasn’t listening, but today is the first time I’ve heard about employment sustainability and employment security.”

The problem that the Fed continues to face is that it has backed itself into a corner. With the economy supposedly “booming” and the stock market at all time highs, rates remain low and any tick higher would likely begin to cause massive shocks to a debt-laden and spending-addicted economy that has been swelling into dangerously uncharted waters over the last 10 years.

As one potential answer, the Fed is now looking at “inflation targeting” (whose disastrous policies we discussed here yesterday), which amounts to simply pursuing higher inflation for a while to “make up” for “undershoots” of the Fed’s 2% target since 2009. But the reality is that this idea cripples consumers, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, president of Delaware Community Foundation, told an audience at the Philadelphia Fed: “The sometimes positive impacts of inflation for certain of us have no good benefits for people at the lower end of the spectrum.”

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And even former Fed economists agree. Andrew Levin, who’s now a Dartmouth College professor said: The Fed and other central banks need to make sure they can foster the recovery from a severe adverse shock. But the answer is not to push inflation higher. Elevated inflation would be particularly burdensome for lower-income families.’

Other economists have similar takes:

University of Chicago economist Greg Kaplan found that the cumulative inflation rate was 8-to-9 percentage points lower for households with incomes above $100,000 versus those with incomes below $20,000 over the 2004-2012 period. During that time, inflation averaged 2.2% which would be in the range of what Fed officials are now discussing as a possible strategy.

Why American Consumers Are About To Be Blindsided By An Inflationary Shockwave

While unsuspecting U.S. consumers continue to expect low, sub-2% inflation according to the latest YTD low breakeven rate, little do they know they are about to be blindsided by a coming inflationary shock, according to a new WSJ report which notes that many U.S. consumer staple and industry-leading companies are either already in the process of raising prices, or have set concrete plans to do so in the very near future. 

Once these price increases are passed through to consumers, it will likely mark the end to a long period of “low inflation” that the Fed has constantly leaned on as an excuse to keep rates low for nearly a decade.

Take Clorox for example, which is raising prices on everyday products like cat litter. Coca-Cola also reported higher prices for the past quarter. Mondelez International also plans to raise prices in North America next year according to an interview with its CEO on Monday. The food giant said that it is passing along rising costs, including ingredient and transportation costs, to consumers.

Airlines are also passing on costs as they are paying about 40% more for jet fuel than they were a year ago. Delta, JetBlue and American have all raised fees, fares, or both. Trucking costs were up 7% annually in September and private sector wages and salaries in the September quarter rose 3.1%.

Arconic was able to widen its operating margins this past quarter on its aluminum products by using tariffs to justify price hikes. Manufacturers are paying about 8% more for aluminum and 38% more for steel than they were a year ago. Looming potential tariffs with China to the tune of $200 billion also continue to weigh on input costs. 

Even such supposedly immune to day-to-day price fluctuation companies as Apple, recently raised prices on its new MacBook Air and iPad Pro products by between 20% and 25%.

The list goes on: Steve Madden said it would be raising prices on handbags and other products that it imports from China. It’s looking to shift production to other countries to avoid tariffs and said that products made in China could rise as much as 10% in price.

An interior designer working for Whiski Kitchen in Royal Oak, Michigan was cited by the Journal as stating that she was paying 15% more for quartz countertops made in China also as a result of U.S. tariffs. She’s also paying about 10% more for imported cabinets. 

Sherwin-Williams and PPG, both in the paint manufacturing business, stated in recent weeks that they would continue to raise prices to cover rising costs for input materials like titanium dioxide. Sherwin-Williams raised prices by as much as 6% this month.

Sherwin-Williams Chief Executive John Morikis said last week that “Raw material inflation has been unrelenting and accelerating.”

Food companies are also hiking prices. McDonalds’ 2.4% SSS comps in Q3 were a result of higher burger prices. Chili’s Restaurants raised the price of its two entree and an appetizer deal from $22 to $25 in the quarter. Habit Restaurants saw its prices rise by 3.9% in May of this year, even while traffic declined 3.4%. Hershey also has plans to sell candy in packaging next year that will raise its price per ounce. 

“Retailers understand that when costs go up, something has to give,” said Michele Buck, chief executive of Hershey, last week. 

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In today’s Manufacturing ISM report, a respondent encapsulated the above sentiment:

“Tariffs are causing inflation: increased costs of imports, increased cost of freight and increased domestic costs from suppliers who import.”

While inflation still technically remains near the Fed’s 2% target, if you believe the CPI number, which as we have discussed previously woefully under counts true inflation which is as much as three times higher than the Fed’s hedonically adjusted, politically motivated number, prices are set to move higher as a result of labor shortages, while headwinds for prices include the recent strength of the dollar, making imports cheaper. And then there are tariffs.

It’s obvious that higher prices will “work” alongside the Fed’s rate hikes to help dampen the United States economy further. Not only that, but higher prices could cause even more damage if the Fed sees raising rates as the main solution to inflation exceeding its expectations.

Diane Swonk, Grant Thornton’s chief economist, previewed what will happen next best: “We might see a pop of inflation in the first quarter.”

Once that happens in what is already a rising rate environment in which the president has made it clear he is solidly against any more Fed tightening, we wonder just what Powell’s next move will be when even higher prices force his bluff?

Source: ZeroZedge

What Turkey Can Teach Us About Gold

If you were contemplating an investment at the beginning of 2014, which of the two assets graphed below would you prefer to own?

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/1-gold.png?itok=RqzcFr6tData Courtesy: Bloomberg

In the traditional and logical way of thinking about investing, the asset that appreciates more is usually the preferred choice.

However, the chart above depicts the same asset expressed in two different currencies. The orange line is gold priced in U.S. dollars and the teal line is gold priced in Turkish lira. The y-axis is the price of gold divided by 100.

Had you owned gold priced in U.S. dollar terms, your investment return since 2014 has been relatively flat.  Conversely, had you bought gold using Turkish Lira in 2014, your investment has risen from 2,805 to 7,226 or 2.58x. The gain occurred as the value of the Turkish lira deteriorated from 2.33 to 6.04 relative to the U.S. dollar.

Although the optics suggest that the value of gold in Turkish Lira has risen sharply, the value of the Turkish Lira relative to the U.S. dollar has fallen by an equal amount. A position in gold acquired using lira yielded no more than an investment in gold using U.S. dollars.

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Data Courtesy: Bloomberg

This real-world example is elusive but important. It helps quantify the effects of the recent economic chaos in

This real-world example is elusive but important. It helps quantify the effects of the recent economic chaos in Turkey. Turkey’s economic future remains uncertain, but the reality is that their currency has devalued as a result of large fiscal deficits and heavy borrowing used to make up the revenue shortfall. Inflation is not the cause of the problem; it is a symptom. The cause is the dramatic increase in the supply of lira designed to solve the poor fiscal condition.

A Turkish citizen who held savings in lira is much worse off today than even two months ago as the lira has fallen in value. She still has the same amount of savings, but the savings will buy far less today than only a few weeks ago. Her neighbor, who held gold instead of lira, has retained spending power and therefore wealth. This illustration highlights the ability of gold to convey clear comparisons of various countries’ circumstances. It also illustrates the damage that imprudent monetary policy can inflict and the importance of gold as insurance against those policies.

Penalty

Using Turkey as an example also helps illustrate why we say that inflationary regimes impose a penalty on savers. Inflation encourages and even forces people to spend, invest or speculate to offset the effects of inflation. Investing and speculating entail risk, however, so in an inflationary regime one must assume risk or accept a decline in purchasing power.

Most people think of inflation as rising prices. Although that is the way most economists represent inflation, the truth is that inflation is actually your money losing value. Inflation is not caused by rising prices; rising prices are a symptom of inflation. The value of money declines as a result of increasing money supply provided by the stewards of monetary discipline, the Federal Reserve or some other global central bank.

This is difficult to conceptualize, so let’s bring it home in a simple example. If you live in a country where the annual inflation rate is a steady 2%, the value of the currency will decline every year by 2% on a compounded basis. At this rate, the purchasing power of the currency will be cut in half in less than 35 years.

Now consider a country, like Turkey, that has been running chronic deficits, printing money rapidly to make up a revenue shortfall, and begins to experience accelerating inflation. The annual inflation rate in Turkey is now estimated to be over 100% or 8.30% per month, a difficult number to comprehend. The value of their currency is currently falling at an accelerating pace so that what might have been purchased with 500 lira 9 months ago now requires 1,000 lira.

Put another way, for the prudent retiree who had 10,000 lira in cash stashed away nine months ago, the inflation-adjusted value of that money has now fallen to less than 5,000 lira.  If inflation persists at that rate, the 10,000 will become less than 1,000 in 29 months.

Believe it or not, Turkey is, so far, a relatively mild example compared to hyperinflationary episodes previously seen in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. These instances devastated the currencies and the wealth of the affected citizens. Fiscal imprudence is a real phenomenon and one that eventually destroys the financial infrastructure of a country. For more on the insidious role that even low levels of inflation have on purchasing power, please read our article: The Fed’s Definition of Price Stability is Likely Different than Yours.

Summary

There are over 3,800 historical examples of paper currencies that no longer exist. Although some of these currencies, like the French franc or the Greek drachma disappeared as a result of being replaced by an alternative (euro), many disappeared as a result of government imprudence, debauching the currency and hyperinflation. In all of those cases, persistent budget deficits and printed money were common factors. This should sound worryingly familiar.

Modern day central banks function by employing a steady dose of propaganda arguing against the risks of deflation and in favor of the benefits of a “modest” level of inflation. The Fed’s Congressional mandate is to “foster economic conditions that promote stable prices and maximum sustainable employment” but promoting stable prices evolved into a 2% inflation target. The math is not complex but it is difficult to grasp. Any number, no matter how small, compounded over a long enough time frame eventually takes on a parabolic, hockey stick, shape. The purpose of the inflation target is clearly intended to encourage borrowing, spending and speculating as the value of the currency gradually erodes but at an ever-accelerating pace. Those not participating in such acts will get left behind.

In the same way that rising prices are a symptom of inflation attributable to too much printed money in the system, deflation is falling prices due to unfinanceable inventories and merchandise pushed on to the market caused by too much debt. Contrary to popular economic opinion, deflation is not falling prices caused by a technology-enhanced decline in the costs of production – that is more properly labeled as “progress.” The Fed is either knowingly or unknowingly conflating these two separate and very different issues under the deflation label as support for their “inflation target”. In doing so, they are creating the conditions for deflation as debt burdens mount.

Gold, for all its imperfections, offers a time-tested, stable base against which to measure the value of fiat currencies. Accountability cannot be denied.  Despite the unwillingness of most central bankers to acknowledge gold’s relevance, the currencies of nations will remain beholden to the “barbarous relic”, especially as governments continue to prove feckless in their application of fiscal and monetary discipline.

Source: Authored by Michael Lebowitz via RealInvestmentAdvice.com| ZeroHedge