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Over a three-hour lunch in Davos yesterday, Carlyle Group LP (CG) co-founder David Rubenstein told a group of investors and bankers his biggest worry: nobody appeared to be worried about anything at all.
Less than 24 hours later, the devaluation of the Argentine peso accelerated the worst selloff in emerging market stocks in five years, unnerving delegates at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. As they shuttled from meetings to meals, losses were piling up by the minute as developing nation currencies slid with equities.
“I don’t want to look,” Daniel Loeb, billionaire founder of hedge fund Third Point LLC, said of the financial markets as he walked between meetings at the Congress center in Davos.
After recent gatherings were dominated by crises from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. to Greece, this year’s had begun to reflect a mood of optimism as economies and stock markets recovered. That enthusiasm waned today as the rout in emerging markets exacerbated concern that the engines of global growth since the crisis have now stalled.
Attendees at the Davos lunch included Larry Fink, chief executive officer of Blackrock Inc. (BLK), the world’s largest money manager, Blackstone Group LP (BX)’s Steve Schwarzman andUBS AG (UBSN) Chairman Axel Weber. They were briefed by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.
“Over the last couple of years people have gotten a lot less worried, but there are always things like black swans that come around,” Rubenstein said in an interview today. “I just wanted to make sure everybody remembers that and that we are likely to have some bumps along the road.”
Emerging market stocks have suffered their worst start to a year since 2009 as signs of weakness in China’s economy add to concern about the impact of cuts to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s stimulus program. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 1.5 percent today, extending this year’s slump to 5.3 percent.
Argentine policy makers devalued the peso by reducing support in the foreign-exchange market, allowing the currency to drop the most in 12 years to an unprecedented low. Turkey sold dollars to prop up the lira and South Africa’s rand declined to a five-year low.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein told Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle today he would “wait a while before saying there is a complete reversal” in markets, noting they were due a consolidation having “gone up very far in a single direction.”
“Davos Man is probably right in thinking 2014 will be a nice year, with more growth than last year,”Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, said in an interview. “But of course risks are still there.”
Forcing the reappraisal is the Fed’s tapering of monetary stimulus, which had previously covered all ills by prompting investors to chase returns in emerging markets.
With the U.S. central bank now cutting its monthly asset purchases from $85 billion, money managers are refocusing on the fundamentals of economies, punishing those with weak policies or imbalances such as large current account or budget deficits.
The shift was underscored this week by the International Monetary Fund, which released new forecasts showing emerging markets will outpace advanced nations by the smallest margin this year since 2001.
“Investors have been overly complacent in emerging markets,” Davide Serra, founder of London-based Algebris Investments LLP, said in Davos. “In 12 to 18 months, as real rates rise in the U.S. we’ll see which emerging markets were swimming naked.”
Other emerging economies are displaying faultlines, with investors mainly focused on the so-called fragile five of Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey.
China is also struggling to contain $4.8 trillion in shadow-banking debt, while Brazil is trying to rein in inflation fuelled up by a falling currency and higher public spending. A corruption investigation is embroiling Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet and deadly protests in Ukraine and Thailand are eroding confidence in their stability.
“We’re in a volatile era and anyone who doesn’t think that is overly complacent,” said Tim Adams, president of the Institute of International Finance, which represents more than 400 financial firms, and the U.S. Treasury’s former undersecretary for international affairs. “The re-pricing of risk will continue and there will be peaks of convulsions and complacency.”
(Reuters) – A full-scale flight from emerging market assets accelerated on Friday, setting global shares on course for their worst week this year and driving investors to safe-haven assets including U.S. Treasuries, the yen and gold.
U.S. stocks slumped, putting the benchmark S&P 500 on track for its worst drop since November 7 and pushing the index down 1.8 percent for the week. Concerns about slower growth in China, reduced support from U.S. monetary policy and political problems in Turkey, Argentina and Ukraine drove the selling.
The Turkish lira hit a record low. Argentina’s peso fell again after the country’s central bank abandoned its support of the currency.
The declines mirror moves from last June when developing country stocks fell almost 18 percent over about two months and hit global shares.
The broad nature of the selloff combines country-specific problems with the reality that reduced U.S. Federal Reserve bond buying reduces the liquidity that has in the past boosted higher-yielding emerging markets assets.
The Fed last month pared its monthly purchases of bonds by $10 billion to $75 billion. The U.S. central bank will hold a policy meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday and is widely expected to again pare its stimulus program.
“We expect the emerging market selloff to get worse before it starts getting better,” said Lorne Baring, managing director of B Capital Wealth Management in Geneva. “There’s definitely contagion spreading and it’s crossing over from emerging to developed in terms of sentiment.”
Activity was heavy in exchange-traded funds focused on emerging markets. The iShares Morgan Stanley EM ETF was the second-most active issue in New York trading, trailing only the S&P 500’s tracking ETF.
An MSCI index of emerging market shares fell as much as 1.6 percent. Since mid-October, the index has lost more than 9 percent. The MSCI all-country world equity index was down 1.6 percent.
Funds have continued to flee emerging market equities. In the week ended January 22, data from Thomson Reuters Lipper service showed outflows from U.S.-domiciled emerging market equity funds of $422.41 million, the sixth week of outflows out of the last seven.
Emerging market debt funds saw a 32nd week of outflows out of the last 35, with $200 million in net redemptions from the 250 funds tracked by Lipper.
“It’s just the final realization that they can’t continue to grow as an economy the same way they did before,” said Andres Garcia-Amaya, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds in New York. “It’s a combination of less liquidity for these countries that depended on foreign money and China kind of throwing some curve balls as well.”
The Turkish lira hit a record low of 2.33 to the dollar, even after the central bank spent at least $2 billion trying to prop it up on Thursday.
Turkey’s new dollar bond, first sold on Wednesday, fell below its launch price. The cost of insuring against a Turkish default rose to an 18-month high and Ukraine’s debt insurance costs hit their highest level since Kiev agreed a rescue deal with Russia in December.
Argentina decided to loosen strict foreign exchange controls a day after the peso suffered its steepest daily decline since the country’s 2002 financial crisis [ID:nL2N0KY0FC]. On Friday, it was down 2.8 percent.
On Wall Street shares sank.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 205.12 points, or 1.27 percent, at 15,992.23. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 24.93 points, or 1.36 percent, at 1,803.53. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 66.82 points, or 1.58 percent, at 4,152.05.
But in a signal that the selling may be overextended, investors were willing to pay more for protection against a drop in the S&P 500 on Friday than for three months down the road. The last time the spread between the CBOE volatility index and three-month VIX futuresturned negative was in mid- October, shortly after a 4.8 percent pullback in the S&P 500 opened the door to the last leg of the 2013 market rally.
European shares suffered their biggest fall in seven months. The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed down 2.4 percent at 1,301.34 points. The index has now erased all its gains for 2014, and is down 1.1 percent on the year.
Spain’s IBEX index, highly exposed to Latin America, was the worst-hit in Europe, falling 3.69 percent.
The dollar index was flat, a day after falling 0.9 percent against a basket of majorcurrencies, including the euro, yen, Swiss franc and sterling. That was its worst one-day performance in three months.
A flight to safety lifted currencies backed by a current account surplus, such as the Japanese yen and Swiss franc, and highly rated government bonds. German Bund futures rose and 10-year U.S. Treasury yields hit an eight-week low below 2.75 percent.
Gold traded close to its highest level in nine weeks and was poised for a fifth straight weekly climb as weaker equities burnished its safe-haven appeal. Spot gold rose to $1265.10, up from $1263.95.
(Reporting by Barani Krishnan; Additional reporting by Dan Bases and Toni Vorobyova; Editing by Nigel Stephenson, Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler)
Have you been paying attention to what has been happening in Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Ukraine, Turkey and China? If you are like most Americans, you have not been. Most Americans don’t seem to really care too much about what is happening in the rest of the world, but they should. In major cities all over the globe right now, there is looting, violence, shortages of basic supplies, and runs on the banks. We are not at a “global crisis” stage yet, but things are getting worse with each passing day. For a while, I have felt that 2014 would turn out to be a major “turning point” for the global economy, and so far that is exactly what it is turning out to be. The following are 20 early warning signs that we are rapidly approaching a global economic meltdown…
#1 The looting, violence and economic chaos that is happening in Argentina right now is a perfect example of what can happen when you print too much money…
For Dominga Kanaza, it wasn’t just the soaring inflation or the weeklong blackouts or even the looting that frayed her nerves.
It was all of them combined.
At one point last month, the 37-year-old shop owner refused to open the metal shutters protecting her corner grocery in downtown Buenos Aires more than a few inches — just enough to sell soda to passersby on a sweltering summer day.
#2 The value of the Argentine Peso is absolutely collapsing.
#3 Widespread shortages, looting and accelerating inflation are also causing huge problems in Venezuela…
Economic mismanagement in Venezuela has reached such a level that it risks inciting a violent popular reaction. Venezuela is experiencing declining export revenues, accelerating inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods. At the same time, the Maduro administration has foreclosed peaceful options for Venezuelans to bring about a change in its current policies.
President Maduro, who came to power in a highly-contested election last April, has reacted to the economic crisis with interventionist and increasingly authoritarian measures. His recent orders to slash prices of goods sold in private businesses resulted in episodes of looting, which suggests a latent potential for violence. He has put the armed forces on the street to enforce his economic decrees, exposing them to popular discontent.
#4 In a stunning decision, the Venezuelan government has just announced that it has devalued the Bolivar by more than 40 percent.
#5 Brazilian stocks declined sharply on Thursday. There is a tremendous amount of concern that the economic meltdown that is happening in Argentina is going to spill over into Brazil.
#6 Ukraine is rapidly coming apart at the seams…
A tense ceasefire was announced in Kiev on the fifth day of violence, with radical protesters and riot police holding their position. Opposition leaders are negotiating with the government, but doubts remain that they will be able to stop the rioters.
#7 It appears that a bank run has begun in China…
As China’s CNR reports, depositors in some of Yancheng City’s largest farmers’ co-operative mutual fund societies (“banks”) have been unable to withdraw “hundreds of millions” in deposits in the last few weeks. “Everyone wants to borrow and no one wants to save,” warned one ‘salesperson’, “and loan repayments are difficult to recover.” There is “no money” and the doors are locked.
#8 Art Cashin of UBS is warning that credit markets in China “may be broken“. For much more on this, please see my recent article entitled “The $23 Trillion Credit Bubble In China Is Starting To Collapse – Global Financial Crisis Next?”
#9 News that China’s manufacturing sector is contracting shook up financial markets on Thursday…
Wall Street was rattled by a key reading on China’s manufacturing which dropped below the key 50 level in January, according to HSBC. A reading below 50 on the HSBC flash manufacturing PMI suggests economic contraction.
#10 Japanese stocks experienced their biggest drop in 7 months on Thursday.
#11 The value of the Turkish Lira is absolutely collapsing.
#12 The unemployment rate in France has risen for 9 quarters in a row and recently soared to a new 16 year high.
#13 In Italy, the unemployment rate has soared to a brand new all-time record high of 12.7 percent.
#14 The unemployment rate in Spain is sitting at an all-time record high of 26.7 percent.
#15 This year, the Baltic Dry Index experienced the largest two week post-holiday decline that we have ever seen.
#16 Chipmaker Intel recently announced that it plans to eliminate5,000 jobs over the coming year.
#17 CNBC is reporting that U.S. retailers just experienced “the worst holiday season since 2008“.
#18 A recent CNBC article stated that U.S. consumers should expect a “tsunami” of store closings in the retail industry…
Get ready for the next era in retail—one that will be characterized by far fewer shops and smaller stores.
On Tuesday, Sears said that it will shutter its flagship store in downtown Chicago in April. It’s the latest of about 300 store closures in the U.S. that Sears has made since 2010. The news follows announcements earlier this month of multiple store closings from major department stores J.C. Penney and Macy’s.
Further signs of cuts in the industry came Wednesday, when Target said that it will eliminate 475 jobs worldwide, including some at its Minnesota headquarters, and not fill 700 empty positions.
#19 The U.S. Congress is facing another deadline to raise the debt ceiling in February.
#20 The Dow fell by more than 170 points on Thursday. It is becoming increasingly likely that “the peak of the market” is now in the rear view mirror.
In light of everything above, is there anyone out there that still wants to claim that “everything is going to be okay” for the global economy?
Sadly, most Americans are not even aware of most of these things.
All over the country today, the number one news headline is about Justin Bieber. The mainstream media is absolutely obsessed with celebrity scandals, and so is a very large percentage of the U.S. population.
A great economic storm is rapidly approaching, and most people don’t even seem to notice the storm clouds that are gathering on the horizon.
In the end, perhaps we will get what we deserve as a nation.
UPDATE: The Argentine Trade Balance missed surplus expectations by the most in 3 years (and 2nd most on record).
As those who follow Zero Hedge on twitter know, we have recently shown a keen interest in the collapse of the Argentine currency reserves – most recently at $29.4 billion – which have been declining at a steady pace of $100 million per day over the past week, as the central bank desperately struggles to keep its currency stable. Actually, make that struggled. Here is what we said just yesterday:
The decline continues: ARGENTINA’S RESERVES FELL $80M TODAY TO $29.4B: CENTRAL BANK
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) January 22, 2014
As of today it is not just the collapse in the Latin American country’s reserves, but its entire currency, when this morning we woke to learn that the Argentina Peso (with the accurate identifier ARS), had its biggest one day collapse since the 2002 financial crisis, after the central bank stopped intervening in currency markets. The reason: precisely to offset the countdown we had started several days back, namely “an effort to preserve foreign exchange reserves that have fallen by almost a third over the last year” as FT reported.
As the chart below shows, the official exchange rate cratered by over 17% when the USDARS soared from 6.8 to somewhere north of 8.
But as most readers know, just like in Venezuela, where the official exchange rate is anywhere between 6.40 and 11, and the unofficial is 78.85, so in Argentina the real transactions occur on the black market, where they track the so-called Dolar Blue, which as of this writing just hit an all time high of 12.90 and rising fast.
What happens next? Nothing good. “The risk of capital flight is rising by the minute. This will be very hard to control,” wrote Dirk Willer, strategist at Citigroup, adding that liquidity had “largely disappeared” with a risk of Venezuela-style capital controls. Ah Venezuela – that socialist paradise with a soaring stock market… even if food or toilet paper are about to become a thing of the past.
Some other perspectives via the FT:
Siobhan Morden of Jeffries said: “This is not an administration that respects or understands market pressure. They have been in the early stages of currency crisis since December, and yet their main strategy has been to pay off arrears and try to attract foreign direct investment.”
Luis Secco, Buenos Aires economist, said “It is hard to figure out what is the logic behind the authourities decision to let the peso so abruptly, without any other accompanying macroeconomic policy. It’s possible that the authorities would rather see a strong rise in the dollar, than lose, again, a large quantity of reserves.”
“It is a potentially dangerous situation…not least because it could give the impression that the authorities don’t have a very clear idea of how to manage the situation.”
Ricardo Delgado, Buenos Aires economist, said on Wednesday: “The government faces a dilemma. It wants to stop reserves from falling. But that means less imports and thus lower growth, as the economy is very dependent on imports. So the question is: do you want more growth, or higher foreign reserves.“
However, with the “currency run” having once again begun, absent a wholesale bailout and/or backstop by “solvent” central banks of Argentina, a country which has hardly been on good speaking terms with the western central banks, there is little that the nation can do.
So for all those morbidly curious individuals who are curious what the slow-motion train wrecked death of yet another currency will look like, below is a link to the DolarBlue website, aka the front row seats where the true level of the Argentina currency can be seen in real time. If and when this number takes off parabolically, that’s when the panic really begins – first in Argentina, then elsewhere.
Of course, it’s not just Argentina – most of the world’s emerging market FX is getting hammered year-to-date…
For Dominga Kanaza, it wasn’t just the soaring inflation or the weeklong blackouts or even the looting that frayed her nerves.
It was all of them combined.
At one point last month, the 37-year-old shop owner refused to open the metal shutters protecting her corner grocery in downtown Buenos Aires more than a few inches — just enough to sell soda to passersby on a sweltering summer day.
“It was scary,” said Kanaza as she yelled out prices to customers while sipping on mate, Argentina’s caffeine-rich herbal drink. The looting that began in neighboring Cordoba province when police officers left streets unguarded to strike for higher pay had spread to the outskirts of Buenos Aires, sparking panic in Kanaza’s neighborhood. The chaos, she said, was like nothing she had seen since the rioting that followed the South American nation’s record $95 billion default in 2001.
Thirteen years after that collapse, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is running out of time to avert another crisis. The policy mix that Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, used to usher in 7 percent average annual growth over the past decade — higher government spending financed by printing money — is unraveling.
Inflation soared to 28 percent last year, according to opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich, who divulges monthly estimates for economists cowed into silence by Fernandez’s crackdown on price reports that clash with official figures. By the government’s count, inflation was less than 11 percent.
The peso sank 3.5 percent to a record low of 7.14 per dollar yesterday, according to Banco de la Nacion Argentina, and has plunged more than 25 percent in the past 12 months. That’s its worst selloff since the devaluation that followed the default. Currencies from only three countries in the world have fallen more: war-torn Syria, Iran and Venezuela.
Power outages like the one that sunk Kanaza’s shop into darkness are becoming more frequent, deepening the economic slump, after the nation’s grid atrophied under a decade of government-set electricity price controls. The International Monetary Fund, which censured Argentina last year for misreporting inflation, predicts economic growth will slow to 2.8 percent this year, about half the 5.1 percent average across developing nations.
Fernandez’s biggest financial problem is the loss of foreign reserves. They’ve tumbled 44 percent in the past three years to $29.5 billion as prices on the country’s soy and wheat exports slumped and Argentines circumvented currency controls created to keep dollars onshore. The government sought to stiffen those restrictions again yesterday, limiting people to two online purchases a year from overseas providers.
For a country that remains locked out of international debt markets as it haggles with billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer over lawsuits stemming from the default, the reserves are its main source of dollars to pay holders of $30 billion of bonds who accepted restructuring terms. When other foreign-currency obligations are included, the amount owed swells to $50 billion.
Investors are bracing for the possibility of another default. The country’s average dollar bond yield of 12 percent is the highest among major developing nations after Venezuela. Trading in swap contracts that insure bonds shows investors see a 79 percent probability of a halt in payments over the next five years, a reflection in part of concern that Singer’s demand of full repayment on the securities he kept from the 2001 default will disrupt debt servicing.
“We’re seeing some sort of day of reckoning,” said Diego Ferro, co-chief investment officer in New York at Greylock Capital Management, which has been investing in the country’s debt since the 1990s. “The adjustment will have to happen if Argentina doesn’t want to hit a wall before 2015.”
Fernandez, 60, has overhauled her cabinet and reworked some policies in a bid to stem the capital flight. In her first day back on the job in November following surgery to remove a blood clot near her brain, she replaced the economy minister, cabinet chief, agriculture minister and central bank president. A day later, Guillermo Moreno, the trade secretary who played the strongman enforcing price controls, was gone.
The new cabinet pledged to work with the IMF to improve data, began talks to settle $6.5 billion of overdue debt with Paris Club creditor nations and unveiled plans to compensate Spain’s Repsol SA for the seizure of its local oil unit in 2012. Bonds advanced, driving yields on the country’s benchmark securities to a one-year low of 11.07 percent on Nov. 29.
Ferro doubts the measures are enough. Bolder steps, such as reaching a deal with Singer to regain access to overseas markets and lifting currency controls, are needed to regain investor confidence, he said. The bond rally began to falter in early December. By mid-month, all the gains had been erased.
An Economy Ministry spokeswoman didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment on the government’s financing plans.
Fernandez is giving no indication of what her next move is. After re-appearing following the five-week absence for surgery, she vanished again, spending much of December holed up in her 5,600-square-foot (520 square meters) brick villa in Patagonia. She went another five weeks without making a public appearance before unveiling a new student aid program before supporters in the presidential palace last night.
And that’s perhaps what angers Argentines like Miguel Llanes the most. While the looting spread across the country from Cordoba and the blackouts dragged on day after day in the capital city, Fernandez was nowhere to be seen. Llanes, unable to open his curtain shop in downtown Buenos Aires for over a week, vented by joining protesters who were burning tires and garbage in the streets.
“Where was the president?” he shouts.
And then he raises a question that holders of $50 billion of Argentine bonds are dying to know.
“How long will this last? They’ve spent all the money.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Laura Zelenko at firstname.lastname@example.org
Negotiators are poised to seal the first global trade deal for more than a decade, in a rare victory for the World Trade Organisation, whose struggle to secure an international pact has increasingly threatened its relevance.
The US and powerful developing-nation players, including China and India, have overcome differences in agriculture. This leaves negotiators in Geneva to put the final touches to a deal that will impose binding requirements to reduce red tape and ease the path for goods at borders around the world.
ON THIS STORY
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IN GLOBAL ECONOMY
It could add about $1tn to annual global trade worth more than $18tn, some analysts have said.
Roberto Azevêdo, the recently appointed head of the WTO, is expected to present a finished draft of the agreement to the body’s highest organ, the general council, in a meeting as soon as Sunday or Monday.
Barring any unforeseen problems – and negotiators gave warning on Thursday that they could still emerge – the agreement would be signed by trade ministers from the WTO’s 159 member countries in Bali next month. “They have crossed over the threshold,” said a senior trade official in Geneva.
Sealed, the deal would be a victory for Mr Azevêdo, who warned that the WTO risked irrelevancy if it did not deliver something substantive in Bali when took over in September.
The deal’s three broad pillars – tackling bureaucratic barriers at borders, a series of agriculture issues, and several development-related subjects – were plucked from the wider Doha agenda two years ago as watered-down but “deliverable” elements of a deal.
But they have still been the subject of difficult negotiations and officials and observers of the process insist the deal at hand is important in both substance and what it says about the state of the WTO as a forum for trade negotiations.
“We can do negotiations on a multilateral basis and deliver. That’s the big lesson,” one senior ambassador to the WTO said.
Mr Azevêdo, a former Brazilian diplomat, and others want to use the deal to re-energise the now 12-year-old Doha Round of trade negotiations which for years has been stalled due to differences between the US and developing world countries over agriculture.
The biggest element of the Bali deal is the chapter on “trade facilitation”, WTO jargon for removing bureaucratic barriers at borders. It will set binding standards for WTO members on matters such as how long goods should take to clear borders, how customs officials can charge tariffs and penalties and what paperwork can be required at borders.
Some details of the facilitation deal need to be finalised, such as how poor countries should be required to meet the obligations. Mr Azevêdo is due to present a potential wording on that issue to negotiators on Friday and officials in Geneva expect negotiations through the weekend.
But the most prickly issues in Geneva have been related to agriculture and involved India, China, and Argentina.
After months of haggling, negotiators earlier this week settled on a four-year “peace clause” that will give India and other countries latitude to buy staples from farmers and operate food programmes for the poor.
The US and China have also agreed to set aside a dispute over certain agricultural tariffs, while Argentina appeared set to allow compromise language linked to eliminating subsidies for agricultural exports, a long-standing bone of contention in the developing world.
Earlier this month, Argentina’s leading conservative paper, La Nación published an unsigned editorial comparing the economies of Argentina and Venezuela. The editorial concluded that as economic freedom declines in Argentina, and as Argentina adopts more of what Chavez called “twenty-first century socialism,” it is becoming increasingly similar to Venezuela. Is this true? Will Argentina suffer the same fate as Venezuela where poverty is increasing and toilet paper can be a luxury?
The similarities of regulations and economic problems facing both countries are indeed striking in spite of obvious differences in the two countries. Yet, when people are confronted with the similarities, it is common to hear replies like “but Argentina is not Venezuela, we have more infrastructure and resources.”
Institutional changes, however, define the long-run destiny of a country, not its short-run prosperity.
Imagine that Cuba and North Korea became, overnight, the two most free-market, limited-government countries in the world. The two countries would have immediately gained civil liberties and economic freedom, but they would still have to accumulate wealth and to develop their economies. The institutional change affects the political situation immediately, but a new economy requires time to take shape. For example, as China opened parts of its economy to international markets, the country started to grow, and we are now seeing the effects of decades of relative economic liberalization. It is true that many areas in China continue to lack significant freedoms, but it would be a much different China today had it refused to change its institutions decades ago.
The same occurs if one of the wealthiest and developed countries in the world were to adopt Cuban or North Korean institutions overnight. The wealth and capital does not vanish in 24 hours. The country would shift from capital accumulation to capital consumption and it might take years or even decades to drain the coffers of previous accumulated wealth. In the meantime, the government has the resources to play the game of Bolivarian (i.e., Venezuelan) populist socialism and enjoy the wealth, highways, electrical infrastructure, and communication networks that were the result of the more free-market institutional realities of the past.
Eventually, though, highways start to deteriorate from the lack of maintenance (or trains crash in the station killing dozens of passengers), the energy sector starts to waver, energy imports become unavoidable, and the communication network becomes obsolete. In other words, economic populism is financed with resources accumulated by non-populist institutions.
According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World project, Argentina ranked 34th-best in the year 2000. By 2011, however, Argentina fell to 137, next to countries like Ecuador, Mali, China, Nepal, Gabon, and Mozambique. There is no doubt that Argentina enjoys a higher rate of development and wealth than those other countries. But, can we still be sure that this will be the situation 20 or 30 years from now? The Argentinean president is known for having said that she would like Argentina to be a country like Germany, but the path to becoming like Switzerland or Germany involves adopting Swiss and German-type institutions, which Argentina is not doing.
The adoption of Venezuelan institutions in Argentina, came along with high growth rates. These growth rates, however, are misleading:
First, economic growth, properly speaking, is not an increase in “production,” but an increase in “production capacity.” The growth in observed GDP after a big crisis is economic recovery, not economic growth properly understood.
Second, you can increase your production capacity by investing in the wrong economic activities. Heavy price regulation, as takes place in Argentina (now accompanied by high rates of inflation), misdirects resource allocation by affecting relative prices. We might be able to see and even touch the new investment, but such capital is the result of a monetary illusion. The economic concept of capital does not depend on the tangibility or size of the investment (i.e, on its physical properties), but on its economic value. When the time comes for relative prices to adjust to reflect real consumer preferences, and the market value of capital goods drops, capital is consumed or destroyed in economic terms even if the physical qualities of capital goods remains unchanged.
Third, production can increase not because investment increases, but because people are consuming invested capital, as is the case when there is an increase in the rate that machinery and infrastructure wear out.
I’m not saying that there is no genuine growth in Argentina, but it remains a fact that a nontrivial share of the Argentinean GDP growth can be explained by: (1) recovery, (2) misdirection of investment, and (3) capital consumption. If that weren’t the case, employment creation wouldn’t have stagnated and the country’s infrastructure should be shining rather than falling into pieces.
Most economists and policy analysts seem to have a superficial reading of economic variables. If an economy is healthy, then economic variables look good, GDP grows, and inflation is low. But the fact that we observe good economic indicators does not imply that the economy is healthy. There’s a reason why a doctor asks for tests from a patient that appears well. Feeling well doesn’t mean there might not be a disease that shows no obvious symptoms at the moment. The economist who refuses to have a closer look and see why GDP grows is like a doctor who refuses to have a closer look at his patient. The Argentinian patient has caught the Bolivarian disease, but the most painful symptoms have yet to surface.
- Critics rap Argentine govt’s budget estimates (kansascity.com)
- SCENARIOS-Argentina faces a currency crisis as reserves dwindle (xe.com)
Slowly at first, then all at once. (source)
How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
The dialogue above is from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.
It’s often attributed to Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or misquoted as something like “At first you go bankrupt slowly, then all at once.” But the theme is the same.
Nations go bankrupt in the same way. Banking collapses occur in the same way. Currency crises strike in the same way. They all happen gradually… and then suddenly. Sometimes overnight.
History is generous with examples of entire nations that have suffered this fate, from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to Argentina’s millennial financial crisis in 2001.
The warning signs are always there, even at the beginning. Over a period of years, sometimes decades, a tiny trickle of warning signs turns into a steady stream… and eventually a great flood.
The United States is clearly within this model, somewhere between a steady stream and a great flood. It shows.
Last night, after more than two weeks of utterly embarrassing theater, the government in the Land of the Free inked a deal to kick the can down the road a few more months. And in doing so, they set a very dangerous precedent.
As part of the bargain codified in HR 2775 (which President Obama signed into law), the Treasury Department is authorized to SUSPEND the debt ceiling. In other words, for all intents and purposes, there is now NO LIMIT government borrowing.
This limitless borrowing authority will expire on February 7, 2014. But it sets the precedent that dismissing the debt ceiling is a perfectly viable course of action.
Congress has effectively removed their handcuffs… so you can almost assuredly bet down the road that this provision will be extended, and ultimately become permanent.
No one in the Land of the Free seems to care. But foreigners do. The lead commentary out of China’s state media the other day was very clear in its position:
“It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”
America’s dominance is coming to an end. Nearly every piece of objective evidence points to this conclusion– from the US government’s absurdly unsustainable finances to the worldwide backlash against their desperate spying tactics.
For several years now, this decline has been happening gradually. But we are quickly reaching the bifurcation point where the steady stream of warning signs will turn into an epic flood of consequences.
As these events unfold, this will become the biggest story of our time. The end of the US dollar hegemony will affect nearly every human being on the planet. And if history is any guide, what follows will be incredibly tumultuous.
The answer depends on what kind of person you are: would you rather be a year early or a day late?
If you agree with this premise and can see the obvious writing on the wall, one thing that’s absolutely critical is to have the right information about the solutions. And there are solutions.
For example, moving a portion of your savings to a safe, stable bank overseas gets your money out of a dying currency and declining country, away from the thieving bureaucrats in your home country.
And this is something that makes sense, no matter what. Even if nothing ‘bad’ ever happens, you won’t be worse off for having some savings in a strong bank overseas.
This is an incredibly sensible, simple step to take. But it’s imperative to have the right intelligence on how to begin. Where to go? Which bank? Who to contact?
Sovereign Man’s Offshore Insider: Starter Edition contains the most critical information and contacts you need to know to start taking action today, distilling years of my own personal experience and contacts into one low-cost action kit.
A small effort right now can make the difference between prosperity and despair down the road.
These are rational steps that prudent people that have seen the writing on the wall have been taking for centuries. I encourage you to take action now and be on the right side of history.
- Greed destroyed us all: George W. Bush and the real story of the Great Recession (salon.com)
- Europe Is Burning, Slowly (blogs.the-american-interest.com)
- Shale oil ‘adds 11% to reserves’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Shale Oil And Shale Gas Resources Globally Abundant – EIA (albanytribune.com)
- Russia tops US in shale oil resources, EIA says (fuelfix.com)
- Shale Oil Job Out Look: Two Million? (247wallst.com)
- ΕΙΑ: Shale oil and shale gas resources are globally abundant (energment.wordpress.com)
- U.S. Report Says Shale Boosts Global Resources (rferl.org)