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Here Is The “Growth” – Inventory Hoarding Accounts For Nearly 60% Of GDP Increase In Past Year | Zero Hedge
As we reported earlier, while on the surface the headline revised Q3 GDP number was a stunner coming at 3.6%, the reality is that more than 100% of the growth from the initial estimate came from a revised estimate of how many private Inventories were stockpiled in the quarter. The reality was that of the $230 billion in total increase in SAAR GDP, $146 billion of this, or over 63%, was due to inventory stockpiling.
So how does inventory hoarding – that most hollow of “growth” components as it relies on future purchases by a consumer who has increasingly less purchasing power – look like historically? The chart below shows the quarterly change in the revised GDP series broken down by Inventory (yellow) and all other non-Inventory components comprising GDP (blue).
But where the scramble to accumulate inventory in hopes that it will be sold, profitably, sooner or later to buyers either domestic or foreign, is seen most vividly, is in the data from the past 4 quarters, or the trailing year starting in Q3 2012 and ending with the just released revised Q3 2013 number. The result is that of the $534 billion rise in nominal GDP in the past year, a whopping 56% of this is due to nothing else but inventory hoarding.
The problem with inventory hoarding, however, is that at some point it will have to be “unhoarded.” Which is why expect many downward revisions to future GDP as this inventory overhang has to be destocked.
In the most dramatic evidence yet that Britons are paying for the rising cost of living by raiding savings, Yahoo UK reports that households are pulling money out of their savings accounts at the fastest rate in modern record, according to Bank of England figures. Since the recent recession began, millions of workers have suffered repeated effective pay cuts as inflation has outstripped pay rises, and while consumer spending was one of the main contributors to the sharp rise in gross domestic product in the third quarter, “consumer strength usually reflects increased borrowing but this hasn’t been the key factor recently.”
In the year to October, the amount of cash in time deposits and cash ISAs fell by 4.7%, while the amount families have in their instant access current accounts or in their pockets rose by 11.2%. This inflationary shift of cash is the biggest since comparable records began in the 1970s.
In the past year, families have withdrawn £23bn from their long-term savings accounts to convert into cash and put into current accounts – the equivalent of around £900 for every household in the country.
It is the most dramatic evidence yet that Britons are paying for the rising cost of living by raiding their savings accounts.
According to economists, the shift of cash is the biggest since comparable records began in the 1970s, and reverses much of the sharp increase in saving that happened at the height of the recession.
On Thursday, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is expected to focus on measures to help households deal with the rising cost of living, including energy bills.
Since the recent recession began, millions of workers have suffered repeated effective pay cuts as inflation has outstripped pay rises.
Consumer spending was one of the main contributors to the sharp rise in gross domestic product in the third quarter, and a further strong increase is implied by the Bank’s money figures.
But while the figures suggest that the economy is strengthening, they will also be taken as further evidence that savers are being deterred from putting money aside by record low interest rates.
Some also suspect that with households still facing a significant squeeze as a result of higher living costs, many are having to dig into their savings in order to afford day-to-day items.
So the UK economy is surging and being lauded as evidence of QE’s efficacy but the reality is inflation is eating away at people’s wealth and hot money flows have caused the cost of living to rise dragging out the mainstay of future growth – savings – to meet consumption needs today. How long before government inflation data reflects this?
Before it became a conspiracy fact, the traditional response to all suggestions of a massive Libor/FX/commodity/mortgage rigging cartel was a simple if stupid one: too many people are involved and so it can never be contained. As it turns out not only can it be contained, but when the interests of the “conspiracy” participants are alligned, it can continue for decades. Naturally, the same applies for the pinnacle of the global wealth pyramid: the world’s billionaires and their plan of wealth preservation and accumulation.
Not only have the world’s richest been the biggest beneficiaries of the monetary and fiscal policies since 2009, with the current 2170 global billionaires representing a 60% increase since 2009according to UBS, but their consolidated net worth has more than doubled from $3.1 trillion in 2009 to $6.5 trillion now. At the same time, the net worth of the “bottom 90%” of the world’s not so lucky population, has declined. Yet, somehow, the Fed is still revered.
Naturally, as in global financial conspiracies, the question arises: is it possible that instead of representing the interests of the general population, what the central banks simply do is follow the instructions of a far smaller cabal, that of the world’s uber wealthy?
In case there is any confusion, the above is a rhetorical question. It goes without saying that what the world’s largest wealth accumulators want above all else, is to preserve a status quo that allows their capital-based wealth to increase as fast and as much as possible in a regime of reflating asset prices, while keeping the bulk of the world’s population distracted, entertained, and collecting their daily welfare check.
Consider the downside: according to a new report by Wealth-X and UBS, “the average billionaire is incredibly well connected, with a social circle worth US$15 billion – five times the net worth of the average billionaire. This figure is based on a calculation of the net worth of only the three top connections of billionaires, and so it is likely to be even higher when considering the number of UHNW individuals the average billionaire interacts with while attending various meetings, dinners, and events.” It is during these “meetings, dinners and events” that the real policy defining the future of the world is set – far beyond the theater of a corrupt, dysfunctional Congress or incompetent Executive. And the policy is simple – “more for us, nothing for everyone else.”
The bottom line from Weatlh X: “factoring in all of the connections between the world’s billionaires, this equates to a total social circle worth a combined US$33 trillion” or double the GDP of the US.
The estimated “circle of influence” among the friends of just the US’ richest is shown below.
A few days ago, when GMO released its quarterly thoughts, most focused immediately on the claim that the market is 75% overvalued. However perhaps an even more important analysis by author Ben Inker, and one which was largely ignored by most, is what front-loading so much market gains thanks to the Bernanke surge in the S&P means for future returns especially as it pertains to pension funds the bulk of which are already underfunded. GMO’s conclusion was not a happy one.
If equity returns for the next hundred years were only going to be 3.5% real or so, today’s prices are about right. We would be wrong about how overvalued the U.S. stock market is, but every pension fund, foundation, and endowment – not to mention every individual saving for retirement – would be in dire straits, as every investors’ portfolio return assumptions build in far more return. Over the standard course of a 40-year working life, a savings rate that is currently assumed to lead to an accumulation of 10 times final salary would wind up 40% short of that goal if today’s valuations are the new equilibrium. Every endowment and foundation will find itself wasting away instead of maintaining itself for future generations. And the plight of public pension funds is probably not even worth calculating, as we would simply find ourselves in a world where retirement as we now know it is fundamentally unaffordable, however we pretend we may have funded it so far.
One person who read this part of Inker’s paper and did do the calculation is none other than Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio. His conclusion is terrifying.
The reason why public and all other pension funds are the least discussed aspect of modern finance, is that while Bernanke has done his best to plug the hole in the asset side of the ledger resulting from poor asset returns, it is nowhere near sufficient since the liabilities have been compounding throughout the financial crisis since the two grow independently. Which means that anyone who does the analysis sees a very disturbing picture.
Indeed, while the asset side can and has suffered massively as a result of the great financial crisis, the liabilities are compounding on a base that has grown steadily. As Dalio notes, each year a growing percentage of assets are paid out in the form of distributions, leaving less assets to compound at a given return.
This dynamic is shown in the chart below, which shows the change of pension fund assets over the past decade relative to the present value of liabilities discounted at a rate that has been roughly constant at around 7.5%, and rising to reflect the growth in future liabilities. Obviously, if the assets equal the value of liabilities, then the fund would be able to make its payments at a 7.5% asset return. The problem is that even with the Bernanke rally of the past five years, public pension assets are now at about the same level as in 2007 while commitments have grown. Sadly, this means that recent good returns have barely closed the gap. Needless to say, the gap grows much faster in the coming years if the future returns are less than the assumed 7.5%, something that was the basis for the GMO observations.
A key component of the pension fund calculation is the increasing portion of annual distributions less contributions as a percentage of assets. Since each year public pensions distribute about 5% of the future value of their liabilities, and these liabilities have been growing at a compounded rate of about 4%, the net cash out as a percentage of flat and/or declining assets has been progressively rising. Today, annual cash outflows amount to roughly 9% of total assets which contributions are a paltry 5% of assets, which has led to a 4% cash flow drag. This increase in net cash outflows from 1.5% of assets in 2000 to 4% most recently is shown in the second chart below. The take home from this chart is that funds need to return 4% a year
in the near term just to avoid losing assets, and thanks to compounding,
over time the rising amount of NPVed liabilities raises the required
return even further.
That’s where we stand now, but where are we headed? Assuming a 4% return and a steady growth of the liabilities means the financial gap will grow at an accelerating pace, making it more and more difficult to close the funding gap. It also means that with every passing year the required rate of return to plug the gap will grow even faster. Today, for example, the required return is 8.9%. In the future, once again assuming a 4% return on assets, means the required rate of return grows to 13% in ten years and 16% in fifteen years. Naturally, if a fund has a larger funding gap, the required return is even larger and the funding gap blows out much faster. As Bridgewater summarizes this feedback mechanism, “the dynamics of compounding cause this case machine to operate like the event horizon of a black hole: the pressures rise exponentially until it is virtually impossible to recovery.”
But the scariest chart of all is the following simulation of the underfunding process over time and total fund assets held, assuming a 4% return on assets, which shows the accelerating decline in the value of asset holdings due to an increasingly negative cash flow yield, causing virtually all pension funds to run out of money. In the case of a 4% return, a pension fund that is assumed to be fully-funded today will run out of cash in 30 years; pensions that are 80% funded run out of money in 25 year, and so on. A fund with just a 20% funding ratio will have no money left in just over 5 years!
Curious what the current distribution of funds that match these criteria is? The chart below shows the percentage of current pension funds at each funding bracket. Nearly 50% of all fund are funded 80% or less.
The charts and simplistic calculations above show not only why virtually all pension funds are set for extinction in the not too distant future, but why Bernanke is stuck artificially reflating asset values if only to preserve the myth of the public pension funded welfare state. Because the biggest threat to Keynesians and monetarists everywhere is the social instability that would result once the myth of the Bismarckian welfare state unwinds.
But wait, there’s more.
Bridgewater next proceeds to calculate what the economic impact is in a world in which a generous, consistent 4% return on assets is assumed. As Dalio’s fund notes, in such a case the path to public pension sustainability will require some combination of benefit cuts or increased contributions to net out the liabilities and assets and close the funding gap. “Any way you cut it this will reduce someone’s income, with a likely impact on their spending. Higher taxes will reduce the disposable income of workers, although the impact will be different depending on whose taxes are raised; less government spending on other things will hurt growth directly; lower benefits will reduce the disposable income of retirees who have a high propensity to spend; borrowing to finance the deficit will hurt growth less directly and over the longer term.”
Bridgewater concludes that if public pensions don’t delay and start plugging the hole now, they will need to contribute just under $200 billion per year over the next 30 years, amounting to 1.2% of GDP and 8.8% of state and local tax revenues. If funds wait a decade, the impact per year explodes to $325 billion over 30 years and will “cost” 1.2% of GDP and 12.2% of tax revenues. But the most likely, and worst case scenario, is if pension funds do nothing at all, “let the machine run its course”, then the economic damage is unquantifiable as low asset returns inevitably cause lower income through benefits after assets are fully depleted.
And that in a nutshell is why the pension system, erected on an asset-liability mismatch gone horribly wrong, is doomed: a fact well known by the Fed chairman, and whose only countermeasure is to keep doing more of what has been done to date: inflating asset value while monetizing massive amounts of debt in the hope that the higher asset return will offset the funding gap. In principle this is great assuming the Fed can keep doing QE for the foreseeable future. However here, as everywhere else, we run into the fundamental problem with QE – the Fed is currently monetizing 0.3% of all private sector 10 Year equivalents per week, or about 15% per year. Since the Fed already holds about a third of the total, it has one, at best two years of QE left, before it is in control of an unprecedented two thirds of the entire bond market, and before the complete lack of market liquidity from central-planning gone wild, grinds Bernanke’s experiment to a halt.
It is at that point that the entire flawed economic system of the past century will finally be on its last legs, as one of the core pillars of the biggest lie of all, the welfare state, resting on the flawed assumption that asset grow at a faster compounded rate than liabilities, will have no choice but to look into the abyss.