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About three weeks ago, I speculated that the bottom on interest rates had come and gone, and interest rates were rising.
This now seems more and more certain. Because of Abenomics, yields on Japanese government bonds have shot up and set off an ugly chain reaction. Bond prices are falling and yields are rising. Rather quickly, I might add.
Take a look at these charts of yields for selected Canadian government bonds. Pay extra attention to the longer-term bonds.
First, marketable bonds. The average yield on 1-3 year bonds:
Now 3-to-5 year bonds:
Here’s the average for 10+ year bonds:
Now the benchmark bonds.
First, the 2-year:
Long-term benchmark bonds:
Here’s the long-term real return bond yield:
You can draw your own conclusions from this data, I’m sure.
It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory. Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever. So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue? Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens. If there is good news, stocks go up. If there is bad news, stocks go up. If there is no news, stocks go up. On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high. In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year. This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble. At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were “priced out of the market”. But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.
It is almost as if Wall Street has not learned any lessons from the last two major stock market crashes at all. Just look at Twitter. At the current price, Twitter is supposedly worth 40.7 BILLION dollars. But Twitter is not profitable. It is a seven-year-old company that has never made a single dollar of profit.
Not one single dollar.
In fact, Twitter actually lost 64.6 million dollars last quarter alone. And Twitter is expected to continue losing money for all of 2015 as well.
But Twitter stock is up 82 percent over the last 30 days, and nobody can really give a rational reason for why this is happening.
Overall, the Dow is up more than 25 percent so far this year. Unless something really weird happens over the next few days, it will be the best year for the Dow since 1996.
It has been a wonderful run for Wall Street. Unfortunately, there are a whole host of signs that we have entered very dangerous territory.
The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before. In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks. These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.
And of course the most troubling sign is that even as the stock market soars to unprecedented heights, the state of the overall U.S. economy is actually getting worse…
-The number of mortgage applications just hit a new 13 year low.
-The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries just hit 3 percent.
For many more signs like this, please see my previous article entitled “37 Reasons Why ‘The Economic Recovery Of 2013’ Is A Giant Lie“.
And most Americans don’t realize this, but the U.S. financial system and the overall U.S. economy are now in much weaker condition than they were the last time we had a major financial crash back in 2008. Employment is at a much lower level than it was back then and our banking system is much more vulnerable than it was back then. Just before the last financial crash, the U.S. national debt was sitting atabout 10 trillion dollars, but today it has risen to more than 17.2 trillion dollars. The following excerpt from a recent article posted on thedailycrux.com contains even more facts and figures which show how our “balance sheet numbers” continue to get even worse…
Since the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. current account deficit has been more than $100 billion per quarter. As a result, foreigners now own $4.2 trillion more U.S. investment assets than we own abroad. That’s $1.7 trillion more than when Buffett first warned about this huge problem in 2003. Said another way, the problem is 68% bigger now.
And here’s a number no one else will tell you – not even Buffett. Foreigners now own $25 trillion in U.S. assets. And yet… we continue to consume far more than we produce, and we borrow massively to finance our deficits.
Since 2007, the total government debt in the U.S. (federal, state, and local) has doubled from around $10 trillion to $20 trillion.
Meanwhile, the size of Fannie and Freddie’s mortgage book declined slightly since 2007, falling from $4.9 trillion to $4.6 trillion. That’s some good news, right?
Nope. The excesses just moved to a new agency. The “other” federal mortgage bank, the Federal Housing Administration, now is originating 20% of all mortgages in the U.S., up from less than 5% in 2007.
Student debt, also spurred on by government guarantees, has also boomed, doubling since 2007 to more than $1 trillion. Altogether, total debt in our economy has grown from around $50 trillion to more than $60 trillion since 2007.
So don’t be fooled by this irrational stock market bubble.
Just because a bunch of half-crazed investors are going into massive amounts of debt in a desperate attempt to make a quick buck does not mean that the overall economy is in good shape.
In fact, much of the country is in such rough shape that “reverse shopping” has become a huge trend. Even big corporations such as McDonald’s are urging their employees to return their Christmas gifts in order to bring in some much needed money…
In a stark reminder of how tough things still are for low-income families in America, McDonalds has advised workers to dig themselves “out of holiday debt” by cashing in their Christmas haul.
“You may want to consider returning some of your unopened purchases that may not seem as appealing as they did,” said a website set up for employees.
“Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”
This irrational stock market bubble is not going to last for too much longer. And a lot of top financial experts are now warning their clients to prepare for the worst. For example, David John Marotta of Marotta Wealth Management recently told his clients that they should all have a“bug-out bag” that contains food, a gun and some ammunition…
A top financial advisor, worried that Obamacare, theNSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a “bug-out bag” that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive.
David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, “Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.”
His memo is part of a series addressing the potential for a “financial apocalypse.” His view, however, is that the problems plaguing the country won’t result in armageddon. “There is the possibility of a precipitous decline, although a long and drawn out malaise is much more likely,” said the Charlottesville, Va.-based president of Marotta Wealth Management.
So what do you think is coming in 2014?
The last few days have seen significant shifts in the term structure of US Treasury bonds; auctions have not gone well and despite the world’s expectations for ‘taper’ to lead to a surge in rates, the long-end of the bond-market has rallied. While Goldman might believe the ‘bond bubble’ is starting to pop, the following 223 years of Treasury yields (through free-markets and centrally-planned) sheds some light on what the ‘new normal’ level of rates really represents because, as we noted previously, the world is so levered now that any ‘reversion’ in rates is simply unthinkable.
Notice any difference pre- and post-Fed?
Chart: Goldman Sachs
The Federal Reserve will probably reduce its bond purchases in $10 billion increments over the next seven meetings before ending the program in December 2014, economists said.
The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 41 economists matches the $10 billion reduction announced two days ago as the Fed began to unwind the unprecedented stimulus that has defined Ben S. Bernanke’s chairmanship.
The Federal Open Market Committeesaid in a statement it will slow buying “in further measured steps at future meetings” if the economy improves as forecast. The Fed may taper its buying by about $10 billion per gathering, Bernanke said at a press conference in Washington on Dec. 18.
“If we’re making progress in terms of inflation and continued job gains, then I imagine we’ll continue to do, probably at each meeting, a measured reduction” in purchases, Bernanke said, calling $10 billion in the “general range” for a “modest” reduction. If the economy slows, the Fed may “skip a meeting or two,” and if the economy accelerates it may taper a “bit faster.”
“Doing this would avoid the drama of having to come to a consensus at each meeting,” Saporta said. “It may have been difficult enough to agree on the timing, size and composition of the first taper, so maybe no one has the appetite to do that on an ongoing basis.”
A report today showed third-quarter growth exceeded expectations. Gross domestic product climbed at a 4.1 percent annualized rate, the strongest since the final three months of 2011 and up from a previous estimate of 3.6 percent, Commerce Department figures showed in Washington.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.4 percent to 1,816.33 at 10:17 a.m. in New York, while the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 0.02 percentage point to 2.91 percent.
Bernanke’s second four-year term ends Jan. 31, and Vice Chairman Janet Yellen is awaiting Senate confirmation to succeed him.
The Fed coupled its decision to taper bond purchases with a stronger commitment to keep its benchmark interest rate low. Bernanke said the decision was intended to “keep the level of accommodation the same overall.”
Unemployment fell to a five-year low of 7 percent in November as employers added 203,000 workers to payrolls. Inflation measured by the personal consumption expenditures index was 0.7 percent in October and has remained below the Fed’s 2 percent objective for almost a year and a half.
The Fed’s balance sheet rose to a record $4.01 trillion as of Dec. 18, up from $2.82 trillion when it began the third round of purchases. The FOMC began QE3, as the program is known, in September 2012 with monthly purchases of $40 billion in mortgage bonds and added $45 billion in Treasury purchases starting in December 2012.
The balance sheet will expand to about $4.4 trillion by the time the program ends, according to median estimates in the survey. Economists forecast purchases in the third round eventually will reach $800 billion in mortgage bonds and $789 billion in Treasuries.
The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet reached a record $4 trillion, as the central bank pushed on with its unprecedented asset-purchase program.
The Fed’s holdings rose $14.1 billion to $4.01 trillion in the past week, the Fed said today in a statement in Washington. Policy makers said yesterday they will slow monthly purchases of Treasuries and mortgage bonds to $75 billion in January, the first cut to the $85 billion pace they maintained for a year.
“We’re going to be living with a big Fed balance sheet for a long time,” said Josh Feinman, the New York-based global chief economist for Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, which oversees $1.2 trillion, and a former Fed senior economist. “They’re still missing their dual mandate on both sides and that would call for easy monetary policy with unemployment too high and inflation too low.”
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has raised assets from $2.82 trillion before the third round of quantitative easing began in September 2012 and quadrupled them since 2008 to attack unemployment after the 2008-2009 recession. He said yesterday the Fed may take “similar moderate steps” at each meeting to slow QE, which also carries potential risks.
“As the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve gets large, managing that balance sheet, exiting from that balance sheet become more difficult,” Bernanke said at his press conference. “There are concerns about effects on asset prices, although I would have to say that’s another thing that future monetary economists will want to be looking at very carefully.”
The assets exceed the U.S. government’s budget and are bigger than the gross domestic product of Germany, which has the world’s third-largest economy. Still, the European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and Bank of England hold more assets relative to the size of their economies, third-quarter data compiled by Haver Analytics show.
Policy makers said yesterday even expanding the balance sheet at a slower pace would keep supporting the labor market.
“The committee’s sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in its policy statement.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at firstname.lastname@example.org
The unelected central planners at the Federal Reserve have decided that the time has come to slightly taper the amount of quantitative easing that it has been doing. On Wednesday, the Fed announced that monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds will be reduced from $45 billion to $40 billion, and monthly purchases of mortgage-backed securities will be reduced from $35 billion to $30 billion. When this news came out, it sent shockwaves through financial markets all over the planet. But the truth is that not that much has really changed. The Federal Reserve will still be recklessly creating gigantic mountains of new money out of thin air and massively intervening in the financial marketplace. It will just be slightly less than before. However, this very well could represent a very important psychological turning point for investors. It is a signal that “the party is starting to end” and that the great bull market of the past four years is drawing to a close. So what is all of this going to mean for average Americans? The following are 8 ways that “the taper” is going to affect you and your family…
1. Interest Rates Are Going To Go Up
Following the announcement on Wednesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries went up to 2.89% and even CNBC admitted that the taper is a “bad omen for bonds“. Thousands of other interest rates in our economy are directly affected by the 10 year rate, and so if that number climbs above 3 percent and stays there, that is going to be a sign that a significant slowdown of economic activity is ahead.
2. Home Sales Are Likely Going To Go Down
Mortgage rates are heavily influenced by the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. Because the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is now substantially higher than it was earlier this year, mortgage rates have also gone up. That is one of the reasons why the number of mortgage applications just hit a new 13 year low. And now if rates go even higher that is going to tighten things up even more. If your job is related to the housing industry in any way, you should be extremely concerned about what is coming in 2014.
3. Your Stocks Are Going To Go Down
Yes, I know that stocks skyrocketed today. The Dow closed at a new all-time record high, and I can’t really provide any rational explanation for why that happened. When the announcement was originally made, stocks initially sold off. But then they rebounded in a huge way and the Dow ended up close to 300 points.
A few months ago, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke just hinted that a taper might be coming soon, stocks fell like a rock. I have a feeling that the Fed orchestrated things this time around to make sure that the stock market would have a positive reaction to their news. But of course I absolutely cannot prove this at all. I hope someday we learn the truth about what actually happened on Wednesday afternoon. I have a feeling that there was some direct intervention in the markets shortly after the announcement was made and then the momentum algorithms took over from there.
Of course QE3 is not being ended, but this tapering sends a signal to investors that the days of “easy money” are over and that we have reached the peak of the market.
And if you are at the peak of the market, what is the logical thing to do?
Sell, sell, sell.
But in order to sell, you are going to need to have buyers.
And who is going to want to buy stocks when there is no upside left?
4. The Money In Your Bank Account Is Constantly Being Devalued
When a new dollar is created, the value of each existing dollar that you hold goes down. And thanks to the Federal Reserve, the pace of money creation in this country has gone exponential in recent years. Just check out what has been happening to M1. It has nearly doubled since the financial crisis of 2008…
The Federal Reserve has been behaving like the Weimar Republic, and this tapering does not change that very much. Even with this tapering, the Fed is still going to be creating money out of thin air at an absolutely insane rate.
And for those that insist that what the Federal Reserve is doing is “working”, it is important to remember that the crazy money printing that the Weimar Republic did worked for them for a little while toobefore ending in complete and utter disaster.
5. Quantitative Easing Has Been Causing The Cost Of Living To Rise
The Federal Reserve insists that we are in a time of “low inflation”, but anyone that goes to the grocery store or that pays bills on a regular basis knows what a lie that is. The truth is that if the inflation rate was still calculated the same way that it was back when Jimmy Carter was president, the official rate of inflation would be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent today.
Most of the new money created by quantitative easing has ended up in the hands of the very wealthy, and it is in the things that the very wealthy buy that we are seeing the most inflation. As one CNBC article recently stated, we are seeing absolutely rampant inflation in “stocks and bonds and art and Ferraris and farmland“.
6. Quantitative Easing Did Not Reduce Unemployment And Tapering Won’t Either
The Federal Reserve actually first began engaging in quantitative easing back in late 2008. As you can see from the chart below, the percentage of Americans that are actually working is lower today than it was back then…
The mainstream media continues to insist that quantitative easing was all about “stimulating the economy” and that it is now okay to cut back on quantitative easing because “unemployment has gone down”. Hopefully you can see that what the mainstream media has been telling you has been a massive lie. According to the government’s own numbers, the percentage of Americans with a job has stayed at a remarkably depressed level since the end of 2010. Anyone that tries to tell you that we have had an “employment recovery” is either very ignorant or is flat out lying to you.
7. The Rest Of The World Is Going To Continue To Lose Faith In Our Financial System
Everyone else around the world has been watching the Federal Reserve recklessly create hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air and use itto monetize staggering amounts of government debt. They have been warning us to stop doing this, but the Fed has been slow to listen.
The greatest damage that quantitative easing has been causing to our economy does not involve the short-term effects that most people focus on. Rather, the greatest damage that quantitative easing has been causing to our economy is the fact that it is destroying worldwide faith in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. debt.
Right now, far more U.S. dollars are used outside the country than inside the country. The rest of the world uses U.S. dollars to trade with one another, and major exporting nations stockpile massive amounts of our dollars and our debt.
We desperately need the rest of the world to keep playing our game, because we have become very dependent on getting super cheap exports from them and we have become very dependent on them lending us trillions of our own dollars back to us.
If the rest of the world decides to move away from the U.S. dollar and U.S. debt because of the incredibly reckless behavior of the Federal Reserve, we are going to be in a massive amount of trouble. Our current economic prosperity greatly depends upon everyone else using our dollars as the reserve currency of the world and lending trillions of dollars back to us at ultra-low interest rates.
And there are signs that this is already starting to happen. In fact, China recently announced that they are going to quit stockpiling more U.S. dollars. This is one of the reasons why the Fed felt forced to do something on Wednesday.
But what the Fed did was not nearly enough. It is still going to be creating $75 billion out of thin air every single month, and the rest of the world is going to continue to lose more faith in our system the longer this continues.
8. The Economy As A Whole Is Going To Continue To Get Even Worse
Despite more than four years of unprecedented money printing by the Federal Reserve, the overall U.S. economy has continued to decline. If you doubt this, please see my previous article entitled “37 Reasons Why ‘The Economic Recovery Of 2013’ Is A Giant Lie“.
And no matter what the Fed does now, our decline will continue. The tragic downfall of small cities such as Salisbury, North Carolina are perfect examples of what is happening to our country as a whole…
During the three-year period ending in 2009, Salisbury’s poverty rate of 16% was about 3% higher than the national rate. In the following three-year period between 2010 and 2012, the city’s poverty rate was approaching 30%. Salisbury has traditionally relied heavily on the manufacturing sector, particularly textiles and fabrics. In recent decades, however, manufacturing activity has declined significantly and continues to do so. Between 2010 and 2012, manufacturing jobs in Salisbury — as a percent of the workforce — shrank from 15.5% to 8.3%.
But the truth is that you don’t have to travel far to see evidence of our economic demise for yourself. All you have to do is to go down to the local shopping mall. Sears has experienced sales declines for 27 quarters in a row, and at this point Sears is a dead man walking. The following is from a recent article by Wolf Richter…
The market share of Sears – including K-Mart – has dropped to 2% in 2013 from 2.9% in 2005. Sales have declined for years. The company lost money in fiscal 2012 and 2013. Unless a miracle happens, and they don’t happen very often in retail, it will lose a ton in fiscal 2014, ending in January: for the first three quarters, it’s $1 billion in the hole.
Despite that glorious track record, and no discernible turnaround, the junk-rated company has had no trouble hoodwinking lenders into handing it a $1 billion loan that matures in 2018, to pay off an older loan that would have matured two years earlier.
And J.C. Penney is suffering a similar fate. According to Richter, the company has lost a staggering 1.6 billion dollars over the course of the last year…
Then there’s J.C. Penney. Sales plunged 27% over the last three years. It lost over $1.6 billion over the last four quarters. It installed a revolving door for CEOs. It desperately needed to raise capital; it was bleeding cash, and its suppliers and landlords had already bitten their fingernails to the quick. So the latest new CEO, namely its former old CEO Myron Ullman, set out to extract more money from the system, borrowing $1.75 billion and raising $785 million in a stock sale at the end of September that became infamous the day he pulled it off.
So don’t believe the hype.
The economy is getting worse, not better.
Quantitative easing did not “rescue the economy”, but it sure has made our long-term problems a whole lot worse.
And this “tapering” is not a sign of better things to come. Rather, it is a sign that the bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying for the past few years is beginning to end.
US lawmakers reached a budget deal this week that will avert the sequester cuts and shutdowns. These fiscal “roadblocks” supposedly damaged investor confidence in 2013, although clearly no one told equity investors who’ve chased the S&P 500 up 26 percent this year. But even so the budget deal is seen by inflationists as only half the battle won, because it doesn’t deal with the pesky debt ceiling. Unsurprisingly, the old calls for a scrapping of the debt ceiling are being heard afresh.
Last week, The Week ran an opinion piece by John Aziz which argues that America (and all other nations for that matter) should keep borrowing until investors no longer want to lend to it. To this end, it is argued, the US should scrap its debt ceiling because the only debt ceiling it needs is the one imposed by the market. When the market doesn’t want to lend to you anymore, bond yields will rise to such an extent that you can no longer afford to borrow any more money. You will reach yournatural, market-determined debt ceiling. According to this line of reasoning, American bond yields are incredibly low, meaning there is no shortage of people willing to lend to Uncle Sam. So Washington should take advantage of these fantastically easy loans and leverage up.
Here’s part of the key paragraph from Aziz:
Right now interest rates are very low by historical standards, even after adjusting for inflation. This means that the government is not producing sufficient debt to satisfy the market demand. The main reason for that is the debt ceiling.
What this fails to appreciate is that interest rates are a heavily controlled price in all of today’s major economies. This is particularly true in the case of America, where the Federal Reserve controls short-term interest rates using open market operations (i.e., loaning newly printed money to banks) and manipulates long-term interest rates using quantitative easing. By injecting vast amounts of liquidity into the economy, the Fed makes it appear as though there is more savings than there really is. But US bond yields are currently no more a reflection of the market’s demand for US debt than a price ceiling on gasoline is a reflection of its booming supply. Contra the view expressed in The Week, low rates brought about by contrived zero-bound policy rates and trillions of dollars in QE can mislead the federal government into borrowing more while at the same time pushing savers and investors out of US bond markets and into riskier assets like corporate bonds, equities, exotic derivatives, emerging markets, and so on.
Greece once thought that the market was giving it the green light to “produce” more debt. Low borrowing rates for Greece were not a sign of fiscal health, however, but really just layer upon layer of false and contrived signals arising from easy ECB money, allowing Greece to hide behind Germany’s credit status. As it turned out, a legislative debt ceiling in Greece (one that was actually adhered to) would have been a far better idea than pretending this manipulated market was a fair reflection of reality. Investors were happy to absorb Greece’s debt until suddenly they weren’t.
This is the nature of sovereign debt accumulation driven by easy money and credit bubbles. It’s all going swimmingly until it’s not. And there is little reason to think this time the US is different. Except that America might be worse. The very fact of the Fed buying Treasuries with newly printed money proves Washington is producing too much debt. China even stated recently that it saw no more utility accumulating any more dollar debt assets. If the whole point of QE is to monetize impaired assets, then the Fed likely sees Treasury bonds as facing considerable impairment risk. Theory and history are clear about the reasons for and consequences of large-scale and persistent debt monetization.
Finally, it is wrong to assert that the debt ceiling is the main reason for America’s fiscal deficit reduction. The ceiling has never provided a meaningful barrier to America’s borrowing ambitions, hence the dozens of upward adjustments to the ceiling whenever it threatens to crimp the whims of Washington’s profligate classes. America’s rate of new borrowing is falling because all the money it has printed washed into the economic system and found its way back into tax revenues. Corporate profits are soaring to all-time highs on dirt cheap trade financing. Corporate high-grade debt issuance has set a new record in 2013. Companies are rolling their short-term debts, now super-cheap thanks to Bernanke’s money machine, and issuing long, into a bubbly IPO and corporate bond market. The last time corporate profits surged like they’re doing now was during the credit and housing bubble that preceded the unraveling and inevitable bust in 2008/09.
These are money and credit cycle effects. The debt ceiling has had precious little to do with it. Moreover, US debt is neither crimped nor the US Treasury Department austere. Instead, the national debt is soaring, $60,000 higher for every US family since Obama took office and rising. Add to this the fact that the US Treasury’s bond issuance schedule is actually set to rise in 2014 due to huge amounts of maturing debt needing to be rolled over next year, and the fiscal significance of the debt ceiling fades even further.
The singular brilliance of the debt ceiling however, is that it keeps reminding everyone that there is a growing national debt that never seems to shrink. That is a tremendous service to American citizens who live in the dark regarding the borrowing machinations of their political overlords. Yes, politicians keep raising the debt ceiling, but nowadays they have to bend themselves into ever twisty pretzels trying to explain why to their justifiably skeptical and cynical constituents. Most people don’t understand bond yields, quantitative easing, and Keynesian pump-a-thons too well, but they sure understand a debt ceiling.
Those who adhere to the don’t-stop-til-you-get-enough theory of sovereign borrowing, and by extension argue for a scrapping of the debt ceiling, couldn’t be more misguided. In free markets with no Fed money market distortion, interest rates can be a useful guide of the amount of real savings being made available to borrowers. When borrowers want to borrow more, real interest rates will rise, and at some point this crimps the marginal demand for borrowing, acting as a natural “debt ceiling.” But when markets are heavily distorted by central bank money printing and contrived zero-bound rates, interest rates utterly cease to serve this purpose for prolonged periods of time. What takes over is the false signals of the unsustainable business cycle which fools people into thinking there is more savings than there really is. Greece provides a recent real-world case study of this very phenomenon in action. In these cases we are likely to see low rates sustained during the increase in government borrowing, only for them to quickly reset higher and plunge a country into a debt trap which may force default or extreme money printing.
Debt monetization has a proven track record of ending badly. It is after all the implicit admission that no one but your monopoly money printer is willing to lend to you at the margin. The realization that this is unsustainable can take a while to sink in, but when it does, all it takes is an inevitable fat-tail event or crescendo of panic to topple the house of cards. If the market realizes it’s been duped into having too much before the government decides it’s had enough, a debt crisis won’t be far away.
Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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Russell Lamberti is head strategist at ETM Analytics, in charge of global and South African macroeconomic, financial market, and policy strategy within the ETM group. Follow him on Twitter. See Russell Lamberti’s article archives.
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Iwas in St. Kitts last week for the Liberty Forum conference, where I was a speaker. I also moderated a debate pitting Peter Schiff against Harry Dent on the inflation-deflation question.
Things got really hot. There was some yelling, and at one point, Harry stood up and tossed his mic in frustration. I thought they might go at it.
I want to tell you about this debate…
Peter Schiff is the chief strategist at the brokerage firm Euro Pacific. He has a radio show and has written some books. He’s probably most known as calling for a collapse in the dollar and being generally bearish on the U.S. economy.
Harry Dent is also a well-known financial commentator. He writes a newsletter and is author of several books. He’s probably most famous for his predictions based on demographics. He’s also a vocal deflationist.
Inflation here means generally rising prices. Deflation means prices are generally falling. There are other consequences associated with each. For example, Peter believes interest rates will rise. Harry thinks they will fall. Peter thinks the dollar will lose value, Harry thinks not.
Peter’s argument essentially was that the Fed is printing a lot of money and would continue to do so. Hence, inflation.
Harry’s argument was that the debt deflation dynamics were the more powerful force. The economy has to delever, and as debts are repaid or written off, that process destroys money, more than offsetting the printing press.
They touched on a lot of other things in the course of the debate — past hyperinflations, China’s role and more.
The debate started out calmly enough, but after about 20 minutes, they really starting going at it.
Harry won the debate, in my view. He had a good command of the facts and presented them well. I had also watched the presentations of both before the debate. Harry had marshaled an impressive array of evidence and made a good argument.
My respect for Harry went up. For whatever reason, I had thought of him as a bit of a quack, but he has done a lot of good work on this stuff.
Before 2008, I was solidly in the inflationist camp. But think about what’s happened since 2008. If I told you back then that the Fed’s balance sheet would balloon fivefold — creating lots of money — what would you have guessed the world would look like in 2013?
Wouldn’t you be surprised to see the 10-year Treasury note pay just 2.8%? Wouldn’t you be surprised to find gold languishing at $1,235 an ounce? The inflationist view had interest rates and gold higher — not lower.
So something is clearly not right with the “Fed’s printing money and we’re going to have inflation” argument. At some point, you have to re-evaluate the way you look at the world. Or you just sit content to be wrong. In financial markets, that can be costly.
In this light, I appreciated Harry’s efforts, as his framework was the more challenging one to believe, but it has unquestionably been a better predictor of what’s happened post-2008.
Even in the course of this debate, though, it struck me how many assumptions get passed off as givens.
For example: Commodities will protect you in times of high inflation.
Well, they don’t have a history of doing that.
As James Montier of GMO points out in his most recent research note:
“Commodities are often seen as an inflation hedge; however, this is almost entirely due to the experience of the 1970s and the creation of OPEC, and the domination of energy in the generally used commodity indexes. If you had held the ‘wrong’ commodities, their inflation hedging performance would have looked very different (witness copper and grain).”
Here is the chart:
So during the highly inflationary 1970s, oil was a great investment, but copper and corn were terrible. Commodities generally have lost value over the last century at the rate of almost 2% annually, according to GMO. Yet I see it repeated again and again by various advisers telling their clients/readers to own commodities to protect against inflation.
The same is true of gold.
Here is Montier again:
“Gold is often held up as an inflation hedge. However, the data provide a challenge to this view. [The next chart] shows the decade-by-decade average inflation rate, and the real return to holding gold over the same decade. It doesn’t make pretty viewing for those who believe gold is an inflation hedge. That perception is down to one decade (the 1970s) when it held that inflation and gold were positively correlated. The rest of the time there isn’t a good relationship between gold and inflation.”
And here is the chart:
Yet people repeat — on faith, I guess — that gold will protect them during inflation. The record of gold on this front is spotty. It might. It might not.
Montier’s paper, by the way, concludes that there aren’t any good inflation hedges in the short term. But over the long term, stocks and real estate are good inflation hedges. (He says the best is TIPS — Treasury inflation-protected securities.) In fact, Montier shows that even in countries that have suffered high inflation (or evenhyperinflation) in the 20th century — such as Germany and Italy — stocks still delivered positive real returns. And real estate value correlates with replacement costs, which rise during inflationary times.
After the debate, I sat on a panel with several other speakers. Asked if we’d have inflation or deflation, my first answer was an honest one: “I don’t know.” Forced to guess, I think we have deflation first, inflation later.
In general, the long-term way to bet is that the U.S. dollar in your pocket will buy less tomorrow than today.
Even Harry’s own presentation had a chart that makes it hard to argue any other way:
It is true the dollar can do something different for years at a time. (I mean, look at the 1930s.) But as a long-term investor, I’d rather own businesses or real estate than cash. Then again, I’d rather own cash-spinning businesses and real estate than commodities or gold.
Whatever you do, though, don’t let an old assumption pass uncontested. If you think there’s going to be inflation, you could at least be in the right things. And keep an open mind as to what may happen in 2014. The only certain thing about investing is that there are no certainties. That was my main takeaway from the fiery debate in St. Kitts.
P.S. “I buy on the assumption,” Warren Buffett once said, “that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.” These days, you never know what’s down the road. That’s exactly why I’ve created one simple self-sustaining model portfolio to pull in impressive gains. The less you mess with it… the better. Some may think it’s being “lazy”… or even “too boring.” Even so, they can’t deny one thing: It works. And in yesterday’s Daily Resource Hunter, I gave readers a chance to check it out for themselves. Just one little perk of being a member of the FREE Daily Resource Hunter. Don’t miss another issue. Sign up for FREE, right here.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) will celebrate its 100th birthday, so we thought it was time to take a look at the Fed’s real accomplishment, and the practices and policies it has employed during this time to rob the public of its wealth. The criticism is directed not only at the world’s most powerful central bank – the Fed – but also at the concept of central banks in general, because they are the antithesis of fiscal responsibility and financial constraint as represented by gold and a gold standard. The Fed was sold to the public in much the same way as the Patriot Act was sold after 9/11 – as a sacrifice of personal freedom for the promise of greater government protection. Instead of providing protection, the Fed has robbed the public through the hidden tax of inflation brought about by currency devaluation.
The Fed is, unlike any other federal agency, owned by private and public shareholders – mainly large banks and influential banking families. It operates with as much opacity as possible, and only in the past two decades has the public become aware of this deception, thanks in large part to former Congressman Dr. Ron Paul, and the advent of the Internet.
The build-up of massive amounts of debt will result in the end of the U.S. dollar as the world’s de facto reserve currency. This should come as no surprise: Previous world reserve currencies, starting with Portuguese real in 1450 and continuing through five reserve currencies to the British pound, which capitulated its position in 1920, have had a lifespan of between eighty and 110 years. The U.S. dollar succeeded the British pound, but its peg to gold was broken domestically in 1933, and internationally in 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window. This resulted in unrestricted and exponential debt creation that will likely see the U.S. dollar’s reserve currency status end sooner rather than later.
Why the Fed Hates Gold
The Fed has many reasons for being at war with gold:
1. Gold restricts a country’s ability to create unlimited amounts of fiat currency.
2. The gold held by the Fed and the United States has not been officially audited since 1953; there are several credible indications that this gold has been leased or swapped, and probably has several claims of ownership. Germany’s Bundesbank was told in January 2013 that it would have to wait seven years to repatriate 300 tonnes of its gold currently held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The only plausible explanation for this delay is that the gold is not available.
3. Gold is the only money that exists outside the control of politicians and bankers. The Fed would like to control all aspects of the global economy, and gold is the last defense of the individual who wishes to protect his or her wealth.
4. Historically, gold serves as the most stable measure of purchasing power. Gold owners begin to measure risk in terms of ounces of gold, and this provides a broader perspective — the “gold perspective.” It takes into account factors that are considered unquantifiable through the narrower “fiat perspective” that banks and financial media prefer to use. It also shows up real inflation.
Two Policies the Fed Uses to Rob Savers and Taxpayers
Under the gold standard, governments are more transparent in raising funds through direct taxation. Under a fiat system and a central bank, they have to be much more secretive. There are two policies or practices currently being used to transfer wealth from the public to the government. These are:
1. Financial Repression
Financial repression is a hidden form of wealth confiscation that employs three tactics:
(i) indirect taxation through inflation;
(ii) the involuntary assumption of government debt by the taxpayer (like the Fed’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac CDOs);
(iii) debasement or inflation brought about through unbridled currency creation and capital controls; and
2. Government’s Position on Bail-ins and the Illusion of FDIC Insurance
Many believe their bank deposits are insured against bank failure, as this is the Fed’s main argument for its existence. This is far from the truth, since the FDIC could only cover .008 percent of the banks’ derivative losses in the event of major bank failures. Banks legally see depositors as “unsecured creditors,” as proven by the Cyprus bail-in.
The Fed’s Real Accomplishment
When measured against gold, the U.S. dollar has lost 96 percent of its purchasing power since the Fed’s inception in 1913. This is mainly through currency debasement, which leads to inflation. Real inflation, if measured using the original basket of goods used until the Boskin Commission in 1995 changed the rules, is running about 6 percent higher than is officially acknowledged, according to John Williams of ShadowStats.com. The CPI used to measure a “fixed standard of living” with a fixed basket of goods. Today, it measures the cost of living with a constantly changing basket of goods, measured with metrics that are themselves constantly changing.
History shows countries following the gold standard have a higher standard of living, stronger morals, and an aversion to costly wars.
Thanks to the Fed’s irresponsibility, foreign governments and investors are exiting the dollar and U.S. Treasuries, leaving the Fed as the buyer of last resort. This has painted the Fed into a corner, because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to curtail its bond and CDO purchases through its QE program, or to raise interest rates without crashing the markets.
When economists and historians can objectively look back at this past century, they will likely find the Fed, as well as the world’s other central banks, indirectly or directly responsible for:
• Personal income tax (introduced the same year as the Federal Reserve Act)
• Two world wars
• Several smaller unproductive wars
• The expropriation of U.S. gold in 1934
• The Great Depression
• Loss of morality in money and government
• Expansion of government to unprecedented levels
• The many economic bubbles that left countless investors ruined
• The decimation of the U.S. dollar’s purchasing power
• The spread of moral hazard throughout the global financial community
• Destruction of the middle class
• Migration of gold from West to East
The main thesis is that gold will continue rising because several exponential, long-term and irreversible trends will continue forcing the need for greater and greater government debt, and government debt is the main driver of the price of gold, as we can see in Figure 1. For the past decade, debt and the gold price have shared a conspicuously close relationship.
These trends—the rising and aging population, dwindling natural resources, outsourcing and movement away from the U.S. dollar—continue to develop.
As the following in-depth presentation notes, this has been going on since the Fed’s inception: