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Archive for August 3rd, 2011

Leadership failure!

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“The fact that we’re here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. Leadership means ‘The buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”

– Senator Barack Obama, 2006

Written by aurick

03/08/2011 at 2:14 pm

Five things you need to know about the economy

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by David Galland of Casey Research
Posted  August 3, 2011

AT ANY POINT DURING THE RECENT NEGOTIATIONS IN WASHINGTON over the debt, did you seriously think for even a second that the U.S. was about to default?

Of course, in time the U.S. government (along with many others) will default. However, they are highly unlikely to do so by decree or even through the sort of legislative inaction recently on display. Rather, it will come about through the time-honored tradition of screwing debtors via the slow-roasting method of monetary inflation.

Yet most people still bought into the latest drama put on by the Congressional Players – a troupe of actors whose skills at pretense and artifice might very well qualify them for gilded trophies at awards banquets. Instead, rather than glittering statuettes, these masters of the thespian arts settle for undeserved honorifics and the pole position at the public trough. Followed by lifelong pensions.

But to the heart of the current matter, do I think that the latest antics out of Washington will have any more lasting effect on the trajectory of the economy than what I had for breakfast this morning (raw oats with a dab of maple syrup, milk, a sprinkling of strawberries, and half of a banana, sliced)?

Absolutely not. Sorry to say, but the trajectory of the economy at this point is well established, and closely resembles that of a meteor streaking through the night sky. What’s left of the solid matter of the nation’s accumulated private wealth is fast being burned off by an unstoppable inferno of government spending, inevitably leading to an earth-shaking crash.

I make this dire prediction not out of an aberrant psychology (I hope), or in an outburst of self-promotion for Casey Research because the big-picture scenario we have so long warned of is unfolding according to script, but rather due to certain fundamental truths about our current situation. And that brings me to the five things you need to know about the U.S. economy (much of which also applies to the other large developed nations)…

1. The U.S. remains in the grip of a debt-induced depression.

While personal levels of debt have eased somewhat since the crash, most of the improvements have come at the expense of debt repudiation, and are offset by the steep decline in housing prices that have left something like 50% of mortgages underwater. Meanwhile the debt on the balance sheets of the U.S. government and the country’s largest financial institutions remain at record highs – and much of that debt is toxic. So, what’s the one thing that the heavily indebted – individual or institution – most fears? Answer: Rising interest rates.

2. Interest rates can’t stay low.

Despite the debt, interest rates remain near historic lows – which is to say, well below the norm. At some point they have to at least revert to the mean, which would push the 10-year treasury rate north of 5% from current rates below 3%. But in reality, the levels of monetary inflation, the nature of the debt, and mind-numbing scale of the government’s other financial obligations – in total upwards of $70 trillion – all but guarantee that interest rates must go much higher than 5%. That in turn torpedoes the half-sunk real estate market and risks kicking off a debt death spiral as higher interest payments suck the financial juice out of the economy and causes debtors to demand even higher rates. Say hello to Doug Casey’s Great Depression.

The last time the U.S. economy found itself in such dire straits was back in the 1970s, when the problem was raging price inflation. Back then, though, the debt levels were considerably lower than they are now. Then, Fed Chairman Paul Volcker had the latitude to raise rates and by so doing helped to choke out inflation. By contrast, today the Fed is virtually helpless. Rates certainly can’t be pushed lower by any appreciable amount, and the Fed sure as hell doesn’t want them to go up. While the Fed has been a primary factor in controlling interest rates up to this point in the crisis, in the near future the direction of interest rates – particularly long-term rates – will increasingly be determined by skittish market participants. Specifically, the sovereign and institutional buyers whom the U.S. Treasury so desperately needs to keep showing up at their auctions.

To use a metaphor, the situation today is akin to a bunch of gunfighters facing off in a dusty street, hands poised over their six-shooters, eyes nervously shifting this way and that – to the eurozone, to the housing markets, to the situation in Japan, to the U.S. government spending, to the crumbling balance sheets of the banks, to the Fed. Everyone is anxiously watching, waiting for someone else to start making the first move. The standoff can’t last – and when the lead starts flying, there will be few places to hide.

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