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ECONOMICS AND ESOTERICA FOR A NEW PARADIGM

Posts Tagged ‘Central Banks

Gold, Eurodollars, and the Black Swan that will devour the US Futures and Derivatives Markets

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by Jesse at CaféAméricain
Posted December 3, 2011

THE EURODOLLARS ESTIMATE IN THE CHART BELOW IS BASED ON THE BIS BANKING ESTIMATES from Commercial Banks and may not include official reserves held by Central Banks. As you know the Federal Reserve stopped reporting Eurodollars some years ago, with the consequence that it also stopped reporting M3 money supply. I like to think of Eurodollars and banking system derivatives as the Fed’s off-balance-sheet method of monetization and policy implementation, with plausible deniability.

Swap lines are provided to other Central Banks, and they in turn make the loans to their member banks, and from there to their customers. So this eurodollar creation is made outside the real domestic economy, and therefore has no immediate effect on domestic money supply and prices at the end of the money chain. But the effect is there, and the smart money closer to the financial system sees it coming. I do not know if the Fed’s swap line activity actually shows up immediately in their Balance Sheet and therefore the Adjusted Monetary Base. But I think it is fairly obvious that if swaps are used to create dollars by foreign central banks, who in turn loan those dollars to their own members, the impact of that broader dollar creation will only be felt with a significant lag in the domestic US economy. But it will be felt at some point.

When the Fed was tracking Eurodollars, I believe that they were not counting certain assets, or liabilities from the banks point of view, as money.  What exactly those assets might be and how liquid they are is a open question.  How much of them were held in Agency debt, and how much in Treasury debt?  Is a liquid obligation held by a foreign source part of the broad money supply, or not?  Since it can be quickly converted into dollars, and then into another currency, leaves little question that it is potential money at least.

At least part of the problem being faced by Europe in this crisis is the sharp point of the deleveraging of US assets underlying dollar denominated debt.   And if foreign confidence in the US dollar debt breaks, the losses would be daunting for the holders of that debt, so there will first be a rush into Treasuries and away from Agency debt and CDOs.  This will be like the ocean retracting, causing people to flock to the shore in wonder at the cheapness of the debt.  But eventually the returning tsunami of US dollars may very well swamp the Fed’s Balance Sheet and the domestic US economy and the savings of many. The hyper-inflation of financial paper is happening quietly and  off the books. The growth rate in derivatives held by the Banks is mind boggling. And how this will manifest in the real world economy is not fully known. A good sized chunk of the financial system may simply vaporise.  And I suspect that the policy makers will heavily allocate the damage to the least powerful members of the private sector.

Ownership of the real economy will continue to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Stagflation is the most likely outcome because of this lack of reform and the rise of a self-serving oligarchy. As for the US Dollar, as I have said on numerous occasions, inflation and deflation are at the end of the day a policy decision. Period. Those who see a hyper-deflation or a hyper-inflation as inevitable elude my knowledge of the facts as they are. The Fed owns a printing press, and it uses it selectively.

Speaking of lags, I think the unusually long lag between the growth in Eurodollars and the price of Gold can be attributed to the gold sales programs by the Western Central Banks. Once those programs were suspended, and the Banks turned again into net buyers, the gold price rose dramatically. The most recent Eurodollar operation of the Central Banks in relieving the Dollar short squeeze in euro is not yet in the totals.

It should also be noted that there are other correlations one can use in determining the gold price, most notable ‘real interest rates.’ However, there are linkages amongst all the variables, given a non-organic increase in the money supply and artificially low interest rates for example being among them. So, when will the price of gold stop rising? Most likely when the Central Banks stop printing money, and return to transparently set market based interest rates and a productively reformed financial system. ‘Not on the horizon’ does come to mind.

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The real contagion risk

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 by Chris Martenson
Posted October 24, 2011 

 

AROUND HERE, WE LIKE TO TRACK THINGS from the outside in, as the initial movements at the periphery tend to give us an early warning of when things might go wrong at the center. It is always the marginal country, weakest stock in a sector, or fringe population that gives us the early warning that trouble is afoot. For example, rising food stamp utilization and poverty levels in the US indicate that economic hardship is progressing from the lower socioeconomic levels up towards the center –that is, from the outside in.

That exact pattern is now playing out in Europe, although arguably the earliest trouble was detected with the severe weakness seen in the eastern European countries nearly two years ago.

Because of this tendency for trouble to begin at the periphery before spreading to the center, here at ChrisMartenson.com headquarters we spend a disproportionate amount of our time watching junk bonds instead of Treasurys, looking at weak sectors instead of strong ones, and generally spending our time at the edges trying to scout out where there are early signs of trouble that can give us a sense of what’s coming next. In this report, we explore the idea that Europe is the canary in the coal mine that tells us it is time to begin preparing for how the world might change if the contagion spreads all the way to US Treasurys (which is mathematically inevitable, in our view).

Why the US should care about Europe

At the very core of the global nuclear money reactor are US Treasurys and the dollar. If the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency wanes or even collapses, then the scope and pace of the likely disruptions will be enormous. Of course, we’ll be glad to have as much forewarning as possible.

Accordingly, it is my belief that if the contagion spreads from Greece to Portugal (or Italy or Spain), and then to the big banks of France and Germany in such a way that they fail, then rather than strengthening the dollar’s role (as nearly everyone expects), we should reserve some concern for the idea that the contagion will instead jump the pond and chew its way through the US financial superstructure.

While I am expecting an initial strengthening of the dollar in response to a euro decline, I believe this will only be a temporary condition.

The predicament is that the fiscal condition of the US is just as bad as anywhere, and we’d do well to ignore the idea, widely promulgated in the popular press, that the US is in relatively better shape than some other countries. ‘Relatively’ is a funny word. In this case, it’s kind of meaningless, as all the contestants in this horse race are likely destined for the glue factory, no matter how well they place.

While there are certain to be a lot of false starts and unpredictable twists and turns along the way, eventually the precarious fiscal situation of the US will reach a critical mass of recognition. Before that date, the US will be perceived as a bastion of financial safety, and afterwards everyone will wonder how anyone could have really held that view.

A good recent example of how swiftly sovereign fortunes can change: One day, everything was fine in Greece, which enjoyed paying interest rates on its national debt that were a few skinny basis points (hundredths of a percent) above Germany’s. A few short months later, Greece was paying over 150% interest on its one-year paper.

What I am asking is this: What happens when the same sweep of recognition visits the US Treasury markets? Is such a turn of events even possible or thinkable?  Here’s one scenario:

How contagion will spread to the US

My belief is that someday, perhaps within a matter of months but more likely in a year or two, the US Treasury market will fall apart as certainly and as magnificently as did Greece’s. Here’s how that might happen:

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Gold and silver: We were right – they were wrong

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by Brandon Smith of Alt Market
Posted July 25, 2011

ONLY NOW, AFTER THREE YEARS OF ROLLER COASTER MARKETS, EPIC DEBATES, and gnashing of teeth, are mainstream financial pundits finally starting to get it. At least some of them, anyway.

Precious metals have continued to perform relentlessly since 2008, crushing all naysayer predictions and defying all the musings of so called “experts”, while at the same time maintaining and protecting the investment savings of those people smart enough to jump on the train while prices were at historic lows (historic as in ‘the past 5000 years’).

Alternative analysts have pleaded with the public to take measures to secure their hard earned wealth by apportioning at least a small amount into physical gold and silver. Some economists, though, were silly enough to overlook this obvious strategy. Who can forget, for instance, Paul Krugman’s hilarious assertion back in 2009 that gold values reflect nothing of the overall market, and that rising gold prices were caused in large part by the devious plans of Glen Beck, and not legitimate demand resulting from oncoming economic collapse.

To this day, with gold at $1600 an ounce, Krugman refuses to apologize for his nonsense. To be fair to Krugman, though, his lack of insight on precious metals markets is most likely deliberate, and not due to stupidity, being that he has long been a lapdog of central banks and a rabid supporter of the great Keynesian con. [And he a Nobel Prize winner!] Some MSM economists are simply ignorant, while others are quite aware of the battle between fiat and gold, and have chosen to support the banking elites in their endeavors to dissuade the masses from ever seeking out an alternative to their fraudulent paper. The establishment controlled Washington Post made this clear with its vapid insinuation in 2010 that Ron Paul’s support of a new gold standard is purely motivated by his desire to increase the value of his personal gold holdings, and not because of his concern over the Federal Reserve’s destructive devaluing of the dollar!

So, if a public figure owns gold and supports the adaptation of precious metals to stave off dollar implosion, he is just trying to “artificially drive up his own profits”. If he supports precious metals but doesn’t own any, then he is “afraid to put his money where his mouth is”. The argument is an erroneous trap, not to mention, completely illogical.

Numerous MSM pundits have continued to call a top for gold and silver markets only to be jolted over and over by further rapid spikes. Frankly, it’s getting a little embarrassing for them. All analysts are wrong sometimes, but these analysts are wrong ALL the time. And, Americans are starting to notice. Who beyond a thin readership of mindless yuppies actually takes Krugman seriously anymore? It’s getting harder and harder to find fans of his brand of snake oil.

Those who instead listened to the alternative media from 2007 on have now tripled the value of their investments, and are likely to double them yet again in the coming months as PM’s and other commodities continue to outperform paper securities and stocks. After enduring so much hardship, criticism, and grief over our positions on gold and silver, it’s about time for us to say “we told you so”. Not to gloat (ok, maybe a little), but to solidify the necessity of metals investment for every American today. Yes, we were right, the skeptics were wrong, and they continue to be wrong. Even now, with gold surpassing the $1600 an ounce mark, and silver edging back towards its $50 per ounce highs, there is still time for those who missed the boat to shield their nest eggs from expanding economic insanity. The fact is, precious metals values are nowhere near their peak. Here are some reasons why…

Debt ceiling debate a final warning sign

If average Americans weren’t feeling the heat at the beginning of this year in terms of the economy, they certainly are now. Not long ago, the very idea of a U.S. debt default or credit downgrade was considered by many to be absurd. Today, every financial radio and television show in the country is obsessed with the possibility. Not surprisingly, unprepared subsections of the public (even conservatives) are crying out for a debt ceiling increase, while simultaneously turning up their noses at tax increases, hoping that we can kick the can just a little further down the road of fiscal Armageddon. The delusion that we can coast through this crisis unscathed is still pervasive.

Some common phrases I’ve heard lately: “I just don’t get it! They’re crazy for not compromising! Their political games are going to ruin the country! Why not just raise the ceiling?!”

What these people are lacking is a basic understanding of the bigger picture. Ultimately, this debate is not about raising or freezing the debt ceiling. This debate is not about saving our economy or our global credit standing. This debate is about choosing our method of poison, and nothing more. That is to say, the outcome of the current “political clash” is irrelevant. Our economy was set on the final leg of total destabilization back in 2008, and no amount of spending reform, higher taxes, or austerity measures, are going to change that eventuality.

We have two paths left as far as the mainstream economy is concerned; default leading to dollar devaluation, or, dollar devaluation leading to default. That’s it folks! Smoke em’ if you got em’! This train went careening off a cliff a long time ago.

If the U.S. defaults after August 2, a couple of things will happen. First, our Treasury Bonds will immediately come into question. We may, like Greece, drag out the situation and fool some international investors into thinking the risk will lead to a considerable payout when “everything goes back to normal”. However, those who continued to hold Greek bonds up until that country’s official announcement of default know that holding the debt of a country with disintegrating credit standing is for suckers. Private creditors in Greek debt stand to lose at minimum 21% of their original holdings because of default. What some of us call a “21% haircut”.

With the pervasiveness of U.S. bonds around the globe, a similar default deal could lead to trillions of dollars in losses for holders. This threat will result in the immediate push towards an international treasury dump.

Next, austerity measures WILL be instituted, while taxes WILL be raised considerably, and quickly. The federal government is not going to shut down. They will instead bleed the American people dry of all remaining savings in order to continue functioning, whether through higher charges on licensing and other government controlled paperwork, or through confiscation of pension funds, or by cutting entitlement programs like social security completely.

Finally, the dollar’s world reserve status is most assuredly going to be placed in jeopardy. If a country is unable to sustain its own liabilities, then its currency is going to lose favor. Period. The loss of reserve status carries with it a plethora of very disturbing consequences, foremost being devaluation leading to extreme inflation.

If the debt ceiling is raised yet again, we may prolong the above mentioned problems for a short time, but, there are no guarantees. Ratings agency S&P in a recent statement warned of a U.S. credit downgrade REGARDLESS of whether the ceiling was raised or not, if America’s overall economic situation did not soon improve. The Obama Administration has resorted to harassing (or pretending to harass) S&P over its accurate assessment of the situation, rather than working to solve the dilemma. Ratings company Egan-Jones has already cut America’s credit rating from AAA to AA+.

Many countries are moving to distance themselves from the U.S. dollar. China’s bilateral trade agreement with Russia last year completely cuts out the use of the greenback, and China is also exploring a “barter deal” with Iran, completely removing the need for dollars in the purchase of Iranian oil (which also helps in bypassing U.S. sanctions).

So, even with increased spending room, we will still see effects similar to default, not to mention, even more fiat printing by the Fed, higher probability of another QE announcement, and higher inflation all around.

This period of debate over the debt ceiling is liable to be the last clear warning we will receive from government before the collapse moves towards endgame. All of the sordid conundrums listed above are triggers for skyrocketing gold and silver prices, and anyone not holding precious metals now should make changes over the course of the next month.

What has been the reaction of markets to the threat of default? Increased purchasing of precious metals! What has been the reaction of markets to greater spending and Fed inflation? Increased purchasing of precious metals! The advantages of gold and silver are clear…

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Cracks beneath the Façade

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by ilene
from Stock World Weekly
Posted June 26, 2011

China 

ON THURSDAY, QU XING, DIRECTOR OF THE CHINA INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, a Foreign Ministry think tank, told reporters that China doesn’t want to see debt restructuring in the Eurozone and is working with the IMF and countries involved with the debt crisis in an attempt to avoid it. Speaking at a press conference during a visit to Hungary, Premier Wen Jiabao said, “China is a long-term investor in Europe’s sovereign debt market. In recent years we have increased by a quite big margin holdings of Euro bonds. In the future, as we have done in the past, we will support Europe and the Euro.”. Sunday, on a tour of the Chinese-owned Longbridge MG Motor factory in Birmingham, Premier Wen told BBC it will lend to European countries, and also has plans to stimulate domestic demand and reduce its foreign trade surplus.

China’s stated position prompted Zero Hedge to ask, “Will the third time be the charm for the Chinese ‘white knight’ approach to Europe, where it has so far sunk about $50 billion in bad money after good?” Saturday, Zero Hedge reported that China’s European Bailout (And TBTF) Bid Hits Overdrive, As Wen Jiabao is Now in the Market for Hungarian Bonds. “It seems China has learned from the best, and either knows something others don’t (except for the SHIBOR market of course) or is actively preparing to become Too Biggest To Fail by making sure that if something bad happens to it, literally the entire world will follow it into the depths of hell.  Sunday, ZH wrote, “As expected, China is the new IMF… All this means is that China will do everything in its power to prevent the ECB from launching an outright unsterilized monetization episode, which will double the amount of importable inflation (plunging EUR) to hit the Chinese domestic economy, and destabilize the already shaky stability, so critical for the Chinese communist party.” (China Says It Will Bail Out Insolvent European Countries.)

It’s good to know that China has its problem with inflation now solidly under control.

 

Greece

Greece has a population of just over 11 million people. Compare that to the New York City metropolitan area population estimated at 18.9 million. It may seem strange that Greece’s travails might greatly affect the global economy, but the potential repercussions from a Greek default become more significant when considering leverage and derivatives. Data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that German banks are heavily leveraged, holding 32 Euros of loans for every Euro of capital they have on hand. Other banks are leveraged to the hilt as well. Belgian banks are leveraged 30-1, and French banks are leveraged 26-1. Lehman’s leverage at the time of its collapse was 31-1. U.S. Banks are paragons of sanity by comparison, with an average leverage of only 13-1. (Europe’s sickly banks) France and Germany are the countries most exposed to Greek debt through bank and private lending and government debt exposure (chart below).

Derivatives present another potential minefield. As Louise Story wrote in the NY Times,
“It’s the $616 billion question: Does the euro crisis have a hidden A.I.G.? No one seems to be sure, in large part because the world of derivatives is so murky. But the possibility that some company out there may have insured billions of dollars of European debt has added a new tension to the sovereign default debate… The looming uncertainties are whether these contracts — which insure against possibilities like a Greek default — are concentrated in the hands of a few companies, and if these companies will be able to pay out billions of dollars to cover losses during a default.” (Derivatives Cloud the Possible Fallout From a Greek Default)

Michael Hudson explored the differences between what happened to Iceland and its debt crisis, and what is currently happening in Greece:
“The fight for Europe’s future is being waged in Athens and other Greek cities to resist financial demands that are the 21st century’s version of an outright military attack. The threat of bank overlordship is not the kind of economy-killing policy that affords opportunities for heroism in armed battle, to be sure. Destructive financial policies are more like an exercise in the banality of evil – in this case, the pro-creditor assumptions of the European Central Bank (ECB), EU and IMF (egged on by the U.S. Treasury)…

“The bankers are trying to get a windfall by using the debt hammer to achieve what warfare did in times past. They are demanding privatization of public assets (on credit, with tax deductibility for interest so as to leave more cash flow to pay the bankers). This transfer of land, public utilities and interest as financial booty and tribute to creditor economies is what makes financial austerity like war in its effect…

“One would think that after fifty years of austerity programs and privatization selloffs to pay bad debts, the world had learned enough about causes and consequences. The banking profession chooses deliberately to be ignorant. ‘Good accepted practice’ is bolstered by Nobel Economics Prizes to provide a cloak of plausible deniability when markets “unexpectedly” are hollowed out and new investment slows as a result of financially bleeding economies, medieval-style, while wealth is siphoned up to the top of the economic pyramid.

“My friend David Kelley likes to cite Molly Ivins’ quip: ‘It’s hard to convince people that you are killing them for their own good.’ The EU’s attempt to do this didn’t succeed in Iceland. And like the Icelanders, the Greek protesters have had their fill of neoliberal learned ignorance that austerity, unemployment and shrinking markets are the path to prosperity, not deeper poverty. So we must ask what motivates central banks to promote tunnel-visioned managers who follow the orders and logic of a system that imposes needless suffering and waste – all to pursue the banal obsession that banks must not lose money?

“One must conclude that the EU’s new central planners (isn’t that what Hayek said was the Road to Serfdom?) are acting as class warriors by demanding that all losses are to be suffered by economies imposing debt deflation and permitting creditors to grab assets – as if this won’t make the problem worse. This ECB hard line is backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner, evidently so that U.S. institutions not lose their bets on derivative plays they have written up…” (Michael Hudson’s Whither Greece – Without a national referendum Iceland-style, EU dictates cannot be binding for more.)

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Systemic risk is on red alert

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by Graham Summers
Phoenix Capital Research
Posted June 15, 2011

SINCE 2009, I’VE BEEN WARNING THAT SYSTEMIC RISK REMAINS HIGH. However, from that time until today, investors have been willing to bet on the US Federal Reserve (and the world’s central banks) keeping a lid on things. Until today.

Greece has erupted into full-scale, violent riots that could shut down the entire Government there. SHOULD this happen it’s the beginning of the END GAME for central bank intervention in the financial system. And the reason is: The only thing that has maintained investor confidence since the depths of 2009 is the belief that the central banks can continue to bailout/ intervene to control any financial problem.

Remember, we never actually “took the hit” we needed to take in 2008. The same junk debt remains in the system (it’s just been hidden by loosened accounting standards). The same enormous derivatives time bomb is still ticking (it’s over $600 TRILLION in size).

None of these problems were solved. None were even addressed. All the central banks did was lend more money to the insolvent big banks. Well, that and damage their sovereign balance sheets by taking on a ton of garbage debt (the Fed’s balance sheet is now over $2.8 TRILLION in size).

So in plain terms, the central banks took systemic risk that existed in the private sector and allowed it to spread to the public sector.

What does this mean? That the next Crisis won’t just involve banks like Goldman Sachs, it will involve entire countries (including the US) going belly-up. We’re already seeing it in Greece. That situation has made it very clear what happens when you combine public outrage with Government bankruptcy and systemic insolvency: SHUT-DOWN.

This IS coming to the US. And it won’t be long. Once the bailout wagon stops (first in Greece) the ensuing collapse will spread VERY quickly. The reason is quite simple: Greece is the Bear Stearns of the Sovereign Debt Collapse.

So buckle up, because it was only six months or so after Bear Stearns that the Lehman disaster unfolded. Given the amount of leverage in the system today, we could easily see the issues hitting Greece today arriving at the US’s shores before the year’s end.

Death by Debt

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by Chris Martenson
Originally posted June 8, 2011

ONE OF THE CONCLUSIONS THAT I TRY TO COAX, LEAD and/or nudge people towards is acceptance of the fact that the economy can’t be fixed. By this I mean that the old regime of general economic stability and rising standards of living fueled by excessive credit are a thing of the past. At least they are for the debt-encrusted developed nations over the short haul – and, over the long haul, across the entire soon-to-be energy-starved globe.

The sooner we can accept that idea and make other plans the better. To paraphrase a famous saying, Anything that can’t be fixed, won’t.

The basis for this view stems from understanding that debt-based money systems operate best when they can grow exponentially forever. Of course, nothing can, which means that even without natural limits, such systems are prone to increasingly chaotic behavior, until the money that undergirds them collapses into utter worthlessness, allowing the cycle to begin anew.

All economic depressions share the same root cause. Too much credit that does not lead to enhanced future cash flows is extended. In other words, this means lending without regard for the ability of the loan to repay both the principal and interest from enhanced production; money is loaned for consumption, and poor investment decisions are made. Eventually gravity takes over, debts are defaulted upon, no more borrowers can be found, and the system is rather painfully scrubbed clean. It’s a very normal and usual process.

When we bring in natural limits, however, (such as is the case for petroleum right now), what emerges is a forcing function that pushes a debt-based, exponential money system over the brink all that much faster and harder.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the imminent energy crisis. On a pure debt, deficit, and liability basis, the US, much of Europe, and Japan are all well past the point of no return. No matter what policy tweaks, tax and benefit adjustments, or spending cuts are made – individually or in combination – nothing really pencils out to anything that remotely resembles a solution that would allow us to return to business as usual.

At the heart of it all, the developed nations blew themselves a gigantic credit bubble, which fed all kinds of grotesque distortions, of which housing is perhaps the most visible poster child. However outsized government budgets and promises might be, overconsumption of nearly everything imaginable, bloated college tuition costs, and rising prices in healthcare utterly disconnected from economics are other symptoms, too. This report will examine the deficits, debts, and liabilities in such a way as to make the case that there’s no possibility of a return of generally rising living standards for most of the developed world.  A new era is upon us. There’s always a slight chance , should some transformative technology come along, like another Internet, or perhaps the equivalent of another Industrial Revolution, but no such catalysts are on the horizon, let alone at the ready.

At the end, we will tie this understanding of the debt predicament to the energy situation raised in my prior report to fully develop the conclusion that we can –and really should – seriously entertain the premise that there’s just no way for all the debts to be paid back.  There are many implications to this line of thinking, not the least of which is the risk that the debt-based, fiat money system itself is in danger of failing.

Too Little Debt! (or, your one chart that explains everything)

If I were to be given just one chart, by which I had to explain everything about why Bernanke’s printed efforts have so far failed to actually cure anything and why I am pessimistic that further efforts will fall short, it is this one:

There’s a lot going on in this deceptively simple chart so let’s take it one step at a time.  First, “Total Credit Market Debt” is everything – financial sector debt, government debt (federal, state, and local), household debt, and corporate debt – and that is the bold red line (data from the Federal Reserve).

Next, if we start in January 1970 and ask the question, “How long before that debt doubled and then doubled again?” we find that debt has doubled five times in four decades (blue triangles).

Then if we perform an exponential curve fit (blue line) and round up, we find a nearly perfect fit with a R2 of 0.99.  This means that debt has been growing in a nearly perfect exponential fashion through the 1970’s, the 1980’s, the 1990’s and the 2000’s.  In order for the 2010 decade to mirror, match, or in any way resemble the prior four decades, credit market debt will need to double again, from $52 trillion to $104 trillion.

Finally, note that the most serious departure between the idealized exponential curve fit and the data occurred beginning in 2008, and it has not yet even remotely begun to return to its former trajectory.

This explains everything.

It explains why Bernanke’s $2 trillion has not created a spectacular party in anything other than a few select areas (banking, corporate profits), which were positioned to directly benefit from the money. It explains why things don’t feel right, or the same, and why most people are still feeling quite queasy about the state of the economy. It explains why the massive disconnects between government pensions and promises, all developed and doled out during the prior four decades, cannot be met by current budget realities.

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The Economic Death Spiral has been triggered

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by Gordon T. Long
Posted originally May 27, 2011 
This posting has been abbreviated slightly

For nearly 30 years we have had two Global Strategies working in a symbiotic fashion that has created a virtuous economic growth spiral. Unfortunately, the economic underpinnings were flawed and as a consequence, the virtuous cycle has ended.  It is now in the process of reversing and becoming a vicious downward economic spiral.

One of the strategies is the Asian Mercantile Strategy.  The other is the US Dollar Reserve Currency Strategy. These two strategies have worked in harmony because they fed off each other, each reinforcing the other. However, today the realities of debt saturation have brought the virtuous spiral to an end.

One of the two global strategies enabled the Asian Tigers to emerge and grow to the extent that they are now the manufacturing and potentially future economic engine of the world. The other allowed the US to live far beyond its means with massive fiscal deficits, chronic trade imbalances and more recently, current account imbalances. The US during this period has gone from being the richest country on the face of the globe to the biggest debtor nation in the world. First we need to explore each strategy, how they worked symbiotically, what has changed and then why the virtuous cycle is now accelerating into a vicious downward spiral.

ASIAN MERCANTILE STRATEGY

The Asian Mercantile Strategy started with the emergence of Japan in the early 1980s, expanded with the Asian Tigers in the 90s and then strategically dominated with China in the first decade of this century. Initially, Japan’s products were poor quality and limited to cheap consumer products. Japan as a nation had neither the raw materials, capital markets, nor domestic consumption market to compete with the giant size of the USA. To compensate for its disadvantages, Japan strategically targeted its manufacturing resources for the US market.  By doing this, the resource poor island nation took the first step in becoming an export economy – an economy centered on growth through exports versus an economy like the US, where an excessive 70% of GDP is dependent on domestic consumption.

The strategy began to work as Japan took full advantage of its labor differential that was critical in the low end consumer product segment, which it initially targeted. Gradually, as capital availability expanded, Japan broadened its manufacturing scope, moving into higher levels of consumption products requiring higher levels of quality and achieving brand recognition. Success soon became a problem as the Yen began to strengthen. To combat this the Japanese implemented the second critical component of what became the Asian Mercantile Strategy template. It began to manipulate its currency by aggressively intervening in the forex market to keep the yen weak.

Further success forced Japan to move to a more aggressive forex strategy to maintain a currency advantage. It was strategically decided that Japan’s large and growing foreign reserves were to be re-invested back into the US. By buying US Agency and US Treasury debt instruments it kept the dollar strong relative to the Yen. The more successful Japan became, the more critical this strategy became. In the 80s Japan dominated global expansion as it brought US automotive and consumer electronics’ manufacturing to its knees.

By the early 90s the Japanese labor advantage was quickly being lost to the Asian Tigers because the Yen versus the Asian Tiger currencies was too strong. The Asian Tigers were following the Japanese model. The Asian Crisis in 1997 re-enforced to all Asian players the importance of holding large US dollar denominated reserves. This further accelerated and reinforced the strategy of purchasing US Treasury and Agency debt. With China’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO),  China emerged on the scene in full force. Armed with the lessons of the last twenty years, China took the Asian Mercantile Strategy to another level in its ongoing evolution.

The results were one of the largest and fastest transfers of industrial power ever to occur in history.  In ten years, China assumed the role of the world’s undisputed industrial powerhouse in the world.

The virtuous cycle further accelerated as Asia became more dominant because its reserves, reinvested back in the US, began to have a larger and larger impact. The more Asia bought US Treasury and Agency debt, the lower US interest rates were forced, allowing Americans to finance more and more consumption. The more Asia bought US securities, the stronger the US dollar was against Asian currencies, and therefore the cheaper Asian products were relative to US manufactured products. It was a self reinforcing Virtuous Cycle. The result was a staggering 46,000 factories transferred from the US to Asia over the same ten year period. The transfer set the stage for chronic unemployment and public funding problems, but it was temporarily hidden by equally massive increases in debt spending.

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