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Posts Tagged ‘currency devaluation

Too much of a good thing is not a good thing

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by David Galland of Casey Research
Posted August 12, 2011

I AM BEGINNING TO FEEL A BIT LIKE ONE OF THE FRENCH unfortunates stumbling through the fog in the Ardennes, circa 1914. Except that, instead of Germans full of deadly intent coming at me in the gloomy forest, it is a flock of black swans. As it was for the French in the Ardennes, the number of problems – then Germans, now black swans – is becoming overwhelming.

Consider just a little of what we as investors, and as individuals looking forward to retirement in accommodations more commodious than a shipping box, must contend with:

  • The Euro-Stone. Despite all the bailouts and bluster flying about Europe, the yields in the wounded “piiglets” of Greece, Portugal, etc. have failed to soften to more tolerable levels. Worse, yields in the fatter PIIGS of Spain and Italy are hardening. This is of no small import to the German and French banks, which together are owed something like US$2 trillion by the porkers. At this point, it is becoming clear that the eurozone’s systematic flaws doom the euro to continue trending down until it ultimately takes its place in the pantheon of failed monies.
  • The Yen Has Lost Its Zen. This week the Japanese government again began intervening in currency markets because, remarkably, the yen has been pushed to highs against the dollar. This in a nation with a government debt-to-GDP ratio that is better than twice the also horrible ratio sported by these United States.

That ratio ensures that Japan’s long struggles will continue, burdened as it also is with the aftermath of the deadly tsunamis and the ongoing drama at Fukushima. Adding to its woes are the commercial challenges it faces from aggressive neighbors, and maybe worst of all, the demographic glue trap it is stuck in, with fewer and fewer young to pick up the social costs of the old. Toss in the waterfall plunge in Japan’s much-vaunted savings rate – formerly a big prop keeping Japanese interest rates down – and the picture for Japan is anything but tranquil.

  • China’s Crucible. There are many reasons for being optimistic about the outlook for China, including a large and hard-working populace. But there is one overriding reason to expect a big bump in the path to China’s emergence as the world’s reigning economic powerhouse.

Simply, it’s a capitalistic country with a communist problem.

Now, in the same way that some people believe in leprechauns or any of dozens of other magical beings, some people believe that an economy can be successfully commanded just as a captain commands the crew of a Chinese junk cruising along the coast. It’s a fantasy.

While the comrades in charge have done quite well – largely by getting out of the way of natural human actions – they are fast reaching the limits of their ability to navigate the shoals. As I don’t need to tell you, China is a massive country, with hundreds of millions of people capable of every manner of human strengths and frailties. But if they share one interest, it is in a job that allows them to keep their rice bowls full and a roof over their heads. Said jobs don’t come from government dictate – at least not on a sustainable basis – but rather by the messy process of free-wheeling commerce… and the more free-wheeling, the better.

In the July edition of The Casey Report, guest contributor James Quinn discusses the very real challenges facing China, not the least of which is that in the latest reporting period, official Chinese inflation popped up to 6.4%. Even more concerning was a 14% rise in the price of food.

Scrambling to keep employment high while also keeping inflation low, the Chinese government is throwing all sorts of ingredients into the mix – building ghost cities, raising interest rates, stockpiling commodities, clamping down on dissent, hacking everyone – but in the end, the irrefutable laws of economics must prevail. And so the Chinese government will have to atone for the massive inflation it unleashed in 2008, and for the equally disruptive misallocations of capital that are the hallmark of command economies.

While the blowup in China will wreak havoc in world markets, including many commodities, a bright side for gold investors is that the country’s rising inflation should help keep the wind in the sails of monetary metal. It’s no coincidence that the World Gold Council’s latest data show investment demand for gold in China more than doubling in the first quarter of this year.

  • Uncle Scam. Then there is the United States. Casey Research readers of any duration know the fundamental setup… The political avarice that dominates both parties… The fear and greed of John Q. Public and his steady demands that the government do more… The scam being run by the Treasury and the Fed to provide the funny money to keep the government running… The cynical attempts by certain politicians to stoke a class war… The cellars full of toxic paper at the nation’s financial institutions… The outright corruption and deceit of the various government agencies as they twist and torture the data to fool the people into supporting them in their scams.

But there’s a growing problem: An increasing number of people and institutions are coming to understand just how intractable the problems are. This has resulted in a steady move into tangible assets – gold, especially – that are not the obligation of any government. And it’s not just individuals and money managers moving into gold, but central banks as well. That is an absolute sea change from the situation even a few years ago.

Meanwhile, with the Treasury unable to borrow since May, a backlog in government financing needs has built up. Which begs the question: With the Fed standing aside (for the moment), where is the government going to find all the buyers for the many billions of dollars worth of Treasuries it needs to flog in order to keep the scam going?

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might look at the sell-off in equities this week, triggered as it was by nothing specific, and see a gloved hand operating behind the curtain. After all, nothing like a good old-fashioned stampede out of equities to send billions chasing after “safe” Treasuries… which has been exactly the case this week.

Regardless, with the crossroads for hard choices now behind us, the global economy finds itself at the top of a long hill… with no brakes. From here on, it will increasingly be every nation for itself – meaning a return to competitive currency devaluations and, in time, exchange and even trade controls. And we will see a return of the Fed to the markets. On that topic, I will once again trot out a chart from an article by Bud Conrad that ran in The Casey Report a couple of years back.

I do so because it shows what I think is a very strong corollary between what occurred in Japan after its financial bubble burst and what is now going on here in the U.S. (and elsewhere). As you can see, as a direct result of the Japanese central bank engaging in quantitative easing, the Japanese stock market bounced back strongly. But then, when the quantitative easing stopped, the market quickly gave back all its gains.

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Confiscation through Inflation

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by Mike Hewitt
Originally posted 9 December 2010

Source: GoldSeek.com

A monologue on currency devaluation through the process of inflation.

I WOULD LIKE TO TALK ABOUT A SUBJECT WHICH I BELIEVE TO BE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE. It is to do with the devaluation of our currency. The continual and increasing issuance of U.S. dollars has steadily eroded its value. This has been particularly pronounced since abandoning the final vestige of the Gold Standard some forty years ago.

John Maynard Keynes, perhaps the single most influential economist of the 20th century, said that, “by a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” The following chart shows the value of the U.S. dollar in terms of gold.

As you can readily see, the dollar has depreciated over time. With the Coinage Act of 1792, the dollar was officially defined in terms of silver. The nominal gold price at this time was equal to $19.39.

The first devaluation occurred during the War of 1812. After hostilities ended the pre-war convertibility was restored. Following the Coinage Act of 1834, the dollar was revalued and one troy ounce of gold had the nominal price of $20.67. During the U.S. Civil War, convertibility of the U.S. dollar was suspended. But again, as with the War of 1812, the pre-war convertibility was eventually restored. The Gold Standard Act of 1900, officially defined the U.S. dollar in terms of gold, instead of silver.

The next drop in the value of the U.S. dollar came as a result of the Gold Reserve Act of 1934. This act was part of the measures put forth by the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression. This act set the nominal price of gold at $35.

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Is Europe coming apart faster than anticipated?

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by Gonzalo Lira
Originally posted November 16, 2010

The sky is black with PIIGS coming home to roost: I was going to write my customary long and boring think piece— but the simmering crisis in the Eurozone just got the heat turned up: Things are boiling over there!

“Euro Dead” by Ryca

SO LET’S TAKE A BREAK FROM OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING, and give you a run-down of this late-breaking news: The bond markets have no faith in Ireland—Greece has been shown up as having lied again about its atrocious fiscal situation—and now Portugal is teetering — in other words, the PIIGS are screwed. I would venture to guess that we are about to see this slow-boiling European crisis bubble over into a full blown meltdown over the next few days—and it’s going to get messy.

So to keep everything straight, let’s recap: The spreads on Irish sovereign debt widened, and the Germans are pressing them to accept a bailout—despite the fact that the Irish government is fully funded until the middle of 2011. But it’s not the Irish fiscal situation that the bond markets or the Germans are worried about—it’s the Irish banking sector that is freaking everyone out.

After all, the Irish government fully—and very foolishly—backed the insolvent Irish banks back in 2008. And for unexplained reasons, the Irish government is committed to honoring Irish bank bonds fully—which the country simply cannot afford. However, German banks are heavily exposed to Irish banks, which explains why Berlin is so eager to have Ireland accept a bailout.

Right now, European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank officials are meeting with Irish representatives, putting together a bail-out package. The reason the Irish are so leery, of course, is that any bail-out would be accompanied by very severe austerity measures: In other words, the Irish people would suffer the consequences of shoring up the Irish banks—which is the same as saying the Irish people would suffer austerity measures in order to keep German banks from suffering losses. Also, the EU/IMF/ECB bail-out would probably also cost the Irish their precious 12.5% corporate tax rate—a key magnet for bringing capital to the Emerald Isle.

Add to the Irish worry, Greece is once again wearing a bright red conical dunce cap: They’ve been shown up to have lied again about their fiscal situation. Three guesses what they lied about: If you guessed Greek deficit, you win—yesterday, the Greek government officially revised its deficit figures: 15.4% for 2009, and 9.4% for 2010 (as opposed to an original 7.8% projection). Odds are good that these figures will be revised—for the worse—soon enough: Nobody believes anything other than Greece is insolvent.

That’s what’s going on this morning—and as a reaction, the dollar (if you can believe it) is roaring back alive: As I write (noon EST), the Euro is at $1.3511, the Pound at $1.5870, gold down to $1,333 an ounce, silver $25.05 an ounce; the dollar is up ¥83.45.

There was no specific reason why things took a turn for the worse today—but this downturn of sentiment has been having a cascading/contagion effect through the rest of Europe:

As a result of the Irish not taking the EU bail-out, Portugal’s debt started to tumble—which has everyone worried. Portugal is looking an awful lot like Greece did five-six months ago: It’s debt spread over the German benchmark is 6.5%, and climbing. Even France’s debt yield spread widened against the German bund—it costs more to insure French debt than it costs to insure Chilean debt (I guess a good “Viva Chile!” would be in order?).

The reason the entire slate of Euro bonds are tumbling is because of Ireland—but the real worry is Spain. If Ireland and then Portugal go down the tubes, then it would only be a matter of time before Spain is next—and Spain is far larger than Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined. If Spain goes, then it’s curtains for the whole Eurozone, perhaps even for the European Union as a political entity.

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How Ben Bernanke sentenced the poorest 20% of the population to a cold, hungry winter

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by Tyler Durden
Originally posted November 5, 2010

THE FOLLOWING CHART PREPARED RECENTLY by JPMorgan demonstrates something rather scary, and makes it all too clear how the Chairman’s plan to “assist” the US population via some imaginary “wealth effect” due to QE2, is about to backfire. As is now becoming all too clear, the prices of energy and food products are about to surge, and in many cases have already done so, but courtesy of some clever gimmicks (Wal Mart selling what was formerly 39 oz of coffee as a 33.9 oz product for example) the end consumers haven’t quite felt it yet. They will soon. There is a limit to how much every commodity can open limit up before it appears on the SKU price at one’s local grocer.

And while a marginally declining “core CPI” is irrelevant for this exercise as it measures only items that are completely outside of the scope of everyday life, what will be far more important to end consumers will be the push higher in food and energy costs. The problem, however, is that for the lowest 20% of Americans, as per the BLS, food and energy purchases represent over 50% of their after-tax income (a number which drops to 10% for the wealthiest twenty percentile).

In other words should rampant liquidity end up pushing food and energy prices to double (something that is a distinct possibility currently), Ben Bernanke may have very well sentenced about 60 million Americans to a hungry and very cold winter, let alone having any resources to buy trinkets with the imaginary wealth effect which for over 80% of the US population will never come.

Here is how JPM explains the phenomenon:
When the Fed considers the possible consequences of a falling dollar resulting from QE2, it should perhaps focus on food and energy prices as much as on traditionally computed core inflation.  First, the food/energy exposures of the lower 2 income quintiles are quite high (see chart). Second, the core  CPI has a massive weight to “owner’s equivalent rent”, which suggests that the imputed cost of home occupancy has gone down.

Unfortunately, this is not true for families living in homes that are underwater, and cannot move to take advantage of it (unless they choose to default and bear the consequences of doing so). Due to the housing mess, there has perhaps never been a time when traditionally computed core inflation as a way of measuring changes in the cost of things means less than it does right now.

Since nothing else appears to have jarred America from its prime time TV/iPad hypnosis yet, perhaps this is for the best, and a few hungry months in subzero temperatures is precisely what several tens of millions of Americans need to finally march on Constitution Avenue.

The Economics of the World Apartments

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by Gregory Wyche
Originally posted Oct 26 2010
perfectpitch-media.com

Why pretending to have money is a bad idea…

IMAGINE AN APARTMENT BUILDING REPRESENTING THE WORLD, and imagine different countries residing in the building, each within their own apartment. Each of the tenants in the building own and produce various things. Imagine then, a long time ago the tenants began trading with each other to obtain things they didn’t have. A few of the tenants were lucky enough to have gold mines. It turned out gold was something everyone in the building liked. As time went by each apartment ended up owning some gold as they traded goods with the tenants that had mines. Gold was rare, ever- lasting and considered beautiful. It was worn by both men and women and used to symbolize intimate relationships.

An agreement was made that rather than having to exchange one good for another (which was cumbersome and inefficient) the building would use gold for medium of trade. This caused gold to become currency. Some apartments had used salt as currency as it was once very rare. Later salt was discovered almost everywhere which caused it to lose its rarity (and so devalued) and it was no longer suitable as currency.

Thousands of years went by and some of the tenants decided to use paper notes that would represent the gold they owned. Soon each tenant used their home printers to make notes and paper money was born. This made trade easier since gold was heavy and hard to carry from one floor to next; after all, the building had not yet installed elevators. The ability to exchange paper money for gold created trust between neighbors and trade increased. After a while the tenants of the world apartments enjoyed a wide variety of goods they purchased from each other with notes back by gold.

From time to time tenants disagreed with each other. If the disagreements were serious games (war) were played to resolve them. The winning apartment received a prize from the looser. Games were expensive to play so many tenants began to avoid them. In the 1960’s two tenants (USSR and USA) played a very expensive game in Southeast Asia’s apartment. The game dragged on and in 1971 some tenants worried about the value of the US money.

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We’re in a Global Currency War… but what does it mean?

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by Washington’s Blog
Posted originally at Global Research, October 4, 2010

THERE IS A CURRENCY WAR RANGING WORLD-WIDE. JAPAN, BRAZIL, PERU AND COUNTRIES ALL OVER THE WORLD are trying to beggar thy neighbor (just as happened during the 1930s) and gain a leg up for their exports by cheapening their currencies. If you take a step back, it really is an odd situation. As Joe Weisenthal writes in Business Insider, Sep 30, 2010:

Just think for a moment about the screwy times we live in when central banks are trying to hurt their rivals by buying up their rivals’ bonds –essentially lending them money. Such is the state of things in a world where every country wants to weaken their currencies to boost their own exporters.

And the House has passed legislation saying China is a currency manipulator and has to raise the value of the Yuan. What does it mean? American experts say that the Chinese Yuan is undervalued by 25%, which makes Chinese exports artificially competitive. The U.S. Congress is trying to blame China’s undervalued currency for America’s bad economy and unemployment woes.

But the former U.S. trade representative, Susan Schwab, says that “while there’s a very real problem in terms of China artificially keeping the renminbi low, this isn’t the way to solve anything”. Schwab calls it “a signal-sending exercise during an election season”. She says that the bill won’t really do anything, even if the Senate passes it and it is signed into law. Schwab says it “makes no sense”, won’t solve any problems, will escalate tensions, and will only divert attention from the real trade problems between the U.S. and China.

Indeed, Schwab warns that other countries might decide that this U.S. bill means that its open season for addressing currency manipulation, and that other countries believe that the U.S. is manipulating our currency. She says there could be a “boomerang effect” from the legislation.

(Ironically, an anti-sourcing bill – the kind of legislation which might actually keep jobs in the country – was defeated in the same week that the toothless China bill passed.)

Zachary Karabell notes that China is not to blame for all of America’s economic woes, and China is in the middle of revaluing its currency: “The idea is that there is direct line between China, its currency, its exports of lower-cost goods to the United States, and the erosion of middle-class life and now soaring unemployment. But U.S. manufacturing has been bleeding jobs for decades…”

What’s more, the recent loss of millions of jobs since 2008 has everything to do with the collapse of the construction and housing industries along with the near-death of the Big Three American auto makers than with any competitive challenge from China. China has become a large car market for General Motors, but not for export to the United States: for sale in China. It would take a massive leap unsupported by any fact to lay the demise of the U.S. auto industry at the feet of China, or for that matter hold China responsible for the sub-prime and derivative debacles. Those are the cause of recent job loss.

Furthermore, China has been revaluing its currency, nearly 20% between 2005 and 2008 and now nearly 3% since June when the government resumed that policy having shelved it during the midst of the global financial crisis. It is in the domestic interest of the Chinese government to raise the value of their currency because they are focused on building up on internal, domestic consumption market. They have no wish to be dependent long-term of the vagaries and whims of American consumers, and higher purchasing power for Chinese consumers is the answer. They are not revaluing quickly enough to suit an America stuck in second gear and looking for someone to blame, but revaluing they are.

Martin Wolf points out that the real problem is global weakness in demand, and China is understandably trying to avoid what happened Japan’s ramped-up currency, which led to the Lost Decade.

“We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.” This complaint by Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister, is entirely understandable. In an era of deficient demand, issuers of reserve currencies adopt monetary expansion and non-issuers respond with currency intervention. Those, like Brazil, who are not among the former and prefer not to copy the latter, find their currencies soaring. They fear the results.

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Gold is the final refuge against universal currency debasement

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Originally published 26 Sep 2010

STATES ACCOUNTING FOR TWO-THIRDS OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMY are either holding down their exchange rates by direct intervention or steering currencies lower in an attempt to shift problems on to somebody else, each with their own plausible justification. Nothing like this has been seen since the 1930s.

“We live in an amazing world. Everybody has big budget deficits and big easy money but somehow the world as a whole cannot fully employ itself,” said former Fed chair Paul Volcker in Chris Whalen’s new book Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream.

“It is a serious question. We are no longer talking about a single country having a big depression but the entire world.” The US and Britain are debasing coinage to alleviate the pain of debt-busts, and to revive their export industries: China is debasing to off-load its manufacturing overcapacity on to the rest of the world, though it has a trade surplus with the US of $20bn (£12.6bn) a month. Premier Wen Jiabao confesses that China’s ability to maintain social order depends on a suppressed currency. A 20pc revaluation would be unbearable. “I can’t imagine how many Chinese factories will go bankrupt, how many Chinese workers will lose their jobs,” he said.

Plead he might, but tempers in Washington are rising. Congress will vote next week on the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, intended to make it much harder for the Commerce Department to avoid imposing “remedial tariffs” on Chinese goods deemed to be receiving “benefit” from an unduly weak currency.

Japan has intervened to stop the strong yen tipping the country into a deflation death spiral, though it too has a trade surplus. There is suspicion in Tokyo that Beijing’s record purchase of Japanese debt in June, July, and August was not entirely friendly, intended to secure yuan-yen advantage and perhaps to damage Japan’s industry at a time of escalating strategic tensions in the Pacific region. Brazil dived into the markets on Friday to weaken the real. The Swiss have been doing it for months, accumulating reserves equal to 40pc of GDP in a forlorn attempt to stem capital flight from Euroland. Like the Chinese and Japanese, they too are battling to stop the rest of the world taking away their structural surplus.

The exception is Germany, which protects its surplus ($179bn, or 5.2pc of GDP) by means of an undervalued exchange rate within EMU. The global game of pass the unemployment parcel has to end somewhere. It ends in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, parts of Eastern Europe, and will end in France and Italy too, at least until their democracies object.

It is no mystery why so many states around the world are trying to steal a march on others by debasement, or to stop debasers stealing a march on them. The three pillars of global demand at the height of the credit bubble in 2007 were – by deficits – the US ($793bn), Spain ($126bn), UK ($87bn). These have shrunk to $431bn, $75bn, and $33bn respectively as we sinners tighten our belts in the aftermath of debt bubbles. The Brazils and Indias of the world are replacing some of this half trillion lost juice, but not all.

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