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ECONOMICS AND ESOTERICA FOR A NEW PARADIGM

Posts Tagged ‘recession

David Galland: The System is coming unglued

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by David Galland
from Casey Research
Posted September 9, 2011

Our video host Stefan Molyneux speaks with Casey Research Managing Director David Galland about the debt situation in the US and whether the federal government can do anything about it… assuming they’d even want to.

TRANSCRIPT

Stefan: Hi everybody, it’s Stefan Molyneux, host of Conversations with Casey. I have on the line David Galland. Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to chat today.

David: Nice to be here.

Stefan: So, we are seven-tenths of the way towards fascism in the United States. I wonder if you could expand upon that. I sort of get a sense that that’s probably true, but you have a little bit more than my gut instinct – you actually have some pretty professional opinions to work with on that.

David: Well, all the elements for fascism are in place. We have a monetary system that is accountable to no one and that’s a very good start. If you think about it, the way that the monetary system is structured, the government at this point can literally spend money on anything. They talk about capping the federal deficits and all that, but they’ll get past that in no time at all. Probably by the time the viewers are watching this they will have announced a big deal, you know, that they have raised the debt cap. And you know, once you have – if you pin your money to nothing, if you have a monetary system that is based on nothing, then you can afford anything. You can afford all the wars you want, you can afford all the bureaucracy you want; and so they have. That’s a first step.

I mean, we’ve – just as an example, here in the little town in New England where Casey Research is located, they have a – they’ve just finished building a massive new Homeland Security center. This is a town of roughly 4,000 permanent residents; it’s a tourist town. It’s the kind of place where the worst crime you’ll ever see is somebody stealing skis from a ski slope, and yet we have something like 36 policemen. We’ve got this huge, brand-new Homeland Security center. Why? Well, because after 9/11 and the overreaction of 9/11 the government made this money available because it could make the money available, because there is nothing stopping it from doing that. And there’s all these local police departments, which should have an “Andy of Mayberry” type police force, took the money and they spent it, and now we’ve got a semi-militarized local operation. So this has gone on and this is multiplied right across the country… and the world.

Stefan: And of course, the decisions that people make in expanding the public sector have immediate implications in payroll, but I think what America is really facing are the long term implications of unfunded pensions that just run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s a lot of the stuff that is not really counted in the public calculation of the debt, which is more immediate obligations, but the unfunded liabilities run $75 to $100 trillion according to many estimates. That’s not something that you see, which makes the whole conversation about should we have two trillion here or there ridiculous to anybody in the know.

David: Oh, absolutely. Again, on the point about whether we’re sort of on the way to a fascist state – and I – this isn’t just the US – it’s important that, you know, people understand this is all over the world. At this point, none of these governments is operating on anything that remotely resembles sound principles. They’re operating on a number of different priorities and a number of different interests – self-interests, because politicians after all are just people. So whatever it takes to kick the can down the road, they’re going to do. You mentioned $75 trillion in unfunded liabilities, absolutely. Because at this point, this is essentially sort of a rising tide of bureaucracy over the last hundred years that is cresting at this point. And they have done this because there are no real operating principles other than buying the votes that they need to get re-elected and to stay in office for as long as they can, and then they pass the baton to the next bureaucrat and the system continues. But it’s reaching the point where, I think, within a relatively short period of time it’s got to come to an end.

Stefan: Now you’ve written an article recently which I found very interesting – I just shared it through my Facebook as well – it’s called The Greater Depression. So you have the Great Depression and now we’re looking at the Greater Depression. I wonder if you could talk about the mechanics and the future as you see it as we go into this abyss.

David: Ultimately, what we’re faced with right now and this is, I think, just some fundamental principles – because there are so many aspects of what’s going on in the economy today that it makes it for most people – for virtually all people – it makes it very hard to really understand what’s going on. So sometimes you just have to sort of step back and ask a few questions to try to get some sort of a compass, if you will. And first and foremost the crisis we’re in right now is caused by debt, too much debt. As you mentioned before $75 trillion in government obligations – everybody knows that money is never going to get paid. So we’ve been brought to this point of extreme government borrowing. Who would have thought we’d see $1.5-trillion deficits? I mean, nobody – five, six years ago if you would have asked anybody on this planet if the US government could run a $1.5-trillion deficit they would have said no way. Well, here we are. So all of the conditions of what this – you can call it a debt-induced depression, all of the conditions that sort of brought us to this place have not improved since the beginning of this crisis; they’ve only gotten worse.

So what’s the ultimate outcome of this? Well, what’s the one thing that a heavily indebted person or an entity like the government can’t handle? And it’s rising interest rates. You can’t afford for the bank to bump your payments up to, you know, 20% because you’ve missed a payment. Well, the same thing’s true of the government and we are now – we are still – the US interest rates are still bouncing around, you know, all-time lows. It’s completely – it’s a complete aberration. And it can’t last. So why things are going to get worse is because interest rates have to go up. Even if they return to sort of a more normal five to six percent range, from a historical standpoint it would be devastating to the US economy. So the government is doing everything it can to try to get out of this trouble but there really is no way. They have very limited impact on long-term interest rates and if it wasn’t for the fact that Europe was such a basket case and that Japan was such a basket case right now, interest rates in the US would already be taking off but I don’t think we’re going to have to wait long for that and then things are going to get interesting.

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Ron Paul appeals to America: “Default now, or suffer a more expensive crisis later”

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by Ron Paul, op-ed first posted in Bloomberg
Posted July 22, 2011

Default now, or suffer a more expensive crisis later

DEBATE OVER THE DEBT CEILING HAS REACHED A FEVER PITCH in recent weeks, with each side trying to outdo the other in a game of political chicken. If you believe some of the things that are being written, the world will come to an end if the U.S. defaults on even the tiniest portion of its debt.

In strict terms, the default being discussed will occur if the U.S. fails to meet its debt obligations, through failure to pay either interest or principal due a bondholder. Proponents of raising the debt ceiling claim that a default on Aug. 2 is unprecedented and will result in calamity (never mind that this is simply an arbitrary date, easily changed, marking a congressional recess). My expectations of such a scenario are more sanguine.

The U.S. government defaulted at least three times on its obligations during the 20th century:

• In 1934, the government banned ownership of gold and eliminated the right to exchange gold certificates for gold coins. It then immediately revalued gold from $20.67 per troy ounce to $35, thus devaluing the dollar holdings of all Americans by 40 percent.

• From 1934 to 1968, the federal government continued to issue and redeem silver certificates, notes that circulated as legal tender that could be redeemed for silver coins or silver bars. In 1968, Congress unilaterally reneged on this obligation, too.

• From 1934 to 1971, foreign governments were permitted by the U.S. government to exchange their dollars for gold through the gold window. In 1971, President Richard Nixon severed this final link between the dollar and gold by closing the gold window, thus in effect defaulting once again on a debt obligation of the U.S. government.

Unlimited spending

No longer constrained by any sort of commodity backing, the federal government was now free to engage in almost unlimited fiscal profligacy, the only check on its spending being the market’s appetite for Treasury debt. Despite the defaults in 1934, 1968 and 1971, world markets have been only too willing to purchase Treasury debt and thereby fund the government’s deficit spending. If these major defaults didn’t result in decreased investor appetite for U.S. obligations, I see no reason why defaulting on a small amount of debt this August would cause any major changes.

The national debt now stands at just over $14 trillion, while net total liabilities are estimated at over $200 trillion. The government is insolvent, as there is no way that this massive sum of liabilities can ever be paid off. Successive Congresses and administrations have shown absolutely no restraint when it comes to the budget process, and the idea that either of the two parties is serious about getting our fiscal house in order is laughable.

Boom and bust

The Austrian School’s theory of the business cycle describes how loose central bank monetary policy causes booms and busts: It drives down interest rates below the market rate, lowering the cost of borrowing; encourages malinvestment; and causes economic miscalculation as resources are diverted from the highest value use as reflected in true consumer preferences. Loose monetary policy caused the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, and now is causing the government debt bubble.

For far too long, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy and quantitative easing have kept interest rates artificially low, enabling the government to drastically increase its spending by funding its profligacy through new debt whose service costs were lower than they otherwise would have been.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats sought to end this gravy train, with one party prioritizing war spending and the other prioritizing welfare spending, and with both supporting both types of spending. But now, with the end of the second round of quantitative easing, the federal funds rate at the zero bound, and the debt limit maxed out, Congress finds itself in a real quandary.

Hard decisions

It isn’t too late to return to fiscal sanity. We could start by canceling out the debt held by the Federal Reserve, which would clear $1.6 trillion under the debt ceiling. Or we could cut trillions of dollars in spending by bringing our troops home from overseas, making gradual reforms to Social Security and Medicare, and bringing the federal government back within the limits envisioned by the Constitution. Yet no one is willing to step up to the plate and make the hard decisions that are necessary. Everyone wants to kick the can down the road and believe that deficit spending can continue unabated.

Unless major changes are made today, the U.S. will default on its debt sooner or later, and it is certainly preferable that it be sooner rather than later.

If the government defaults on its debt now, the consequences undoubtedly will be painful in the short term. The loss of its AAA rating will raise the cost of issuing new debt, but this is not altogether a bad thing. Higher borrowing costs will ensure that the government cannot continue the same old spending policies. Budgets will have to be brought into balance (as the cost of servicing debt will be so expensive as to preclude future debt financing of government operations), so hopefully, in the long term, the government will return to sound financial footing.

Raising the ceiling

The alternative to defaulting now is to keep increasing the debt ceiling, keep spending like a drunken sailor, and hope that the default comes after we die. A future default won’t take the form of a missed payment, but rather will come through hyperinflation. The already incestuous relationship between the Federal Reserve and the Treasury will grow even closer as the Fed begins to purchase debt directly from the Treasury and monetizes debt on a scale that makes QE2 look like a drop in the bucket. Imagine the societal breakdown of Weimar Germany, but in a country five times as large. That is what we face if we do not come to terms with our debt problem immediately.

Default will be painful, but it is all but inevitable for a country as heavily indebted as the U.S. Just as pumping money into the system to combat a recession only ensures an unsustainable economic boom and a future recession worse than the first, so too does continuously raising the debt ceiling only forestall the day of reckoning and ensure that, when it comes, it will be cataclysmic.

We have a choice: default now and take our medicine, or put it off as long as possible, when the effects will be much worse.

“We are on the verge of a Great, Great Depression”

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by George Washington
Posted originally June 1, 2011

THE NEWS THAT FREQUENT CNBC GUEST Peter Yastrow of Yastrow Origer (and formerly with DT Trading) told CNBC that “We’re on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows” is going viral today. But this is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. As I pointed out Tuesday, billion dollar fund managers agree: the government never fixed the underlying economic problems, so we’ll have another crash. I provided details last month: As noted in January, the housing slump is worse than during the Great Depression.

As CNN Money points out today: Wal-Mart’s core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday. “We’re seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure,” Duke said at an event in New York. “There’s no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact.”

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in. Lately, they’re “running out of money” at a faster clip, he said. “Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year,” Duke said. “This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.

And – in case you still think that the 29% of Americans who think we’re in a depression are unduly pessimistic – take a look at what I wrote last December. The following experts have – at some point during the last two years – said that the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression:

States and Cities in Worst Shape since the Great Depression

States and cities are in dire financial straits, and many may default in 2011. California is issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression. Things haven’t been this bad for state and local governments since the 30s. Loan Loss Rate Higher than During the Great Depression

In October 2009, I reported: In May, analyst Mike Mayo predicted that the bank loan loss rate would be higher than during the Great Depression. In a new report, Moody’s has just confirmed (as summarized by Zero Hedge): The most recent rate of bank charge offs, which hit $45 billion in the past quarter, and have now reached a total of $116 billion, is at 3.4%, which is substantially higher than the 2.25% hit in 1932, before peaking at at 3.4% rate by 1934.

Here’s a chart summarizing the findings:

Indeed, top economists such as Anna Schwartz, James Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini and others have pointed out that while banks faced a liquidity crisis during the Great Depression, today they are wholly insolvent. See this, this, this and this. Insolvency is much more severe than a shortage of liquidity.

Unemployment at or near Depression Levels

USA Today reports today: So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment. Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.

The change is a sign that bureau officials “are afraid that a cap of two years may be ‘understating the true average duration’ — but they won’t know by how much until they raise the upper limit,” says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

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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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Where is the recovery? I cannot seem to find it

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by Tony Pallotta of Macro Story
Originally posted June 13, 2011

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

POSSIBLY THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN HAVING a serious problem on your hands is when you clearly do not understand the problem.  You ignore the data and find an easy scapegoat for why the problem is temporary and will pass. The slowdown in the US economy is not transitory as the Fed chairman states. Hopes for 3-4% GDP growth in the second half of 2011 are simply that, hope.

The earthquake in Japan, the third largest economy, occurred two months before US economic data began slowing sharply. It is easy to say that must be the cause. It is far harder to blame failed policies for that involves being honest with oneself. Accepting failure is everyone’s Achilles’ heel.  Something few can overcome.

What is most disturbing about the failed policies of the Federal Reserve and Federal Government are the millions of Americans suffering when they do not have to. With one in seven Americans on food stamps, one in five unemployed or under employed, 28% of mortgages underwater, do leaders truly think we are this naive and that recovery is underway?

In a recent survey 48% of Americans feel we are already in a depression, forget recession. Regardless of what the NBER says or measures of real GDP, something easily manipulated through the deflator, it feels and therefore it is a depression. Food prices are rising. It costs more to fill up our gas tank. Walmart and countless other low cost stores bare witness to the modern day bread line.

If the US government reduced spending by 40% today, right this second, we still could not put a dent in a $12 trillion national debt, closer to $70 trillion when factoring in unfunded liabilities. The government nearly shut down in May as leaders tried to agree on 1% in budget cuts later found to be a pure accounting scheme. All is not well in the US economy and a recovery is not and has not begun. Trillions have been spent since 2008 and we have nothing to show for it.

Ask a child wearing a red shirt what color their shirt is. They will shout red. Ask that same question to an adult and they will hesitate, afraid to answer the most obvious question out of fear they are being set up. As adults we seem to lose the ability to see the obvious. We live in constant fear of being wrong, being judged by others for our inadequacies. Rather than focus on the task at hand we focus on the failure. The safety of going along with the group outweighs the truth we see with our own eyes.

Ask a fund manager with $5 billion in assets under management (AUM) if the economy is recovering and they will say yes. They will say this soft patch is transitory, it is a function of Japan and the revolution in MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa). They will tell you Greece is contained.  They will tell you housing is bottoming. They will tell you stocks are cheap.

Do they believe that? Aside from group think I certainly hope not but if the group says that red shirt you are wearing is in fact blue, well dammit, that shirt is blue. No one believes they are a lemming, that they are part of the herd. The word sheeple does not include them. Then why does history always show the majority to be wrong?

As the market rolls over investors are beginning to question the color of that shirt. Perhaps it is red after all. The Federal Reserve has a horrible record at economic forecasting, absolutely horrid yet with each new forecast we are expected to believe “this time it is different.”  With each passing day more data tells us they are wrong yet again. As investors we must be diligent in our work, diligent in understanding the issues. We must think for ourselves, beyond the noise, beyond the pressure to conform. Now is the time to have courage in our convictions.

When I listen to Bernanke speak what scares me most is not his forecasts of 3-4% economic growth but his complete lack of comprehension of the problems:

  • His apparent belief that this soft patch will pass.
  • That QE was successful.
  • That with more time structural changes in our economy will fix themselves.
  • That the answer to debt is more debt.
  • In the words of Helen Keller his sight makes him a very dangerous man.

Bonds forecast, equities confirm. Bonds have spoken. Equities are finally listening.

 

Don Coxe on everything from the markets rolling over, persistent food Inflation, the coming US Sovereign debt crunch

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by Don Coxe
Posted Zero Hedge
on June 5, 2011

Don Coxe’s (BMO Capital Markets) observations on sovereign risk moving from east to west, state finances, the ongoing correction in financial stocks which portends nothing good for the equity investors, the ongoing violence in MENA, why this inflationary spike in food may last far longer than previous ones, and naturally, some very spot on thoughts on gold, which conclude with: “The only gold bubble likely to burst is the bubbling ridicule of gold.”

Sovereign Risk Moves West

THE EUROZONE’S PROBLEMS ARE NOT THE ONLY existential challenge to the Capital Asset Pricing Model: the bonds at the very base of the risk-free classification in the Model – Treasurys – have come under critical concern since it began to appear that the record-breaking US fiscal deficits won’t be seriously addressed as long as investors can be found somewhere in the world prepared to buy Treasurys. Lots and lots and lots and lots of Treasurys.

When Obama’s State of the Union speech included no budget proposals apart from the hoary pledge to control costs and waste, and when the Obama budget that followed included no provisions for dealing with entitlement programs—and included higher pay increases for government employees than some analysts had expected, bond managers globally began voicing concern—and selling the dollar.

Fortunately, there was a buyer of first and last resort—QE2, as traditional buyers were gagging. China reduced its Treasury purchases, Bill Gross announced he was not just out of Treasurys—he was short—and then S&P announced that, if Washington didn’t do something soon about its multi-trillion-dollar deficits, the US would lose its AAA rating.

In one sense, a downgrade from S&P should be no problem for the USA: what credibility can one assign to such ratings? S&P and other ratings agencies happily assigned Treasury-equivalent ratings to more than a trillion dollars in putrescent derivatives issues masquerading as desirable mortgages. That the raters remain in business at all is a demonstration of Mr. Bumble’s expostulation, “The law is a ass!” Friendly judges have dismissed lawsuits against the rating agencies—who were paid far more than their services were worth for saying that the mortgage products they were examining were worth far more than they were worth.

The judges accepted the ratings agencies’ arguments that penalizing them for exercising their opinions would unconstitutionally penalize their right to free speech. It turns out that free speech that doesn’t come for free, but for fat fees, is as worthy of Constitutional protection as—we were going to say quoting the Bible in public, but that might get an American into real legal trouble these days. As a colleague remarked, “If a doctor sent you for an MRI, and it revealed four tumors, and he didn’t tell you, you or your heirs could successfully sue him. What’s the difference?”

So, according to a series of court decisions, demonstrating, on majestic scale, something between outright sloppiness and outright venality—that was a major contributor to the worst fi financial crash since the Depression—is protected behavior. Those who relied on those fee-for-service appraisals and then lost hundreds of billions go uncompensated. The investment banks who peddled the putrid products with the AAA ratings haven’t been forced to recompense their clients, the Congressmen who used their full power of office to force banks to make loans to borrowers who couldn’t service the debts haven’t been voted out of offi ce, and now the rating agencies have been given a pass by the courts.

So nobody—not bankers, not politicians, not raters—is legally to blame for the disaster which has already added more than $2.5 trillion to the national debtIf no Americans are to blame for a financially-caused global recession that began in the US, why should overseas investors trust the US to remain the world’s best credit?

We believe it highly probable that the US’s fiscal problems will not be seriously addressed for at least two years, and that Obama will be resoundingly re-elected in a campaign demonizing Republican budget proposals. All polls show that most Americans believe the deficits can be eliminated without any cuts in Social Security or Medicare.

We would expect that, in a year or less, long Treasurys will trade at higher yields than many high-grade corporate credits. In other words, we believe the Capital Asset Pricing Model is being driven into a ditch by reckless governments on both sides of the Atlantic, and that means endogenous risk within pension funds could be much higher than trustees realize.

Some thoughts on Gold

There is a new torrent of warnings of a “gold bubble”. We have been hearing that story from concerned clients, partly in response to George Soros’s highly-publicized liquidation of his holdings of the gold ETF: GLD. Another factor has been the debate about Barrick’s move into copper, which is being partially financed by a large bond issue. Despite Peter Munk’s passionate and articulate defense of that strategy at Barrick’s annual meeting, many observers seem to wonder whether this is a warning sign from the long-standing pre-eminent gold miner that gold’s future is problematic.

The financial press has been including many sneering observations that gold is a useless speculation on infl ation that is unlikely to occur. Why own an inflation hedge that pays no income? We dissent from that tiresome scorn: those trained in Keynesian economics about the “barbarous relic” never bother to reflect that Keynes expressed almost childlike faith that central banks, acting pursuant to the Bretton Woods agreement of which he was a major architect, would always exercise restraint in monetary policies that would make gold passé.  The Seventies proved him horribly, hopelessly wrong. But the Eighties and Nineties made it look as if he would ultimately be proved right.

However, the history of major monetary policies since then—and particularly since 2007—makes the case for gold appears as cogent as it was in the Seventies. This time, there’s no chance the Fed will drive interest rates to double-digit levels to fi ght infl ation and protect the dollar. It may be that, after years of getting by on Financial Heroin, the economy lacks the energy and élan vital to survive even normal interest rates—let alone Volcker rates.

As for the most basic argument—that gold is not an investment, because it pays no income—that seeming tautology is, at root, inherently false. Gold has always been an alternative currency. It is resuming that role as central banks switch from the sell to the buy side. A unit of paper currency pays no income. It can be exchanged for bonds, deposits or stocks that pay income, but a holder of a million euros or dollars in a safe deposit box earns no income on the hoard—just as a holder of a million dollars’ worth of gold earns no interest.

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QE is the end of America as we know it

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from The Paper Empire
Originally posted March 2, 2011

EACH TIME WE BEGIN TO APPROACH THE END of an announced QE period, the nervous jitters of financial markets start to set in. Will Bernanke continue with QE(n+1) or won’t he? Now it’s true that professional traders live and die by their ability to front run rumor and perception, but for long term investors who fret over such decisions, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of what QE really is.

To put it succinctly, QE is an economic deal with the Devil. Once it is begun in earnest there can be no turning back. It must be played to its ultimate conclusion.

In Bernanke’s 2009 interview on 60 Minutes, he suffered a momentary lapse into honesty and stated that Quantitative Easing was effectively money printing. So why then the complicated euphemism of Quantitative Easing? Because that is what modern central banking sponsored economics is all about – the intentional obfuscation of otherwise simple economic principles to cause the eyes of normal people to glaze over. Once accomplished, the central bankers (and their financial community brethren) are able to pursue policies that greatly benefit themselves but are devastating to everyone else.

Long term investors who worry about whether QE will continue clearly recognize the fact that everything is now correlated to the Fed’s balance sheet. What they don’t understand is how QE is related to the larger economic cycle and its mission of preventing economic recessions.

Keeping the tent inflated

Sometimes physical analogies are the most helpful in understanding complex relationships. Let’s think of the economy as a large inflated tent. The extent of the tent’s inflation is the health of the economy. Under normal economic conditions the tent is fully inflated. In the course of time, events take place that cause the need for a correction to the economic system. New technology can come along which obsoletes old industries, bad investments and debt must be liquidated etc.

When this happens a free market economy will correct itself. Capital tied up in failed industries will be reallocated and invested in new businesses. New jobs will ultimately be created and people will go back to work. Of course this reorganization takes place over time and this is what a recession is – a healing process for the economy. In our tent we can think of this as a tear that forms in the fabric. While this hole is being repaired, air escapes and the tent begins to sag a little. The extent of the drooping is the extent of the recession. Once fixed, the tent and the economy go back to normal.

QE is a wholly different method of keeping the tent propped up. It does not repair the hole, but rather attempts to keep the tent inflated by pumping more air in than is escaping through the hole. This is the new money being created and pushed into the economy to offset the credit destruction in the banking system. This is a dynamic process that must be maintained.

The catch is that the hole doesn’t just stay a fixed size. The tear begins to lengthen allowing greater amounts of air to escape. The economic tent begins to sag until the volume of air being pumped in is increased to overcome the outflow. This is why QE can never end. To stop now, with such a large hole, would result in a severe and frightening recession. The tent would lose a tremendous amount of air in the time it takes to make such an extensive repair.

This process continues until eventually the hole is so large that the tent collapses around the massive flow of pumping air. This is the ultimate fate of money printing as policy – a currency crisis – the endless flow of new money loses purchasing power faster than it can be created. We are left with an inflationary depression in which savings are decimated and the standard of living of most Americans is dramatically lowered.

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