Thank your lucky stars that you don’t live in some places around the world. If you think you are having a rough time getting by, finding enough money to make ends meet and you constantly talk over the increase in prices, then think again. You probably don’t live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Following yesterday's admission by the new head of Ukraine's central bank of the considerable bank runs in recent days and the rapid dwindling of central bank reserves, Sergiy Kruglik - the director of international affairs for the bank - announced this morning that Ukraine has adandoned the dollar peg and will adopt a flexible exchange rate. The Hyrvnia collapsed through 10.00 on the news and is now trading 10.40 at record lows against the USD.
It would indeed be supremely ironic if the "strong" foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme...
Everybody knows of the light-heartened Big Mac index that the boys at The Economist thought up in 1986 in an idle moment as a yard stick for comparisons between countries around the world.
The world may have been crashing and burning, and as Bernanke admitted in March 2008, "At some point, of course, either things will stabilize or there will be some kind of massive governmental intervention, but I just don’t have much confidence about the timing of that" (guess which one it was), but at least the Fed ended the catastrophic 2008 yeat on a high note. The chart below shows the number of the time the FOMC committee had an moment of levity as captured by [Laughter] in the FOMC transcripts. Perhaps not surprisingly, the December 2008 meeting, when the market was in free fall, saw the biggest number of laugh lines in the entire year.
For the first time ever, the majority of Americans are scared of their own federal government. A Pew Research poll found that 53% of Americans think the government threatens their personal rights and freedoms. Americans aren't wild about the government's currency either. Instead of holding dollars and other financial assets, investors are storing wealth in art, wine, and antique cars. The Economist reported in November, "This buying binge… is growing distrust of financial assets." Every central banker on earth has sworn an oath to Keynesian money creation, yet the yellow metal has retraced nearly $700 from its $1,895 high. The only limits to fiat money creation are the imagination of central bankers and the willingness of commercial bankers to lend. That being the case, the main culprit for gold's lackluster performance over the past two years is something else... It won't be inflation that drives up the gold price but the unwinding of massive amounts of leverage.
For a few brief weeks, there was hope among the millions of Japanese that do not love Shinzo Abe as two former premiers entered the race for governor of Tokyo on a zero nuclear-power platform. Today, as The Economist notes, those hopes melted away as quickly as the snow which had blanketed Tokyo on the eve of the vote. The race was won handily by Yoichi Masuzoe - the "women are abnormal during their periods" pro-nuclear, Abe-apologist that personifies Japan’s gender gap. Perhaps Subculturist sums it up best: once again, Japan has shown us that with enough voter apathy (3rd lowest turnout on record), a compliant media, and the connections and funding of the nuclear industry, that any middle-aged asshole guy can be the leader of one of Japan’s largest city-states.
Further protests and a plethora of headlines this morning from both sides in the troubled European (for now) nation. The Ukrainian foreign minister begins by noting that "its impossible to take Ukraine away from Russia," that Ukraine was "right to take attractive Russia offer," and that protests aren't peaceful. Opposition leader Klitschko responded that "Ukrainians dream of a stable, modern country," and that a majority of Ukrainians want "European values," and asks for "international help." Romania's Basescu is concerned and urges the Ukrainian army to stay out of the conflict. But, as Martin Armstrong notes below, according to a former adviser to Vladimir Putin, the economist Andrei Illarionov, the Kremlin will take one of three possible scenarios with respect to the Ukraine problem to "assert a lot of pressure on Kiev."
The US wants its dollar system to prevail for as long as possible. It therefore has every interest in preventing a ‘rush out of dollars into gold’. By selling (paper) gold, bankers have been trying in the last few decades to keep the price of gold under control. This war on gold has been going on for almost one hundred years, but it gained traction in the 1960's with the forming of the London Gold Pool. Just like the London Gold Pool failed in 1969, the current manipulation scheme of gold (and silver prices) cannot be maintained for much longer.
If, as we are constantly told by the mainstream media, equity market performance is all that matters in the real world, then the following chart from The Economist should provide much food for thought for those praying at the altar of the elites in Davos. Despite hanging on their every word as if handed down by The Oracle herself, 'companies that regularly attend Davos' have dramatically underperformed the broad market... so, in the modern parlance of 'stocks are all that matters' - Davos attendees are less smart than the average business manager (and perhaps less smart given the costs of attendance for this lack of edge).
... We have created an apparently wonderful economic model that seems to provide us with so many benefits. When you consider the incredible feats of technology and the global consumerist lifestyle we enjoy it is easy to marvel at what has been achieved. Of course what may be less obvious is the dark side of the growth economic model which is deeply inequitable, restricting its benefits to the relative elite in the western world and trapping the rest of the world in poverty. Most dangerous of all is the unsustainability of the model and where it is taking us in the future. There is now a perfect storm gathering that includes economic indebtedness, resource shortages, population pressures, and climate change that is guaranteed to derail civilisation. Despite this the political and economic mainstream are largely in denial about what is happening– like the hapless engineer and politician in the story everyone agrees that we must restart the ‘growth economy’ and continue to progress down the business as usual pathway. Very few people are taking the long term view and watching the direction towards doom that this pathway leads us. Too invested in the benefits of our current lifestyle, no one wants to hear the counsel of the philosopher who sees the disaster that looms ahead.
The economist Herbert Stein once said that if something can't go on forever, it will stop. The pattern of the last few decades, in which higher education costs grew much faster than incomes, with the difference made up by borrowing, can't go on forever... There is no point in trying to preserve the old regime as "working your way through college" is now impossible. For an 18-year-old, investing such a six-figure sum in an education without a payoff makes no more sense than buying a Ferrari on credit.
When it comes to setting the prevailing economist groupthink, nobody does it better than the economists at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. Which is why the following chart of projected 2014 GDP growth by quarter in the Developed and Emerging World from JPM, explains succinctly just where the groupthink now expects marginal global growth will come from (Mexico, South Africa, Korea, UK, Italy?). We show it just because the economist consensus is always wrong when it comes to the important inflection points (see ECB rate cut decision, Taper off decision, Taper on, the great financial crisis, "subprime is contained", etc). So for those curious to know what most likely will not happen in the new year, this chart's for you.
Alan Greenspan's Modest Proposal: Fix Broken Economic Models By... Modeling Irrational "Animal Spirits"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/02/2014 15:26 -0400
We leave it to everyone's supreme amusement to enjoy the Maestro's full non-mea culpa essay, but we will highlight Greenspan's two most amusing incosistencies contained in the span of a few hundred words. On one hand the former Chairman admits that "The financial crisis [...] represented an existential crisis for economic forecasting. The conventional method of predicting macroeconomic developments -- econometric modeling, the roots of which lie in the work of John Maynard Keynes -- had failed when it was needed most, much to the chagrin of economists." On the other, his solution is to do... more of the same: "if economists better integrate animal spirits into our models, we can improve our forecasting accuracy. Economic models should, when possible, measure and forecast systematic human behavior and the tendencies of corporate culture.... Forecasters may never approach the fantasy success of the Oracle of Delphi or Nostradamus, but we can surely improve on the discouraging performance of the past." So, Greenspan's solution to the failure of linear models is to... model animal spirits, or said otherwise human irrationality. Brilliant.