China’s economy is slowing, and the debate is raging over whether the country is headed for an abrupt hard landing or whether the slowdown will stabilize into a soft landing that may already be underway. However it plays out, Schwab's Jeff Kleintop notes, one thing is clear: A return to the double-digit growth rates of years past seems unlikely. Demographics are destiny.. and China faces two unstoppable trajectories.
The current set of dominant market narratives are so well known as to be cliché. Invest where central banks are pumping liquidity, and short the currency of those countries or regions. Look for growth, and pay any valuation multiple that seems half way reasonable in today’s market. Expect any spike in volatility to wilt like cut flowers in the hot sun, and the Fed to care intensely about stock prices. And maybe that will continue to work in this last month of the first quarter… But it always pays to question the foundations of market assumptions...
Sometime next year Social Security’s $150 billion disability-insurance program will become insolvent. Congressional loosening of benefit requirements, and more-importantly allowing people to remain on disability effectively for life once they gain it (less than 1% of the people on disability return to the workforce in any given year) make the problem one that is utterly intractable without major changes. And so Congress' bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board has urged change...like shifting funds to the Social Security disability fund from the Social Security retirement fund.
The politicians of Europe are plunging into a form of ideological fratricide as they battle over Greece. Accordingly, all the combatants - the German, Greek and other national politicians and the apparatchiks of Brussels and Frankfurt - are fundamentally on the wrong path, albeit for different reasons. Yet by collectively indulging in the sum of all statist errors they may ultimately do a service. Namely, discredit and destroy the whole bailout state and central bank driven financialization model that threatens political democracy and capitalist prosperity in Europe - and the rest of the world, too.
Today's obvious mispricing of sovereign bonds is a bonanza for spending politicians and allows over-leveraged banks to build up their capital. This mispricing has gone so far that negative interest rates have become increasingly common. Macroeconomists will probably claim that so long as central banks can continue to manage the quantity of money sloshing about in financial markets they can keep bond prices up. But this is valid only so long as markets believe this to be true. Put another way central banks have to continue fooling all of the people all of the time, which as we all know is impossible.
Deflation remains the enemy thanks to debt, deleveraging, demographics, tech disruption & default risks. US aggregate debt is today a staggering $58.0 trillion (327% of GDP); the number of people unemployed in the European Union is 23.6 million; Greece has spent 90 of the past 192 years in default or debt restructuring. 7 years on from the GFC... The massive policy response continues. Central bank victory means that lower rates, currencies, oil successfully boosts global GDP & PMI’s in Q2/Q3, allowing Fed hikes in Q4. Bond yields would soar in H1 on this outcome. Defeat, no recovery, and currency wars, debt default and deficit financing become macro realities.
The grand central banking experiment being conducted around the globe right now will not end well. With little more than a lever to ham-fistedly move interest rates, the central planners are trying to keep the world's debt-addiction well-fed while simultaneously kick-starting economic growth and managing the price levels of everything from stocks to housing to fine art. The complexity of the system, the questionable credentials of the decision-makers, and the universe's proclivity towards unintended consequences all combine to give great confidence that things will not play out in the way the Fed and its brethren are counting on.
Bill Gross Slams Broken Capitalism: "Policymakers Must Promote A Future Which Offers Hope As Opposed To Despair"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/29/2015 09:17 -0400
"Officials at the Federal Reserve – the most powerful and strongest of Parker Brothers – seem to now appreciate the hole that they have dug by allowing interest rates to go too low for too long.... While there is no better system than capitalism, it is incumbent upon it and its policymakers to promote a future condition which offers hope as opposed to despair. Capitalism depends on hope – rational hope that an investor gets his or her money back with an attractive return. Without it, capitalism morphs and breaks down at the margin. The global economy in January of 2015 is at just that point with its zero percent interest rates."
Despite tactical, rhetorical opposition to further expansion of the entitlement state by many voices in Washington, and firm resistance by an honorable and principled few, collusive bipartisan support for an ever-larger welfare state is the central fact of politics in our nation’s capital today, as it has been for decades. Until and unless America undergoes some sort of awakening that turns the public against its blandishments, or some sort of forcing financial crisis that suddenly restricts the resources available to it, continued growth of the entitlement state looks very likely in the years immediately ahead. And in at least that respect, America today does not look exceptional at all.
...over time, grand coalition governments may only serve to ossify the re-orientation of political allegiances along the mainstream vs. populist dimension. If economic malaise persists to the next election, support for populist parties is likely to build, as scepticism about the adjustments required to sustain Euro area membership rises. The Greek experience points in this direction. Were this experience to extend to larger and more systemically relevant countries (such as Italy or Germany), the implications for markets would be profound.
We have great news for America's increasingly aging work force: the number of workers 55 and over just hit 32.9 million, up 1.3 million from a year ago, and an all time high. For those who happen to be young and, inexplicably, also want a job, we have good news too...
If we review the events of 2014, it seems the situation has intensified: governments are still overwhelmed with debt, our fiat money system is unsupported, our central banks insist on accumulating debt and making money valueless. Will someone realize we have to pull the plug? And when we do, because it will happen whether we want it or not, how can we hedge against the damage that we will all be exposed to? Owning physical precious metals stored outside the banking system is a proven and essential form of monetary insurance against the uncertainties and negative surprises we see in our world today.
No reason to sell. No reason to buy. That about sums it up. Unfortunately, that is about as optimistic a scenario as we can come up with, supported by equally optimistic growth expectations. In reality, the market has no support. We can only hope that it will not crash at the first sign of trouble. There are always good reasons to own a home, a place to raise a family. However, home ownership via extremely leveraged financing carries enormous and unprecedented risk. We think many potential buyers recognize the risk and are correctly staying out of the market. The new normal in real estate terms is unlikely to be what the market is hoping for.
From Bill Gross: "I’ll leave the specific forecasting for a few weeks’ time and sum it up in a few quick sentences for now: Beware the Ides of March, or the Ides of any month in 2015 for that matter. When the year is done, there will be minus signs in front of returns for many asset classes. The good times are over.... Be cautious and content with low positive returns in 2015. The time for risk taking has passed."