In many respects, 2012 was a year of waiting: waiting for a path forward on the European debt crisis; waiting for the results of a polarizing U.S. election; waiting for the Chinese leadership transition; waiting for a resolution to the U.S. fiscal cliff issues; waiting for the Middle East to find peace; waiting for a clear path to global growth; and therefore, waiting to invest additional assets in the markets (or not, as the case may be). In this 2013 Outlook, Michael Cembalest, JPMorgan Asset Management's Chairman of Market and Investment Strategy, provides a comprehensive summary of the global factors at play, with a tone of optimism grounded in realism. Perhaps just what we need after the surreality of the last two days.
The return of inflation, in official Japanese liberal newspeak, will make the economy less sickly even if the strategy "has risks". One of these is war with China, if only as a (Japanese) crowd pleaser, and another is selling off Japan's over-one-trillion dollar holding of US Federal debt at exactly the right psychological moment to implode the US economy, already teetering on the brink of its fiscal cliff. Japan's endgame flirt with Neoliberal mindwarp, what we can call the "slogan based economy", has brought about a situation where War and Circuses is surely on the Japanese political agenda, along with Japan's threats to sabotage the global economy. The inventors of kamikaze suicide war now have an Old Guard of political deciders who are prepared to pilot the economy straight into the ground, while bleating about "national pride".
It’s obvious that, for many reasons, the size of the global economy is far greater than it was decades ago. We learn in any basic economics course that, over the long run, enhanced productivity and increased technology drive long-term production gains. Certainly, an economy can produce more widgets if you’re a lean, mean, automated machine... as opposed to a blacksmith with a hammer and forge. But there are other factors as well. Population growth. Accounting standards. And of course, the continued inflation of the currency. $1 today buys a whole lot less today than it did a century ago, so when comparing, it’s important to find a better standard of measurement. There are a number of pricing yardsticks we could use... like the cost of a New York City cinema ticket (25 cents in 1935, $20 today). But it would be awkard to calculate GDP in terms of billions of cinema tickets. Gold is a much more appropriate (though still imperfect) long-term standard of pricing, with its history as a store of value dating back to the ancients. Right now, the largest economy in the world is producing as much as it did in 1931, almost at the peak of the Great Depression. And no matter what the talking heads and politicians say, the data show that the trend is getting worse.
How does $45 a barrel oil and $2 a gallon gas sound? Expect $45 oil in the future of this renaissance.
In the spirit of the holidays and hope for a more prosperous 2013, we thought readers might appreciate a little humor to partially offset the relentless 'cliff' doom and gloom. So please, don’t take this too seriously. But if you happen to stumble across a ‘paperbug’ or two over the holidays, perhaps you could share some of the points made here. Humor sometimes helps people realize just how hopelessly misguided they are... Quantitative easing changes nothing. Remember, the PhDs are in charge of our economies and they know exactly how much our money should be worth. Those of us concerned that our money might lose purchasing power are just being paranoid. Choice is dangerous. Think Adam and Eve and you’ll get my point. Those arguing in favour of monetary freedom, of choice in money, of repealing legal tender laws, they’re just like that nasty snake Lillith in the Garden of Eden, the source of all trouble I tell you. ‘Tis the season to borrow and spend folks, as indeed it has been since 1971.
Enjoy your job in North Dakota while you can as in four years, those shale oil projects are no longer sustainable.
The common feature of the transformative technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries is that they were one-offs that cannot be duplicated. What if the engines of global growth that worked for 65 years (since 1945) have not just stalled but broken down? The primary "engines" have been productivity gains from industrialization, real estate development and expansion of consumption based on the continual expansion of debt and leverage--in short-hand, financialization. Doing more of what has failed will only set up a grander failure as returns on all our debt-based "investments" become ever more marginal and the return on increasing complexity drops into negative territory. Once complexity yields negative returns, the systems that depend on complexity quickly destabilize and implode.
Copper is often referred to as the PhD of commodities for, as JPMorgan's Ken Landon notes, "When companies ramp up production of various products, whether during or in anticipation of economic recovery, they demand more cooper." Gold, however, he adds, "is not sensitive at all to business-cycle demand. Its price is driven by the monetary environment." While Bloomberg's chart of the day prefers to take the short-term (last few weeks) view of the world to justify a bullish equity market call, we prefer to look at longer-term cycles and the message is extremely clear - manufacturers are anything but confident, are doing anything but buying copper in anticipation of demand, and despite gold's recent fluctuations it is anything but implying that the world's grand monetary policy experiment is slowing down. What we see from this chart is yet another clear fundamental divergence between Dr. Copper's take on the global economy and the US equity market's nominal recovery.
It’s Not a Tax or Spending Problem … It’s a Devolution Into Lawlessness
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
How does one of the best strategists view the world as we close the page on 2012, and look toward 2013? Find out with the help of these 35 charts.
The Hunger Games trilogy of books (and rapidly expanding film franchise) is set in a dystopian future of depleted natural resources, with humanity clinging to survival in the wake of unspecified environmental apocalypse. The Capitol governs what remains of North America, with its citizens enjoying a lifestyle redolent with material possessions - albeit often financed by debt. Meanwhile the populations of the Districts toil in dangerous conditions, generally without basic political rights, to provide the Capitol with the consumer goods that its citizens demand. UBS' Paul Donovan notes that the parallels to modern society are not stretched too far here. Substitute the OECD for the Capitol and a number of emerging markets for the Districts, and we are viewing the world today reflected back from a distorting mirror as a grotesque image of modern reality. The challenge faced by humanity today is the unsustainable nature of modern living. Borrowing future standards of living to enhance current standards of living is all credit is about.
The world makes less sense every day. Little children are randomly slaughtered in their schoolrooms. Corrupt, bought off politicians pander to the lowest common denominator as their votes are only dependent upon who contributed the most to their election campaigns, which never end. Delusional, materialistic, egocentric, math challenged consumers (formerly known as citizens) live for today, enslave themselves in debt, vote themselves more entitlements, and care not for future generations. The alienation and isolation created by our sprawling, automobile dependent, technology obsessed, government controlled, debt financed society has spread like a cancerous tumor, slowly killing our country. The oligarchs will not give up without a fight. Their realization that the Brave New World method of controlling the masses has run its course has convinced them to shift their methods towards Orwell’s 1984 tactics.
As I mentioned before, without a doubt 2013 will be a disastrous year for the global economy and for the financial markets. Things could get ugly before then due to any number of issues that are boiling just beneath the surface… but barring any sudden developments, most of the key players will try to hold things together into year end.