Even if you don’t buy that QE and ZIRP will lead to a dollar collapse, you do have to admit that these Fed policies have severely brainwashed investors. The Federal Reserve is the boiler room operation that has pumped up the equities market by way of QE and ZIRP. You are investing in a pump-and-dump scam. And like in all such scams, you will lose. Clear enough for ya?
Neoliberal economics has been a wonderful driving force for progress and material prosperity - but it cannot be the single ruling principle of our lives, of our government, or of our society. If we allow the profit motive to be the only motive, then we and our society are doomed. We are already seeing the shape of that doom, in our health care, our government, and our industry.
If policymakers were gunfighters, they’d be out of bullets: They have run out of effective policy tools to improve the economy.
So the question is simple: If there is a recession in 2014, and policymakers are out of bullets, how will it play out across the American economy?
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My colleague and erstwhile nemesis Gonzalo Lira posed the question above in a recent essay, and it is indeed a most puzzling one. Given that the world’s central banks — joined most recently by a shockingly reckless Switzerland — are waging all-out economic war by inflating their currencies, shouldn’t gold be soaring?
The newly elected Japanese Prime Minister, Shinz? Abe, has caused quite a stir. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, which scored a landslide victory in 2012’s election, he’s promised to restart the Japanese economy, whatever it takes. How will he do this? By “bold monetary policy”, what he means—and what he has said—is to end the independence of the Bank of Japan, and have the government dictate monetary policy directly. The perception is, the Bank of Japan will not only print yens and buy government bonds à la Quantitative Easing of old - it is also generally thought that Mr. Abe and the incoming Japanese government fully intend to target the yen against foreign currencies, like Switzerland has been doing with the euro. This perception is what has been driving the Nikkei 225 index higher, and driven the yen lower. But why was this decision triggered?
The Fed is caught between a rock and a hard place. If they inflate, they risk the danger of initiating a damaging and deleterious trade war with creditors who do not want to take an inflationary haircut. If they don’t inflate, they remain stuck in a deleveraging trap resulting in weak fundamentals, and large increases in government debt, also rattling creditors. The likeliest route from here remains that the Fed will continue to baffle the Krugmanites by pursuing relatively restrained inflationism (i.e. Operation Twist, restrained QE, no NGDP targeting, no debt jubilee, etc) to keep the economy ticking along while minimising creditor irritation. The problem with this is that the economy remains caught in the deleveraging trap. And while the economy is depressed tax revenues remain depressed, meaning that deficits will grow, further irritating creditors (who unlike bond-flipping hedge funds must eat the very low yields instead of passing off treasuries to a greater fool for a profit), who may pursue trade war and currency war strategies and gradually (or suddenly) desert US treasuries and dollars. Geopolitical tension would spike commodity prices. And as more dollars end up back in the United States (there are currently $5+ trillion floating around Asia), there will be more inflation still. The reduced global demand for dollar-denominated assets would put pressure on the Fed to print to buy more treasuries.
There continues to be no coverage of silver in the non specialist financial media and little coverage of silver in the specialist financial media. However, both the Financial Times and Bloomberg cover silver today which might be a harbinger of short term weakness. The majority of articles on silver are bearish and most bank analysts remain bearish on silver again in 2012 – as they have been in recent years. Prices will average $37.50/ounce in Q4, according to a survey of 13 analysts by Bloomberg. The lack of coverage of silver and consequent “animal spirits” in the silver market is of course bullish from a contrarian perspective. Analysts look set to get the silver market wrong again as recent rocketing industrial demand for silver, from solar panels to batteries to medical applications and growing investor demand for coins, and small & large bars is “diminishing a supply surplus” according to Nicholas Larkin of Bloomberg. This has led to silver’s best January gains in 30 years with silver up over 20% from below $28/oz to nearly $34/oz. Barclay's estimates that manufacturers will need a 2.5% increase of the metric tons used last year and investment demand continues to grow due to risks posed by both inflation and systemic risks. Silver supply shortages are something we and other analysts who are bullish on silver have been warning of for some time. This is because the silver market is small versus the gold market and tiny versus equity, bond, currency and derivative markets. This is why we believe silver should rise to well over its nominal recent and 1980 high of $50/oz in the coming months.
The failure of the Eurozone and the European monetary union looks increasingly likely. This has incredible political, economic and monetary implications for the world and could lead to shockwaves akin to or surpassing that seen after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Given the scale of the crisis, we continue to amazed at the lack of animal spirits in the gold market – both from media coverage and from public participation. The majority have no idea of the ramifications of these momentous geopolitical developments. The public knows the developments are negative but most are resigned to their fate and many are like deer in the headlights failing to join the dots and realize the ramifications for their investments, savings and financial wellbeing. While demand in Asia has fallen from the very strong levels seen recently - demand continues and Chinese New Year should see Chinese demand pick up again in the coming weeks. Western investment demand continues as seen in increasing allocations to the SPDR trust.
With deflation tightening its choke-hold on the global economy, we thought we’d drop in on our supposed nemesis, Gonzalo Lira, to see how he was coping in these very un-hyperinflationary times.
Finally serious economists are considering a position I have been maintaining and writing about since the 2008 financial meltdown. Whatever its name— erasure, repudiation, abolishment, cancellation, jubilee—debt forgiveness, will have to eventually emerge forefront in global efforts to solve an ongoing systemic financial crisis. Debt forgiveness, therefore, accomplishes two important things. It eliminates the increasing and outsized portion of productive enterprise to pay off unproductive obligations, and it clears the ground for new opportunities, new thinking, invention, and entrepreneurialism. This is why the ability to declare bankruptcy is so essential in the pursuit of both happiness and innovation.
A lot of people—children of the ’70’s, I suppose—claim that judgment is a bad thing: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge!” is their mantra. They insist that we as a society have no right to judge how they live, or more importantly what they do. A lot of other people have taken up the same slogan, and adopted it as their own: People like Dick Cheney—like Monsanto and DuPont and BP, who poison us with impunity—like the oil and gas companies carrying out “fracking”, which is causing earthquakes and flammable water on the East Coast—like the TBTF banks and the prop desks front-running their clients, or illegally foreclosing on homeowners—in short, people near the top of our social pyramid. They have adopted the non-judgmental slogans: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge! It’s not illegal! We’re not breaking the law! So don’t judge! Don’t judge!” they yell and scream as loud as they can. They seem so convincing, these slogans: It’s tempting to do what they ask—to not judge. Because judgment is hard. It’s far easier to passively accept a situation—to not pass judgment—to simply let it be—than to stand up, make a judgment, and then say it out loud.
Since I’ve identified four major rationales for our impending doom, I’ve decided to write a four part series that can be read in small doses, rather than one enormous article. I don’t want anyone to miss tonight’s episode of Dancing With the Stars, get distracted from the Royal Wedding preparations, or skip the best reality TV show ever – Ben Bernanke’s press conference, while reading an 8,000 word article about the end of America. The four part series will have a Clint Eastwood theme. For a Few Dollars More will address the Baby Boomer impact on America’s decline. A Fistful of Dollars will examine how the creation of the Federal Reserve and the income tax in 1913 set us on a path to ruin. Outlaw Josey Wales will scrutinize the looting of America by a small group of powerful, connected, super rich men lurking in the shadows, but pulling the strings on our puppet politicians. Lastly, Unforgiven will detail the impending collapse of our economic system and the retribution that will be handed out to the guilty.
First, let me say that I’ve long enjoyed reading the rants of over-the-top inflationists like Jim Willie, but also the relatively subdued essays of Gonzalo Lira — even if the latter sometimes comes across as the kind of guy who could wear out a mirror. I feel a comradeship with both because, predictions about the financial endgame aside, I agree with much of what they have said — most particularly about the robust defensive role that bullion seems likely to play no matter what happens. But that is not to say that I agree with all of Lira’s and Jim Willie’s arguments.
"So Rick Ackerman posted a piece that I spotted on Zero Hedge—which surprised the hell out of me. Either Tyler and his gang of merry pranksters are losing their nerve about the downward trajectory they think the U.S. economy and monetary policy is headed in—or they ran the piece for shits and giggles. Ackerman’s piece said, in effect, that dollar hyperinflation was impossible. His post was titled “Big Gap in Logic Weakens Hyperinflation Argument”. The cause of hyperinflation is always the same: Spiralling prices that cannot be reigned in with traditional monetary policies of interest rate hikes. But Ackerman doesn’t see this: In his piece, it’s clear he doesn’t realize hyperinflation is an effect of rising prices. Eventually people realize the money itself is to blame—but only eventually, at the end. That’s why Ackerman’s first sentence sort-of makes sense, but not really. But although Ackerman is partly right in the first sentence, his second sentence? That it’s “highly unlikely that this will happen in the United States”? Brother, a panic in the dollar that leads people to exit it for commodities has happened already—and not that long ago: In 1979-’80, when inflation crossed the double digits but before Volcker slammed the brakes via interest rate hikes, people were beginning to get out of the dollar and into anything else, especially commodities, especially gold and silver." Gonzalo Lira