"I am definitely concerned. When was [the cyclically adjusted P/E ratio or CAPE] higher than it is now? I can tell you: 1929, 2000 and 2007;" warned Bob Shiller this week, adding that "it's likely to turn down again, just like it did the last two times." As John Hussman reminds us this week, stock valuations now reflect not only the absence of any interest-competitive component of expected returns, but the absence of any expected compensation for the greater risk of stocks, which is not insignificant – as investors might remember from 2000-2002 and 2007-2009 plunges, despite aggressive easing by the Federal Reserve throughout both episodes. Investment decisions driven primarily by the question “What other choice do I have?” are likely to prove regrettable.
The Great Depression did not represent the failure of capitalism or some inherent suicidal tendency of the free market to plunge into cyclical depression - absent the constant ministrations of the state through monetary, fiscal, tax and regulatory interventions. Instead, the Great Depression was a unique historical occurrence - the delayed consequence of the monumental folly of the Great War, abetted by the financial deformations spawned by modern central banking. But ironically, the “failure of capitalism” explanation of the Great Depression is exactly what enabled the Warfare State to thrive and dominate the rest of the 20th century because it gave birth to what have become its twin handmaidens - Keynesian economics and monetary central planning. Together, these two doctrines eroded and eventually destroyed the great policy barrier - that is, the old-time religion of balanced budgets - that had kept America a relatively peaceful Republic until 1914. The good Ben (Franklin that is) said,” Sir you have a Republic if you can keep it”. We apparently haven’t.
One hundred years ago today the world was shook loose of its moorings. Every school boy knows that the assassination of the archduke of Austria at Sarajevo was the trigger that incited the bloody, destructive conflagration of the world’s nations known as the Great War. But this senseless eruption of unprecedented industrial state violence did not end with the armistice four years later. In fact, 1914 is the fulcrum of modern history. It is the year the Fed opened-up for business just as the carnage in northern France closed-down the prior magnificent half-century era of liberal internationalism and honest gold-backed money. So it was the Great War’s terrible aftermath - a century of drift toward statism, militarism and fiat money - that was actually triggered by the events at Sarajevo.
The end game of three decades of excess is upon us, and we can't deny the weight of the debt imbalances that are currently in play. The medicine that the current administration is prescribing is a treatment for the common cold; in this case a normal business cycle recession. The problem is that the patient is suffering from a "debt cancer," and until the proper treatment is prescribed and implemented; the patient will most likely continue to suffer.
I heard it said one day that I would never be as rich as my parents. They were baby-boomers, the people that benefited from the expansionary Thirty Glorious Years of the post-Second-World-War period.
The only thing that can be said about Janet Yellen’s simple-minded paint-by-the-numbers performance yesterday is that the Keynesian apotheosis is complete. American capitalism and all political life, too, is now ruled by a 12-member monetary politburo, which is essentially accountable to no one except its own misbegotten doctrine that prosperity flows from the end of a printing press.
Inflation is once again soaring in the US. Oil is back above $100 per barrel. Stocks have more than tripled from their 2008 lows, and housing is now more expensive relative to incomes than it was in 2007 for some markets.
Let’s be blunt here. The Fed has engaged in the single largest monetary experiment in history, betting the US economy and banking system on misguided theories that have little to no evidence of success.
Now that Q2 is not shaping up to be much better than Q1, other, mostly climatic, excuses have arisen: such as El Nino, the California drought, and even suggestions that, gasp, as a result of the Fed's endless meddling in the economy, the terminal growth rate of the world has been permanently lowered to 2% or lower. What is sadder for economists, even formerly respectable ones, is that overnight it was none other than Tyler Cowen who, writing in the New York Times, came up with yet another theory to explain the "continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies." In his own words: "An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace." That's right - blame it on the lack of war!
If you had fallen asleep at your desk recently due to the absolute lack of anything noteworthy happening, this past week should have woken you up. A massive upset in the Virginia primary dethroned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor which sent moderate Republicans scurrying to shore up their voting bases. Al-Queda backed forces, ISIS, have advanced through Iraq and are not closing in on Baghdad which has sent oil prices rocketing higher this past week. Lastly, the mainstream media was completely baffled by the "sea of red" on their monitors which caused one anchor to quip: "Wow...stocks really can go down."
Have you heard the one about the “economic recovery” in the United States? It’s quite funny, but it is not actually true. Every day, the establishment media points to the fact that global stock markets have soared to unprecedented heights as evidence that the economy is improving. But just because a bunch of wealthy people have gotten temporarily even richer on paper does not mean that the real economy is in good shape. In fact, as you will see below, things just continue to get even tougher for the poor and the middle class.
For all those analysts who thought the debt binge of the previous decade marked end of the Age of Leverage, well, not so fast. It turns out that memories are short and government printing presses are powerful, and this combination has turned the “Great Deleveraging” into a minor speed bump on the road to something even more extreme. It was just six years ago that soaring consumer spending, massive trade deficits and generally excessive debt caused the biggest crisis since the Great Depression, and here we are back at it. The details are slightly different but the net effect is the same: inflated asset prices, growing instability and rising risk of a systemic failure capable of pulling down pretty much the whole show.
We have had The Great Depression, The Great Moderation, and The Great Recession... but now, thanks to central banks around the world, we have The Great Insanity. Nowhere is the disconnect between market rates and fundamental realities more evident than in European peripheral bond yields. While it is easy to look at the last decade and wonder how it is possible that such heavily indebted (and increasingly indebted) nations could have seen bond yields collapse... but as Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid explains, a glance at France, Italy, and Spain bond yields over the last 200 years shows that this really is a unique time in history (and not in a good way).
Economic science has long shown that labor is not magically exempted from the laws of supply and demand. Therefore, minimum wage laws hurt rather than help workers, especially those with few skills or those just starting out, who are on the lowest rungs of the ladder. If one wants to raise youth unemployment and price unskilled workers out of the market, there is no surer way than introducing a minimum wage – especially one that is far higher than what the market can bear. Seattle is one of the few municipalities in the US boasting of an openly socialist council member, Ksahma Sawant. One of her central demands was the introduction of a $15/hr minimum wage in Seattle. The city council has now bowed to this demand, a decision that is likely to prove extremely destructive, especially to small businesses. Seattle seems eager to become the next Detroit.