Government spending is out of control. But even if voters and politicians wanted to stop, they couldn't. The root of the problem is a flaw in the nature of the dollar.
Retirement funds, home equity, family assets--these are the financial equivalent of seed corn. Once they're cashed out and spent, they cannot be replaced. So how much of the recent "growth" in GDP results from our consumption of seed corn? It is difficult to find any data on this, something which is unsurprising as the data would reveal the entire "recovery" story as a grandiose illusion: we as a nation are consuming our seed corn in great gulps, and there will be precious little left in a decade to pass down to the next generation. We face not just an impoverishment in consumption but in expectations and generational assets.
In December 2008, two brief conversations from Ms Yellen and Mr Bullard appear to have set the scene for both the scale and focus of the Fed's actions over the ensuing years... ironically it was Janet Yellen's fear of a "rising" labor force participation rate and Jim Bullard's rapid realization that the US was "moving to a Japanese-style deflationary, zero nominal interest rate, situation at an alarming pace." Topics that now are quickly ushered away as nonsense by the mainstream economist crystal-ball gazers...
Here's the global financial crisis in a nutshell: access to easy credit can solve a temporary liquidity problem, but it can't increase the value of collateral or generate income. Once the liquidity typhoon dies down, the insolvent pigs will plummet back to earth. That's what we're seeing in the periphery economies and shadow banking systems around the world.
The elimination of low-risk interest income in favor of risky speculative credit/asset bubbles has led to a monumental misallocation of capital and the institutionalization of perverse and highly corrosive incentives. Needless to say, the current bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate will implode, and the phantom wealth that the bubbles temporarily generated will vanish.
If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun.
Please welcome the nation's new chief slumlord, Janet Yellen. The previous top slumlord, Ben Bernanke, has retired from the position of Chief Slumlord (i.e. chair of the Federal Reserve) to the accolades of those who benefited from his extraordinary transfer of wealth from the many to the few. Why is the chairperson of the Fed the nation's top slumlord? Allow us to explain... We only need to understand two facts to understand the Fed's role as Slumlord.
From its peak in October 2012, mortgage applications have collapsed 66% and this week printed at new 13-year lows. Since rates started to crack on Taper talk in May 2013, mortgage applications have fallen in a one-way street (but hey, rising rates won't affect the housing recovery, right? remember 15% mortgages... as the usual bullshit meme goes, entirely missing the shift in house prices, affordability, and marginal price-setter). Of course, the usual 'seasonal' effect wil be blamed and recovery will re-blossom in the new year... except, seasonally this is among the worse drop in the last few weeks of the year in the last decade. Adding further salt to the wound of wealth generation, the refi index has dropped to a fresh 5-year low as the home equity ATM remains shut (having dropped 73% in the last few months).
All that glitter is not gold.
Inflating serial asset bubbles is no substitute for rising real incomes. Why are we stuck with an economy that only generates serial credit/asset bubbles that crash with catastrophic consequences? The answer is actually fairly straightforward.
By standards of previous generations, the middle class has been stripmined of income, assets and purchasing power. So what does it take to be middle class nowadays? A recent paper used Census data to discuss what sort of income it takes to qualify as middle class but income is not the only the metric - indeed, it can be argued that 12 other factors are more telling measures of middle class membership than income.
It would likely also deal another blow to the U.S property market and the fragile U.S economy. JP Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo appear to be most exposed - meaning that either taxpayers will again be asked to bail out banks or more likely the coming bail-in regime will confiscate cash from depositors.
It’s interesting, disturbing and pathetic that this article emerged so shortly after we highlighted the fact that there is about to be a huge, and potentially disruptive reset in home equity loans over the next several years. So while we are still dealing with the ramifications of the prior housing bubble and the HELOCs associated with that debacle, we are right back at it. Extracting additional equity from another phony housing bubble to remodel homes that likely aren’t worth anywhere near what people think once private equity and money laundering oligarchs are done with their binge buying. As we have said many times before, QE makes a society lose its mind.
Of all the screwed up, misallocated parts of the U.S. economy, the housing market continues to be one of the biggest potential train wrecks. While the extent of the insanity in residential real estate should be clear following the peak insanity yesterday, there are other potential problems just on the horizon. One of these was written about over the weekend in the LA Times. In a nutshell, the next several years will start to see principal payments added to interest only payments on a large amount of second mortgages taken out during the boom years. The estimate is that $30 billion in home equity lines will reset next year, $53 billion in 2015, and then ultimately soaring to $111 billion in 2018 - a looming “wave of disaster” because large numbers of borrowers will be unable to handle the higher payments. This will force banks to either foreclose, refinance the borrower or modify their loans.
The 19% increase in the Case-Shiller home price index since March 2012 is widely thought to have boosted the prospects for overall household spending via the “wealth effect” transmitted by rising prices and cash out refinancing. But as Bloomberg's Joseph Brusuelas notes, claims that spending is about to snap back should be interpreted with caution.In fact, there is little evidence that the bottoming out of cash out refinancing is translating into rising demand for the moribund service or non-durable retail sectors. Perhaps a lesson for Ms. Yellen here?