As Jim Grant recently recently noted, America's default is inevitable, as he confronts the implied message of the Federal Reserve’s pro-inflation policy: We will default in the future, though no lawyer will call it “default.” However, a glance back at the last 213 years of global history shows it is not that unusual for major sovereign nations to rapidly crumble and enter a state of default. As Global Financial Data's Ralph Dillon points out, all of this fear and rhetoric over a US default had him thinking about history and defaults. How have other countries that have defaulted faired over history? Some good and some bad for sure, but for the developed markets and global economic powerhouses, those that did default are still here alive and kicking. In fact, some have defaulted 8 times and are still a major player on the world stage.
“There is precedent for a government shutdown,” Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, remarked last week. “There’s no precedent for default.” How wrong he is.
As we have discussed previously, the "partial government shutdown" that we are experiencing right now is pretty much a non-event - especially with the un-furloughing of The Pentagon. Yeah, some national parks are shut down and some federal workers will have their checks delayed, but it is not the end of the world. In fact, only about 17% of the federal government is actually shut down at the moment. This "shutdown" could continue for many more weeks and it would not affect the global economy too much. On the other hand, if the debt ceiling deadline (approximately October 17th) passes without an agreement that would be extremely dangerous. A U.S. debt default that lasts for more than a couple of days could potentially cause a financial crash that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic. If a debt default were to happen before the end of this year, that would bring a tremendous amount of future economic pain into the here and now, and the consequences would likely be far greater than any of us could possibly imagine.
Deflation - A derangement of money or credit, a symptom of which is falling prices. Not to be confused with a benign, i.e., downward shift in the composite supply curve, a symptom of which is also falling prices. In a genuine deflation, banks stop lending. Prices tumble because overextended businesses and consumers confront the necessity of selling assets in order to raise cash. When prices fall because efficient producers are competing to deliver lower-priced goods and services to the marketplace, that is called “progress.” In 2013, central bankers the world over define deflation as a fall in prices, no matter what the cause. Nowadays, to forestall what is popularly called deflation, the world’s monetary authorities are seemingly prepared to pull out every radical policy stop. Where it all ends is one of the great questions of contemporary finance.
The origin of today’s monetary policy of course lies in Keynesian economics, and Keynes was quite explicit that monetary authorities should intentionally use deception as a primary tool. He spoke of the need to gull workers into thinking that wages were going up even if net of inflation they were going down. At least he had a sense of humor about it, calling a central bank a "green cheese factory" that would persuade the public to accept "green cheese" (newly created money) as the real thing.
With euphoria returning to equity markets, it's worth remembering that stocks are unlikely to make you really rich. We have some ideas what might though.
Barry Ritholtz is convinced that once the current short-term bounce is over with, the recent cyclical bear market in gold will resume. The reality is of course that neither Mr. Ritholtz, nor anyone else actually knows the future. Therefore, he cannot know whether the bear market is or isn't over. However, judging from the remainder of his post, he actually seems to think that the secular bull market in gold is over. In our opinion there is no evidence for that, and we will explain below why we think that he and others in the long term bear camp are wrong. Further below is the evidence marshaled by Mr. Ritholtz (actually, apart from the technical analysis he provides, it isn't really evidence at all – it reads like an unsupported opinion). Sure enough, gold has no yield, no conference calls, and no income statements (paraphrasing Jim Grant). That is actually the beauty of it. But that does not mean it 'has no fundamentals', nor does it means that it 'cannot be an investment'. We comment on his article (and its errors) further below.
Jim Rogers was recently interviewed by GoldMoney and had plenty to say (as usual):
On Bernanke: "He doesn’t want to be around for the consequences of what he’s doing."
On Fiat: "Paper money doesn’t have a very glorious history, but again, nothing imposed by the government has a very long and glorious history."
On Europe's Crisis: "You can postpone it all you want, but the problems just mount."
On Capitalism: "You are not supposed to take money away from the competent people and give it to the incompetent so that the incompetent can compete with the competent people with their own money. That’s not the way capitalism is supposed to work."
"Inflation is a state of affairs in which there is too much money," Jim Grant notes in this Bloomberg TV interview, however, "It's not too much money chasing too few goods," he corrects the misnomer, "the thing this money chases is variable." Whether it is Iowa farmland, housing, stocks, or bonds, central banks are stuffing us with it. Yes, equities are high, but Grant explains, "beneath the surface of things or not so far beneath the surface of things," it is not at all good, adding that, "Central bank 'original sin'," is akin to Revolutionary France, and he shows no concerns over Gold's recent dip, noting "a general fatigue animus towards gold," that seems predicated on more confidence in central bankers; to Grant, "that confidence is utterly misplaced!"
The crypto-currency Bitcoin is still merely a speck on the global monetary landscape. It is young, experimental, and for all we know, it may ultimately fail to break into the monetary mainstream. However, on a conceptual level some are willing to call it a work of genius and arguably the most exciting development in the field of money for more than 130 years. The outcome is probably binary: Either Bitcoin ultimately fails and the individual Bitcoins end up worthless. Or Bitcoin takes off and Bitcoins are worth hundreds of thousands of paper dollars, paper yen, paper euros, or paper pounds. Maybe more. Those who buy Bitcoin as a speculative investment should consider it an option on the future success of the crypto-currency. We still consider gold to be the essential self-defense asset in the ongoing paper money crisis. The brand-new crypto-currency Bitcoin has to first earn its stripes as a monetary asset by proving itself as a ‘common’ medium of exchange. That is why we view Bitcoin very differently from gold, although the attraction of both has its origin in the demise of entirely elastic, politicized state fiat money. In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.
Gold is trading flat today near a one and a half week high hit yesterday as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the U.S. ultra loose monetary policy.
The selloff in gold ETFs in February underscores the weakness in gold sentiment among retail investors that has been prominent recently.
Interest Rate Observer, Jim Grant, played an important role as explainer-in-chief in the forthcoming movie "The Bubble" - a documentary that interviews the experts that predicted the 2008 crash and asks what happens next. The brief interview embedded below provides a smorgasbord of Grant's thoughts on topics from Fannie and Freddie as government-sponsored titanic hedge funds, his concerns at the unintended consequence of the debt-sustaining mortgage interest deduction, why MBS are not the root of all evil, and how the federal government is socializing risk for bankers. As usual, the ever-so-erudite Grant sums it all up superbly: "American bankers, based on the experience of 2007-8-9, don't know much about banking, but there's one institution that knows still less and that institution is the United States Congress." Adding that the past two or three years have all been about the unintended consequences of federal "spending, promising, and intervening" in finance and banking to delay a day of reckoning, Grant believes a correction is coming but again warns (in as succinct an eleven-word-sentence about our real world as we have seen recently), that "Bankers get the upside and we - the taxpayers - get the downside."
Jim Grant spends exactly the correct amount of time (zero) discussing the "urban myth' of the trillion dollar coin in this brief interview on CNBC; instead deciding to try and strike up some intelligent understanding of the dire situation we face. By providing context for our massive 16 trillion dollar debt (360 million pounds of $100 bills), and explaining how exponential the idiocy has become, Grant brings us full circle as he explains to the money-honey that once upon a time our debt was backed by gold, and "there was only so much gold and so many dollars," thus limiting our exuberance, but "now we have neither the gold covering the dollar nor do we have interest rates constraining us [thanks to Bernanke et al.]; the only thing remaining to constrain us is some sort of civil discussion, a numerate discussion about the debt," which it appears the bespectacled and bow-tie-bound bond brain-box hopes is possible. "The debt has increased twice as fast as federal receipts," he warns, adding correctly that "the United States is truly submerging."
For those bored with watching how much higher Getco and Citadel's algos can take the market on a resolution that is adverse for the US economy, that cuts consumer spending and cash flow, that does not address the real issue: government drunken sailor spending, and that means America will now labor for the next two months without being able to incur one additional dollar in net debt courtesy of breaching the debt ceiling on the last day of 2012 - in other words your typical kick-the-can-for-two-more-months non deal, we have good news: Jim Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer has released a compilation of his best articles from the past year for free to anyone who still cares about what actually may be happening in the US economy, besides the obvious - endless fiscal and monetary stimuli from both the Fed and Congress, which like, any lunch, are never free, even if the final invoice may take a while to arrive.
In March 2012, Okayama Metal & Machinery became the first Japanese pension fund to make public purchases of gold, in a sign of dwindling faith in paper currencies. Okayama manages pension funds for about 260 small and mid-sized companies in the Okayama area. "By diversifying currencies, we aim to reduce risks associated with them," said Yoshi Kiguchi, the fund's chief investment officer. "Yields become stable if you put small amounts into as many types of holdings as possible." Of its 40 billion yen ($477 million) in assets, the fund has invested around ¥500 million-¥600 million in gold, he said. Initially, the fund aims to keep about 1.5% of its total assets of Y40bn ($500m) in bullion-backed exchange traded funds, according to chief investment officer Yoshisuke Kiguchi, who said he was diversifying into gold to “escape sovereign risk”. Other pension funds in Japan are following their lead according to the Wall Street Journal. Japanese pension funds are diversifying into gold "largely to mitigate the damage from possible market shocks"... Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation said it has secured more than Y2 billion in investments from two pension funds for a gold fund it started in March.