The Fed has created a Doomsday Machine. The Fed has nurtured moral hazard in every sector of the economy by unleashing an abundance of cheap credit and low interest mortgages; the implicit promise of "you can't lose because we have your back" has been extended from stocks to bonds (i.e. the explicit promise the Fed will keep rates near-zero forever) and real estate. An abundance based on the central bank spewing trillions of dollars of cheap credit and free money (quantitative easing) is artificial, and it has generated systemic moral hazard. This is a Doomsday Machine because the Fed cannot possibly backstop tens of trillions of dollars of bad bets on stocks, bonds and real estate. Its power is as illusory as the abundance it conjured. This loss of faith in key institutions cannot be fixed with more cheap credit or subsidized mortgages; delegitimization triggers a fatal decoherence in the entire Status Quo.
Nike recently published a series of ads declaring “winning takes care of everything,” in reference to Tiger Woods’ recapture of the world #1 golfer ranking. The slogan went over with certain critics like an illegal ball drop. Many economists insist that “economic growth takes care of everything,” and the related debate is no less contentious than the Nike ad kerfuffle. Listening to some pundits, you would think there’s one group that appreciates economic growth while everyone else wants to see the economy crumble. It seems to me, though, that growth is just like winning – there’s no such thing as an anti-winning camp, nor is there an anti-growth camp. More fairly, much of the growth debate boils down to those who think mostly about long-run sustainable growth and those who advocate damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead growth. I’ll break off one piece of this and consider: How much of everything does growth take care of?
Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
It's a central bank world, and we are all just suckerfish attached to the Great Central Planning Whites, hoping for little scraps to trickle down as trillions (Yen-denominated) in bonds are monetized every day.
Since Mr. Krugman tells us all this spending and debt issuance/guarantees are not only good and necessary but in the long run, painless, why are we bothering with personal income taxes?
The US government will collect approximately $2.0bn this year in Personal Income and Payroll taxes. But why? Why are we even bothering with this when today’s leading economists and politicians are telling us that debts/deficits don’t matter and running up astronomical debts is a long-term painless process? It’s practically patriotic. So why shouldn’t we just add our tax burden to the list of items the Fed should be monetizing? Seriously. Why not relieve the burden on every tax paying citizen in the United States (about 53% of us according to Mitt Romney)? You want an economic recovery? Reduce my taxes to zero and see how fast I go out and start spending some of that extra income.
We discussed the new skirmishes this weekend in the very public debate about Carmen Reinhart’s and Kenneth Rogoff’s (RR) government debt research as they fought back against Paul Krugman's smear campaign. Krugman, of course, is one of the pundits who last month published “incomplete, exaggerated, erroneous and misleading” reports about RR’s research, as we explained at the time. We still haven’t found an RR critic who’s made a genuine effort to estimate how much debt is too much and in an effort to, we read Krugman's book (cover-to-cover) to see if there was anything more to Krugman’s positions than über-Keynesianism and boasts that his adversaries were proven wrong. Krugman's logic is full of holes. Near-term inflation and interest rate predictions have little to do with one’s beliefs about the mostly long-term risks of excessive debt. Krugman’s use of decidedly non-Keynesian episodes of debt reduction to justify his Keynesian beliefs reminds me of the many times (too many) that I’ve encountered 'circular reference' errors in Excel. His logic is no less flawed or 'circular.' But since there’s no spreadsheet involved, we’ll call it an error of induction. We think it’s time to change focus and consider the questionable thresholds, selective data use and induction error in Krugman’s work.
The wild ride in Japan's bond market is a prelude to what will happen in other developed markets.
The periodic Munk debate spectacle out of Canada is memorable for bringing together very flamboyant personalities, discussing very germane topics. The one that has just started has a topic of whether the rich should be taxed. More. Surely an issue that has seen its share of discussion in the US in the past year, so we hardly expect to learn anything new. What is most amusing, however, is that the debate tonight pits none other than Paul Krugman (and former Greek socialist leader and economic destructor extraordinaire George Papandreou, whose family incidentally was found with tax-evading Swiss accounts so brownie points for extra hypocricy) defending more tax hikes, and pitting Newt Gingrich and Arthur Laffer on the "don't tax me bro" side. The result should be quite a memorable catfight.
In a masterclass of what is 'really' going on in the world (as opposed to what we are told/spoon-fed on a daily basis), Grant Williams (of Things That Make You Go Hhhmm infamy) provides a must-watch presentation. Starting from the premise (unusual in this day and age) that the laws of mathematics are inviolable ("if it makes no sense, it is nonsense"), the Aussie investment manager sets out his own set of philosophical 'problems' that the world of 'markets' seems incapable of grasping. In a chart-filled extravaganza, Williams ranges from "Problem 1: If the global economy is stalling, Europe is in recession, China is slowing and growth is seemingly impossible to generate, what are equity markets doing at all-time highs?" to "Problem 7: The Gold Price and The Price of Gold are mutually exclusive" leaving the participant questioning everything Bob Pisani would have us believe warning in conclusion that gold is critical and "beware suppressed volatility."
Through most of the 20th century, America led something of a charmed life, at least when compared with the disasters endured by almost every other major country. We became the richest and most powerful nation on earth, partly due to our own achievements and partly due to the mistakes of others. The public interpreted these decades of American power and prosperity as validation of our system of government and national leadership, and the technological effectiveness of our domestic propaganda machinery - our own American Pravda - has heightened this effect. Author James Bovard has described our society as an “attention deficit democracy,” and the speed with which important events are forgotten once the media loses interest might surprise George Orwell.
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?
The words "Shit Heel" come to mind.
While Harvard historian Niall Ferguson's off-the-cuff remarks during the Q&A were in his words "as stupid as they were insensitive", the core message of his presentation was clear: the party of the last 20 years is now over and the longer we fail to address the real issues the bigger the hangover will be in the future. The central question Ferguson asks is whether our institutions, corporations and governments, are degenerating. As Lance Roberts of Street Talk Live notes Ferguson believes that without addressing the structural problems that plague the economy from production to employment – stimulus will fail. The reality is that the 'punch bowl' won't fix employment growth, economic growth or the rule of law.
One year after the infamous Jamie Dimon "tempest in a teapot" fiasco, which promptly turned out to be the biggest TBTF prop-trading desk debacle in history, things were going well for JPMorgan. On one hand, the chairman of the TBAC (and thus US Treasury advisor and policy administrator), and former LTCM trader, Matt Zames, was just recently promoted to the sole second in command post at the biggest US bank (and 2nd biggest in the world) by assets, and first in line to take over from Jamie Dimon. On the other hand, one of Mary Jo White's former co-workers, and a JPM defense attorney from Debevoise just became head of the SEC's enforcement division, in theory guaranteeing that the US government would never do more than slap the wrist of JPM in perpetuity. And then, when everything seemed like smooth sailing ahead, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) showed up on March 13, the day before Carl Levin's committee released its latest report on JPM's prop trading blunder, and according to the NYT, alleged that JPM in the past several years, quietly became nothing short than the next Enron. ... But what is worst for JPM, and its brilliant (abovementioned) employee, often times credited with creating the Credit Default Swap product and market (simply an instrument to trade credit with negligible upfront collateral and thus allow equity option-like speculation in the credit realm), is that FERC may be seeking to throw the book at none other than Blythe Masters.
The Baltic States are unique in Europe in that they went through an austerity crash program a while ago already (beginning right after the 2008 crisis) and have in the meantime recovered strongly. Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, in which she explains her views on the topic. It can obviously be done successfully. And while we are aware that every case is unique - the problems are not the same in every country, and due to cultural norms and traditions, it may be easier to enact reform in certain countries than others; it seems that no matter how many times Paul Krugman insists that no Baltic nation can possibly be held up as an example, the fact remains that they have imposed fiscal austerity and implemented wide-ranging reform measures and have succeeded.