"...the numbers that they crank out to make everybody feel good are almost as phony as the numbers that the Argentine government cranks out... I would say that inflation is realistically in the 8-10% range here in the US—and it’s going much higher. The growth is all a fantasy. It’s all a result of the assumption that there is no inflation, when there really is because what we have is inflation masquerading as economic growth. But the bottom line is the economy is really contracting, that’s why the labor force is shrinking, that’s why we’re using less energy, that’s why the people’s standard of living is going down, and real incomes are falling and job opportunities are disappearing. It’s because we’re in a recession and no one wants to admit it."
Having provided his clarifying perspective on why the markets are extremely fragile and due for a 20-30% correction, Marc Faber was assaulted by CNBC's Scott Wapner reading off a litany of recent calls that have not worked out as planned. His response was notable: "I started to work in 1970, and over that career, somehow, somewhere, I must have made some right calls; otherwise I wouldn't be in business." What CNBC then edited out of the transcript was Faber pointing out his 22% annualized return in his publicly-viewable funds since then and asking - sounding somewhat frustrated at the anchor's mockery (and background snickers) - "I wonder what the CNBC portfolio would look like since 1999?" The response: silence.
"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win." Mahatma Gandhi
"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics... but it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance." - Murray Rothbard
The American financial establishment has an incredible ability to celebrate the inconsequential while ignoring the vital. Last week, while the Wall Street Journal pondered how the Fed may set interest rates three to four years in the future (an exercise that David Stockman rightly compared to debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin), the media almost completely ignored one of the most chilling pieces of financial news that I have ever seen. According to a small story in the Financial Times, some Fed officials would like to require retail owners of bond mutual funds to pay an "exit fee" to liquidate their positions. Come again? That such a policy would even be considered tells us much about the current fragility of our bond market and the collective insanity of layers of unnecessary regulation.
As increasingly more conspiracy 'theories' become conspiracy 'facts', The History Channel discusses "The Gold Conspiracy" in this brief documentary. Gold is one of the most precious metals in the world. A glittering commodity so rare that people will go to great lengths to obtain it. But who sets the price? And what are the secret methods to control its value? History uncovers the clandestine world surrounding the highly prized precious metal. How much gold does the United States really have – and where is it locked away? Is the American government overstating the amount of gold in its reserves to create the mystique of financial superiority?
There can be little doubt that Thomas Piketty's new book Capital in the 21st Century has struck a nerve globally. In fact, the Piketty phenomenon (the economic equivalent to Beatlemania) has in some ways become a bigger story than the ideas themselves. However, the book's popularity is not at all surprising when you consider that its central premise: how radical wealth redistribution will create a better society, has always had its enthusiastic champions (many of whom instigated revolts and revolutions). What is surprising, however, is that the absurd ideas contained in the book could captivate so many supposedly intelligent people.
In recent years a good part of the monetary debate has become a simple war of words, with much of the conflict focused on the definition for the word "inflation." Whereas economists up until the 1960's or 1970's mostly defined inflation as an expansion of the money supply, the vast majority now see it as simply rising prices. Since then the "experts" have gone further and devised variations on the word "inflation" (such as "deflation," "disinflation," and "stagflation"). And while past central banking policy usually focused on "inflation fighting," now bankers talk about "inflation ceilings" and more recently "inflation targets". The latest front in this campaign came this week when Bloomberg News unveiled a brand new word: "lowflation" which it defines as a situation where prices are rising, but not fast enough to offer the economic benefits that are apparently delivered by higher inflation. Although the article was printed on April Fool's Day, sadly we do not believe it was meant as a joke.
The red flags contained in the national and global headlines that have come out thus far in 2014 should have spooked investors and economic forecasters. Instead the markets have barely noticed. It seems that the majority opinion on Wall Street and Washington is that we have entered an era of good fortune made possible by the benevolent hand of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen have apparently removed all the economic rough edges that would normally draw blood. As a result of this monetary "baby-proofing," a strong economy is no longer considered necessary for rising stock and real estate prices. But unfortunately, everything has a price, even free money.
The biggest news this past week was Janet Yellen's first post-FOMC meeting speech and press conference as the Federal Reserve Chairwoman. While some have the utmost respect for her accomplishments, every time we hear her speak all we can think of is a white haired, 75-year old grandmother baking cookies in her kitchen. This week's "Things To Ponder" covers several disparate takes on what she said, didn't say and the direction of the Federal Reserve from here.
"I don’t think they’ve solved anything. I think they’ve compounded the underlying problems that caused the last crisis, and so now the next crisis will be that much worse because of what the central banks did, in particular the Federal Reserve...The Fed is building an economy that is completely dependent on that cheap money. And so if you take it away, the economy implodes, but if you don’t take it away, then it’s worse." The idea is to preempt capital controls - "get out the window before it slams shut!"
Everyone agrees that the winter just now winding down (hopefully) has been brutal for most Americans. And while it's easy to conclude that the Polar Vortex has been responsible for an excess of school shutdowns and ice related traffic snarls, it's much harder to conclude that it's responsible for the economic vortex that appears to have swallowed the American economy over the past three months. But this hasn't stopped economists, Fed officials, and media analysts from making this unequivocal assertion. In reality the weather is not what's ailing us. It's just the latest straw being grasped at by those who believe that the phony recovery engineered by the Fed is real and lasting. The April thaw is not far off. Unfortunately the economy is likely to stay frozen for some time to come.
Two pieces of business news announced this week provide a convenient frame through which to view our dysfunctional and distorted economy. The first (which has attracted tremendous attention), is Facebook's blockbuster $19 billion acquisition of instant messaging provider WhatsApp. The second (which few have noticed) is the horrific earnings report issued by Texas-based retail chain Conn's. While these two developments don't seem to have much in common, together they shed some very unflattering light on where we stand economically.
Today's modest bounce in stocks - considerably removed after-hours - does not provide much hope for those looking to buy the dip with the Dow still down over 1000 points year-to-date. In fact, as we discuss below, troubling news just continues to pour in from all over the world... For those that are not interested in the technical details, what all of this means is that global financial markets are starting to become extremely unstable. Consider the following...
That unpopular short Apple/long Google pair trade's still paying in spades. In addition, an hour and a half of nerd celebrity Bitcoin and crowdfuning equiy in startups.
Dedicated readers of The Wall Street Journal have recently been offered many dire warnings about a clear and present danger that is stalking the global economy. They are not referring to a possible looming stock or real estate bubble. Nor are they talking about other usual suspects such as global warming, peak oil, the Arab Spring, sovereign defaults, the breakup of the euro, Miley Cyrus, a nuclear Iran, or Obamacare. Instead they are warning about the horror that could result from falling prices, otherwise known as deflation. Get the kids into the basement Mom... they just marked down Cheerios!