If you are reading this, you are probably a member of what the sociologists would term middle class (albeit at the upper end). This is precisely the segment of society which is poised to come off worst from what is coming. Here is a very disturbing idea. As this crisis develops, if you are an equity portfolio manager and you want to outperform the market, you are going to have to position your portfolio so that it benefits most from your own wealth destruction and that of your family, friends and colleagues. Almost everybody is going to lose and there aren’t many places to hide. This is deeply unpleasant but you can blame the central planners. I’ve written about my own investing, e.g. gold and silver, equities in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, etc. In this Thunder Road Report (below) and going forward, I will discuss this middle class theme and highlight positions I have in individual stocks, etc. The only good thing that can come out of this is a rise in awareness. It’s just awful.
The idea that short-duration bond funds are a good bet due to “the FED’s complete control with regards to suppressing and maintaining short-term interest rates” is completely wrong on every level; they’ve been a losing investment in real terms for most of the last 5 years, and the Fed is determined to keep it that way. The Fed’s control over nominal interest rates is precisely the reason that I wouldn’t want to invest in treasuries; not only has it consistently made bonds into a real losing proposition, but it also creates a good deal of systemic currency risk. Simply, the Fed will — in the pursuit of low-rates — monetise to the point of endangering the dollar’s already-under-threat reserve currency status. The only things that would turn bonds into a winning proposition — rising interest rates, or deflation — are anathema to the Fed, and explicitly opposed by every dimension of current Fed policy. Of course, creating artificial demand for treasuries to control nominal rates has blowback; if the buyers are not there, the Fed must inflate the currency. Hiding inflation is hard, so it is preferable to a central bank that old money is used; this is why Japan has mandated that financial institutions buy treasuries, and why I fear that if we continue on this trajectory, that the United States and other Western economies may do the same thing.
Last week the BEA published it preliminary take on the international investment position (IIP) of the country. As Citi's FX team note, the IIP measures foreign investment assets minus native assets owned by foreigners. In the US, the IIP has been negative (meaning the US is a debtor nation) since 1985. The US’s IIP deficit reached USD 4.03trn in 2012, up sharply from 2.47trn in 2011. As a share of nominal GDP, the IIP deficit reached a record (for the US) of -27%. Commonly accepted wisdom based on a combination of models and experience is that an IIP bigger than +30% of GDP or smaller than -30% is a problem. On the IIP surplus side, having too big of a net creditor position leads to a perennially strengthening currency that chokes out industry and stokes deflation (think JPY). On the IIP deficit side, having too big of a net debtor position leads to a debt spiral. High debt leads to reluctant external creditors charging ever high interest rates, which leads to economic stagnation and ultimately crisis. The US may not be able to run another dozen years of 3-6% current account deficits without starting to look like a ponzi scheme - but while risk aversion flows (and rates) suggest there is little to worry about, we have noted again and again the moves behind the scenes in global trade flows to shift away from the world's current numeraire.
"I could go on and on with other examples, but let’s just get to the point: one cannot operate a capitalist system if the state can borrow at a negative cost. Years of irresponsibly loose monetary policy in the US has led to cheap funding for the US (and other) governments, but difficult credit conditions for the private sector all around the world. As I underlined in How The World Works, negative real rates leads to misallocation of capital which ends in asset deflation, while simultaneously limiting the capacity for recovery by driving out the private sector.... The Fed has been managed by a bunch of Keynesians who care nothing about the role of the dollar as a reserve currency and who probably believed they were managing the central bank of Belorussia or Zimbabwe!"
The USD Trap Is Closing: Dollar Exclusion Zone Crosses The Pacific As Brazil Signs China Currency SwapSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 06/22/2012 08:23 -0400
When the US Dollar is ultimately dethroned as the world's reserve currency (and finally gets rid of all those ridiculous three letter post-Keynesian economic "theories") nobody will have seen it coming. Well, nobody except for the following headlines: ""World's Second (China) And Third Largest (Japan) Economies To Bypass Dollar, Engage In Direct Currency Trade", "China, Russia Drop Dollar In Bilateral Trade", "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System", "India and Japan sign new $15bn currency swap agreement", "Iran, Russia Replace Dollar With Rial, Ruble in Trade, Fars Says", "India Joins Asian Dollar Exclusion Zone, Will Transact With Iran In Rupees." And while the expansion of the "dollar exclusion zone" was actually quite glaring to anyone who dared to look, one thing was obvious: it was confined to Asia. No more courtesy of the following FT headline: "Brazil and China agree currency swap." More: "Brazil has provided a vote of confidence in China’s efforts to promote the renminbi as a reserve currency by becoming the biggest economy yet to agree a swap deal with Beijing. Brazil and China announced the R$60bn (US$29bn) local currency swap after a bilateral meeting between Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, and Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, on the sidelines of the Rio+20 environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro."
The word “privatization” is a loaded term these days. Unions and big government worshippers scoff at the idea of any public services being in the hands of ruthless, greedy capitalists. The left has the distorted view that people in the private sector are driven primarily by their desire to cut costs and throw workers out on the street. To them, government workers are angels sent from heaven to do God’s work. In our world of unceasing centralization of power, lawmakers are finding more deceptive ways to mask their lust for dominance. Public-private partnerships are the embodiment of what Mussolini dubbed “corporatism;” that is the “merger of state and corporate power.” Under corporatism, the ruling class is able to expand unbeknownst to the Boobus Americanus and its equivalent in other countries. The Average Joe still has his wallet forcefully stripped of its contents but now the state’s cronies get to partake in the plunder. Meanwhile the same big businessmen who benefit from government privilege still maintain their praise for free markets while working with politicians to forcefully subdue their competition. There is actually another, more accurate term for public-private partnerships. It’s called fascism; plain and simple.
More than 80 institutions with collective assets under management of over $8 trillion attended the event and were polled regarding macroeconomic matters and their outlook for various asset classes. Gold is seen as one of the assets likely to outperform again in 2012 due to risks posed to the euro and longer term risks for the dollar. Those polled by UBS were also positive on emerging market debt. Both asset classes, gold and emerging market debt, were the top pick of 22.5% of the assembly – thereby accounting for 45% of the votes. On gold’s role as a reserve asset, the importance reserve managers attach to the yellow metal has slipped back to 2009 levels, with about 14% having the opinion that it will be the most important reserve currency in 25 years. This marks a decline from the past two years’ surveys wherein over 20% viewed gold to be the most important reserve currency.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg may be cautious on the outlook for risk assets and cyclical securities over the near- and intermediate-term, but, he notes, change is always at the margin, and it usually starts in the political sphere. Austerity is not some dirty nine-letter word as the socialists in Europe would have you believe. It is all about living within your means and living up to your commitments. There is some good news in the United States with respect to this topic, but the uncertainty over the extent of next year's tax bite is likely to cause households and businesses to pull spending back and raise cash, at the margin, which means the economy won't turn around in time for Mr. Obama. As was the case with Ronald Reagan, just having a clear and coherent fiscal plan will part the clouds of uncertainty and encourage capital to be put at risk rather than sit as idle unproductive cash on corporate balance sheets. In a somewhat stunning sentence from the no-longer-a-permabear, he notes that "The future is brighter than you think", but just in case you are backing up the truck, he adds "this does not mean we will not have another recession, by the way — as we suffer through a deflationary debt deleveraging. I'm noticing a certain degree of despair these days, just as I am getting enthusiastic about the future. Much depends on what happens on November 6th and between now and then we still have the European mess, China hard landing risks and the U.S. debt ceiling issue to confront. Be that as it may, those with some dry powder on hand will be in a solid position to take advantage of whatever forced "panic" selling takes place."
Société Générale head of foreign exchange research Kit Juckes on the US dollar dynamic, QE 3, 4, and 5, "even lower rates for even longer than you thought," and the Bank of Japan slowly learning to match policies with the Fed.
As a guy who is living in a taxpayer-funded villa after his bank-insurance-derivatives-hedge fund-ponzi company blew up, we know Benmosche is a hypocrite. In my view, management should be held personally liable a long time before taxpayers. That’s right, I believe in personal responsibility and that means no hiding behind limited liability and bailouts, no matter how “systemically important” you claim to be. But let’s set aside disgust at government for first setting up this scenario via Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and then in 2008 throwing money at hypocritical grifters like Benmosche.
Is he wrong about social security and medical services?
The global monetary system which has evolved and morphed over the past century but always in the direction of easier, cheaper and more abundant credit, may have reached a point at which it can no longer operate efficiently and equitably to promote economic growth and the fair distribution of its benefits. Future changes, which lie on a visible horizon, may not be so beneficial for our ocean’s oversized creatures. Both the lower quality and lower yields of previously sacrosanct debt therefore represent a potential breaking point in our now 40-year-old global monetary system. Neither condition was considered feasible as recently as five years ago. Now, however, with even the United States suffering a credit downgrade to AA+ and offering negative 200 basis point real policy rates for the privilege of investing in Treasury bills, the willingness of creditor whales – as opposed to debtors – to support the existing system may soon descend. Such a transition occurs because lenders either perceive too much risk or refuse to accept near zero-based returns on their investments. “There she blows,” screamed Captain Ahab and similarly intentioned debt holders may soon follow suit, presenting the possibility of a new global monetary system in future years, or if not, one which is stagnant, dysfunctional and ill-equipped to facilitate the process of productive investment.
In twenty or thrity years, I expect future monetary historians looking back on this period of history to frequently misquote Ernest Hemingway:
How did the dollar die? First it died slowly — then all at once.
The slow death began with the dollar’s birth as a global reserve currency. America was creditor and manufacturer to the world, and the capitalist superpower. People around the globe transacted overwhelmingly in dollars. Above all else, people needed dollars to conduct trade, and they were willing to pay richly for them, and for dollar-denominated debt
While various three letter economic schools of thought continue sprouting left and right, in an attempt to validate endless spending predicated on one simple thing: transitory reserve currency status, and we emphasize transitory, reality moves on, oblivious of what economic theoreticians believe it should be doing. As Yomiuri Shimbun reported last night, China and Japan are set to launch direct currency trading, bypassing the dollar, and the associated benefits and risks, entirely. "But how can that be?" dollar purists will scream. After all, when one bypasses the dollar, one commits blasphemy to a reserve currency. Somehow we think China gets that. From the AP: "Japan and China are expected to start direct trading of their currencies as early as June as part of efforts to boost bilateral trade and investment, according to reports. With the planned step, exchange rates between the yen and the yuan will be determined by their transactions, departing from the current "cross rate" system that involves the dollar in setting yen-yuan rates, Kyodo News said on Saturday."
If China Backs Its Currency with Gold, It Could Have Profound Effects for Investors … and Consumers
First the CIC stirs havoc in Europe, saying it would rather invest in Africa than in Brussels finmin summit caterers, which at this stage in the business cycle are the most profitable corporation imaginable... and now this:
CIC'S JIN SAYS RENMINBI WILL BECOME GLOBAL RESERVE CURRENCY
Naturally, to parahprase titles of cheesy 80s movies, there can be only one. So what would happen to the current one? Maybe the same as what happened to all the prior global "reserve" currencies...