"...The chaos that one day will ensue from our 35-year experiment with worldwide fiat money will require a return to money of real value.
We will know that day is approaching when oil-producing countries demand gold, or its equivalent, for their oil rather than dollars or euros.
The sooner the better."
- Ron Paul, 2006
Isn’t it wonderful how the US believes (whether that be the citizens or the politicians) that the state will never default on its debt repayments?
We strongly suspect that both government debt growth and money supply inflation will continue unabated – any pause will immediately bring about the kind of short term economic pain these policies have explicitly sought to prevent and will therefore be quickly reversed. It is not unlike the situation the revolutionary assembly of France found itself in during the late 18th century: when it issued new money, industry seemed to revive. As soon as it stopped, industry slumped again. And so it was decided to issue ever more money, until the entire scheme blew up. There can be little doubt that modern-day governments are on the road to a similar date with destiny – and lately the speed at which they travel toward it has increased markedly.
It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd. Whether in investing, or acknowledging that your country is heading towards an epic fiscal crisis, it isn’t easy to stand alone... especially when everyone else is betting the other way. After more than a decade of positive returns, many investors have abandoned their precious metals positions. The conventional wisdom says that gold is ‘finished’. After all, the dollar price is falling... so it must be a bad ‘investment’. Others, however, are looking at where gold is right now, where it probably will be a few years from now, and thinking that it’s a hell of a bargain.
15 Bankers just paid a visit to the White House, listened to President Obama, and explained what a total disaster it would be if the US debt-ceiling is breached and Treasuries technically default. While the politicians exclaimed how bad a government shutdown would be, the banks have turned the panic dial to 11 as Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein noted, bankers are “in a position to really know early what the consequences are,” and it would be catastrophic. The irony that the firm which the government is trying to fine $20 billion for selling fraudulent debt and giving bad advice is now providing the same government with advice on its own bad debt, is not lost on us as Dimon was among the visitors but it is Blankfein's warning, echoing Obama, that will get the headlines, "they shouldn't use the threat of causing the U.S. to fail on its obligation to repay debt as a cudgel."
Perhaps investors are becoming inured to the United States’ annual debt-ceiling debacle, now playing out for the third year in a row. But, as the short-term antics become more routine, the risks of long-term dysfunction become more apparent. At least for now, the rest of the world has seemingly unbounded confidence – reflected in very low borrowing rates – in America’s capacity to put its house (of representatives) in order. No one can imagine that a country with so many unique economic advantages would risk such a damaging self-inflicted wound as default would cause. But this time could be different. Obama needs to force his Republican opponents to blink, and there is no guarantee that they will.
There is a considerable amount of debate in alternative economic circles as to whether a federal government shutdown would be a “good thing” or a “bad thing”. Sadly, a government shutdown is sizable threat to the American financial system, and few people seem to get it. Perhaps because the expectation is that any shutdown would only be a short term concern. And, this assumption might be correct. But, if a shutdown takes place, and, if “gridlock” continues for an extended period of time, We have little doubt that the U.S economy will experience renewed crisis. Here's why...
Last week Obama was unwilling to negotiate on the two key issues in the current government pre-shutdown debacle: Obamacare and the debt ceiling. Things seem to have changed quite quickly, now that the government shutdown is just 11 hours away.
- OBAMA SAYS EVERYONE MUST SIT DOWN AND NEGOTIATE IN GOOD FAITH, CAN'T HAVE TALKS UNDER RISK OF POTENTIAL U.S. DEBT DEFAULT
- OBAMA SAYS HE IS NOT RESIGNED TO A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN TAKING PLACE
- OBAMA SAYS U.S. DOLLAR IS RESERVE CURRENCY OF THE WORLD, "WE DON'T MESS WITH THAT
- OBAMA SAYS EXPECTS TO SPEAK TO CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS MONDAY, TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY
In other words, Obama blinked (for the n-th time in what has not been a good year for presidential leverage). And to think it took less than a 1% drop in the S&P (and a rather stubborn Republican party) to get "diplomacy" going...
This is at a time when we have real economic growth barely above 2% and nominal growth of just over 3% (abysmal by any standards) after six years of monetary easing and 5 years of QE1; QE 2; Operation twist; QE “infinity” and huge fiscal deficits. After last week Citi notes it is not clear that this set of policies is going to end anytime soon. It seems far more likely that these policies will be continued as far as the eye can see and even if there are “anecdotal” signs of inflation this Fed (Or the next one) is not a Volcker fed. This Fed does not see inflation as the evil but rather the solution. Gold should also do well as it did from 1977-1980 (while the Fed stays deliberately behind the curve). Unfortunately Citi fears that the backdrop will more closely resemble the late 1970’s/early 1980’s than the “Golden period” of 1995-2000 and that we will have a quite difficult backdrop to manage over the next 2-3 years.
Financial volatility since Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s announcement in May that the Fed would “taper” its monthly purchases of long-term assets has raised a global cry: “Please, Mr. Bernanke, consider conditions in our (non-US) economies when you determine when to end your quantitative-easing policy.” That is not going to happen. The Fed will decide on monetary policy for the United States based primarily on US conditions. Economic policymakers elsewhere should understand this and get ready. All of this is just hard reality. The best way to prepare is to limit the use of credit in boom times, prevent individuals and companies from borrowing too much, and set high capital requirements for all banks and other financial institutions. The Fed surprised markets last week by deciding to maintain its quantitative-easing policy. But that underscores a larger point for non-US economies: You never know when the Fed will tighten. Get ready.
There is a reason why every fiat currency in the history of the world has eventually failed. At some point, those issuing fiat currencies always find themselves giving in to the temptation to wildly print more money. Today, the Fed finds itself faced with a scenario that is very similar to what the Weimar Republic was facing nearly 100 years ago. Like then, the U.S. economy is struggling and like the Weimar Republic, the U.S. government is absolutely drowning in debt. Unfortunately, the Fed has decided to adopt the same solution that the Weimar Republic chose. The Fed is recklessly printing money out of thin air, and in the short-term some 'positive things' have come out of it. But quantitative easing worked for the Weimar Republic for a little while too.
Many well-meaning commentators look back on the era of strong private-sector unions and robust U.S. trade surpluses with longing. The trade surpluses vanished for two reasons: global competition and to protect the dollar as the world's reserve currency. It is impossible for the U.S. to maintain the reserve currency and run trade surpluses. It's Hobson's Choice: if you run trade surpluses, you cannot supply the global economy with the currency flows it needs for trade, reserves, payment of debt denominated in the reserve currency and credit expansion. If you don't possess the reserve currency, you can't print money and have it accepted as payment. In other words, the U.S. must "export" U.S. dollars by running a trade deficit to supply the world with dollars to hold as reserves and to use to pay debt denominated in dollars. Other nations need U.S. dollars in reserve to back their own credit creation.
As it turns out, a lot... and also very little.
In a world in which all the matters is "scale", the ability to Martingale down on losing bets as close to infinity as possible (something which JPMorgan learned with the London Whale may not be the best strategy especially when one can't print money out of thin air), and being as close to the Fed's Heidelberg rotary printer as possible, it was expected that that "expert" of government backstops and bailouts, the Octogenarian of Omaha, Warren Buffett, would have only kind words for Ben Bernanke. But not even we predicted that Buffett would explicitly admit what we have only tongue-in-cheek joked about in the past, namely that the Fed is the world's greatest (and most profitable) hedge fund. Which is precisely what he did: "Billionaire investor Warren Buffett compared the U.S. Federal Reserve to a hedge fund because of the central bank’s ability to profit from bond purchases while accumulating a balance sheet of more than $3 trillion. "The Fed is the greatest hedge fund in history,” Buffett told students yesterday at Georgetown University in Washington. It’s generating “$80 billion or $90 billion a year probably” in revenue for the U.S. government, he said.
The FOMC shocked markets by deciding not to slow its large-scale asset purchase program, after all the signals it had sent out in previous months that it would do so. While increasing policy risk, JPMorgan notes, this puts the asset-reflation trades back on the table. In their view, the main driver of gold’s performance over the past five years has been QE. As QE continued and inflation expectations remained subdued, the demand for an inflation hedge subsided, ETF positions were unwound and gold prices fell. However, JPM now believes, as a result of the Fed's volte-face on tapering, uncertainty about future inflation may pick up and suggest a long position in gold. Of course, the question is - are they buying or is this a last ditch effort to drain what little remaining gold they have in their vault to their hapless clients?