Since Alan Greenspan became the Fed chairman in 1987, there has been a policy consensus on the primary role and effectiveness of monetary policy in cushioning an economic downturn and kicking it back to growth. Fiscal policy, due to the political difficulties in making meaningful changes, was relegated to a minor role in economic management. Staving off crisis and reviving growth still dominate today's conversation. The prima facie evidence is that the experiment has failed. The dominant voice in policy discussions is advocating more of the same. When a medicine isn't working, it could be the wrong one or the dosage isn't sufficient. The world is trying the latter. But, if the medicine is really wrong, more and more of the same will kill the patient one day. The global economy was a debt bubble, functioning on China over-borrowing and investing and the West over-borrowing and consuming. The dynamic came to an end when the debt crises exposed debt levels in the West as too high. The last source of debt growth, the U.S. government, is coming to an end, too, as politics forces it to reduce the deficit. Trying to bring back yesterday through monetary growth will eventually bring inflation, not growth.
Think about it – a substance which makes one feel good, promotes a feeling of well-being and confidence…..what is the problem with that? The problem, as I explained to all my teenagers, is not that drugs are inherently bad per se, it is the medium to long term consequences of drug use that inevitably leave one worse off and forces one to make decisions one would not normally make e.g. selling your mother’s wedding ring for drug money. Like the good pseudo-parents they are, the governments have (probably correctly) stepped in and outlawed drugs and their use. But there are other substances which also make one feel good, promote a feeling of well-being and confidence but is just as dangerous. With this substance the government does NOT limit use but promotes it! It is in fact the grower and distributor! What is this stuff? Hint …. Comes in two flavours: money (present money) and credit (future money).
You can now get gold ingots at ATMs, and physcially trade physical gold through brokerage accounts, but is it too little too late? Let's look browse through the facts...
We are now approaching the fourth Christmas of the great debate between the benign supporters of Santa Keynes and the walnut-hearted acolytes of the Hayekian Grinch. Or at least that’s how Keynesians seem to see it. Far from being a success, Keynesian policies have retarded recovery and extended the downturn, just as they did in the 1930s and the 1970s. They’re the “moral” policy present that keeps on taking, supported by those who claim that their opponents have hearts “two sizes too small.”
The Leuthold Group constructs their Risk Aversion Index (RAI) with a combination of market based indicators, including credit and swap spreads, implied vol, currency moves, and commodity prices. No doubt quantitative easing is repressing market fear. They also note that periods of low risk aversion tend to run longer than streaks of elevated risk aversion. How long this time? We don’t know but we’re going to think long and hard over the holiday about the potential macro swans in 2013. Here are eight starting thoughts we will be contemplating...
In the fall of 1996, John Cassidy arranged to interview Paul Samuelson in his office at M.I.T. for an article he was writing on the state of economics. He began by asking Samuelson whether he was still a Keynesian: "I call myself a post-Keynesian," Samuelson replied. "The 1936 Model A Keynesianism is passé..." He recalled attending an event that was held in Cambridge, England, in 1986 to mark the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Keynes's birth. "Everybody was there. And they all stood up and said, 'I am still a faithful Keynesian. I am still a true believer.' I was a bit rude. I said, 'You remind me of a bunch of Nazis saying, I’m still a good Nazi.' It’s not a theology: it’s a mode of analysis. I think I am a different Keynesian than I was ten years ago."
Sixteen years ago today, Alan Greenspan spoke the now infamous words "irrational exuberance" during an annual dinner speech at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Much has changed in the ensuing years (and oddly, his speech is worth a read as he draws attention time and again to the tension between the central bank and the government). Most critically, Greenspan was not wrong, just early. And the result of the market's delay in appreciating his warning has resulted in an epic shift away from those same asset classes that were most groomed and loved by Greenspan - Stocks, to those most hated and shunned by the Fed - Precious Metals. While those two words were his most famous, perhaps the following sentences are most prescient: "A democratic society requires a stable and effectively functioning economy. I trust that we and our successors at the Federal Reserve will be important contributors to that end."
Rising inequality might “jeopardize social cohesion”
Hedge funds, allegations, and arm-twisting. But it beats the alternative....
The main overnight event, if not very surprising, was the formal announcement of the power moves at the top of China from the now concluding 18th Communist Party Congress, which occured largely as expected. To summarize: "Xi Jinping took the helm Thursday of a new, trimmed down Communist Party leadership that insiders said was shaped less by the daunting economic and political challenges facing China over the next decade than by bitter personal and factional rivalries within a secretive Party elite. In a surprise move, Mr. Xi replaced outgoing Party chief Hu Jintao as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, which controls the armed forces, making Mr. Hu the first Communist Chinese leader to cede all formal powers without bloodshed, purges or political unrest. But the new leadership lineup did not include the two figures with the strongest track record on political reform, dimming prospects that a new generation of rulers is committed to tackling vested interests within its own ranks." In other words and just like after the US elections - to quote the announcement during every 2:15 FOMC release from now until eternity - "no change, repeat, no change" (and the SHCOMP closing down 1.22%, and the Hang Seng down by over 1.5% more or less confirmed this). An interactive infographic of who's the new who in China can be found here, while a summary of what this means and what to expect are here and here. Elsewhere, the other main event was the formal announcement that, as everyone certainly expected, Europe officially is now in a recession. The euro-area economy slipped into a recession for the second time in four years, with GDP falling 0.1 percent in the third quarter. The official start date of Europe's recession is now Q3 2011. And with October Eurozone CPI pushing at a perky pace of 2.5%, one can add stagflation to the official list of terms haunting Europe.
The overnight session has so far been marked with one after another economic debacle out of Asia. First Japan announced that its Q3 GDP fell an annualized 3.5% in Q3, more than the 3.4% expected, the worst decline since last year's earthquake. The drivers were sliding exports and a collapse in consumer spending. The announcement brought on a barrage of platitudes by various Japanese officials who are shocked, shocked, that 32 years of Keynesian miracles have resulted in this horrifying outcome. Of course, everyone knows 33 years is the charm for Keynesian miracles. So much for the boosts from Japan's QE 8 aad QE 9: bring on QE 10. The pundits appear surprised now that Japan is back in a solid recession, which to us is quite surprising as well - does this mean that Japan ever exited the depression? Then China came out with an announcement that its credit growth plunged in October with Chinese banks extended CNY 505bn new yuan loans in October, down from CNY 623bn in September and less than the CNY 590 expected. The trifecta of bad news was rounded off by India, whose Industrial Production joined the rest of the world in global recession, when it dropped 0.4% in September on expectations of a 2.8% rise, even as Consumer prices rose 9.75% Y/Y - the global stagflation wave has arrived... For all those wondering why futures have managed to eek out a modest overnight ramp.
Of all the hollow and uninspired elections that this country has suffered through over the past several decades, one might think that at some point long ago the American public would have finally struck a plateau of disenfranchisement; that we could sink no further into despondency, that there is a saturation limit to the corruption of our voting process. Unfortunately, there has been no such luck. We have to say that in all honesty we have never seen more people gut jumbled and disgusted with our electoral system than we have in 2012. In 2012, it will not be about voting. It will not be about “winning”. It will not even be about getting to the next election. It will be about survival. We're sorry to say that the idea that one man will do less damage than the other is a naïve sentiment. Democrat? Republican? Obama? Romney? The crimes and calamities wrought will be exactly the same. Take a look into our crystal ball and see the future. Here is how the winner will destroy America.
- U.S. Super Storm’s Record Flooding Lands Blackout Blow (Bloomberg)
- Sandy Carves a Path of Destruction Across the U.S. East Coast (WSJ)
- Losses May Exceed Those of 2011 Storm (WSJ)
- Hurricane Sandy Threatens $20 Billion in Economic Damage (Bloomberg)
- Huge fire in Sandy's wake destroys dozens of NYC homes (Reuters)
- Possible levee break in New Jersey floods three towns (Reuters)
- Apple Mobile Software Head Forstall Refused to Sign Apology (WSJ)
- Stagflation in Spain (Bloomberg)
- German Oct. Unemployment Rose Twice as Much as Forecast (Bloomberg)
- A declining Japan loses its once-hopeful champions (WaPo)
- Unable to copy it, China tries building own jet engine (Reuters)
- Obama Signs Disaster Declarations for NY, NJ (YNN)
One way or another, change is coming.
Against a deflationary environment of austerity-driven wage and pension cuts combined with rising unemployment; food, commodity, and fuel prices continue to surge in Greece. The government has taken an unusual step - allowing the sale of expired food at lower prices. As Voz Populi reports, this act means the government has 'virtually admitted their inability to control prices" as the worst aspects of stagflation crush the Hellenic Republic. The regulation (allowing from one-week to one-month extensions of foods for sale post their eat-before-this-day-or-you'll-get-Salmonella date) has existed for many years, according to a ministerial decree and this action merely states that these foods must be sold at a lower price. Meat and dairy is excluded but this move is described as "an immoral act" as few believe prices will actually be reduced - since that is at the discretion of the merchant. As the National Food Agency notes: "This is also a moral dilemma, to divide consumers into two groups: those who can afford basic food and those who, because of poverty, are forced to resort to dubious quality food." We presume this will also reduce the drag on pension and healthcare costs as death rates will rise?