Productivity. Every employer loves it, and every employee is fascinated by it, especially if it comes in cute colors, a retina screen, and weighs under a pound... at least until such time as "productivity" results in the loss of the employee's job, which in turn makes the employer love it even more as it results in even higher profits, even if it means one more pink slip and a 91 million people outside the labor force. With a labor force already in turmoil as millions drop out every year never to be heard from again, made obscolete by the latest technological and computerized innovation, and students stuck in college where they pile up record amounts of student loans (at last check well over $1 trillion) hoping form some job, any job, upon graduation, unfortunately the future is not bright at all. In a recently published paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation," Oxford researchers Frey and Osborne, look at the probability of computerization by occuption. What they find is shocking for nearly half of the US labor force.
Inflating serial asset bubbles is no substitute for rising real incomes. Why are we stuck with an economy that only generates serial credit/asset bubbles that crash with catastrophic consequences? The answer is actually fairly straightforward.
Today's consumer credit report did not tell us anything we didn't already know: in October, total consumer credit rose by $18.2 billion, the most since May 2013, with the usual massive historical revisions. However, of this $18.2 billion, $13.9 billion was non-revolving credit, while revolving (credit card) debt rose by $4.3 billion. Which means revolving credit is still a woefully low $856.8 billion, or well below the $1.02 trillion when Lehman failed, even as credit issued mostly by Uncle Sam to fund car purchases and liberal educations, has exploded. Finally, and most troubling, in the past year over 95% of all consumer credit has been used to purchase rapidly amortizing cars and even more rapidly amortizing college educations.
You've probably read many articles about money - what it is (store of value and means of exchange) and its many variations (metal, paper, etc.). But perhaps the most important distinction to be made in our era is between metallic money and credit money. As the following 16 reasons make very clear, it is no exaggeration to say that the transition from gold money to credit money changes everything. The key distinction of all these important differences is the ephemeral nature of credit-money (and any form of fiat currency). History teaches us that a financial-political crisis of sufficient magnitude reveals the underlying value of credit-money - i.e. zero - in a brief but cataclysmic loss of faith/trust.
The Fed is busy doing everything in its considerable power to get credit (that is, debt) growing again so that we can get back to what it considers to be “normal.” But the problem is that the recent past was not normal. For the Fed to achieve anything even close to the historical rate of credit growth, the dollar will have to lose a lot of value. This may in fact be the Fed’s grand plan, and it’s entirely about keeping the financial system primed with sufficient new credit to prevent it from imploding.
That the Fed has a problem is increasingly well known - despite the blather from the mainstream media that QE monetization can continue ad infinitum. Their problem, of course, is running out of government-provided liabilities to monetize (as deficits shrink and their ownership of the entire Treasury complex surges). They face other problems (as we have noted before) but the admission that they are boxed in would have major ramifications in the market's faith. So, how does the Fed, faced with the knowledge that they have created asset bubbles, broken the bond market, and are boxed in by their own excess still meet the market's undying desire to keep the flow going? Bill Dudley just, perhaps inadvertently, dropped a hint of the next 'market/scapegoat' for monetization - Student loans.
Somehow, Fed head Bill Dudley has managed to encompass the entire "we must keep the foot to the floor" premise of the Fed in one mind-bending sentence:
- *DUDLEY SEES 'POSSIBILITY OF SOME UNFORESEEN SHOCK'
So - based on an "unforeseen" shock - which he "sees", and while there are "nascent signs the economy may be doing better", the Fed should remain as exceptionally easy just in case... (asteroid? alien invasion? West Coast quake?)
The NY Fed disclosed moments ago, that federal student loans officially crossed the $1 trillion level for the first time ever. Notably: the quarterly student loan balance has increased every quarter without fail for the past 10 years!
The MSM did their usual spin job on the consumer credit data released earlier this week. They reported a 5.4% increase in consumer debt outstanding to an all-time high of $3.051 trillion. In the Orwellian doublethink world we currently inhabit, the consumer taking on more debt is seen as a constructive sign. The storyline being sold by the corporate MSM propaganda machine, serving the establishment, is that consumers’ taking on debt is a sure sign of economic recovery. They must be confident about the future and rolling in dough from their new part-time jobs as Pizza Hut delivery men. Plus, they are now eligible for free healthcare, compliments of Obama, once they can log-on. Of course, buried at the bottom of the Federal Reserve press release and never mentioned on CNBC or the other dying legacy media outlets is the facts and details behind the all-time high in consumer credit. They count on the high probability the average math challenged American has no clue regarding the distinction between revolving and non-revolving credit or who controls the distribution of such credit. A shocking fact (to historically challenged government educated drones) revealed by the Federal Reserve data is that credit card debt did not exist prior to 1968. How could people live their lives without credit cards? 1968 marked a turning point for America...
We all intuitively grasp the meaning of diminishing returns: Either it takes more effort to maintain a project’s payoff, or the payoff declines even though the effort invested remains constant. The key driver of diminishing returns is easy to understand. We naturally continue to do more of what was successful in the past. As the returns decline, we redouble our efforts, confident that what worked in the past will once again be successful if only we invest more labor, energy, and capital. However, the status quo's default diversion of 'money/credit' to support diminishing returns has two costs: the opportunity costs of what else did not get financed because available resources were poured down the rat hole of failing programs, and the largely hidden increase in systemic fragility as productive investments are starved by the diversion of resources to the rat holes of diminishing returns. This dynamic leads to the final phase of doing more of what has failed spectacularly.
One of the most trumpeted stories justifying the US economic "recovery" is the resurgence in car sales, which have now returned to an annual sales clip almost on par with that from before the great depression. What is conveniently left out of all such stories is what is the funding for these purchases (funnelling through to the top and bottom line of such administration darling companies as GM) comes from. The answer: the same NINJA loans, with non-existent zero credit rating requirements that allowed anything with a pulse to buy a McMansion during the peak day of the last credit bubble. Bloomberg reports on an issue we have been reporting for over a year, namely the 'stringent' credit-check requirements for new car purchasers by recounting the story of Alan Helfman, a car dealer in Houston, who served a woman in his showroom last month with a credit score lower than 500 and a desire for a new Dodge Dart for her daily commute. She drove away with a new car.
The chart that puts it all in perspective, is the following, which shows the breakdown of total credit issued in the past year broken down between revolving (credit cards) and non-revolving (car and student loans). The latter amounts for 99% of all loans taken out in the past 12 months. It needs no additional commentary.
The basic predicament we are in is that the current crop of leaders in the halls of monetary and political power do not appear to understand the dimensions of our situation. The mind-boggling part about all this is that it's not really all that hard to grasp. Our collective predicament is simply this: Nothing can grow forever. Sooner or later everything must cease growing or it will exhaust its environs and thereby destroy itself. The Fed is busy doing everything in its considerable power to get credit (that is, debt) growing again so that we can get back to what they consider to be "normal." But the problem is -- or the predicament I should more accurately say -- is that the recent past was not normal.
Our advice to recently graduating Millennials? Live long.
One of our favorite indicators of leading "global growth" is the Goldman swirlogram released each month, for two reasons: i) it succinctly summarizes on one chart what the near-term state of the global economy is, and ii) it is rather silly. Regardless of ii), the methodology does look at the entire assortment of available global leading indicators (which in the case of the US isn't saying much(, to determine the current state of the world economy. According to the just released update, as a result of a plunge in leading indicator acceleration, the world has just had its most slowdown-y month in the past year.