Alan Greenspan's Nine Reasons "Why The Economy Stinks"

Tyler Durden's picture

Yesterday, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was the keynote speaker at KPMG’s 2014 Insurance Industry Conference Tuesday, where he answered questions such as 1) where the economy is going, 2) why, and 3) when (if ever) is it likely to improve. The answers, as reported by Property Casualty 360, are: 1) nowhere fast, 2) because nobody is willing to invest, and 3) eventually, but nobody can tell when. He listed 9 specific reasons why the "economy stinks", although surprisingly, nowhere did he mention the fact that the current and future economic disaster is all a direct result of his ruinous reign at helm of the Fed where as a result of his "great moderation" and the Fed's catastrophic monetary policies conceived mostly under Greenspan himself, the economy is now perpetually stuck in a boom-bust cycle, and where every time a bubble bursts another has to replace it or else the entire western way of life will be gone in a heartbeat.

So without further ado, here are, in reverse order, Greenspan's 9 reasons why the S&P 500 is at an all time high the economy is a complete disaster (thanks to the Fed).

9. Lack of confidence.

The U.S. economy is in a state of extraordinary change, Greenspan said, the likes of which he has never seen before. The most interesting thing about the current recession and recovery, he said, is that in the 10 recoveries we saw since WWII, every one except the current one was led by construction, essentially. This recovery is so sluggish because construction is, as Greenspan so delicately put it, “dead in the water.” The reason why construction is so dead is due, in part, to excess capacity built up before the economy crashed in 2008. But more importantly, businesses and households across the board are so skeptical of the future, they’re not willing to invest in it. Nobody is putting money into longer-lived assets, and until they do, the economy won’t really return to form.

Case in point: in the early 1990s, the amount of liquid cash assets companies were willing to invest in illiquid, long-term assets was way higher than it is now. You also see this in the yield spread in 5-year U.S. Treasury notes versus 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds, which is the widest in U.S. history. Why? Because people are far more willing to invest on a 5-year return than a 30-year one. That speaks to the depth of the worry people have in the future. And that kills growth.

 

8. Renting instead of buying.

The same is true in U.S. households. The single-family home construction market collapsed in the 2008 crash, and it induced a major shift; many more houses that are being built now are meant not for sale but for rental. Home ownership is way below where it was years ago, and there is no evidence that even with rising home prices that this will change any time soon.

That speaks to the degree of economic malaise in the U.S., Greenspan said. Unless we can change that, then we can’t change the effective demand needed to move the economy forward. And with effective demand several points below where it ought to be - with our economy working well below capacity - that is where our unemployment and overall economic weakness comes from, hanging around like an unwelcome house guest.

 

7. It’s a global problem.

This is not unique to the United States, Greenspan noted.

The “very tricky fiscal problems” that the United States is facing are fundamentally the same that are being faced by developed economies across the world, from the UK. Germany and the Eurozone, Ukraine, Japan, and elsewhere. Construction as a share of GDP is the same in these places as in the U.S., essentially, and construction remains down across the board. People are heavily discounting the future, Greenspan said.

One example is in how corporations evaluate the probable rate of return on a specific facility and then wonder what the variance on that return might be. That variance is really what the executive committees of corporation are really interested in, Greenspan said, and if a project is supposed to have a 30% yield, but there is a 10% chance of it returning a -10% yield, then the project will be dead in the water.

In this kind of environment, corporate tax rates become impossible to estimate, and that results in a serious curtailment of expenditures. When people don’t have a clue what the tax rate will be 20 or 30 years from now, and they have projected income from those years, then it drives up the effective cost of current projects.

China is the one part of the world where this isn’t a problem, but that’s about to change...

 

6. China’s debt bubble is going to burst.

China’s overall level of debt has gone from 140% of its GDP to 230% of GDP, which Greenspan glibly remarked is a sure sign that the Chinese economy is becoming overleveraged. It is requiring ever-larger amounts of social debt to fuel the country’s growth rate.

Greenspan noted that China has had “a remarkable run” the likes of which have never been seen before in measurable history. But, its gains in productivity and standards of living were all done with borrowed capital and technology. Annual lists of the world’s most innovative companies feature no Chinese companies, and nearly half of those lists are made up of American companies. This is leading to a narrowing productivity gap between China and the U.S. that is putting serious pressure on the Chinese economy.

The reality is that China is hitting the ceiling and its growth rate must slow. But when you have a one-party political system, there usually isn’t a whole lot of out-of-the-box thinking, which is precisely what China needs right now. And since you can’t divorce economic thought from political thought, this does not point toward good things for China. The Chinese hierarchy is acutely aware of this, Greenspan said, and it plans to allow a number of companies go into bankruptcy.

This is big, since most of the institutional lending in China has been backed by the government. There is a substantial amount of essentially shadow banking that operates with the same presumed backing of the government, but that backing is not really there, and the government is about to let some companies know that the hard way. Look for some Chinese defaults in the future, perhaps in its seriously overextended steel industry or elsewhere in tis manufacturing sectors.

That said, Greenspan also noted that while bubbles, by definition, burst, not all bubbles are toxic. The dot-com bubble bursting in the 1990s was individually ruinous for many people, but it was not an institutional bubble. The subprime mortgate situation in the late 2000s was an institutional situation. China knows the difference and is doing everything to ensure that when its bubble bursts, it'll be the first kind of problem and not the second kind. Will they succeed? Who knows.

 

5. A diminished U.S. military means an unstable world.

Greenspan noted that at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. was left standing as the sole superpower, and it used its military heft to act as the world’s policeman, suppressing conflict in a number of hot spots for a number of years.

Until recently, the share of gross domestic savings from business, households and government as a share of various forms of entitlements remained relatively constant. What we’re talking about here, really is Medicare and Social Security, which Greenspan described as the “third rail of American politics.” And there is serious growth there that is not going to stop, as the Baby Boomers get older and as Seniors live longer lives. These entitlements, Greenspan noted, tend to rise the most during Republican administrations, but they’re rising across the board, and unless we slow the rate of growth in our entitlements, the reality is that eventually, we will have to cut military spending to afford it all.

Greenspan pointed to Russia’s “Czarist” expansionism in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin’s implication that what would be best for Russia was to restore the Soviet Union. He pointed to clear commitments to protect NATO nations against Russian aggression. And he pointed to the rise of ISIS in the Middle East means that the U.S. will have to get further involved in that region to protect the world’s oil supply - something only the U.S. can do.

This all points to severe strain on the U.S. military at a time when our spending on it is poised to fall, and fall dramatically. This means that hot spots that had been kept calm are likely to explode, and this will create further uncertainty across the world, which will help the economies of exactly nobody. The military budgets will have to go up, but with no will to raise taxes or cut other costs, the only solution to this particularly sticky wicket, Greenspan said, is “to repeal the laws of arithmetic.”

 

4. Interest rates and inflation.

Eventually, interest rates have to rise, Greenspan said, with the kind of vagueness that comforts no insurer who has seen their investments wither on the vine for the last five years or so. Greenspan said that a figure that interests him is that interest rates in 5th century Greece are pretty much the same as what they have been in the last 50 years or so across the globe.

There is something inbred into the system, he said, and inbred into the propensities of human nature that regulate interest rates. The long-term yield on things like stocks, real estate, earnings, etc., are critical and can’t stay at zero forever, and wouldn’t even be there if we weren’t keeping them there. The rates are suppressed, Greenspan said, because the Federal Reserve has absorbed so many mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasuries.

We have to taper at some point, and things will only turn around once we see commercial and industrial loans tease that money out of the federal system and paid out to the commercial markets. This is a necessary condition for inflation. It is not happening yet. But it will. And when it does, Greenspan says, it will surprise us with how quickly it moves. Be prepared.

 

3. Regulatory over-reach.

Greenspan is not a fan of recent regulatory developments, especially Dodd-Frank.

The principle of regulation, he said, is that it identifies a problem that exists in the system, and implies that if that problem is solved, the system will return to functioning as it ought to. This requires a good conceptual view of how the financial system works. The legislators who crafted Dodd-Frank did not have that view, and as such, they crafted an unholy mess of a law that can’t even be implemented.

Case in point: The day President Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law, Ford Motor Credit had a $1 billion asset-backed entity, but the SEC now required all asset-backed instruments to have a credit rating. But because Dodd-Frank stipulated that credit rating agencies must assume partial responsibility if the firms they rate go pear-shaped, Ford couldn’t get a rating for their instrument. So what did Ford do? They simply ignored the rule.

And they’re not the only ones, Greenspan noted. There are a huge number of cases where Dodd-Frank is simply not being enforced because the law doesn’t work.

The problem is that this is the kind of law that you can’t really unwind. Once you hire regulators, Greenspan said, their job is to regulate...and they will always find something to regulate. So while the law doesn’t work, we’re stuck with it.

“Undoubtedly, there were some very questionable practices prior to the financial crisis,” Greenspan said. A lot of it was in credit default swaps, which were a form of derivative. But interest rates are also a form of derivative, as are foreign currency exchanges and even wheat. There was a huge market for over-the-counter derivatives that went through the financial crisis without a single default because those markets worked exactly as they were supposed to, but now, they have extra regulation, essentially because of guilt by association.

None of this regulation helps the economy get back on its feet, Greenspan suggested. And just because there is evidence that Dodd-Frank isn’t working, and likely will never work, to think that is evidence it will be abandoned, he said, “is a non-sequitur.”

 

2. A lack of leadership.

Greenspan has worked with five Presidents, and he ws quick to point out the two which he felt were the most effective at getting what they wanted done, done. And those were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

“The President has got to have an extraordinary number of characteristics, both of which Reagan and Clinton had,” Greenspan said. “They have to have a sense of what kind of democracy we have in this country and value systems and rule of law. And they have to have a sense of the history of it all. And they have to be able to convey to the populace where they think they are wrong.”

As an example, Greenspan cited Bill Clinton’s decision to bail out the Mexican government in 1995, despite the fact that he knew for certain that had this gone to a vote before Congress, it would have failed, and overwhelmingly so. But Clinton knew it had to be done, and that it could cost him politically, and so he crafted a way to make the monies available to Mexico. Mexico ultimately never drew on them, but the crisis disappeared.

“That is leadership,” Greenspan said. “And there were many similar ways in which Reagan did the same thing. The crucial issue is, are you a leader or a follower?”

Both Reagan and Clinton knew how to read polls well, but they weren’t going to let themselves be run by them. Much as we like to believe that we could run the government by referendum, the reality is that all we’d get from it are 100% of the people wanting more spending, and lower taxes. The political world wants things that range form the unrealistic to the impossible, and it falls to the President to run counter to that, and not every President has been equally able to do that.

Greenspan didn’t call out President Obama by name (or either President Bush), but draw your own conclusions.

 

1. Nobody appreciates insurance enough.

The insurance industry as we know it - or at least the actuarial mathematics that underpin it - got rolling when two Scottish ministers in the 18th century devised a fund that would take care of their widows, and the actuarial methods they used were pretty spot on and have not really changed that much since. Insurance, Greenspan said, is really nothing more than saving for a rainy day. And insurance, by its construction, is a major form of savings for this country.

“The whole structure of the industry is the mechanism by which you’re converting consumption into savings,” Greenspan said, “and the only way the economy can grow is to save.”

Insurance, he noted, is the most formidable mechanism we have to save as a society, and the economics of insurance have not been given proper weight by economists in how they look at the world. That is why the insurance industry needs to thrive and to be given the support it needs to thrive; getting the optimum amount into savings and investing in cutting-edge technologies are the only real way to get our standard of living to grow. And insurance is at the heart of it.

* * * * *

Greenspan's incoherent ramblings aside, we don't know if we should be more stunned that Greenspan has clearly summarized the bulk of the reasons why none other than Zero Hedge repeats day after day that the economy is nowhere close to growing or "recovering", or because with statements such as this:

“The whole structure of the industry is the mechanism by which you’re converting consumption into savings,” Greenspan said, “and the only way the economy can grow is to save.”

... it is revealed that the man who unleashed the worst Keynesian nightmare in the history of the world is in fact... an Austrian?

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maskone909's picture

quite amazing how mr greenspan manages to give commentary on the markets in between his diaper changes and applpesauce feedings.

Stuck on Zero's picture

He probably receives $500K for each tidbit of economic analysis that supports the bankers.

Pinto Currency's picture

 

 

Try: the economy is being crushed by $60 trillion of total credit market debt outstanding in the US because of loose Fed monetary policy by Greenspan and successors.

The best you are allowed to hope for now is a bubble somewhere.

kliguy38's picture

Thnx you fochin "puppet Maestro".........May your Ensure spill onto your chin and into your diaper .........YOU POS

Relentless101's picture

Reason 10: Becuase I start this fucking diabolical plan. (cue Bezos evil laugh)

Anusocracy's picture

Didn't they talk about idiots running things in a post yesterday.

This is from a Fed idiot

Doubleguns's picture

Posting anything Greenspan has to say is sheer nonsence. I am hoping most are missing Tylers atempt at humor here. 

Bananamerican's picture

9 reasons?
Yeah, they're G.R.E.E.N.S.P.A. And N.

Pinto Currency's picture

 

 

Greenspan is ill.

Best not to pay attention to him.

SoberOne's picture

I miss Bernanke's quivering voice, said no one ever.

COSMOS's picture

The number one reason is.......... Cause he was the Fed Chair and the other dual citizens still run the Fed and Dept of Treasury Show.

Manthong's picture

10. You.

Who was Fed Chair when Glass-Steagall was murdered and  Bucket Shops were legalized?

 

Georgia_Boy's picture

Confidence is the bullsh!t all-purpose dodge, when the speaker doesn't feel like probing for the real reasons or doesn't want to stick his neck out and say them.  Be Confident!  It's the economic reform plan for the self-esteem generation.

So if the problem is we don't save, the Obama solution would be let's push MyRA some more?  The government will be happy to invest your savings for you.  We know retirement planning is hard and we're here to help!  Your balance will never go down!

Four chan's picture

since he raised rates 6 consecutive times, the whole charade has been fucked up.

whotookmyalias's picture

1 reason why the economy stinks. Corruption.

Dr Strangemember's picture

OH, so NOW he starts being honest?????  

pods's picture

Ahhh, the rapist telling us why it is our fault.

Man what I wouldn't give to see this fuckers head on a pig pole!

pods

NidStyles's picture

Despite them having him by the short hairs with something that is probably horrible, I have compassion for him as he is still a human. I can only imagine how tortured he must feel. 

LawsofPhysics's picture

Precisely why my suggestion is the only humane thing to do.

NidStyles's picture

At least some of you caught the joke.

Redhotfill's picture

You should have ended the comment with  "Sarc off"

yogibear's picture

He feels no guilt. Animals have more compassion than this guy.

Anusocracy's picture

I don't consider psychopathic servants of the state as human.

Man appears to be the missing link between anthropoid apes and human beings.
— Konrad Lorenz

yogibear's picture

This guy created the financial messes and screwed people trying to fix the problems like Brooksley Born.

 

chunga's picture

1. Alan Greenspan
2. Ben Bernanke
3. Janet Yellen
4. Tim Geithner
5. Lloyd Blankfein
6. Henry Paulson
7. Hank Greenberg
8. Jamie Dimon
9. Blythe Masters

Four chan's picture

Create the bubble with easy money. Collapse the bubble with successive int rate increases, all the borrowers go under water enslaving them to you, many default allowing you to capture those assets people have worked their lives for, for nothing more than paper. the tentacles of the fed, their franchises, the banks, get swamped with all these assets, the owner (the fed) creates an equivalent amount of money to the bubble it created in the first place and "buys" all the "bad" mbs its tentacles have now acquired, both devaluing their debt slave's savings by that amount and capturing all those yummy house assets for the feds true owners/creators. the system called federal is working perfectly for its owners, and i know none dare call it treason but someone really should. on a side note, if the fed is a private corporation, and it is, why doesn't it pay taxes? Must be a religion like apple.

 

Ps the tentacles (the tbtf) has used all the new money to buy the market with zero risk zirp funds, which is clearly the only thing driving the market.

marathonman's picture

Theoretically they have to pay 90% of their 'profits' back to the government.  Whatever.  The (un)Federal (non)Reserve note is still a Ponzi scheme and the Fed's an evil bastard child that should have never been born.

yrad's picture

Corzine's gotta be in there! Put him at #3.5

Uncertain T's picture

I clearly remember the day an investor friend informed me that Mr Greenspan was being named to head the Fed.... I asked my friend.. "You mean that knucklehead who gives crappy editorial commentary on Nightly Business Report?"  my friend replied... "Yep that's the guy"

Leveraged Algorithm's picture

Here is what he said...
1. Because of me
2. Because of me
3. Because of me
4. Because of me
5. Because of me
6. Because of me
7. Because of me
8. Because of me
9. Because of my sister Janet......

JB's picture

Fuck Alan Greenspan.

Fuck the 'economy.'

Fuck this debt based neofeudal system.

Fuck the bankers.

Oh yeah, and especially, FUCK the politicians that make it all happen.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

.

Fuck Alan Greenspan.

Fuck the 'economy.'

Fuck this debt based neofeudal system.

Fuck the bankers.

Oh yeah, and especially, FUCK the politicians that make it all happen.

They are all fucked.

The wish is granted.

Long live Jambi.

Devotional's picture

is this a joke Alan???

alfred b.'s picture

 

     I'd say that Alan is the joke!

Anusocracy's picture

Every day is April Fools Day for Alan Greenspan.

jubber's picture

...and nothing about America's titanic debt then?

AccreditedEYE's picture

Who cares about the real economy? Keep the stimulus coming and keep buying the f-ing dip!! That's what you taught us Alan!

LawsofPhysics's picture

oh the hypocrisy...

 

execute this fuck already...

nothing changes otherwise.

813kml's picture

Why aren't this fossil along with other bringers of misery like Kissinger, Brzezinski, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al fucking dead yet?  Only the good die young.

The narcissism is disgusting, spellcheck even corrects the spelling of their putrid lastnames!

Squid Viscous's picture

it's really amazing... you forgot Soros and Albright, both crypto-jews par excellence...she's gotta be pushing 90 now? i would wiki it, but would make me even more angry having to scroll through her bio... maybe can all be explained by:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttbaXI7-r6U

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

.

Why aren't this fossil along with other bringers of misery like Kissinger, Brzezinski, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al fucking dead yet?

Satan's options on their souls are bigtime in-the-money. The only reason I can think of that he hasn't cashed them in yet is that he expects even more evil fuckery from them and is trying to time the top.

yogibear's picture

Hey Greedscam,

How about too much debt? Where is that on your list? 

You helped create the financial bubbles and messes. 

Dr. Richard Head's picture

I threw up in my mouth a bit half-way through reading.  These megalomaniacs make me ill. 

oldmanofthesee's picture

It's any wonder that his mind is muddled. He has to sleep with Andrea Mitchell.

And, come to think of it, vice-versa.