Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke

IceCap Asset Management: Three Days That Shook The World, And The Law Of Diminishing Returns

Let’s review the tricks the central banks & governments have available to beat back any financial challenges presented by the debt reaper.

  • Money tool # 1 = deficit spending. For years, the G7 countries have believed that spending more than you make, will create jobs and prosperity. To measure the success of this strategy, we invite you to hang out in Spain, Greece or Italy.
  • Money tool # 2 = cut interest rates to 0%. All the really smart people in the World know that lower interest rates encourage people and companies to borrow more money and spend this money. To measure the success of this strategy, we invite you to hang out at the US Federal Reserve and help them count the $1.5 trillion in excess money held by the big banks.
  • Money tool # 3 = when all else fails print money. Everyone knows by now the reason the Great Depression was great was because no one had the idea to print money to kick start the economy. To measure the success of this strategy, we definitely do not invite you to visit Japan. The Japanese have been printing money for over 10 years and that hasn’t shaken their economy from its funk one bit.

As we enter the always dangerous months of September and October, central bankers and governments just can’t get their heads around the fact that their cherished money tools are not shaking the World. Never one to quit, someone somewhere muttered “we must do something” – and something they did.

Guest Post: The iKrug

It appears it is after all not Scott Sumner who 'saved the US economy' by urging the helicopter pilot to create even more money ex nihilo than hitherto. What will save us instead is Apple, or rather, its latest product, the iPhone 5. Who needs Bernanke when this wondrous device stands ready to pull the economy up by its bootstraps? A story has made the rounds lately – propagated by 'economist' (we should use the term loosely…) Michael Feroli at JP Morgan, that sales of the iPhone "could potentially add from one-quarter to one-half of a percentage point to the growth rate of U.S. gross domestic product in the final quarter of the year”. If we were to assume that he is correct, then what this would mainly tell us is how useless a statistic GDP actually is. However, what really takes the cake is a small posting of Krugman's on the same topic entitled “Broken Windows and the iPhone 5”. This view is erroneous – economic laws are not dependent on economic conditions. This is akin to arguing that the laws of nature will cease to be operational on Wednesdays. In Krugman's capable hands, a fallacy becomes a 'theory'.

Bank Of America To Fire 16,000 By Year End

Curious why nearly 4 years ago to the day Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson told Ken Lewis to purchase Merrill Lynch "or else" (but to make sure everyone gets paid their bonuses bright and early with no cuts)? It certainly had to do with the stock price and preserving the wealth of the shareholders. It had little to do with making the company viable in the long run, unfortunately, as the just announced news of a massive tsunami of 16,000 imminent terminations at the company confirms. All BofA did then was to take on dead weight at gunpoint, which it now has to shed. It also shows that despite rumors to the contrary the US economy is not getting better, the US financial system is not getting stronger, faith in capital markets is not returning (based on future staffing needs at banks), US tax revenues by the highest earners will go down, and the closed loop that is a procyclical economic move will just get worse as there are fewer service providers providing financial services, in the process taking out less consumer debt to keep the GDP "growing." What will also happen by January 1, 2013 is that BofA will no longer be America's largest employer, with the total headcount of 260,000 at year end being the lowest since 2008, and smaller than JPM, Citi and Wells.

Guest Post: If You Want to Help the Poor and the Middle Class, Encourage Deflation

If the Federal Reserve’s nightmare comes true and deflation occurs, something else happens that the banks fear and loathe: marginal borrowers default on all their debts. Rather than being easier to pay, the debts become more difficult to pay as money gains value. Marginal borrowers no longer get the “boost” of inflation, so they increasingly default on their loans. How is it bad for hopelessly over-indebted, overleveraged households to default on all their debt and get a fresh start? Exactly why is that bad? What is the over-indebted household losing other than a lifetime of debt-serfdom, stress and poverty? The banks have to absorb the losses, and since they are so highly leveraged, the losses drive the banks into insolvency. They are bankrupt and must close their doors. Note that 99.9% of the people benefit when bad banks absorb losses and close their doors. Only the bank managers, owners and bond holders lose, and everyone else gains as an unproductive, poorly managed bank no longer burdens the economy with its malinvestments and risky bets. The Federal Reserve’s policy of protecting the wealth and power of the banks while stealing from wage earners via inflation is a catastrophe for the nation and the 99.9% who are not financiers, politicians and lobbyists.

If you want to do something for the poor and middle class, encourage deflation.

Guest Post: Are You Seeing What I'm Seeing?

Connecting the dots between my anecdotal observations of suburbia and a critical review of the true non-manipulated data bestows me with a not optimistic outlook for the coming decade. Is what I’m seeing just the view of a pessimist, or are you seeing the same thing? A few powerful men have hijacked our economic, financial and political structure. They aren’t socialists or capitalists. They’re criminals. They created the culture of materialism, greed and debt, sustained by prodigious levels of media propaganda. Our culture has been led to believe that debt financed consumption over morality and justice is the path to success. In reality, we’ve condemned ourselves to a slow painful death spiral of debasement and despair.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” – Chris Hedges

Richard Koo Explains It's Not The Fed, Stupid; It's The Fiscal Cliff!

While Koo-nesianism is only one ideological branch removed from Keynesianism, Nomura's Richard Koo's diagnosis of the crisis the advanced economies of the world faces has been spot on. We have discussed the concept of the balance sheet recession many times and this three-and-a-half minute clip from Bloomberg TV provides the most succinct explanation of not just how we got here but why the Fed is now impotent (which may come as a surprise to those buying stocks) and why it is the fiscal cliff that everyone should be worried about. As Koo notes, the US "is beginning to look more like Japan... going through the same process that Japan went through 15 years earlier." The Japanese experience made it clear that when the private sector is minimizing debt (or deleveraging) with very low interest rates, there is little that monetary policy can do. The government cannot tell the private sector don't repay your balance sheets because private sector must repair its balance sheets. In Koo's words: "the only thing the government can do is to spend the money that the private sector has saved and put that back into the income stream" - which (rightly or wrongly) places the US economy in the hands of the US Congress (and makes the Fed irrelevant).

On This Week In History, Gas Prices Have Never Been Higher

To the vast majority of the US citizenry, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is an odd number that flashes on the new 42" plasma-screen during dinner; wedged between a news story about a panda sneezing and some well-endowed weather-girl saying "hot, damn hot". This is why the behavior of Ben Bernanke this week might go unnoticed by most of the great unwashed. That is, of course, if they do not drive or eat food. For those that do eat or use vehicles; for the first time in history, national average gas prices for the 2nd week of September were over $4.00. Of course, this is mere transitory market speculators - and is not real money leaving their EBT card.

Anti-US Protests Spread To India, Bangladesh, Indonesia

Did we say Arab Fall? We meant global fall. From the Star Tribune: "Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims protested Friday against an anti-Islam film, burning U.S. flags and calling President Barack Obama a "terrorist," while the top government cleric here reportedly demanded Americans leave the volatile Indian-controlled region immediately. In the southern Indian city of Chennai, protesters threw stones at the U.S. Consulate, shattering some windows and burning Obama in effigy. Police quickly cleared the area, arresting more than 100 protesters. U.S. Embassy officials in Delhi did not immediately comment." And elsewhere: "In Bangladesh, about 5,000 hardline Muslims marched in Dhaka's streets after Friday prayers, burning U.S. and Israeli flags and calling for the death of the filmmaker. Police prevented them from marching toward the U.S. Embassy several miles away." And elsewhere: "In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, about 200 protesters chanted slogans and held up signs in a largely peaceful protest outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. American diplomatic outposts increased security worldwide this week after clips of the film went viral online and sparked violent protests in the Middle East. About 20 protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shouted "Allahu akbar!" and handed reporters a letter addressed to the U.S. ambassador expressing their anger over the movie and calling for greater respect for religions."

Guest Post: Doug Casey On The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of Today's Journalism

"Yellow journalism" – which seems almost the only kind we have these days dominates our newsflow, but the truth is out there. As with everything else though, it's subject to Pareto's Law. So, 80% of what's out there is crap, and 80% of what's left is merely okay. But that remaining 4% of quality, uncensored, free information flow is extremely valuable. The terminal corruption of the major news corporations and the lack of interest in seeking the truth among the general population augurs very poorly for the prospects of the US and the current world order. This creates speculative opportunities, but prospects for mainstream investments are not good. Western civilization is truly in decline and far down the slippery slope.