The U.S. Department of Homeland security is working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioural signals like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyse these signals algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with criminal or terroristic intentions. It’s useful to briefly talk about a few of the practical problems that such a system would face.
Ten more years of low returns in the stock market. If you are one of the millions of baby boomers headed into retirement - start saving more and spending less because the stock market won't bail you out. Now that I have your attention I will explain why this is the likely future ahead for investors. In this past weekend's newsletter I wrote that “If you put all of your money into cash today and don’t look at the market for another decade – you will be better off..." I realize that this statement is equivalent to heresy where Wall Street is concerned but there is one simple reason behind my apparent madness - the power of "reversion". This is not a new concept by any means as witnessed by Bob Farrell's rule #1 - "Markets tend to return to the mean over time." However, the reality of what "reversion" means is grossly misunderstood by Wall Street, and the mainstream media, as witnessed by the many valuation calls that "stocks are now cheap because the market is now trading in line with its long term average."
In the terminal collapse of the Roman Empire, there was perhaps no greater burden to the average citizen than the extreme taxes they were forced to pay. The tax 'reforms' of Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century were so rigid and unwavering that many people were driven to starvation and bankruptcy. The state went so far as to chase around widows and children to collect taxes owed. By the 4th century, the Roman economy and tax structure were so dismal that many farmers abandoned their lands in order to receive public entitlements. At this point, the imperial government was spending the majority of the funds it collected on either the military or public entitlements. For a time, according to historian Joseph Tainter, "those who lived off the treasury were more numerous than those paying into it." Sound familiar?
The Fed and the Administration should be on their knees and giving thanks for the blessings they have received for the economy over the past 9 months. First, falling oil prices last summer gave individuals an effective $60 billion tax cut. Then during the winter where normally heaters are turned up to stave off the wintery blasts the balmy winter added roughly $30 billion to consumer's wallets due to decreased utility costs. Those impacts gave individuals more dollars to spend and when combined with seasonal adjustments it gave the illusion of a strongly recovering economy. With "Operation Twist" now rapidly coming to an end and the Fed apparently in a trap of rising inflation I am not sure what the next "support" for the economy will be. My expectation continues to be that the economy will continue to run at a sub-par growth rate though the end of 2012 and that we could see a recession by the end of 2012 or by mid-2013. Of course, that is assuming we are boosted by further rounds of artificial intervention by the Fed or Mother Nature.
The Federal government is supporting its dependents and its crony-capitalist Elites with borrowed money: $1.5 trillion every year, fully 40% of the Federal budget. It is in effect filling the gap between exploding costs and declining income, just like the middle class did until they ran out of collateral to leverage. The dwindling middle class, now at best perhaps 25% of the workforce, has been reduced to tax donkeys supporting those above and below who are dependent on Federal largesse. Fisher found that this cycle ends in transformational political upheaval. No wonder; even as the class paying most of the taxes shrinks and is pressured by higher costs, the class of dependents expands as the economy deteriorates and the super-wealthy Power Elites continue to control the levers of Central State power.
The extent of Obama’s duplicity continues to grow apace. And yes — it’s duplicity. If you can’t or won’t fulfil a promise, don’t make it. From Bloomberg: "Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis." And the hilarious (or perhaps soul-destroying) thing? The size of the banks isn’t even the major issue. AIG didn’t have to be bailed out because of its size; AIG was bailed out because of its interconnectivity. If AIG went down, it would have taken down assets on balance sheets of a great deal more firms, thus perhaps triggering even more failures. So the issue is not size, but systemic interconnectivity. And yes — that too is rising, measured in terms of gross OTC derivatives exposure, as well as the size of the shadow banking system (i.e. pseudo-money created not by lending but by securitisation) — which sits, slumbering, a $35 trillion wall of inflationary liquidity ready to crash down on the global dollar economy.
We all know the Status Quo's response to the global financial meltdown of 2008 has been a travesty of a mockery of a sham--smoke and mirrors, flimsy facades of "recovery," simulacrum "reforms," and serial can-kicking, all based on borrowing and printing trillions of dollars, yen, euros and yuan, quatloos, etc. So when will the travesty of a mockery of a sham finally come to an end? Probably around 2021-22, with a few global crises and "saves" along the way to break up the monotony of devolution.
The question most asked by clients is why, with all that is going on in Europe, is the currency not much lower as nearly every analysts has a target of between parity and 1.2000? It is a very good question but way back at the start of 2011 I suggested that I felt some accord had been reached by the G20 to hold the EUR stable and this I still believe. The issue is that the EU leadership and indeed all those that trade with the zone, realize that equity markets would be held up by QE and that bond yields could be kept down (wrong) using the same method but the whole house of cards could be brought down if there was a run on the currency and a general loss of confidence in the currency. It would simply be a disaster and to me it is central bank manipulation that is keeping the EUR so ridiculously strong so selling breaks to the downside has seen many karted out on a stretcher and sent to the asylum.
A peaceful and stable Pakistan is integral to western efforts to pacify Afghanistan, but Islamabad’s obsessions with its giant eastern neighbor may render such issues moot.
Since partition in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought four armed conflicts, in 1947, 1965, 1971 (which led to the establishment of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan) and the 1999 Kargil clash. With the exception of the 1971 conflict, which involved rising tensions in East Pakistan, the others have all involved issues arising from control of Kashmir. But now a rising new element of discord threatens to precipitate a new armed clash between southern Asia’s two nuclear powers – water.
My most recent trip to Calgary gave me a welcome chance to catch up with friends and colleagues in Cow Town's oil and gas sector. I found out about new projects, investigated companies of interest, and came away with an improved feel for the current state of affairs – what's hot, what's not, and why. The outlook from here is not great. When markets turn bearish, investment strategies often turn toward income stocks, and rightly so: if market malaise is expected to keep share prices in check, dividends become a very good place to look for profits. But whenever a particular characteristic – such as a good dividend yield – becomes desirable, it also becomes dangerous. The sad truth is that scammers and profiteers jump aboard the bandwagon and start making offers that seem too good to refuse. It was just such an offer that reminded me of this danger. In the question-and-answer period following my talk in Calgary at the Cambridge House Resource Conference, an audience member asked my opinion of a new, private company that was offering a 14.7% monthly dividend yield.
Unlike under a gold standard, in paper money the rate of interest is subject to massive volatility. Sometimes, the government has its way, fueling rising prices and interest rates. Other times bond speculators front-run the central bank’s unlimited appetite for purchasing government bonds and the rate of interest falls. We are now in year 31 (so far) of this latter phase. As the total accumulated debt increases (feature #450 of irredeemable money is that total debt cannot go down), the effect of a change in the rate of interest becomes larger and larger. Today, even very small fluctuations have a disproportionate impact on the burden of debt incurred at every level, from consumer to business to corporate to government at every level. To say that this is destructive is a great understatement. This, rather than the quantity of money, is what people and especially economists should be focused on.
...Add all these charts up and we get a snapshot of a housing recovery that seems to have stalled or rolled over. The reasons why are apparent: mortgage debt remains elevated, a vast "shadow inventory" of underwater or foreclosed homes remains off the market and household income has stagnated or declined, as reported in What If Housing Is Done for a Generation?.
Get those rotten tomatos ready
The introduction of the “Mintchip” is really just another extension of the state’s effort to wield supremacy over private affairs. It is creeping socialism under the guise of efficiency. But, as anyone familiar with the nature of state understands, government efficiency is an illusion. As anonymity in free transactions goes, so goes another barrier on further centralized planning. The trick here is that nothing government does is voluntary. The forced usage of the Canadian dollar via legal tender laws renders the assertion of “voluntary” laughable. The Mint claims the chip can be used anonymously but this assurance comes from the institution in cahoots with a central bank that can’t manage a simple metal standard for more than a few decades.
Let’s be clear: financial misdeeds ruin lives. If a Madoff takes your money and uses it to pay off other investors in a ponzi scheme, you won’t be able to get it back. If a Blankfein underling issues you with misleading advice, and then bets against you (creaming himself a nice profit), you won’t be able to get it back. If a Corzine steals your money and uses it to bet on the European sovereign debt market, you might not be able to get it back. You might end up in poverty or worse. You might lose your children’s college money, your retirement money, or capital you needed for your business. You might lose your home. So shouldn’t we take a tough line against financial misdeeds? Shouldn’t tricking and stealing from investors, tricking and stealing from the public, tricking and stealing from clients carry a heavy disincentive, like death? Would a corrupt banker not think twice about their misdeeds if they knew that apprehension would mean a noose around their neck and a kicked bucket? A lot of commentators — like for example, Max Keiser — seem to think so. And in China financial crimes are treated with a gravity far beyond a cushy minimum security cell, and home visits on the weekends. Financial criminals in China are often executed.