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.
A strong case can be made that the fundamental supports of the housing market-- demographics, employment, creditworthiness and income--will not recover for a generation. It can even be argued that housing has lost its status as the foundation of middle class wealth, not for a generation, but for the long term. Let's begin by noting that despite the many tax breaks lavished on housing--the mortgage interest deduction, etc.--there is nothing magical about housing as an asset. That is, its price responds in an open, transparent market to supply and demand and the cost of money and risk. There are a number of quantifiable inputs that feed into supply and demand--new housing starts, mortgage rates and income, to name three--but there are other less quantifiable inputs as well, notably the belief (or faith) that housing will return to being a "good investment," i.e. rising in price roughly 1% above the rate of inflation. If this faith erodes, then the other factors of demand face an insurmountable headwind, for the most fundamental support of housing is the belief that buying a house is the first step to securing middle class wealth.
Americans have been listening to the mainstream financial media’s song and dance for around four years now. Every year, the song tells a comforting tale of good ol’ fashioned down home economic recovery with biscuits and gravy. And, every year, more people are left to wonder where this fantastic smorgasbord turnaround is taking place? Two blocks down? The next city over? Or perhaps only the neighborhoods surrounding the offices of CNN, MSNBC, and FOX? Certainly, it’s not spreading like wildfire in our own neck of the woods…Many in the general public are at the very least asking “where is the root of the recovery?” However, what they should really be asking is “where is the trigger for collapse?” Since 2007/2008, I and many other independent economic analysts have outlined numerous possible fiscal weaknesses and warning signs that could bring disaster if allowed to fully develop. What we find to our dismay here in 2012, however, is not one or two of these triggers coming to fruition, but nearly EVERY SINGLE conceivable Achilles’ heel within the foundation of our system raw and ready to snap at a moment’s notice. We are trapped on a river rapid leading to multiple economic disasters, and the only thing left for any sincere analyst to do is to carefully anticipate where the first hits will come from. Four years seems like a long time for global banks and government entities to subdue or postpone a financial breakdown, and an overly optimistic person might suggest that there may never be a sharp downturn in the markets. Couldn’t we simply roll with the tide forever, buoyed by intermittent fiat injections, treasury swaps, and policy shifts? The answer……is no.
Here is a number for you: 70% That is roughly how many economic reports have missed their mark in the last month. Why is this important? Believe it or not - It has a lot to do with the weather. We have written many times recently about the weather related effects skewing the seasonal adjustment figures in everything from the leading indicators and retail sales to employment numbers. Now those weather related boosts are beginning to run in reverse as weather patterns return to normal and realign with the seasonal adjustments. This resurgence of economic weakness is only just beginning to appear in the fabric of the various manufacturing reports. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (a broad measure of 85 different data points) has declined from its recent peak in December of .54 to .33 in January and -.09 in February. The ISM Composite index (an average of manufacturing and non-manufacturing data), Richmond, Dallas and Kansas Fed Manufacturing indexes all posted declines in March.
I know, I know: the stock market will never go down because Ben Bernanke and the other central bankers won't let it. It's funny how the "Bernanke/European Central Bank Put" is ranked alongside gravity as a rule of Nature until markets roll over; then talk shifts from purring adulation of central bankers' godlike powers to panicky calls for another flood of liquidity/free money to "save" the market from the harsh reality of global recession. The crash test dummies know better: they've been called up for a humongous crash. The basic mechanism that is being overlooked is Liquidity Resistance. This is akin to insulin resistance, where insulin becomes less effective at lowering blood sugars. The amount of insulin required to maintain normal blood sugar levels increases as resistance rises until even massive doses of insulin no longer have the desired effect and the system crashes.
Here’s my question: if banks, themselves, do not believe that Too Big to Fail is over then why should we?
The black swan is probably the most widely misunderstood philosophical term of this century. I tend to find it being thrown around to refer to anything surprising and negative. But that’s not how Taleb defined it. Taleb defined it very simply as any high impact surprise event. Of course, the definition of surprise is relative to the observer. To the lunatics at the NYT who push bilge about continuing American primacy, a meteoric decline in America’s standing (probably emerging from some of the fragilities I have identified in the global economic fabric) would be a black swan. It would also be a black swan to the sorry swathes of individuals who believe what they hear in the mainstream media, and from the lips of politicians (both Romney and Obama have recently paid lip service to the idea that America is far from decline). Such an event would not really be a black swan to me; I believe America and her allies will at best be a solid second in the global pecking order — behind the ASEAN group — by 2025, simply because ASEAN make a giant swathe of what we consume (and not vice verse), and producers have a historical tendency to assert authority over consumers. But black swans are not just events. They can also be non-events. To Harold Camping and his messianic followers who confidently predicted the apocalypse on the 21st of May 2011 (and every other true-believing false prophet) the non-event was a black swan. Surprising (to them at least) and high impact, because it surely changed the entire trajectory of their lives. (Camping still lives on Earth, rather than in Heaven as he supposedly expected). To true-believing environmentalists who warn of Malthusian catastrophe (i.e. crises triggered by overpopulation or resource depletion), history is studded with these black swan non-events.