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Guest Post: What If Housing Is Done for a Generation?





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.

 
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Guest Post: Dueling Economic Banjos Offer No Deliverance





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.

 
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Guest Post: The Return Of Economic Weakness





sta-eoci-index-041012-2Here 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.

 
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Guest Post: Calling All Crash Test Dummies: Big Crash Ahead





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.

 
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Guest Post: The Wrong Answer





Here’s my question: if banks, themselves, do not believe that Too Big to Fail is over then why should we?

 
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Guest Post: Two Kinds of Black Swans





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.

 
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Guest Post: Ten Minutes After The Titanic Struck The Iceberg





As we all know, the "unsinkable" Titanic suffered a glancing collision with an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. Ten minutes after the iceberg had opened six of the ship's 16 watertight compartments, it was not at all apparent that the mighty vessel had been fatally wounded, as there was no evidence of damage topside. Indeed, some eyewitnesses reported that passengers playfully scattered the ice left on the foredeck by the encounter. But some rudimentary calculations soon revealed the truth to the officers: the ship was designed to survive four watertight compartments being compromised, and could likely stay afloat if five were opened to the sea, but not if six compartments were flooded. Water would inevitably spill over into adjacent compartments in a domino-like fashion until the ship sank. The financial system of the United States of America is like the Titanic. Hubris led many to declare it financially unsinkable even as its fundamental design was riddled with fatal flaws and the human pilots in charge ran it straight into the ice field at top speed. We have some time left before the ultimate fate is visible to all. Ten minutes after the collision, the Titanic's passengers had 2 hours and 30 minutes before the "unsinkable" ship sank. How much time we have left is unknown, but the bow of the ship will be visibly settling into the icy water within a year or two--and perhaps much sooner.

 
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Guest Post: The Advantages Of Greenhouse Gardening For Survival





There are numerous methods for growing vibrant gardens in less than perfect weather, and growing in colder northern areas with longer winters is absolutely possible, given the gardener has some brains.  In the video series below produced by The Survival Podcast, they showcase a very straightforward no nonsense experiment which proves that with a little ingenuity (and rudimentary greenhouse methods) you can indeed grow vegetables regardless of the temperature or the region in which you live. 

 
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Guest Post: There Will Never Be A Failed US Treasury Auction... Until There Is





Do you think the US will always and forever be able to pay for our over-bloated military-industrial complex and our wars of choice? Do you think the federal housing agencies will always and forever be able to subsidize the real estate industry with money losing, non-economic mortgage loans? Do you think the government will always and forever be able to pay on the promises they've made regarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicade? Do you think the government will always and forever be able to extend debt-enslaving, subsidized student loans to anyone with a pulse? Do you think the fiat ponzi central planners at the Fed will always and forever be able to manipulate the Treasury curve to whatever levels the Oracles of Delphi decide? If you answer yes to the above, ask yourself this: how would all of these things be affected if the average interest rate paid by the US was to rise to 5%? At today's debt level of $15.6 trillion, the interest expense would be approximately $780 billion or about 35% of total government revenues. Welcome to the United States of Greece. Next stop, bankruptcy.

 
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Guest Post: The Face of Authoritarian Environmentalism





An Oregon University professor has controversially compared skepticism of global warming to racism. Sociology and environmental studies professor Kari Norgaard wrote a paper criticising non-believers, suggesting that doubters have a ‘sickness’. The professor, who holds a B.S. in biology and a master’s and PhD in sociology, argued that ‘cultural resistance’ to accepting humans as being responsible for climate change ‘must be recognised and treated’ as an aberrant sociological behaviour.

 
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Guest Post: The Eurozone X-Factor





Whatever one thinks about Lord Wolfson’s euro-skeptical meddling, it certainly has been entertaining. The British baron’s offer of a £250,000 prize for the best ideas to deal with a possible breakup of the eurozone has brought all sorts of people out of the woodwork. (Including this precocious 11-year old.) But one of the most fascinating ideas on the shortlist has come from Neil Record — although I’m not sure that my takeaway was his main intent. Suppose that a country does leave the eurozone — this was the starting premise of all the responses to Wolfson’s essay contest. Greece, as the weakest link, seems the most likely candidate. But on the other hand it’s possible that one of the strongest countries chooses to go its own way. Of course we’re talking about Germany. Whether it remains in the euro or decides to take its chances by introducing a new Deutschemark, the fact is that in the case of a euro breakup, Germany is where it’s at. Its fiscal position and reputation for prudence is among the strongest of all developed countries. If it were on its own then its currency would rise to reflect this. So, to the extent that you can choose, you will want to get your banknotes from Berlin

 
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Guest Post: America: The List





Let's get it all out there. America's dirty laundry that is. Our family secrets. The skeletons in the closet. The goal is to create a list of the many and numerous ways in which our country is deluding itself into believing we are the greatest, smartest, most innovative, freedom loving country that ever was. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some unpatriotic ne'er do well. I love what the Founding Fathers of our country set out to accomplish, faults and all. I love it so much, I was willing to put my life on the line for this country by serving in a US Marine Corps special forces unit for 8 years (your move armchair patriot). But we have drifted so far from the original concepts, I believe our current central planning apparatus more closely resembles the USSR than what most people think is the USA. So I'm going to kick this list off but in no way do I intend this to be exhaustive.

 
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Guest Post: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Part 3





Who will buy our debt in the coming months and years? Europe is saturated with debt and doesn’t have the means to purchase our debt. Japan is a train wreck waiting to happen. China’s customers aren’t buying their crap, so their economic miracle is about to go in reverse. The Federal Reserve cannot buy $1 trillion of Treasury bonds per year forever without creating more speculative bubbles and raging inflation in the things people need to live. The Minsky Moment will be the point when the U.S. Treasury begins having funding problems due to the spiraling debt incurred in financing perpetual government deficits. At this point no buyer will be found to bid at 2% to 3% yields for U.S. Treasuries; consequently, a major sell-off will ensue leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market clearing asset prices and a sharp drop in market liquidity. In layman terms that means – the shit will hit the fan. The Federal Reserve and Treasury will be caught in their own web of lies. The only way to attract buyers will be to dramatically increase interest rates. Doing this in a country up to its eyeballs in debt will be suicide. We will abruptly know how it feels to be Greek....The entire financial world is hopelessly entangled by the $700 trillion of derivatives that ensure mass destruction if one of the dominoes falls. This is the reason an otherwise inconsequential country like Greece had to be “saved”.

 
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Guest Post: Gold's Critical Metric





There are many reasons why gold is still our favorite investment – from inflation fears and sovereign debt concerns to deeper, systemic economic problems. But let's be honest: It's been rising for over 11 years now, and only the imprudent would fail to think about when the run might end. Is it time to start eyeing the exit? In a word, no. Here's why. There's one indicator that clearly signals we're still in the bull market – and further, that we can expect prices to continue to rise. That indicator is negative real interest rates.

 
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Guest Post: Global Oil Risks in the Early 21st Century





The Deepwater Horizon incident demonstrated that most of the oil left is deep offshore or in other locations difficult to reach. Moreover, to obtain the oil remaining in currently producing reservoirs requires additional equipment and technology that comes at a higher price in both capital and energy. In this regard, the physical limitations on producing ever-increasing quantities of oil are highlighted, as well as the possibility of the peak of production occurring this decade. The economics of oil supply and demand are also briefly discussed, showing why the available supply is basically fixed in the short to medium term. Also, an alarm bell for economic recessions is raised when energy takes a disproportionate amount of total consumer expenditures. In this context, risk mitigation practices in government and business are called for. As for the former, early education of the citizenry about the risk of economic contraction is a prudent policy to minimize potential future social discord. As for the latter, all business operations should be examined with the aim of building in resilience and preparing for a scenario in which capital and energy are much more expensive than in the business-as-usual one.

 
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