In 2008, a mysterious person or group using the apparent pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto unveiled a new digital currency called Bitcoin that appeared to solve some of its predecessors’ problems. As Bitcoin rose in value the number of high-profile crimes and crashes rose apace. Throughout that boom and bust, Bitcoin retained a core user base that saw its possibilities and worked to overcome its flaws by developing point-of-sale hardware and online merchant services while lessening its dependence on a small number of exchanges. And then, just when the outside world had stopped paying attention, Bitcoin recovered. From under $20 at the beginning of 2013 it rose to $240, crashed to below $100, and then in one dramatic arc soared to more than $1,000. In early 2014 Bitcoin’s market value exceeded $10 billion and the number of merchants willing to accept it was soaring. The market appears to have spoken: Bitcoin is for real.
Why would the central bank of Nigeria decide to sell dollars and buy Yuan? At first glance it might not seem the most interesting or pressing question for you to consider. But we think it is one of those little loose threads that if pulled upon carefully begins to unravel the hints and traces of a much larger story.
"It seems astonishing that protesters are risking their lives to join the EU whilst southern Europeans are bankrupt, unemployed and taxed to the hilt at the hands of Brussels." It is not merely 'astonishing', it really strains credulity. In other words, we don't believe for a second that people have been standing in the cold for weeks and engaging in battles with the police because they love Brussels and Herman 'damp rag' Rompuy so much, in spite of his undeniable haiku-writing talent. It seems far more likely that they are simply hoping that finally a perhaps somewhat less corrupt political group will take over. That seems quite a tall order considering the disappointments of the Yushchenko/Tymoschenko era.
There is no point in trying to avert or prevent bubbles caused by monetary pumping by regulatory means. If one avenue for bubble formation is cut off, the newly created money will simply flow into another area. In fact, new bubbles almost always become concentrated in new sectors. If there were a genuine desire to keep the formation of bubbles in check, adopting sound money would be a sine qua non precondition. However, no-one who has any say in today's system has a desire to adopt sound money and give up on the failed centrally planned monetary system in favor of a genuine free market system. Our guess is that the booms and busts the current system inevitably produces will simply continue to grow larger and larger until there comes a denouement that can no longer be 'fixed'.
Tomorrow we prepare for a “new” Fed. It looks a lot like the old Fed, but one can hope. In the meantime we wonder if QE is worth it? Does it do what it is “supposed” to do? No. We don’t think it has done much for jobs or inflation or housing. We look at the pre QE data and the post QE data and we are underwhelmed. But what real evidence is there that QE is helping the economy? Would we be the same without it? Better even? I am told no, but I am told a lot of things that turn out not to be true. If it was clear that QE was really helping the economy, I wouldn’t be wondering why we do it. But is there any harm to QE? That is the other side of the coin. Ask any person from an Emerging Market whether QE is harmful and you will likely get a very different answer than the one Ben has given.
People have a strange habit of ridiculing economics for its assumptions and [benchmark] models of optimality. While modern mathematical economics (i.e., professional mathturbation) admittedly rely on sometimes outrageous assumptions that make most of the resulting predictions irrelevant, there is nothing ridiculous or unscientific about economic reasoning. This is the problem of relying on induction, and while it might work well in the natural sciences, and is less reliable but likely more beneficial than not in applied natural science (such as medicine), it is impossible in the social sciences.
There are two major factors that have emerged in the last five years that have sparked a surge in LNG investments. First is the shale gas “revolution” in the United States, which allowed the U.S. to vault to the top spot in the world for natural gas production. This caused prices to crater to below $2 per million Btu (MMBTu) in 2012, down from their 2008 highs above $10/MMBtu. Natural gas became significantly cheaper in the U.S. than nearly everywhere else in the world. The second major event that opened the floodgates for investment in new LNG capacity is the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan. Already the largest importer of LNG in the world before the triple meltdown in March 2011, Japan had to ratchet up LNG imports to make up for the power shortfall when it shut nearly all of its 49 gigawatts of nuclear capacity. In 2012, Japan accounted for 37% of total global LNG demand. The future of LNG may indeed be bright, especially when considering that global energy demand has nowhere to go but up. But, investors should be aware of the very large threat that Japanese nuclear reactors present to upstart LNG projects.
The US wants its dollar system to prevail for as long as possible. It therefore has every interest in preventing a ‘rush out of dollars into gold’. By selling (paper) gold, bankers have been trying in the last few decades to keep the price of gold under control. This war on gold has been going on for almost one hundred years, but it gained traction in the 1960's with the forming of the London Gold Pool. Just like the London Gold Pool failed in 1969, the current manipulation scheme of gold (and silver prices) cannot be maintained for much longer.
A paper currency system contains the seeds of its own destruction. The temptation for the monopolist money producer to increase the money supply is almost irresistible. In such a system with a constantly increasing money supply and, as a consequence, constantly increasing prices, it does not make much sense to save in cash to purchase assets later. A better strategy, given this scenario, is to go into debt to purchase assets and pay back the debts later with a devalued currency. Moreover, it makes sense to purchase assets that can later be pledged as collateral to obtain further bank loans. A paper money system leads to excessive debt. This is especially true of players that can expect that they will be bailed out with newly produced money such as big businesses, banks, and the government. We are now in a situation that looks like a dead end for the paper money system.
With Russia offering $10 billion in funds to the troubled nation this morning, and Ukrainian capital markets in disarray over the anti-anti-Europe protests and ongoing riots, Stefan Karlsson offers an alternative take on the "people vs dictator" meme - especially in light of the fact that Yanuckovich is supported by a large part of the population (specifically in the eastern and southern parts of the country).
The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen. Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time. All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads. In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone. That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014. So will a default event in China on January 31st be the next "Lehman Brothers moment" or will it be something else? In the end, it doesn't really matter. The truth is that what has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years. It is just a matter of time.
The system is doomed to fail, because the resilience of natural complex systems requires freedom of action for its individual components. We do not observe resilient complex systems with central control. Yet central control is the dominant ideology of our present political and economic systems. Total control, with a vanishingly thin veneer of democracy, ephemeral as the morning dew.
A number of readers have recently suggested there must be collusion between America and China over the transfer of physical gold from Western capital markets. They assume that governments know what they are doing, so there is a bigger game afoot of which we are unaware.
The truth is that China and Western capital markets view gold very differently and with very different philosophies about gold.
Of the various flavors of government interventionism in our lives, the minimum wage is perhaps the most welcomed. It appeals not only to our innate sense of “fairness” but also to our self-interest. Its allure may erroneously lead us to the conclusion that because “it is popular,” ergo “it is right.” The more astute proponents of the minimum wage, however, immediately point to the obvious; namely, that an extreme minimum wage ($1,000 per hour) would be unequivocally detrimental. However, the proponents quickly turn to dismissing this fear by asserting that, empirically, no such job loss occurs when the minimum wage is slowly raised. This is akin to arguing that although fire can boil water, a small fire won’t heat it up.
President Obama has recently promoted inequality as a fundamental threat to our way of life, saying, “The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.” You can read the rhetoric here. Let’s look at the reality.