Behold the fund-tastic four: Ireland, Greece, Spain and... the US? These are the four countries that in the past four years have accumulated the greatest deficit as a % of GDP (and yes, at just under 50%, the US is worse than Spain whose cumulative deficit has been over 40% of GDP), which in turn they have had to fund with what else: new debt.
We face one of the deepest crises in history. A prognosis for the economic future requires a deepening of the concepts of inflation and deflation. Inflation is a political phenomenon because monetary aggregates are not determined by market forces but are planned by central banks in agreement with governments. Inflation is a tax affecting all real incomes. Inflation is a precondition of extreme deflation: depression. Should in fact the overall debt collapse, there would be an extreme deflation or depression because the money aggregate would contract dramatically. In fact the money equivalent to the defaulted debt would literally vanish. It is for this reason that central banks monetize new debt at a lower interest rates, raising its value. All the financial bubbles and the mass of derivatives are just the consequence of debt monetization. How will this all end? In history, debt monetization has always produced hyperinflation. In Western countries, despite the exponential debt a runaway inflation has not yet occurred. Monetary policy has only inflated the financial sector, starving the private one, which is showing a bias towards a deflationary depression. Unfortunately governments and banks will go for more inflation. As history teaches, besides money the freedom of citizens can also be the victim.
Gold fell $3.10 or 0.18% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,693.60/oz. Silver climbed to $33.24 then slid to $32.51, but finished after an afternoon rally with a loss of 0.33%.
Gold inched down on Thursday, near the monthly low reached in the prior session under pressure from a stronger greenback as players await the European Central Bank rate decision at 1245 GMT and US Initial Jobless Claims at 1330 GMT.
Physical buying of gold bullion has increased on the dip, particularly in Asia, and many are seeing these levels as a floor for prices.
Sixteen years ago today, Alan Greenspan spoke the now infamous words "irrational exuberance" during an annual dinner speech at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Much has changed in the ensuing years (and oddly, his speech is worth a read as he draws attention time and again to the tension between the central bank and the government). Most critically, Greenspan was not wrong, just early. And the result of the market's delay in appreciating his warning has resulted in an epic shift away from those same asset classes that were most groomed and loved by Greenspan - Stocks, to those most hated and shunned by the Fed - Precious Metals. While those two words were his most famous, perhaps the following sentences are most prescient: "A democratic society requires a stable and effectively functioning economy. I trust that we and our successors at the Federal Reserve will be important contributors to that end."
To think it took a really ugly economic number, such as the Services PMI reported last night, to stir the Chinese stock market out of a hypnotic drift lower, and push it up by 2.7%. Why? Because in the New Normal bad economic news means hope that central banks get involved, and as we have explained the ongoing SHCOMP collapse is purely a function of the PBOC remaining on the sidelines. Last night, rumors (very unfounded and very incorrect) that the central bank would intervene put a stop to the drop. Sadly, as the PBOC has no intention of ending its ultra-short term reverse-repo driven market support strategy, the bounce will be very short lived. However, that coupled with more jawboning out of the BOJ that it would act, if it has to (whether under Abe or Noda), sent the JPY even weaker, and futures ramping on tiny overnight volume which wiped out all the previous day's losses.
The Great Depression brought about the Keynesian Revolution, complete with new analytical tools and economic programs that have been relied upon for decades. In dampening each successive downturn, authorities accumulated increasingly larger deficits and brought about a debt supercycle that lasted in excess of half a century. The efficacy of these tools and programs has slowly been eroded over the years as the accumulation of policy actions has reduced the flexibility to deal with crises as we reach budget constraints and stretch the Fed’s balance sheet beyond anything previously imagined. Some have referred to this as reaching the Keynesian endpoint. Keynes would barely recognize where we now find ourselves. In this ultra loose policy environment we are limited by our Keynesian toolkit. Without a new economic paradigm, the deleterious consequences of the current misguided policies are a foregone conclusion.
Those curious why Goldman Sachs felt compelled to undertake a quiet an unexpected by most (if not us) peaceful coup of the Bank of England, it is because the oldest central bank still has among its ranks people such as Andy Haldane, who in a world populated by deranged textbook economists who don't understand that it is the central bank policies' fault the world will be forever mired in substandard growth and soaring unemployment, is a lone voice of reason (recall BOE's Andy Haldane Channels Zero Hedge, Reveals The Liquidity Mirage And The Collateral Crunch). And since the BOE has no choice but to join all its peers in a global race to the bottom (largely futile in a world in which currencies exist in a closed loop, and in which if everyone devalues, nobody devalues as even Bill Gross figured out yesterday), it is prudent to listen to Haldane's warnings while he is still in the employ of Her Majesty the Queen. Such as his latest one, in which he says that the scale of the loss of income and output as a result of the crisis started by the banks was as damaging as a "world war."
We find ourselves more amazed than ever at the ability of those in power to lie, misinform and obfuscate the truth, while millions of Americans willfully choose to be ignorant of the truth and yearn to be misled. It’s a match made in heaven. Acknowledging the truth of our society’s descent from a country of hard working, self-reliant, charitable, civic minded citizens into the abyss of entitled, dependent, greedy, materialistic consumers is unacceptable to the slave owners and the slaves. We can’t handle the truth because that would require critical thought, hard choices, sacrifice, and dealing with the reality of an unsustainable economic and societal model. It’s much easier to believe the big lies that allow us to sleep at night. The concept of lying to the masses and using propaganda techniques to manipulate and form public opinion really took hold in the 1920s and have been perfected by the powerful ruling elite that control the reins of finance, government and mass media. How many Americans are awake enough to handle the truth? Abraham Lincoln once said that he believed in the people and that if you told them the truth and gave them the cold hard facts they would meet any crisis. That may have been true in 1860, but not today.
Remember Michael Feroli? The JPM economist who "predicted" US Q4 GDP would be boosted by 0.5% due to iPhone sales (don't laugh: yes, US GDP, not that of China where the iPhone is actually produced, but the US where the consumer merely incurs more record student loans to be able to afford it)? Well, the same JPMorganite has now cut his Q4 GDP expectation to 1.5% for all the same reasons why we penned the second Q3 GDP revision: namely ugly internals, a surge in hollow government and inventory contributions to "growth", and a collapse in the purchasing power of the US consumer (who somehow is still expected to boost Q4 GDP with iPhone sales). And while there is no mention of the iPhone in his just released downward revision, he still believes the cell phone will provide a boost to Q4 GDP. In other words, of the 1.5% in GDP growth in Q4, the iPhone will account for 33% of this! One really can not make this up.
The 2007 puncturing of housing market prices and the 2008 financial market swoon are the precedents to two much larger and much more dangerous bubbles. These more pernicious threats are the dollar bubble ("printing money") and the government debt bubble ("borrowing money"). While both are expanding at a sickening pace, in the near term they deceptively make things seem much better than they are. But, like all bubbles, they are unsustainable. The Fed is well-aware of this dire probability, but finds itself increasingly stuck to avoid it. The Fed's main strategic consists completely of "hope". It's backup strategy? "Panic" and thus the need to focus on preservation of purchasing power, and positioning one's financial assets safely before the aftershock arrives.
In our first installment of this series we explored the concept of stock to flow in the gold markets being the key driver of supply/demand dynamics, and ultimately its price. Today we are going to explore the paper markets and, importantly, to what degree they distort upwardly the “flow” of the physical gold market. We believe the very existence of paper gold creates the illusion of physical gold flow that does not and physically cannot exist. After all, if flow determines price – and if paper flow simulates physical metal movement to a degree much larger than is possible – doesn’t it then suggest that paper flow creates an artificially low price?
Leveraged systems are based on confidence – confidence in efficient exchanges, confidence in reputable counterparties, and confidence in the rule of law. As we have learned (or should have learned) with the failures of Long Term Capital Management, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie & Freddie, and MF Global – the unwind from a highly leveraged system can be sudden and chaotic. These systems function…until they don’t. CDOs were AAA... until they weren’t. Paper Gold is just like allocated, unambiguously owned physical bullion... until it’s not.
In a recent article at the NYT entitled 'Incredible Credibility', Paul Krugman once again takes aim at those who believe it may not be a good idea to let the government's debt rise without limit. In order to understand the backdrop to this, Krugman is a Keynesian who thinks that recessions should be fought by increasing the government deficit spending and printing gobs of money. Moreover, he is a past master at presenting whatever evidence appears to support his case, while ignoring or disparaging evidence that seems to contradict his beliefs. Krugman compounds his error by asserting that there is an 'absence of default risk' in the rest of the developed world (on the basis of low interest rates and completely missing point of a 'default' by devaluation). We are generally of the opinion that it is in any case impossible to decide or prove points of economic theory with the help of economic history – the method Krugman seems to regularly employ, but then again it is a well-known flaw of Keynesian thinking in general that it tends to put the cart before the horse (e.g. the idea that one can consume oneself to economic wealth).
With all bad news on the tape now having a suitable "explanation", be it a prior president, a tropical storm, the weather being too hot, the weather being too cold, the weather being just right, but never, ever someone actually taking blame for the fact that life is what happens when corporate CEOs (and sovereign presidents) are busy making "priced to perfection" plans. So it is with what is now a confirmed flop of a Black Friday, which according to ShopperTrak saw sales drop by nearly 2% to $11.2 from 2011, which in turn was a 6.6% gain over 2010 (and would be revised to far lower once all the refunds and exchanges to cash took place in the two weeks later). This occurred despite a 3.5% increase in retail foot traffic to 307.7 million store visits. The nominal drop in retail sales also occurred despite a nearly 1% increase in the total US population over last Thanksgiving, and a 2% Y/Y inflation. But fear not: the ad hoc excuse for this "surprising" loss in purchasing power is already handy: it is all Black Thursday's fault, or the latest idiotic attempt by retailers to cannibalize their own future sales by diluting the exclusivity of Black Friday, and which will force all retailers to follow the sovereigns in a race to the bottom, as soon every day will be the equivalent of Black Friday. But at least retailers have another 364 years worth of excuses for the conceivable future to excuse any and all store weakness. Next year: it's all Black Wednesday's fault.
When it comes to firmly established, currency-for-commodity, self reinforcing systems in the past century of human history, nothing comes close to the petrodollar: it is safe to say that few things have shaped the face of the modern world and defined the reserve currency as much as the $2.3 trillion/year energy exports denominated exclusively in US dollars (although recent confirmations of previously inconceivable exclusions such as Turkey's oil-for-gold trade with Iran are increasingly putting the petrodollar status quo under the microscope). But that is the past, and with rapid changes in modern technology and extraction efficiency, leading to such offshoots are renewable and shale, the days of the petrodollar "as defined" may be over. So what new trade regime may be the dominant one for the next several decades? According to some, for now mostly overheard whispering in the hallways, the primary commodity imbalance that will shape the face of global trade in the coming years is not that of energy, but that of food, driven by constantly rising food prices due to a fragmented supply-side unable to catch up with increasing demand, one in which China will play a dominant role but not due to its commodity extraction and/or processing supremacy, but the contrary: due to its soaring deficit for agricultural products, and in which such legacy trade deficit culprits as the US will suddenly enjoy a huge advantage in both trade and geopolitical terms. Coming soon: the agri-dollar.
The JPY dropped 1.3% against the USD this week for a greater-than-6% drop since its late-September highs as it appears the market is content pricing Abe's dream of a higher inflation-expectation through the currency devaluation route (and not - for now - through nominal bond yields - implicitly signaling 'real' deflationary expectations). In a 'normal' environment, Barclays quantified the impact of a 1ppt shift in inflation expectations from 1% to 2% will create a 'permanent inflation tax' of around 18% (which will be shared between JPY and JGB channels). However, as we discussed in detail in March (and Kyle Bass confirmed and extended recently), the current 'Rubicon-crossing' nature of Japan's trade balance and debt-load (interest-expense-constraint) mean things could become highly unstable and contagious in a hurry. When the upside of your policy plans is an 18% loss of global purchasing power, we hope Abe knows what he is doing (but suspect not).