It may come as a surprise to some that the total level of commercial bank loans outstanding as of the most recent week, May 22, was "only" $7.303 trillion. We say only because this number is $20 billion less than the total commercial loans outstanding as of the weeks following the Lehman failure, just before the most epic deleveraging episode in recent US history began. It is also just $600 billion higher than the cyclical lows of $6.7 trillion (net of the February 2010 readjustment of the commercial loan terminology). So does this mean that deposits in the US financial system have been unchanged in the past nearly 5 years? Not at all. As the chart below shows, while commercial loans have flatlined, deposits, which previously used to track loans on a dollar for dollar basis, took off, and are now at $9.4 trillion (as per the latest H.8), or $2.2 trillion more than the $7.2 trillion when commercial banks loan hits a record in October 2008, just after Lehman filed. What's more notable, is that as of the latest week, the excess of deposits over loans just hit an all time record of $2.079 trillion
Neil Macdonald of the CBC recently did an investigative piece on central bankers and what they’re doing to the world’s economies. Mark Carney was featured heavily. He told Macdonald, “there is no secret cabal orchestrating things,” despite CBC’s own findings earlier in the program. Central bankers around the world meet in Basel, Switzerland for secretive meetings. Of course, central banks have – and have always had – enormous power that remained more-or-less hidden until 2008. A paradigm shift is occurring where a large number of people (particularly young people) are questioning their assumptions. Some of them are even beginning to read economists like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. The “economics” of central bankers can now be revealed for what it truly is: statistical propaganda. Not only is the “Keynesian school” of economics unsound – the entire social science is bunk. Only the Austrian tradition can explain economic phenomena in such a way that makes common sense, scientific. Carney is asking us to trust him. This cannot be done. He is not speaking truth; he is speaking nonsense.
We are rapidly approaching the end of cheap resources. The wealth of most Americans could get wiped out during the next decade due to commodity inflation. Focusing on your real purchasing power is critical. As this brief documentary discusses, what is it that makes gold so special? Merely a "tradition" as Bernanke would have us believe, or sound 'money'?
As Barron's notes in this recent interview, Marc Faber view the world with a skeptical eye, and never hesitates to speak his mind when things don't look quite right. In other words, he would be the first in a crowd to tell you the emperor has no clothes, and has done so early, often, and aptly in the case of numerous investment bubbles. With even the world's bankers now concerned at 'unsustainable bubbles', it is therefore unsurprising that in the discussion below, Faber explains, among other things, the fallacy of the Fed's help "the problem is the money doesn't flow into the system evenly, how with money-printing "the majority loses, and the minority wins," and how, thanks to the further misallocation of capital, "people with assets are all doomed, because prices are grossly inflated globally for stocks and bonds." Faber says he buys gold every month, adding that "I want to have some assets that aren't in the banking system. When the asset bubble bursts, financial assets will be particularly vulnerable."
The conventional wisdom is that oil should decline in nominal price as global demand weakens along with the global economy. In the hot-money-seeks-a-new-home scenario outlined above, demand could decline on the margins but speculative inflows - demand for oil contracts by speculators - push prices higher, potentially a lot higher in a geopolitical crisis. The central banks that are creating all the "free money" that is available to large speculators fulminate against oil speculators, as if all the free money is only supposed to go to "approved" speculations in equities and bonds. Unfortunately for the central bankers, they only create the money, they don't control what the financiers who get the free money do with it. Gasoline is expensive at the pump, but by one measure oil is cheap and poised to go higher and despite the endless MSM hype about U.S. energy independence and U.S. exporting energy abroad, the U.S. still imports over 3 billion barrels of crude oil every year and when oil becomes expensive: the economy sinks into recession.
"We continue to maintain a long equity risk exposure through companies least exposed to the business cycle, whilst favouring receiving rates in developed countries most prone to a loss of economic momentum as other countries, notably Japan, weaken their currencies through the pursuit of QE. We also retain a structural long position in the US dollar and remain long yen assets [currency hedged] via the Japanese stock market.... One of our core investment themes remains the fight against deflation launched by Japanese authorities through QE of historic proportions. We believe that such radical QE creates the perfect recipe for a weaker yen and booming Japanese equities. The Nikkei rallied by 11.8% in yen terms in April 2013, the best monthly return since December 2009, and has now gained 61% from the November 2012 low. Against this background, the Fund recorded a gain of 30 bps from Japanese equities."
We must have discovered a new bug in excel, because when we took median new home prices (which a week ago hit an all time high) which we then divided by the average American's purchasing power expressed through real disposable income per capita, we got this chart...
A week later and everyone is a bit more nervous, with the speculation that US sovereign debt purchases by the Federal Reserve will wind down and with the Bank of Japan completely cornered. In anticipation to the debate on the Fed’s bond purchase tapering, on April 28th (see here) we wrote why the Federal Reserve cannot exit Quantitative Easing: Any tightening must be preceded by a change in policy that addresses fiscal deficits. It has absolutely nothing to do with unemployment or activity levels. Furthermore, it will require international coordination. This is also not possible. In light of this, we are now beginning to see research that incorporates the problem of future higher inflation to the valuation of different asset classes. Why is this relevant? The gap between current valuations in the capital markets (both debt and credit) and the weak activity data releases could mistakenly be interpreted as a reflection of the collective expectation of an imminent recovery. The question therefore is: Can inflation bring a recovery? Can inflation positively affect valuations? The answer, as explained below, is that the inflationary policies carried out globally today, if successful will have a considerably negative impact on economic growth.
The biggest fear of the Federal Reserve has been the deflationary pressures that have continued to depress the domestic economy. Despite the trillions of dollars of interventions by the Federal Reserve the only real accomplishment has been keeping the economy from slipping back into an outright recession. However, when looking at many of the economic and confidence indicators, there are many that are still at levels normally associated with previous recessionary lows. Despite many claims to the contrary the global economy is far from healed which explains the need for ongoing global central bank interventions. However, even these interventions seem to be having a diminished rate of return in spurring real economic activity despite the inflation of asset prices. The risk, as discussed recently with relation to Japan, is that the Fed is now caught within a "liquidity trap." The Fed cannot effectively withdraw from monetary interventions and raise interest rates to more productive levels without pushing the economy back into a recession. The overriding deflationary drag on the economy is forcing the Federal Reserve to remain ultra-accommodative to support the current level of economic activity. What is interesting is that mainstream economists and analysts keep predicting stronger levels of economic growth while all economic indications are indicating just the opposite.
We are approaching a critical point (again) in the “battle royal” between the forces of inflation and deflation. Deflationary forces are threatening to overwhelm the reflationary push-back of the world’s central banks - although this is not reflected in most equity markets (especially the US). Open-ended QE was only announced by the Fed last Autumn, but the impact on (market-based) inflation expectations plateaued within months and has started turning down. A decision to taper QE would obviously be negative for equities in the absence of a sufficiently strong offsetting improvement in economic fundamentals – which is difficult to envisage right now.
Our country has entered a period of Crisis. We may or may not successfully navigate our way through the visible icebergs and more dangerous icebergs just below the surface. The similarities between the course of our country and the maiden voyage of the Titanic are eerily allegorical...
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?
As virtual fantasy worlds go, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3 is particularly foreboding. Within this fairly straightforward gaming framework, virtual “gold” is used as currency for purchasing weapons and repairing battle damage. Over time, virtual gold can be used to purchase ever-more resources for confronting ever-more dangerous foes. But in the last few months, various outposts in that world have borne more in common with real world places like Harare, Zimbabwe in 2007 or Berlin in 1923 than with Dante’s Inferno. A culmination of a series of unanticipated circumstances has over the last few weeks produced a new and unforeseen dimension of hellishness within Diablo 3: hyperinflation. Considering the level of planning that goes into designing and maintaining virtual gaming environments, if a small, straightforward economy generating detailed, timely economic data for its managers can careen so completely aslant in a matter of months, should anyone be surprised when the performance of central banks consistently breeds results which are either ineffective or destabilizing? The Austrian School has long warned of the arrogance and naïveté intrinsic to applying rigid, quantitative measures to the deductive study of human actions and the events of the last week provide a stark reminder of the power and inescapability of the laws of economics.
Need a quick GDP boost in a world in which the uber levered consumer is tapped out and has no more savings or purchasing power, in which the government is facing an existential socialism or bust crisis even as global sovereign debt levels are at unseens before levels, and in which global trade has collapsed (so there go the C, G and (X-M) components of GDP)? No problem, just add some I for Inventory. Better yet, add a whole lot of I, especially if you are that global growth dynamo, China, which over the years many have accused of having taken the term "overcapacity" and put it through the Barry Bonds juicer yet where courtesy of a central-planning regime that has made sure nothing appears to be unused, except for the occasional ghost city or empty mall, proof of such overcapacity has been scarce in official, government data.