It’s no secret by now that governments in Europe, Japan and America have spent and borrowed beyond their means. As IceCap's Keith Dicker notes, including both current debt and future unfunded liabilities, it is estimated America owes over $87 trillion dollars, while the Eurozone countries are on the hook for over $89 trillion. That’s a fistful of dollars. From a tax perspective, the incapacity of these super economic powers, becomes all the more clear. America’s annual tax revenue is only $2.5 trillion, while in Europe, they manage to squeak out roughly $5 trillion. From this view, America is leveraged 34.8x their tax revenues, while the Eurozone is leveraged at 17.8x their tax revenue. As Keith points out in his excellent letter, for the US, Japan, and Europe, Elvis has very much left the building on getting back to 'normal'.
Just over 400-years ago today, a group of 13 conspirators were caught trying to assassinate King James I of England and blow up the House of Lords in what became known as the Gunpowder Treason. Fundamentally, the Gunpowder Treason was about freedom. The English monarchy at the time was controlling nearly every aspect of the economy and their subjects’ lives– from what they could wear to how they could worship.“Sumptuary laws” which regulated private behavior were commonplace. When you think about it, the collapse was inevitable. The Gunpowder Treason of November 5, 1605 may have been a failure for the conspirators, but given enough time, a system so screwed up, so unsustainable, was destined to collapse on itself. We’re not so different in the west today. Is it wise to think that this time is any different?
Recent surveys and research studies by sources from the UN to streetRx.com put the size of the illegal drug market in the U.S. at anywhere from $200 to $750 billion. The market is notoriously hard to track by design, and it is constantly evolving as prices and usage fluctuates; but as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, there’s a plethora of data on the topic: formal surveys by the CDC and user-submitted blog posted on websites like Hightimes.com trace price, usage, and traffic stats for marijuana, powder and crack cocaine, d-methamphetamine, and heroin. Legalized dispensaries now allow us to estimate potential tax revenue from marijuana sales, while incarceration rates for drug offenders reveal the economic impact of the illegal drug trade. In short, while the illegal drug market might be hard to track – if only by virtue of its illegality – Colas points out that we can learn a lot about its size and scope by aggregating these formal and informal data. Most surprising of them all: illicit drug use is no longer the realm of just the youth.
Having previously exposed the world to the "nominal stock market cheerleaders," it is clear that Kyle Bass sees things as only having got worse among developed nations. In fact, the following interview shows that he does not fear US losing its credibility since "developed western economies with the largest debt loads are all in the same boat." The discussion expands from the debt ceiling debacle to bonds and stocks, "given the lack of nominal yield in the bond market, all of the new money is going to continue into stocks. The interesting thing is it’s going to make the rich people richer and the middle and lower class won’t be any better off, which is the opposite of what the administration is trying to pull off," adding that being in stocks "is not your choice," thanks to Fed repression and that deficit contraction is all that can stop the Fed now.
Today there is a great sense of relief that has swept the nation as news flowed through the media that the government shutdown had come to an end. After all, during the 16 days of the shutdown, there was great hardship inflicted on the average American as the stock market rose by 2.4%, government workers that were furloughed received a 2+ week paid vacation and interest rates fell from a peak of 2.65% on October 1st to 2.59% on October 17th. Outside of the financial markets, which were never concerned of a "default," the reality is that the government shutdown did likely clip up to 0.5% off of 4th quarter's GDP. While that clip to economic growth created by the government standoff is temporary - the ongoing persistant weakness of economic growth is another issue entirely. This is the focus of this discussion. The most disturbing sentence uttered during the debt ceiling debate/government shut down, that should raise some concerns by both political parties, is: "We must increase our debt limit so that we can pay our bills."
Legitimate revolution takes time, patience and fortitude. Unfortunately, this is a strategic concept that is lost on many Americans today who suffer from a now common ailment of attention deficit disorder and an obsession with immediate gratification. Even some who have their hearts in the right place and who work to defend and resurrect our nation’s founding ideals seem to believe that any action to defeat corrupt oligarchy must be effective immediately, otherwise, it’s not worth the attempt. History, of course, teaches us the opposite. As things stand at this moment, though, the death of the system is not something to cheer, no matter how much we might wish it to crumble under the weight of its own criminality. The collapse of the existing system will not be the end of our troubles, only the beginning. Chaos always opens doors for evil men, and they will certainly take full advantage of the chaos triggered by shutdown, default or continued inflationary debt spending. We must make ourselves ready to resist by making ourselves separate from the monster we plan to fight. Crisis waits for no one, and on the path our nation now walks, crisis is assured.
Apparently the IRS has fallen on hard times in light of all this government shutdown and sequestration nonsense. Too bad. According to a recent report from the Treasury Department, ‘enforcement revenue’ at the IRS has fallen for the second straight year. Tax enforcement is one of the only ‘money makers’ for the US government; according to the IRS, every dollar spent on tax enforcement generates six dollars in additional tax revenue. Unfortunately for the IRS, though, the agency’s head count has been thinning. They no longer have enough people, and enforcement revenue has been declining. Ordinarily the IRS supplements its ranks with legions of unpaid spies in the financial sector. Starting July 1, 2014, though, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) will give the IRS a new addition in its ever-growing list of unpaid spies. You.
It’s obvious that we might sometimes have the impression the freedom has no price on it. But, think again.
It’s become almost cliche these days to point out how many governments are broke beyond belief. The theater playing out in the US right now is irrelevant. America’s debt challenge is not a political problem. It’s an arithmetic problem. Same in Japan and most of Europe. However, most of these ‘rich’ western nations aren’t doing anything about it. It’s business as usual, and their debts are only getting bigger. Poorer countries don’t have this luxury of kicking the can down the road and delaying the inevitable. They must face their financial reckoning now... and they are finding increasingly unique ways to encourage 'revenues'.
Markets are so obsessed by developments with the US debt ceiling, that absolutely nobody noticed that the Japanese Current Account (JPY152Bn, Exp. JPY520bn), Industrial Outuput in Spain (-2.0%, Exp. -1.6%), Factory Orders in Germany (-0.3%, Exp. +1.2%), Trade Balance in Germany (€13.1bn, Exp. €15.0 bn) and that the Jan-Aug tax revenue in Greece below expectations by 5.7%, all missed horribly, and that for all the talk of a European recovery (which was merely driven by a brief surge in Chinese credit spending making its way into the European pipeline) is once again fully and entirely premature. But with Congress on everyone's mind, even increasingly China and Japan, who cares about fundamentals: after all there is a Federal Reserve to mask the fact that nothing but liquidity injections matters. Even if that means a complete collapse in the actual economy as those separated from the Fed by one or more layers of banks, crash and burn.
We strongly suspect that both government debt growth and money supply inflation will continue unabated – any pause will immediately bring about the kind of short term economic pain these policies have explicitly sought to prevent and will therefore be quickly reversed. It is not unlike the situation the revolutionary assembly of France found itself in during the late 18th century: when it issued new money, industry seemed to revive. As soon as it stopped, industry slumped again. And so it was decided to issue ever more money, until the entire scheme blew up. There can be little doubt that modern-day governments are on the road to a similar date with destiny – and lately the speed at which they travel toward it has increased markedly.
One of the most frequent questions related to the debt limit is whether the Treasury could prioritize payments in order to remain below the debt limit while continuing to make what it deems to be essential payments. As Goldman explains below, technical complexities and legal uncertainties might prevent a full prioritization of all payments, but they do believe (trillion-dollar-coin idiocy aside) that the Treasury could ensure that enough cash is available to make interest payments on Treasury securities.
The major headline of the day is the pending government shutdown in the Land of the Free. This is nothing more than an obvious symptom that they have passed the point of no return. As we have routinely discussed, the US government now fails to collect enough tax revenue to pay interest on the debt and cover mandatory entitlement spending. They’re already in the hole before they write a single check for anything we consider ‘government’, from national parks to the Internal Revenue Service. Basically all the stuff that will be shut down now. Unless you missed your IRS agent today, it should be clear that all this stuff they waste money on is completely... unnecessary. Or can/should be privatized.
This morning we received a research note from a private bank. Buried in the text was a call for lower gold prices, and the analysts listed five reasons why they think gold prices will decline. Our analysis? These guys are completely missing the point. Precious metals are like an insurance policy. It’s a policy you hope you’ll never need to cash in. But if the need ever arises, it’ll probably be because the financial system has collapsed. If that day ever comes, you’ll be thankful that you had the foresight to trade away some paper currency for real savings.