Category Archives: International

DACA

The Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program, that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to obtain work permits.

The administration’s point is that the program, established by the Obama administration, was a direct violation of black-letter law and exceeded the President’s authority. Like many other immigrant-friendly policies, of course. True enough, but one can reasonably hope that Congress will act to change the law and the administration has provided time to allow that to happen, if it will.

The good reason for acting is that these people are the innocent victims of their parents’ bad acts and should not be penalized for them. Many have little or no connection with their country of birth and may not even speak the language. The bad reason for acting that is being bandied about is the resultant shortage of workers for low-wage jobs. The shortage has nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with the “welfare trap,” which makes it foolish for many Americans to seek employment because the withdrawal of benefits will more than offset any wage income they might receive.

To fix the shortage, the government needs to remove the trap.

That Which Is Not Seen

Alhambra Partners

After tax, corporate profits are still slightly less in Q2 2017 than in Q4 2014, and barely more (+3.4%) than in Q1 2012 five years ago.

SocGen’s Albert Edwards:

Our Ice Age thesis has always called for US and European 10 year bond yields to converge with Japan. We still expect that to happen, with the downward crash in US yields likely to be particularly shocking. There is mounting evidence that underlying US CPI inflation has already slid into outright deflation in exactly the same way that Japan did seven years after its credit bubble burst. Hence we repeat our call for US 10y bond yields to ultimately converge with Japan and Germany at around minus 1%.

In short, stocks are grossly overvalued and Treasury bonds are similarly undervalued. Not news, of course, just some confirmation bias.

Nothing To See Here

The dip-buyers and volatility-sellers are quickly reversing the overnight selloff, due to the Korean missile crisis.

These strategies work until they don’t. The absolute lack of fear is totally consistent with market tops.

The good news is that Treasuries are holding on to most of their overnight gains. When the bond and stock markets disagree, the bond market is usually right.

Miagra

Apparently I was wrong to say that EU officials weren’t talking about the African fertility crisis:

“The biggest migration movements are still ahead: Africa’s population will double in the next decades. A country like Egypt will grow to 100 million people, Nigeria to 400 million. In our digital age with the internet and mobile phones, everyone knows about our prosperity and lifestyle.” — German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

“Young people all have cellphones and they can see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and that acts as a magnet.” — Michael Møller, Director of the United Nations office in Geneva.

“If we do not manage to solve the central problems in African countries, ten, 20 or even 30 million immigrants will arrive in the European Union within the next ten years.” — Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament

Extreme Crazy

I was going to say Peak Crazy, but we all know things can always get crazier. Some things that spring to mind.

Political craziness: Mob violence on left and right, blatant defiance of federal law by city politicians, attempts to rewrite or at least deny history, demonization of Trump, Putin and anybody associated with them, and so on. Immigration in Europe – it’s that 4.7 kids per woman in Africa that nobody dares to talk about. Not to mention the crazy fat kid.

Fiscal craziness: Federal funding of runaway price increases, notably in university tuition, prescription drugs but also many other subsidized goods and services. Gross under-funding of state and local pension schemes even under ludicrous assumptions about future returns.

Monetary craziness: Central banks threatening to tighten but pumping away, consumer credit at record highs in US and elsewhere (Canada, that’s you I’m talking about with highest household debt in the world), government deficits keep growing. Subprime crdiet still gowing while defaults rise. Most of all, ICOs. People pouring money into blockchain-based tokens. Really?

Market craziness: Housing bubbles in China, Canada, Australia, UK and some US cities. Massive (record) risky speculation in many markets – short vol, long crude for example. Setups (risk parity) similar to portfolio insurance (remember 1987?).

I could go on. But I won’t. I’m just grumbling while I wait.

A Bit Of Math

Simon Mikhailovich of Tocqueville Bullion Reserve reminds us of the deadly numbers with a sobering tweet:

A bit of math. With the global debt / GDP ratio at 320% and the cost of average debt service at 2%, it takes 6.4% growth per annum just to service the debt. Not happening.

Crude Remarks

WTI crude is down sharply today after an EIA report that showed substantial increases in inventories of both products and crude itself. Inventories remain well above historical ranges, close to or at record levels.

US production has been increasing steadily and a slowing economy appears to be sapping end-user demand. However, one presumes that most if not all domestic producers have taken advantage of crude’s prolonged OPEC-supported trading in the $50 range to sell their output forward, either in the futures market or by private contract. So for the time being they are more or less indifferent to the market price.

The question is, who is holding the bag for all that $50 crude – obliged to buy at that price or just looking at tanks of the stuff. When do they decide to liquidate their positions before $40 crude becomes $30 and then $20?

Bubble Blowers

Res ipse loquantur.

Why I Like The Dutch

Mario Draghi visited the Dutch parliament today and received an “unenviable grilling” from Dutch MPs for nearly two hours which, as the FT said, left the usually implacable Italian confrontational and riled up as tempers flared.

At the end of the meeting, the Dutch gave Draghi a gift – a tulip.

At least someone still has a sense of humor.

Consumer Prices

Everybody has a bias when it comes to measuring price inflation. Reports like the Devonshire one come out quite frequently, usually complaining that the government indexes understate inflation. They all say, well the numbers don’t reflect reality. The problem is, they don’t know what reality is any more than the government does. My reality and the next person’s are completely different because we buy different things. Cheap loans have allowed universities to raise prices in an outrageous fashion – but our kids have long since graduated so it doesn’t affect me, although anyone putting kids through college is being eviscerated. Consumers react to prices. Technology changes. Quality changes. Fashions change. And so on. All these things make any index pretty much useless, except for making political arguments. So one has to ask, in the famous words of Ms. Clinton – “What difference does it make?”

If you ask someone in Venezuela right now, of course, you would get an expletive for an answer. There is massive consumer price inflation because there are not enough consumer goods to meet demand, and so people are going hungry and without toilet paper. They are driving up prices, trying to outbid one another to compete for what little supply there is. But even in that desperate situation, there is no agreement on what consumer prices actually are, even by disinterested parties. The only way to fix the problem in Venezuela is to get goods back on the shelves. If the Venezuelan government can do that, then consumer prices will reflect the value of the bolivar and general world price levels.

There’s your clue. If you want to measure consumer prices, it is easy. Just use the Big Mac, as the Economist does. It works. 2016 USA Big Mac price inflation was 2.6%. Venezuela Big Mac prices in bolivars:

July 2014: 75

December 2014: 245

July 2015: 485

December 2015: 940

December 2016: 3550

Looks like a pretty decent metric. It tells you what you need to know – there’s a big problem.

But the economy does not run on Big Macs, and I’m interested in the inputs, not the outputs so much. And those are labor and energy. Nothing else much matters.