Category Archives: Economics

NFT Madness

monkey jpegs

Disintegration

The world is disintegrating. Trust has been lost, both within countries and between countries. Without trust, economic relationships cannot operate.

China

China is a poor country, despite the glitz and glamor of its big cities and its showpiece infrastructure, with a per-capita annual GDP of about USD 11,000.

Chairman Xi presented his plan for world domination at the opening of the party congress. Not going to happen, sir. Your country is an economic and social house of cards that is in the process of collapsing. The housing market, investment of choice for the masses, is a bubble bursting and desperate local governments are even buying their own land use rights from themselves or one another because retail buyers have left the building. So to speak. Your Covid-zero policy has shaken the people’s faith in the benign CCP, while wreaking destruction on millions of small businesses. Unemployment is high and rising, college graduates cannot find jobs. Biden’s withdrawal of support for your semiconductor industry has condemned it to a bleak future without the production technology that your people cannot build. Export demand from the rest of the world is shrinking fast. Sir, your country is likely heading for a deep economic depression and social turmoil. This will further weaken China’s positioning for the world hegemony which you desire.

United States

In the USA, we live in a world now that George Orwell and Aldous Huxley would readily recognize. The state has commandeered the legacy media, as well as the new social media, to not only put out the “progressive” state’s version of reality but to identify, spy on, ostracize and  punish critics and dissenters.

President Biden, your “progressive” policies are not working. Democrat-run inner cities are being abandoned to crime and homelessness. Illegal immigrants are flooding in without any prospects for employment or training. You are continuing to feed the inflation which is mostly damaging the people you claim to represent. Your support for expansion of NATO triggered the invasion of Ukraine, with severe economic and social consequences.

You and your Democratic predecessors, notably Hillary Clinton, have created a deeply divided society, with those who have drunk the purple Kool-Aid and accept the state’s lies and propaganda on one side, and those with a more traditional view of reality on the other. Neither side trusts the other, respects the other’s views, or is willing to compromise. Both sides are preparing for more direct conflict as the sporadic clashes increase in frequency and severity. This is a recipe for a failing state with extremism on both sides. Negative economic consequences are to be expected.

Europe

Neither China nor Europe are democracies – by design. The architects of the European Union claimed that, since democracy had enabled Hitler, it could not be a part of the EU’s structure. As a result, bureaucrats who suffer no consequences for their failures and care little for the fate of the citizenry run the EU. Ursula van der Leyen is no less of an autocrat than Xi. Deep rifts have emerged as democratically elected governments have resisted the orders of the bureaucrats. These rifts are between rich north and poor south as well as conservative east and “progressive” west. It is only a matter of time before a second country leaves the EU, and that will spark a rush for the exits.

The coming winter is going to be hard, as the bureaucrats’ energy policy has been disastrous. Immigration policies have resulted in shocking increases in crime, with many countries reporting zones where the police dare not go in fear for their lives. Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” has left a legacy of irresponsible debt, as in the USA. As  interest rates increase, this is going to be a huge problem

Russia and Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has no winners. Regardless of the outcome, the invasion is an economic disaster for both of them. Their economies depend heavily on the export of commodities, such as food, energy and metals. The volumes of these commodities are large, and their absence are also a problem for the countries that have come to depend on them.

Conclusion

I could go on, but it is time to recognize that the future is not bright. Economies will get worse. Much worse. Be careful out there. Don’t focus on the narrative of the “Fed pivot.” The Fed is irrelevant.

The Cash Economy

Large-scale money printing was launched by Alan Greenspan, who believed that additional liquidity would be needed to cushion the shock of the millennium rollover. The shock never happened, but the easy money continued as the dot-com bubble popped, eventually leading to the housing bubble and its culmination with the failure of Lehman and the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed’s response was to turn on the afterburners. The December 2007 monetary base was 0.84 trillion dollars. By December 2019, it had risen four-fold to 3.4 trillion. And the the Fed lit the JATO bottles as well and we got real liftoff, as by December 2021 the monetary base had risen to 6.4 trillion dollars.

This matters because it means the economy is awash in cash. Monetary velocity has fallen from a pre-2009 low of 1.65, set in Q4 of 1964, to 1.15 as of Q2 of 2022. That means that much of the cash is idle, not being spent. All that cash is buying power in the hands of people and institutions. This means that interest rates and availability of credit are less important, and the Fed’s mission to reduce inflation by reducing demand faces an uphill battle. The Fed has begun reducing the monetary base by selling its pile of Treasuries and MBS. This is far more important than raising rates, but it will be a long time before its effects start to be felt because the current position is so extreme.

The poster child of the 2008 crisis was the NINJA (No Income, No Job or Assets) home buyer. The NINJA borrower has been replaced by the US government. Federal debt has nearly quadrupled since 2008.

fredgraph

fredgraph

This is why we have inflation. It is not going away until the deficit spending is reined in. Every dollar of new federal debt becomes a dollar in savings – and potential spending – for the private sector.

Where The Fugawi?

The flightless Fugawi bird lives in the tall grass of the African savannahs. Unfortunately, this bird is not as tall as the grass that surrounds it, hence its mournful call. The mavens of Wall Street seem to share the bird’s frustration as they focus on fractional changes in economic data, in the hope that they will foreshadow a return to the peaceful, sunlit uplands of free and flowing money.

Alas, it is not to be. We are fated to do battle with the multi-headed Scylla of inflation and, if we win, it is only to be sucked into Charybdis’ whirlpool of depression. Massive increases in government debt have, inevitably, increased private sector savings and pulled consumption forward in time. If these increases continue, Scylla will dine well as hyperinflation ruins the dollar. If they do not, consumption will, of necessity, fall as the credit impulse reverses. Charybdis’ whirlpool is a fine metaphor for the negative feedback cycle that will result from bankruptcies and defaults. If I do say so myself.

Jeff Gundlach Interview

Jeffrey Gundlach is the billionaire founder and CEO of DoubleLine, a Los Angeles based investment boutique mainly specializing in bonds, ranks among America’s highest-profile investors. His bold calls and correct prediction of the 2007 housing crash have earned him a solid reputation. A recent interview is most interesting in that he clearly, if intuitively, understands the instability inherent in the Fed’s attempts to control the economy by hindsight.

The next shock is that we’re having to put in a big overreaction to the inflation problem which we created from our initial reaction of excess stimulus. My guess is that we will end up creating momentum that’s more deflationary than a lot of people believe is even possible.

Of course he is very probably correct. A deflationary economic collapse is very likely to follow the inflationary phase. So long as the Fed is willing to make massive interventions in the economy without understanding the dynamics of control, we are utterly screwed. There comes to mind a well-known class of control systems known as bang-bang control.

Dummies?

When seeming professionals propose ideas that are internally contradictory I really start to question professionalism in the financial services industry.

The idea proposed was that since inflation was caused by limited supply, which the Fed cannot control, the Fed would simply raise its inflation target and resume easy money to resume growth, driving stocks to infinity and beyond.

Excuse me, but doesn’t limited supply itself limit growth?

Since when has the Fed ever been able to control supply? The money printers go b-r-r-r but there are no gas wells or potash mines at the Fed building. The Fed’s manipulations are intended to control demand.

And by the way, how is the economy to grow when businesses wanting to expand cannot hire the employees that they need?

The bubble is still with us.

That’ll Buff Out

Well I got that one wrong, fortunately my trading system had no dog in the hunt. Yes, Powell did hint at slowing rate increases. But the markets were shocked, shocked I say, by his acknowledgement of the 15 years of futile attempts to curb inflation before Volcker took matters in hand. That an economist should consider history rather than models and calculus is pretty much unprecedented, at least in modern times. His academic credentials may be called into question. The calculus thing was introduced because economists – it was called, correctly, “political economy” at the time – felt they were underpaid, relative to the physical sciences, and therefore needed to emulate them. It helped their prestige but not their forecasts.

Sarcasm aside, it’s a good thing. But the bad thing is there is way too much money in circulation. Consider the following mantra from Milton Friedman in 1963, years before the 1970s inflation.

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.”

Then please consider the following:

fredgraph

money to gdp

That’s going to take a lot of buffing. And yes, Mr Powell, it is the product of years of central bank economic idiocy and arrogance. First chart St. Louis Fed, second John Hussman.

Friday

Friday is the Jackson Hole retreat, where the US taxpayer hosts a gathering of the people who believe they are the masters of the world economies.

Our esteemed Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, is expected to speak about, inter alia, Fed policy. Much digital ink is being spent on speculation about what he will say. So I will join in and spend a little.

It is important to remember that he, and many other attendees, claim to be economists. They are a dangerous species, especially when they attempt to manipulate economies and markets, as the records of booms and busts show.

Chair Powell has stated that he intends to curb inflation by slowing growth, not by slowing the economy, as in the R-word. In my personal opinion, as they say in Japan, we are going to have a deep and dark recession regardless of what Chair Powell says or does. But back to Friday. This means that he will at least hint at slowing rate increases. Of course this is not a “pivot”, more like a “swivel”. But it will be friendly to the stock and bond markets, at least for a little while.

Moral Hazard

Apparently Biden the inflation-fighter has another huge spending program to put away the beast. This is forgiving a portion of outstanding student loans, a program estimated to cost between $300 billion and $900 billion over the next ten years.

The Federal government should never have been in the student loan business in the first place. It has caused massive hikes in college prices, far outstripping inflation, purely because the students can borrow the money to pay whatever the colleges ask. Then the students are saddled with big debts. The right solution is for colleges to have a financial commitment to the future success of their students, with a positive return on their education investment. Colleges should accept a share of future income instead of up-front fees, encouraging them to invest in the quality and relevance of education rather than lavish facilities and top-heavy administration.

The inevitable result of this program is more moral hazard. Students will expect further bailouts, and colleges will charge more.

Government Subsidy

Biden triumphantly put a $7,500 credit out there for electric vehicles. This caused Ford to increase the price of its electric pickup by $7,000 to $8,500, while Chevy added $6,250, to its electric Hummer. Piling another $7,500 of debt onto the taxpayers for each vehicle. So there’s a double whammy of inflation. Another self-inflicted wound. And by the way these vehicles will consume huge amounts of energy due to their weight – 6,000 lb for the Ford and a staggering 9,000 lb for the Hummer. These vehicles are on the wrong side of the curve – heavy to start with, they need lots of heavy batteries which make them even heavier in a vicious circle.

Edit: According to the industry group, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, “there are 72 EV models currently available for purchase in the United States including battery, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric vehicles. Seventy percent of those EVs would immediately become ineligible when the bill passes and none would qualify for the full credit when additional sourcing requirements go into effect. Zero.” So, Ford and Chevy, I take it back. But I still think these massive trucks are a bad idea.