Category Archives: Inflation & The Dollar

Let’er Rip, Potato Chip

Larry Kudlow, newly minted economic advisor, was on CNBC last night, advising that the Fed should “Let the economy rip.”

Larry, if you want to see what happens when a country monetizes its deficits, look south.

Fed Minutes

Another day, more blather from the Fed. Risk is “on” with a vengeance as the Fed continues to demonstrate its unwillingness to “take away the punch bowl” as Fed Chairman Martin put it.  Apparently there is no such thing, in their minds, as too much stimulus. We’ll see about that. In my view, a financial catastrophe is almost inevitable at this point. Overpriced stocks and the fear of inflation have always been a toxic mixture. Add in the overhang of aggregate debt somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400% of GDP and you have a recipe for a protracted decline to well below fair value, unlike 1987’s brief shock.

 

Inflation Is About To Disappear

The main factor is U.S. oil production,” the IEA said. “In just three months to November, crude output increased by a colossal 846 kb/d, and will soon overtake that of Saudi Arabia. By the end of this year, it might also overtake Russia to become the global leader.

Universal Basic Income

The left continues to be fascinated with the idea of re-distribution. It believes that the whole notion of some people being paid more than others is fundamentally unfair, that they must have had some advantage – skin color, parents, brains, whatever – which was just a matter of luck. “You didn’t build that,” as Obama famously said.

So the latest brainchild of this idea is the notion of a monthly check from the government that is sufficient to provide a comfortable lifestyle regardless of whether or not the recipient chooses to work.

A single program that replaced the myriad of transfer payment programs, from welfare through Social Security, would save an enormous amount of administration costs at all levels of government and help to pay for the program. The “poverty trap” would be eliminated as the payment could be “universal” that is, not means tested. Minimum wage laws would need to be abolished, of course, since the “living wage” would be redundant. Might not work, but there seems to be some potential anyway.

But that is not what is proposed. In general, it seems that this would be yet another program which would be funded by even more government borrowing. This, it is claimed, would “grow the economy by $2 trillion.” Please.

There are only two ways to grow the economy. One of these is to increase labor utilization, the number of hours worked in a given period. The other is to increase the productivity of that labor, that is the amount of output produced for each hour of labor. That’s it.

Existing programs already provide a major disincentive for work – the “poverty trap.” This would add another. Productivity is improved by investment – in technology, skills, infrastructure, etc. More spending on consumption would not help this, but would certainly provide more inflation, which would act to deter investment. If you want to see the outcome of this kinf of program, just check the news from Venezuela.

 

 

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.

Macflation

I was able to find the March 2002 Big Mac price for the US, $2.49.

Using the BLS calculator, it “should” be $3.38 in 2017, instead it is $5.06. So while CPI-U inflation for the period was 2.06% annually,  BMI (Big Mac Index) inflation was 4.84% annually.

So basically if you didn’t make 5% a year after tax, you weren’t keeping up. Scary.

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.

Timber!

I’m holding to my opinion that CADUSD will see 0.65 before 1.00, and here’s a little confirmation bias.

I’m Yelling Timber! CAD’s Going Down!

In addition to the collapse of the housing bubble, commodity prices, especially energy, are going to take a hit. And that could be right now – it looks like the oil longs – the hedgies – are already getting nervous about OPEC’s ability and/or willingness to sacrifice their cash flows in order to bolster the oil price.

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

The boyz pulled out all the stops today, including a spectacular VIX slam, to squeeze the shorts. This travesty of a market responded as usual. However, what is unusual and interesting is that crude oil is not participating in the bullish euphoria. At least so far today, 3pm, it has extended yesterday’s losses as OPEC jawboning has failed to generate any enthusiasm.

Inventories continue to set new records as OPEC production cuts are offset by weaker demand from a slowing economy. My suspicion is that it will be a  serious sell-off in crude that triggers the next major stock market decline.

Trumpets

Markets are all excited because Trump declared that the dollar is “too strong” and Ms Yellen is “not toast.” Not crumpet either, I would say, and Trump clearly knows his crumpet.