CURRENCY WARS: RIP Shadow Banking System, Long Live QEx!
We have unwittingly become trapped in the snarled net of years of bad Public Policy. Like corporations that look no further than this quarter's results, our politicos never stop campaigning to start the tough task of ruling responsibly. A winning election simply represents 'rewards' and 'spoils' to all before quickly resuming the next campaign. Image has become reality! As a result the never ending political pandering has led to false expectations, undeliverable entitlements and false optimism in the electorate that rejects the immediate and obvious realities. The result of a degenerated political leadership process is we are on the brink of a massive and sudden reduction in the US standard of living. MORE>>
CURRENCY WARS: Flash Points in the "Age of Rage"
The conflict in North Africa was a predictable outcome of the US Monetary Policy of Quantitative Easing. It is not plausible that the US Federal Reserve, as the manager of the world's Reserve Currency, did not fully recognize the global ramifications of such monetary inflationary actions well in advance. Quantitative Easing like the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) of the cold war era has had the same devastating pre-emptive impact on Libya.There can also be little doubt that the bi-monthly meetings of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) board of directors, which specifically meet to discuss coordinated monetary policy outcomes, did not consider this eventuality. The board of directors of this global power center includes all G7 Central Banks chiefs, with the conspicuous absence of a single member of the Arab League not receiving US military financial aid. MORE>>
TIPPING POINTS - Mapping the Critical 2011 Themes 2011 THESIS SIGN-UP PAGE
The conclusions of our "2011 Thesis - Beggar-thy-Neighbor" was that the world is on a glide path towards a global Fiat Currency Failure and the emergence of a New World Order. We are unclear whether it is planned or happenstance, but what our regularly conducted abstraction mapping process clearly indicates is that it is presently a high probability outcome. The paper (which will be made available to non subscribers March 11th, 2011- sign-up) uses the Process of Abstraction to avoid the media noise, abstract the facts, synthesis key macro drivers and then arrive at the highest probability outcomes. In the recent article "2011 Tipping Points" we laid out the 37 major Tipping Points we are presently tracking. These Tipping Points are show on the left hand side of the two charts below, which are the basis upon which our ongoing analysis process is conducted. These highly simplified representations of the process gives the reader a graphical perspective on what leads us to our conclusions. MORE>>
PRESERVE and PROTECT - 2011 Tipping Points
Throughout my 2010 article series "Extend & Pretend" and "Sultans of Swap" I stressed that we were rapidly moving from the Financial Crisis of 2008, through the Economic Fallout of 2009 - 2010, towards a Political Crisis in 2011 - 2012. We are now clearly beginning to see the early emergence of the final part of this continuum. From North Africa to Wisconsin all are fundamentally based on the single insidious underlying problem - excessive global debt and credit levels. MORE>>
EURO EXPERIMENT - Beware of Lurking EU Bank Runs
This is a warning to prepare for potential stealth bank runs cascading from North Africa and Ireland through to EU regional banking centers. Stealth bank runs are the unrecognized and perilous serpent lurking presently below the European financial surface. They prey on slower moving archaic bond vigilantes and anyone else swimming in these dangerous uncharted waters. Investors need to fully appreciate that a modern bank run looks and operates differently than what is depicted in the movies and what we most likely expect to occur! MORE>>
April 2011: MARKET ANALYTICS & TECHNICAL ANALYSIS - (Subscription Service III)
The market action since March 2009 is a bear market counter rally that is presently nearing a final end in a classic ending diagonal pattern. The Bear Market which started in 2000 will resume in full force by late spring of 2011. We presently have the early beginnings of a 'rolling top'. We are seeing broad based weakening analytics and cascading warning signals. This behavior is typically seen near major tops. This is all part of a final topping formation and a long term right shoulder technical construction pattern. MORE>>
04/06/2011 5:00 AM
Postings begin at 5:30am EST
and updated throughout the day
Murder on the EU Express With the monetary union coming apart, the finger-pointing has begun. Who really killed Europe?
The dirty little secret of euro-zone finance is that if one of the periphery countries were to default, German banks-in particular the state-owned Landesbanken-would be among the biggest losers. And that, of course, is why it makes sense for the core to bail out the periphery: in truth, they are all in this banking crisis together.
History will rue US and European debt "Future scholars will see our tax systems as Byzantine labyrinths funnelling money to powerful interests, creating staggering inefficiencies. They will surely be incredulous to see pensions and health insurance financed via Ponzi schemes as transparently unsustainable as the 1700s South Sea bubble. And will they believe that, back in the 21st century, there was no mechanism for putting insolvent financial institutions into bankruptcy?"
The Grand Failure of Conventional Economics - The next decade will see the complete failure of conventional economics. Behind today's carefully contrived façade of normalcy, the only limitless resources are paper money and propaganda. Everything else is limited by real world constraints.
The US recovery is just an economic 'sugar rush' The trouble with this latest US recovery is that it amounts to little more than an economic "sugar-rush". The recent growth-burst is built on monetary and fiscal policies which are wildly expansionary, wholly unsustainable and will surely soon come to an end. When the sugar-rush is over, and it won't be long, the US will end up with a serious economic headache. Investors should keep that in mind.
Yen for a new global currency - The problem is that although nearly everyone grumbles about the dominance of the dollar, the greenback fulfills all the leading attributes of an international reserve currency
Ban the Benjamins! - The hundred-dollar-bill may be America's most successful export. And guess what? Foreigners have fishy reasons for holding onto their Benjamins, too!
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DISCLOSURE Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
"The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point"
The tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. The term is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely. A tipping point is often considered to be a turning point. The term is now used in many fields. Journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that in itself might not seem extraordinary but that unexpectedly is just the amount of additional change that will lead to a big effect. In the butterfly effect of chaos theory , for example, the small flap of the butterfly's wings that in time leads to unexpected and unpredictable results could be considered a tipping point. However, more often, the effects of reaching a tipping point are more immediately evident. A tipping point may simply occur because a critical mass has been reached.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000. Gladwell defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."
The three rules of epidemics
Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.
"The Law of the Few", or, as Gladwell states, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts."According to Gladwell, economists call this the "80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants."(see Pareto Principle) These people are described in the following ways:
Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and ChicagoanLois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."
Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself". In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own". According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".
Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchorPeter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.
The Stickiness Factor, the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. Popular children's television programs such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues pioneered the properties of the stickiness factor, thus enhancing the effective retention of the educational content in tandem with its entertainment value.
The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur." For example, "zero tolerance" efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes city-wide. Gladwell describes the bystander effect, and explains how Dunbar's number plays into the tipping point, using Rebecca Wells' novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, evangelistJohn Wesley, and the high-tech firm W. L. Gore and Associates. Gladwell also discusses what he dubs the rule of 150, which states that the optimal number of individuals in a society that someone can have real social relationships with is 150.
PROCESS OF ABSTRACTION
SOVEREIGN DEBT & CREDIT CRISIS
Inverted chart of 30-year Treasury yields courtesy of Doug Short and Chris Kimble. As you can see, yields are at a "support" area that's held for 17 years.
If it breaks down (i.e., yields break out) watch out!
The state budget crisis will continue next year, and it could be worse than ever. That's part of what's freaking out muni investors, who last week dumped them like they haven't in ages.
States face a $112.3 billion gap for next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the shortfall grows during the year -- as it does in most years -- FY2012 will approach the record $191 billion gap of 2010. Remember, with each successive shortfall state budgets have become more bare.
Things could be especially bad if House Republicans push through a plan to cut off non-security discretionary funding for states, opening an additional $32 billion gap.
MUNI BOND OUTFLOWS
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE - PHASE II
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
2011 will see the largest magnitude of US bank commercial real estate mortgage maturities on record.
2012 should be a top tick record setter for bank CRE maturities looking both backward and forward over the half decade ahead at least.
Will this be an issue for an industry that has been supporting reported earnings growth in part by reduced loan loss reserves over the recent past? In 2010, approximately $250 billion in commercial real estate mortgage maturities occurred. In the next three years we have four times that much paper coming due.
Will CRE woes, (published or unpublished) further restrain private sector credit creation ahead via the commercial banking conduit?
Wiil the regulators force the large banks to show any increase in loan impairment. Again, given the incredible political clout of the financial sector, I doubt it.
We have experienced one of the most robust corporate profit recoveries on record over the last half century. We know reported financial sector earnings are questionable at best, but the regulators will do absolutely nothing to change that.
So once again we find ourselves in a period of Fed sponsored asset appreciation. The thought, of course, being that if stock prices levitate so will consumer confidence. Which, according to Mr. Bernanke will lead to increased spending and a virtuous circle of economic growth. Oh really? The final chart below tells us consumer confidence is not driven by higher stock prices, but by job growth.
9 - CHRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT
There are 3 major inflationary drivers underway.
1- Negative Real Interest Rates Worldwide - with policy makers' reluctant to let their currencies appreciate to market levels. If no-one can devalue against competing currencies then they must devalue against something else. That something is goods, services and assets.
2- Structural Shift by China- to a) Hike Real Wages, b) Slowly appreciate the Currency and c) Increase Interest Rates.
3- Ongoing Corporate Restructuring and Consolidation - placing pricing power increasingly back in the hands of companies as opposed to the consumer.
FOOD PRICE PRESSURES
RICE: Abdolreza Abbassian, at the FAO in Rome, says the price of rice, one of the two most critical staples for global food security, remains below the peaks of 2007-08, providing breathing space for 3bn people in poor countries. Rice prices hit $1,050 a tonne in May 2008, but now trade at about $550 a tonne.
WHEAT: The cost of wheat, the other staple critical for global food security, is rising, but has not yet surpassed the highs of 2007-08. US wheat prices peaked at about $450 a tonne in early 2008. They are now trading just under $300 a tonne.
The surge in the FAO food index is principally on the back of rising costs for corn, sugar, vegetable oil and meat, which are less important than rice and wheat for food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Haiti. At the same time, local prices in poor countries have been subdued by good harvests in Africa and Asia.
- In India, January food prices reflected a year-on-year increase of 18%t.
- Buyers must now pay 80%t more in global markets for wheat, a key commodity in the world's food supply, than they did last summer. The poor are especially hard-hit. "We will be dealing with the issue of food inflation for quite a while," analysts with Frankfurt investment firm Lupus Alpha predict.
- Within a year, the price of sugar on the world market has gone up by 25%.
US STOCK MARKET VALUATIONS
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
Potential credit demand to meet forecast economic growth to 2020
The study forecast the global stock of loans outstanding from 2010 to 2020, assuming a consensus projection of global
economic growth at 6.3% (nominal) per annum. Three scenarios of credit growth for 2009-2020 were modelled:
• Global leverage decrease. Global credit stock would grow at 5.5% per annum, reaching US$ 196 trillion in 2020. To
meet consensus economic growth under this scenario, equity would need to grow almost twice as fast as GDP.
• Global leverage increase. Global credit stock would grow at 6.6% per annum, reaching US$ 220 trillion in 2020.
Likely deleveraging in currently overheated segments militates against this scenario.
• Flat global leverage. Global credit stock would grow at 6.3% per annum to 2020, tracking GDP growth and reaching
US$ 213 trillion in 2020 – almost double the total in 2009. This scenario, which assumes that modest
deleveraging in developed markets will be offset by credit growth in developing markets, provides the primary credit
growth forecast used in this report.
Will credit growth be sufficient to meet demand?
Rapid growth of both capital markets and bank lending will be required to meet the increased demand for credit – and it is
not assured that either has the required capacity. There are four main challenges.
Low levels of financial development in countries with rapid credit demand growth. Future coldspots may result from the
fact that the highest expected credit demand growth is among countries with relatively low levels of financial access. In
many of these countries, a high proportion of the population is unbanked, and capital markets are relatively undeveloped.
Challenges in meeting new demand for bank lending. By 2020, some US$ 28 trillion of new bank lending will be
required in Asia, excluding Japan (a 265% increase from 2009 lending volumes) – nearly US$ 19 trillion of it in China
alone. The 27 EU countries will require US$ 13 trillion in new bank lending over this period, and the US close to US$
10 trillion. Increased bank lending will grow banks’ balance sheets, and regulators are likely to impose additional capital
requirements on both new and existing assets, creating an additional global capital requirement of around US$ 9 trillion
(Exhibit vi). While large parts of this additional requirement can be satisfied by retained earnings, a significant capital gap in
the system will remain, particularly in Europe.
The need to revitalize securitization markets. Without a revitalization of securitization markets in key markets, it is doubtful
that forecast credit growth is realizable. There is potential for securitization to recover: market participants surveyed by
McKinsey in 2009 expected the securitization market to return to around 50% of its pre-crisis volume within three years.
But to rebuild investor confidence, there will need to be increased price transparency, better data on collateral pools, and
better quality ratings.
The importance of cross-border financing. Asian savers will continue to fund Western consumers and governments:
China and Japan will have large net funding surpluses in 2020 (of US$ 8.5 trillion and US$ 5.7 trillion respectively), while
the US and other Western countries will have significant funding gaps. The implication is that financial systems must
remain global for economies to obtain the required refinancing; “financial protectionism” would lock up liquidity and stifle
US$ RESERVE CURRENCY
SocGen crafts strategy for China hard-landing
Société Générale fears China has lost control over its red-hot economy and risks lurching from boom to bust over the next year, with major ramifications for the rest of the world.
Société Générale said China's overheating may reach 'peak frenzy' in mid-2011
- The French bank has told clients to hedge against the danger of a blow-off spike in Chinese growth over coming months that will push commodity prices much higher, followed by a sudden reversal as China slams on the brakes. In a report entitled The Dragon which played with Fire, the bank's global team said China had carried out its own version of "quantitative easing", cranking up credit by 20 trillion (£1.9 trillion) or 50pc of GDP over the past two years.
- It has waited too long to drain excess stimulus. "Policy makers are already behind the curve. According to our Taylor Rule analysis, the tightening needed is about 250 basis points," said the report, by Alain Bokobza, Glenn Maguire and Wei Yao.
- The Politiburo may be tempted to put off hard decisions until the leadership transition in 2012 is safe. "The skew of risks is very much for an extended period of overheating, and therefore uncontained inflation," it said. Under the bank's "risk scenario" - a 30pc probability - inflation will hit 10pc by the summer. "This would cause tremendous pain and fuel widespread social discontent," and risks a "pernicious wage-price spiral".
- The bank said overheating may reach "peak frenzy" in mid-2011. Markets will then start to anticipate a hard-landing, which would see non-perfoming loans rise to 20pc (as in early 1990s) and a fall in bank shares of 50pc to 75pc over the following 12 months. "We think growth could slow to 5pc by early 2012, which would be a drama for China. It would be the first hard-landing since 1994 and would destabilise the global economy. It is not our central scenario, but if it happens: commodities won't like it; Asian equities won't like it; and emerging markets won't like it," said Mr Bokobza, head of global asset allocation. However, it may bring down bond yields and lead to better growth in Europe and the US, a mirror image of the recent outperformance by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
- Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research said the drop in headline inflation from 5.1pc to 4.6pc in December is meaningless because the regime has resorted to price controls on energy, water, food and other essentials. The regulators pick off those goods rising fastest. The index itself is rejigged, without disclosure. She said inflation is running at 7.6pc on a six-month annualised basis, and the sheer force of money creation will push it higher. "Until China engineers a more substantial tightening, core inflation is set to accelerate.
- The longer growth stays above trend, the worse the necessary downswing. China's violent cycle could be highly destabilising for the world." Charles Dumas, Lombard's global strategist, said the Chinese and emerging market boom may end the same way as the bubble in the 1990s. "The basic strategy of the go-go funds is wrong: they risk losing half their money like last time."
- Société Générale said runaway inflation in China will push gold higher yet, but "take profits before year end".
- The picture is more nuanced for food and industrial commodities. China accounts for 35pc of global use of base metals, 21pc of grains, and 10pc of crude oil. Prices will keep climbing under a soft-landing, a 70pc probability. A hard-landing will set off a "substantial reversal". Copper is "particularly exposed", and might slump from $9,600 a tonne to its average production cost near $4,000. Chinese real estate and energy equities will prosper under a soft-landing,
- The bank likes regional exposure through the Tokyo bourse, which is undervalued but poised to recover as Japan comes out of its deflation trap. If you fear a hard landing, avoid the whole gamut of Chinese equities. It will be clear enough by June which of these two outcomes is baked in the pie.
PIMCO'S NEW NORMAL: According to PIMCO, the coiners of the term, the new normal is also explained as an environment wherein “the snapshot for ‘consensus expectations’ has shifted: from traditional bell-shaped curves – with a high likelihood mean and thin tails (indicating most economists have similar expectations) – to a much flatter distribution of outcomes with fatter tails (where opinion is divided and expectations vary considerably).” That is to say, the distribution of forecasts has become more uniform (as per Exhibit 1).
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his predictions on a House Republican plan to cut $60 billion dollars from the FY 2011 budget, saying it would eliminate 200, 000 jobs and only slightly lower economic growth.
He instead endorsed a Congressional federal deficit reduction plan that would take effect over a five to 10 year period, saying that markets look more towards Congressional action than the actual state of the economy. His remarks came during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in which he delivered his agency's semi-annual monetary report.
Despite Bernanke’s observations, several Republican lawmakers expressed doubt based on past efforts by the Fed and Congress to prompt economic growth through large stimulus packages.
Yesterday, the Fed Chair told the Senate Banking Committee that the U.S. economy will continue to grow this year despite rising oil prices, a high employment rate and weak housing market.
The 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Act requires the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to deliver a report to Congress twice a year on its past economic policy decisions and discuss recent financial and economic developments.
MURDER ON THE EU EXPRESS
The crisis has driven not just one but two divisive wedges into the European economy.
First there is the fundamental political rift between the 17 EU members who joined the monetary union and the 10 who didn’t.
Then, within the euro zone, there is the widening economic rift between the German-dominated core and the ailing periphery—the countries cursed with the unflattering acronym PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain).
For years the train of European integration ran on German subsidies. No longer. So as the process of disintegration accelerates this year—as the economies of the periphery languish and their governments topple—don’t blame the victim. It’s the German voter who dun it.
It is the political difficulty of selling this proposition to German voters that is set to derail the EU train. A euro-barometer poll last year revealed that only 34 percent of Germans thought the euro had mitigated the effects of the financial crisis. Germans are overwhelmingly for fiscal austerity—88 percent favor a policy of deficit reduction, much higher than for the EU as a whole. That is why the German government keeps insisting that the recipients of bailout money impose painful austerity measures on themselves.
The mood of the German voter can be summed up as follows: No More Herr Nice Guy. So the tax-dodging Greeks, the feckless Irish, and the bone-idle Portuguese expect the thrifty German worker to write them yet another check? For five decades after World War II, a penitent Germany paid up. The Federal Republic was the single biggest net contributor to the process of European integration. But the era of war guilt is now over—witness the humiliating electoral defeat inflicted on Germany’s governing parties in Baden-Württemberg at the end of last month. No matter how tough Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to the hard-pressed Greeks, to her own people she seems way too soft.
Culpable are the banks of the core. German banks, for example, have close to €500 billion of exposure to the PIGS. The dirty little secret of euro-zone finance is that if one of the periphery countries were to default, German banks—in particular the state-owned Landesbanken—would be among the biggest losers. And that, of course, is why it makes sense for the core to bail out the periphery: in truth, they are all in this banking crisis together
SO WHY IS THE MARKET UP, WHEN VOLUMES AND TRADING PROFITS ARE WAY DOWN???
After reporting record investment-banking and trading revenue in 2009, banks had declines in those businesses for three straight quarters compared with year-earlier periods, with the quarter just ended likely to be the fourth. A fall in fixed- income trading revenue, the biggest capital-markets business for the banks, largely spurred the decreases.
Equity-trading volume on the largest U.S. exchanges jumped on March 16 to the highest since July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. U.S. Treasury dollar volume that same day was the most since September 2008, according to data from ICAP Plc, the world’s largest inter-dealer broker. Volume for the Nikkei index on March 15 was the highest since Bloomberg began keeping records in 1996
THE US RECOVERY IS JUST AN ECONOMIC"SUGAR RUSH"!
The trouble with this latest US recovery is that it amounts to little more than an economic “sugar-rush”. The recent growth-burst is built on monetary and fiscal policies which are wildly expansionary, wholly unsustainable and will surely soon come to an end. When the sugar-rush is over, and it won’t be long, the US will end up with a serious economic headache. Investors should keep that in mind.
It is undeniable, though, that the latest wave of euphoria to have spread across corporate America, and into the echo chamber that is Wall Street, is ultimately based on quantitative easing and a series of unaffordable tax cuts.
It seems likely the Fed will fully implement QE2 – the latest $600bn bout of money-printing - following the $1,700bn programme already completed. This is in spite of protests from countries as diverse as Thailand, Australia, South Africa and China, all of them complaining that America’s unprecedented monetary expansion is causing dangerous bubbles in markets going way beyond US equities.
In the immediate aftermath of “sub-prime”, QE helped a wide variety of financial institutions to avoid facing up to their losses, covertly recapitalizing Western banks that were, to all intents and purposes, insolvent. For a while, the rest of the world put up with it.
The Fed must surely call it a day when the current round of QE is due to expire at the end of June. Yes - American price pressures are ticking-up, with long-term inflation expectations as measured by the University of Michigan’s respected consumer survey rising from 2.8pc in December to 3.2pc in March. But mere domestic inflation won’t stop the Fed’s political masters from ordering more money-printing.
The only currency the White House understands is power politics - and Beijing is turning the thumb screws. Xia Bin, a long-standing adviser to China’s Central Bank, recently referred to the unbridled printing of dollars as “the biggest risk” to the global economy. “As long as the world exercises no restraint in issuing dollars,” he wrote, “then the occurrence of another crisis is inevitable”. Were it to happen, another round of money-printing - QE3 - would cause a major diplomatic protest led by countries America cannot afford to upset. The US government also knows, although it denies it, that the more money it prints, the more speculative pressures push up global food prices. While the causes behind current Middle Eastern unrest are complex, it was surging food price that provided the spark.
The Grand Failure of Conventional Economics
The "fixes" of conventional economics such as Keynesian stimulus will all fail catastrophically within the next 10 years.
Behind today's carefully contrived façade of normalcy, the only limitless resources are paper money and propaganda. Everything else is limited by real world constraints.
The next decade will see the complete failure of conventional economics. Why is this so?
If we take the very long view, we find that all of conventional economics developed in the era of ever-cheaper, ever-more abundant energy and the miraculous "low hanging fruit" productivity gains made possible by cheap energy and the tools of mass production and industrialization. Like a creature that was born in the morning and has only seen daylight, conventional economics has never experienced night and so it has no conception of darkness.
This is true of classical, neo-classical, Marxist, Socialist, Keynesian, Neoliberal, "Capitalism with Chinese characteristics," etc.
Not one of these ideological strands of conventional economics recognizes the limits on conventional "growth" as measured by GDP, increased production, etc. When the planet's population stood at 500 million, there were sufficient resources to enable a doubling to 1 billion. Then 1 billion tripled to 3 billion, which doubled to 6 billion. Now, the 600 million high-energy-consumption "middle class" of post-industrial economies is expanding four-fold to 2.4 billion.
There simply isn't enough oil on the planet, in any remotely plausible scenario, for 600 million of China's 1.3 billion people to live on an American scale of oil consumption, not to mention 600 million of India's 1.2 billion, and so on for every developing economy.
As population and energy use per capita have expanded, the curve of consumption approaches an exponential function. Frequent contributor Harun I. has often commented on the impossibility of this curve continuing in the physical world we inhabit. Exponential Growth and Depletion: Chart of the Century? (May 3, 2010)
Here are his recent comments on the impossibility of limitless growth as defined and measured by conventional economics:
Think about what pension funds expect, 8 percent per annum. Let's think about this in terms of inputs and output. For simplicity's sake let's round to 7%. This means that every ten years inputs have to double in order for outputs to double. On the finite sphere that we call earth this reaches its limit at a pace that accelerates. Imagine that today if we were to make two iPads per household. In ten years we would need to make four, then eight, then sixteen, etc. We already have gone from one car per household to two. Since four cars per household is unlikely all eyes are upon China (brace for disappointment).
This goes back to my discussion on thermodynamics. The net energy required for every chemical reaction is constant. In a finite realm, more of something cannot be made. If stranded at sea with few rations of food and water, you can consume it all in one day or portion it out. Regardless of what is decided there will come a point where nothing is left. This nullifies the notion that each successive generation can have a better quality of life. Within the finite sphere of earth, this is simply not possible.