Thursday, August 29, 2019

Dear Trump Advisors: Prop the Market Up Now and Lose in 2020, or Let the Market Crash and Win in 2020

The Everything Bubble has topped out, and trying to push it higher for the next 14 months is a sure way to increase the damage next year.
One of the more reliable truisms is that Americans vote their pocketbook: if their wallets are being thinned (by recession, stock market declines, high inflation/stagnant wages, etc.), they throw the incumbent out, even if they loved him the previous year when their wallets were getting fatter. (Think Bush I, who maintained high approval ratings but ended up losing the 1992 election due to a dismal economic mood.)
As a result, politicians try to time the economy to align with elections. Get any economic pain over with early in the election cycle, then prime the fiscal pump in Year 3 to boost the economy in Year 4 (election year).
The global economy and the credit cycle aren't always so pliable or predictable. Oil can soar due to geopolitical tensions, or a speculative financial bubble can burst (subprime mortgages in 2008, dot-coms in 2000), torpedoing the economy.
The intuitive strategy is to prop up the economy and stock market by any means available heading into the election cycle: if we can just keep this over-valued pig of a market aloft until November of next year, so the thinking goes, we'll likely win the election (or at least we won't lose because stocks and the economy tanked).
But this strategy is a loser when the credit cycle has run past its expiration date: most credit-based expansions last at most seven years, and here we are in Year Ten. Credit exhaustion is setting in, speculative bets are maxed out and the global economy is rolling over.
Trying to prop a speculative, over-valued market up for another 14 months is like shoveling sand against the tide. All that this will accomplish is the well-deserved market decline will be pushed forward so it will occur just before the election, destroying the incumbent's chances to win re-election. In sum: gravity eventually wins and the pig falls to Earth.
At the end of the cycle, the counter-intuitive plan is the winning strategy: crash the market now so a recovery can be engineered going into the election season. The ideal moment to crush the stock market is now: push it over the cliff and let it wallow for a few months, then ride to the rescue with some hope-inspiring coups (a China Trade Deal, for example) that re-start "animal spirits" a few months before electioneering gets serious.
Trying to stop the financial tides at the end of the cycle is a guaranteed way to lose an election. Timing is everything in trading and politics, and the time to push the stock market over the cliff is now. Keeping this over-valued pig aloft much longer will guarantee there won't be enough time to engineer a recovery before the election--even if the recovery is only of sentiment.
The Everything Bubble has topped out, and trying to push it higher for the next 14 months is a sure way to increase the damage next year. The winning move here is get the pain of a market crash over with now while there's still time to let the conflagration burn all the dead wood and set up conditions for a reversal in sentiment from gloom-and-doom to hope for fatter wallets tomorrow.
Trump's advisors would be wise to heed the lessons of history: when the economy and stock market tank in Year Four of the election cycle, the incumbent loses. If the pain is taken in Year Three and a "recovery" is cobbled together in Year Four, the incumbent usually wins re-election.
The Democratic candidate would be ideally served by the Everything Bubble hanging on by a thread into 2020 and then collapsing in a heap.
The winning strategy for Democrats is also counter-intuitive: the Democrats should be pulling out all the stops to prop up the Everything Bubble and keep the economy from succumbing to gravity for another few quarters, so the whole shebang will collapse under its own weight at the point where there is no time left for the incumbent to engineer a recovery.


Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Katherine A. ($50), for your outstandingly generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Fantasy of Central Bank "Growth" Is Finally Imploding

Having destroyed discipline, central banks have no way out of the corner they've painted us into.
It was such a wonderful fantasy: just give a handful of bankers, financiers and corporations trillions of dollars at near-zero rates of interest, and this flood of credit and cash into the apex of the wealth-power pyramid would magically generate a new round of investments in productivity-improving infrastructure and equipment, which would trickle down to the masses in the form of higher wages, enabling the masses to borrow and spend more on consumption, powering the Nirvana of modern economics: a self-sustaining, self-reinforcing expansion of growth.
But alas, there is no self-sustaining, self-reinforcing expansion of growth; there are only massive, increasingly fragile asset bubbles, stagnant wages and a New Gilded Age as the handful of bankers, financiers and corporations that were handed unlimited nearly free money enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else.
Central banks' near-zero interest rates and trillions in new credit destroyed discipline and price discovery, the bedrock of any economy, capitalist or socialist.
When credit is nearly free to borrow in unlimited quantities, there's no need for discipline, and so a year of university costs $50,000 instead of $10,000, houses that should cost $200,000 now cost $1 million and a bridge that should have cost $100 million costs $500 million. Nobody can afford anything any more because the answer in the era of central bank "growth" is: just borrow more, it won't cost you much because interest rates are so low.
And with capital (i.e. saved earnings) getting essentially zero yield thanks to central bank ZIRP and NIRP (zero or negative interest rate policies), then all the credit has poured into speculative assets, inflating unprecedented asset bubbles that will destroy much of the financial system when they finally pop, as all asset bubbles eventually do.
Nobody knows what the price of anything is in the funny-money era of central banks. And since capital earns next to nothing, the only way to earn a return is join the mad frenzy chasing risk assets ever higher, with the plan being to sell at the top to a greater fool, a strategy few manage as it requires selling into a rally that seems destined to climb to the stars.
Having destroyed discipline--why scrimp and save when you can always borrow to buy or invest?-- central banks have no way out of the corner they've painted us into. If they "normalize" interest rates to historical averages (3% above real-world inflation), then all the zombie companies and households that are surviving only because rates are near-zero will go bankrupt, wiping out the "wealth" of all the loans that can no longer be paid.
"Normalized" rates would also bring down the global housing bubble, an implosion that would trigger trillions in losses, reversing the vaunted wealth effect into a realization that we're all getting poorer, not richer, and collapsing the risky mountain of mortgage debt that's been piled on absurdly overvalued properties globally.
In effect, central banks added a zero to "money" and anticipated that this trickery would generate ten times more of everything: ten times more productive investments, ten times more consumption, ten times more people borrowing ten times more money, and so on.
But the trickery failed, and all we have is $200,000 houses that cost $1 million, a year in college that costs $50,000 instead of $10,000, and so on.Having destroyed discipline and price discovery, central banks attempted to replace reality with fantasy, and now the absurd fantasy is imploding. The financial system and the real-world economy have both been destabilized by this fantasy, and now both are fragile in ways few understand.
The only "policies" central banks have is to issue more credit at negative interest rates, i.e. doing more of what's failed spectacularly, until the entire rickety travesty of a mockery of a sham collapses.
That collapse is currently underway in slow motion, but given the increasing instability of asset bubbles, it could accelerate at any time.


Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
 
Thank you, Mark B. ($5), for your most generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.
 

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Benefits of a Profoundly Shattering Recession

Does anyone really think The Everything Bubble can just keep inflating forever?
What do I mean by a profoundly shattering recession? I mean, a systemic, crushing recession that can't be reversed with central bank magic, a recession that only deepens with time. The last real recession was roughly two generations ago in 1981; younger generations have no experience of a profound recession, and perhaps older folks have forgotten the shock, angst and bitterness.
profoundly shattering recession leaves tremendous damage and pain in its wake. Millions of people who reckoned their position was secure get laid off, businesses that looked solid melt into air, large corporations flip from hiring thousands to firing thousands, and everyone on the edge of insolvency gets a hard push over the cliff.
Profoundly shattering recessions feed on themselves in a self-reinforcing dynamic: the first domino could be a supply-shock, or a decline in demand due to credit exhaustion. Since businesses have cut everything to the bone in the past decade, there are no buffers left: layoffs begin immediately, and those layoffs further reduce demand as households have to tighten their belts to survive as even those who escape the first round of layoffs find bonuses and overtime have been slashed.
Since the problem isn't high interest rates, central banks reducing rates or pushing them into negative territory only reveals their impotence. If negative interest rates boosted the real economy, Europe and Japan would be experiencing rapid expansion instead of stagnation.
Layoffs, the failure of central banks and soaring fiscal deficits trigger a drop in consumer and investor sentiment which feeds back into declining sales and profits, which then trigger more layoffs as businesses must cut expenses as revenues crater.
Clearly, there is no benefit to households or enterprises to this self-reinforcing recession. The benefits are structural: financialization, the parasite that has eaten our economy from the inside, will collapse along with the mountains of debt that fueled it.
Zombie corporations and local governments that have been insolvent in all but name will finally go bankrupt, clearing the system of their dead weight. Economies supporting zombie entities are sacrificing their capital to keep insiders afloat, which leaves less capital to invest in increasing productivity, which is the only way to increase broad-based wealth.
The Everything Bubble will finally pop, stripping the system of phantom speculative wealth and fictitious capital. Price discovery will once again be possible, as all the central bank-inflated bubbles will deflate and real demand and supply will set the price of assets.
Once central banks have been revealed as powerless, the quasi-religious belief in their omnipotence will dissipate, and people will finally start dealing with the Gilded Age excesses of the past 20 years. Common sense limits on financial predation and trickery will gather support, and tricks like corporate buybacks will be outlawed or restricted.
If capital can't earn a low-risk return, then it can't flow to productive uses.Once central bank manipulation fails, capital might demand a yield, and in doing so, it will start a beneficial cycle in which speculation will no longer be enabled and rewarded by zero-interest rates or negative rates.
Only those enterprises and households with productive uses for borrowed capital will reckon the interest costs are worth the risk of taking on debt. The bloated, parasitic banking sector will implode, and what's left of it will return to its proper role, a thin, regulated sector of the economy stripped of political power.
All the cartels and monopolies that depend on debt will implode: banking, higher education, and ultimately national defense and sickcare, which depend on federal borrowing to fund their predatory pricing.
The U.S. economy needs a re-set if it is to lift all boats, and the sooner the re-set occurs, the sooner we can dispense with all the cronyist intervention, self-serving manipulation and exploitive distortion that's turned our economy and society into a speculative casino that only benefits a few insiders and those who know how to rig the game in their favor.
profoundly shattering recession requires patience, fortitude and an awareness that the sacrifices demanded will be worth the pain if we rid our society of at least the top layer of financial and political parasites and predators that have corrupted our economy, our governance and our society.
Does anyone really think The Everything Bubble can just keep inflating forever? Surely nobody's that deluded.
The global economy is destabilizing, and we're about to discover there is no way to halt a profoundly shattering recession. We have a once in 80 years opportunity to right the ship before it sinks into oblivion.


Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
 
Thank you, James H. ($50), for your massively generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Is the U.S. Becoming a Third World Nation?

This is a chart of an informal kleptocracy which cloaks itself in the faux finery of democracy and a (rigged) "market" economy.
Back in the day, nations that didn't qualify as either developed (First World) or developing (Second World) were by default Third World, impoverished, corrupt and what we now refer to as failed states--governments that were incapable of improving the lives of their people and the machinery of governance, generally as a result of corruption and self-serving elites, i.e. kleptocracies.
Is the U.S. slipping into Third World status? While many scoff at the very question, others citing the rise of homelessness, entrenched pockets of abject poverty and the decaying state of infrastructure might nod "yes."
These are not uniquely Third World problems, they're symptoms of a status quo that's fast losing First World capabilities. What characterizes Third World/Failing States isn't just poverty, crumbling infrastructure and endemic corruption; at a systems level these are the key dynamics in Third World/Failing States:
1. The status quo protects insiders at the expense of everyone else.
2. There is no real accountability; failure has no consequences, bureaucrats are never fired for incompetence, reforms are watered down or neutered by institutional sclerosis.
3. Pay-to-play is the most cost-effective way to influence policy or evade consequences.
4. The status quo is incapable of differentiating between complexity that serves the legitimate purposes of transparency and accountability and complexity that serves no purpose beyond guaranteeing insiders' paper-shuffling jobs. As a consequence, complexity that adds no value chokes the economy and the government.
5. There are two sets of laws: one for insiders and the super-wealthy, and another harsher set for everyone else.
6. The super-wealthy fear nothing because the system functions to serve their interests.
7. The super-wealthy and state insiders control the media's narratives and the machinery of governance to serve their interests. Reforms are in name only; the faces of elected officials change but nothing changes structurally.
8. Insiders, well-paid pundits and the technocrats serving the corporate and state elites believe the status quo is just fine because they're doing fine; they are blind to the soaring inequality, systemic corruption, stupendous waste and the impossibility of real reform.
Does America's status quo protects insiders at the expense of everyone else? Yes. As for the other seven characteristics: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
And lets' not forget #9: the vast majority of the economic gains flow to the elite at the very top of the wealth-power pyramid: is this true in the U.S.? Definitively yes. Just look at this chart: this is a chart of an informal kleptocracy which cloaks itself in the faux finery of democracy and a (rigged) "market" economy.
That's the very definition of a Third World failed state.
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
 
Thank you, Boyd W. ($5/month), for your marvelously generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.
 

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Our Wile E. Coyote Federal Reserve

Whatever the Fed chooses to do, it's already failed..
Wile E. Coyote has gotten a bad rap: in all fairness, his schemes are ingenious, if overly complicated, and it's not his fault that the Acme detonator misfires or the Road Runner doesn't respond as predicted. Every set-up to nail the Road Runner should work. That it fails and leaves him suspended over the cliff for a woefully brief second to intuit his impending doom really isn't his fault.
Wile E. Coyote and the Federal Reserve share a lot of similarities. Just as Wile is always trying to catch the Road Runner, the Federal Reserve and other central banks have been trying for 10 years to trigger a self-sustaining economic expansion, i.e. an expansion based on the self-reinforcing dynamics of increasing productivity driving increasing wages which then fuel consumption and investment in productivity, and so on.
In a self-sustaining expansion based on fundamentals, central banks can "normalize" (raise) interest rates relatively painlessly to levels that are at least 3% above official inflation, so pension funds and other institutions that need low-risk yields can survive.
Official inflation in the U.S. is about 3% (real-world inflation is running between 8% and 13% in urban America, as per the Chapwood Index, but that's another essay), so the Fed Funds Rate should be at 6% minimum, which would set mortgages and other long-term loans at 7% or so.
A Fed Funds Rate of 6% (600 basis points) would give the Fed 500 basis points of leeway in a recession to lower rates to 1% to goose borrowing, investing and spending in a recession.
But all the central banks' intricate plans have failed, and so they are having a Wile E. Coyote moment of impending doom. The Acme Brand detonator they counted on-- negative interest rates--has failed to spark a self-sustaining expansion, and all the Fed's convoluted schemes--Operation Twist, buying a trillion dollars in sketchy home mortgages, etc.--failed to catch the prize.
And so the Fed was only able to raise rates, more or less at the last minute, by 2%-- a pathetic admission that even after a decade of central bank-dependent expansion, the Fed couldn't even raise rates into positive territory, i.e. above the official rate of inflation.
While the other central banks are falling into the abyss, the Fed is clinging to the edge of the cliff by its fingertips. Having failed to spark a self-sustaining expansion, now the Fed is left with two dismal choices: either let go and fall into the abyss of negative interest rates--doing more of what's failed miserably--or cling on and keep rates at 2% so there's some policy response left when the global recession inevitably washes up on America's shores.
Whatever the Fed chooses to do, it's already failed. The Road Runner of self-sustaining expansion got clean away, and the Fed is left holding the ominously ticking Acme Brand detonator.
Recent podcasts: I was blessed to be invited to two terrific podcasts:
Parallels Between The Decline of the Roman Empire and America (46 minutes)
Host: Patrick Vierra of SilverBullion.com.sg
Market Huddle Episode 41 (guest: Charles Hugh Smith)
Hosts: Patrick and Kevin
(I am the first guest, then I get to do the last half-hour informal free-for-all.)


Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
 
Thank you, Teresa W. ($50), for your marvelously generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.
 

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Wobbling Stock Market

A third period of heightened volatility shouldn't surprise us.
Consider this chart of the SPX (S&P 500) over the past two years: take a look at the relative steepness of each of the red lines (rallies), the duration of each rally (purple lines), the blue boxes (volatile spots of bother) and the green line (market has gone nowhere for 19 months as every rally to new highs drops back to or below the high of January 2018).
As the saying goes, a market topping is not an event, it's a process. There are a handful of historically useful characteristics of topping markets:
1. Declining volume / liquidity
2. Increasing volatility--major swings up and down that increase in amplitude and frequency
3. Inability to break decisively above previous resistance (i.e. make sustainable new highs in a stairstep that moves higher).
We see all these elements in the S&P 500 over the past few years. A healthy, stable advance in 2017 led to a manic blow-off top that crashed in February of 2018, setting off a period of high volatility.
This set up another stable advance that was shorter than the previous advance, and also steeper. This led to the multi-month period of instability that concluded in a panic crash in December 2018.
Since then, advances have been shorter and steeper, suggesting a more volatile era. Three advances to new highs have all dropped back to (or below) the highs of January 2018. In effect, the market has wobbled around for 18 months, becoming more volatile after every rally.
Notice how the duration of each advance is getting shorter even as each advance is steeper, i.e. more manic. Notice also that the amplitude of each volatile plummet from new highs increases.
What happens next? No one knows, but a third period of heightened volatility shouldn't surprise us--nor should a further increase in the amplitude of the move during the next volatile spot of bother.
Recent podcasts: I was blessed to be invited to two terrific podcasts:
Parallels Between The Decline of the Roman Empire and America (46 minutes)
Host: Patrick Vierra of SilverBullion.com.sg
Market Huddle Episode 41 (guest: Charles Hugh Smith)
Hosts: Patrick and Kevin
(I am the first guest, then I get to do the last half-hour informal free-for-all.)


Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format.


My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com. New benefit for subscribers/patrons: a monthly Q&A where I respond to your questions/topics.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
 
Thank you, Kerry W. ($50), for your magnificently generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.
 

Read more...

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