While the whole world is waiting with bated breath whether the bureaucrats running the Federal Reserve will alter, remove or retain a single adjective in their monetary policy statement today, it occurred to us to think a bit about the use of language in the context of economics and financial markets.
Many a word has seen its true meaning altered in our Orwellian age. One example we frequently cite in these pages is the term “inflation”. It once used to mean only one thing: An increase in the supply of money. It is the only way in which the term actually makes logical sense. And yet, in modern times its meaning has been altered to designate what is in fact only one of the many possible consequences of inflation, namely rising prices of consumer goods.
As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, this means that we actually no longer have a single word to describe what the term “inflation” once used to describe. By calling rising prices “inflation”, sight is lost of the root cause of rising prices. This is of course deliberate, as the instigators of inflation are now no longer seen for what they truly are. As a result of this it has become fashionable to call central banks “inflation fighters”. This is akin to calling an armed robber a saint, or calling an arsonist a firefighter.
Police are erecting barbed wire fences around the ECB’s new headquarter in Frankfurt.
Photo credit: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
We’re glad we brought out our old “Crash Alert” flag last week. It looks like we may need it. The Dow plunged 333 points on Tuesday, or nearly 2%. Back to that in a minute…
“Jorge,” we asked our farm manager, “when was the last time you visited Marta Sandoval at Tacana?”
“Oh… maybe two years ago. She was okay then. A little crazy, maybe.”
“Don’t you have to go every year to count the animals?”
“Not up there. It’s not worth it. She only has about five goats.”
The farm is a marvel of ambiguity. We own it. On paper. But about 100 people live on it… work it… and use it. In fact, they control some of the best parts of it. They pay us “rent” in the form of a percentage of their animals – about 1 in 20. But since their animals aren’t worth anything, we count, but we don’t bother to collect.
And so, they pay nothing. They – and their descendants – can stay as long as they want. How long they will want to live in such harsh and lonely conditions is a subject of much conversation and speculation. But most show no signs of wanting to come down.
“They were born there,” says Jorge. “They want to die there too.”
“Can I ride up to Tacana sometime?”
“Yes. The trail is very rough. And you’d never find it on your own. I’ll take you.”
The tattered flag is flying again … sort of.
Is This Capitalism's Achilles' Heel?
Is capitalism wrong in some fundamental way?
New Year's Day found your editor up a tree. He was pruning pear trees. The trees had gotten some sort of blight. They're half-dead… and probably should be cut down and burned. Nevertheless, we went out into the cold – pruning shears in hand – and trimmed them.
Why? What was the point? Why invest time in a tree that won't produce?Perhaps it was a just habit.
This weekend, we will undertake another curious task. We bought a house down the road. The house was built in the 1950s. It is a wreck. The smart thing to do would be to tear it down, build a cheap new house and rent it out. The return on investment would be low. But at least it should be positive.
Instead, we are fixing up the house enough to rent it out…more or less as it is. Your editor is tearing off a decrepit porch and rebuilding it…as well as spackling the cracks on the inside and repainting. What for?
If he were to calculate the value of his time, the enterprise would be unprofitable. But what the hell?
Is the house an investment? What else would it be? We're not going to live there; we're going to rent it out. Why then are we not carefully calculating our investment and demanding a return – on time and money – to make it worthwhile?
Perhaps we are not good capitalists? Or perhaps capitalism is flawed?
Things Not Obvious to San Francisco Fed Chief
Marketwatch reports that San Francisco Fed president John Williams (a noted dove if memory serves) doesn't see the stock market as particularly overvalued at present, even though it sports a CAPE (cyclically adjusted P/E) or “Shiller P/E” of approximately 24, which is in the upper decile of all historical observations – we refer you to a recent article by Doug Short on market valuation in this context.
John Williams is correct insofar as we have not quite yet reached the crazy CAPE valuations of the 1929 peak or the tech mania peak. Of course those are not his yardsticks. With regard to valuations he says:
“With respect to stocks being near-record highs and the Fed’s hand in that, Williams said the media talks more about stock prices than the Fed does. Williams said policy makers take economic data, household wealth and money in the stock market into account, but they are not drivers of monetary policy.
“If you look at the valuation of stocks today compared to earnings and dividends and relative to historical averages, it’s not obvious that the stock market is overvalued. In fact a lot of models will tell you that it’s undervalued given how strong profits have been.”
Which 'models' might he be referring to? We hope not the so-called 'Fed model', a favorite tool of bubble spin doctors, which has been thoroughly debunked by John Hussman on several occasions (see e.g. here for an excellent overview).
When it comes to the S&P's dividend yield, one doesn't really need a 'model' to judge where we stand. A functioning pair of eyes will do just fine:
SPX dividend yield since 1926. Note that the level of administered interest rates and t-note yields has for the better part of market history proved irrelevant for dividend yields. Thus the 'Fed model' must not only be viewed skeptically with respect to price/earnings ratios, but also with respect to dividend yields. Since the beginning of the late 90s bubble, yields have remained at paltry levels – click to enlarge.
Read the rest of this entry »
Theory of Interest and Prices in Paper Currency Part IV (Rising Cycle)
In Part I , we looked at the concepts of nonlinearity, dynamics, multivariate, state, and contiguity. We showed that whatever the relationship may be between prices and the money supply in irredeemable paper currency, it is not a simple matter of rising money supply à rising prices.
In Part II, we discussed the mechanics of the formation of the bid price and ask price, the concepts of stocks and flows, and the central concept of arbitrage. We showed how arbitrage is the key to the money supply in the gold standard; miners add to the aboveground stocks of gold when the cost of producing an ounce of gold is less than the value of one ounce.
In Part III, we looked at how credit comes into existencevia arbitrage with legitimate entrepreneur borrowers. We also looked at the counterfeit credit of the central banks, which is not arbitrage. We introduced the concept of speculation in markets for government promises, compared to legitimate trading of commodities. We also discussed the prerequisite concepts ofMarginal time preference and marginal productivity, and resonance.
Part III ended with a question: “What happens if the central bank pushes the rate of interest below the marginal time preference?”
A Faible for Socialism
We have often remarked on the soft spot the New York Times has for socialism. It is after all the ideology that is most popular among the self-proclaimed intelligentsia, as can be easily ascertained by observing the unbroken support it enjoys in academe – in spite of the fact that the communist system has collapsed in what was the biggest bankruptcy in human history. Apparently they just failed to 'implement Marxism correctly'. It is easily forgotten today that Western intellectuals were cheering for the Soviet Union throughout its seven decade history, from the Lenin era until its ignominious demise.
Richard Duncan on Capitalism
Richard Duncan is a well-known author of popular books on economic topics, such as 'The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures'. He has just written a new book, again with an apocalyptic theme as the title suggests: “The New Depression: The Breakdown of the Paper Money Economy.”
In order to promote his new book, he is currently touring the financial media to give interviews and familiarize people with what the book is actually about.
Let us first take a look at Duncan's analytical claims. We have highlighted the salient points in an excerpt from the Marketwatch article below (we are leaving aside his recommendations for now):
„Recognizing that the world operates on a different set of rules from the laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century is among the key arguments in Duncan’s 2012 book, “The New Depression: The Breakdown of the Paper Money Economy.”
While it might seem like an arcane economic question, Duncan said that, in fact, the stakes are huge.
Global policy makers are running out of time to take advantage of opportunities offered up by the new system to help resolve the crisis, or otherwise face sliding into a corrosive period of economic contraction and rising geopolitical tensions, he said.
“The danger is that this new economic paradigm will collapse through debt deflation,” Duncan said.
Duncan sees the global economy as having undergone a fundamental transformation during the past 43 years. Since changes in 1968 that freed the Federal Reserve from holding physical gold in reserve against dollars in circulation, total global credit has expanded 50 times, or from about $1 trillion to $50 trillion in 2007.
Over that period, credit creation and consumption, or what Duncan calls “creditism,” took hold as the growth dynamic behind the global economy, displacing capitalism, which he says relied upon sound money, hard work and capital accumulation.
Duncan believes that true capitalism died in 1914, when nations across Europe abandoned gold-backed currencies, running up huge deficits in preparation for what would come to be known as the Great War“
A Crisis of Capitalism?
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis we have frequently remarked in these pages how ludicrous the assertions are – which keep being repeated ad nauseam in the mainstream media – that the financial and economic crisis was a result of 'laissez faire' allegedly gone too far. Not a week has passed since then without someone coming out and blaming the non-existent free market for the calamity.
First of all, it should be perfectly clear that the Western regulatory democracies do not represent free unhampered market economies. They have a socialistic, centrally planned monetary system and free enterprise and production are restricted by a mountain of licensing laws and administrative legislation that is unsurpassed in the history of mankind. At the center of the financial crisis we found in fact one of the most regulated sectors of the economy.
Operation 'Perfect Hedge' – the Criminalization of 'Greed'
As most of our readers are probably aware, the ongoing FBI investigations into insider trading at prominent hedge and mutual funds has just yielded another batch of arrests and indictments. This seems to be still the same investigation that ensnared the founder of Galleon, Raj Rajaratnam, a little while ago. Apparently the investigation has been going on for four years running.
Revisiting the Squid
Back when we wrote a brief critique of Matt Taibbi's latest populist jeremiad against 'God's workers', a.k.a. Goldman Sachs, we were of course aware that the topic would be controversial. Quite a few people seem to have misread that piece as an apologia for Goldman Sachs (judging from some comments on the Seeking Alpha reproduction of the post and e-mails we received), so perhaps we didn't express our point clearly enough. Yesterday, another writer dared to speak up in Goldman's defense, specifically with regards to the questions surrounding its trades and Taibbi's allegation that GS executives are guilty of perjury. Just as we suspected, the case is not as clear-cut as Taibbi makes it out to be – not by a long shot.
Most read in the last 20 days:
- The Stock Market in Trouble - How Bad Can it Get?
A Look at the Broader Market's Internals We have previously discussed the stock market's deteriorating internals, and in light of recent market weakness want to take a brief look at the broader market in the form if the NYSE Index (NYA). First it has to be noted that a majority of the stocks in the NYA are already in bearish trends. The chart below shows the NYA and the percentage of stocks above their 200 day and 50 day moving averages, which is 39.16% and 33.77% respectively. When...
- Gold Stocks – Update on a Tricky Situation
It's Never Easy... Readers may recall that in one of our recent updates on the gold sector – which we believe is at an interesting juncture that may at the very least provide a good trading opportunity – we presented the chart of the 1992-1993 low in order to illustrate how extremely tricky the sector can be in the vicinity of turning points. Specifically, the sector made every imaginable move in late 1992 to convince market participants that a durable rally was nigh impossible....
- Gold Stocks: A Playable Rally May Be Beginning as Junk Bonds Crater
Gold Stocks Jump and Retrace 50% Last week we discussed the potential for a rally in the gold sector (see: “Gold Stocks at an Interesting Juncture” for details). Gold stocks jumped early in the week and then retraced almost precisely 50% of the initial move higher, in the process closing a gap that was left behind on Wednesday. Image credit: dreamstime.com Interestingly, for the first time in many months, there were three up days in a row prior to the...
- A new Multi-Year High in Buying by Gold Sector Insiders
Latest Data from INK Show A Huge Surge in Insider Buying As our friends at INK Research in Canada have pointed out to us, insiders at gold companies have made use of the recent sell-off in the sector to load up on shares to an extent not seen in many years. Image source: bidness etc The INK insider buy/sell indicator for gold stocks has peaked just one day after China's initial devaluation announcement at nearly 1,200%: INK's gold insider sentiment...
- Is Crude Oil Close to a Low?
Panicky Headlines Everybody knows that there is a never-ending glut in crude oil, right? Who knew about it a year ago? Not everybody, that much is certain. The problem with what everybody knows is of course that it is often not worth knowing. Photo credit: Alamy Today a friend pointed two articles out to us that have been published yesterday and today. Their headlines say it all. The Wall Street Journal writes “No End in Sight for Oil Glut” - and proceeds to...
- The Stock Market's Panic Potential
The Odds Favor a “Warning Shot” Scenario - but there is a “But” As regular readers have probably noticed, we have upped the frequency of our “caution is advised” posts on the stock market in recent weeks in light of the market's increasingly deteriorating internals. Although one never knows when exactly such warning signs may begin to matter, it is always a good bet that they eventually will. Last week the market delivered a little wake-up call to the hitherto rather...
- Real Wealth and Phantom Wealth – Secular Boom and Bust
The Things that Produce Real Wealth vs. Phantom Wealth Our friend Michael Pollaro, the keeper of long-term data on the true money supply and author at Forbes as well as occasionally a guest author on this site, recently sent us the following chart of a relationship he keeps a close eye on. It depicts the annual change rate in new orders for non-defense capital goods and compares this series to the Wilshire total market index. Photo via...
- Jackson Hole – Meeting of the Physics Envy Brigade
Planners Meet to Discuss the Impossible The Jackson Hole pow-wow takes place this weekend. A more revolting get-together of actual and armchair central planners (i.e., the advisors to the planners, many of whom see themselves as planners-in-waiting) could hardly be imagined. One has to wonder how much more damage they will be allowed to inflict before someone finally says “enough!”. The parlous state of the global economy and the series of booms and busts we have experienced over the...
- The Stock Market After the Mini Crash
A Post Mortem – the Influence of Black Box Systems Here is a brief update on the recent market action and what we think one should watch out for now. First of all, we already noted in our last market update that something about the recent “mini crash” was quite unusual. For one thing, it started to get serious in an options expiration week, which happens only rarely. One rather scary precedent is actually the 1987 crash: on that occasion the market declined sharply during expiration...
- Godfrey Bloom, Anti-Politician
The Original Non-PC Politician Godfrey Bloom was UKIP's party whip for a long time, and for many years served as a member of the European parliament for UKIP. Ironically, although the party has solid electoral support in the UK, it has yet to make an inroad into Westminster due to the “first past the post” electoral system. It has always had a much greater representation in Strasbourg - at an institution it would prefer to abolish. Godfrey Bloom: “The State is an...