Rushing Toward the Limits
“It’s the end of the great debt cycle,” says hedge fund manager Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, taking the words out of our mouth. Bond fund manager Bill Gross adds context:
In the past 20 to 30 years, credit has grown to such an extreme globally that debt levels and the ability to service that debt are at risk. […] Why doesn’t the debt supercycle keep expanding? Because there are limits.
Neither Mr. Dalio nor Mr. Gross nor we know precisely where those limits are. But the Europeans and the Japanese are rushing toward them.
Photo credit: William Stark
A Poke in the Eye for Lenders
In Europe, bond yields are lower than they’ve ever been. Between $2 trillion and $3 trillion in sovereign and corporate bonds now trade at negative nominal yields. We don’t need to tell you that it is unnatural and perverse for lenders to accept a poke in the eye for giving up their valuable savings.
But that’s just part of the perversity of the present system – no real savings are involved. The money never existed in the first place. Getting a negative yield seems almost appropriate, if nevertheless incomprehensible. Today, banks create “money” from thin air, in the form of new deposits, when they make loans.
As our friend Richard Duncan explains in his book The New Depression: The Breakdown of the Paper Money Economy, by the turn of the new millennium the reserve requirement – whereby banks are forced to hold some cash or gold in reserve against new loans – was so low that it played “practically no role whatsoever in constraining credit creation.”
That means as long as banks meet regulators’ capital adequacy requirements, they can create as much new money (loans) as they want. No risk of mining accidents. No need for anyone to sweat or strain. No self-discipline or forbearance required. Savers can eat their cake. And borrowers can have it too.
Mr. Duncan is correct about the fact that so-called “reserve requirements” have been utterly meaningless to the expansion of the credit and money supply. Reserves only rose sharply after the 2008 crisis, as a balance sheet item created by QE. QE also vastly increased the money supply (more than doubling it between early 2008 and early 2015) when banks temporarily slowed down their inflationary lending – click to enlarge.
Doomed Public Finances
Economists who still have their wits about them – if there are any left – are baffled. The lowest bond yields in history… and along comes the European Central Bank with a plan to drive them lower by way of €1.1 trillion ($1.2 trillion) of QE. What is the sense of it?
No one can say. Rather, no one wants to admit that the real motive is to relieve banks of their bad debt. Banks bought the debt of bankrupt European governments. Everybody knows there is no way governments will pay it back. Fortunately, when central banks buy government debt, it is effectively canceled – forgotten forever. So, the ECB helpfully exchanges this bad debt for new bank reserves before the public catches on.
Over in Japan the government has been running budget deficits for 25 years – funded largely by Japanese “salary-men” who think they are saving money for their retirements. What a disappointment it will be when they discover that the money was not saved at all, but spent by their government.
And now, Tokyo’s debts have grown so large that 43% of tax receipts are required just to service its debt, to say nothing of the amounts needed for current and future deficits. You can imagine how far you’d get if you tried this at home. Try living on 57% of what you earn (the rest goes to pay your creditors)… while still spending more than your income. See how long that would last…
The Japanese are too polite to mention it, but their public finances are doomed. And it can only be a matter of months – okay, maybe years – before the entire Ponzi scheme blows up.
Tokyo … Then Harare
Since 2009, we’ve been saying that our itinerary was likely “Tokyo… then Harare.”
By that, we meant that we were probably going to experience a Japan-like deflationary slump… and then a Zimbabwe-like hyperinflation.
We are now in year six of that slumpy, lumpy, bumpy ride. The US economy has been growing, but it is the weakest postwar “recovery” on record. And what little growth we saw was in asset prices. And it was bought with about $4 trillion in central bank stimulus. Few people realize it, but this also retarded real economic growth.
You can see that by looking at the difference between what has happened in the financial markets and what has happened in the real economy. Wall Street is as bubbly as ever. But Main Street is still struggling. Real wages and real business investment, for example – things that mark and measure genuine prosperity – are as limp as a Tokyo noodle. Why?
Prosperity depends on savings and capital formation. You have to devote real resources to new output capacity. You have to hire people and find new and better ways of doing things. But business investment has gone down since 2007. Based on fourth-quarter figures from 2007 and 2014 and annualized, $400 billion was invested in business development in 2007 against only $300 billion in 2014.
Although this chart by Smithers & Co is slightly dated by now, it does get the point across …
Meanwhile, businesses borrowed about $3 trillion more. Where did all this money go? It appears to have gone into share buybacks, mergers and acquisitions, bonuses, fees and other speculator payoffs. These things benefit the 1% of the 1% – the insiders who are in on the deals. They do nothing for the real economy, except deprive it of the capital it needs to make real progress.
In 2000, we had a bubble in tech stocks. In 2007, we had bubbles in finance and housing. Now, we have bubbles in corporate bonds ($14 trillion)… securitized auto loans ($20 billion)… and student loans ($1.2 trillion).
Pop … pop … pop – that’s what will happen to these bubbles. And when it does, it will complete our travel to Tokyo. That is when our slumpy ride turns into a terrifying train wreck. Yes, Tokyo deflation before we get to Harare hyperinflation.
Exponential growth in money supply inflation and its effect on prices in Zimbabwe.
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
Most read in the last 20 days:
- India: The World’s Fastest Growing Large Economy?
Popular Narrative India has been the world’s favorite country for the last three years. It is believed to have superseded China as the world’s fastest growing large economy. India is expected to grow at 7.5%. Compare that to the mere 6.3% growth that China has “fallen” to. India's quarterly annualized GDP growth rate since 2008, according to MOSPI (statistics ministry) - click to enlarge. The IMF, the World Bank, and the international media have celebrated...
- Don’t Blame Trump When the World Ends
Alien Economics There was, indeed, a time when clear thinking and lucid communication via the written word were held in high regard. As far as we can tell, this wonderful epoch concluded in 1936. Everything since has been tortured with varying degrees of gobbledygook. One should probably not be overly surprised that the abominable statist rag Time Magazine is fulsomely praising Keynes' nigh unreadable tome. We too suspect that this book has actually lowered the planet-wide IQ –...
- What is the Best Time to Buy Stocks?
Chasing Entry Points Something similar to the following has probably happened to you at some point: you want to buy a stock on a certain day and in order to time your entry, you start watching how it trades. Alas, the price rises and rises, and your patience begins to wear thin. Shouldn't a correction set in soon and provide you with a more favorable buying opportunity? Apple-Spotting – a five minute intraday chart showing the action in AAPL on February 1, 2017 - an...
- Incrementum Advisory Board Meeting, Q1 2017 and Some Additional Reflections
Looming Currency and Liquidity Problems The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Advisory Board was held on January 11, approximately one month ago. A download link to a PDF document containing the full transcript including charts an be found at the end of this post. As always, a broad range of topics was discussed; although some time has passed since the meeting, all these issues remain relevant. Our comments below are taking developments that have taken place since then into...
- Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand Last week, the prices of the metals went up, with the gold price rising every day and the silver price stalling out after rising 42 cents on Tuesday. The gold-silver ratio went up a bit this week, an unusual occurrence when prices are rising. Everyone knows that the price of silver is supposed to outperform — the way Pavlov’s Dogs know that food comes after the bell. Speculators usually make it...
- Trump and the Draining of the Swamp
Swamp Critters BALTIMORE – The Dow is back above the 20,000-point mark. Federal debt, as officially tallied, is up to nearly $20 trillion. The two go together, egging each other on. The Dow is up 20 times since 1980. So is the U.S. national debt. Debt feeds the stock market and the swamp. What’s not up so much is real output, as measured by GDP. It’s up only 6.4 times over the same period. Debt and asset prices have been rising three times as fast as GDP for 36 years! Best...
- Making America Great Again – How to Judge Policy
A Simple Formula MIAMI – How do we know if new programs will make the economy better... or worse? Here’s a simple formula: W = rv (w-w – w-l) That is, wealth is equal to the real value of win-win exchanges minus the loss from win-lose exchanges. Yes, dear reader, it’s as simple as that. Like a whittler working on a piece of wood, we’ve shaved so much off, there is nothing left of it... except the essential heartwood. When devising a win-win,...
- When Trumponomics Meets Abenomics
Thirty Year Retread What will President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talk about when they meet later today? Will they gab about what fishing holes the big belly bass are biting at? Will they share insider secrets on what watering holes are serving up the stiffest drinks? [ed. note: when we edited this article for Acting Man, the meeting was already underway] Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian and militarist, meets America's...
- Gold Sector Update – What Stance is Appropriate?
The Technical Picture - a Comparison of Antecedents We wanted to post an update to our late December post on the gold sector for some time now (see “Gold – Ready to Spring Another Surprise?” for the details). Perhaps it was a good thing that some time has passed, as the current juncture seems particularly interesting. We received quite a few mails from friends and readers recently, expressing concern about the inability of gold stocks to lead, or even confirm strength in gold of...
- The Great Wailing
Regret and Suffering BALTIMORE – Victoribus spolia... So far, the most satisfying thing about the Trump win has been the howls and whines coming from the establishment. Each appointment – some good, some bad from our perspective – has brought forth such heavy lamentations. Oh no! Alaric the Visigoth is here! Hide the women and children! And don't forget the vestal virgins, if you can find any... You’d think Washington had been invaded by Goths, now...
- Receive a One Percent Gift When Buying or Selling a Home
How to Save Money When Buying or Make More When Selling a Home In your professional capacity and perhaps also in your private life, you may be closely involved with financial and commodity markets. Trading in stocks, bonds or futures is part of your daily routine. Occasionally you probably have to deal with real estate as well though – if you e.g. want to purchase an apartment or a house, or if own a home you wish to sell. The people who took this photograph probably want to...
- Silver Futures Market Assistance – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Silver Is Pushed Up Again This week, the prices of the metals moved up on Monday. Then the gold price went sideways for the rest of the week, but the silver price jumped on Friday. Taking off for real or not? Photo credit: NASA Is this the rocket ship to $50? Will Trump’s stimulus plan push up the price of silver? Or just push silver speculators to push up the price, at their own expense, again? This will again be a brief Report this week, as we are busy...