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.


TMS-2 vs. bank reserves, linearMr. 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.


Public debt to GDP ratiosGross government debt to GDP ratios of selected future insolvency cases – click to enlarge.


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.


US-Nonfinancial-Companies-Investment-and-Buybacks-600x413Although this chart by Smithers & Co is slightly dated by now, it does get the point across …


Borrowing Binge

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.


Zimbabwe-hyperinflationExponential growth in money supply inflation and its effect on prices in Zimbabwe.

Charts by: St. Louis Federal Reserve Research, Bloomberg, Smithers & Co., pixshark
The above article is taken from the Diary of a Rogue Economist originally written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.


Emigrate While You Can... Learn More




Dear Readers!

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: 12vB2LeWQNjWh59tyfWw23ySqJ9kTfJifA


Your comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Most read in the last 20 days:

  • US Stock Market: Conspicuous Similarities with 1929, 1987 and Japan in 1990
      Stretched to the Limit There are good reasons to suspect that the bull market in US equities has been stretched to the limit. These include inter alia: high fundamental valuation levels, as e.g. illustrated by the Shiller P/E ratio (a.k.a. “CAPE”/ cyclically adjusted P/E); rising interest rates; and the maturity of the advance.   The end of an era - a little review of the mother of modern crash patterns, the 1929 debacle. In hindsight it is both a bit scary and sad, in...
  • How to Blow $12.2 Billion in No Time Flat
      Fake Responses  One month ago we asked: What kind of stock market purge is this?  Over the last 30 days the stock market’s offered plenty of fake responses.  Yet we’re still waiting for a clear answer.   As the party continues, the dance moves of the revelers are becoming ever more ominous. Are they still right in the head? Perhaps a little trepanation is called for to relieve those brain tensions a bit?  [PT]   The stock market, like the President,...
  • Despondency in Silver-Land
      Speculators Throw the Towel Over the past several years we have seen a few amazing moves in futures positioning in a number of commodities, such as e.g. in crude oil, where the by far largest speculative long positions in history have been amassed. Over the past year it was silver's turn. In April 2017, large speculators had built up a record net long position of more than 103,000 contracts in silver futures with the metal trading at $18.30. At the end of February of this year, they held...
  • Broken Promises
      Demanding More Debt Consumer debt, corporate debt, and government debt are all going up.  But that’s not all.  Margin debt – debt that investors borrow against their portfolio to buy more stocks – has hit a record of $642.8 billion.  What in the world are people thinking?   A blow-off in margin debt mirroring the blow-off in stock prices. Since February of 2016 alone it has soared by ~$170 billion - this is an entirely new level insanity. The current total of 643...
  • Stock and Bond Markets - The Augustine of Hippo Plea
      Lord, Grant us Chastity and Temperance... Just Not Yet! Most fund managers are in an unenviable situation nowadays (particularly if they have a long only mandate). On the one hand, they would love to get an opportunity to buy assets at reasonable prices. On the other hand, should asset prices actually return to levels that could be remotely termed “reasonable”, they would be saddled with staggering losses from their existing exposure. Or more precisely: their investors would be saddled...
  • US Stock Market – The Flight to Fantasy
      Divergences Continue to Send Warning Signals The chart formation built in the course of the early February sell-off and subsequent rebound continues to look ominous, so we are closely watching the proceedings. There are now numerous new divergences in place that clearly represent a major warning signal for the stock market. For example, here is a chart comparing the SPX to the NDX (Nasdaq 100 Index) and the broad-based NYA (NYSE Composite Index).   The tech sector is always the...
  • From Bling to Plonk – An Update on the Debt Mountain
      Serenely Grows the Debtberg We mentioned in a recent post that we would soon return to the topic of credit spreads and exotic structured products. One reason for doing so are the many surprises investors faced in the 2008 crisis. Readers may e.g. remember auction rate securities. These bonds were often listed as “cash equivalents” on the balance sheets of assorted companies investing in them, but it turned out they were anything but. Shareholders of many small and mid-sized companies...
  • US Equities – Mixed Signals Battling it Out
      A Warning Signal from Market Internals Readers may recall that we looked at various market internals after the sudden sell-offs in August 2015 and January 2016 in order to find out if any of them had provided clear  advance warning. One that did so was the SPX new highs/new lows percent index (HLP). Below is the latest update of this indicator.   HLP (uppermost panel) provided advance warning prior to the sell-offs of August 2015 and January 2016 by dipping noticeably below the...
  • Return of the Market Criers - Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Ballistically Yours One nearly-famous gold salesman blasted subscribers this week with, “Gold Is Going to Go Ballistic!” A numerologist shouted out the number $10,000. At the county fair this weekend, we ran out of pocket change, so we did not have a chance to see the Tarot Card reader to get a confirmation. The market criers are back in gold town [PT]   Even if you think that the price of gold is going to go a lot higher (which we do, by the way—but to lean on...
  • Good Riddance Lloyd Blankfein!
      One and the Same   “God gave me my money.” – John D. Rockefeller   Today we step away from the economy and markets and endeavor down the path less traveled.  For fun and for free, we wade out into a smelly peat bog.  There we scratch away the surface muck in search of what lies below.   One should actually be careful about quotes like the one attributed to Rockefeller above, even if it of course sounds good and is very suitable for the topic at...
  • Incrementum's New Cryptocurrency Research Report
      Another Highly Useful Report As we noted on occasion of the release of the first Incrementum Crypto Research Report, the report would become a regular feature. Our friends at Incrementum have just recently released the second edition, which you can download further below (if you missed the first report, see Cryptonite 2; scroll to the end of the article for the download link).   BTC hourly (at the Bitstamp exchange). Although BTC has been in a bear market since peaking in...

Support Acting Man

Item Guides


Austrian Theory and Investment



THE GOLD CARTEL: Government Intervention on Gold, the Mega Bubble in Paper and What This Means for Your Future

Realtime Charts


Gold in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from]



Gold in EUR:

[Most Recent Quotes from]



Silver in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from]



Platinum in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from]



USD - Index:

[Most Recent USD from]


Buy Silver Now!
Buy Gold Now!

Diary of a Rogue Economist