“Massive Deterioration” – Worse Than 2008
BALTMORE – “Stocks still not finding bottom” warned a headline at Investor’s Business Daily. On Thursday, the Dow ended down 255 points – or 1.6%. The index is down by almost 9% since the start of the year.
“These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity…” proffered a nervous-looking Janet Yellen in her testimony on Capitol Hill. She was signaling to investors.
“Don’t worry about us,” she may as well have said. “If we can get away with a big U-turn, we’re not going to raise rates anymore.”
On Tuesday, Maersk Group, the world’s largest container shipping company, said it was suffering a “massive deterioration” in its business.
“It is worse than 2008,” its CEO, Nils Andersen, told the Financial Times. But this is not even near the bottom for the world economy. Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass warns that the other shoe is a big one… and it hasn’t dropped yet.
A Maersk container ship…the line is feeling the pinch – the Baltic Dry Index has collapsed to just 291 points (from approx. 11,800 at the 2008 peak) and container shipping rates have declined sharply as well.
Photo credit: Michael Kooren / Reuters
China’s economy is heavily dependent on capital investment. It puts its money into building factories, highways, offices, apartment blocks, railroads, ports, and airports. What do all these projects require? Rebar!
Concrete is reinforced with steel bars. As the pace of building slows, the price of rebar goes down. In 2008, a ton of rebar cost about 5,500 renminbi ($836). Now, it costs barely 2,000 renminbi ($304) – the lowest price in at least 15 years.
Compared to the size of its economy, China has two to three times the debt the U.S. had in 2008 – a total of $34 trillion, said Bass. As the Chinese economy slows, more steel mills, real estate developers, and manufacturers can’t pay their debts.
Total losses from debt defaults could be four times U.S. losses in the 2008 crisis. And that is just the beginning. Next week, we’ll explain why… and why Trump and Sanders are getting so much of the millennial vote. In the meantime, here’s an essay from the archives…
[Ed. note: Originally published August 2, 2005]
People come to believe whatever they need to believe when they need to believe it. Recent studies of voting patterns confirm the obvious. Zombies vote for higher taxes. Cronies vote for lower taxes. All believe they are voting for matters of principle.
Alan Greenspan believed strongly in gold – until he became a central banker. Then he believed he could do a better job than gold. Or at least he pretended to. It was a job requirement. A priest who didn’t believe in the resurrection would be useless. So would a plumber who didn’t believe in using a wrench.
Things Alan Greenspan said before he became master of the fiat mint…
$19 Trillion and Counting…
In public life, people generally believe the dominant myth of the system in which they live. We are all democrats in the U.S. We believe in electing our leaders. But there is no particular reason why this method should be superior to choosing our leaders by lottery or hand-to-hand combat.
Throughout most of history, people believed in other systems. If we lived in a kingdom, we would probably believe strongly in monarchy. If we had a dictator, we’d probably have his name on our bumpers. And if we lived in a theocracy, we would kneel for prayer at the appointed hour.
As libertarian philosopher Stefan Molineux argues, there has always been only one purpose to having rulers, whether they are elected or not: the (tax)-farming of other humans.
Are we so much smarter now? Maybe not. Circumstances change. Ideas change with them. The U.S. became an empire without anyone noticing. But now, Americans believe in empire… So much so that they are willing to spend trillions of dollars to maintain it.
The national debt of the U.S. is $19 trillion. At least $5 trillion of that can be traced to the costs of empire. We have military bases all over the world. We believe we must meet challenges in Iraq, Syria, North Korea – all around the periphery of the empire.
We may just as well leave the poor Iraqis, Syrians, and North Koreans to take care of their own problems… But the thought wouldn’t be compatible with the imperial purple. An empire acts like an empire.
Parasites of the Affluent Class
And a rich person acts like a rich person. He cannot get richer and richer forever. So he must find ways to get rid of his money. Trees do not grow to the sky. There is no yin without a yang… no day without night… no boom without bust.
Everything regresses to the mean – including the wealth of an individual or a group. Even our own lives regress. No one was ever born who was not destined to die. The mean is the grave – for which we are all bound.
When a man gets a certain amount of money, he takes up the beliefs of a man who needs to spend it. He believes he needs a bigger house. He believes that more expensive wine is better than the cheap stuff. He may even take a course on wine… and bore his friends and neighbors with his sophisticated palette.
From “tastes like vinegar past its due date”: beverages designed to liberate the wealthy of some of their loot.
Image credit: Wine Folly
He believes a Mercedes-Maybach is superior to a Chevy. He believes he needs a mistress. Or a yacht. Wealth brings duties, as well as advantages. When a man makes some money, he finds himself the subject of attention of what Gloom, Boom & Doom Report publisher Marc Faber calls “the immediate parasites of the affluent class.”
As Faber puts it, these are the “real estate agents, stockbrokers, financial planners, investment bankers, fund managers… economists, derivative traders, salesmen of high-end cars, pleasure boats, and private jets, art dealers, diamond merchants, mistresses, second, third and fourth trophy wives, spoiled children, estate and tax planners, and lawyers.”
Then there are the “secondary parasites.” Faber again… “They include life coaches, cosmetic surgeons, personal trainers, dog walkers and pet sitters, personal assistants, beauty consultants, massage therapists, and wedding planners.”
Too Many Zombies
A rich man’s duty is to believe these people give him some advantage. But all these things come at a price. They are handicaps. When he is engaged in a quarrelsome divorce, a rich man has less time to devote to his business.
He forgets to study his sales figures when he is at wine school. And much of his fortune could be easily separated from him by clever financial planners. He gives himself these handicaps until he is able to get his wealth down to more reasonable levels – closer to the mean, that is.
If he dies before his work is done – while he still has some change in his pockets – he can be sure that the next generation will finish what he began. In a few years, the family will have average wealth rather than extraordinary wealth.
So, too, does a rich society need to give itself handicaps – so that its wealth and power can come back to a meaner level. The U.S. surpassed Britain as the world’s leading economy in the 1890s when Queen Victoria was on the throne and Benjamin Harrison was American president.
Billy’s offers a theory of government
Cartoon by Stan Fill
America’s lead gained over the next five decades – greatly aided by two devastating European wars… one of which it helped prolong and make far more disastrous for Europe than it otherwise would have been.
But along with its wealth, America’s handicaps increased. It now spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. After 9/11, it might have put a few more cops on the case… instead, it launched a “War on Terror” – another costly, distracting handicap.
Over the years, the U.S. has also increased its expensive social welfare programs, and the economic freedom that made its economy the leader of the world has given way to a rigged and heavily regulated economy.
GM – once the largest and most profitable business in the world – now has the handicap of having to spend thousands of dollars in health and retirement costs for every car it builds. Its competitors in China have almost none. Eventually, convenient beliefs become inconvenient. Handicaps take too much time and too much money.
Too many zombies. Too many cronies. Too many pointless wars and futile government spending programs. Too many hobbies. Too many trophy wives. Then the rich man, GM, and the empire – all take up more modest roles and more modest beliefs.
Chart by: BarChart.com
Chart and image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared as “Worse than 2008” at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, 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.
Dear Readers! We are happy to report that we have reached our turn-of-the-year funding goal and want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have chipped in. We are very grateful for your support! As a general remark, according to usually well informed circles, exercising the donation button in between funding drives is definitely legal and highly appreciated as well.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
One Response to “Convenient Beliefs”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Free Money Leaves Everyone Poorer
Destroying Lives BALTIMORE – A dear reader reminded us of the comment, supposedly made by Groucho Marx: “A free lunch? You can’t afford a free lunch.” Groucho dispensing valuable advice Photo via imdb.com He was responding to last week’s Diary about the national referendum in Switzerland on Saturday. Voters will decide whether to give all Swiss residents a free lunch – a guaranteed annual income of about $30,000 a year [ed note: the initiative was...
- Free Speech Under Attack
Offending People Left and Right Bill Bonner, whose Diaries we republish here, is well-known for being an equal opportunity offender - meaning that political affiliation, gender, age, or any other defining characteristics won't save worthy targets from getting offended. As far as we are concerned, we generally try not to be unnecessarily rude to people, but occasionally giving offense is not exactly beneath us either. The motto of the equal opportunity...
- How the Welfare State Dies
Hollande Threatens to Ban Protests Brexit has diverted attention from another little drama playing out in Europe. As of the time of writing, if you Google “Hollande threatens to ban protests” or variations thereof, you will find Russian, South African and even Iranian press reports on the topic. Otherwise, it's basically crickets (sole exception: Politico). Gee, we wonder why? They don't like him anymore: 120.000 protesters recently turned Paris into a war zone. All...
- Moving Closer to BREXIT
Polls Show Growing Support for a Break with the EU In the UK as elsewhere, the political elites may have underestimated the strength of the trend change in social mood across Europe. The most recent “You-Gov” and ICM pools show a widening lead in favor of a UK exit from the EU as the day of the vote comes closer. Pro-BREXIT campaigners Boris Johnson (ex-mayor of London) and Michael Gove (UK Secretary of Justice) are in a good mood. Photo credit: Paul Grover /...
- A Market Ready to Blow and the Flag of the Conquerors
Bold Prediction MICHAELS, Maryland – The flag in front of our hotel flies at half-mast. The little town of St. Michaels is a tourist and conference destination on the Chesapeake Bay. It is far from Orlando, and even farther from Daesh (a.k.a. ISIL) and the Mideast. St. Michaels, Maryland – the town that fooled the British (they say, today). Photo credit: Fletcher6 Out on the river, a sleek sailboat, with lacquered wood trim, glides by, making hardly a...
- Toward Freedom: Will The UK Write History?
Mutating Promises We are less than one week away from the EU referendum, the moment when the British people will be called upon to make a historic decision – will they vote to “Brexit” or to “Bremain”? Both camps have been going at each other with fierce campaigns to tilt the vote in their direction, but according to the latest polls, with the “Leave” camp’s latest surge still within the margin of error, the outcome is too close to call. The battle lines are...
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
A Convocation Of Gamblers The Wall Street Journal and BloombergView have just run articles on the shadow banking system in China. This has put me in a nostalgic mood. About 35 years ago when I was living in Japan, I made a side trip to Hong Kong. Asia's Sin City, Macau Photo credit: Nattee Chalermtiragool I took the hydrofoil to Macau one afternoon and the same service back early the next morning. On the morning trip, I am sure that I saw many of the...
- The Real Reason We Have a Welfare State
From Subject to Citizen BALTIMORE – June 5th, the Swiss cast their votes and registered their opinions: “No,” they said. We left off yesterday wondering why something for nothing never works. Not as monetary policy. Not as welfare or foreign aid. Not in commerce. Not never, no how. But something for nothing is what people most want. The future Switzerland just managed to dodge... for now The Swiss voted against awarding all citizens a “universal basic...
- A Darwin Award for Capital Allocation
Beyond Human Capacity Distilling down and projecting out the economy’s limitless spectrum of interrelationships is near impossible to do with any regular accuracy. The inputs are too vast. The relationships are too erratic. The economy - complex and ever-changing interrelations. Image credit: Andrea Dionne Quite frankly, keeping tabs on it all is beyond human capacity. This also goes for the federal government. Even with all their data gatherers and...
- The Problem with Corporate Debt
Taking Off Like a Rocket There are actually two problems with corporate debt. One is that there is too much of it... the other is that a lot of it appears to be going sour. Harvey had a good time in recent years...well, not so much between mid 2014 and early 2016, but happy days are here again! Cartoon by Frank Modell As a brief report at Marketwatch last week (widely ignored as far as we are aware) informs us: “Businesses racked up debt in the...
- Brexit Paranoia Creeps Into the Markets
European Stocks Look Really Bad... Late last week stock markets around the world weakened and it seemed as though recent “Brexit” polls showing that the “leave” campaign has obtained a slight lead provided the trigger. The idea was supported by a notable surge in the British pound's volatility. Battening down the hatches... On the other hand, if one looks at European stocks, one could just as well argue that their bearish trend is simply continuing – and...
- Claudio Grass Talks to Godfrey Bloom
Introductory Remarks – About Godfrey Bloom [ed note by PT: Readers may recall our previous presentation of “Godfrey Bloom the Anti-Politician”, which inter alia contains a selection of videos of speeches he gave in the European parliament. Both erudite and entertaining, Mr. Bloom constantly kept the etatistes of the EU on their toes.] Godfrey Bloom, back in his days as UKIP whip Photo credit: Reuters Before becoming a politician, Godfrey Bloom worked for 35 years...