“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.
It is that time of the year again – our semi-annual funding drive begins today. Give us a little hand in offsetting the costs of running this blog, as advertising revenue alone is insufficient. You can help us reach our modest funding goal by donating either via paypal or bitcoin. Those of you who have made a ton of money based on some of the things we have said in these pages (we actually made a few good calls lately!), please feel free to up your donations accordingly (we are sorry if you have followed one of our bad calls. This is of course your own fault). Other than that, we can only repeat that donations to this site are apt to secure many benefits. These range from sound sleep, to children including you in their songs, to the potential of obtaining privileges in the afterlife (the latter cannot be guaranteed, but it seems highly likely). As always, we are greatly honored by your readership and hope that our special mixture of entertainment and education is adding a little value to your life!
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
One Response to “Convenient Beliefs”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part III
When Money Dies In part-I of the dispatch we talked about what happened during the first two days after Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi banned Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes, comprising of 88% of the monetary value of cash in circulation. In part-II, we talked about the scenes, chaos, desperation, and massive loss of productive capacity that this ban had led to over the next few days. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi – another finger-wagger, as can be seen in this...
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part II
Chaos in the Wake of the Ban Here is a link to Part 1, about what happened in the first two days after India's government made Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes illegal. They can now only be converted to Rs 100 (~$1.50) or lower denomination notes, at bank branches or post offices. Banks were closed the first day after the decision. What follows is the crux of what has happened over the subsequent four days. India's prime minister Nahendra Modi, author of the...
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part IV
A Market Gripped by Fear The Indian Prime Minister announced on 8th November 2016 that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes would no longer be legal tender. Linked are Part-I, Part-II and Part-III updates on the rapidly encroaching police state. The economic and social mess that Modi has created is unprecedented. It will go down in history as an epitome of naivety and arrogance due to Modi’s self-centered desire to increase tax-collection at any cost. Indian jewelry...
- A Note on Gold and India – What is Driving the Gold Price?
Hidden Motives It is well-known that India's government wants to coerce its population into “modernizing” its financial behavior and abandoning its traditions. The recent ban on large-denomination banknotes was not only meant to fight corruption. Obviously, this very bad Indian has way too much cash. Just look at him, he looks suspicious! Photo via thenewsminute.com In fact, as our friend Jayant Bhandari has pointed out, fresh avenues for corruption ...
- Will Trump Do What Reagan Couldn’t?
Depravity and Degeneration BALTIMORE – Finally, it’s over. We were both delighted and appalled by the news. A smile spread over our face... and our steps lightened... as we looked ahead to four years without Hillary Clinton’s know-it-all mug in the news. Praise be! This mug will be largely missing from the airwaves and the intertubes in coming years. And your caption scribbler PT won't have to look for a fall-out shelter! We thank the Lord and the American public for...
- India's Currency Debacle – An Interview with Jayant Bhandari
A Major Crisis Last week Jayant Bhandari related the story of the overnight ban of certain banknotes in India under cover of “stamping out corruption” (see Gold Price Skyrockets In India after Currency Ban Part 1 and Part 2 for the details). Banned 500 rupee banknotes The problem is inter alia that the sudden ban of these banknotes has hit the Indian economy quite hard, given that 97% of all transactions in the country are cash-based. Not only that, it has...
- Inflation Expectations Rise Sharply
Mini-Panic Over Inflation After Trump's Election Victory We have witnessed truly astonishing short term market conniptions following the Donald Trump's election victory. In this post we want to focus on one aspect that seems to be exercising people quite a bit at present, namely the recent surge in inflation expectations reflected in the markets. Will we have to get those WIN buttons out again? A 1970s “whip inflation now” button. The only thing that was actually needed...
- Will the Swamp Swallow Trump?
Permanently Skewed TRUMP HOTEL, New York – Trump’s rambling army – professionals, amateurs, camp followers, and profiteers – is marching south, down the I-95 corridor. There, on the banks of the Potomac, it will fight its next big battle. Lieutenants in Trump's army: Bannon, Flynn & Sessions Photo credit: Drew Angerer / AFP Here at the Diary, we do not like to get involved in politics. But this is a special time in the history of our planet – a...
- There Are Two Types of Credit — One of Them Leads to Booms and Busts
Stumped by the Bust In the slump of a cycle, businesses that were thriving begin to experience difficulties or go under. They do so not because of firm-specific entrepreneurial errors but rather in tandem with whole sectors of the economy. People who were wealthy yesterday have become poor today. Factories that were busy yesterday are shut down today, and workers are out of jobs. What has caused the bust? The modern-day economic orthodoxy continues to be unable to provide...
- All Aboard! Trump’s Express Train to the Future
Free Money! BALTIMORE – Last week, the Dow punched up above 19,000 – a new all-time record. And on Monday, the Dow, the S&P 500, the Nasdaq, and the small-cap Russell 2000 each hit new all-time highs. The last time that happened was on the last day of December 1999. Ironically, two events that were almost universally expected to trigger large stock market declines were followed by quite rapid and strong gains. Would the market have fallen if Hillary Clinton had won...
- Gold Bull Market Remains Intact – Long Term Fundamentals Outweigh Short Term Market Gyrations
A Strong First Half of the Year, Followed by Another Retreat In early 2016 gold had a big bull run. The precious metal rose close to 25% this year, pushed higher in a summer rally that peaked on July 10th. Gold experienced a bumpy ride over the remainder of the summer though, as investors became increasingly concerned about a potential rate hike by the Federal Reserve. Uncertainty returned to gold market and has intensified further since then. Initially, gold rallied sharply...
- Too Early for “Inflation Bets”?
The Trump Trade After 35 years of waiting... so many false signals... so often deceived... so often disappointed... bond bears gathered on rooftops as though awaiting the Second Coming. Many times, investors have said to themselves, “This is it! This is the end of the Great Bull Market in Bonds!” The long bond's long cycle – red rectangles indicate when the post 1980 bull market was held to be “over” or “over for sure” or “100% over”, etc. We have...