Raising Interest Rates Is Like Starting a Fission Chain Reaction

Central bankers seem to think that adjusting interest rates is a nice little tool that they can easily handle. The problem is that higher interest rates affect the economy in many ways simultaneously. The lessons that seem to have been learned from past rate hikes may not be applicable today.

Furthermore, there can be quite a long time lag involved. Thus, by the time a central banker starts seeing an effect, it may be clear that the amount of the interest rate change is far too large.

A recent Zerohedge article seems to suggest that problems can arise with 10-year Treasury interest rates of less of than 3%. We may be facing a period of declining acceptable interest rates.

Figure 1. Chart from The Scariest Chart in the Market.

Let’s look at a few of the issues involved:

[1] The standard reason for raising interest rates seems to be concern about inflationary impacts occurring as a result of rising food and energy prices. In practice, the impact of such an interest rate change can be quite severe and quite delayed. 

Figure 2 is an illustration from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website showing one of today’s concerns: rising energy costs. Food prices are not yet rising. Normally, however, if oil prices rise, the cost of producing food will also rise. This happens because modern agricultural methods and transportation to markets both require the use of petroleum products.

Figure 2. Figure created by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showing percentage change in the Consumer Price Index between January 2017 and January 2018, for selected categories.

In fact, raising short-term interest rates seems to have been associated with trying to bring down rising food and energy costs, as early as the 1970s and early 1980s.

Figure 3. US three-month treasury interest rates. Chart prepared by St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The reason why an increase in short-term interest rates is helpful is because it reliably induces a recession. A person can see the close connection between short-term interest rate increases and recessions (gray bars) in Figure 3. Recessions in turn damp down food and energy prices.

The reason why this damping down effect occurs is because when there is a recession, many people are laid off from work. These people purchase fewer goods and services. With people out of work, “demand” for goods and services falls. (Demand is very closely related to “amount affordable.”) We might think of demand for goods and services as helping to maintain the “production” of new homes, new cars, upscale food products, toys, and even consulting services.

When demand falls, fewer goods of practically every type are made. This indirectly leads to less need for commodities of many types, including oil, natural gas, metals, and food. Commodities have very long production cycles, and only modest storage facilities. When lower demand for a commodity such as oil occurs, prices tend to adjust sharply downward, in order to signal the need for lower production. Figure 4 shows that interest rate spikes corresponded to the 1973-1974 oil price spike, the 1979 oil price spike, the 2004-2008 price run-up, and perhaps to other shorter oil price spikes.

Figure 4. Annual averages of Brent oil prices (in 2016$) and 3-month average interest rates, based on data similar to that shown in Figure 3 from “FRED.”

The annual data in Figure 4 loses the detail of month-to-month variations. Because of this, it makes the impact of the Great Recession look much less severe than it really was. Figure 5, using monthly data for recent periods, shows more clearly the severe fall in oil prices following the run-up in short-term interest rates in the 2004-2007 period.

Figure 5. Three-month US Treasury interest rates and Brent oil prices, both on a monthly average basis. Graph by FRED.

If a person looks at the indirect impacts on the economy as a whole, it becomes clear that the rise in short-term interest rates was one of the proximate causes of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. I talk about this in Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis. The minutes of the June 2004 Federal Reserve Open Market Committee indicate that the committee decided to start raising interest rates at a rate of 0.25% per quarter for the purpose of stopping the rise in energy and food prices.

The huge financial problems that indirectly resulted did not occur until four years later, in 2008. It is likely that most economists are unaware of the connection between the decision to raise rates back in 2004 and the Great Recession several years later.

[2] Higher energy prices squeeze a person’s “spendable income.” Higher interest rates have the same effect.

Economist James Hamilton showed that ten out of eleven recent recessions were associated with oil price shocks. We would argue that if an economy is subject to higher interest rates in addition to higher oil prices, the economy is doubly likely to go into recession. Figure 6 shows an illustration of the situation.

Figure 6. Image by author showing recessionary impact of rising energy costs and interest costs.

A wage earner’s pay does not normally increase as energy costs rise, or as interest costs rise. Even if energy and interest costs are well buried (in higher food costs, or in the higher cost of goods transported across the country, or in higher student loan payments) the amount of income that a person has available to spend on discretionary goods and services falls if energy and interest costs rise. Having both energy and interest costs take a bigger share of available income at the same time is especially a problem.

[3] Reduced interest rates can be used to conceal the adverse impact of rising energy prices.

This is another version of what we saw in Figure 6. If interest rates can be reduced, they can offset most of the bad impacts of higher energy prices. For example, if oil prices are higher, it helps if auto loans and mortgages loans are lower in cost.

Figure 7. Image by author showing that artificially low interest rates can mostly offset the impact of rising energy costs.

Of course, central bankers don’t necessarily think this through. To what extent is today’s economy really dependent on very low interest rates?

[4] Falling interest rates have an almost magical impact on the economy. Rising interest rates reverse these magical impacts, and replace them with very negative impacts.

We saw in Figure 6 how falling interest rates could more or less conceal a rise in energy prices. The following are a few of the additional magical things that falling interest rates can do:

(a) Falling interest can raise asset prices of many kinds, including homes, stock prices, resale prices of bonds, and the price of land.

(b) Falling interest rates can raise commodity prices, making it possible to extract more fossil fuels and metals. Resources that previously did not look economic to extract, suddenly become economic to extract. This change occurs because with lower interest rates, more people can afford to purchase goods that use oil, such as cars and motorcycles. This tends to raise demand for oil products, and thus prices.

(c) Because higher-priced energy extraction becomes feasible at lower interest rates, more advanced technology, at higher prices, suddenly becomes feasible. Jobs open up in research areas that would not previously have made sense at lower energy prices.

(d) Falling interest rates can make the balance sheets of companies holding stocks and bonds as assets look better, because of their rising prices.

(e) Rising asset prices “feed back” into spendable income. People with homes that have risen in value can refinance, and use the proceeds to fix up their home (add an additional room or an updated kitchen, for example). Individual citizens and companies can sell shares of stock that have risen in value and use those proceeds to augment other income.

If interest rates rise rather than fall, the impacts can be expected to be extremely recessionary. The stock market may crash. Homes are likely to lose value because of a lack of buyers that can afford them. Energy resources that seemed to be available can suddenly seem not to be feasible because of low prices.

[5] The economy was able to reasonably tolerate the run-up in interest rates in the 1950 – 1980 period because the economy was growing very rapidly. 

A person can see the pattern of short-term interest rates in Figure 3, above. Long-term (10-year) interest rates follow a somewhat similar, but smoother, pattern (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Monthly average 10-year Treasury interest rates, through January 2018, in chart by FRED.

World per capita energy consumption was rising very rapidly in the 1950 to 1970 period. Even in the troubled 1970 to 1980 period, per capita energy consumption continued to rise, although not as quickly (Figure 9).

Figure 9. World per capita energy consumption, with 1950-1980 period of rapid growth highlighted. World Energy Consumption by Source, based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects (Appendix) together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent, divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison.

When world per capita energy consumption is growing this rapidly, jobs tend to be plentiful and wages tend to rise faster than inflation. According to Figure 10, US wages rose more rapidly than inflation in the 1950 to 1970 period, without wage disparity becoming a problem. Even in the 1970 to 1980 period, when high oil prices were a problem, US wages were able to rise quickly enough to keep up with inflation. Rising wage disparity did not become a problem until after 1980.

Figure 10. Chart comparing income gains by the top 10% to income gains by the bottom 90% by economist Emmanuel Saez. Amounts are inflation adjusted. Based on an analysis of IRS data, published in Forbes.

The share of US citizens in the workforce also rose during the period up to 1980, as an increasing percentage of women joined the workforce (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Employment as a percentage of the population, aged 25-54. Chart from FRED, using OECD amounts.

The thing that made the 1950-1970 period unusual was the growing availability of inexpensive fossil fuels. With fossil fuels, it was possible to add expressways where they had never been before. This allowed more interstate trade and improved the productivity of truck drivers. Labor saving devices allowed women to join the workforce. Farming continued to become more productive, with all of its labor saving equipment. Even as energy prices rose in the 1970 to 1980 period, citizens were able to continue to buy energy products because their wages were rising enough to keep up with inflation.

The growth in productivity was so great that wages plus government benefits (as measured by “Disposable Personal Income”) rose almost too fast. This added inflationary pressures to the economy. It is my opinion that these inflationary pressures contributed greatly to the oil price run-up in the 1973-1974 and the 1979-1981 periods.

Figure 12. Three-year average growth in Disposable Personal Income compared to inflation as measured by CPI-Urban. DPI from US Bureau of Economic Analysis; CPI from Bureau of Labor Statistics. Per Capita Disposable Personal Income is calculated by dividing DPI by US population, also from the BEA.

The run-up in oil prices also to some extent reflected a scarcity problem; note the two spikes in CPI-Urban in the 1970s in Figure 12, which are higher than would be expected, if the problem were simply a problem caused by the very high per capita Disposable Personal Income growth.

A major problem of the 1970s was a decline in US crude oil production for the area outside Alaska.

Figure 13. US crude oil production by type, based on EIA data.

This scarcity problem was significantly mitigated by the development of oil fields in Alaska, Mexico, and the North Sea in the next few years.

One of the things that substantially helped fix the oil problems of the 1970s was the fact that the US, as well as other developed countries, was able to make changes that substantially reduced their oil consumption. These changes included:

  • Moving to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars
  • Finding fuel substitutes when oil was being used being burned to create electricity
  • Changing oil-based home heating to approaches that used other fuels

Figure 14. Oil consumption by part of the world. Data from BP Statistical Report of World Energy 2017.

The combination of these approaches brought supply and demand more into balance. There was small dip in consumption in the 1973-1975 period, and a larger dip in the 1979 to 1984 period. In comparison, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hardly made a dent.

An indirect impact of these changes was the fact that the US economy needed to become more integrated into the world market. The US started importing smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles from Japan, since Japan was already making these cars. Japan started making other kinds of goods as well to sell to the US and other markets. The US and other countries built nuclear electric generation to replace some of the oil-fired electricity generation. These plants were capital intensive and required growing debt.

Especially after 1981, changes started to take place in the US economy, reflecting its changed role in the world. US companies grew in size, as they began to add overseas markets to their local markets. Wage disparity became more of an issue, as high tech operations required more specialized high-wage workers and fewer of those with only a general education. Increased competition for jobs with workers from lower-wage countries also tended to hold down wages of those without advanced training.

[6] The situation is very different now, compared to the 1970s. It is doubtful that today’s economy could tolerate a spike in interest rates.

Today, we are not seeing rapid growth in per capita energy consumption, the way we were in the 1950 to 1980 period (Figure 9). In fact, world per capita energy consumption is almost flat (Figure 15), the way it was during the period of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the way it was at the time of the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s (Figure 9).

Figure 15. World energy per capita and world oil price in 2016 US$. Energy amounts from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017. Population estimates from UN 2017 Population data and Medium Estimates.

There are other similarities to the 1930s period. Short-term interest rates are back to the low level they were in the 1930s (Figure 3). Growth in Disposable Personal Income per capita is persistently low (Figure 12). Wage disparity is at the high level experienced back in the 1930s (Figure 16).

Figure 16. U. S. Income Shares of Top 1% and Top 0.1%, Wikipedia exhibit by Piketty and Saez.

It is probably because of this renewed wage disparity that we are having difficulty with oil gluts. Oil gluts were also experienced in the 1930s. People with inadequate wages cannot afford goods made with oil products. These gluts occur because of affordability problems–inadequate wages for part of the workforce.

Figure 17. US ending stock of crude oil, excluding the strategic petroleum reserve. Figure produced by EIA. Figure by EIA.

Despite the spike in oil prices that central bankers are concerned about, oil prices are currently too low for producers. Oil exporting countries, such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria, depend on high oil prices so that they can collect high tax revenue. These countries are especially hurt by today’s low oil prices.

An increase in interest rates could very easily create a recession and drop oil prices even lower than they are today. Of course, that is precisely the intent of the central bankers. Our problem is that the economy cannot operate without energy products, particularly oil. The cost of producing oil is rising because of diminishing returns. It simply is not possible to drop its price as low as oil-importing countries would like it to be.

[7] Economists and central bankers think that they have good models of how the economy operates, but they really do not. 

The economy is a self-organized system that is able to create goods and services using energy products. In fact, it cannot continue its existence, without continued very substantial energy consumption. The economy gradually builds itself up, with new businesses, new consumers, newly invented products, and with transportation and financial systems. I envision the economy as looking something like a child’s toy that is built from many pieces. If one or more pieces are removed, the system could collapse.

Figure 18. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

The economy has been built based on the laws of physics. It requires sufficient energy. It is in many ways like a hurricane that loses power if it is forced to go over land for any distance. A hurricane gets extra strength if it is able to pass over very warm water, which provides the energy it needs. Right now, the world economy is showing signs that it does not have sufficient energy; the standard of living of young people around the world is falling. The return on energy investment is far too low.

While it may be true that the US economy looks like it is at full employment, based on the number of people looking for jobs, the percentage of people aged 25-54 with jobs tells a different story (Figure 11). This percentage has fallen since 2000, at least partly because of globalization.

Unfortunately, the approach that economists are taking to model the economy cannot provide a good representation of how the economy really works. A self-organized system has many feedback loops that are difficult to understand and model. One change leads to other changes that are hard to see in advance. The problem with current models is that they are likely to produce misleading indications.

[8] Conclusion

We have heard the saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” The theory behind raising interest rates seems to follow a similar line of reasoning. If central bankers can raise interest rates, economies will be stronger.

The catch is that we are too close to the “edge” to be testing an increase in interest rates. Economies, below a certain “stall speed,” cannot repay debt with interest, and cannot hope to provide entrepreneurs with an adequate return on investment. Our low rate of growth is already close to this stall speed.

Given where we are today, it would be quite possible to accidentally “kill” the economy with rising interest rates. This would be especially the case if short-term and longer-term interest rates rise at the same time. A budget with large deficits could cause longer-term interest rates to rise. So could selling large amounts of QE debt.

Also, feedbacks don’t come quickly enough to make necessary course corrections. This makes raising interest rates way too much like playing with physics reactions we don’t fully understand. Interest rate increases (like fission reactions) start chain reactions. In an open environment such as the world economy, we have limited understanding of the outcome of these chain reactions.

Source: https://ourfiniteworld.com/2018/02/21/raising-interest-rates-is-like-starting-a-fission-chain-reaction/

Gold Update 19112017

Gold has continued to consolidate in a large sideways holding pattern focused around US$1300, disappointing bulls and bears alike.

The failure of gold to rally to the US$1527 area prompted us to reconsider our second alternative in mid September. That view called for a continued frustrating consolidation.  Now we are in the final stages with a final slow, meandering upward move to US$1300 – US$1330. Then a strong downward move will take us to US$770 and potentially lower. This move will be typically powered by a sudden news flash that “spooks” the market. The extent of the down move will prove to be devastating and set up the key buying opportunity for the next long term bull market. In a worse case scenario gold could fall towards the US$400 level. We shall watch the unfolding downward move to discover the depth of the fall.

Interestingly gold’s consolidation phase looks set to be complete in the next month taking us into the end of the year. We also anticipate the US stock market to have completed it’s upward move, accomplishing a long term top that will stand for decades to come.

We will be publishing close to this all time peak our “Next Major Phase: the coming Mini Dark Age 2018-2030” which will spell out what is happening, the whys and things to expect.


Political Risk 2 – Reflections

We reported (04/06/2017) prior to the UK General Election 2017:

There is a minor risk of a hung parliament where, like 2010, the new government may have to collaborate to hold office. This would make managing the Brexit process untenable. The loss of political and economic confidence that would ensue would bring chaos to the UK. Should there be an outright victory to Labor, we would see a reversion to the 1950/70’s style politics that would also be a disaster.

Little did we realize how close to the mark we would be. PM May’s electoral disaster has profound repercussions for the UK. Firstly Brexit becomes a challenge at the negotiation table because of the weakened hand PM May presents to the EU. Secondly, Jeremy Corbyn’s success at the polls will force the Conservatives to move to the centre-left of UK politics to capture Corbyn’s new found friends – the 18-34 year demographic that has recently discovered politics and utopian self-interest.

This is a disaster for the UK and will not end well. May’s leadership will be under constant challenge for the next 5 years. One of her few chances of success depends on being able to negotiate a quick exit from the EU. This is unlikely.

As has happened in Australia in 2016, the UK and with a 9% confidence level in US Congress reflecting the rising distrust voters have for politicians. This is a trend that will continue around the world for the foreseeable future. The unintended consequence of voter distrust however is that political confidence begins to fail and economic confidence collapses soon after.

In the United States the Democratic – Republican flash point continues to escalate. President Trump is beginning to claw back a few points against the “Deep State” influence working inside government. Investigations are building cases on leaks and corruption. Trump is slowly gaining momentum with his agenda despite the continual challenge of the left agenda.

Unfortunately the first directly attributable acts of violence have occurred with a Republican Congressman and two police officers wounded at an annual practice baseball session for Congress politicians. The use of violence in political discourse is inherently evil itself and not in keeping with the liberal-democratic tradition that has benefited humanity. Since 2015 we have witnessed an increasing breakdown of civil discourse – a cornerstone of a free society. This marks the first violence of the civil strife we predict emerging in the US. We anticipate this will continue to escalate over the next few years. It will not end well and directly reflects the internal divisions that continue to rent US civil society.

At the same time we move slowly towards The End of the Long Game, the last gasp of the “Industrial Revolution Cycle” that commenced in 1783. We still view the September 2017 – March 2018 time window as the time for that final top, to be followed by the downward phase of the cycle. As always rebirth follows endings and the advance of humanity continues.

This worsening political discord in the US and other liberal democratic countries merely reflect the changing cycle mentioned previously. Given the magnitude of the cycle involved – one that builds and destroys empires, we can glimpse directly at the political and economic forces shaping events and the changes to come.

Political Risk in 2017-2018

In the UK, the conservatives it appears, will win a reduced majority to govern the UK and Brexit process. It is also clear that a loss or hung parliament  for the Conservatives will set the UK back a hundred years politically and economically in the confusion and discord it would sew.

There is a minor risk of a hung parliament where, like 2010, the new government may have to collaborate to hold office. This would make managing the Brexit process untenable. The loss of political and economic confidence that would ensue would bring chaos to the UK. Should there be an outright victory to Labor, we would see a reversion to the 1950/70’s style politics that would also be a disaster.

So, the stakes are just as high as they were in June 2016. What was a ‘sure thing’ bet at the start of the election process has become marginal at a time when the consequences are high. The spontaneous ordering of the voting process may check politicians from being able to achieve their agenda at the expense of the national interest. What hubris by PM May who put personal agenda ahead of the national political interest.

This is typical of the problems found in liberal democracies. Liberal democracies around the world are dying. Voters are cynical of the promises and ability of politicians to achieve anything.

Flag - EU 12Ironically, the EU have hailed Macron’s victory as a sign that right wing populism has peaked and in remission. With no mirror for self reflection the EU elite are back at ‘business as usual’. “Nothing to look at here – move on”! They needed a Le Pen win to shock them into making real change. Macron’s victory has only deferred the inevitable by a year. Meanwhile, the political change that is sweeping the world at present will continue with German elections in October this year. Merkel it appears is set for a heavy defeat.

And in the USA the left wing is continuing its attempt to undermine President Trump and effectively ignore the rule of law. Left wing forces operating at every level of US media, government and politics are moving to impeach Trump. Meanwhile the silent majority that elected Trump are watching and waiting and growing angry.

The last time we saw his level of scale of political unrest was 1740 – 1785 culminating in the French Revolution. The rising tide of political unrest in the USA, UK and EU is polarized by left vs right as well as the elite vs the people. Remember, when political confidence falters, economic confidence falls soon after. This is what is happening now. As pressures continue to mount in the USA and EU there is increasing risk of civil strife breaking out.

The phase June 2017 to December 2018 remains a time of escalating risk. Over this 18 month time frame, what transpires will shape the world and its history for the next 12 years and set up the circumstances that will shape the rest of this century.

Post Australian Election Commentary

In our Australian election forecast of 28/06/16 and 16/06/2016 we forecast the risk of a ‘hung parliament’ or an outright win to the ALP. This was based on the principle of ‘Contrary Opinion’.

It took two weeks to resolve the final outcome of the national election. It left a Liberal government in power but without a majority in the Senate. The result has continued the ongoing risk element in Australian politics. Should government fail to deliver or introduces any form of controversial legislation, we may expect blocking in the Senate. Not quite the ‘hung parliament’ suggested but a second best – with a kind of severe arm lock if government steps beyond its mandate.

The voters got what they wanted. Through the mysterious spontaneous ordering process, the electoral process has communicated the deep level of cynicism Australians have towards politicians. It also reflects that no politician really has any clear solution or way forward for society and economy. And so voters have ensured that politicians can’t get away with too much. Little has been said by politicians that offers any resonance with voters.

Economic, social  and political restructuring is needed to set Australia on course for its next phase. The electorate is exhausted by the constant personality bicker of politicians and their inability to tackle the big issues. Politicians have delivered a consistent message for over a decade that political self interest is more important than the people. Accordingly, many believe the economic and social decline experienced by Australians is set to continue.

Unfortunately, without a clear vision from government and a high risk of being blocked by the Senate, Australia remains in an entropic state with a continuing risk of stagnation. This trend may start to accelerate as capital outflows intensify over late 2016/2017 into US dollars. We anticipate inflation in the USA will climb rapidly over the next 1-2 years. Capital will be sucked from the EU and periphery including Australia. This will indeed be the last gasp of the ‘end of the long game.’

Crude Oil Lows?

We are still waiting confirmation that crude oil prices have completed their forecast lows. Notwithstanding one more low, potentially down to our target of US$12 per barrel, we anticipate the recovery of the oil market.

We expect oil prices to recover slowly, reaching as high as US$80 – $95 per barrel before entering a stagnating, equilibrium phase lasting many years and keeping oil prices in a long term trading range between US$30 per barrel and US$60 per barrel. Long term over supply will continue to keep this market under pressure despite the potential for geopolitical shocks occurring from time to time.

The coming oil price movement is typical of a commodity market that has been through a major boom and bust phase. Once we have confirmed the lows are in, we can more accurately define the next phase of the crude oil market.

High Risk Stock Market Situation

The US stock market has the potential for large, rapid falls over the next couple of weeks. As long as the DJIA stays above 11258 (SP500 1219.8) the market remains in a correction phase.

Completion of the selloff phase above 11258 (SP500 1219.8) would indicate a potential move to new highs over the next few years accompanied by stronger inflation and strong prospects for the US economy.Such a scenario has the potential to unfold with rising interest rates, a strong US dollar and a strong domestic US economy.

A breach of 11258 (SP500 1219.8) followed by a corrective rally would indicate a major bear market was unfolding and provide the momentum swing to take out the 2009 lows.

While this prediction is valid for the US stock market we see signs the US dollar will continue to strengthen over the course of 2016 leading to a potential top. The strengthening US dollar and rising interest rates will have bearish implications for the rest of the world economy where funds are being sucked from the periphery to the centre.

Oil Consumption Forecast

Barry Norman forecasts oil consumption.

Crude Oil added 45 points as traders bought up the cheap commodity taking advantage of low prices and the hopes that OPEC members will cut production now that Iran has returned to the marketplace combating US exports. Brent Oil added $1.08 to 29.64. Crude oil prices continued to be hurt by bearish sentiments across the globe as markets remain nervous as to how low oil prices can go. Besides, the supply side remains intact further exerting downside pressure on oil prices.

Low oil prices, weak investment demand and low physical demand are push factors for gold prices to trade lower while bargain hunting will provide a push for gold prices in the near term.

The EIA (U.S. Energy Information and Administration) had reported that the global crude oil production will rise to 95.9 million barrels per day (MMbpd) in 2016 and 96.7 MMbpd in 2017. The global crude oil production was at 95.7 MMbpd of crude oil in 2015. The global oil consumption is expected to average 95.2 MMbpd in 2016 and 96.6 MMbpd in 2017.

Meanwhile, the JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs suggested that crude oil prices could test $20 per barrel in 2016. Royal Bank of Scotland suggests that crude oil prices could test $16 per barrel, while Standard Chartered suggests that oil prices could hit $10 per barrel in the worst-case scenario.


Chinese Economy braced for a Reality Check

Valentin Schmid evaluates the Bank of America Report on the Chinese Economy.

The Chinese regime still has considerable power over the markets. After a 7 percent crash of the Shanghai Composite on January 4, it managed to reverseanother 3 percent drop on January 5.

So, in the very short term, all is well. In the long term and even in 2016, Bank of America sees big problems ahead for the Chinese economy. According to their analysts, the regime has to fight multiple battles at once and will ultimately lose to market forces.

“We judge that China’s debt situation has probably passed the point of no-return and it will be difficult to grow out of the problem,” states a report by Bank of America’s chief strategist David Cui.

The report points out that a spike in private sector debt almost inevitably leads to a financial crisis. China’s private debt to GDP ratio went up 75 percent between 2009 and 2014, bringing total debt-to-GDP to about 300 percent. Too much to sustain.

This is “a classic case of short-term stability breeding long-term instability. It’s our assessment that the longer this practice drags on, the higher the risk of financial system instability, and the more painful the ultimate fallout will be,” Cui writes.

For the coming crisis, Cui believes China will probably have to devalue its currency, write off bad debts, recapitalize the banks, and reduce the debt burden with high inflation.

After the events of last August, and after the International Monetary Fund finally included China in its reserve currency basket, the regime completely abandoned the stable currency objective and let the yuan drift lower. The regime promises reform, and even follows through in some cases. But if push comes to shove, it resorts to central planning to mould the market according to its needs, with less and less success.

“It seems to us that the government’s policy options are rapidly narrowing-one only needs to look at how difficult it has been for the government to hold up GDP growth since mid-2014. A slowdown in economic growth is typically a prelude to financial sector instability,” writes Cui, and predicts the Shanghai Composite to drop by 27 percent in 2016.

Source: Bank of America Report


The Great Sovereign Debt Crisis Coming Soon

Starting in Europe and reaching public consciousness when Japan implodes before engulfing the USA and remaining Liberal-Democratic nations.

The Great Sovereign Debt Crisis of the 21st Century is steadily gaining momentum. The forces of deflation have been steadily building since 2000 and the stage is set over the next 6-12 months where the reality of public plundering of the means of production comes home to roost. The weight of public and private debt, government regulation and leverage, fraudulent economics and fallacious political thinking that assumes that if you keep taking and spending other people’s money you will never ever run out!

Yet this is exactly what is happening. The politicians have borrowed to deliver on promises they were never going to be around to see delivered. They’ve debased the their currency and now we have reached the problem that there is so much debt in the world that the world does not have enough income to service that debt.

Historically its happened many times before of course and yet we never seem to learn. Empires grow and prosper, politicians make promises, governments and people borrow and everyone takes for granted the wealth that has been achieved until finally, it all collapses. History records the rise and fall of civilizations on exactly this premise. It’s always government and the self-seeking of leaders that cause civilizations to self-destruct.

While we observe the rise and fall of empires due to reasons of currency debasement or war, we can also observe that these are merely the mechanisms that cause the problems. Behind them lies the cyclic nature of humanity. Deep in the limbic system of the human brain reside deep impulses that play out at individual and aggregate levels.

We might look back at the Tulip Mania Bubble of the Dutch Golden Age (1634-1637) and wonder how people might have been so crazy as to invest in tulips. The Tulip Mania occurred on the back of a Europe-wide debasement of coins (1619-1622) used to finance war. Yet they did and future historians will look back at early 21st century share, commodity, real estate prices and wonder “how could they have been so blind?”TulipPricesDebasement of the currency has occurred this time by closing the link between gold and paper money and the massive printing of money that subsequently occurred. Each era brings the usual excuse “this time its different”. But the same debasing of money, the same political hubris, the same grasp for political power create the same drivers that cause the boom and the bust.

We watch at the moment the European debt drama playing out in Greece. Other nations sit on the edge of potential debt crises including Spain, Portugal, Italy, Puerto Rica and various cities of the US. This is just the beginning. Soon we shall see the debt crisis spreading to northern Europe, Japan, China and the US. Its about sovereign debt of course, the debt accumulated by generations of politicians spending other people’s money.SouthSeaIn Japan they experienced this in the early 1930’s when massive money printing operations inflated their economy. It resulted in the assassination of the Finance Minister and Prime Minister, the establishment of the military as the power brokers of Japanese politics and the beginnings of the build up for for WWII. That didn’t end well for the Japanese people.

Between 1740 and 1783, the French experienced it with the massive indebtedness of the monarchy, high taxes, high levels of regulation and cronyism led to the French Revolution, Napoleon and a final defeat in 1815.

Pax Romana followed a similar path where eventually the debasement of the currency and accumulated debt caused the empire to implode. To look at Pax Americana is to see an identical script unfolding. Massively unsustainable debt levels, vast militarization, endless monetary debasement, constitutional decay and subjugation of citizens by taxation, regulation and blatant spying signal, as it has in many previous civilizations, the demise of this short lived empire.

Using financial markets as a barometer we observe markets in major topping patterns, working out of main trends. The next 3-6 months will prove critical in determining if the Great Sovereign Debt Crisis has truly arrived or if there is still enough gas in the tank for one last sprint before the weight of debt, regulation and political hubris bring down the liberal – democratic nations of the world. dow-jones-100-year-historical-chart-2015-08-07Once again the cyclic nature of human egress and regress is playing out at individual and aggregate levels and from where we stand, major and minor cycles of human endeavor are changing direction. Crisis bring danger and opportunity for those so prepared.

The Rise of Medical Tourism

Rise of Medical TourismComparative advantages between countries creates opportunities for sick people needing treatment. In many government run health care systems it can be cheaper to travel to another country and be treated there. You jump the waiting queue and the costs are much more affordable where you are required to pay some or all of the cost.

Traveling from the USA to Mexico for treatments such as dental care and other small procedures is well known. Thailand is well known as a Medical Tourist destination with excellent facilities and extremely cost effective. Singapore is well known as a destination for advanced procedures for wealthy Indonesians and Africans.

As more government run healthcare systems become bogged down by regulation, burgeoning costs, under-resourcing and underfunding, even governments will see Medical Tourism as a partial solution to their problems. A health insurance provider will examine the local cost to perform say, a hip replacement or heart bypass surgery) and offer their insured the choice – stay and wait for the surgery or take you and your partner on an all expenses holiday (airfares, hotel, hospital & surgery and recovery time) to Thailand, Mexico or India.

For government they relieve political pressure as it gets the waiting lists reduced, saves money and frees up the healthcare system. It introduces competition for medical services that helps to put a brake on healthcare costs, especially for doctors fees. For consumers, you get immediate attention to your health issue, a holiday (with or without your partner) and reduce your out of pocket expenses.

All that’s needed now is for doctors, politicians and bureaucrats is to let go of their hubris and ensure the requisite healthcare standards are in place so people can become medical tourists. Easy!

Yanis Reveals EU Denial of Any Right of the People to Vote

Varoufakis Yanis

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has come out to reveal the quite shocking and anti-democratic events that took place during the last Eurogroup meeting. First, they do hate Yanis’ guts, for he understands far more about the economy than anyone in Brussels. At their demand, any further discussions will be without him. What led to the EU breaking off was exactly what we reported previously — they do not want any member state to EVER allow the people to vote on the euro. Brussels has become a DICTATORSHIP and is so arrogant without any just cause, believing that they know better than the people.

We are watching the total collapse of Democracy and the birth of a new era — Economic Totalitarianism from arrogant people who are totally clueless beyond their own greed for power and money.

Source: http://www.armstrongeconomics.com/archives/34115

Editor Note: Greece is the end of the beginning for the EZ and the beginning of a long period of political, social and economic instability that co-incides with the topping phase of the upward phase of the Industrial Revolution cycle that began in 1783-85.

Era of Transparency & Accountability Beginning for Politicians

An era of transparency & accountability is beginning for politicians.

Very shortly the U.S. Congress will shortly vote to make Economic Impact Assessments (EIAs) a mandatory part of every executive rule or regulation passed with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more (REINS Act SR226 & HR 47).

Elsewhere the rise of right wing politics in the EU and UK is forcing scrutiny on politicians and bringing them to account. In many democracies it may become mandatory to attach economic impact assessment statements to each piece of legislation  If this trend reaches an extreme we will see calls to have politicians and government unable to raise any debt. given their track record however, maybe this is not such a bad thing.

The Australian state of Queensland election is also forcing the incumbent Premier Newman to adopt transparency and accountability principles. We anticipate transparency and accountability will become the new fashion for liberal democratic governments over the next 3-5 years.

The ‘political hubris bubble’ is finally beginning to burst. Social mood is swinging into action and voters are acting on their long held distrust of politicians. Firstly they exercised their democratic privilege to put several governments into ‘hung parliament’ balances (UK, USA Australia) and now they are beginning to hold them accountable. The days where politicians can promise, over-commit and overspend is coming to an end.

Oil Price Predictions

In 2011 we forecast that crude oil prices would in the long term move towards US$12.00 per barrel. Oil prices just touched US$50.00 per barrel, well on our way towards our target.

Whilst oil has considerable potential for a counter rally we believe this rally will only relieve the oversold nature of the market.

Implications for the oil price collapse are profound with business and consumers benefiting from the lower prices. This may stimulate low consumer price inflation, strong stock markets and real estate prices as consumers take advantage of increased disposable income. Our Bull Market Argument outlines how this phase reflects the 1921 – 1929 period in US economic history, also known as the “Roaring 20’s”.

Debt based on high oil prices will suffer of course and could trigger banking issues. If perceived by markets as a negative phenomenon, the impact is highly deflationary and could pull the world into a global deflationary spiral and depression. This is in line with our Bear Market Argument.

We anticipate oil prices to consolidate between US$40.00 to US$80.00 for the rest of 2015 and potentially into 2016 before the long term downtrend carries prices down towards our target. (More specific consolidation targets to be posted later).

The End of the Long Game 2009-2018

Updated as at 24th December 2014

Just when we thought the climate had cleared the scenario ahead, once again it has polarised, again presenting two clearly different scenarios. The question is whether we are, like the Titanic, about to experience the final plunge or will our economic boat remain afloat for a few more months or years to come? This article does not attempt to make trading or investment recommendations. Let’s look at both scenarios in two parts ….. Continue reading

Consumer Inflation Verging on Breaking Out in the US

The October Producer Price Index in the US released yesterday showed a 0.2% increase over the previous month. This increase comes despite a massive decline in energy prices over the last 2 months. Most indices contained within the PPI moved higher showing broad increases.

Examining the energy markets we see in the improvement in oil prospects for the US has caused OPEC nations such as Saudia Arabia to hold high production levels hence causing oil prices to soften. At between US$65- $80 per barrel oil and gas fracking becomes unprofitable and we see new equilibrium prices occurring around this US$70-80 level occurring in the near term. Longer term pricing remains dependent on global economic activity. we remain wary of the potential for slowing global economic growth. Continue reading

The U.S. Government Is Borrowing About 8 Trillion Dollars A Year

By Michael Snyder for The Economic Collapse
National Debt - Public Domain

I know that headline sounds completely outrageous.  But it is actually true.  The U.S. government is borrowing about 8 trillion dollars a year, and you are about to see the hard numbers that prove this.  When discussing the national debt, most people tend to only focus on the amount that it increases each 12 months.  And as I wrote about recently, the U.S. national debt has increased by more than a trillion dollars in fiscal year 2014.  But that does not count the huge amounts of U.S. Treasury securities that the federal government must redeem each year.  When these debt instruments hit their maturity date, the U.S. government must pay them off.  This is done by borrowing more money to pay off the previous debts.  In fiscal year 2013, redemptions of U.S. Treasury securities totaled $7,546,726,000,000 and new debt totaling $8,323,949,000,000 was issued.  The final numbers for fiscal year 2014 are likely to be significantly higher than that.So why does so much government debt come due each year?

Well, in recent years government officials figured out that they could save a lot of money on interest payments by borrowing over shorter time frames.  For example, it costs the government far more to borrow money for 10 years than it does for 1 year.  So a strategy was hatched to borrow money for very short periods of time and to keep “rolling it over” again and again and again.

This strategy has indeed saved the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments, but it has also created a situation where the federal government must borrow about 8 trillion dollars a year just to keep up with the game.

So what happens when the rest of the world decides that it does not want to loan us 8 trillion dollars a year at ultra-low interest rates?

Well, the game will be over and we will be in a massive amount of trouble.

I am about to share with you some numbers that were originally reported by CNS News.  As you can see, far more debt is being redeemed and issued today than back during the middle part of the last decade…


Redeemed: $7,546,726,000,000

Issued: $8,323,949,000,000

Increase: $777,223,000,000


Redeemed: $6,804,956,000,000

Issued: $7,924,651,000,000

Increase: $1,119,695,000,000


Redeemed: $7,026,617,000,000

Issued: $8,078,266,000,000

Increase: $1,051,649,000,000


Redeemed: $7,206,965,000,000

Issued: $8,649,171,000,000

Increase: $1,442,206,000,000


Redeemed: $7,306,512,000,000

Issued: $9,027,399,000,000

Increase: $1,720,887,000,000


Redeemed: $4,898,607,000,000

Issued: $5,580,644,000,000

Increase: $682,037,000,000


Redeemed: $4,402,395,000,000

Issued: $4,532,698,000,000

Increase: $130,303,000,000


Redeemed: $4,297,869,000,000

Issued: $4,459,341,000,000

Increase: $161,472,000,000

The only way that this game can continue is if the U.S. government can continue to borrow gigantic piles of money at ridiculously low interest rates.

And our current standard of living greatly depends on the continuation of this game.

If something comes along and rattles this Ponzi scheme, life in America could change radically almost overnight.

In the United States today, we have a heavily socialized system that hands out checks to nearly half the population.  In fact, 49 percent of all Americans live in a home that gets direct monetary benefits from the federal government each month according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  And it is hard to believe, but Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone.  At this point, the primary function of the federal government is taking money from some people and giving it to others.  In fact, more than 70 percent of all federal spending goes to “dependence-creating programs”, and the government runs approximately 80 different “means-tested welfare programs” right now.  But the big problem is that the government is giving out far more money than it is taking in, so it has to borrow the difference.  As long as we can continue to borrow at super low interest rates, the status quo can continue.

But a Ponzi scheme like this can only last for so long.

It has been said that when the checks stop coming in, chaos will begin in the streets of America.

The looting that took place when a technical glitch caused the EBT system to go down for a short time in some areas last year and the rioting in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri this year were both small previews of what we will see in the future.

And there is no way that we will be able to “grow” our way out of this problem.

As the Baby Boomers continue to retire, the amount of money that the federal government is handing out each year is projected to absolutely skyrocket.  Just consider the following numbers…

Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around.  Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.

It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.

In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.  Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.

Right now, there are approximately 63 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.

Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.

The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead.  Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.

Yes, things seem somewhat stable for the moment in America today.

But the same thing could have been said about 2007.  The stock market was soaring, the economy seemed like it was rolling right along and people were generally optimistic about the future.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 erupted and it seemed like the world was going to end.

Well, the truth is that another great crisis is rapidly approaching, and we are in far worse shape financially than we were back in 2008.

Don’t get blindsided by what is ahead.  Evidence of the coming catastrophe is all around you.

Source: http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/the-u-s-government-is-borrowing-about-8-trillion-dollars-a-year


India About to Hit the Sweet Spot

A combination of factors is bringing India to the “Sweet Spot’.url

A population of workers with an average age of around 35 combined with the arrival of a new government may be pulling Incredible India to where, at last, its population and vigor may carry it aloft. Like China in the early 80’s and 90’s, India has the potential to achieve rapid growth. But due to lack of political will, religious divisions, corruption, poverty, a massive overhang of the post-colonial era when Marxist-socialist solutions were the fashion and lack of capital, India’s progress has been slow.

The analogy is of an aircraft taking off. The back wheels are still on the ground but the nose has lifted up. This has been the case for some time with the deadweight of the various factors holding her back. This is about to change. Continue reading

The Coming Retail Evironment: Print Makeup Illustrates How It Works

 Imagine being able to make your own gorgeous, high-quality makeup at home, using any colors you choose.

That’s the future envisioned by Grace Choi, who made a huge splash this week when she presented a product that can 3-D print makeup at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Choi has created a prototype for a printer called “Mink” that will let users choose any color imaginable and then print out makeup in that exact same hue (at this point, she’s only done demonstrations with blush). By allowing people to skip the expensive department store prices to make the perfectly colored products themselves, Mink could completely revolutionize the makeup industry.

TechCrunch reporter Colleen Taylor asked Choi some more questions about Mink after her ground-breaking presentation to get a better idea of how the product will work.

Here’s what the final Mink could look like.

Although the prototype is currently the size of the average at-home printer, Choi says that the final product will be about the size of a Mac Mini and will sell for about $300, at least at first. There are two key features to this printer: It uses a cosmetic-grade dye that’s FDA-compliant, and, instead of printing on paper, it will print its colors onto a powder substrate that is like the raw material of regular makeup.

“It comes from the same sources as those products that you see on store shelves,” Choi told Taylor.

Choi’s product would let users find a color online, use a tool to find that hue’s hexadecimal number, and then print it. Every color has a unique hex number so you could literally print out any color.

She says that Mink will be targeted toward 13- to 21-year-old girls who are still experimenting with their makeup habits. That period is also when girls build confidence, she says, explaining that when she was growing up, she would sometimes have trouble finding beauty products suited for her skin.

When stores didn’t have any products targeted toward Asian women, she says she felt alienated. Similarly, when stores didn’t carry the more-exotic colors she was looking for, it made her feel like her ideas were abnormal.

“If they didn’t have a green- or black-colored lipstick that made me think that there was something weird about the way I was thinking,” Choi said. That thinking damaged her self-esteem, and she says that she stopped speaking up in class because she started believing that all her ideas were strange.

She wants her products to encourage young women to test out lots of different looks and have complete freedom over the colors that they choose, without ever feeling like their ideas were weird.

She says that the reaction to her product so far has been completely amazing.

“I’m really grateful. I’m really overwhelmed. I’m really excited about all of this,” Choi says. After a pause, “I’m speechless.”

Source: http://www.businessinsider.sg/mink-3d-printed-make-up-grace-choi-2014-5/#.U29c3YkazCR

Screenshots / TechCrunch

Editor’s Note: Expect many new and exciting products to come to market as 3-D printing takes off. This will revolutionize the retail industry over time as many OTC products can be replaced with a 3-D printer and their basic ingredients.