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/

US Stocks Update 19022018

US stocks have entered a consolidation phase with falls recording thousand point moves. The size of the falls merely reflects the size and scale of the up move. The market is working off some of the bullish sentiment and flushing out weak hands.

Market sentiment and its overbought nature indicate however that within 2-3 months the market will resume its upward momentum. This correction is a crack in the bull market and an indication of how close we are to an all time top. The fundamental issues that will bring this boom to an end are beginning to gather.

Our forecast was for a major top to occur either at year end 2017 or in March 2018. An interim top occurred on January 29th 2018. Now the market is consolidating between 24099 and 25500. After recovering to these upper levels we anticipate another strong sell off towards the 22000 level, creating panic selling. This will bring a momentum swing higher. The sell off will provide a buying opportunity (possibly in March) which should bring new highs before year end. That will be the final move up of the great bull market of 2009-2018. A repetition of the 1927-29 bull market in all its speculation and frenzy, fueled by cheap interest rates. This final rise could be exponential. These are very dangerous conditions to trade as the collapse when it comes will be swift and unrelenting.

The monthly DJIA chart going back to 1992 shows the gathering and scaling moves of the stock market. The rise from 2009 look incomplete. One more move to new highs would complete the “look and form”. A classic look would take the DJIA several thousand points above the current highs in what chartists would call an exhaustion move or “blow-off move”. This move may well be characterized by a booming economy, rising prices and wages, full employment and a sense of a “new golden era” unfolding. At the same time, growing storm clouds blight the horizon that may cause stocks to reach their January highs then stall. What are some factors that could cause this? Rising interest rates, pension funds, debt levels, derivatives, an outbreak of inflation, geopolitical tensions, the list is growing.

All of this is part of the psyche and form of people and events that have built up over decades and centuries. It is the completion of the up phase of the Industrial Revolution Cycle that began prior to 1783. Whether we have a few more months or seasons of twilight before the beginning of a new “Dark Age”, the clouds are gathering and the storm is coming.

Suffice to say, from now on we can expect increasingly tough times punctuated by phases of optimism. This is the nature of major long term tops. And of course the coming generation of correction will not merely be confined to asset prices and the vagaries of fiat money and bad economics, but also to societies and politics, both domestic and geopolitical.

Generations of people will learn about long forgotten natural laws and how it applies to human behavior. Social mood will have become dark and
this will also express itself through every aspect of society, both culturally and economically. Music, the arts, fashion, crime, politics, social mood and drama will all reflect the new paradigm. The growing social political and economic tensions we have witnessed is a harbinger of what is to come.

This phase will reset the stage for a new beginning for people from which a new and sustained social and economic recovery will slowly begin. By the time that point has arrived however, the nature of our societies and the way we relate with people and as nations will have changed. The wrangling about why it had to happen will be well underway.

The Structure of Collapse: 2016-2019

Charles Hugh Smith writing on his blog Of Two Minds:

The end-state of unsustainable systems is collapse. Though collapse may appear to be sudden and chaotic, we can discern key structures that guide the processes of collapse.

Though the subject is complex enough to justify an entire shelf of books, these six dynamics are sufficient to illuminate the inevitable collapse of the status quo.

1. Doing more of what has failed spectacularly. The leaders of the status quo inevitably keep doing more of what worked in the past, even when it no longer works. Indeed, the failure only increases the leadership’s push to new extremes of what has failed spectacularly. At some point, this single-minded pursuit of failed policies speeds the system’s collapse.

2. Emergency measures become permanent policies. The status quo’s leaders expect the system to right itself once emergency measures stabilize a crisis. But broken systems cannot right themselves, and so the leadership is forced to make temporary emergency measures (such as lowering interest rates to zero) permanent policy. This increases the fragility of the system, as any attempt to end the emergency measures triggers a system-threatening crisis.

3. Diminishing returns on status quo solutions. Back when the economic tree was loaded with low-hanging fruit, solutions such as lowering interest rates had a large multiplier effect. But as the tree is stripped of fruit, the returns on these solutions diminish to zero.

4. Declining social mobility. As the economic pie shrinks, the privileged maintain or increase their share, and the slice left to the disenfranchised shrinks. As the privileged take care of their own class, there are fewer slots open for talented outsiders. The status quo is slowly starved of talent and the ranks of those opposed to the status quo swell with those denied access to the top rungs of the social mobility ladder.

5. The social order loses cohesion and shared purpose as the social-economic classes pull apart. The top of the wealth/power pyramid no longer serves in the armed forces, and withdraws from contact with the lower classes. Lacking a unifying social purpose, each class pursues its self-interests to the detriment of the nation and society as a whole.

6. Strapped for cash as tax revenues decline, the state borrows more money and devalues its currency as a means of maintaining the illusion that it can fulfill all its promises. As the purchasing power of the currency declines, people lose faith in the state’s currency. Once faith is lost, the value of the currency declines rapidly and the state’s insolvency is revealed.

Each of these dynamics is easily visible in the global status quo.

As an example of doing more of what has failed spectacularly, consider how financialization inevitably inflates speculative bubbles, which eventually crash with devastating consequences. But since the status quo is dependent on financialization for its income, the only possible response is to increase debt and speculation—the causes of the bubble and its collapse—to inflate another bubble. In other words, do more of what failed spectacularly.

This process of doing more of what failed spectacularly appears sustainable for a time, but this superficial success masks the underlying dynamic of diminishing returns: each reflation of the failed system requires greater commitments of capital and debt. Financialization is pushed to new unprecedented extremes, as nothing less will generate the desired bubble.

 Rising costs narrow the maneuvering room left to system managers. The central bank’s suppression of interest rates is an example. As the economy falters, central banks lower interest rates and increase the credit available to the financial system.

This stimulus works well in the first downturn, but less well in the second and not at all in the third, for the simple reason that interest rates have been dropped to zero and credit has been increased to near-infinite.

The last desperate push to do more of what failed spectacularly is for central banks to lower interest rates to below-zero: it costs depositors money to leave their cash in the bank. This last-ditch policy is now firmly entrenched in Europe, and many expect it to spread around the world as central banks have exhausted less extreme policies.

The status quo’s primary imperative is self-preservation, and this imperative drives the falsification of data to sell the public on the idea that prosperity is still rising and the elites are doing an excellent job of managing the economy.

Since real reform would threaten those at the top of the wealth/power pyramid, fake reforms and fake economic data become the order of the day.

Leaders face a no-win dilemma: any change of course will crash the system, but maintaining the current course will also crash the system.

Welcome to 2016-2019.

Source: http://www.oftwominds.com/blogjune16/collapse6-16.html

Why Globalization Reaches Limits

Gail Tverberg writes:

We have been living in a world of rapid globalization, but this is not a condition that we can expect to continue indefinitely.

Figure 1. Ratio of Imported Goods and Services to GDP. Based in FRED data for IMPGS.

Figure 1. Ratio of Imported Goods and Services to GDP. Based in FRED data for IMPGS.

Each time imported goods and services start to surge as a percentage of GDP, these imports seem to be cut back, generally in a recession. The rising cost of the imports seems to have an adverse impact on the economy. (The imports I am showing are gross imports, rather than imports net of exports. I am using gross imports, because US exports tend to be of a different nature than US imports. US imports include many labor-intensive products, while exports tend to be goods such as agricultural goods and movie films that do not require much US labor.)

Recently, US imports seem to be down. Part of this reflects the impact of surging US oil production, and because of this, a declining need for oil imports. Figure 2 shows the impact of removing oil imports from the amounts shown on Figure 1.

Figure 2. Total US Imports of Goods and Services, and this total excluding crude oil imports, both as a ratio to GDP. Crude oil imports from https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/historical/petr.pdf

Figure 2. Total US Imports of Goods and Services, and this total excluding crude oil imports, both as a ratio to GDP. Crude oil imports from https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/historical/petr.pdf

If we look at the years from 2008 to the present, there was clearly a big dip in imports at the time of the Great Recession. Apart from that dip, US imports have barely kept up with GDP growth since 2008.

Let’s think about the situation from the point of view of developing nations, wanting to increase the amount of goods they sell to the US. As long as US imports were growing rapidly, then the demand for the goods and services these developing nations were trying to sell would be growing rapidly. But once US imports flattened out as a percentage of GDP, then it became much harder for developing nations to “grow” their exports to the US.

I have not done an extensive analysis outside the US, but based on the recent slow economic growth patterns for Japan and Europe, I would expect that import growth for these areas to be slowing as well. If fact, data from the World Trade Organization for Japan, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and the United Kingdom seem to show a recent slowdown in imported goods for these countries as well.

If this lack of demand growth by a number of industrialized countries continues, it will tend to seriously slow export growth for developing countries.

Where Does Demand For Imports Come From?

Many of the goods and services we import have an adverse impact on US wages. For example, if we import clothing, toys, and furniture, these imports directly remove US jobs making similar goods here. Similarly, programming jobs and call center jobs outsourced to lower cost nations reduce the number of jobs available in the US. When US oil prices rose in the 1970s, we started importing compact cars from Japan. Substituting Japanese-made cars for American-made cars also led to a loss of US jobs.

Even if a job isn’t directly lost, the competition with low wage nations tends to hold down wages. Over time, US wages have tended to fall as a percentage of GDP.

Figure 3. Ratio of US Wages and Salaries to GDP, based on information of the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Figure 3. Ratio of US Wages and Salaries to GDP, based on information of the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Another phenomenon that has tended to occur is greater disparity of wages. Partly this disparity represents wage pressure on individuals doing jobs that could easily be outsourced to a lower-wage country. Also, executive salaries tend to rise, as companies become more international in scope. As a result, earnings for the top 10% have tended to increase since 1981, while wages for the bottom 90% have stagnated.

Figure 4. Chart by economist Emmanuel Saez based on an analysis IRS data, published in Forbes.

Figure 4. Chart by economist Emmanuel Saez based on an analysis IRS data, published in Forbes. “Real income” is inflation-adjusted income.

If wages of most workers are lagging behind, how is it possible to afford increased imports? I would argue that what has happened in practice is greater and greater use of debt. If wages of American workers had been rising rapidly, perhaps these higher wages could have enabled workers to afford the increased quantity of imported goods. With wages lagging behind, growing debt has been used as a way of affording imported goods and services.

Inasmuch as the US dollar was the world’s reserve currency, this increase in debt did not have a seriously adverse impact on the economy. In fact, back when oil prices were higher than they are today, petrodollar recycling helped maintain demand for US Treasuries as the US borrowed increasing amounts of money to purchase oil and other goods. This process helped keep borrowing costs low for the US.

Figure 5. US Increase in Debt as Ratio to GDP and US imports as Ratio to GDP. Both from FRED data: TSMDO and IMPGS.

Figure 5. US Increase in Debt as Ratio to GDP and US imports as Ratio to GDP. Both from FRED data: TSMDO and IMPGS.

The problem, however, is that at some point it becomes impossible to raise the debt level further. The ratio of debt to GDP becomes unmanageable. Consumers, because their wages have been held down by competition with wages around the world, cannot afford to keep adding more debt. Businesses find that slow wage growth in the US holds down demand. Because of this slow growth in the demand, businesses don’t need much additional debt to expand their businesses either.

Commodity Prices Are Extremely Sensitive to Lack of Demand

Commodities, by their nature, are things we use a lot of. It is usually difficult to store very much of these commodities. As a result, it is easy for supply and demand to get out of balance. Because of this, prices swing widely.

Demand is really a measure of affordability. If wages are lagging behind, then an increase in debt (for example, to buy a new house or a new car) can substitute for a lack of savings from wages. Unfortunately, such increases in debt have not been happening recently. We saw in Figure 5, above, that recent growth in US debt is lagging behind. If very many countries find themselves with wages rising slowly, and debt is not rising much either, then it is easy for commodity demand to fall behind supply. In such a case, prices of commodities will tend to fall behind the cost of production–exactly the problem the world has been experiencing recently. The problem started as early as 2012, but has been especially bad in the past year.

The way the governments of several countries have tried to fix stagnating economic growth is through a program called Quantitative Easing (QE). This program produces very low interest rates. Unfortunately, QE doesn’t really work as intended for commodities. QE tends to increase the supply of commodities, but it does not increase the demand for commodities.

The reason QE increases the supply of commodities is because yield-starved investors are willing to pour large amounts of capital into projects, in the hope that commodity prices will rise high enough that investments will be profitable–in other words, that investments in shares of stock will be profitable and also that debt can be repaid with interest. A major example of this push for production after QE started in 2008 is the rapid growth in US “liquids” production, thanks in large part to extraction from shale formations.

Figure 6. US oil and other liquids production, based on EIA data. Available data is through November, but amount shown is estimate of full year.

Figure 6. US oil and other liquids production, based on EIA data. Available data is through November, but amount shown is estimate of full year.

As we saw in Figure 5, the ultra-low interest rates have not been successful in encouraging new debt in general. These low rates also haven’t been successful in increasing US capital expenditures (Figure 7). In fact, even with all of the recent shale investment, capital investment remains low relative to what we would expect based on past investment patterns.

Figure 7. US Fixed Investment (Factories, Equipment, Schools, Roads) Excluding Consumer Durables as Ratio to GDP, based in US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Figure 7. US Fixed Investment (Factories, Equipment, Schools, Roads) Excluding Consumer Durables as Ratio to GDP, based in US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Instead, the low wages that result from globalization, without huge increases in debt, make it difficult to keep commodity prices up high enough. Workers, with low wages, delay starting their own households, so have no need for a separate apartment or house. They may also be able to share a vehicle with other family members. Because of the mismatch between supply and demand, commodity prices of many kinds have been falling. Oil prices, shown on Figure 9, have been down, but prices for coal, natural gas, and LNG are also down. Oil supply is up a little on a world basis, but not by an amount that would have been difficult to absorb in the 1960s and 1970s, when prices were much lower.

Figure 9. World oil production and price. Production is based on BP, plus author's estimate for 2016. Historical oil prices are calculated based on a higher than usual recent inflation rate, assuming Shadowstats' view of inflation is correct.

Figure 9. World oil production and price. Production is based on BP, plus author’s estimate for 2016. Historical oil prices are calculated based on a higher than usual recent inflation rate, assuming Shadowstats’ view of inflation is correct.

Developing Countries are Often Commodity Exporters 

Developing countries can be greatly affected if commodity prices are low, because they are often commodity exporters. One problem is obviously the cutback in wages, if it becomes necessary to reduce commodity production.  A second problem relates to the tax revenue that these exports generate. Without this revenue, it is often necessary to cut back funding for programs such as building roads and schools. This leads to even more job loss elsewhere in the economy. The combination of wage loss and tax loss may make it difficult to repay loans.

Obviously, if low commodity prices persist, this is another limit to globalization.


We have identified two different limits to globalization. One of them has to do with limits on the amount of goods and services that developed countries can absorb before those imports unduly disrupt local economies, either through job loss, or through more need for debt than the developed economies can handle. The other occurs because of the sensitivity of many developing nations have to low commodity prices, because they are exporters of these commodities.

Of course, there are other issues as well. China has discovered that if its coal is burned in great quantity, it is very polluting and a problem for this reason. China has begun to reduce its coal consumption, partly because of pollution issues.

Figure 10. China's energy consumption by fuel, based on data of BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015.

Figure 10. China’s energy consumption by fuel, based on data of BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015.

There are many other limiting factors. Fresh water is a major problem, throughout much of the developing world. Adding more people and more industry makes the situation worse.

One problem with globalization is a long-term tendency to move manufacturing production to countries with ever-lower standards in many ways: ever-lower pollution controls, ever-lower safety standards for workers, and ever-lower wages and benefits for workers. This means that the world becomes an ever-worse place to work and live, and the workers in the system become less and less able to afford the output of the system. The lack of buyers for the output of the system makes it increasingly difficult to keep prices of commodities high enough to support their continued production.

The logical end point, even beyond globalization, is for automation and robots to perform nearly all production. Of course, if that happens, there will be no one to buy the output of the system. Won’t that be a problem?

Adequate wages are critical to making any system work. As the system has tended increasingly toward globalization, politicians have tended to focus more and more on the needs of businesses and governments, and less on the needs of workers. At some point, the lack of buyers for the output of the system will tend to bring the whole system down.

Thus, at some point, the trend toward globalization and automation must stop. We need buyers for the output from the system, and this is precisely the opposite of the direction in which the system is trending. If a way is not found to fix the system, it will ultimately collapse. At a minimum, the trend toward increasing imports will end–if it hasn’t already.

Source:  https://ourfiniteworld.com/2016/03/01/why-globalization-reaches-limits/

How will falling Oil Prices impact the Economy?

Gail Tverberg is a researcher on subjects related to energy and the economy and writes for OurFiniteWorld.com. Gail Tverberg raises an interesting question on the impact of falling Oil Prices on the growth of the economy. With popular perception being that the significant decline in oil prices will bring about a positive change in the growth of the economy but is that likely? Gail lays out the reasons as to why this might not be the case with the following reasons:


1. Oil producers can’t really produce oil for $30 per barrel.

2. Oil producers really need prices that are higher than the technical extraction costs, making the situation even worse.

3. When oil prices drop very low, producers generally don’t stop producing.

4. Oil demand doesn’t increase very rapidly after prices drop from a high level.

5. The sharp drop in oil prices in the last 18 months has little to do with the cost of production.

6. One contributing factor to today’s low oil prices is a drop-off in the stimulus efforts of 2008.

7. The danger with very low oil prices is that we will lose the energy products upon which our economy depends.

8. The economy cannot get along without an adequate supply of oil and other fossil fuel products.

9. Many people believe that oil prices will bounce back up again, and everything will be fine. This seems unlikely.

10. The rapid run up in US oil production after 2008 has been a significant contributor to the mismatch between oil supply and demand that has taken place since mid-2014.


Things aren’t working out the way we had hoped. We can’t seem to get oil supply and demand in balance. If prices are high, oil companies can extract a lot of oil, but consumers can’t afford the products that use it, such as homes and cars; if oil prices are low, oil companies try to continue to extract oil, but soon develop financial problems.

Decision makers thought that peak oil could be fixed simply by producing more oil and more oil substitutes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the problem is more complicated than this. We need to find a way to make the whole system operate correctly. We need to produce exactly the correct amount of oil that buyers can afford. Prices need to be high enough for oil producers, but not too high for purchasers of goods using oil. The amount of debt should not spiral out of control. There doesn’t seem to be a way to produce the desired outcome, now that oil extraction costs are high.

Unfortunately, what we are facing now is a predicament, rather than a problem. There is quite likely no good solution. This is a worry.

Source:Why oil under $30 per barrel is a major problem

The Real Bubble isn’t in Stocks

By Greg Canavan writing for The Daily Reckoning:
–In Friday’s Daily Reckoning I mentioned Europe’s negative interest rates and how Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank (ECB) will attempt to drive them even lower in early December. That’s when the ECB next meets.
–It raises the question, is the global bond market bubble at risk of blowing up? There’s significant commentary and worry about stock markets, but not much about the risks brewing in bonds.
–Consider these worrying statistics, from the Telegraph in the UK:
‘As of late November, roughly $6 trillion of government debt was trading at negative interest rates, led by the Swiss two-year bond at -1.046pc. The German two-year Bund is at -0.4pc.
‘The Germans and Czechs are negative all the way out to six years, the Dutch to five, the French to four and the Irish to three. Bank of America says $17 trillion of bonds are trading at yields below 1pc, including most of the Japanese sovereign debt market.’
–It’s fair to say this is unprecedented in financial history. If central bankers get their wish and inflation starts to pick up, there will be billions of dollars of losses in the bond market.
–That because when yields fall, prices rise. And when yields rise, prices fall.
.–In valuation terms, a bond yielding 1% trades on a P/E ratio of 100 times. A bond yielding 0.5% is on a P/E of 200 times. And you’re worried about stocks trading on a P/E of 15 times?
–The scary thing about the global bond market is that it is much larger than the equity market. That’s a function of prolonged low interest rates and a massive increase in government debt issuance since 2008.
–Do you remember that McKinsey study from the start of the year? It found that between 2007 and 2014, global debt levels had increased by US$57 trillion. That is a huge increase.
–And such is the demand for this ‘safe’ asset, the market has easily absorbed this issuance and bid up the price at the same time. That’s frightening.
–I’m not sure where the tipping point is for the global bond bubble. It depends on what happens with inflation. If the rest of the world goes the way of Japan and enters a long, slow, deflationary phase, then bond prices will stay elevated for many years.
–But if inflation heats up and then gets away from central bankers, trillions of dollars will go up in smoke as capital escapes the bubble bust.
–Where will capital go? Property, equity markets? According to this Telegraph article, prime property will benefit:
‘The Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s top sovereign wealth fund, is rotating a chunk of its $860bn of assets into property in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, New York, San Francisco and now Tokyo and East Asia. “Every real estate investment deal we do is funded by sales of government bonds,” says Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive.’
–This lends weight to Phil Anderson’s Cycles Trends and Forecasts theory that global property markets will experience an almighty boom into 2026. This makes sense if inflation starts to pick up and big pension funds want an inflation hedge.
–Stock should also do well from capital getting out of bonds. After all, in the world of finance, everything is relative.
–But if inflation gets out of control, I wouldn’t want to bet on stock markets doing too well either.
–Think of the world’s balance sheet. There’s a lot more debt than equity, meaning the global economy is highly geared. This boosts growth and return on equity when times are good.
–But if inflation picks up strongly it will erase real economic growth. A lack of real growth means lower returns on equity. In such an environment, global bond AND stocks markets will get smashed.
–I’m not sure how far away a pick-up in inflation is. Bond markets certainly don’t seem too concerned about it right now. The good news is, if you know where to look, you’ll see it coming.
–You just need to read charts every now and then. Actually, I mean look at them. But look at them properly…analytically.
— Take the recent share price action of listed law firm Slater and Gordon. In recent weeks, its share price has collapsed. Have a look at the chart below. As you can see, the share price began to move lower before the negative announcement.
–That is, the market knew something was brewing before Slater and Gordon released the news to the ASX. In fact, the share price lost around 40% of its value prior to the release.
Source: BigCharts

–Let’s leave aside the irony of a law firm issuing an announcement after its share price had already collapsed (continuous disclosure, anyone?) and focus on the point.
–That is, the market will generally give you clues about coming moves. With Slater and Gordon, for example, you should have sold when the stock price broke below $2.50. That was a break to new lows and a sign that all was not well.
–A few days later the negative announcement about regulatory changes in the UK vindicated that sign.
–The message here is that the market will generally always give you a clue of impending moves if you know how and where to look. Of course, it’s not fool proof. Sometimes the market throws of false signals.
–But if you want to improve your odds, always listen to what the market is saying before you act. It’s much smarter than you, so pay attention.

Greg Canavan
For The Daily Reckoning

Financial Markets On Schedule 22/08/2015

US stock markets have fallen strongly over the last week completing the topping process that has lasted for many long months. Stock markets are expected to move down to the 15855 level basis DJIA (S&P500 1820) and lower. Our predictions while slow to come to fruition are right on track. It is important to understand that time and prices do not move in a linear mutual fashion.

Stocks, once bottomed below 15855 (1820) will begin a counter rally. The nature of the counter rally is important and will determine the direction of stock markets and economic activity in general for many years to come.

Should US stocks fail to make a new high over the next 3-9 months will confirm a major downturn and a long term bear market. (More on that later). If it does however make new high it has the potential to run on as asset inflation leads stocks and other asset classes into a final frenzy of asset buying. The amount of money printing over the last years could force an exponential rise in asset classes if we see stock markets recover well. History repeats itself and Gold in 1980, the Tulip Craze of 1636-1637 and the South Sea Bubble of 1720.

We at Emerging Events consider that path to be a lower probability. The potential for stock markets to rebound and rollover to begin a new downward move is very high. We hold this view is supported by long term Austrian Business Cycle Theory, and the fact that the world is not producing enough income to service the amount of debt that exists (both public and private).

However we are not paid to make guesses and so now we wait and watch carefully. We will update and advise as soon as the picture clarifies.

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.

Financial Markets Update 25/07/2015

At this stage we are set for a stock market crash in the US for the fourth quarter of 2015. As per our previous warnings our Business Cycle Analysis suggests M2 NSA quarterly average money supply growth is collapsing, undercutting the existing capital-consumption structure of the US economy. M2 NSA has fallen to 1.5% from its March 2015 peak of 8.25%. Furthermore we now have a series of lower highs and lower lows occurring since 2011 implying a long term weakening of the capital-consumption structure.

US Stock Markets
Translating that into stock market prices we at Emerging Events suggest the potential for one last high on the DJIA and S&P500 is still present. The DJIA has the potential to rally to 18351-18500 (S&P 2134-2150). A fall below DJIA 17465 (S&P 2044) would see this invalidated and a confirmation that the top is already in. Substantial falls are directly ahead. Our short term downside target once the top has been confirmed remains below DJIA 15855 (S&P 2061).

Sentiment in gold has reached extremely pessimistic levels. Whilst the potential for marginally new lows can occur the next major move will be a move to above US$1307 before the resumption of the long term downtrend from its 2011 highs. The move above US$1307 should be a very fast move.

US Interest Rates
Long interest rates appear to be completing a consolidation phase – basing before moving substantially higher. Thus the trap will be closing to trigger “The Great Sovereign Debt Crisis of the 21st Century”. In the short term however there is potential for interest rates to continue to base prior to the commencement of this upward move on rates. Expect 30 Year US Treasuries to work into the 2.75-2.85% before moving higher with the potential to spend more time basing. When the up move gets underway we see the 4.5-5.0% for 30 year Treasuries as the next interim target. Expect global interest rates to follow accordingly.

The US$ has strengthened since our last financial markets update. This is in keeping with our view that money will continue to be sucked from the periphery to the centre. We anticipate the US$ to continue to strengthen sucking money from the third world, Asia and Europe with frequent rallies along the way. Expect the Euro to test its recent low around 1.04 and potentially 1.00. The $Yen will move above 125 – 130. Aus$ to test 70 cents.

Australian Stock Market
The nature of the stock market has since the 2009 lows has been a corrective recovery to date. It has failed to make new highs whilst other world stock markets have done so. This reflects the major restructuring needed in the Australian economy. We anticipate the Australian stock market to continue its down trend and look for further acceleration downwards as the rest of the world starts to catch up later this year. Significant falls lie ahead and initially we are looking for a test of the 2009 lows.

Oil & Gas
We see oil & gas continuing to consolidate its falls of early 2015. At the moment they are probing towards the lows. We see those lows holding up and eventually oil prices moving to test the US$67-68 per barrel level for crude before a resumption of the long term downtrend and our long term target of US$12 per bbl.


Greatest Risk

Martin Armstrong writes:

The greatest crisis we face is the destruction of liquidity that government is causing by their hunt for loose change. Their desperate need for money is tearing the world economy apart at the seams. Even in Europe, the attempt to force a political union upon people by denying them the right to vote is ripping apart the cooperative connections established following World War II with the Treaty of Rome. The forced monetary and political union in Brussels undermines what they were trying to create – European Peace.

Source: http://www.armstrongeconomics.com/archives/35078

Middle East Turning Net Borrowers?

By Martin Armstrong of Armstrong Economics:


Further evidence that 2015.75 is really the peak in a Massive Debt Bubble: The Middle East has always been on a cash basis as their revenues from oil exempted them from ever borrowing money – that is not the case today.

As oil prices rose, spending programs also anticipated no end in sight. So as oil peaked and has begun a technology-shift bear market, those spending programs are causing budget deficits to appear in the Middle East for the first time. Not only has Saudi Arabia issued its first bond issue of $4 billion to cover budget deficits, other countries may follow in the region.

The May turning point has indeed been a profound turn on the long-term setting the stage for the reversal in the short-term come 2015.75. If you can comprehend how everything is connected, you can see these events coming. Since May, Saudi Arabia’s foreign assets have entered crash mode. In May, foreign asset holdings fell over $672 billion. Saudi Arabia sold assets drawing down its reserves to cover the budget deficit.

Source: http://www.armstrongeconomics.com/archives/34916

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.

ABCT Modelling shows US economy vulnerable at present to shocks

Our Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) model indicates potential trouble ahead.

It appears the capital-consumption structure of the US economy is vulnerable to potential shocks with the risk of economic activity failing. For existing capital-consumption structures to be maintained, our modelling shows M2 non-seasonally adjusted money supply growth which is currently running at around 7.3% p.a. needs to be running at 10 – 10.5%. The massive M2 growth over the last 8 years may well have a created a trap for central bankers who have engaged in money printing activity to support the economy. To bend the analogy used to describe the effects of money printing, there is not enough “punch” coming to the party and whilst the party staggers on , the participants are at risk of getting a hangover.

We can conclude therefore that unless there is an increase in M2 NSA money supply growth, a high risk exists for capital structures to fall. Interest rate markets are moving in anticipation of US Federal Reserve interest rate policy adjustments later this year. This will impact stock markets and real estate markets affecting near term direction. Whether this is the start of a bigger cyclical downturn remains to be seen.

Six Game Changers in Six Years

In no set order:

  1. Solar costs are set to drop with new technologies and manufacturing techniques. This will  impact on the energy industry with relief of burden on coal, oil and gas sources of energy and their resultant impact on the environment. There will still be a need for electricity utilities but their role will be reduced.
  2. Online education is already making rapid inroads into traditional education processes .at university and school levels. For government this is extremely challenging as technology is rapidly ripping central control away and placing it firmly in the hands of the consumer. Education costs will decline and we will witness the old institutions crumble in the face of emerging competition and new delivery methods.
  3. Blockchain based technologies will make a huge impact on decentralizing and revolutionizing the way transactions in banking, finance and law happen. Not to mention computer programming, scientific research and communications. Blockchain technology came to public awareness with the emergence of Bitcoin. Its roots extend however from cryptography – the science of coding and decoding messages for the purposes of privacy.
  4. Climate change will not be a social or political issue in the minds of the public within 5 years. That’s not to say that change does not need to happen – a lot still needs to change to improve the quality of environment and human and planetary sustainability. Emerging technologies will help a lot and education of people in the way they treat their environment will result in significant environmental improvement even in the next 6 years.
  5. A digital healthcare revolution is commencing now where people will soon be able to monitor their own health and respond as needed. New technologies controlled from a smart phone will be able to monitor all major health aspects including ‘wet’ analysis of blood, heart, breath, urine and other sampling tests. If results warrant, your device will be able to recommend various responses including taking yourself to hospital if required or calling an ambulance in extreme cases. Once again competition and technology are making old modes of doing things irrelevant. Often these shifts are occurring where government has taken over an industry and underfunding and lack of adaption have made the industry inefficient and ineffective.
  6. The coming global depression lasting 8 to 13 years commencing anytime between now and 2018. The coming together of many factors including the level of indebtedness of liberal democratic countries, aging demographics, the inability of global economic growth to accelerate and the crushing level of regulation facing most societies. Cyclically we are also witnessing the peaking of a cycle that spans the massive growth of the west – the Industrial Revolution. As this cycle peaks after some 230 years of growth so we enter the down phase of the cycle in which contraction and liquidation of all the dead wood of that growth phase gets swept away. Thus the path is cleared allowing the birth of a new phase of human growth and development. These cycles occur at many different levels of human existence –  at the individual, societal, ethnic and nation state levels.

Financial Markets Updates

Updating and revising our financial markets forecasts (here and on our Financial Markets Predictions page):

US Stock Markets

As per our 3/23 update, US stocks peaked just 5 days later and has since entered a series of lower lows punctuated with short rallies. Its still to early to determine if a major top is in place but we wait and watch.

The downward move targets DJIA 17,721 (already achieved), 17460, 17,037 to potentially test the mid October lows at 15,855. (S&P500 2061 (already achieved), 2045, 1980 & the October lows at 1820).


It appears gold will bottom at or around the previous 11/07/15 low at US$1131 this coming week. If confirmed we can anticipate a resumption of the counter rally from the September 2011 highs at US$1920. Our target of US$1430-1440 remains in place.

US Dollar

The US dollar has rallied strongly in the last few months. The US$ may already peaked and begun a consolidation phase lasting many months. Specifically:

– US$/Yen: We are anticipating one more high to 124.50+/- before beginning a consolidation phase lasting months.

– Eur/USD: From here or slightly new lows (1.02-1.0495) we view the market has completed its move down and anticipate a major bounce. We anticipate a test of the 1.60 Eur/USD level.

– Aud/USD: anticipating marginal new lows below 0.7560 before a move back towards 0.9500.

Crude Oil

Oil is continuing its consolidation phase before resuming its down move to our US$12/barrel target we first determined in 2011. Short term we view the market making equal lows (US$43.58) to slightly new lows before rallying back to continue its consolidation phase. Our upside focus is US$68.00 with an extreme case push to US$75.54.

Interest rates

US interest rates have the potential to also spike sharply in the near future. Using futures as our proxy a move on 10 year notes to 110 -115 in 2015 is very doable.

The potential for some markets to rally (gold, silver, oil, Euro, Au$ (US$ weakening) suggests inflationary pressures emerging in 2015 in the US. This is in line with our money supply analysis and Austrian Business Cycle Theory. Alternatively, a crisis in the next 6 months may cause markets to spike in response to some international political event. Several scenarios are potential: a Greek default and/or Grexit in the summer months, Ukraine/Russia troubles and China.

The global financial system stands on the brink of second credit crisis

John Ficenec writing for the The Telegraph

The world financial system stands on the brink of a second credit crisis as interbank lending shows increasing risk

. Weather: record 110,000 lightning bolts strike during 'superstorms'
The second credit crisis is already unfolding in China Photo: ALAMY

The world economy stands on the brink of a second credit crisis as the vital transmission systems for lending between banks begin to seize up and the debt markets fall over. The latest round of quantitative easing from the European Central Bank will buy some time but it looks like too little too late.

It was the collapse of US house prices back in 2007 that resulted in the seizure of the credit markets and banking crisis of 2008. And it would be easy to lay the blame for the 2008 financial crisis at the doorstep of American home owners, easy but wrong. The collapse of the US housing market was not the cause of the crisis, it was merely a symptom of the more insidious ills of cheap credit, low risk and the promise of another bailout round the corner.

The Keynesian pump priming that has taken place on a colossal scale across the world is failing. The Chinese economy was growing at 12pc in 2010, but that slowed to 7.7pc in 2013 and 7.4pc last year — its weakest in 24 years. Economists expect Chinese growth to slow to 7pc this year. It is the once booming property sector that has turned into a bust, and is now dragging down the wider economy as the bubble deflates.

The second global credit crisis is now already unfolding in China some 6,800 miles away from the epicentre of the first in the US. The bonds of Chinese real estate companies are now falling like dominoes. Kaisa, a Shenzhen-based, Hong Kong-listed developer that raised $2.5bn on international markets had to be bailed out by rival group Sunac last week after it defaulted onits debts. The bonds of other Chinese real estate groups such as Glorious Property and Fantasia have also sold off heavily as the contagion spreads.

Chinese authorities have responded to try and contain the situation. The People’s Bank of China introduced a surprise 50-point cut in the Reserve Requirement Ratio (RRR) from 20pc to 19.5pc. But this misses the point, the credit system in China is completely unsustainable unless new money is printed every year to refinance the old, simply tinkering to ease liquidity won’t cut it.

The strain in its banking system is highlighted by the elevated levels of the Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate (SHIBOR), which shows Chinese banks are worried about lending to each other.

There is no schadenfreude in watching China unravel. The idea that this is an isolated incident is laughable, remember the very same was said of US subprime. The problem is that banks such as Standard Chartered and HSBC have both rapidly increased their lending operations in Asia since 2008.

Loans are very easy to make, it is getting the money back that is tricky. If loans go bad in Asia they will ultimately have to be recognised on the very same group balance sheet from which finance is extended here in the UK. So, the contagion can quickly spread from the Chinese property market to a poorly funded UK bank that has never set foot in Asia. That is because UK banks borrow billions in short term funding from each other. Loan losses in China can very quickly become a UK problem.

The London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a guide to how worried UK banks are about lending to each other, has been steadily rising during the past nine months. Part of this process is all a healthy return to normal pricing of risk after six years of extraordinary monetary stimulus. However, as the essential transmission systems of lending between banks begin to take the strain it is quite possible that six years of reliance on central banks for funds has left the credit system unable to cope.

It seems nothing has been learned. The response to the underlying causes of the first global financial collapse, namely cheap debt, low risk and bailouts, has simply been a heroic effort to create cheaper credit, lower risk and even larger bailouts. It hasn’t worked.

A new study reveals the staggering scale of the problem as global debt has ballooned by $57 trillion since 2007 to reach about $200 trillion, according to McKinsey & Co. The main culprits of monetary expansion has been China, which launched a 4 trillion yuan (£386bn) stimulus package, the US Federal Reserve has launched three rounds of QE adding $3.7 trillion worth of assets to its holdings, the Bank of England has spent about £375bn and Japan has increased its asset buying programme to 80 trillion yen (£454bn) a year, up from the previous rate of 60-70 trillion yen.

The money has flowed the path of least resistance into the assets that provide the greatest return. Equities have soared and the stock markets in the UK and US are just shy off record highs. Taking a look across the companies who’s shares have benefited it is the new technology stocks that have risen the fastest and sit on the highest valuations.

Like every stock market mania, the most overpriced assets are the ones furthest divorced from any sound valuation. Eye watering prices are paid for companies with less than 50 employees using a “this time it’s different” formula based on clicks, eyes, views, or active members to persuade investors to part with their savings.

Some truly bizarre asset classes have sprung up like mushrooms in the fetid ground of quantitative easing. The crypto-currency of Bitcoin is perhaps the greatest example. Bitcoin has no central bank and only exists online as a virtual currency. It is seen as a rival to traditional state controlled money and payment systems, but in reality they are two sides of the same coin. Bitcoin flourished as quantitative easing was expanded, soaring in value by more than 700pc in 2013. Now quantitative easing has ended Bitcoin has collapsed.

US Money printing has boosted all markets to record highs

The fledgling crypto-currency hasn’t been alone in retracing its central bank funded gains. All asset classes are now crumbling. The oil price has collapsed from $115 per barrel in June last year to about $52 at the end of last week, iron ore has slumped from $140 per tonne in January last year to $62 per tonne at the end of last week.

It is not only asset classes that that are wavering, the key indicators of international economic activity are also flashing red. The Baltic Dry Index which is seen as a leading indicator for world economic growth tumbled to a 29-year low at 559 points last week.

The second credit crisis is already unfolding in China and the latest round of European money will struggle to halt the contagion in credit markets.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11398175/The-global-financial-system-stands-on-the-brink-of-second-credit-crisis.html

At $200 Trillion The World’s Debt Cup Overfloweth

by Bloomberg Business

The world economy is still built on debt.

That’s the warning today from McKinsey & Co.’s research division which estimates that since 2007, the IOUs of governments, companies, households and financial firms in 47 countries has grown by $57 trillion to $199 trillion, a rise equivalent to 17 percentage points of gross domestic product.

While not as big a gain as the 23 point surge in debt witnessed in the seven years before the financial crisis, the new data make a mockery of the hope that the turmoil and subsequent global recession would put the globe on a more sustainable path. Government debt alone has swelled by $25 trillion over the past seven years and developing economies are responsible for almost half of the overall gain.

McKinsey sees little reason to think the trajectory of rising leverage will change any time soon.

Source: McKinsey

 Here are three areas of particular concern:

1. Debt is too high for either austerity or growth to cure

Politicians will instead need to consider more unorthodox measures such as asset sales, one-off tax hikes and perhaps debt restructuring programs.

 Source: McKinsey

2. Households in some nations are still boosting debts

Eighty percent of households have a higher debt than in 2007 including some in northern Europe as well as Canada and Australia.

Source: McKinsey

 3. China’s debt is rising rapidly

Thanks to real estate and shadow banking, debt in the world’s second-largest economy has quadrupled from $7 trillion in 2007 to $28 trillion in the middle of last year. At 282 percent of GDP, the debt burden is now larger than that of the U.S. or Germany. Especially worrisome to McKinsey is that half the loans are linked to the cooling property sector.

Source: McKinsey

via A World Overflowing With Debt – Bloomberg Business.

Source: http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/at-200-trillion-the-worlds-debt-cup-overfloweth/



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.

End of the Long Game 2009 – 2018: Part II: The Bear Argument

Part II: the Bear Argument
We also point out our alternative scenario which, if, going to happen, is starting now. This scenario suggests stock market prices are peaking in what was a false move to the upside over 2009-2014. This implies that the stock market correction which began in 2000 is still underway and has many years left to unfold. It also implies that stock markets are about to undergo a rapid and relentless decline to their 2009 low points and most probably lower. Falling oil, gold, metal and bond prices over the last few months support this scenario which suggests economies are still undergoing this huge consolidation.

The current divergence between stock markets and commodities indicate a major topping process is underway. In addition Austrian Business Cycle Theory suggests a massive divergence between the amounts of new money coming into the system on a year on year basis is diverging with capital goods prices such as stocks and real estate. This implies the system cannot support asset prices at their current high levels. Even if the US Fed were to begin another round of quantitative easing it would not be enough to sustain asset values – especially stocks at current levels. If this scenario emerges over the next six months we can predict this will give rise to an economic depression lasting 8 to 13 years before an economic recovery gets underway. See the chart below to get a sense of the disparity between M2 Money Supply growth – non seasonally adjusted compared to the weekly DJIA close.

DJIA - M2 NSAThe alternative view suggests it is the resumption of the bear phase of an ongoing correction since 2000. The massive money supply pumping had created the sub-prime bubble that should have been left to sort itself out in the 2008-2009 phase. Since then we have seen bubbles in commodities, education, shares and real estate. The divergence seen in the above M2 NSA Money Supply – DJIA graph illustrates how much worse the situation has grown with stock prices occupying high levels and the amount of new money coming into the system remaining static. This is untenable.

Summary of expectations – short term bull market scenario
• Expect stock markets to correct more deeply over 2015 (14720, 15340 (DJIA) and 1738, 1814 (SP500)) against a growing bullish optimism before beginning an upward exponential surge in stock, commodity and real estate prices. Anticipate any decline of stock markets or economic data to be met by central banks restarting their QE programs. 14720, 15340 (DJIA) and 1738, 1814 (SP500)
• The collapse of oil prices in the last quarter of 2014 creates a potential game changer for most economies as cheaper energy prices flow through to Main Street. It is likely Crude Oil prices will be capped for the next few years at around US$80 per barrel. This takes the pressure off consumer prices but once again translates into higher share and real estate prices.
• Anticipate consumer price inflation to remain low in the US, UK, EU and Japan. At the same time higher than normal unemployment and the potential for continuing stagnant economic activity will prevail. At this time we anticipate seeing US consumer inflation increase dramatically with the potential to see 4-6% very quickly. The only thing really holding CPI figures down at present, is falling oil prices in late 2014.
• Interest rates will start to rise in 2015 as central banks try to normalize credit markets.
• • Expect credit markets to re-price themselves if inflation does kick up creating a liquidity trap for central banks.
• Anticipate the US, Japan, UK and German stock markets to benefit at the expense of emerging markets as cash gets sucked from the periphery to the centre. Similarly the US dollar will continue to strengthen as money floods back to the centre from the periphery.
• Expect a collapse in stock and commodity prices followed by economic contraction where both inflation and high unemployment are experienced at the same time after this spike in stock and commodity markets prices. This may not happen for another 3 years as the ‘Roaring Teens” finishes up.
• Anticipate social and political dislocation in many countries including the US to continue to escalate.

Summary of expectations – short term bear market scenario
• Expect stock markets to begin a relentless stair step down punctuated with savage counter rallies. The nature of the decline will tell us if this is a correction in a broader ongoing bull market or the beginning of the bear market. One clue would be if the correction points mentioned here are taken out in one continuous uninterrupted decline (14720, 15340 (DJIA) and 1738, 1814 (SP500)). Anticipate any decline of stock markets or economic data to be met by central banks escalating their QE programs. 14720, 15340 (DJIA) and 1738, 1814 (SP500)
• We might also anticipate inflation to break out in an unprecedented way especially in the US, UK and Japan and central banks will be unable to contain it. At the same time higher than normal unemployment and continuing stagnant economic activity will prevail. Interest rates may rally sharply on rising inflation and start to rise as central banks try to normalize credit markets in 2015 before plunging as evidence of the growing bear market gathers.
• The coming phase will be difficult to read as markets enter their final death throws and competing bullish and bearish forces play out.
• The coming depression that unfolds will last 8 to 13 years.
• Anticipate increasing social and political dislocation in many countries including the US.

Conclusion & End Game
Whether we have a few more months or years of twilight before the beginning of a new “Dark Age”, suffice to say, that from now onwards we can expect increasingly tough times punctuated by phases of optimism. And of course the coming generation of correction will not merely be confined to asset prices and the vagaries of fiat money and bad economics, but also to societies and politics, both domestic and geo-political. Generations of people will learn about long forgotten natural laws and how it applies to human behavior. Social mood will have become dark and this will also express itself through every aspect of society, both culturally and economically. Music, the arts, fashion, crime, politics, social mood and drama will all reflect the new paradigm. The growing social political and economic tensions we have witnessed a harbinger of what is to come. This phase will reset the stage for a new beginning for people from which a new and sustained social and economic recovery will slowly begin. By the time that point has arrived however, the nature of our societies and the way we relate with people and between nations will have changed. The wrangling about why it had to happen will be well underway.

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).