Tag: US Federal Reserve (page 1 of 50)

The Stage Has Been Set For The Next Financial Crisis

Authored by Constantin Gurdgiev via CaymanFinancialReview.com,

Last month, the Japanese government auctioned off some US$4 billion worth of new two-year bonds at a new record low yield of negative 0.149 percent. The country’s five-year debt is currently yielding minus 0.135 percent per annum, and its 10-year bonds are trading at -0.001 percent. Strange as it may sound, the safe haven status of Japanese bonds means that there is an ample demand among private investors, especially foreign buyers, for giving away free money to the Japanese government: the bid-to-cover ratio in the latest auction was at a hefty US$19.9 billion or 4.97 times the targeted volume. The average bid-to-cover ratio in the past 12 auctions was similar at 4.75 times. Japan’s status as the world’s most indebted advanced economy is not a deterrent to the foreign investors, banking primarily on the expectation that continued strengthening of the yen against the U.S. dollar, the U.K. pound sterling and, to a lesser extent, the euro, will stay on track into the foreseeable future. See chart 1

In a way, the bet on Japanese bonds is the bet that the massive tsunami of monetary easing that hit the global economy since 2008 is not going to recede anytime soon, no matter what the central bankers say in their dovishly-hawkish or hawkishly-dovish public statements. And this expectation is not only contributing to the continued inflation of a massive asset bubble, but also widens the financial sustainability gap within the insurance and pensions sectors. The stage has been set, cleaned and lit for the next global financial crisis.

Worldwide, current stock of government debt trading at negative yields is at or above the US$9 trillion mark, with more than two-thirds of this the debt of the highly leveraged advanced economies. Just under 85 percent of all government bonds outstanding and traded worldwide are carrying yields below the global inflation rate. In simple terms, fixed income investments can only stay in the positive real returns territory if speculative bets made by investors on the direction of the global exchange rates play out.

We are in a multidimensional and fully internationalized carry trade game, folks, which means there is a very serious and tangible risk pool sitting just below the surface across world’s largest insurance companies, pensions funds and banks, the so-called “mandated” undertakings. This pool is the deep uncertainty about the quality of their investment allocations. Regulatory requirements mandate that these financial intermediaries hold a large proportion of their investments in “safe” or “high quality” instruments, a class of assets that draws heavily on higher rated sovereign debt, primarily that of the advanced economies.

The first part of the problem is that with negative or ultra-low yields, this debt delivers poor income streams on the current portfolio. Earlier this year, Stanford’s Hoover Institution research showed that “in aggregate, the 564 state and local systems in the United States covered in this study reported $1.191 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities (net pension liabilities) under GASB 67 in FY 2014. This reflects total pension liabilities of $4.798 trillion and total pension assets (or fiduciary net position) of $3.607 trillion.” This accounts for roughly 97 percent of all public pension funds in the U.S. Taking into the account the pension funds’ penchant for manipulating (in their favor) the discount rates, the unfunded public sector pensions liabilities rise to $4.738 trillion. Key culprit: the U.S. pension funds require 7.5-8 percent average annual returns on their assets to break even on their future expected liabilities. In 2013-2016 they achieved an average return of below 3 percent. This year, things are looking even worse. Last year, Milliman research showed that on average, over 2012-2016, U.S. pension funds held 27-30 percent of their assets in cash (3-4 percent) and bonds (23-27 percent), generating total median returns over the same period of around 1.31 percent per annum.

Not surprisingly, over the recent years, traditionally conservative investment portfolios of the insurance companies and pensions funds have shifted dramatically toward higher risk and more exotic (or in simple parlance, more complex) assets. BlackRock Inc recently looked at the portfolio allocations, as disclosed in regulatory filings, of more than 500 insurance companies. The analysts found that their asset books – investments that sustain insurance companies’ solvency – can be expected to suffer an 11 percent drop in values, on average, in the case of another financial crisis. In other words, half of all the large insurance companies trading in the U.S. markets are currently carrying greater risks on their balance sheets than prior to 2007. Milliman 2016 report showed that among pension funds, share of assets allocated to private equity and real estate rose from 19 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2016.

The reason for this is that the insurance companies, just as the pension funds, re-insurers and other longer-term “mandated” investment vehicles have spent the last eight years loading up on highly risky assets, such as illiquid private equity, hedge funds and real estate. All in the name of chasing the yield: while mainstream low-risk assets-generated income (as opposed to capital gains) returned around zero percent per annum, higher risk assets were turning up double-digit yields through 2014 and high single digits since then. At the end of 2Q 2017, U.S. insurance companies’ holdings of private equity stood at the highest levels in history, and their exposures to direct real estate assets were almost at the levels comparable to 2007. Ditto for the pension funds. And, appetite for both of these high risk asset classes is still there.

The second reason to worry about the current assets mix in insurance and pension funds portfolios relates to monetary policy cycle timing. The prospect of serious monetary tightening is looming on the horizon in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and the eurozone; meanwhile, the risk of the slower rate of bonds monetization in Japan is also quite real. This means that the capital values of the low-risk assets are unlikely to post significant capital gains going forward, which spells trouble for capital buffers and trading income for the mandated intermediaries.

Thirdly, the Central Banks continue to hold large volumes of top-rated debt. As of Aug. 1, 2017, the Fed, Bank of Japan and the ECB held combined US$13.8 trillion worth of assets, with both Bank of Japan (US$4.55 trillion) and the ECB (US$5.1 trillion) now exceeding the Fed holdings (US$4.3 trillion) for the third month in a row.

Debt maturity profiles are exacerbating the risks of contagion from the monetary policy tightening to insurance and pension funds balance sheets. In the case of the U.S., based on data from Pimco, the maturity cliff for the Federal Reserve holdings of the Treasury bonds, Agency debt and TIPS, as well as MBS is falling on 1Q 2018 – 3Q 2020. Per Bloomberg data, the maturity cliff for the U.S. insurers and pensions funds debt assets is closer to 2020-2022. If the Fed simply stops replacing maturing debt – the most likely scenario for unwinding its QE legacy – there will be little market support for prices of assets that dominate capital base of large financial institutions. Prices will fall, values of assets will decline, marking these to markets will trigger the need for new capital. The picture is similar in the U.K. and Canada, but the risks are even more pronounced in the euro area, where the QE started later (2Q 2015 as opposed to the U.S. 1Q 2013) and, as of today, involves more significant interventions in the sovereign bonds markets than at the peak of the Fed interventions.

How distorted the EU markets for sovereign debt have become? At the end of August, Cyprus – a country that suffered a structural banking crisis, requiring bail-in of depositors and complete restructuring of the banking sector in March 2013 – has joined the club of euro area sovereigns with negative yields on two-year government debt. All in, 18 EU member states have negative yields on their two-year paper. All, save Greece, have negative real yields.

The problem is monetary in nature. Just as the entire set of quantitative easing (QE) policies aimed to do, the long period of extremely low interest rates and aggressive asset purchasing programs have created an indirect tax on savers, including the net savings institutions, such as pensions funds and insurers. However, contrary to the QE architects’ other objectives, the policies failed to drive up general inflation, pushing costs (and values) of only financial assets and real estate. This delayed and extended the QE beyond anyone’s expectations and drove unprecedented bubbles in financial capital. Even after the immediate crisis rescinded, growth returned, unemployment fell and the household debt dramatically ticked up, the world’s largest Central Banks continue buying some US$200 billion worth of sovereign and corporate debt per month.

Much of this debt buying produced no meaningfully productive investment in infrastructure or public services, having gone primarily to cover systemic inefficiencies already evident in the state programs. The result, in addition to unprecedented bubbles in property and financial markets, is low productivity growth and anemic private investment. (See chart 2.) As recently warned by the Bank for International Settlements, the global debt pile has reached 325 percent of the world’s GDP, just as the labor and total factor productivity growth measures collapsed.

The only two ways in which these financial and monetary excesses can be unwound involves pain.

The first path – currently favored by the status quo policy elites – is through another transfer of funds from the general population to the financial institutions that are holding the assets caught in the QE net. These transfers will likely start with tax increases, but will inevitably morph into another financial crisis and internal devaluation (inflation and currencies devaluations, coupled with a deep recession).

The alternative is also painful, but offers at least a ray of hope in the end: put a stop to debt accumulation through fiscal and tax reforms, reducing both government spending across the board (and, yes, in the U.S. case this involves cutting back on the coercive institutions and military, among other things) and flattening out personal income tax rates (to achieve tax savings in middle and upper-middle class cohorts, and to increase effective tax rates – via closure of loopholes – for highest earners). As a part of spending reforms, public investment and state pensions provisions should be shifted to private sector providers, while existent public sector pension funds should be forced to raise their members contributions to solvency-consistent levels.

Beyond this, we need serious rethink of the monetary policy institutions going forward. Historically, taxpayers and middle class and professionals have paid for both, the bailouts of the insolvent financial institutions and for the creation of conditions that lead to this insolvency. In other words, the real economy has consistently been charged with paying for utopian, unrealistic and state-subsidizing pricing of risks by the Central Banks. In the future, this pattern of the rounds upon rounds of financial repression policies must be broken.

Whether we like it or not, since the beginning of the Clinton economic bubble in the mid-1990s, the West has lived in a series of carry trade games that transferred real economic resources from the economy to the state. Today, we are broke. If we do not change our course, the next financial crisis will take out our insurers and pensions providers, and with them, the last remaining lifeline to future financial security.

http://WarMachines.com

“People Ask, Where’s The Leverage This Time?” – Eric Peters Answers

One of the Fed’s recurring arguments meant to explain why the financial system is more stable now than it was 10 years ago, and is therefore less prone to a Lehman or “Black monday”-type event, (which in turn is meant to justify the Fed’s blowing of a 31x Shiller PE bubble) is that there is generally less leverage in the system, and as a result a sudden, explosive leverage unwind is far less likely… or at least that’s what the Fed’s recently departed vice Chair, and top macroprudential regulator, Stanley Fischer has claimed.

But is Fischer right? Is systemic leverage truly lower? The answer is “of course not” as anyone who has observed the trends not only among vol trading products, where vega has never been higher, but also among corporate leverage, sovereign debt, and the record duration exposure can confirm. It’s just not where the Fed usually would look…

Which is why in the excerpt below, taken from the latest One River asset management weekend notes, CIO Eric Peters explains to US central bankers – and everyone else – not only why the Fed is yet again so precariously wrong, but also where all the record leverage is to be found this time around.

This Time, by Eric Peters

“People ask, ‘Where’s the leverage this time?’” said the investor. Last cycle it was housing, banks.

 

“People ask, ‘Where will we get a loss in value severe enough to sustain an asset price decline?’” he continued. Banks deleveraged, the economy is reasonably healthy.

 

“People say, ‘What’s good for the economy is good for the stock market,’” he said.

 

“People say, ‘I can see that there may be real market liquidity problems, but that’s a short-lived price shock, not a value shock,’” he explained.

 

“You see, people generally look for things they’ve seen before.”

 

“There’s less concentrated leverage in the economy than in 2008, but more leverage spread broadly across the economy this time,” said the same investor.

 

“The leverage is in risk parity strategies. There is greater duration and structural leverage.”

 

As volatility declines and Sharpe ratios rise, investors can expand leverage without the appearance of increasing risk.

 

“People move from senior-secured debt to unsecured. They buy 10yr Italian telecom debt instead of 5yr. This time, the rise in system-wide risk is not explicit leverage, it is implicit leverage.”

 

“Companies are leveraging themselves this cycle,” explained the same investor, marveling at the scale of bond issuance to fund stock buybacks.

 

“When people buy the stock of a company that is highly geared, they have more risk.” It is inescapable.

 

“It is not so much that a few sectors are insanely overvalued or explicitly overleveraged this time, it is that everything is overvalued and implicitly overleveraged,” he said.

 

“And what people struggle to see is that this time it will be a financial accident with economic consequences, not the other way around.”

http://WarMachines.com

Golden Catalysts

Authored by James Rickards via The Daily Reckoning,

The physical fundamentals are stronger than ever for gold.

Russia and China continue to be huge buyers. China bans export of its 450 tons per year of physical production.

Gold refiners are working around the clock and cannot meet demand.

Gold refiners are also having difficulty finding gold to refine as mining output, official bullion sales and scrap inflows all remain weak.

Private bullion continues to migrate from bank vaults at UBS and Credit Suisse into nonbank vaults at Brinks and Loomis, thus reducing the floating supply available for bank unallocated gold sales.

In other words, the physical supply situation has been tight as a drum.

The problem, of course, is unlimited selling in “paper” gold markets such as the Comex gold futures and similar instruments.

One of the flash crashes this year was precipitated by the instantaneous sale of gold futures contracts equal in underlying amount to 60 tons of physical gold. The largest bullion banks in the world could not source 60 tons of physical gold if they had months to do it.

There’s just not that much gold available. But in the paper gold market, there’s no limit on size, so anything goes.

There’s no sense complaining about this situation. It is what it is, and it won’t be broken up anytime soon. The main source of comfort is knowing that fundamentals always win in the long run even if there are temporary reversals. What you need to do is be patient, stay the course and buy strategically when the drawdowns emerge.

Where do we go from here?

There are many compelling reasons why gold should outperform over the coming months.

Deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia will only accelerate Russia’s efforts to diversify its reserves away from dollar assets (which can be frozen by the U.S. on a moment’s notice) to gold assets, which are immune to asset freezes and seizures.

The countdown to war with North Korea is underway, as I’ve explained repeatedly in these pages. A U.S. attack on the North Korean nuclear and missile weapons programs is likely by mid-2018.

Finally, we have to deal with our friends at the Fed. Good jobs numbers have given life to the view that the Fed will raise interest rates next month. The standard answer is that rate hikes make the dollar stronger and are a head wind for the dollar price of gold.

But I remain skeptical about a December hike. As I explained above, the market is looking in the wrong places for clues to Fed policy. Jobs reports are irrelevant; that was “mission accomplished” for the Fed years ago.

The key data are disinflation numbers. That’s what has the Fed concerned, and that’s why the Fed might pause again in December as it did last September.

We’ll have a better idea when PCE core inflation comes out Nov. 30.

Of course, the Fed’s main inflation metric has been moving in the wrong direction since January. The readings on the core PCE deflator year over year (the Fed’s preferred metric) were:

January 1.9%

February 1.9%

March 1.6%

April 1.6%

May 1.5%

June 1.5%

July 2017: 1.4%

August 2017: 1.3%

September 2017: 1.3%

Again, the October data will not be available until Nov. 30.

The Fed’s target rate for this metric is 2%. It will take a sustained increase over several months for the Fed to conclude that inflation is back on track to meet the Fed’s goal.

There’s obviously no chance of this happening before the Fed’s December meeting.

A weak dollar is the Fed’s only chance for more inflation. The way to get a weak dollar is to delay rate hikes indefinitely, and that’s what I believe the Fed will do.

And a weak dollar means a higher dollar price for gold.

Current levels look like the last stop before $1,300 per ounce. After that, a price surge is likely as buyers jump on the bandwagon, and then it’s up, up and away.

Why do I say that?

There’s an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This chart is a good example of why that’s true:

Gold Breakout Chart

Gold analyst Eddie Van Der Walt produced this 10-year chart for the dollar price of gold showing that gold prices have been converging into a narrow tunnel between two price trends – one trending higher and one lower – for the past six years.

This pattern has been especially pronounced since 2015. You can see gold has traded up and down in a range between $1,050 and $1,380 per ounce. The upper trend line and the lower trend line converge into a funnel.

Since gold will not remain in that funnel much longer (because it converges to a fixed price) gold will likely “break out” to the upside or downside, typically with a huge move that disrupts the pattern.

At the extreme, this could imply a gold price on its way to $1,800 or $800 per ounce. Which will it be?

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the thesis that gold will break out to the upside. Central banks are determined to get more inflation and will flip to easing policies if that’s what it takes.

Geopolitical risks are piling up from North Korea, to Saudi Arabia, to the South China Sea and beyond.

The failure of the Trump agenda has put the stock market on edge and a substantial market correction may be in the cards. Acute shortages of physical gold have also set the stage for a delivery failure or a short squeeze.

Any one of these developments is enough to send gold soaring in response to a panic or as part of a flight to quality. The only force that could take gold lower is deflation, and that is the one thing central banks will never allow. The above chart is one of the most powerful bullish indicators I’ve ever seen.

Get ready for an explosion to the ups ide in the dollar price of gold. Make sure you have your physical gold and gold mining shares before the breakout begins.

http://WarMachines.com

The Great Retirement Con

Authored by Adam Taggart via PeakProsperity.com,

Frankly put: retirement is now a myth for the majority…

 

The Origins Of The Retirement Plan

Back during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress promised a monthly lifetime income to soldiers who fought and survived the conflict. This guaranteed income stream, called a "pension", was again offered to soldiers in the Civil War and every American war since.

Since then, similar pension promises funded from public coffers expanded to cover retirees from other branches of government. States and cities followed suit — extending pensions to all sorts of municipal workers ranging from policemen to politicians, teachers to trash collectors.

A pension is what's referred to as a defined benefit plan. The payout promised a worker upon retirement is guaranteed up front according to a formula, typically dependent on salary size and years of employment.

Understandably, workers appreciated the security and dependability offered by pensions. So, as a means to attract skilled talent, the private sector started offering them, too. 

The first corporate pension was offered by the American Express Company in 1875. By the 1960s, half of all employees in the private sector were covered by a pension plan.

Off-loading Of Retirement Risk By Corporations

Once pensions had become commonplace, they were much less effective as an incentive to lure top talent. They started to feel like burdensome cost centers to companies.

As America's corporations grew and their veteran employees started hitting retirement age, the amount of funding required to meet current and future pension funding obligations became huge. And it kept growing. Remember, the Baby Boomer generation, the largest ever by far in US history, was just entering the workforce by the 1960s.

Companies were eager to get this expanding liability off of their backs. And the more poorly-capitalized firms started defaulting on their pensions, stiffing those who had loyally worked for them.

So, it's little surprise that the 1970s and '80s saw the introduction of personal retirement savings plans. The Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) was formed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in 1974. And the first 401k plan was created in 1980.

These savings vehicles are defined contribution plans. The future payout of the plan is variable (i.e., unknown today), and will be largely a function of how much of their income the worker directs into the fund over their career, as well as the market return on the fund's investments.

Touted as a revolutionary improvement for the worker, these plans promised to give the individual power over his/her own financial destiny. No longer would it be dictated by their employer.

Your company doesn't offer a pension? No worries: open an IRA and create your own personal pension fund.

Afraid your employer might mismanage your pension fund? A 401k removes that risk. You decide how your retirement money is invested.

Want to retire sooner? Just increase the percent of your annual income contributions.

All this sounded pretty good to workers. But it sounded GREAT to their employers.

Why? Because it transferred the burden of retirement funding away from the company and onto its employees. It allowed for the removal of a massive and fast-growing liability off of the corporate balance sheet, and materially improved the outlook for future earnings and cash flow.

As you would expect given this, corporate America moved swiftly over the next several decades to cap pension participation and transition to defined contribution plans.

The table below shows how vigorously pensions (green) have disappeared since the introduction of IRAs and 401ks (red):

(Source)

So, to recap: 40 years ago, a grand experiment was embarked upon. One that promised US workers: Using these new defined contribution vehicles, you'll be better off when you reach retirement age.

Which raises a simple but very important question: How have things worked out?

The Ugly Aftermath

America The Broke

Well, things haven't worked out too well.

Three decades later, what we're realizing is that this shift from dedicated-contribution pension plans to voluntary private savings was a grand experiment with no assurances. Corporations definitely benefited, as they could redeploy capital to expansion or bottom line profits. But employees? The data certainly seems to show that the experiment did not take human nature into account enough – specifically, the fact that just because people have the option to save money for later use doesn't mean that they actually will.

First off, not every American worker (by far) is offered a 401k or similar retirement plan through work. But of those that are, 21% choose not to participate (source).

As a result, 1 in 4 of those aged 45-64 and 22% of those 65+ have $0 in retirement savings (source). Forty-nine percent of American adults of all ages aren't saving anything for retirement.

In 2016, the Economic Policy Institute published an excellent chartbook titled The State Of American Retirement (for those inclined to review the full set of charts on their website, it's well worth the time). The EPI's main conclusion from their analysis is that the switchover of the US workforce from defined-benefit pension plans to self-directed retirement savings vehicles (e..g, 401Ks and IRAs) has resulted in a sizeable drop in retirement preparedness. Retirement wealth has not grown fast enough to keep pace with our aging population.

The stats illustrated by the EPI's charts are frightening on a mean, or average, level. For instance, for all workers 32-61, the average amount saved for retirement is less than $100,000. That's not much to live on in the last decades of your twilight years. And that average savings is actually lower than it was back in 2007, showing that households have still yet to fully recover the wealth lost during the Great Recession.

But mean numbers are skewed by the outliers. In this case, the multi-$million households are bringing up the average pretty dramatically, making things look better than they really are. It's when we look at the median figures that things get truly scary:

Nearly half of families have no retirement account savings at all. That makes median (50th percentile) values low for all age groups, ranging from $480 for families in their mid-30s to $17,000 for families approaching retirement in 2013. For most age groups, median account balances in 2013 were less than half their pre-recession peak and lower than at the start of the new millennium.

(Source)

The 50th percentile household aged 56-61 has only $17,000 to retire on. That's dangerously close to the Federal poverty level income for a family of two for just a single year.

Most planners advise saving enough before retirement to maintain annual living expenses at about 70-80% of what they were during one's income-earning years. Medicare out-of-pocket costs alone are expected to be between $240,000 and $430,000 over retirement for a 65-year-old couple retiring today.

The gap between retirement savings and living costs in one's later years is pretty staggering:

  • Nearly 83% of retired households have less saved than Medicare costs alone will consume.
  • One-third of retired households are entirely dependent on Social Security. On average, that's only $1,230 per month a hard income to live on. (source)
  • 34 percent of older Americans depend on credit cards to pay for basic living expenses such as mortgage payments, groceries, and utilities. (source

As for Medicare, the out-of-pocket costs could easily soar over retirement. The Wall Street Journal reports that the current estimate of Medicare's unfunded liability now tops $42 Trillion. Such a mind-boggling gap makes it highly likely that current retirees will not receive all of the entitlements they are being promised.

And the denial being shown by baby boomers entering retirement is frightening. Many simply plan to work longer before retiring, with a growing percentage saying they plan to work "forever". 

But the data shows that declining health gives older Americans no choice but to leave the work force eventually, whether they want to or not. Years of surveys by the Employment Benefit Research Institute show that fully half of current retirees had to leave the work force sooner than desired due to health problems, disability, or layoffs.

Add to this the nefarious impact of the Federal Reserve's prolonged 0% interest rate policy, which has made it extremely hard for retirees with fixed-income investments to generate a meaningful income from them.

The number of Americans aged 65 years and older is projected to more than double in the next 40 years:

Will the remaining body of active workers be able to support this tsunami of underfunded seniors? Don't bet on it.

Especially since their retirement savings prospects are even more dim. With long-stagnant real wages and punishing price inflation in the cost of living, Generation X and Millennials are hard-pressed to put money away for their twilight years:

(Source)

Public Pensions: Broken Promises

And for those "lucky" folks expecting to enjoy a public pension, there's a lot of uncertainty as to whether they're going to receive all they've been promised.

Due to underfunded contributions, years of portfolio under-performance due to the Federal Reserve's 0% interest rate policy, poor fund management, and other reasons, many of the federal and state pensions are woefully under-captialized. The below chart from former Dallas Fed advisor Danielle DiMartino-Booth shows how the total sum of unfunded public pension obligations exploded from $292 billion in 2007 to $1.9 trillion by the end of 2016:

(Source)

And the daily headlines of failing state and local pension funds (Illinois, Kentucky, New JerseyDallas, Providence — to name but a few) show that the problem is metastasizing across the nation at an accelerating rate.

Affording Your Future

The bottom line when it comes to retirement is that you're on your own. The vehicles and the promises you've been given are proving woefully insufficient to fund the "retirement" dream you've been sold your whole life.

That's the bad news.

But the good news is that the dream is still attainable. There are strategies and behaviors that, if adopted now, will make it much more likely for you to be able to afford to retire — and in a way you can enjoy.

In Part 2: Success Strategies For Retirement, we detail out these best practices for a solvent retirement, including providing 14 specific action steps you can start taking right now in your life that will materially improve your odds of enjoying your later years with grace. For far too many Americans, "retirement" will remain a perpetual myth. Don't let that happen to you. Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

 

http://WarMachines.com

Stockman Slams “The Awesome Recovery” Narrative

Authored by David Stockman via Contra Corner blog,

One of the great philosophers of recent times was surely Sgt. Easterhaus of "Hill Street Blues". As he assigned his men to their daily rounds in the crime infested streets of the Big Apple he always ended the precinct's morning call with his signature admonition:

"Let's be carful out there."

That wisdom has been long lost on both ends of the Acela Corridor. In the face of blatant dangers and even existential threats, their denizens whistle past the graveyard with alacrity. So doing, they turn a blind eye on virtually all that contradicts the awesome recovery narrative, the indispensable nation conceit and the Washington can Make America Great Again (MAGA) delusion, among countless other fantasies.

For example, the GOP should be literally petrified by an horrid fiscal scenario for the coming decade that entails Social Security going bust, another $12 trillion of current policy deficits and a prospective $33 trillion public debt by 2027. And even that presupposes a macro-economic miracle in the interim: Namely, a 207 month stretch from 2009 to 2027 without a recession—–a feat which is twice the longest expansion in recorded history

Image result for images of three monkeys of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Instead, they have passed a FY 2018 budget resolution which implicitly embraces all of the above fiscal mayhem, and then adds upwards of $2 trillion (so far and counting interest) of incremental deficits to fund an ill-designed tax cut that is inherently an economic dud and political time bomb.

As to the former, the GOP is lost in ritual incantation and foggy Reagan-era nostalgia. Unlike the giant Reagan tax cut of 1981, the pending bills do not cut marginal tax rates measurably—or even the individual income tax burden in any meaningful sense.

In fact, if you set aside the so-called pass-thru rate for unincorporated businesses (see below), the entire 10-year tax cut on the individual side amounts to just $480 billion. In the scheme of things, that's a tiny number; it represents only 2.2% of the $22 trillion CBO baseline for individual income tax collections over the next decade; and it also is equal to just 0.2% of the projected nominal GDP over the period.

By way of comparison, the Reagan tax cut amounted to 6.2% of GDP when fully effective; and the net cut for individuals taxpayers alone averaged 2.7% of GDP over a decade. In today's economy, that would amount to a tax cut of $6.5 trillion during 2018-2027 or 14X more than the $450 billion net figure estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation.

To be sure, the abused citizens of America are more than entitled to even this tiny tax cut and much more. That is, if their elected representatives were willing to cut spending by an equal amount or even raise alternative, more benign sources of revenue (i.e. a VAT on consumers vs. the current levy on producer and worker incomes). But unless a rapidly aging society wishes to bury itself in unsupportable public debt, it simply can't afford deficit-financed tax cuts for either the principle or the politics of the thing.

Moreover, to pretend that the tax concoction fashioned by Congressman Brady—- with a pack of Gucci Gulch jackals nipping at his heels— will actually generate enough growth and jobs to largely pay for itself is to make a mockery of Sgt. Easterhaus' admonition. Rather than an exercise in fiscal carefulness, it is the height of recklessness to assume that much enhanced domestic growth, employment and Treasury receipts will result from any part of the $2.8 trillion cut for the rich and corporations that is at the heart of the GOP tax bill.

Actually, it's the heart and then some. With recent modifications (including dropping of the $150 billion corporate excise tax intended to prevent companies from hiding domestic profits via over-invoicing of imports from their own affiliates), the net revenue loss of the Brady bill is calculated at about $1.7 trillion.

That means, of course, that fully 165% of the net tax cut goes to: (1) 5,500 dead rich people's heirs per year ($172 billion for estate tax repeal); (2) 4.3 million very wealthy loophole users ($700 billion for the minimum tax repeal); and (3) the top 1% and 10% of households who own 60% and 85% of business equities, respectively, who will get most of the $1.95 trillion of business rate cuts.

In this context, we cannot stress more insistently that Art Laffer's famous napkin does not apply to business tax cuts in today's world of globalized trade and labor rates and artificially cheap central bank enabled debt and capital.

That's because the business income taxes are born by owners, not workers. The wage rates and incomes of the latter are determined in a saturated global labor market where the China Price for Goods and the India Price for internet based services sets wages on the margin.

At the same time, owners are not deterred from making investments by the proverbial "high after-tax cost of capital". That's because it isn't.

Even at the current statutory 35% tax rate (which few pay), the absolute cost of equity and debt capital is cheaper than ever before in modern history.

In fact, the after-tax cost of equity to scorched earth investment juggernauts like Amazon is virtually zero, while the cheap debt-fueled boom in conventional plant, equipment, mining, shipping and distribution assets over the last two decades has stocked the planet with sufficient capacity for decades to come.

In short, if you lower the business tax rates to 20% and 25% for corporations and pass-thrus, respectively, you will get more dividends, more stock buybacks and other returns to shareholders. Those distributions, in turn, will go to the very wealthy and to pension funds/non-profits. The latter will pay no taxes on these distributions while the former will pay 15%-20% at current law rates of o%, 15% and 20% on capital gains and dividends, which the Brady bill does not change.

In short, maybe the $2.8 trillion of tax cuts for business and the wealthy will generate a few hundred billion of reflows over the decade. And even that will not be attributable to the "incentive effect" of the Laffer Curve at all; it's just tax collection mechanics at work as between the personal and business taxing systems.

By the same token, the Sgt. Easterhaus principle is also being ash-canned by the GOP on the politics side of the tax bill, as well. In fact, Republicans have been chanting the "tax cut" incantation for so many decades that they apparently can't see the obvious. Namely, that among the middle quintile of households (about 30 million filers between $55,000 and $93,000 of AGI) the ballyhooed "tax cut" will actually be a crap shoot.

When fully effective, roughly two-thirds of filers (20 million units) would realize a $1,070 per year tax cut, while another 31% (roughly 9.5 million filers) would experience a $1,150 tax increase!

That's a whole lot of rolling dice—-depending upon family size, sources of income and previous use of itemized deductions. Yet for the heart of the middle class as a whole—-30 million filers in the aforementioned income brackets—the statistical average tax cut would amount to $6.15 per week.

That's right. Two Starbucks cappuccinos and a banana!

So we'd call the GOP's noisy advertising of a big tax cut for the middle class reckless, not careful. Indeed, the Dems will spend hundreds of millions during the 2018 election season on testimonials and tax tables which prove the GOP's claim is a pure con job.

They will also prove the opposite— that the overwhelming share of this unaffordable tax cut is going to the top of the economic ladder. After all, the income tax has morphed into a Rich Man's Levy over the last three decades. So if you cut income taxes—-the benefits inherently and mechanically go to the few who actually pay.

Thus, in the most recent year (2015), 150.5 million Americans filed for income taxes, but just 6.8 million filers (4.5% of the total) accounted for 35% of all AGI ($3.6 trillion) and 59% of taxes paid ($858 billion).

By contrast, the bottom 64 million filers reported only $928 billion of AGI, and paid just 2.2%  ($20 billion) in taxes. That is, owing to the standard deduction, personal exemptions and various credits the bottom 44% of taxpayers accounted for only 1.4% of personal income tax collections.

Even when you widen the bracket to the bottom 123 million tax filers (82%), you get $4.3 trillion of AGI and just $284 billion of taxes paid. In other words, the bottom four-fifths of filers pay only 6.6% of their AGI in tribute to Uncle Sam. They may not be getting their money's worth from the Washington puzzle palaces, but you can't get blood from a turnip, either.

In short, Flyover America desperately needs tax relief for the 160 million workers who actually do pay up to 15.5% of their wages in employer/employee payroll tax deductions. Yet by ignoring the $1.1 trillion per year payroll tax entirely and recklessly and risibly claiming that its income and corporate tax cut bill materially aids the middle class, the GOP is only setting itself up for a thundering political backlash.

Nothing makes this clearer than some recent (accurate) calculations by a left-wing outfit called the Institute for Policy Studies that boil down to the proposition that "It Takes A Baseball Team".

That is, the top 25 US persons (like the full MLB roster) on the Forbes 400 list now report about $1 trillion in collective net worth. That happens to match the net worth of the bottom 180 million (56%) Americans.

Needless to say, that egregious disproportion does not represent free market capitalism at work; it's the deformed fruit of Bubble Finance and the vast inflation of financial assets that the Fed and other central banks have enabled over the past three decades.

In terms of the Sgt. Easterhaus metaphor, monetary central planning has planted some exceedingly dangerous political time bombs in the precincts, neighborhoods, towns and cities of Flyover America. Accordingly, if the GOP succeeds in passing some version of its current tax bill, it may be what finally brings the Dems back into power on an out-and-out platform of socialist healthcare (single payor) and tax redistributionism with malice aforethought.

Even as the GOP recklessly plunges forward with gag rules and its sight unseen legislative steamroller (echoes of ObamaCare in 2010), it will never be able to hide what is buried in the bill's tax tables. Namely, an average tax cut for the top 1%—even after accounting for elimination of upwards of $1.3 trillion of itemized deductions—-that would amount to $1,000 per week.

Moreover, for the top o.1% (150,000 filers), the Dem campaign ads will show a cut of $5,300 per week; and for a subset of 100,000 of the top 0.1% filers, the GOP's tax cut would amount to $11,300 per week .

That's right. Each and every one of the very ultra rich would get a tax break equivalent to that which would accrue to every 2,000 middle bracket filers under the Brady bill.

As Sgt. Easterhaus might have said: They have been warned!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Acela Corridor, the good precinct sergeant gets no respect, either. Indeed, gambling in today's hideously over-valued and unstable casino is exactly the opposite of being careful; it's certain to lead to severe—even fatal—financial injuries on the beat.

In this context, we have been saying right along that the essential evil of monetary central planning is that it systematically falsifies asset prices and corrupts all financial information. That includes what passes for analysis by the Cool Aid drinkers in the casino.

But when we ran across this gem from one Steve Chiavarone yesterday we had to double check because we thought perhaps we were inadvertently reading The Onion.

But, no, he's actually a paid in full (and then some) portfolio manager at the $360 billion Federated Investors group who appeared on CNBC, and then got reported by Dow-Jones' MarketWatch just in case you had the sound turned off during his appearance on bubblevision.

So here's how the bull market will remain "alive for another decade." According to Chiavarone, millenials who don't have two nickels to rub together will make it happen. No sweat.

“Millennials are entering the workforce, but their wages are going to be under pressure their whole career,” he explained to CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “They won’t make enough money to pay down their debt, fund their life and fund retirement where there is no pension. So, they’re going to need equities.”

Then again, aspiration and capability are not exactly the same thing. In fact, the frequent yawning difference between the two puts us in mind of the Donald's characterization of his primary opponent as Little Marco Rubio. The latter never stops talking about himself as the very embodiment of the American Dream come true—-so for all we know perhaps Marco did aspire to be an NBA star.

But when he famously couldn't reach his water bottle from atop a stool during his nationwide TV rebuttal of an Obama SOTU speech a few years back, it was evident that NBA stardom wasn't ever meant to be.

Nor during the coming decade of stagnant wages and rising interest rates is it any more obvious how millennials will beg, borrow or steal their way to massive purchases of equities. That is, how they will finance what will actually be an avalanche of stock sales by 80 million fading baby boomers who will need the proceeds to pay their nursing home bills.

But never mind. MarketWatch caught the full measure of  what shines on the inside of Mr. Chiavarone's financial beer goggles:

 The risk is not being in this market,” says Chiavarone, who helps run the Federated Global Allocation Fund. The firm’s current price target is for 2,750 on the S&P by the end of next year and 3,000 for 2019.

 

“We are probably frankly low on both of them,” he said. “Tax reform could push up the markets.” That’s not to say there won’t be some pain along the way, specifically the potential for a recession in 2020 and 2021, according to Chiavarone.

 

What’s an investor to do in that case? “Buy the recession,” he said.

Indeed, it doesn't come any stupider than the market blather that is constantly published on MarketWatch. Today it also informs us that not only have US earnings been galloping forward in recent quarters, but its actually a global trend:

However, this is hardly a U.S.-only story. Corporate earnings have been improving globally, and some of the fastest growth has come from international companies, as seen in the following chart from BlackRock, which looks at U.S. growth against the globe, excluding the U.S.

The chart below is supposed to be the evidence, but we are still scratching our heads looking for the point. It seems that global corporate earnings ex-US based companies have surged…..all the way back to where they were in 2011!

You can't make this stuff up. Did these geniuses notice that China just went full retard in credit expansion to insure that the coronation of Mr. Xi was the greatest since, apparently, the Ming Dynasty invited the civilized world (not Europe) to the coronation of its fourth emperor in 1424?

In fact, the 19th Party Congress is now over, and the Red Suzerains of Beijing are back to the impossible task of reining in the massive malinvestment, housing, debt and construction bubbles which have turned China's economy into a $40 trillion powder keg. So right on cue it reported a sharp cooling of its red hot pre-coronation economy last night.

Thus, value-added industrial output, a rough proxy for GDP, expanded by just 6.2% in October compared to double digit increases a few months back.

Likewise, fixed-asset investment climbed 7.3% in the January-October period from a year earlier. Notably, that's way down from high double digit rates during most of the century, and, in fact, is the slowest pace since December 1999.

Needless to say, the latter data point amounts to a clanging clarion. At the end of the day, the ballyhooed Chinese growth miracle is really a story of construction and debt-fueled asset investment gone wild. And that party is now over.

So whatever Sgt. Easterhaus actually meant during the seven seasons of "Hill Street Blues" which always started with his famous admonition, we are quite sure that today it would not have meant buying the dips in a casino that is rife with unprecedented danger.

Finally, when it comes to real danger we think the most precarious spot along the Acela Corridor is about one mile from Union Station. We are speaking, of course, of the Oval Office and the Donald's questionable tenure therein.

Even as he meandered around Asia double-talking about trade and basking in the royal reception put on by his duplicitous hosts in Tokyo, Seoul and most especially Beijing, the Donald did manage to hit a fantastic bull-eye stateside.

Indeed, his takedown of the three stooges—Brennan, Clapper and Comey—–of the Deep State's spy apparatus will be one for the ages. Not since Jimmy Carter has a president even vaguely admonished the intelligence agencies, but as it his wont, the Donald held nothing back—naming names and drop-kicking backsides good and hard:

“And then you hear it’s 17 agencies. Well, it’s three. And one is Brennan and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They’re political hacks. So you look at it — I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker,” Trump told the reporters on Air Force One…..   

Yes, the next day he backed away in what appeared to be a pro forma nod to be his own courage-challenged appointees.

We don't think so, however.

Image result for picture of brennan, comey and clapper in prison uniforms

The truth is, the Deep State is already in the precinct house. And Sgt. Easterhaus is talking to the wall.

 

http://WarMachines.com

Weekend Reading: You Have Been Warned

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Investors aren’t paying attention.

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week.

On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits)

For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above.

When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings.

The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs. The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t.

More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

In the meantime, here is your weekend reading list.


Trump, Economy & Fed


VIDEO – It’s A Turkey Market


Markets


Research / Interesting Reads


“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” – Sir John Templeton

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How Uncle Sam Inflates Away Your Life

Authored by MN Gordon via EconomicPrism.com,

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” once remarked economist and Nobel Prize recipient Milton Friedman.  He likely meant that inflation is the more rapid increase in the supply of money relative to the output of goods and services which money is traded for.

As more and more money is issued relative to the output of goods and services in an economy, the money’s watered down and loses value. 

By this account, price inflation is not in itself rising prices.  Rather, it’s the loss of purchasing power resulting from an inflating money supply.

Indeed, Friedman offered a shrewd insight.  However, he also accompanied it with an opportunist mindset.  Friedman saw promise in the phenomenon of monetary inflation.  Moreover, he saw it as a means to improve human productivity and economic growth.

You see, a stable money supply was not good enough for Friedman.  He advocated for moderate levels of monetary growth, and inflation, to perpetually stimulate the economy.  By hardwiring consumers with the expectation of higher prices, policy makers could compel a relentless consumer demand.

This desire to harness and control the inflation phenomenon has infected practically every government economist’s brain since the early 1970s. 

Over the decades they’ve somehow come to a consensus that 2 percent price inflation is the idyllic rate for provoking economic nirvana.  The Fed even tinkers with its federal funds rate for the purpose of targeting this magic 2 percent rate of price inflation.

Shadow Stats

On Wednesday the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published its October Consumer Price Index (CPI) report.  According to the government number crunchers, consumer prices are increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent.  Of course, anyone who lives and works in the real world knows prices are rising much faster.

For example, John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics calculates the CPI using early-1980s methods.  Williams re-creates how the government previously calculated the CPI before they reconfigured their scheme to understate inflation versus common experience.  By Williams’ calculations the CPI is increasing at an annual rate of 9.8 percent.

What price inflation number you believe is up to you.  We’re merely providing information for your consideration.  Are consumer prices rising at 9.8 percent per years, as Williams suggests?  Are they rising at 5 percent?  Are they going down?

We suppose it depends on if you’re buying a flannel shirt at Wal-Mart or paying your utility bill.  Still, many would agree that, overall, their day to day experience includes price increases far greater than 2 percent per year.

If we assume price inflation to be 3 percent per year, that means the purchasing power of your cash drops by 30 percent over a 12 year period. 

Hence, if you retire at age 62, that means you’ll see the purchasing power of each dollar you own decline to $0.70 by age 74.  By age 86, your purchasing power will be cut in half.

In short, 3 percent annual price inflation reduces each dollar you own to just $0.50 in less than 25 years.  Without question, this is a significant loss in purchasing power. 

What’s more, generating consistent investment income to overcome this loss in purchasing power is a tall order.  Surely, you can’t rely on the government’s cost of living adjustments (COLA), which are tied to the CPI, to maintain your living standard.

How Uncle Sam Inflates Away Your Life

We doubt that the dollar devaluing effects of price inflation is a new concept for you.  Most likely you’ve heard this many times before.  Certainly, you experience it as you go about your business.

However, this stealthy destruction of your wealth bears repeating.  The fact is over the course of your retirement half of your life-savings will be covertly confiscated from your bank account.  We find this to be wholly intolerable.

Remember, your life-savings is just that.  It represents your life.  Specifically, it’s stored up time you traded a portion of your life to earn.  So, too, it’s a measure of your financial discipline and ability to save and invest overtime in lieu of supersized spending.

When Uncle Sam confiscates your life-savings via the inflation tax something more is happening.  Not only are you being robbed of your money, you’re being robbed of your life.  Your life’s simply inflated away.  Poof!

Factor in federal and state income taxes, social security, disability, Medicare, capital gains taxes, outrageous health insurance costs, subsidizing luxury electric vehicles and grape flavored soda pop, and a vast array of fees and exactions, it’s a miracle you have any money left over at all.

Alas, what money you somehow manage to hold onto will be inflated away long before you need it most.

http://WarMachines.com

Another Step Forward For Sound Money: Location Picked For Texas Gold Depository

Via SchiffGold.com,

The Texas Bullion Depository took a step closer becoming operational earlier this month when officials announced the location of the new facility.

The creation of a state bullion depository in Texas represents a power shift away from the federal government to the state, and it provides a blueprint that could ultimately end the Federal Reserve’s monopoly on money.

Gov. Greg Abbot signed legislation creating the state gold bullion and precious metal depository in June of 2015. The facility will not only provide a secure place for individuals, business, cities, counties, government agencies and even other countries to store gold and other precious metals, the law also creates a mechanism to facilitate the everyday use of gold and silver in business transactions. In short, a person will be able to deposit gold or silver in the depository and pay other people through electronic means or checks – in sound money.

Earlier this summer, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Austin-based Lone Star Tangible Assets will build and operate the Texas Bullion Depository. On Nov. 3, the company announced it will construct the facility in the city of Leander, located about 30 miles northwest of Austin. According to the Community Impact Newspaper, the Leander City Council has approved an economic development agreement with Lone Star. Construction of the depository is expected to begin in early 2018. Lone Star officials say it will take about a year to complete construction of the 60,000-square-foot secure facility located on a 10-acre campus.

The depository will operate out of Lone Star’s existing facilities during construction. It will provide services nationwide beginning in early 2018, with international services to be offered in the future phases, according to Community Impact.

“This state-of-the-art facility will provide tremendous benefits to the citizens of Leander and will give Texans a secure facility right here in the Lone Star State where their gold and precious metals will be kept safe and close at hand,” Hegar said in the press release.

The Texas Bullion Depository has already established an online presence. You can visit the depository website HERE.

According to an article in the Star-Telegram, state officials want a facility ‘with an e-commerce component that also provides for secure physical storage for Bullion.’ Officials say plans for a depository should include online services that would let customers accept, transfer and withdraw bullion deposits and related fees.

By making gold and silver available for regular, daily transactions by the general public, the new law has the potential for wide-reaching effect. Professor William Greene is an expert on constitutional tender and said in a paper for the Mises Institute that when people in multiple states actually start using gold and silver instead of Federal Reserve notes, it would effectively nullify the Federal Reserve and end the federal government’s monopoly on money.

“Over time, as residents of the state use both Federal Reserve notes and silver and gold coins, the fact that the coins hold their value more than Federal Reserve notes do will lead to a ‘reverse Gresham’s Law’ effect, where good money (gold and silver coins) will drive out bad money (Federal Reserve notes).

 

“As this happens, a cascade of events can begin to occur, including the flow of real wealth toward the state’s treasury, an influx of banking business from outside of the state – as people in other states carry out their desire to bank with sound money – and an eventual outcry against the use of Federal Reserve notes for any transactions.”

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus called the development of a state gold depository a step toward independence.

“This is another in a long line of ways to make Texas more self-reliant and less tethered to the federal government. The financial impact is small but the political impact is telling, Many conservatives are interested in returning to the gold standard and circumvent the Federal reserve in whatever small way they can.”

The Texas gold depository will create a mechanism to challenge the federal government’s monopoly on money and provides a blueprint for other states to follow. If the majority of states controlled their own supply of gold, it could conceivably make the Federal Reserve completely irrelevant.

The depository is part of a broader movement at the state level to facilitate sound money, and potentially undermine the Fed’s money monopoly. A number of states have repealed taxes on the sale of gold and silver over the last two years, and that trend is expected to continue. A legislator in Alabama has already filed a bill to repeal the sales and use tax on gold, silver, platinum, and palladium bullion and coins in that state. As Ron Paul has said, “We ought not to tax money – and that’s a good idea. It makes no sense to tax money.”

Reporting from the Tenth Amendment Center contributed to this report.

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How Tax Reform Can Still Blow Up: A Side-By-Side Comparison Of The House And Senate Tax Plans

To much fanfare, mostly out of president Trump, on Thursday the House passed their version of the tax bill 227-205 along party lines, with 13 Republicans opposing. The passage of the House bill was met with muted market reaction. The Senate version of the tax reform is currently going through the Senate Finance Committee for additional amendments and should be ready for a full floor debate in a few weeks. While some, like Goldman, give corporate tax cuts (if not broad tax reform), an 80% chance of eventually becoming law in the first quarter of 2018, others like UBS and various prominent skeptics, do not see the House and Senate plans coherently merging into a survivable proposal. 

Indeed, while momentum seemingly is building for the tax plan, some prominent analysts believe there are several issues down the road that could trip up or even stall a comprehensive tax plan from passing the Congress, the chief of which is how to combine the House and Senate plans into one viable bill.

How are the two plans different? 

Below we present a side by side comparison of the two plans from Bank of America, which notes that the House and the Senate are likely to pass different tax plans with areas of disagreement (see table below). This means that the two chambers will need to form a conference committee to hash out the differences. There are three major friction points:

  1. the repeal of the state and local tax deductions (SALT),
  2. capping mortgage interest deductions and
  3. the delay in the corporate tax cut.

The House seems strongly opposed to fully repealing SALT and delaying the corporate tax cuts and the Senate could push back on changing the mortgage interest deductions. Finding compromise on these issues without disturbing other parts of the plan while keeping the price tag under the $1.5tn over 10 years could be challenging.

Here are the key sticking points per BofA:

  • Skinny ACA repeal: The repeal of the individual mandate is back on the table. It would free up approximately $300bn in revenue to pay for the tax plan. But this likely means no Democratic Senator will support the bill. This could prove costly as the Republicans can only afford to lose 2 votes and several Republican Senators are already on the fence on the tax plan.
  • Byrd Rule means tax plan might not hatch: Reconciliation directives allow the tax plan to add $1.5tn to the deficit in the first 10 years (See appendix for breakdown of the cost of each plan). However, rules in the Senate state that any bill passed under reconciliation has to be revenue neutral beyond the 10 year budget window. Given that the Republicans are hoping to make the corporate tax cuts permanent, it would mean that they would need to find additional revenue in the out years while sunsetting all other tax cut provisions (e.g. personal tax cuts). This will mean the personal tax code at best will revert back to current law or at worst roll back the cuts and preserve the repeal of the deduction which would amount to a tax increase on households after ten years. Currently, the Senate plan would let reduction in the personal tax rates, expansions of the standard deduction and child tax credit and other provisions expire after 2025. The court of public opinion could threaten the tax plan.

And while it remains to be seen if tax reform will pass the Senate, or like Obamacare repeal, it will get shot down by the like of McCain (and perhaps Corker), another key question, is whether the US even needs tax reform at this point – the Fed certainly could do without the added inflationary pressure – and whereas former Goldman COO and Trump’s econ advisor, Gary Cohn certainly thinks so, his former boss, Lloyd Blankfein disagrees. So does Bank of America, which maintains that at this stage of the business cycle, tax cuts are not needed to sustain the current expansion. Nevertheless, BofA concedes the passage of a comprehensive tax plan would likely lead to a short term boost to growth which would translate to further declines in the unemployment rate and higher inflation.

Then, as the economy begins to heat up, the Fed will likely lean against the economy by implementing a faster hiking cycle than currently projected, which will ultimately spark the next market crash, recession and financial crisis. Ironically, the seed of Trump’s own destruction would be planted by his biggest political victory yet (assuming tax reform passes, of course).

* * *

As a bonus, here is a simulation BofA ran using the Fed’s FRB/US model to calculate the potential costs of the tax plans. BofA ran its simulations assuming model consistent expectations for all sectors of the economy and using the inertial Taylor rule to set the path of the federal funds rate: “o simulate the impact of the fiscal stimulus brought on by the tax cuts, we make the fiscal setting exogenous during the first 10 year period and adjust the path for corporate and personal income taxes to take into account the government revenue effects from the tax plan.”

Costs aside, to get a sense of the economic impact from the two tax plans, BofA similarly models the two plans’ outcomes using the FRB/US macroeconomic model. The simulation results suggest under the House plan, the US would see a boost to aggregate demand as growth would be approximately 0.4pp higher relative to baseline in 2018 and 0.3pp higher in 2019. Better aggregate demand would reduce the unemployment rate by 0.3pp by 2019 and put upward pressure on inflation. These growth and price dynamics would lead the FOMC to raise rates an additional 1 to 2 hikes over the next two years. The economic impact from the Senate plan would be slightly more modest but in the same ballpark as the House plan. Under the Senate plan, the model predicts growth to be approximately 0.3pp higher in both 2018 and 2019 and similar dynamics for the unemployment rate and inflation as seen in the House plan, leading the FOMC to tighten quicker than the current baseline path.

There is also an “alternative” scenario where we a watered down version of the tax plan passes (i.e. modest tax cuts for middle-income households and a corporate tax cut near 25-28% that is deficit increasing by $600bn-$800bn on a static basis). Under the “alternative” scenario, we would see approximately half the economic impact that is seen under the House plan. Given that such a plan would likely only generate modest inflationary pressures, the Fed’s response likely would be relatively muted and it would likely stay on its baseline path.

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Keep Calm & Carry On

Authored by 720Global's Michael Liebowitz via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

“Before long, we will all begin to find out the extent to which Brexit is a gentle stroll along a smooth path to a land of cake and consumption.” – Mark Carney, Bank of England Governor

In 1939, the British Government, through the Ministry of Information, produced a series of morale-boosting posters which were hung in public places throughout the British Isles. Faced with German air raids and the imminent threat of invasion, the slogans were aimed at helping the British public brave the testing times that lay ahead. The most enduring of these slogans simply read:

 “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Ironically, it was the only one of the series that was never actually displayed in public as it was reserved for a German invasion that never transpired. Today, the British Government may wish to summon a fresh propaganda strategy to address a new threat on the horizon, that of the eventuality of Brexit.

The Kingdom Divided

The United Kingdom (UK) is in the process of negotiating out of all policies that, since 1972, formally tied it to the economic dynamics of the broader western European community. Since the unthinkable Brexit vote passage in June 2016, the unthinkable has now become the undoable. The negotiations, policy discussions, logistical considerations and legal wrangling are becoming increasingly problematic as they affect every industry in the UK from trade and finance to hazardous materials, produce, air travel and even Formula 1 racing.

The worst case scenario of a disorderly or “hard” Brexit, whereby no deal is reached by the March 2019 deadline, is the most extreme for investors along the spectrum of potential outcomes. A deadlock, which is unfortunately the most likely scenario, would result in tariffs on trade between the UK and the European Union (EU). Such an outcome would result in a rapid deterioration of British economic prospects, job losses and the migration of talent and businesses out of the country. Even before the path of Brexit is known, a number of large companies with UK operations, including Barclays Bank, Diageo, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft, are discussing plans to move or are already actively moving personnel out of Britain. Although less pronounced, the impact of a “hard” Brexit on the EU would not be positive either.

The least damaging Brexit outcome minimizes costs and disruption to business and takes the form of agreement around many of the key issues, most notably the principle of the freedom of movement of labor. The current progression of events and negotiations suggests such an agreement is unlikely. The outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU will be determined by politics, with the UK seeking to protect its interests while the EU and its 27 member states negotiate to protect their own.

To highlight the complexities involved, the challenges associated with reaching agreements, and why a hard Brexit seems most likely, consider the following:

  • Offering an early indication of the challenges ahead, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel stated that she wants the “divorce arrangement” to be agreed on before terms of the future relationship are negotiated. The UK has expressed a desire for these negotiations to run concurrently
  • A withdrawal agreement (once achieved) would need to be ratified by the UK
  • A withdrawal agreement would have to be approved by the European Parliament
  • A withdrawal agreement would have to be approved by 20 of the 27 member states
  • The 20 approving states must make up at least 65% of the population of the EU or an ex-UK population of 290 million people
  • If the deal on the future relationship impacts policy areas for which specific EU member states are primarily responsible, then the agreement would have to be approved by all the national parliaments of the 27 member states

The summary above shows that the unprecedented amount of coordination and negotiation required within the 27 member states and between the EU Commission, the EU Council and the EU Parliament, to say nothing of the UK.

The “do nothing and see what happens” stance taken by the British and the EU would likely deliver a unique brand of instability but one for which there is a precedent.

The last time we observed an economic event unfold in this way, investment firm Lehman Brothers disappeared along with several trillion dollars of global net worth. Although the Lehman bankruptcy was much more abrupt and less predictable, a hard Brexit seems likely to similarly roil global markets. The “no deal” exit option, which is the path currently being followed, threatens to upend the intricate and endlessly interconnected system of global financial arbitrage. Markets are complacent and seem to have resigned themselves to the conclusion that since no consequences have yet emerged, then they are not likely.

Lehman Goes Down

In late 2007 and early 2008, as U.S. national housing prices were falling, it was becoming evident that the financial sector was in serious trouble. By March of 2008, Bear Stearns was sold to JP Morgan for $2 per share in a Fed-arranged transaction to stave off bankruptcy. Bear Stearns stock traded at $28/share two days before the transaction and as high as $172 per share in January 2007. Even as evidence of problems grew throughout the summer of 2008, investors remained complacent. After the Bear Stearns failure, the S&P 500 rallied by over 14% through mid-May and was still up over 3% by the end of August following the government seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While investors were paying little attention, the solvency of many large financial entities was becoming more questionable. Having been denied a Federal Reserve backstop, Lehman failed on September 15, 2008 and an important link in the global financial system suddenly disappeared. The consequences would ultimately prove to be severe.

On September 16, 2008, the first trading day after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the S&P 500 index closed at 1192. On September 25, just 10-days later, it closed 1.43% higher at 1209. The market, in short time, would eventually collapse and bottom at 666 in six short months. Investors’ inability to see the bankruptcy coming followed by an inability to recognize the consequences of Lehman’s failure seems eerily familiar as it relates to the current status of Brexit negotiations.

If all efforts to navigate through Brexit requirements are as complicated and difficult as currently portrayed, then what are we to expect regarding adverse consequences when the day of reckoning arrives? Is it unfair to suspect that the disruptions are likely to be severe or potentially even historic? After all, we are not talking about the proper dissolution of an imprudently leveraged financial institution; this is a G10 country! The parallel we are trying to draw here is not one of bankruptcy, it is one of disruptions.

As it relates to Brexit, Dr. Andreas Dombret, member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, said this in a February 2017 speech to the Bank of International Settlements –

“So while economic policy will of course be an important topic during negotiations, we should not count on economic sanity being the main guiding principle. And that means we also have to factor in the possibility that the UK will leave the bloc in 2019 without an exit package, let alone the sweeping trade accord it is seeking. The fact that this scenario would most probably hurt economic activity considerably on both sides of the Channel will not necessarily prevent it from happening.”

Rhyming

On June 23, 2016, the day before the Brexit vote, the FTSE 100 closed at 6338. After a few hours of turbulence following the surprising results, the FTSE recovered and by the end of that month was up 2.6%. Today, the index is up 17.5% from the pre-Brexit close. The escalating risks of a hard exit from the EU clearly are not priced into the risky equity markets of Great Britain.

Data Courtesy: Bloomberg

Conversely, what has not recovered is the currency of the United Kingdom (chart below). The British Pound Sterling (GBP) closed at 1.4877 per U.S. dollar on June 23, 2016, and dropped by 15 points (-10%) to 1.33 by the end of the month following the Brexit vote. Over the past several months the pound has fallen to as low as 1.20 but more recently it has recovered to 1.33 on higher inflation readings and hawkish monetary policy language from Bank of England (BoE) governor Mark Carney. Despite following through on his recent threats to hike interest rates, the pound has begun to again trend lower.

Data Courtesy: Bloomberg

Carney has voiced concern over Brexit-induced inflation by saying that if global integration in recent decades suppressed price growth then the reduced openness to foreign markets and workers due to Brexit should result in higher inflation. This creates a potential problem for the BoE as a disorderly exit from the EU hurts the economy while at the same time inducing inflation. Such a stagflation dynamic would impair the BoE’s ability to engage in meaningful monetary stimulus of the sort global financial markets have become accustomed since the financial crisis. If the central bankers lose control of inflation, QE becomes worthless.

Some astute observers of the currency markets and BoE pronouncements argue that Carney’s threat of rate hikes are aimed at halting the deterioration of value in the pound and preventing a total collapse of the currency. That theory is speculative but plausible when analyzing the chart. Either way, whether the pound’s general weakness is driven by inflation concerns or the rising risks associated with a hard Brexit, the implications are stark.

What is equally evident, as shown below, is the laissez-faire attitude of the FTSE as opposed to the caution and reality being priced in by the currency markets. In Lehman’s case, the stock market was similarly complacent while the ten year Treasury yield dropped by nearly 2.00% from June 2007 to March 2008 (from a yield of 5.25% to 3.25%) on growing economic concerns and a flight-to-quality bid.

Data Courtesy: Bloomberg

A Familiar Problem

As discussed above, the Bank of England may find itself in a predicament where it is constrained from undertaking extreme measures due to inflation concerns or even being forced to tighten monetary policy despite an economic slowdown. Those actions would normally serve to support the pound. Further, if the prospect of a hard Brexit continues to take shape, capital flight out of the UK may overwhelm traditional factors. In efforts to prevent the disorderly movement of capital out of the country, the BoE may be required to hike interest rates substantially. Unlike the resistance of equity markets to bad news, the currency markets are more inclined, due to their size and much higher trading volume, to fairly reflect the dynamics of the economy and the central bank in a reasonable time frame.

Our perspective is not to presume a worst case scenario but to at least entertain and strategize for the range of possibilities. Equity markets, both in the UK and throughout the world, transfixed by the shell game of global central bankers’ interventionism, are clearly not properly assessing the probabilities and implications of a hard Brexit.

All things considered, the pound has rallied back to the high end of its post-Brexit range which seems to suggest the best outcome has been incorporated. If forced to act against inflation, the Bank of England will be hiking rates against a stagnant economy and a poor economic outlook.  This may provide support for the pound in the short term but it will certainly hurt an already anemic economy in the midst of Brexit uncertainty.

Summary

Timing markets is a fool’s errand. Technical and fundamental analysis allows for an assessment of the asymmetry of risks and potential rewards, but the degree of central bank interventionism is not quantifiable. With that premise in mind, we can evaluate different asset classes and their adherence to fundamentals while allowing a margin of error for the possibility of monetary intervention. After all, if central banks print money to inflate asset prices to create a wealth effect, some other asset should reveal the negative effects of conjuring currency in a fiat regime – namely the currency itself. In the short term, it may appear as though rising asset prices create new wealth, but over time, the reality is that the currency adjustments off-set some or all of the asset inflation.

Investors should take the time, while it is available, to consider the gravity of the disruptions a hard Brexit portends and look beyond high flying UK stocks to the more telling movement of the British pound. Like with Lehman and the global financial system in 2008, stocks may initially be blind to the obvious. Although decidedly not under the threats present during World War II, the British Government and the EU lack the leadership of that day and will likely need more than central banker propaganda to weather the economic storm ahead.

Keep calm and carry on, indeed.

http://WarMachines.com

Rickards On Gold, Interest Rates, & Super-Cycles

Authord by James Rickards via The Daily Reckoning,

When the Fed raised interest rates last December, many believed gold would plunge. But it didn’t happen.

Gold bottomed the day after the rate hike, but then started moving higher again. 

Incidentally, the same thing happened after the Fed tightened in December 2015. Gold had one of its best quarters in 20 years in the first quarter of 2016. So it was very interesting to see gold going up despite headwinds from the Fed.

Meanwhile, gold has more than held its own this year. 

Normally when rates go up, the dollar strengthens and gold weakens. They usually move in opposite directions. So how could gold have gone up when the Fed was tightening and the dollar was strong?

That tells me that there’s more to the story, that there’s more going on behind the scenes that’s been driving the gold price higher.

It means you can’t just look at the dollar. The dollar’s an important driver of the gold price, no doubt. But so are basic fundamentals like supply and demand in the physical gold market.

I travel constantly, and I was in Shanghai meeting with the largest gold dealers in China. I was also in Switzerland not too long ago, meeting with gold refiners and gold dealers.

I’ve heard the same stories from Switzerland to Shanghai and everywhere in between, that there are physical gold shortages popping up, and that refiners are having trouble sourcing gold. Refiners have waiting lists of buyers, and they can’t find the gold they need to maintain their refining operations.

And new gold discoveries are few and far between, so demand is outstripping supply. That’s why some of the opportunities we’ve uncovered in gold miners are so attractive right now. One good find can make investors fortunes.

My point is that physical shortages have become an issue. That is an important driver of gold prices.

There’s another reason to believe that gold could be in a long-term trend right now.

To understand why, let’s first look at the long decline in gold prices from 2011 to 2015. The best explanation I’ve heard came from legendary commodities investor Jim Rogers.

He personally believes that gold will end up in the $10,000 per ounce range, which I have also predicted.

But Rogers makes the point that no commodity ever goes from a secular bottom to top without a 50% retracement along the way.

This means the 50% retracement is behind us and gold is set for new all-time highs in the years ahead.

Gold bottomed at $255 per ounce in August 1999. From there, it turned decisively higher and rose 650% until it peaked near $1,900 in September 2011.

So gold rose $1,643 per ounce from August 1999 to September 2011.

A 50% retracement of that rally would take $821 per ounce off the price, putting gold at $1,077 when the retracement finished. That’s almost exactly where gold ended up on Nov. 27, 2015 ($1,058 per ounce).

This means the 50% retracement is behind us and gold is set for new all-time highs in the years ahead.

Why should investors believe gold won’t just get slammed again?

The answer is that there’s an important distinction between the 2011–15 price action and what’s going on now.

The four-year decline exhibited a pattern called “lower highs and lower lows.” While gold rallied and fell back, each peak was lower than the one before and each valley was lower than the one before also.

Since December 2016, it appears that this bear market pattern has reversed. We now see “higher highs and higher lows” as part of an overall uptrend.

The Feb. 24, 2017, high of $1,256 per ounce was higher than the prior Jan. 23, 2017, high of $1,217 per ounce.

The May 10 low of $1,218 per ounce was higher than the prior March 14 low of $1,198 per ounce.

The Sept. 7 high of $1,353 was higher than the June 6 high of $1,296. And the Oct. 5 low of $1,271 was higher than the July 7 low of $1,212.

Of course, this new trend is less than a year old and is not deterministic. Still, it is an encouraging sign when considered alongside other bullish factors for gold.

But more importantly, gold has held its own despite higher interest rates and threats of more.

That tells me we’re seeing a flight to quality, meaning people are losing confidence in central banks all over the world. They realize the banks are out of bullets. They’ve been printing money for eight years and keeping rates close to zero or negative. But it still hasn’t worked to stimulate the economy the way they want.

So gold has been moving up in what I would consider a challenging environment of higher rates. 

The question is, where does gold go from here?

The market is currently giving close to 100% odds that the Fed will raise rates next month.

I disagree. I’m skeptical of that because of the weak inflation data. There will be one more PCE core data release before the Dec. 13 meeting. That release is due out on Nov. 30.

If the number is hot, say, 1.6% or higher, that will validate Yellen’s view that the inflation weakness was “transitory” and will justify the Fed in raising rates in December.

On the other hand, if that number is weak, say, 1.3% or less, there’s a good chance the Fed will not raise rates in December. In that case, investors should expect a swift and violent reversal of recent trends.

Markets have priced a strong dollar and weaker gold and bond prices based on the expectation of a rate hike in December. If that rate hike doesn’t happen because of weak inflation data, look for sharp rallies in bonds and gold.

Now, the last time gold sold off dramatically was on election night, when Stan Druckenmiller, a famous gold investor, sold all his gold. It’s only natural that when someone dumps the amount of gold he deals in, the price will go down.

That move reflected a change in sentiment.

What Stan said at the time was very interesting. He said, “All the reasons that I own gold in the first place have gone away because Trump was elected president.”

In other words, he was buying into the story that Hillary Clinton would be bad for the economy but Donald Trump’s policies would be beneficial. If we were going to have strong economic growth with a Trump presidency, maybe you didn’t need gold for protection. So he sold his gold and bought stocks on the assumption that the economy would grow under Trump.

But earlier this year, Stan has said he’s buying gold again. What that means is that people are finally reconsidering the reflation trade. Tax reform is still a big question mark. And when’s the last time you heard a word about infrastructure spending?

Investors will once again flock into gold once reality sets in. Mix in rising geopolitical tensions in Asia and the Middle East, and gold’s future looks bright.

http://WarMachines.com

Dollar Slammed, USDJPY Roiled On Trump Campaign Subpoena Report

it has been a rocky session for the dollar which has dumped to a 4-week low, dragging with it USDJPY, the Nikkei and Treasury yields – and to a lesser extend US equity futures – all of which have slumped in the Japanese am session, following a WSJ report that Robert Mueller’s team “caught the Trump campaign by surprise” in mid-October by issuing a document subpoena to more than a dozen top officials.

The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said.

If confirmed, this would be the first time Trump’s campaign has been ordered to turn over information to Mueller’s investigation, even if subpoena has not – for now – compelled any officials to testify before  Mueller’s grand jury.

According to Citi, and a handful of other desks,the news of the report is what initially sent the USDJPY below 113, at which point stop loss selling accelerated and has seen the pair tumble to 112.50 at last check. 

While it took the other major currencies a while to catch on, the dollar eventually did selloff across the board, with cable and EUR leading the AUD and kiwi.  Meanwhile, the Korean won has surged, sending the USDKRW below 1,100, ignoring the latest jawboning and verbal intervention from Korean central bankers.

Still, not everyone is convinced and Citi for one, thinks the sell-off in US assets has been exaggerated due to diminished liquidity conditions and stop runs, especially since the news that Mueller issued a subpoena “doesn’t really have any implications for markets.”

Others, such as Westpac’s FX strategist Sean Callow, agree: “USD/JPY’s apparent fatigue is consistent with a speculative market already very short yen”he said, adding that “USD/JPY seems to have already factored in not only a Fed hike in December but some form of tax cut package as well.”

Furthermore, while the subpoena news may seem surprising, Citi’s Ding notes that “we already know that the investigation is ongoing and links between Russia and the Trump campaign are under scrutiny”, in other words the WSJ report was to be expected, even if the market appears to be overplaying it for the time being.

In any case, at least for now the mood is one of risk off, and in addition to the dollar, Nikkei, yields and US futures all heavy, Chinese stocks are also down with the Shanghai Comp -0.7% lower, although that may be more a function of the sharp reversal in PBOC liquidity injections, because after yesterday’s gargantuan 310Bn net reverse repo – and 810Bn net this week – today’s 10Bn liquidity drain once again prompted fears that the PBOC just may be serious about the deleveraging after all.

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Fed Officials Push Radical Change In Monetary Policy As Powell Takes Over

Oh no…with the Federal Reserve in a state of flux as one Chairman prepares to step down and another (shock horror, who is not an economist) takes over, some of his colleagues who think they’ve found the “Holy Grail” of monetary policy are agitating for change. And, dare we say it, hoping it will raise their own prestige no doubt. We are specifically referring to John Williams, President and CEO of the San Francisco Fed, but it’s not just him. What they have in their crosshairs is the Fed’s 2% inflation target. It’s too low. According to Bloomberg.

Federal Reserve officials are pushing for a potentially radical revamp of the playbook for guiding U.S. monetary policy, hoping to seize a moment of economic calm and leadership change to prepare for the next storm. While the country is enjoying its third-longest expansion on record, inflation and interest rates are still low, meaning the central bank has little room to ease policy in a downturn before hitting zero again. With Jerome Powell nominated to take over as Fed chairman in February, influential officials including San Francisco Fed chief John Williams and the Chicago Fed’s Charles Evans have taken the lead in calling for reconsidering policy maker’s 2 percent inflation target.

It looks like they’ve got the backing of a recent Fed appointee (June 2017) as the report continues.

“It’s a good time given the shift in leadership,” Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic told reporters on Tuesday in Montgomery, Alabama. “The new guy comes in and they are able to really think about, how should this work, how do I think this should work, and is it compatible with where we’ve been and where we are trying to get to?”

The justification for the policy changes these Fed officials are advocating boils down to what Williams refers to as a “Low R-star World”, i.e. one where the natural rate of interest is very low.

The problem with what they have in mind is the Fed’s explicit 2% inflation target. However, it’s a relatively recent adoption, so Williams and Evans have to tread carefully, so as not to offend too many incumbents.

The Fed in 2012 officially settled on 2 percent inflation as an explicit target for the price stability half of its dual mandate from Congress. The other goal is maximum sustainable employment. The move formalized a policy they’d been following in practice for several years, and it was backed by careful logic: 2 percent is high enough to ensure that workers continue to get raises and to give the Fed some cushion against deflation. Other advanced economies aim for a similar level. Yet Fed officials, most loudly Williams, have been urging the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee to revisit that approach. The reason? The target was settled at a time when officials thought they’d have no problem in lifting interest rates to 2 percent or higher without choking off growth. But fundamentals in the economy have changed since the crisis. Growth and productivity have been tepid. As a result, the so-called neutral level of interest rates — which neither speeds up or slows the economy – is very low by historic standards, leaving the Fed with less wiggle room.

What it boils down to is these senior Fed officials want to let the inflation genie out of the bottle just that little bit more…let the economy run “hot” for a while, without losing control, of course. Then they can cut rates more aggressively in the next downturn and “save us”.

Allowing prices to rise slightly higher would give the Fed more scope to ease in the next downturn. The federal funds rate is quoted in nominal terms, or not adjusted for inflation. So if neutral stands at 0.5 percent, in real terms, and prices are rising at a 3 percent pace, the Fed can get rates as high as 3.5 percent before policy would be restrictive. If inflation were only 2 percent, that level in nominal terms would be 2.5 percent.

Which sounds like a policy of less adherence to price stability, although we could be mistaken. Meanwhile, Williams is trying not to be too brazen and is advancing his ideas cautiously.

Williams told reporters in early November that he favors discussing a new framework now, though he doesn’t want to tie the talks to near-term strategy. “It would be optimal to have a decision around what’s the best framework that we should be using well before the next recession,” he said, because it will “take some time” for officials to hammer out such an important policy. Alternative approaches could include allowing prices to overshoot for the same amount of time they undershot — commonly called price-level targeting — or even raising the desired inflation goal to 3 percent.

There we have it, just more confirmation that central bankers are, at heart, inflation junkies. Yep…we knew it all along, of course, but it’s fascinating to watch them articulate it in an innocent manner. As Bloomberg informs us, yet another Fed Governor, Harker, is ready to overhaul policy when Powell sits in the Chairman’s chair.

“There’s a host of possible options, and I have not settled on any one of those yet,” but it merits a discussion “now,” Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said in an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this month.

 

“This is a discussion we’re going to have to have within the Fed, and within the broad economic community."

 

There’s good reason to discuss the future of monetary policy now. The unemployment rate is low and growth is humming along steadily, and though inflation remains below target, officials expect it to pick up in coming months.

 

In this period of economic calm, economists can debate the merits of different approaches slowly and carefully. “Developing a new framework prior to the next zero-lower bound episode allows time for a shift in the nature of forward guidance — and communications more generally,” Evans said Tuesday in Frankfurt. The policies would then be better understood, better refined, and “therefore, likely be more effective,” he said.

So we need to prepare for a change in Fed policy and one that justifies a higher inflation target. Were they to achieve this target, it will obviously be bad news for the 80% of American’s whose incomes are already trailing the cost of living as we discussed.

But being stupid in an intellectual way is a defining characteristic of this generation of central bankers.

 

http://WarMachines.com

Fed Hints During Next Recession It Will Roll Out Income Targeting, NIRP

In a moment of rare insight, two weeks ago in response to a question “Why is establishment media romanticizing communism? Authoritarianism, poverty, starvation, secret police, murder, mass incarceration? WTF?”, we said that this was simply a “prelude to central bank funded universal income”, or in other words, Fed-funded and guaranteed cash for everyone.

On Thursday afternoon, in a stark warning of what’s to come, San Francisco Fed President John Williams confirmed our suspicions when he said that to fight the next recession, global central bankers will be forced to come up with a whole new toolkit of “solutions”, as simply cutting interest rates won’t well, cut it anymore, and in addition to more QE and forward guidance – both of which were used widely in the last recession – the Fed may have to use negative interest rates, as well as untried tools including so-called price-level targeting or nominal-income targeting.

The bolded is a tacit admission that as a result of the aging workforce and the dramatic slack which still remains in the labor force, the US central bank will have to take drastic steps to preserve social order and cohesion.

According to Williams’, Reuters reports, central bankers should take this moment of “relative economic calm” to rethink their approach to monetary policy. Others have echoed Williams’ implicit admission that as a result of 9 years of Fed attempts to stimulate the economy – yet merely ending up with the biggest asset bubble in history – the US finds itself in a dead economic end, such as Chicago Fed Bank President Charles Evans, who recently urged a strategy review at the Fed, but Williams’ call for a worldwide review is considerably more ambitious.

Among Williams’ other suggestions include not only negative interest rates but also raising the inflation target – to 3%, 4% or more, in an attempt to crush debt by making life unbearable for the majority of the population – as it considers new monetary policy frameworks. Still, even the most dovish Fed lunatic has to admit that such strategies would have costs, including those that diverge greatly from the Fed’s current approach. Or maybe not: “price-level targeting, he said, is advantageous because it fits “relatively easily” into the current framework.”

Considering that for the better part of a decade the Fed prescribed lower rates and ZIRP as the cure to the moribund US economy, only to flip and then propose higher rates as the solution to all problems, it is not surprising that even the most insane proposals are currently being contemplated because they fit “relatively easily” into the current framework.

Additionally, confirming that the Fed has learned nothing at all, during a Q&A in San Francisco, Williams said that “negative interest rates need to be on the list” of potential tools the Fed could use in a severe recession. He also said that QE remains more effective in terms of cost-benefit, but “would not exclude that as an option if the circumstances warranted it.”

“If all of us get stuck at the lower bound” then “policy spillovers are far more negative,” Williams said of global economic interconnectedness. “I’m not pushing for” some “United Nations of policy.”

And, touching on our post from mid-September, in which we pointed out that the BOC was preparing to revising its mandate, Williams also said that “the Fed and all central banks should have Canada-like practice of revisiting inflation target every 5 years.”

Meanwhile, the idea of Fed targeting, or funding, “income” is hardly new: back in July, Deutsche Bank was the first institution to admit that the Fed has created “universal basic income for the rich”:

The accommodation and QE have acted as a free insurance policy for the owners of risk, which, given the demographics of stock market participation, in effect has functioned as universal basic income for the rich. It is not difficult to see how disruptive unwind of stimulus could become. Clearly, in this context risk has become a binding constraint.

It is only “symmetric” that everyone else should also benefit from the Fed’s monetary generosity during the next recession. 

* * *

Finally, for those curious what will really happen after the next “great liquidity crisis”, JPM’s Marko Kolanovic laid out a comprehensive checklist one month ago. It predicted not only price targeting (i.e., stocks), but also negative income taxes, progressive corporate taxes, new taxes on tech companies, and, of course, hyperinflation. Here is the excerpt.

What will governments and central banks do in the scenario of a great liquidity crisis? If the standard rate cutting and bond purchases don’t suffice, central banks may more explicitly target asset prices (e.g., equities). This may be controversial in light of the potential impact of central bank actions in driving inequality between asset owners and labor. Other ‘out of the box’ solutions could include a negative income tax (one can call this ‘QE for labor’), progressive corporate tax, universal income and others. To address growing pressure on labor from AI, new taxes or settlements may be levied on Technology companies (for instance, they may be required to pick up the social tab for labor destruction brought by artificial intelligence, in an analogy to industrial companies addressing environmental impacts). While we think unlikely, a tail risk could be a backlash against central banks that prompts significant changes in the monetary system. In many possible outcomes, inflation is likely to pick up.

 

The next crisis is also likely to result in social tensions similar to those witnessed 50 years ago in 1968. In 1968, TV and investigative journalism provided a generation of baby boomers access to unfiltered information on social developments such as Vietnam and other proxy wars, Civil rights movements, income inequality, etc. Similar to 1968, the internet today (social media, leaked documents, etc.) provides millennials with unrestricted access to information on a surprisingly similar range of issues. In addition to information, the internet provides a platform for various social groups to become more self-aware, united and organized. Groups span various social dimensions based on differences in income/wealth, race, generation, political party affiliations, and independent stripes ranging from alt-left to alt-right movements. In fact, many recent developments such as the US presidential election, Brexit, independence movements in Europe, etc., already illustrate social tensions that are likely to be amplified in the next financial crisis. How did markets evolve in the aftermath of 1968? Monetary systems were completely revamped (Bretton Woods), inflation rapidly increased, and equities produced zero returns for a decade. The decade ended with a famously wrong Businessweek article ‘the death of equities’ in 1979.

Kolanovic’s warning may have sounded whimsical one month ago. Now, in light of Williams’ words, it appears that it may serve as a blueprint for what comes next.

http://WarMachines.com

Einhorn: “None Of The Problems From The Financial Crisis Have Been Solved”

A month ago, a downbeat David Einhorn exclaimed "will this market cycle never turn?"

Despite solid Q3 performance, Einhorn admitted that "the market remains very challenging for value investing strategies, as growth stocks have continued to outperform value stocks. The persistence of this dynamic leads to questions regarding whether value investing is a viable strategy. The knee-jerk instinct is to respond that when a proven strategy is so exceedingly out of favor that its viability is questioned, the cycle must be about to turn around. Unfortunately, we lack such clarity. After years of running into the wind, we are left with no sense stronger than, 'it will turn when it turns'."

Such an open-ended answer, however, is a problem for a fund which famously opened a basket of "internet shorts" several years prior, and which have continued to rip ever higher, detracting from Greenlight's overall performance.

This, in turn, has prompted Einhorn to consider the unthinkable alternative: "Might the cycle never turn?" In other words, is the market now permanently broken.

While the Greenlight founder did not explicitly answer the question, in a speech yesterday at The Oxford Union in England, Einhorn made it extremely clear just how farcical he believes this market, and world, has become, pointing out that the problems that caused the global financial crisis a decade ago still haven’t been resolved.

“Have we learned our lesson? It depends what the lesson was,” Einhorn, the co-founder of New York-based Greenlight Capital, said at the Oxford Union in England on Wednesday.

Infamous for his value investing style and bet against Lehman Brothers that paid off in the crisis, Bloomberg reports that Einhorn said he identified several issues at the time of the crisis, including the fact that institutions that could have gone under were deemed too big to fail.

The scarcity of major credit-rating agencies was and remains a factor, Einhorn said, while problems in the derivatives market “could have been dealt with differently," and in the “so-called structured-credit market, risk was transferred, but not really being transferred, and not properly valued.”

“If you took all of the obvious problems from the financial crisis, we kind of solved none of them,” Einhorn said to a packed room at Oxford University’s 194-year-old debating society.

 

Instead, the world “went the bailout route.”

 

“We sweep as much under the rug as we can and move on as quickly as we can,” he said.

Einhorn didn’t avoid discussing his underperformance, citing several failed bets that companies’ stocks would decline. He didn’t name the stocks he was shorting, but insisted that none of the companies are “viable businesses.”

Value investing has worked over time, but “it’s not working at all right now,” and in fact “the opposite seems to be working,” he said.

Greenlight remains focused on developed markets, and has no plans to change that, he said.

Which reminds us of his exasperated conclusions from the latest Greenlight letter to investors:

Given the performance of certain stocks, we wonder if the market has adopted an alternative paradigm for calculating equity value. What if equity value has nothing to do with current or future profits and instead is derived from a company’s ability to be disruptive, to provide social change, or to advance new beneficial technologies, even when doing so results in current and future economic loss?

 

It’s clear that a number of companies provide products and services to customers that come with a subsidy from equity holders. And yet, on a mark-to-market basis, the equity holders are doing just fine.

Ah yes, the Fed-funded "deflation trade" which lowers prices for goods and services courtesy of ravenous investors who will throw money at any "growth" idea, without considerations for return or profit, because – well – more such investors will emerge tomorrow.  After all, in this day and age of ZIRP, what else will they do with their money.

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