12/01/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Former Fed Advisor Danielle DiMartino Booth On Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies

FRA: Hi – Welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Danielle DiMartino Booth. She is a global thought leader on monetary policy and economics. She is the author of Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America. Her book rose to number 22 on Amazon’s Best Seller List. She founded Money Strong LLC in 2015 which is an economic consultancy firm with a great insightful newsletter. She is also a full-time columnist at Bloomberg View, a business speaker and a commentator frequently featured on CNBC Bloomberg Radio, Fox News, Fox Business News and other major media outlets. Prior to Money Strong she served as Advisor to the Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher.

Welcome Danielle.

Danielle DiMartino Booth: So happy to be here.

FRA: Great..I’d thought we would begin with your book. Having worked with the Federal Reserve, the title appears to be very strong; An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America. Your thoughts on that?  Why is it bad for America?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: It’s not so much that I think the Federal Reserve has to go away. I just think that in its current form, or at least the form it’s been in since August 11th, 1987 when Alan Greenspan took office, has ended up being very bad for our country. We have ended up on a series of booms and busts and I, for one, am tired of being on this rollercoaster and think that it is high time we reinvent the Fed, take it down to the studs, and build it from the ground up and make it an institution that is good for America.

FRA: You recently commented on the Federal Reserve in terms of their biggest fear. Could you elaborate on that?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: There is a fallacy here. We have not just come through an era of deleveraging. If you look back at 2007, there was 150 trillion dollars of credit globally in the market. Today, we have over 220 trillion dollars of debt globally in the credit markets. So what we have actually seen is a very aggressive releveraging, overleveraging, of the global debt markets in order to eke out the economic growth that we have seen. I lay the blame for that at the world’s central bankers printing money to kingdom come, trying to create enough debt to spur economic growth, but the question I have is, at what price? I don’t think the central bankers want to answer that question. I think the 70 trillion dollars in debt build that we’ve seen since the outbreak of the great financial crisis is their greatest fear – It keeps them up at night.

FRA: Do you think central bankers have boxed themselves in a corner – Is there any way out? Can they actually implement quantitative tightening?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I think that that remains to be seen. I laugh every time I hear that the quantitative tightening, the shrinking of the Fed’s balance sheet, is going to appear on autopilot. They are deluding themselves if they don’t think that this is a form of tightening when on Day 1, headed into this experiment of unravelling and shrinking of the balance sheet, the Fed owned 33% of all mortgage-backed securities in the country – They are deluding themselves. It remains to be seen if the Fed is going to remain agnostic to all data and continue shrinking the balance sheet while they continue to increase interest rates at the same time. It is double tightening if you think about it.

FRA: What about other central banks. What are your thoughts on what they are thinking and potentially doing?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I’m very dear friends with a regular guest of yours, Peter Boockvar, and he lays out some very simple math. If you add together what the Federal Reserve says it’s going to be shrinking its balance sheet by around 400-some-odd billion dollars, run rate, this time, next year, and what Mario Draghi has committed to doing with the ECB in terms of tapering the ECB’s purchases, at this time as we are looking towards the holidays in 2018, we could theoretically have a trillion dollars less of global quantitative easing liquidity propping up these financial markets. It’s a big number and I think we have to take into context where that’s going to put these markets from the starting point of unprecedented historic overvaluation.

FRA: Is there any connection with the emergence and rise of valuations of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to what the central banks have been doing?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: It is an unequivocal, staring straight in the mirror, reflection of investors and citizens worldwide, of their anxiety with what is being done to destroy fiat currencies because of this money printing going on. Bitcoin has risen up in the face of what I call a defacto, but very quiet, stealthy, currency war, in a world where we are beginning to understand, and this is with all due deference to gold bugs, that it’s not practical to go back on a gold standard – So we’re looking for an alternative. But I have deep fears about what central banks are going to do once the cryptocurrency technology is perfected.

FRA: And what are those fears?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I am not sure if you are familiar with the concept of Fedcoin. And Fedcoin doesn’t bother me to the extent of what Kenneth Rogoff has in mind for the eradication of currency and actually tracking our every move.

FRA: Do you see more pervasive actions by the central banks in terms of blockchain-related services?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: It’s no secret. In fact, Bill Dudley gave a speech that’s on the wires that he is a complete advocate for a Federal Reserve type of currency that ends up being a substitute, if you will, for the dollar bill in your and my wallets. I don’t necessarily have a problem with technological progress as long as that cryptocurrency, as long as the Fedcoin, is just has as anonymous as the dollar bill is when we use it to transact physically. My greatest issue is when big brother steps into the frame, which is why I brought up Kenneth Rogoff, because I think that he would like to see cryptocurrencies not be anonymous such that central bankers were capable, this is the scariest thought I could possibly come up with, of tracking our every single buying transaction, our every purchase consideration and knowing what we are buying on a day-to-day basis. These are the things that truly should keep you up at night.

FRA: But would governments necessarily allow private-based cryptocurrencies to coexist with government-based cryptocurrencies?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I would have to say no. What we have seen with the parabolic thousand point increase, and we are at a thousand points at 8:26pm EST on November 29th, Bitcoin crossed the $10,000 mark and it didn’t even take it 12 hours to go across the $11,000 dollar mark. What we are witnessing is clearly a bubble that is going to implode on its own weight. I think that we can all hopefully agree on that; we are all adults in the room. But I think that central bankers know good and well that once these cryptocurrency bubbles burst, laying in their wake will be a very refined technology that allows central bank cryptocurrencies to rise up where they have left off. To your question, do I think that they will be allowed to coexist? – I think not.

FRA: So you see a phasing out or an abolishing of Bitcoin and other types of private-based cryptocurrencies?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I hate to inflammatory words like abolishing, but you could certainly see a sequence of events whereby if the Bitcoin bubble ends up bleeding into other overvalued asset classes that then bleed into an economic contraction leading to recession, and then causing the central banks of the world, starting with the Fed, to go back to the zero-bounded interest rates. Once we get to that point, and I hope we don’t, I hope that our new chairman, Jay Powell, is going to say, “You know what, zero-interest rates didn’t work. We are not going to go back there.” But if we get to the point where we are back to zero-interest rates or worse, negative interest rates, the next logical step for central bankers is the eradication of cash and controlling our buying which can only really be done electronically with this emerging cryptocurrency technology.

FRA: So in other words, the central banks would consider pushing for government-based cryptocurrencies in order to implement their monetary policies.

Danielle DiMartino Booth: When push comes to shove. I mean we are clearly going in the opposite direction. We are anticipating a rate hike right now and further rate hikes potentially into 2018. So we are not there, but again, you could certainly lay out a sequence of events that would lead to that inevitability – I hope that is not the case.

FRA:  In the interim how do you see the cryptocurrencies behaving? Will there be a rise in prices or a correction or a crash – Any ideas there?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I mean if you are asking me if I can possibly assign any kind of logic or reasoning to what we are witnessing in a market that has seen a thousand percentage point appreciation since January 1st, 2017, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I could not explain this price action. In my weekly newsletter that I literally just published, I included a graph of the Tulip mania from 1630 and Bitcoin has almost surpassed the level of that hysteria and mania.

FRA: Yes – Our research team has done some sort of analogous valuations with gold. If you consider the cost to mine one ounce of gold to be approximately $500-$800 per ounce and the current price of gold today to be around $1,200 per ounce, Bitcoin is estimated to cost approximately $1,000-$1,200 to mine, or in other words to create one Bitcoin. So perhaps the fair market value of Bitcoin could be something like $2,000 per Bitcoin in analogy with the gold mining. That would mean there would be a considerable speculation element right now with Bitcoin.

Danielle DiMartino Booth: Well look, if you want to pretend that Bitcoin is not trading where it is and explore the economics of Bitcoin mining versus gold mining – It’s astronomical. I read an article that said that Bitcoin mining costs what the equivalent of 159 countries consumes annually in electricity. But that being said, there is something called quantum computing on the horizon. I do not pretend to understand it, but it involves quantum physics, and it will put to bed all of the bad economics associated with mining cryptocurrencies today and make it much more economical. And again, I’d lay you money that the world central bankers are very much onto what is occurring at the intels and some of the small boutique quantum technology firms that are out there, how they are looking to displace technology as we know it today.

FRA: Could some of the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies today be attributed to the mobility factor in terms of, for example, Venezuelans or the Chinese in China using cryptocurrencies to move money out of the country.

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I think that that has certainly been the appeal, if you will, of cryptocurrencies. The same could go for some of the nefarious players who have taken advantage of cryptocurrency for criminal means. If you don’t have an alternative, sometimes you turn to the only thing you can find. But again, the train has left the station on any logical subscription of any kind to Bitcoin and these other cryptocurrencies. At current price levels we are just talking about lunacy here, not a means by which to get your money out of the country. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with what you are saying and I think that that is some of the fundamental basis of Bitcoin and why it succeeded the extent that it has and how it has been adopted the way it has. But I have heard stories that former English literature professors are leaving their posts at universities in order to become Bitcoin players – This is a mania.

FRA: Yeah. That is crazy.

And finally, what are your thoughts on Jay Powell? How do you see Federal Reserve policy evolving over the coming years?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: Well, it’s hard to say. Your crystal ball is as good as mine is in the near term. I can’t say when this is going to end. I recently wrote a piece that said we could see the 3,000 on the S&P before this is all said and done because it long stopped feeling like 2007 and started feeling like 1998, I would say, about 6 months ago.

FRA: How can our listeners learn more about your work, Danielle?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: I publish every Wednesday. They can go on my website DiMartinoBooth.com, jump on a trial subscription that gives you a 30-day look back into my archives and see if you like what I write and subscribe to my newsletter. Certainly go on Amazon and buy Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America if you haven’t read it yet. I consider it to be a primer of financial literacy and the adoption has been tremendous and humbling. In the event that you’re bored, follow me on Twitter at @DiMartinoBooth – It is never, ever boring. A full-fledged debate involving Neel Kashkari, Peter Boockvar and I broke out last weekend – Like I said, never boring.

FRA: Okay great! Thank you very much for your great insight Danielle.

Danielle DiMartino Booth: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

Transcript written by: Daniel Valentin <daniel.valentin@ryerson.ca>


Disclaimer: The views or opinions expressed in this blog post may or may not be representative of the views or opinions of the Financial Repression Authority.