03/22/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Yra Harris On The Fed, Trade Tariffs, Italy, Gold & Currencies
03/18/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Gordon T Long Talks With Dr. Lacy Hunt
03/02/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Charles Hugh Smith On The Current Conditions In The Financial Markets
02/24/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Jim Bianco, Yra Harris & Peter Boockvar On Investing Implications Of Volatility & Inflation
FRA: Hi, welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight. Today we have Yra Harris, Peter Boockvar and a new guest, Jim Bianco. Jim is President and Macro Strategist at Bianco Research. Since 1990, Jim’s commentary have offered a unique perspective on the global economy and financial markets. Jim’s wide-ranging commentaries have addressed monetary policy, the intersection markets and politics, the role of government in the economy, fund flows and positioning in financial markets. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and a member of Market Technician’s Association. Yra Harris is an independent trader, successful hedge fund manager, global macro consultant while trading foreign currencies, bonds, commodities and equities for almost 40 years. Yra is also the CME Director from 1997 to 2003. Peter is Chief Investment Officer for the Bleakely Financial Group and Advisory. He has a newsletter product called the Boockreport.com. His great macroeconomic insight and perspective with lots of updates on economic indicators. Welcome gentlemen!
Jim: Thank you!
Peter: Hey Rich!
Yra: Thank you, Richard!
FRA: Great! I thought we’d begin with a discussion on volatility. We did a podcast recently with Chris Whalen about a week before the volatility began in the financial markets; this year volatility to a significant extent. Jim, have you been seeing that as a trend through your research or what are your thoughts on that?
Jim: Not as a trend. Pretty much the opposite. Volatility events like what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks are not the creation of a trend, they are the exaggeration of a trend. So there was a trend in place already and that trend in place was a turn towards more volatility. The turn towards more volatility was driven by a belief that, for the first time in the post-crisis era, inflation was returning. I’d get technical on you for fifteen seconds. What happened with the volatility event is we caught a short-ball traders on the wrong side of the trade. They did one simple narrow thing; blew up the VIX Market. The volatility measure on the S&P 500 Index option. That’s all they blew up. When we found that that spiked from 12.5 to 50 in two days, we found out how important the VIX is to everybody else. It was their measure of risk. When they saw it go up 400% in two days, they overreacted and the next thing you know, the DOW is down 1600 points. What I want to emphasize is they didn’t create the trend. The trend is towards higher inflation and that higher inflation would bring higher volatility and they got caught in the wrong side of it. All derivative debacles like this are an exaggeration of a new trend that everybody got caught on, not the creation of it.
FRA: And Yra, your thoughts on that?
Yra: You can’t say it better.
Peter: In 2017, we saw a hiccup in the US. The Fed decided to raise rates three times instead of one. Let’s start shrinking our balance sheet. That was overwhelmed by the Bank of Japan and ECB. In early 2018, when rates continued to rise, when the inflation pressure started becoming more evident that this is not a short-term bliss. Maybe this is the beginning a more normalized interest rate trend. One of the analogies that I’ve given in the past is when the central banks are full on easing, it gives investors goggles and it makes everything look perfect. When that starts to change, when that liquidity flow starts to slow and rates start to move then those goggles start to clear up a little bit. Monetary policy became more important. Markets are very reactive nowadays. (5:03 – 5:06 would not play. The audio automatically skips it). All of the sudden it woke people up and said,” Uh oh. This is a big deal. This is twice the level of what it was in the summer of 2016. I better start reassessing my positioning. I better start reassessing my leverage. I better start reassessing what valuation I want to place on the S&P 500. VIX and all these other things became a symptom, of what I call now, a disease of rising inflation and rising interest rates that then caused this explosion in volatility.
Yra: There’s been an argument in the market place that inflation is rising but so what. Higher interest rates is not a bad thing. They take the idea that when it comes to inflation, it is either Zimbabwe and it is really bad or it does not matter but there is a middle ground in there which is critically important. I’ve been saying people to stop talking about the Fed. Central banks as a collective, are the easiest they’ve ever been in the post-crisis era. Their balance sheets are the highest they’ve ever been in the post-crisis era this week. If inflation returns, it puts into jeopardy that we’re gradual. Bernanke said,” We are going to get balance sheet back to $2T to 2.5T and it could take until 2026. He wrote it in 2016. It will take 8 or 10 years to get that. If we have inflation, maybe that 8 to 10 years is now 2 years. By the end of the year, you’re going to have a contraction out of the ECB and the BOJ. That’s where inflation matters. It’s going to force central banks to pull in a lot faster than people thought. One last thing. Wall Street runs into this trap all the time. Somebody points out a risk, everybody looks at their watch and says,” Well, we waited eight minutes. The market has not blown up. I guess that risk does not matter.” There’s a risk from all of this money printing. For the first time in nine years, we have an inflation fear and is now putting doubt in central banks. Now, what’s the first thing that markets do? They have a ___ (7:41 inaudible and the podcast skips it) over that. I think that this inflation fear that makes everybody say,” Bring it on! 3.25 is really good in interest rates.” Be careful what you wish for because that is going to cause a reversal especially in the BOJ. If we continue to see global inflation fears rise, the Fed is already tightening right now, that’s why I said do not talk about central banks. This should be a big deal for markets in 2018 and most people continue to dismiss it.
Peter: Just to add on, with respect to what you said, Jim, on balance sheets being at record highs. The analogy we have given out is that yes, they are at record highs but balloon with the air being central banks easing. There’s still air going into that balloon but there’s less air going in. If there’s less air going into that balloon, that balloon is still going to contract. I think it’s the rate of change that is really changing dramatically in terms of central bank (8:41 podcast skips it – inaudible).
FRA: Could the return of inflation force all central banks to accelerate their exit strategy or just some?
YRA: (9:03 – 9:07 inaudible) was just reappointed with a very (9:08 inaudible) group around him. (9:10 – 9:22 podcast skips it). … stand on fiscal policy is used on the sales tax. Draghi dug himself into a hole. (9:25 – 9:52 some are skipped and inaudible). … How do you get out of this? Peter and Jim are both right. Forget about the Feds. Everybody follows the Bernanke book but they’re stuck in a situation here. To me, that’s really dangerous.
Jim: One quick thing about the ECB. Draghi’s term has a little bit more than a year to go before he’s done. The tradition in the ECB is that the next ECB Chairman will probably be German. It does not have to be a German but probably will be a German. That’s code word for a very hard money person. If you’re going to get inflation and you’re going to get a German to run the ECB, you’re going to get a violent reversal in the next eighteen months. Look at two weeks ago. Two Thursdays ago when the DOW was down 1000 points, what was the catalyst story that everybody said? There’s inflation in the UK and the BOE (Bank of England) might have to double the rate hikes that they’re going with. When was the last time the BOE moved the US stock market? That might’ve been the first time. It’s all because of this idea that central banks is maybe peaking soon and starting to reverse. We haven’t had to deal with that possibility until the last two or three months. It was only in the last two or three months that we’ve only really started to see inflation. What Yra said is right that maybe Japan continues to pump money but they might not be enough to do it. If everybody else is going to reverse, then those global central bank balance sheet will peak. These markets will have a digestion problem with that.
Peter: Just to add on to what Jim said, even the Riksbank in Sweden, which is not necessarily relevant for the global economy, experimented with negative interest rates along with others. It’s a good symbolic gesture. They said they’re going to start the process of getting out of negative interest rates well before the ECB starts. Just going back to zero from negative is going to cost an extraordinary amount of loss. The ripple effect that that’s going to have on the world, I don’t think the people will appreciate it. I like to remind people in terms of the concept of risk happening fast. It was 2015 when, the German 10-year went from 6 basis points to 60 in one month and from 60 to 100 points a month later. This is Germany. Not Greece. Not a third-world country. This is a country that went from a 6 basis points to 100 in less than 2 months.
FRA: How could all of this translate onto a change in basic relationship between stocks and bonds? Jim, you mentioned there would likely be a change on that once again?
Jim: First of all, just as a point of emphasis. One of the things that could change it back another way is that if the doubt of inflationary fears go away. There was a mild form of inflation fears about a year ago and then it went away. The difference between now and a year ago is that we’re finding out that the market, collectively, is a bunch of Phillips Curvers. They’re looking at the stimulus from tax cuts, possibility of infrastructure spending, strong growth and that they’re concluding we’re not going to have inflation after we spend thirty years trying to say that the Phillips Curve does not creation inflation. If it is decided that there is inflation, then there is inflation. That’s where it is coming from. To your question about the stocks and bonds relationship, it changes all the time between the way that stocks and bonds trade together. In 1998 to 2000, it changed. What I used to call is under the inflation mindset. In the 1960s to 2000, the starting point of every discussion was, are we having inflation? If the answer was yes, if bond prices went down then stock prices went down. If the answer was no, the 80s and 90s, were not having inflation, then bond prices went up, interest rates went down went up. Bond prices and stock prices move together. Starting around 1998 to 2000, we switched that dynamic because we were worried about deflation. During the middle of that dynamic, we had long-term capitals, the Asian crisis, the tech bubble, sounds like the derivative thing we’ve been talking about the last few weeks as well. Throughout the 2000s until very recently, we worried about deflation. Are we having deflation? If the answer was yes, equity prices struggle. If there was no deflation, then equity prices went up. So now bond and stock prices move opposite of each other. What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is the decline of bond prices and stock prices together since the financial crisis that they both went down together. The day the DOW was down off 300 points. Up until 60 days ago, if you just randomly told me in the last nine years that the DOW was down 300 points, I would’ve said (16:40 – 16:42 inaudible). That’s the way we traded every single time. I think we’re shifting to an inflation mindset. Now where does that matter? In the last nine years, Wall Street has pushed this idea of a 60:40 portfolio. That it’s the optimal way to invest your money; sixty percent in equities and forty percent in bonds because something is always going up. Either there is no deflation and stocks are going up or there is deflation and bonds are going up. But under the new scenario, either they’re all going up or they’re all going down. Both of them have been falling together. So this idea where you can take a lot of risk with a 60:40 portfolio is going to be blowing up on people’s faces. This means that the relationship between stocks and bonds are transitioning right now. It takes around two years to fully transition it. I don’t know if it will take fully two years now but it will take at least months to do it. There will be periods where it does look like they’re transitioning but I do think that we’ve started that process.
FRA: And Yra, do you see that relationship also changing?
Yra: Yes. This whole risk parity. To me, what people don’t understand, is especially on the issue on how you get of out this. Ray Dalio said you’re going to shed tears if you earn cash. Talking about a coming change. That’s in a two week time period. It scared me. Ray Dalio is a great thinker.
Jim: Just to emphasize something on what Yra said that the single hardest thing to do for anybody that’s investing is to recognize the regime that the old rules stopped working. Most people can’t and they keep pounding away with the old rules until they are out of business. The single hardest thing to do in any type of investing is say that we’re now in a regime shift. If you’re wrong, you get wiped out and if there’s no regime shift and you say it is, you also get wiped out. If there is a regime shift and you don’t adapt, you get wiped out. That’s why we have this volatility and blow ups along the way.
Yra: That’s right. And what I think people fail to understand is not just Dalio’s position. It is everybody that has handled this book and tail-coated it. I know a lot of people in banks or foreign exchange traders who made a fortune and have tail-coated George Soros in the BOE. If BOE reacted like the Bank of France and raised interest rates to 100% and said,” We’re just going to do whatever we have to do and you have to pay the cost.” He wasn’t successful in breaking the (2:38 – 2:40 inaudible)… to exit that train would’ve been an enormous pain for all the people who followed them in. So whatever you think Dalio’s positions are, which I think are enormous is tail-coated and recreated the same trades in many other ways. I think that’s what we’re told in the last two weeks. He’s got a lot of company in this low volatility place.
FRA: And Peter, your thoughts also?
Peter: I also think a lot of people lost perspective on the markets. When you turn on the T.V or the radio or when you read the paper, while earnings are great in the economy’s trade and therefore stocks are going to go up and I just want to point out that that’s from the end of 2012. So the calendar year at the beginning of 2013, the January 26th peak at the S&P, the S&P 500 was up 100%. Earnings since then, assuming 2018 assuming $100 to $150 per share, earnings should be up 60%. So the differences is actually multiple (21: 52 Inaudible). When interest rates rise or when people reassess what central banks are doing, why should people pay eighteen times their earnings? All of a sudden, within a week and a half, they decided let’s pay sixteen times with a one dollar change per earnings per share. Every one-term PE is 155 points (22:15 podcast skips, inaudible) while when we’re talking about two-term PEs, that’s 310 points. I think people need to have perspective that the stock market has ran well ahead of the rise in earnings and the difference is PE multiple expansions. It is now compressing because of the new regime change that we were talking about.
FRA: Could the rising interest rates in the U.S. cause us strengthening in the dollar (22:46)… rising defaults in the U.S dollar denominated debt in emerging markets which is estimated approximately $9T? Could that happen or could it also spur a financial crisis in Europe out of the bond markets? Would that mean that international capital flows coming into the U.S. towards U.S. dollar denominated assets? Just some potential scenarios. Jim, your thoughts?
Jim: I would come down on the idea of ‘no’. Let me explain what I mean by ‘no’. There’s this perception in markets that there’s all this money. There is no money heaven. No one ever loses this their money, it just gets allocated around. When the stock market goes down, but all the money from the bond market will come in to replace the stock market money that went down. I do not think you’re going to see some kind of reallocation where everybody is going to come running into the United States and it’s going to (23:53 podcast skips it, inaudible) the U.S. stock market and it is going to hurt them as well. I think the problem with the dollar, and I’ve been wrong with the dollar for several months now, is that the speculative flows are at record highs for some of them. Everybody is selling the dollar or is shorting the dollar right now. This has been keeping it unnaturally strong. If you wanted me to guess why we’re getting a persistent selling of the dollar, foreigners are basing their investments on who the president of the U.S. is. Sell the dollar. Investors have finally realized that it doesn’t matter. Eventually, that’s going to come back to foreigners and make them realize it matters. Your investments in a political idea might see a strengthening in the dollar. But are you going to see some kind of a wholesale run into the dollar that you were suggesting “no, I don’t think I’m going to see that.”
FRA: Yra, your thoughts?
Yra: I haven’t (25:12 – 25:13 Inaudible) … since Mark Fields’ comments back in 2017. Now, I’m fairly neutral towards it because it’s been a (25:24 inaudible) for people because interest rates in the United States are going up and (25:28 – 25:38 podcast skips it and inaudible). I’m scratching my head. If the deficit scare is real, I think what they did here by blowing the budget apart and the stimulus is that the people are a bit nervous. I don’t disagree with Jim because I’m really neutral with the dollar. If we go to real yields, Peter wrote about it today, the least positive on the short end of the paper rate I’d say is about 40 basis points based on the number that we have. The dollar would get a kick especially if the other central banks are just sitting there complacently because they would like their currencies to weaken anyway. I think Mario Draghi would like the Euro to weaken. I think the Japanese policies are driven by the desire for a weaker yen with the Trump agenda. People are being conscious and would like to see the dollar strengthen in relative to their own currencies. So, I’m going to wait. I don’t really have a good sense to where we go from here.
FRA: And Peter, your thoughts?
Peter: I’m bearish on the dollar in the short-term but considering the moves it has had, I’m definitely more uncertain about the very short-term move. We went into the year saying they’re going to increase the rates three times but then the markets really doubted it and now have the rising inflation that is probably happening. Higher inflation that’s not met by a rising Fed funds rate is typically dollar bearish. The Fed is going to raise three times this year. Take the Fed’s fund rate to a real rate of zero. That, of course, is well above where it is overseas, especially in Europe and Japan. But there is a reality that people still think it’s jamming around 2.0 even though maybe he’s not. But it’s still going to be on its gradual path. So there’s no way the Fed is getting ahead of the curve. They’re still going to be playing catch-up on top of better overseas economies that’s drawing dollars into other areas of the world. There are secular headwinds to the dollar but I’m less certain. I was very certain when the euro was 1.05 but much less certain when the euro is 1.25 in the short-term. I would not be surprised if, within the next two years, we see the euro at 1.40. It would not surprise me at all if we see the pound at 1.60. That’s were eventually heading within the next couple of years.
FRA: Jim, you mentioned this whole environment could be like the 90s when the markets went down and everything else. Where do investors and traders go to?
Jim: That’s the old 60:40 risk. Something is always going up. Yeah, I guess somebody is going to win the lottery today too. If an asset class is going to be rising, the answer is that they’re going to be small. Commodities might be rising but 95% of the money in the world is not in commodities. We’re creating a new asset class; cryptocurrencies. I, personally, think is an outgrowth of the rejection of policy. Inflation pressures financial markets. They go down. Stocks go down. Bonds go down. That was, ask Yra, that was the 1970s. I’m not saying we’re going to have high levels of inflation but what we’re going to have is that the stimulus will give you an appearance of high levels of inflation. So, I think that it’s going to be very hard to find, other than special situations like in the commodities markets, beyond that is going to be very difficult to find ideas where you can profit while returning to an inflationary environment.
FRA: And Yra, your thoughts?
Yra: I agree with Jim. What we’re going to see is (31:01 – 31:08 inaudible). Let’s say that the Phillip’s Curve may be able to get it right for a short period of time. We get higher interest rates. And now (31:27 – 31:30 inaudible)… 60:40 because they are both going to go down. I’m not a Phillip’s Curve advocate but if inflation does that. Those are both detrimental for corporate profits because rising wages with rising interest rates (31:42 – 31:53 inaudible). I just don’t see it. I know Peter has looked at this. (31:01 – 32:07). All these companies that borrowed a lot of money (32:09 – 32:15 inaudible). Take the interest rates expense, it is down to a really low level but we know that’s not going to last because for every one percent rise in the cost in borrowing, it’s going to hit discretionary spending levels dramatically. People are in for a shock here. It is really fascinating that (32:39 – 32:52 inaudible). It really does not make any sense. We’re much more worried about inflation. We know how to deal with inflation. In an interview that he did. So, you’re going to get into a feedback where at 60:40, they’re going to be sorry.
FRA: And Peter?
Peter: Just to quantify on what Yra said in terms of profit margins, lower labor costs and lower interest expense are the two biggest contributors for corporate profit growth from the 09 bottom. Just to quantify, there is about $13.5T of total business debt. So for every 100 basis points of interest cost, is $135B. Now, obviously, a lot of companies have turned down debt. But, generically speaking, in terms of labor costs, companies pay about $7T of labor cost every year. Let’s just combine that. (33:50 – 34:00 skips and inaudible)… higher costs that more than offsets the cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. A lot of the estimates that is out there for earnings per share are all else equal analysis. It does not take into account higher labor cost and higher interest cost. When a lot of (34:23 – 34:24 inaudible) come out with their year-end price targets, it doesn’t include a lower PE ratio. It is static analysis. In terms of where to survive here, I would not be surprised if a two-year T-Bill paying 2.25% interest rate outperforms the equity market in a broad basket of corporate credit over the next few years. I think the commodity space is very interesting. I know a lot of people like to look at the demand side in terms of dictating prices but since that 2011 – 2012 peak in commodities, the (35:03 skipped) collapsed. Not only industrial metals, but also energy and particularly agriculture, which I’ve been very bullish on and on my belief on the dollar, I think gold and silver will outperform most equities and certainly fixed income within the next couple of years.
Jim: There’s $13T worth of debt and most of it has been turned out. This means rates goes up now but I’ve got 3 – 5 years to maturity. So I don’t see risk immediately. In the last ten years or so, there’s been a lot of people that have been turning up their debt through derivatives markets. They have been engaged in floating or fixed payments or receiving to take shorter-term debt and turn it out into longer-term debt. That is when you get a spike in volatility. Even that is going to start to come back to this day. Well I’ve got all of this short-term debt. The Fed is going to raise its rates. What am I going to do? I’m going to engage in swaps contracts in order to it mimic a 5-year note or a 10-year note but now it is more expensive to buy that swap contract because volatility is going up. That’s going to start hitting their bottom line too.
FRA: Great! Thank you very much gentlemen for your great insight. Just wondering, how can our listeners learn your work or go around? Jim?
Jim: Probably the easiest way is to follow us on twitter @BiancoResearch.com or at our website BiancoResearch.com
FRA: And Yra?
Yra: At YraHarris.com and the blog is from underground (36:58 – 37:10 inaudible). Food for thought.
FRA: And Peter?
Peter: My twitter is Pboockvar and subscribe to my daily writings at boockreport.com and my managing business is bleakley.com
FRA: Great! Thank you very much gentlemen.
01/26/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Chris Whalen, Yra Harris & Peter Boockvar On 2018 Trends & The Return Of Volatility
FRA: Hi. Welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Yra Harris, Peter Boockvar and a first time guest, Chris Whalen. Yra is an independent trader, a successful hedge fund manager; global macro consultant trading foreign currencies, bonds commodities in equities for over 40 years. He was also CME director from 1997 to 2003. And Peter is the Chief Investment Officer for the Bleakley Financial Group and Advisory at Bleakley and he has a newsletter product called The Boock Report. BoockReport.com. It offers great macroeconomic insight and perspective with lots of updates on economic indicators. Chris Whalen is an investment banker, author and Chairman of Whalen Global Advisors LLC which focuses on financial services, mortgage finance and technology sectors. He was a Co-founder and Principal of Institutional Risk Analytics from 2003-2013. He has held positions in organizations such as the House Republican Conference Committee…
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, talking about that.. (laughs). That’s okay. Most recently I ran and built up the Financial Institutions Group at Kroll Bond Rating Agency which was a lot of fun. Kroll is really an ABS house, first and foremost, commercial real estate and the rest of it. It’s still very small from competing with giants, but it was a lot of fun.
FRA: Great. And also he was on the board of directors for the Global Interdependence Center (GIC) in Philadelphia.
Christopher Whalen: Yes, that was David Kotok’s little project. You know it’s fun to mix business with pleasure. Fishing, central bankers go fishing.
FRA: Yes, I am actually going next month to the GIC conference in Buenos Aires and going fishing before that. There’s also fishing afterwards, sort of the Camp Kotok in Argentina.
Christopher Whalen: Well, some of them go to Maine. Ramiro Lopez Larroy and his kids will just show which is about 15 hours by plane. It’s a lot of fun. They are great people – A very diverse group at GIC. We’re going to Germany this year, the Bundesbank, so if you like monetary policy that would be a very good trip to go on. I would recommend that.
So, what would you like to talk about this morning?
Peter Boockvar: The Bundesbank has disappointed me for the last few years how they give Draghi the license to do what he has done.
Christopher Whalen: Well, they kind of had no choice. I find it amusing that northern Europe is cranking, and my relatives in Holland are having a great year, and yet southern Europe is not. That dichotomy is ultimately going to be very difficult for them to deal with. The Germans look at southern Europe and they just see more checks to be written. The politics of that is slowly undermining Merkel. It’s very interesting to watch. And then Berlusconi coming back in Italy – Isn’t that great?
Christopher Whalen: I always tell people to read about Berlusconi and you’ll see where America is headed.
Yra Harris: Draghi will be making trips to Italy.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah. Draghi has been trying to keep Europe on ice by pushing debt cost down to zero, but the debt keeps growing. So, what are we really about here? There’s no fiscal discipline anywhere in the Western world and the Chinese don’t care. It doesn’t matter in China – It’s a political issue. That’s why I was writing about H&A recently because ultimately, whether that company survives or not, will be determined by uncle Xi. That’s how it works in China. There is no church and state, there is just the state.
Peter Boockvar: He may want to set an example though.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, there were a little ostentatious, a little floppy with the parties, pasting their names on the side of office buildings around the world. I think we have 3 of them in New York. It’s quite fascinating.
FRA: A few weeks ago, Chris, you wrote an article, Bank Earnings & Volatility, I thought we could begin with some thoughts there. How have the Federal Reserve and other central banks’ actions affected the credit market, the financial markets and the economy, in general?
Christopher Whalen: Well, what the central banks have done is that they have removed a lot of assets from the market. They’ve gone out with a variety of new money, in the U.S. case: excess bank reserves, and they’ve bought treasury bonds and they’re bought also mortgage bonds. Of recent vintage, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginne Mae paper which have 3, 3 ¼ and 3 ½ coupons with very low pre-payment rates. Those bonds are going to be around for a long time. In fact, one thing I remind people of is that about 30% of the market today is the FHA and Ginnie Mae and those loans are assumable so they will stay with the house. And the house will trade and the loan will be conveyed to the new buyer. It could be very interesting, over time, to see how that affects the portfolio. But essentially, the central banks have taken all of this duration out of the market and since they’re end investors, they are basically buying the paper on credit and they don’t hedge it. So the capital markets activity that you used to see around a lot of these positions when they were held by trading firms, banks and other who were going to trade the assets and cared about mark-to-market every quarter has greatly diminished — There’s no hedging. The Fed’s sought out hedging it’s block and it’s a problem now because the Fed is now illiquid. They can’t sell without creating a loss and they dare not do that because it gets them in trouble with the Republicans and the House who don’t understand monetary policy at all, but have a lot of opinions on it. And so you have this weird situation where the Fed essentially has their hands tied. They’re going to wait for the book to run off which they hope is about $20 billion a month. And I think that they could be wrong. I think that they could too wishful in terms of the runoff rate in terms of the mortgage paper. The mortgage companies are going to be around forever and the pre-payment rate is going to be very low, especially if rates continue to move up. That’s kind of what I see. The trading line on Wall Street, the earning will be greatly diminished by this. Then you have the vote to rule. So all of the books, the investment books that the banks use to trade every day, just the value of the assets are passive now. You put those 2 data points together and you will understand why Goldman Sachs and why all of the banks have seen an enormous reduction in their trading buy-ins.
The other issue is that the mortgage market is down so there is less hedging. The forward market for hedges, what’s called the TBA market, has a lot less activity. We’ll do a $1.5 trillion in mortgages this year which is down. The peak was $4.5 trillion during the 2000’s; we don’t want to do that.
Peter Boockvar: Yes and why aren’t we seeing an CNI loan growth?
Christopher Whalen: The banks had to slow down. They had a pretty good run in 2015/2016. We had a little scare from oil which didn’t really materialize. Most U.S. banks did fine on oil credits. There was some restructuring, but the banks we follow like Cadence, which is a small lender that was built to do energy – They have no problems. But now a lot of banks have run up to a regulatory limit on commercial real estate loans, multi-family…there’s a big shtick now for the smaller banks. They’ve essentially run out of customers in certain markets too. The OCC, for example, is forcing regionals to peel back their multi-family exposure because the prices have gone up so much. They just look at that go whoa, wait a minute. And they’re right. Loss rate on these assets, multi-family assets, are negative. So if the loan defaults, you’re going to sell the property for a lot more than the loan and that’s reflected in the ABS numbers too. It’s an interesting time in terms of different asset classes, but I don’t see a lot of growth in the book. I really don’t. BA had a really good quarter at year end, but that was the exception. Most of the big guys were not growing. And of course PMC had a very good quarter and had a nice tax number. I think overall, don’t look for alpha in the banking industry. Between the regulatory changes and just the tenure of the economy you would be in the bond market, right? Anybody could raise money in the bond market in 2016 and part of 2017. So, we had a bull market in fixed income which has driven a lot of strategies and I’m sure Yra has some thoughts on that.
Yra Harris: Let me ask a question in regards to that. I was really taken by it because it was such a good point. With the ECB, BoJ and certainly the Feds, the dynamic hedges are missing from the market, but they are going to resurrect themselves as more paper winds up in the hands of private holdings whether it be by pension funds or insurance companies. But do you think that Jerome Powell…You know I go back and read some of his earlier stuff and of course his initial position as a Fed governor, he had a lot of issues with the massive build-up of the balance sheet. Do you think that he might be quicker to say that we can hold the rate at 2%…Do you think that it’s a possibility?
Christopher Whalen: I think that the snippets from the minutes that have sudden found people’s attention…which is very funny, right? We only pay attention to chairmen. It’s a cult of personality. So here you have Powell saying some very interesting things, very forthright, not an economist, he’s a financial guy, and I’m told he’s fairly decisive although he’s quiet and he listens. He knows how to make decisions. On this he’s got politics because the congress, if you remember years ago, they confiscated the Fed’s surplus to pay for a highway bill. And the idiots in congress, I wrote about this for the American Conservative, keep permittences from the Fed as revenue. They don’t understand that it’s an expense foregone. It’s not revenue. You’re just making the debt go away. Every year they look at this money coming in and the CBO and everyone else say: Oh look, it’s revenue. But it’s a snake eating its tail because the Fed and the treasury are one. It’s like a Hindu god, but in economic terms they are the same. And Bob Eisenbeis, who I interviewed, is wonderful on this issue – He is very funny. I think that Powell is going to be a lot more straight-talking then the others have been and I fault Yellen and Bernanke on this because they should’ve gone out and said to the congress: “No, you can behave like this. This is ridiculous. You don’t go confiscating our surplus.” It was just part of Washington politics, but the Fed didn’t respond. If Paul Volcker was there he would have been up on the hill kicking the shit out of them. And the problem is, these are bureaucrats, they come from academia. They have no money and so they don’t know how to behave in big league politics – It’s a tragedy. I think Powell will be much better. I am very hopeful about his 10-year as chairman. It desperately needed change. We got to get the economists out of the temple, I’m sorry. I love them, but they can’t make financial decisions. You want them on the staff, Yra, you don’t want them trading.
Peter Boockvar: We wish that was the case 10 years ago and now Powell gets to clean up the mess.
Christopher Whalen: Exactly and you know, Volcker cleaned up a lot of messes too. They always clean up other peoples’ messes so it’s a public service.
Peter Boockvar: And this is the biggest mess the world has ever seen.
Christopher Whalen: Oh yeah. No question.
Yra Harris: And with Bernanke he had the courage not to act.
Peter Boockvar: Right. Bailing out people doesn’t take courage. It’s not bailing them out what is courageous.
Christopher Whalen: Well precisely. And the Fed has not said no in a long time. They haven’t said no to accommodating treasury options and they haven’t said no most recently with this lunacy of QE. I mean the first one was fine. They had to reliquify the banking system as Walker Todd put it out to me a while back, but the rest of it was crazy. Selling all the short-dated stuff and loading up the book with long-dated treasuries so they own mortgage backs with an average life of around 12 years now. They have extended a lot, by the way, over the last 18 months. Even if the portfolio gets smaller, the duration has got to go up.
(laughs) How about that?
Peter Boockvar: Chris, what was their thinking in their models with operation twist to say okay, in their models, let’s flatten yield curve and that will be good for growth. And then today they express worries over the flattening yield curve.
Christopher Whalen: Well I know, but this is the point. When you have central banks take all this duration out of the market, nobody is hedging the position; well obviously it’s going to be hard to get those maturities to back up. There is just nobody selling euro/dollars, nobody doing swaps or anything – There’s nothing. So there is market is in stasis and they’re going to push up the short end, but there’s nobody pushing up the long end. So it’s gone up a bit, but I keep wondering…I wrote about it this week. I’m kind of hedged on my bull market 10-year trade, right? But, there is still nobody out there selling it. So I do think you have a flat curve in prospect, I agree. It’s bond market basics. It’s got to be somebody at that table in Washington who understands the bond market and I think Powell does – There’s hope.
Yra Harris: But in understanding the bond market, Chris, do you think that he will move to try and steepen the curve by maybe holding the front end, by saying hey, we don’t have to raise rates. If I get it to 1.75 on the Feds’ fund rate or 2%, I’m basically in a neutral real yield. That’s where I am. That’s probably about neutral on the front end. Maybe the real yield on the front end goes to 50 basis points positive, but I don’t think he goes there. Would it not be in his optimal mindset to say let’s start shrinking the, as Peter would say, quantitative tightening on the longer end on the duration. If the yield curve steepens out to 120-150 basis points it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Christopher Whalen: I totally agree with you. If the Fed were acting rationally they would be doing all of that. They would have even been hedging a bit of the buck. Just trade it. Go out and hedge on the duration.
Peter Boockvar: Definitely afraid of affecting its bubbling asset prices.
Christopher Whalen: That’s part of it – True.
Peter Boockvar: That’s behind their entire thinking.
Christopher Whalen: But bureaucratically in Washington terms, they don’t want to take a loss because then the remittance to treasury goes away. And believe it or not, in the small minded world of some of these Fed people, that’s what they worry about. So, vector that into your thinking too because he’s absolutely right – They should be trading the book. They should have been doing a lot of things, but they’re not thinking like market people. They are thinking like Keynesian and academic economists and that’s scary — It really is.
FRA: In your article you mention also that this is likely going to result in a volatility returning to the markets that were all short volatility – Can you elaborate on that?
Christopher Whalen: Well that was the comment from Powell. He said at the end of that snippet from 2012 that they were going to unwind their short volatility position. In classical terms, if you buy a portfolio of RMBS it should give you a relatively short position, but in this case I think the other part of it is our perspective, the market. We’re sitting here and he’s got all the duration and we’re buying. Now, all of a sudden, he says that we aren’t going to buy anymore and we’re going to let it run off. So eventually private market participants are going to take up that duration, think of it as the weight that they have to support with capital, and they’ll have to hedge. So you will see market activity return. I think that the Fed has missed an opportunity to get a little bit more of this done quickly and figure out how much the street is willing to support. That’s the thing that we don’t know. The Fed has been supporting everything.
Peter Boockvar: The Fed lost their opportunity. The Fed had a chance to raise 3 times in 2015, 3 times in 2016, now they’re entering a situation where maybe the Fed fund rate tops out at 2-2 ¼. And they have now an issue with this falling dollar and bubbling inflation pressures. Just imagine when we do hit a wall and they start to cut rates and what the dollar is going to do in that scenario.
Christopher Whalen: I think it’s a lot simpler than you put forward which is: go ahead and keep your little quarter point march and if you see spreads start to widen, you stop. It’s the basic Irving Fisher test, right? That was the playbook for Bernanke.
Peter Boockvar: That is too much of a free lunch for me. I think that there is no free lunch in reversing this policy that they have implemented.
Christopher Whalen: So, you think we go to 6%? That’s what Yellen said years ago.
Peter Boockvar: We don’t need to go to 6% to cause a major problem. All the 10-year has to do is go to 3.5%/4% and you’ve got, I believe, a recession on your hands. I think the sensitivity to changes in interest rates is dramatic, as it’s been. You’ve got duration levels that are as high as they’ve ever been globally – That’s where the risk is.
Christopher Whalen: Well you’ll certainly see defaults go up because we’re hiding a lot of defaults with the artificial manipulation.
Peter Boockvar: And it’s not just that. Well you need a zero interest rate to go back to zero and $9 trillion of paper is going to lose a lot of money mark-to-market
Christopher Whalen: Hey, I know that’s why…
Peter Boockvar: Actually, I take that back. It’s more than mark-to-market — It’s real life losses.
Yra Harris: From a trader’s point of view…That position is enormous that they are carrying and more people have synthetically created that. Now you’ve got to realize that all of this volatility selling is all from people who are mimicking that risk parity trick. You can mimic it whatever way…You can recreate this trade synthetically in a million different ways. So when you have to actually start unwinding it, it’s almost like the long-term capital of 1998, we’re not going to be able to get out of that door because a lot of people are going to be racing out that door at the exact same time that you want to go because they have the same position whether you realize it or not.
Christopher Whalen: Well of course. And the VIX is just a popularity contest – There’s no basis for that contract. It’s just a matter of supply and demand. It’s like CDS. There is no basis on the underlying credit anymore.
Peter Boockvar: Well sure, but the VIX is still being determined by a lot of participants placing their bets and puts and calls.
Christopher Whalen: Absolutely. A lot of them weren’t hedging the past few years. Everyone was leaning in one direction.
Peter Boockvar: Of course.
Christopher Whalen: You would see default rates double in Peter’s scenario, easily. I think that’s from latency in the system. If we see the 10-year go up to like 3%, I think the windows will be shaking.
Peter Boockvar: And I read a stat over the weekend that of the roughly 2,000 companies, 40% of the debt is floating rate. And that cost goes up every single day with what LIBOR is doing. Even the 2-year note yield today is up to 2.12.
Christopher Whalen: That’s what I’ve been wondering about is to imagine the reissuance of equity that was bought in by these guys as they desperately try and pay off this debt. That could be a lot of fun.
Peter Boockvar: Yeah. The 1-year bill today is now where the S&P 500 is.
Christopher Whalen: We’ve had 4 years of amazing record bond market activity of each year in terms of new issuance and I would say 1/3 or ½ of it was to fund stock repurchases. It’s been quite something.
Yra Harris: And you know what, there’s another part…When the BoJ and ECB are busy buying corporate assets, there’s no hedging that goes on there either. And there’s also no stock re-lending. Another issue that I’ve raised…
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, that’s true. They may not lend the assets. That’s right. The Asian central banks are very, very conservative on that stuff. They won’t re-hypop.
Yra Harris: Yeah. There’s no rehypothecation of anything so now all of a sudden the game gets even more interesting and the question becomes: Do all the ETFs rehypothecate? Or does that result then with everything in that basket we get way late off the market and make it even more expensive for short sellers. So we’re not getting any short selling for some of these companies that are involved in ETFs are really miserable companies. So the whole dynamic here is shifted. And I don’t know that the players have really shifted.
Christopher Whalen: I don’t know about the ETFs. I would suspect those assets are available, but the central banks are the big thing. When they buy all of this paper and just put it away, you’re right, it doesn’t come out. It doesn’t get loaned. It reduces liquidity – That is, to me, the key thing.
The fascinating part is to look at the Swiss. Swiss National Bank is now buying stocks. Why? Because if they don’t, the currency will appreciate. That is their chronic problem. They just can’t keep the money out and even with penalty rates, they still can’t manage it. So if they stop, it will go up.
Peter Boockvar: That’s what one of the interesting central bank comments this week was from the deputy governor of the Swiss bank in Sweden, who has also gone down that rat hole of negative interest rates, and she said that they are not going to wait for the ECB to start raising rates. They’re going to probably start doing it this year. So I think that there is an end in sight to this negative interest rate experience over the next 2 years.
Christopher Whalen: Well, the whole system has way too much debt and a lot of debt that is mispriced. So like I said, you’ll see the banks start to lean into this too. I think you’ll see provisions gently go up from where they are. I was surprised to see the credit cards up this much this quarter.
The mortgages are still real quiet. And commercial is still really quiet because the collateral values have gone up so much. A loan you made 2 or 3 years ago, the building will get sold easily for the principle on the loan which is typically a 50 LTV (loan-to-value) loan. Look at the equity that has been created in multi-family and commercial real estate over the past 4 or 5 years – It’s ridiculous. And it was all levered up again.
Look at New York. New York is going to be a lot of fun. We have compression underway right now.
Yra Harris: Will the balance bring back foreign buyers to the U.S. market to hold this mark up a little longer?
Christopher Whalen: I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get some good data on that because it depends on a lot of things. There was certainly a gold rush for a while, but then the Chinese shut the door. They changed the rules rather significantly. That’s what H&A is about. I think that for Europeans too, things have calmed down a bit so you don’t have that crazy flight capital that we saw in New York in 2015 and 2016. But the bid for high-end condos, that foreign big is definitely waned. I know a couple of brokers who just do that market and there’s a lot of stuff for sale.
Peter Boockvar: There are a lot of signs that commercial real estate has peaked out in this cycle.
Christopher Whalen: Oh yeah — Definitely. But you know a lot of markets are completely on fire, just look at Denver, downtown Denver…
Peter Boockvar: Yeah, with certain demographics.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah and they’re leasing them.
Peter Boockvar: A lot of population growth.
Christopher Whalen: Yes. That city has exploded. The city has almost reached the airport. And for those of us who remembered when the airport opened, it was really far away.
Peter Boockvar: Yeah, I was at that airport 2 weekends ago.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, and now (highway) 70 has expanded to the airport. It’s about a 40 minute run. That whole area with Colorado Springs and everything else has just completed exploded in terms of development.
Yra Harris: When they built that airport I said: Why are they taking away the old stable that said, “Stupid”. What vision I had.
Christopher Whalen: Now people are going to start expanding east away from the airport. That’s already happening.
Yra Harris: Wow. It will be in Nebraska.
Christopher Whalen: Exactly. But anyway, markets are going to be very interesting. I think that the fact that the dollar has been trading off the way that it has been is going to make for a very interesting year…
Peter Boockvar: And what we’re seeing in front of our eyes is the air leaking out of the bond bubble. Whether it’s here, whether it’s in Europe with the German 10-year breaking out above this multi-year range. I don’t necessarily know the pace of it from here, but things are changing before our eyes with interest and currencies. If there was going to be a major risk to this whole tranquil environment that it’s perceived to be, it’s the rise in interest rates and certainly a big draw down in the U.S. dollar. I mean commodity prices are at multi-year highs, the CRB printing 200 yesterday and holding them today. I think things are changing and there’s still a lot of nonchalance in the face of that.
Christopher Whalen: Of course. Markets sometime just sort of trade around numbers for a while for no particular reason and then you have an event that wakes everybody up and it moves, like the election. If you look at most charts for the bond market, there’s this big discontinuity around November 2016 and what do you do? Now it’s moved. And it moved again for a variety of reasons. China used to be the excuse, but I don’t think we’ll have that now. It will be a fairly boring inward look at China.
FRA: Chris, on your article you mentioned there could be downward pressure on long-term bond yields as the U.S. treasury concentrates future debt issuance on the short-term majorities.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, that the schedule. And again, going back to our earlier conversation, you’re the Fed and you see treasury in the market with huge issuance. I can put a lot of pressure on short rates such that they may blow past the targets and keep going. Imagine that. Meanwhile the Fed isn’t going to sell anything outright and they’re not doing anything on the long end. They should be selling the futures at least. You don’t want to sell the cash positions? Fine, but do something because otherwise we’ll flatten just like Peter said. I totally agree with that. And it may happen quickly. It could happen in weeks – Imagine that (laughs).
Peter Boockvar: I still expect a creep higher in long rates.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, it will bounce up, but it could easily rally. You want to be careful because there is so little paper. If they reopen the old issues which they can do, then you’ll know that somebody is yelling in that building saying, “Hey! You should be issuing longer dated paper.” The pit was planning to take their runoff and invest in the short end stuff the treasury is issuing, right? But their runoff may be so slow that they might not have that much net cash if they want to keep up with that $20 billion decline in the overall portfolio. So, I think it’s a funny situation. It goes to what Peter was saying. We could have a really nasty market environment because the Fed can’t help, the banks can’t help, they’re not allowed to anymore. So the street has no strong hands here that come in and push out a bad auction or push on the dollar if it gets messy. They would just have to intervene.
Yra Harris: And if they were to actually start…If Powell says, “I want to sell off…” to go back to your first point Chris, is that they are going to incur losses. And then they’re going to say, “Hey, we’ve got losses on our books this year because we’re actually taking some losses on the long end stuff that we bought.” So they’re kind of locked in that situation. And the situation on the front end has gotten so interesting that I actually called someone at the CME and said that I think it’s time for them to dust off the old contract and bring it back because it may become useful besides with the euro/dollar.
Christopher Whalen: Well no, this is the thing, the Fed economists in Washington were bragging about the fact that they made money on QE and they don’t understand. To your point though, Yra, what Powell has to do is get up and say, “We’re going to be selling some bits of the portfolio to help accommodate the treasury’s issuance and to rebalance because it’s far too long.” And they can do that in a variety of ways, but then he’s got to look at them square in the eye and say, “By the way, this going to reduce remittances for years.” They have a little account called the negative asset; they came up with it, where they put the losses. The congress capped the Fed’s capital at $40 billion when they confiscated the surplus for highways. So this is the situation you have and they don’t want to be insolvent. If there’s a big number in this contra account and they have $40 billion in equity, people can do the math. That’s the politics of this. It’s very strange. You got to realize that they are central bankers, they are very funny and it’s a big factor.
So, if Powell will change that? That’s a big deal.
Peter Boockvar: I think also a key factor is how much control these central banks can have over their external environment. I am of the belief that markets are going to force their hands. I still believe that cyclical inflation pressures are going to force their hands whether it’s commodity prices, wages or supply chains. I read an article yesterday on the front of the Wall Street Journal on how it’s almost impossible to find a truck to deliver your goods and people are paying hand-over-fist to just try and find drivers. I don’t think it’s necessarily fully in their hands. I mean Powell is going to have to start watching the German 10-year yield every day. Behind the scenes, obviously, a liquidity flow is turning into more of a drip and that all of these central bankers have to look at each other because what one does is really going to influence what the others do both on the upside and downside. When you think about this rise in interest rates, as some of these banks start raising, it gives other central banks cover. So, you’re less inclined to keep rates low if other people are doing it on the upside just as we saw the reverse. Peer pressure cut the rates to nothing and it’s going to do the reverse on the upside. I think that also feeds on itself. I am just amazed at people believing that this is going to be a smooth process and historically it never is.
Christopher Whalen: It’s even worse now because they took cash flow out of the system by forcing rates down. Forcing rates down is a debtor-friendly policy. It’s meant to transfer value from savers to debtors. So now, you have more volatility in the system because it’s less cash flow. People also have very little fat. There’s not a lot of embedded savings in the system from carry because your assets don’t throw off that much cash flow. It’s stunning when you look at Bank of America and the gross yield on their book is 4% — They’re not making money. The whole industry has got a negative risk-adjusted return because the return on assets is so low. In fact, I think that the number for the industry now if 0.75% on earning assets across the board. It used to be over 1.00%. And so the central banks by constantly forcing rates down, they’re taking carry out of the system and it’s not good – It’s deflationary, ultimately.
But I looked at the debt thing, Peter, and I totally agree on it. I’m going to have a lot of fun watching this. I was doing comments today for one of the regulators on whether or not they should allow different credit scores for underwriting loans – What do you guys think? Do you think that’s a good idea to have more than one way of measuring something like that?
Peter Boockvar: It makes sense.
Yra Harris: Yes, it would. I think the whole cycle from a private perspective, you know having my kids go through this stuff, and honestly it’s ridiculous. It’s truly ridiculous in the way that they measure it and they hold everyone accountable to the same standard. I know, it made the banks comfortable with time and there was a need for it, but if I ran a small community bank I would never do business like that. And I know they saddle with them. That’s not how you properly do business.
Christopher Whalen: Well, that’s what I’m telling them Yra. Like you said, the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking one. You let the people who underwrite loans figure this out and then the markets are going to tell them whether they like it or not because they’ll price the pools accordingly. So, I think we can figure this out real fast.
FRA: Just as a final question if you can go around to give your thoughts on where central bank: monetary policy and government fiscal policy is going this year in 2018.
Your thoughts, Chris?
Christopher Whalen: Well, for monetary policy I think that they are going to try and stay on the program as far as rate increases. But you get the 10-year stuck and it keeps moving Fed funds up – You’ll have a flat curve. And I think they’ll have to stop at that point.
Fiscal side: I don’t see any inclination of discipline in Washington – It’s a train wreck. They’re going to have to figure out a way to raise some revenue otherwise we’re staring at some pretty scary deficits. And I think eventually the credibility of the United States will suffer.
FRA: And Peter?
Peter Boockvar: Well, I think the weakness in the dollar is beginning to reflect the worries of those depths and deficits. That maybe we do have a $1 trillion budget deficit again in 2019. Obviously fiscal policies, in terms of tax cuts, are in place. Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that it actually improves economic growth as opposed to just improving earnings per share. We are seeing some wage growth which is a good thing, but one thing that we’ve seen is that the assumption on Wall Street was that the tax cuts all that would flow to the bottom line and we’re seeing that not all that will flow to the bottom line.
Christopher Whalen: Oh yeah. And the repatriation narrative is infantile. I cannot believe that people with PhDs in economics can sit there and go on and on about how cash is going to be brought back and invested in the United States. That’s not the way corporate finance works.
Peter Boockvar: Yeah, and a lot of that cash has been spoken for anyway with all the debt accumulation to buy back stock. So companies have already frontloaded the repatriation by taking on all this debt.
Christopher Whalen: Of course. But if you look at tax shelters like you saw they hit the Goldman because they are the great tax shelter shop. And a lot of that stuff is not going to come to light. You think everybody is going to go to the IRS and turn themselves in? The case with Dow last year that the Supreme Court declined to hear was a big deal. Donald Trump has the same tax lawyers as Dow. Trust me, the IRS now, any corporate they go to sham partnerships with as tax shelters, they basically just have to write a check. They have no appeal. There’s trillions of dollars at stake here. Trust me, these corporates are not going to come forward and say we did this wrong. Nope.
Peter Boockvar: I continue to believe that the other side of the easing mountain is upon and that creates the biggest risk for markets and the economy. People say that we’re not going to have a bear market until the economy goes into a recession and I argue that it’s going to be the rise in interest rates that leads to a decline in stocks that then leads to the recession. A trillion dollars of liquidity coming out from the Fed just in a loan is going to be a big deal as we deeper into the year. That’s what we have to look forward to over the next 2 years. The Fed taking out a trillion in loan the next 2 years after beginning that last year, the ECB ending QE, and that’s a $600 billion reduction in their run rate in 2018. And then the elimination of negative interest rates. So that’s what we have to look forward to over the next 2 years in terms of interest rates and I don’t see risk assets just whistling past that.
Christopher Whalen: Oh no. Look, everything is compressed. The whole curve is going to expand. Yra?
Yra Harris: Yeah, everything that was talked about and then you throw in the infrastructure spending package Trump is going to get through. I mean he’s not only selling the world today. You should watch how he probably hijacked Davos because they couldn’t lick his boots fast enough and he’s disruptive…So he’s got all this more debt coming on. He’s got really got discussions going on, in the United States of course, about financing debt. We are going to find out if his interest rates are going higher. We know the answer to it, but the rate of the world is going to have to find out. You have the ECB who took the Bernanke model and did everything they could to explode it with the amount that he could buy and he’s still…Peter and I know, he’s going to end in September, but it’s going to have a massive amount of assets on that balance sheet in the ECB and with the Germans breathing down their neck…There is nothing good going on there. There is nothing good and it’s going to come back to haunt. Now we have Joe from China and he’s reminding us about Minsky. The Chinese are reminding us about Minsky so we know we are in a very difficult situation and the world is just sleeping through it because you wake up in the morning and you see your stock portfolio is doing a whole lot better so you go, “What’s the difference. We’re all good here.” And they carry on. So, I think it’s going to be this year. I don’t think it’s going to wait for 2019. Some of these issues that people have chosen to pretend don’t exist. And it’s all bound to, we always know it. I think the 3 of us would agree that all crises come up from the debt market. Credit and debt markets determine everything and we’re there. It’s just what’s going to be the actual start that sets it off. I am not sure. I do agree with Peter that it’s going to be central bank oriented and it’s going to come as a change of direction. I think, Christ, you would agree with that too, it’s just how they do it. And Jerome Powell is going to be an interesting guy to see how he reacts to it.
Peter Boockvar: I think a very important question is: Where is the out-of-the-money put strike price right now on the Fed? What level, what percent decline, tells Jerome Powell that he needs to stop his tightening or reverse it? I think that’s going to be an important question.
What’s his tolerance level if these asset markets reverse themselves?
Christopher Whalen: But that’s an important question you’re asking because the tolerance level was very low. In other words, they wouldn’t tolerate any market upset. With Powell, it may be a little different.
Peter Boockvar: Because Powell has more tolerance.
Christopher Whalen: Yeah, I think he does.
Peter Boockvar: I agree.
Yra Harris: …Selloff in the equity markets? I don’t know.
Christopher Whalen: That’s the question Yra.
Yra Harris: Yeah.
Peter Boockvar: The irony is that you get a 20% correction then you’re just back to where you were last year.
Christopher Whalen: Oh, Powell has an easy button on his desk. The question is: Does he push it?
Peter Boockvar: Right.
Yra Harris: Yep, I think that’s absolutely right.
Peter Boockvar: As we speak, interest rates are breaking out today. The 10-year is up to 2.67% now. The 3-year is approaching 2.13%.
Yra Harris: And the Europeans…Today they’re not the catalyst; other times they are the catalysts. I’m interested to see it.
Peter Boockvar: Yeah, the dollar rallied for a couple hours after Trump tried to defend it and went straight back down again.
Yra Harris: And you know what? We didn’t even get into our discussion with the Swiss because they get the alchemy award of the last millennium. The game that they played here and pulled off is unbelievable to me. It tells you about the state of the world…
Christopher Whalen: Well, Peter’s right. They could take a loss on all that corporate exposure that they have. That would be a lot of fun.
Yra Harris: You know what, Richard, they finally admitted now that they are going to be the cryptocurrency capital of the world. They have been the currency capital of the world. But I think that is absolutely right. And it’s interesting, Peter, that is the Yen that turned when Kuroda was speaking at Davos today. The Yen turned very hard.
Peter Boockvar: Yep, it did. He said he’s getting more comfortable as inflation is going to their target.
Yra Harris: Yeah, and I think the Japanese are waking up that the Trump administration is not too happy with the Yen being so relatively weak. And Draghi and Kuroda can pretend all they want…And what was that comment yesterday from that one guy, and I know that they went back to that damn G20 meeting in Washington, which I kind of thought that they would, but he said, “Monetary policies that have a negative effect on currencies, that’s just an effect, that’s not a targeted currency.” Right…And that’s why every central bank when they release the statement about their interest rate intentions cites the level of the currency. Everybody in the United States, that is. Everybody talks about the level of the currency. Everyone discusses the level of their currency as being one variable in determining how they’re going to set interest rates.
FRA: Interesting times and great insight on the credit markets, financial markets and the economy. Thank you very much gentlemen for being on the podcast programmed show.
Yra Harris: I’d love to do this again. This is great.
FRA: Just as a final word for our interested listeners. How can they find more information about your work, Chris?
FRA: Great. And finally, Yra?
Yra Harris: You can find my blog at www.YraGHarris.com and sign up for Notes From Underground which is also free. Whenever I write which is sometimes 4 times a week or sometimes 1 time a week will be sent you. And listen to the FRA podcasts. I think that they are very informative.
FRA: Great, thank you guys and maybe we can all do this together sometime.
Yra, Peter, Chris: Thank you.
Transcript posted by Daniel Valentin
01/26/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Yra Harris And Peter Boockvar On The 2018 Trends In The Financial Markets
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight. Today we have Yra Harris and Peter Boockvar. Yra is an independent trader, a successful hedge fund manager; global macro consultant trading foreign currencies, bonds commodities in equities for over 40 years. He was also CME director from 1997 to 2003. And Peter is the Chief Investment Officer for the Bleakley Financial Group and Advisory and he has a newsletter product called The Boock Report. BoockReport.com. It offers great macroeconomic insight and perspective with lots of updates on economic indicators. Welcome gentlemen.
Yra Harris and Peter Boockvar: Thanks, Richard.
FRA: Great! I thought we’d do a view on your thoughts on 2018 in general; where markets are heading, what the trends are, if you see any geopolitical events happening; effects on financial markets and the economy. And so, maybe we begin with the current rally in equities. Do you think it is sustainable? What are causes of this? Where do you see it going? Maybe start with Peter?
Peter Boockvar: So, what we have is enthusiasm, of course, post-US tax reform combined with optimism about global growth. Generally speaking, that is overwhelmed any concerns with central banks and the tightening or less easing of monetary policy. We went from “Don’t fight the FEDs, don’t fight Central Banks” to “who cares about Central Banks” because everything is fine in the economy and there is disbelief that we’re making the transition from a reliance on monetary policy to the benefits of a fiscal policy and synchronized growth. That is what the market currently believes. I think, this year, that thesis will be tested as monetary policy usually dominates fiscal policy in terms of its impact on markets and the economy because interest rates are such a strong lever and in a highly indebted global economy, that becomes even more so the case.
FRA: And Yra, your thoughts?
Yra: I have to stop and say that things Peter and I have done a lot with you Richard and so much of what we discuss is really coming to fruition. In fact, today is the most important day coming out of Davos (World Economic Forum) I hate this time of the year because I’m just not a big fan of what goes on in Davos. I found it, actually, kind of despicable to tell you the truth that these people gather and there’s so many political powerful people that are from central bankers to treasury secretaries to finance ministers discussing things and it’s an expensive ticket. I think its $650,000 to $700,000 and just what are you paying for? And it’s only going to be my problem and of course, there’s a day like today. We got a double blast; from Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin is a secretary and was talking about “if the dollar goes down, it’s actually good for U.S trade and Wilbur Ross, found to be more incendiary because he said,” …well, there’s trade wars every day. What was the exact phrase that he used? “Now we’re sending soldiers to the rampart”. Well, that’s a very, very incendiary phrase and I was truly bothered by that. So, everything we just talked about, everything Peter speaks to, this is going on. You know, Richard, I think that the 10-year will close out the year at 3.4%. I heard Richard Fisher today pushing about poor rate increases. Maybe. The more I hear what these people or what this administration are talking about, the more concerned I get as to where this is all going. I think I understand why Mnuchin and why they chose Davos to make these statements. That’ll be an issue for other people to think about. It’s very problematic and it does raise some serious issues for the Fed. It’s going to put Jerome Powell in a very difficult position especially if they keep the dollar down. I think we’d probably agree. The reason they keep it down. If you’re going to attack the Trump administration for starting a trade war, the only other alternative is to mark the dollar down. So, it now becomes open season, as far as I am concerned, on the dollar. So, why not? Richard, today you’re talking to two people. I know Peter has certainly been bearish, for what, $1.08 on the euro?
Peter: Yeah, $1.05.
Yra: Yeah, at $1.05 for sure. So I know these discussions have been going on for almost a year. And, Richard you know the many conversations that we’ve had in fact, I know Peter and I totally found commonalities when Mark Fields came out of the White House and talked about currency manipulation being the mother of all trade barriers. So it’s almost like this administration has adopted to that and said,” Hey, you want to go this route? We can play this game too,” and that’s where that leaves us to today.
Peter: It’s a very dangerous slippery slope. Steve Mnuchin is obviously trying to help the manufacturing sector but that’s 10% of the U.S economy. We are a consumer-based economy. So, damaging the purchasing power of a consumer-based economy is very dangerous. You have potential for rising input prices and certainly higher interest rates and I think that will swamp any benefit to multi-nationals. You have commodity prices, say CRB index, which is at the highest level in about two and a half years have rising inflationary pressure, generally speaking, particularly in wages. Now you have the threat of rising interest rates that will only be exacerbated by a weaker dollar. We import more than we export; highly inflationary. Foreigners own a lot more of our assets than we own of their assets and we rely heavily, particularly in the U.S treasury market on foreign buying of our bonds. If you look at last year, one year ago, a European buyer that wanted to pick up some yield bought a U.S treasury; 10-yr at 2.45%. A year later, not only did they lose some principal, since prices are lower, but they lost 15% by owning the dollar. So this is a very dangerous game. The administration should be focused more on currency and dollar stability, not the basement. There’s a very negative slippery slope.
FRA: Could other central banks, outside of the Federal Reserve, take reaction to this? Could there be currency depreciation intentionally done by other central banks? Do you see that?
Peter: We’ll find out tomorrow when we hear from Draghi.
Yra: There’s a lot of people short Yen or long dollar/Yen here who have been comfortable. That is not a comfortable position that you should be in because if there is somebody out there with a target on their back, it’s the Japanese. The BoJ (Bank of Japan) should’ve ended this policy. That doesn’t mean you have to start tightening and I know they’re not buying as much as they say and as the market thinks that they are because they don’t have to. There’s not that much to sell so whatever you have to clean up to keep that yield curve at that position is certainly not nearly as much as it was a year ago. You don’t really know the full amount of buying but with whatever they want to do they step into the equity market anyway people are buying but whatever they want to do. They step into the equity market anyway. It’s a very slippery slope and I think we’re going to hear from Peter’s executive director or from ECB (European Central Bank) about the strength in the euro. Now in some ways, the strength of the euro helps Draghi because it keeps the Germans at bay. It’s interesting that Jens Weidmann, now all of a sudden started talking more and more. So it does give Draghi some leverage. He could certainly go,” Well, we can afford to be more patient.” It’ll be interesting to see in his press conference how much he discusses the recent strength of the euro.
Peter: I actually think in this counter-intuitive that the strength in the euro actually gives Draghi some license to back away from his policy because inflation pressures are building in Europe as well. What the central bankers want, they have to be very careful as with, because if they achieve the inflation they want, interest rates are not going to be where they are. If Draghi gets us 2% inflation, the German 10-yr is not going to be a basis point, it’s going to be multiples of that. We saw in the market data today, talking about prices pressures intensifying. I want to bring up Japan and I’m going to quote Reid from this press release today from market on Japanese manufacturing. It said,” Strikingly output price inflation accelerated to the fastest rate since October 2008 an inch sharper rise to input cost. With a low rate in unemployment and sustained growth in official GDP data, inflation pressures should continue to mount.” Just imagine if they get the inflation they are hoping for, what’s going to happen to these bond markets? So, by having a little rebound in our currency, they can maybe moderate the inflation pressures. At the same time, giving the central banks an out. Now, of course central banks won’t look at it that way. I’m sure Draghi is going to whine about the stronger dollar is making it difficult for him but I think this is a window that’ll give them the opportunity to back away from their policies because I have to believe that they see the same inflation pressures that we do, particularly in the commodity side, with prices continuing to go up every day seemingly.
FRA: So, for this year, do you see a trend towards quantitative tightening by major central banks?
Peter: Well, the Fed is certainly initiating that. The ECB (European Central Bank) and the BoJ are just buying less but buying less is still a form of tightening. If you blow less air in a balloon, there’s still air going in but less air means a contraction of that balloon.
FRA: And Yra?
Yra: Peter and I have little bit of a different view on this because I still think that Draghi is operating, not just prior to his mandate, his self-declared mandate; is of course the preservation of the euro. I still think that his end game is to put so much debt on those books. Not that he doesn’t have it already, he does. He’s going to push for the creation of a Euro bond. Merkel (Angela Merkel), I can’t tell you what she’s thinking right now. She has got some serious issues. She was chirping about some stuff today about globalization, what they need to get done are they going to divide banking authority. There’s a lot of things in the platter in Europe. It’s just not a straight path and I really think that if inflation takes off in Germany, Draghi and a lot of bosses will be happy because it’s a way for them to punish the Germans for being so intransigent towards Greece, Spain and Portugal. And pushing for fiscal austerity even when unemployment is over 20%. You’re going to have to endure this because right now, the most ridiculously priced asset in the world is certainly German debt. It’s preposterous. Peter keeps pushing it and he’s a 100% right. Right now, the interest by any practical measure, the interest should be about 4 %.
Peter: Which should be in line with nominal GDP there.
Yra: Yeah. Maybe 4.5%. It is so preposterous. Let alone all the others but nobody acknowledges that. They all look for reasons. Germany is a land of savers. Every bit as much as the Chinese savers. That’s why the current account surplus is so huge. It’s the largest in the world because Germany saves. They save a lot of money and these savers are being punished because the people who are wrong are not Germans who are investing in the DAX or anything, it’s German pension funds and insurance companies but it’s not individual Germans. They got beat up so bad in the market back in 1999 and 2000. They’re not that invested here. So, most of their money is in fixed income type of instruments — they’re getting killed. We’re speaking on the Financial Repression Authority (FRA), nobody is being as much financially repressed as the German population and that has political notifications.
FRA: Will interest rates tend to rise this year necessarily at different points in the yield curve for yield curves across the major economies? Peter?
Peter: I believe that’s where we’re headed. In the U.S, they keep talking about rising commodity prices and rising wage pressures that are clearly evident everywhere will see whether productivity can offset that or not. The Fed is obviously going to be buying less. You have an enormous amount of supply coming our way as debts and deficits continue to rise. We could have a trillion dollar budget deficit next year. Now, I know the relationships between deficits and interest rates that are somewhat squishy but that was the case in a bull market in bonds. If we’re no longer a bull market in bonds, then the U.S treasury market maybe become more sensitive to U.S debts and deficits. Then you throw in the weaker dollar which can impact foreign purchasing of U.S assets. So I think that interest rates here will continue higher. I think they’ll surprise to the upside. In Europe, I think, interest rates there have only one way to go and that is higher as the ECB will likely end QE (quantitative easing) in September. As they’re currently buying less, or 50% of what they were buying in December and Japan is obviously the wildcard. Actually, before I get to Japan, let’s get back to Europe because this is what bondholders in Europe have to look forward to. Not only do we have a situation where QE is shrinking and going away, but after that they have the end of negative interest rates to look forward to afterwards. So, you had the Riksbank today saying that we’re going to start the path out of negative interest rates even before the ECB starts doing it. So, we are now looking at the barrel of the end of negative interest rates over the next two years. With seven or eight trillion of negative yielding interest rates, there’s going to be a lot of money lost in just getting negative interest rates back to zero. I see only higher interest rates under many different scenarios out of the next couple of years globally.
Yra: I agree wholeheartedly with Peter. I think the 10-yr yield, Peter and I have not discussed targets and I hate choosing targets but when I got pinned down I said,” The 10-yr will be at 3.4% at the end of December of this year. I think I’m going to be low. I think the curve will be back between 130 and 150. I really believe that. If they keep bringing the dollar down, it’s going to come harder and faster as Peter talked about that slippery slope. So, I’m a 100% in agreement and at 2.63 on the 10-year it’s a nice technical level. We could go a lot farther, especially if we have the central bank step back and are not there buying as much.
FRA: Now, one of the economists at Davos we mentioned earlier is Bill White, the former Chief Economist for BIS (Bank for International Settlements). He is now the Head of OECD Review Board. Just wondering on your thoughts, he mentioned because of this rising trend in interest rates, there could be some problems on the horizon due to the problems in servicing debt. So there could be a Central Bank debt trap if you will. Your thoughts on that, Peter?
Peter: Over the last few years, the average duration of credit around the world has gotten to record highs. Which means we’re hugely sensitive to small changes in interest rates. I would have to agree with that. I’ve read some chart from Deutsche Bank saying that,” considering the amount of global debt for every hundred basis points of rise in interest expense or in interest rates, can lead to a loss of 1.2 trillion dollars on paper. We’ve been addicted and accustomed to extraordinarily low interest rates that has dictated behaviour whether it’s the behavior of lending money to a junk credit with almost no covenance to keeping zombie companies alive to buying expensive paintings and hundred million apartments in New York City or buying the S&P 500 at historic valuations compared to 1929 and 2000. Changes in interest rates are higher and it doesn’t have to be a lot higher. It could have dramatic effects on the pricing of a lot of different things because the cost of money is the important price in input to a lot of these things. I think the markets are way too nonchalant with this move in interest rates and this change in behaviour with respect to central banks.
FRA: And Yra?
Yra: You can’t say it better than that. Bill White, whom I have great respect for, as I call him Mr. Lean or Clean because in 2006, he wrote that wonderful paper for BIS talking about the role of central banks and should they be in the business of leaning into spectated bubbles or should they just wait and just clean. He was warning what was coming. We are addicted to this. We’re so addicted to just taking on more debt, more debt, and more debt. What are they using the debt for? To buy back stocks and pay dividends. This is so classic. Ray Dalio, whom I certainly respect as a thinker. I’ve been reading him for almost 35 years and Jeremy Grant also. But it seems to me they’re doing a lot of what I call “chirping” on issues that ought not be discussing such as: if you’re holding cash, you’re going to be sorry. Ok, maybe. But as I think by the time I was down with you, I did something a few weeks ago that I haven’t done in nine years. I took the free cash which is out of my trading account and bought T-bills (Treasury Bills) as my security. My daughter called me and said,” Dad, ninety-day T-bills are 138 basis points.” What am I thinking about? I’m moving and I’m not the only one because Warren Buffett said he’s got a one hundred million in T-bills. These are interesting moments here. I’m not as convinced of this great melt-up as everybody else. I think Peter is getting to where, as usual, things started getting called. We’re very sorry you own a $150 million dollar painting.
FRA: Could there be a slow-down in asset inflation due to the quantitative tightening trend?
Peter: It should. It certainly hasn’t happened yet. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is “when does it matter” and none of us know but I think we’re more confident that it will definitely will matter. I just have to be able to understand that risks are dramatically rising when you have such extreme valuations at the same time you have rising interest rates and a tightening of monetary policy. But again, the question is when does it matter and we won’t know until it does.
Yra: Yeah, and that’s right. People say, if they listen to Peter and I talk, you guys are just crying because you missed it. I have more money in stocks than I ever had. Before the market was at its highest, just by good fortune, started peeling back more. So I’m peeling back into this because I missed the last five percent. I’m not going to be upset because when the break comes, it’s not going to be a five percent break. It may be 15 or even a 20% break. Everybody says,” well that puts you in a bear market.” I don’t know that these rules people really hold in the realm of these Bernanke terminology; zero bond interest rates. I don’t know if any of these old rules hold but we’re going to find out.
FRA: Yeah, exactly.
Peter: We will find out.
FRA: Yeah. If this would’ve happened if they were a significant and fast fall in asset values of asset pricing, could there be a reverse in course by central banks from tightening back to quantitative easing?
Peter: Here is where it gets really difficult for the Fed because they went so extreme and were so slow in removing that accommodation, they left themselves with very little wiggle room. So in the past recessions, they obviously have a lot of bulls to respond. If this selloff is precipitated by higher interest rates, weaker dollar and higher inflation and the Fed decided to start cutting rates that would be a further mess for the U.S dollar and potentially even more inflationary and could lead to even higher long-term interest rates. So then what the Fed is going to do is, they’re potentially really screwed and it also ties hands with QE that could weaken the dollar even more. That gets back to the original discussion on the dollar and the administration wanting a weaker one. It really creates a difficult situation for the Fed if the dollar weakness continues because it completely ties their hands in responding to the next down term here. Because imagine them cutting interest rates with and already weaker dollar, that would be a real mess.
Yra: You know what, if you look at the last the curve steepened out over 180 or 200 baseline, I’m talking about the 210, that was when the second QE2 and everybody was convinced. Now we’re really going to get inflation. So the Fed, of course, wasn’t moving on the long end even though they were buying more. People were selling thinking inflation was really going to take hold. People are smug about the stock market breaking or possibly being negative. The other side of the coin has been where people say,” Where is the inflation?” They started talking about gold but gold is not going to go up because of inflation. Gold is going to go up because the central banks in the world capitulate to the deflationary scare because that is when gold went up the first time. There was no inflation. They would do anything and I mean anything to prevent deflation setting in and that’s what Peter was talking about. If they had to back track here now, look out!
FRA: Did that prompt them to go into extreme negative nominal interest rates so we get real nominal interest rates going into negative territory to an extreme level as if they’re cutting the interest rates on the low end to the same extent they did on the first financial crisis?
Yra: No, that view will certainly have “good friend” on the Fed.
Peter: Yes, no pun intended.
Yra: Pun totally intended. Thank you, Peter
Peter: I’m not convinced we go to negative interest rates. I think you’d blow up the U.S money market industry. I think the banks would go bananas so I don’t see that being a possibility in there. I think that the experiment with Japan and Europe with what they did to the profitability of the banks there. I think there’s a part of negative interest rates that’s been repudiated as a good policy. As the reserve currency of the world, having a negative interest rates, what a disaster that potentially could be.
Yra: I totally agree. I think that point was so well taken. I think Japanese stocks is a safe hiding place for many years. I still hold them. They’re finally starting to move now and they’ve been terrible. It’s like the European banks. Every time I hear people talk about European banks, what Deutsche Bank is trading 19.50? Big deal. They haven’t really responded well. Yeah, they’re well off their lows but that was because there was a question of their sovereignty. Now we’ve got beyond sovereignty at least for a minute until one of the European countries who really have a lot of sovereign debt becomes an issue and our sovereign bond is going to be zero risk rating forever but we’ll get to that question later.
FRA: What are your thoughts on geopolitical risk to the financial markets in the economy, Peter?
Peter: I’m less worried about geopolitical risk. It’s usually more news worthy than economic or market worthy. I don’t think we’re going to war with North Korea. I put that on the backburner, it may happen a day here or a day there. I’m less worried the geopolitics than I am of central banks really screwing this thing up.
FRA: And Yra?
Yra: I couldn’t agree more. To me North Korea, I had trip of my own to North Korea because my son who really knows Japan well. He said,” Look it, as long as the United States isn’t sending air transports and take people out of Seoul, you don’t have to worry about anything because there’s 150,000 Americans living and working in Seoul. We know what happens if the United States were to bomb North Korea. I’m just talking about bunker busters that the retaliation upon Seoul would be so great. There’s nothing going on there. To me, the most dangerous place right now politically is Europe because we have the Italian election coming up and there’s a lot more possible impact coming from there. You can’t show that on television. You can’t take a picture of what’s going on politically in Europe. You can talk about it but it doesn’t have that dramatic effect. The only thing is the Saudi-Russian connection and possibly Turkey but that’s with us at all times. The Mid-East is the Mid-East unfortunately. I don’t see much else.
FRA: What about your thoughts, Peter you recently mentioned, Europe could be the epicentre of the next financial crisis coming out of the European bond market. Do you still feel that way?
Peter: Yeah, we need to remember that the bubble this time around was in central banks and interest rates. Just by having a conversation about negative interest rates tells you the bubble ran because, you know, that’s the epitome of a hot potato market. With Europe flooded with negative interest rates and the ECB reversing themselves, that’s where I think there’s a major, major risk. I think people have to really focus on that. Plenty of risks that could emanate from the U.S but a blow up of the European bond market will have global market interest rate reverberations.
FRA: And Yra, your thoughts on that?
Yra: That says it all. There’s nothing I could possibly add to that.
FRA: Given this view on the horizon, how can investors protect themselves or what asset classes, generically, do you see as making sense in this environment? Peter?
Peter: I remain positive on commodities. Not just initially on the weaker dollar but we’ve seen years of underinvestment. Gold and silver is the way I’m playing the weaker dollar directly. I think that will continue to be a good place to be and I expect much higher prices. I think shorts from bonds, now all of a sudden, pay you something. As Yra said earlier, owning T-bills, you actually get paid in a coupon that is at or above the dividend yield on the S&P 500. Those are two places that is a way to protect yourselves, so to speak, in this kind of environment.
FRA: And Yra?
Yra: Here we are, three sophisticated money people and we’re going to park on T-bills and that’s what I’m doing. We know that real yields are still negative on the short-end but it is far better than where we’ve been. I’m moving more to cash every day. This to me, is one of the greatest gifts we’ve seen. Could it be more rational? Sure, you can. We know that. When the S&P 500 came under pressure today, the break was severe and it actually held at a huge technical level but we still have twenty minutes left and while the S&P’s are hovering at unchanged on the date, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some pressure. Especially Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, as Peter said, they are on a slippery slope and they are playing in a very dangerous arena here and this isn’t good for equities. The equity markets are much higher ready and as Peter talked about the double-edged sword of a weaker dollar and the impact on corporate properties. It’s not as clear and easy as some people think it is because there is going to be a push back and all you’re going to do is wind up with more uncertainty and disruptions. These are serious disruptions. When you start playing and trying to manipulate financial instruments like currencies, you open up the door to a lot of unintended consequences and we saw it this morning. The first reaction was for the DOW Jones to go up because it’s a large multinational corporation they have been reading this for so long. They see a weaker dollar. “Oh that’s good for you European markets Of course, the European markets never could get up off their behind. In fact, I’m buying DAX this afternoon because they have the DAX under severe pressure but where else are you going to go in Germany? What am I going to buy? Whether the euro goes higher or not, really to me, unless it goes another ten or fifteen percent higher, would I really start to get concerned about it for European corporations. Nothing is going on here. They are playing with, not even dynamite, something that is far more volatile and I’m getting very cautious.
FRA: Great words of wisdom. Thank you very much Yra and Peter. How can I listen more about your work? Peter?
FRA: Great. And Yra?
Yra: Turn into Financial Repression Authority or check out my blog www.YraGHarris.com. It’s a good place where you can get thinking. The good thing is people can really do get some trade ideas that you can really act upon. Peter and I are not offering theoretical analysis. I think there’s really bonafide proof to act upon.
FRA: Thank you very much gentlemen. We’ll end it right here and we’ll do it another time as well in another session.
Peter: Thanks guys. We’ll talk in a few days
Yra: Yeah. See you Friday. Thank you.
Karl De La Cruz
01/24/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Graham Summers On The Everything Bubble
DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST in MP3 format
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Graham Summers. He’s current president and chief market strategist of Phoenix Capital Research, a global investment research firm located in Washington D.C. He’s a graduate MBA of Duke University. With over 15 years’ experience in business strategy investment research, global consulting and business development.
Graham Summers: Hi Richard it’s nice to be here.
FRA: Great having you on the show. Today we’d like to focus on your new book The Everything Bubble: The Endgame For Central Bank Policy and you got the book divided into two parts; how we got here and what is to come. So maybe we can base the discussion on that if you want to give us some insight into how we got here.
Graham Summers: Sure absolutely. So the idea for the book hit me when I saw that central banks, particularly the Federal Reserve in the United States, because I’m based in the US and most of my clients are, so my focus tends to be on that financial system. But I noticed that central banks were intentionally creating a bubble in sovereign bonds, which in the US we call them treasuries and they did this in response to the 2008 crisis. When I saw that happening it was cause for severe concern because in our current way that our financial system is set up, these bonds are actually the bedrock of the financial system. They’re the most senior asset class that there is. And if you look at what’s happened the last 20 years, we’ve had this kind of period of serial bubbles. In the late 90s, we had a bubble in technology stocks. They called that the “tech bubble”. Then when that burst, the Federal Reserve intentionally created a bubble in housing that was the housing bubble which led to the Great Financial Crisis of ’08. The significance of that is that housing is a more senior asset class than stocks. Then when the Great Financial Crisis hit in ’08, they dealt with that by intentionally creating a bubble in bond. So this is what actually gave me the idea for the title of the book The Everything Bubble because if you create a bubble in the interest rate against which all risk assets are measured, you’re going to end up creating a bubble in everything. It’s like raising the tide of the ocean, every ship going to rise as well. So I started writing the book and essentially what I quickly realized was that in trying to describe these things most people were probably not going to have a good idea of what I was talking about. And they were also probably going to ask why are things this way. So I divided the book into two parts: how we got here and what’s to come. The first half how we got here essentially started with the creation of a Federal Reserve and runs all the way up to about 2016. And I wrote with using a very simple plain language because a personal pet peeve of mine is that finances intentionally kept kind of opaque and confusing because I think it’s meant to keep most people ignorant of how the system actually works. So my goal was to write at least a hundred pages that anybody in the world could read and would instantly be brought up to speed on how did the United States financial system come into being. Why was the Fed created? How does the Fed work? You know, how did we get off the gold standard? And eventually leading up to the current era which is: how did we get into this mess? Where basically every 10 years we’re having these massive financial crises. And why is that the Central Banks are getting away with policies that really are completely insane and which none of us voted for?
I guess that answers your question.
FRA: Yeah that’s interesting. So can you walk us through in terms of the era of serial bubbles beginning, the Fed crossing the financial Rubicon, and leading up to the Everything Bubble?
Graham Summers: Sure I’d be happy to. The easiest thing to do by the way is to just if you really want to know about the things, buy the book. It is on Amazon I think they’re running a 10 percent discount. So the stuff you’re interested in, by all means, check the book out. But the kind of the bullet point way I’d run through this would be when the U.S. completely severed from the gold standard in 1971. It did two things. Number one is: it opened the door to endless money printing because up until that point if the Fed chose to print a ton of currency, central banks and foreign governments could still convert their dollars into gold if they wanted to via the Fed. So up until that point while the Gold Standard had technically been ended for most of us in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it wasn’t until 1971 that the gold standard really was rendered moot for everyone including central banks. So when that happened, suddenly the US Federal Reserve and the United States would be paying any and all debt using U.S. dollars. And of course, these are U.S. dollars that the Federal Reserve can print. So what happened at that time was you see a sudden ballooning of debt relative to the actual economy in the United States.
And there’s a chart in the book which shows basically GDP, which is the gross domestic product, which is the annual economic output of the U.S. and the second line is the total debt securities and the financial system. And what do you see in that chart is that starting around in the 70s these two lines are pretty close together, but after 1971 when the world was removed from the gold standard, the trajectory of the deadline was almost parabolic and just keep going up and up and up. Meanwhile, GDP continues kind of in a linear fashion growing. This was that suddenly the system flooded with debt because the debt is paid for by dollars which the Fed can print at any time so there’s no limit to any of that. What this did was it got us to a point where in the late 90’s the amount of debt relative to the economy was so massive that if ever there was a serious period of debt deflation, which is basically a time in which debt prices are falling which means they’re starting to go insolvent, which means that people are going bankrupt. You’re going to have to restructure debt. As soon as that started to happen the Federal Reserve would panic and flood the system with liquidity because the dirty secret for central bankers is that the thing they fear most is debt deflation. When debt deflation hit, which is when debt falls in value, which means its yield goes up. It means it becomes more and more expensive to issue debt. And if most governments in the world have been financing their budgets with debt, the minute the debt deflation hit, that’s essentially the bond market saying, “hold on now it’s going to cost you a lot more if you want to continue financing your budget”. So this is always the focal point for the Federal Reserve, which is why starting in the late 90s. The Fed switched to a policy of intentionally creating asset bubbles because the alternative would be to let the financial system reset by allowing the debt to clear. Nobody is going to go for that because first of all, it is political and career suicide and second of all it’s the complete systemic reset. So Greenspan then Bernanke and ultimately Yellen all engaged in the same policy, which would then create asset bubble and any time that the asset bubble burst and a crisis hit, it will simply flood the system with more money and create another bubble.
FRA: This is quite interesting also in light of the cryptocurrency developments you mentioned the central bank power of printing money, fiat money, this whole monopoly power. Do you think that governments will give up this monopoly power to private-based cryptocurrencies? That this would be something that would not allow them to print money at will.
Graham Summers: No, they won’t endorse that in any way. Cryptocurrency is the result of two things. One is the fact that central banks are basically trashing their currencies by printing so much money and money capital flows to where it’s treated well. And if your alternatives are Swiss Francs or Euros or dollars all of which are being printed by hundreds of billion, you’re going to seek something else. So I view cryptocurrency as the natural kind of reaction to the system being set up the way it is essentially an individual saying well I want to get out of there somehow and I’m going to create an alternative. The secondary effect is capital flight from China, which is that hundreds of billions of dollars are fleeing China and they’re using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to get the money out. We know that 80 percent of the trading volume of Bitcoin is actually in China, but that’s sort of a topic for another time. But no to answer your question the Fed will never endorse cryptocurrencies. What the Fed will most likely do is try to create its own. And we know from an interview that the New York Fed President William Dudley gave back in November that the Fed has actually been examining that and looking into creating their own alternative to Bitcoin and the Fed would love that. Because if the Fed could somehow get the system to go completely electronic meaning physical cash no longer exists, it would allow the regulators to monitor every single transaction that occurs. And it would also remove the systemic risk of cash because physical cash only represents about 1 percent of the actual wealth within the system. And another dirty secret is that if enough people ever went to the bank and demanded their money in physical cash the whole system would blow up, the money is just not there. You know 99 percent of the so-called wealth is just electrons stored on bank servers and none of the banks actually have the money on hand, which is why a big goal for central banks is to get rid of physical cash in the next 10 years or so.
FRA: Yes, I agree with you fully and that gets us into your other section on what is to come. So you do talk about that the war on cash and also I would say it ties into negative interest rate policy because with the abolishing of cash it would allow central banks to more easily implement monetary policy especially if it goes into negative interest rates. Would you agree?
Graham Summers: Absolutely. So if you look at what I call the period of serial bubbles which is the late 90s till today. The Fed’s response to every crisis has been more and more extraordinary. When tech stocks blew up and we had the tech crash, Alan Greenspan kept interest rates down at 1 percent and he kept them there for like three years more than he should have which is what created the bubble in housing. Because if the rate of interest held by the Federal Reserve is lower than the growth rate of economic activity, money is essentially free because you can borrow money at the interest rate investing almost anything in the economy and you’re going to pocket the spread. So that was how the Fed dealt with the tech crash. Then the housing crash happened and the Fed cut interest rates to actual zero, keep them there for 7 years and does something like 3 trillion dollars in quantitative easing, which is basically printing money and then using that new money to buy assets from the banks which is the kind of backdoor bailout essentially the Fed doing a kind of cash for trash for the Wall Street banks. So that’s what happened last time around and we now have a bubble in sovereign bond and those are the most senior asset class in the financial system. The natural logical conclusion would be that when this bubble burst we’re going to have to see even more extreme policies. And the Fed has already hinted that in research papers and in speeches what those policies would be. They would most likely be negative interest rates meaning the rate of interest the bankers and the Fed is charging on the system is negative three or maybe even negative five. We’d also have that combined with nuclear levels of quantitative easing, so quantitative easing of like 100 billion or more per month. And then at the same time they try to ban cash. The way all of this would work is implement negative interest rate. Well that makes it difficult to sit on cash, so you banned cash so that people can get their money out of the banking system and in faith because of banks trying to charge you 3 percent on your deposit. Well heck just put your money in a safe. You don’t have to pay that interest anymore. So the Fed’s going to want to close the loophole that physical cash present. Than nuclear quantitative easing, the goal here is to just buy as much debt as possible to try and stop the debt bubble from deflating in an attempt to reflate it. And then the final policy will probably be some combination of wealth taxes, bail in and capital grab. Then what basically the way I would describe this is think of it this way, if the problem is that there’s too much debt, your goal is going to be to get as much capital as possible. So any money that’s lying around whether it’s in physical cash or in say, a payroll check you haven’t cashed for a couple of years and you just forgot about it. Or perhaps a CD, a certificate deposit, lying around or even savings deposit that you have in a bank. Government regulators are going to want to get their hands on it, much of that is possible because at the end of the day the issue is there’s too much debt. Most of the large entities in the system are financially insolvent as soon as interest rate normalized. And so they’re going to try and seize as much capital as they can.
FRA: Yeah exactly. And the NIRP, the negative interest rate policy, could also be in light of inflation or rising inflation if you have real interest rates as being negative, so nominal minus interest equals real. What exactly do you see playing out in terms of negative nominal interest rates or just negative real interest rates with rising inflation?
Graham Summers: I think we’ll see actual negative interest rates meaning the interest rate is in the negative like negative three in nominal terms. If you look at the history of the Federal Reserve, typically, when they react to a crisis or a recession on average they cut interest rates about five percent from their prior peak. Which following that line, if interest rates are three percent or the next crisis hit, they’re going to cut them five percent. That’s going to get you to negative two. If interest rates are around one, that gets you down to negative four, so this is how it’s been every time for the last 70 years. So I do think we’ll see nominal interest rates. We have them in Japan, we have them in Europe. Both cases demonstrated that nobody who implements them actually gets kicked out of office which is the ultimate fear for politicians and the central banking class. So no one gets kicked out of office for doing it and for whatever reason the system goes along with it. The reason the system goes along with it is if your option is to pay a little bit of money in NIRP and I end up losing that money, but the bond bubble stays intact and the system continues to function. Versus I don’t pay NIRP, I dump my bond. The bond bubble blows up and everything goes systemic reset, you’re obviously going to choose the first one. So this is why Central Banks have been allowed to get away with policies that just defy logic. If the alternative is everything blows up you’re going to go along with it no matter what. And we saw this with NIRP in Europe, we saw with bail-ins, which is when your savings deposits are actually raided by the bank and used to keep the bank afloat. We saw that in Cyprus, they got away with it there. So, currently there’s not really any indication that there’s going to be enough societal unrest to actually stop central banks from doing that. So, obviously they’re going to do it.
FRA: And do you see the Everything Bubble as bursting at some point or will it be more off of a situation where these measures as you mention the financial repression of war on cash, bank bail-ins, and wealth taxes. Do you see those measures as ongoing within Everything Bubble continuing to expand?
Graham Summers: Yes. The second option, they’re continuing. It’s very complicated to answer that because if you have an Everything Bubble, you’re going to have small asset classes blowing up. The real question is what happens when the sovereign bond markets finally blow up. That’s when you get the actual sort of systemic crisis. So if you look at the debt market as different sectors. For instance, the subprime auto loan sector is currently under a lot of duress. So there are little areas in the economy that are already blowing up here and there. My view currently and what we’ve been telling our clients is that we think central banks are going to have to taper and withdraw liquidity this year because inflation is beginning to threaten the bond bubble. What I mean by that, is bonds trade based on inflation. Inflation is rising, and then bond yields will rise to match it. If bond yields rise, then bond prices fall. If bond prices fall enough, then you start to have a debt deflationary collapse. And while we’re starting to see is that the bond yields on the German, Japanese and United States government bonds are beginning to all rise. So the bond market, the sovereign bond market, is beginning to react to a fear of inflation. Now if central banks have a choice: pool liquidity and let stocks drop or continue with the liquidity, let the inflation genie out of the bottle and blow up the bond. They’re going to choose number one. So my current view is that in the near future like the next six months, you’re going to see a lot of central banks pulling back and getting more hawkish and they’re going to let stocks correct in some way to try and keep the Everything Bubble, the bond bubble, intact. Whether or not that works, I don’t know because once inflation starts rising it’s very hard to get it under control.
So that’s where we are right now, but actually timing the Everything Bubble bursting and thing on this day it’s going to blow up. That is impossible. You know what you can do is you can look at what’s developing in the market. That’s what I do in my financial newsletters and assess where we are in things. Currently, we’re starting to get into dangerous territory. And what matters now is to see how central banks react to it. You know if they pull back and get hawkish, they probably can get away with keeping the show going a little longer, but if they just keep printing money, particularly the ECB and the Bank of Japan, and funnelling it into the financial system by tens of billions of dollars. Inflation’s really going to become a major problem and that’s going to really crash the bond market.
So that’s where we are right now.
FRA: What about longer term. How you see that playing out?
Graham Summers: Well longer term at some point the whole thing is going to blow up just like it did in ’08. Timing exactly how that happens, you’re going to have to look for key things. You know what triggered ’08 was the underlying asset class, which the bubble was based on, in that case housing, those prices peaked and began to drop. So that started to happen with sovereign bonds recently. The question is: does that continue to happen? And then you start to see the derivatives markets and the credit markets locking up. Because if you look at ’08, the crisis, in terms of the progression you had housing peak in ’06. Then you had some of the investment funds that were investing in subprime mortgages, which is the riskiest component of the bubble blowing up that was in ’07. In ’08, the derivatives and credit markets were locked up that’s how got the great financial crisis. So if you view that as a kind of template for where we are now. The underlying asset class, in this case sovereign bonds, has peaked and is beginning to turn. The question is: Does it continue to do that and then we start to see investment funds, bond funds, and then the credit markets blow up? We’ve yet to see that and that’s the key thing I’m looking for right now. If that starts to happen that means we’re in late 2007 area of the timing of the next crisis, which would mean the next one would be insane in the next 12 18 months. But again these are the things we’re all looking for. I haven’t seen them yet. There are no definitive signs that the crisis is beginning right now. The only definitive thing is we’re seeing that the bond yields are rising and this is going to start to concern central bankers very shortly.
FRA: Could the sovereign bond debt crisis be catalyzed through Europe? If we look at Europe, what’s happening in terms of a withdrawal of some of the quantitative easing from 60 billion Euro per month to 30 billion Euro per month — Could the actual crisis come out of Europe rather than the US or Japan?
Graham Summers: It could come out of Europe for sure, it could also come out of China. In terms of Europe, the issue there is that you’ve got a lot of distinct countries with their own individual central banks none of which can print the currency anymore. The only bank that can print Euros is the European Central Bank, which is overarching all of the European Union. You know Germany has its own central bank, so does Italy, but they can’t go and print Euros. That’s what actually led to the crisis with Greece and these other countries. Well, let me back up what led to the crisis for those countries have they had too much debt relative to tax receipts. The reason why those crises actually accelerated and became systemic in nature was their central bank could not print currency or engage in bailouts directly to try and prop the system up. They had to go to the European Union and if you go the European Union then you have issues where countries like Germany and France are saying, well why are we bailing you out when we don’t have a crisis ourselves? So Europe is a kind of a weird case of mutually assured destruction. You know on the one hand if a country leaves the Eurozone, and not like Britain did but like an actual country that’s located directly in it like Italy or France, then the whole thing blows up because suddenly the credit markets go because at that point the credit rating for the European Union is different. You start seeing interest rates rising and that will render these countries insolvent. So, Europe is kind of strange case where they’ve sort of cobbled this thing along. A lot longer actually than I thought they would. I thought they were actually a serious risk of going under in 2012-2013, but again it comes back to that original issue, which is if the option is: Do I go along with this insane policy and assist the main is kept the float or do I reject it and the system blows up? Everybody in a position of power whether it’s a politician, large-scale financial firms, and the central banks is going to go number one. But absolutely if you want to look at countries that are at risk of blowing up Europe would be top of the list along with Japan and China. The U.S., while its debt situation is also catastrophic, has the benefit of having the reserve currency of the world and a more diverse and liquid economy. The way I like to put it is the U.S. is kind of the least dirty shirt in the bunch, but the reality is every single one of them is in serious trouble the minute rates normalize and when that happens then it’s anyone’s guess exactly how it goes down.
FRA: And finally, how do investors invest in this environment? How can they protect themselves in what you’re saying is likely to happen just from a generic asset classes point of view?
Graham Summers: You know everyone’s risk profile is different. If you’re looking for sort of active investment advice and sort of being steered through the financial markets on a week by week basis I write a financial product called “Private Wealth Advisory”. That’s the sort of actively involved we’re buying commodities now or selling bonds now kind of thing. That’s more for people who are actively in the market, who want to have their capital directed in a way that they’re going to continue to profit no matter what happens. If you’re someone who’s more just concerned, what do I do in the next crisis hits, you know, how do I prepare? I’m not really looking to invest actively. The best bet is probably to invest in actual hard assets, things like gold, real estate things that you actually can touch with your hand. Things that actually in the case of hard assets real estate produces some cash flows as there are benefits there. But really think of it this way if the whole world is based on paper debt, then actually owning something outright particularly something that has some sort of financial stability and a less volatile price movement that’s probably going to be one of the safer places probably to be. Does that mean that if you put all your money in real estate you’re not going to lose anything when the crisis hit? Absolutely not. Everything will get hit. The question is: how do I preserve my capital in the way that it’s hit less and I emerge from the situation with as much of my wealth intact? The only real way to go about that would be somewhere in the hard asset class is: gold, precious metals, real estate, businesses that have operating cash flow, and stable demand things. I mean there’s a big reason why Warren Buffett’s been loading up on things like Kraft and other businesses that no matter what happens, you know people will continue to eat cheese or continue to drink beer, and Budweiser awhile back. And that’s sort of the way I’d look at it that way. So it really depends on your risk profile I can’t say hey everyone go do X because everyone has a different risk profile. Everyone has a different interest, but the reality is if the big picture way of looking at things is hey there’s too much debt then central banks are going to be forced to devalue their currency to finance that that you’re probably going to want your money in something of tangible value as opposed to something based on that currency which is going to be devaluing.
FRA: Wow that’s great insight, Graham. Thank you very much for being on the Program Show. We will post a link and information on the book on the website as well. And do have a website that our listeners can learn more about your work.
Graham Summers: Sure we have two websites. One is phoenixcapitalresearch.com. That’s our website for our products where if you’re looking to be actively involved in the market you want someone actually directing you to buy and sell a different thing to tell you what symbols to buy and what price to pay. That’s where you want to go. If you’re looking just to get sort of more familiar with our work. You can do two things one is you can buy the book “The Everything Bubble: The Endgame For Central Bank Policy” on Amazon right now. Or you can go to our free e-letter. That’s called gainspainscapital.com. That’s totally free. I send out a daily briefing on what’s happening in the market and assessing some of the big picture things that are going on in the system. And finally we’re on Twitter gainspainscapital, but the Twitter handle is the @GainsPainsCapit ending with the T. And you can find us on Twitter and I am on there most days commenting on what’s happening in the world.
So those are a lot of different ways you can get a hold of us.
FRA: Also we will interweave some slides that you’ll send within the body of the transcript of this podcast on our website as well. That would be great.
Graham Summers: I’m sure they’ve done based on the conversation. I’ve got a couple of charts in mind that should help illustrate some of the things we talked about.
FRA: Thank you very much, Graham, for being on the show.
Graham Summers: Thank you. My pleasure, Richard.
“The Everything Bubble: The Endgame For Central Bank Policy” on Amazon right now. <https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Bubble-Endgame-Central-Policy/dp/197463406X>;
Transcript submitted by Boheira Manochehrzadeh.<email@example.com> and Daniel Valentin
01/20/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: FRA Co-Founder Gordon T Long On The New World Order In 2018
FRA: Today we have a very special guest, Gordon T. Long. He is the co-founder of the Financial Repression Authority. He and I started it up. He has been publicly offering his financial and economic riding since 2010 following an international career in technology, senior management and investment finance. He brings a unique perspective to macroeconomic analysis because of his broad background which is not typically found or available to the public. Gordon was Senior Group Executive with IBM and Motorola for over 20 years. He founded the LCM Groupe in Paris, France to specialize in the rapidly emerging internet venue capital and private equity industry. He is a graduate Engineer at the University of Waterloo (Canada) with graduate business studies at the prestigious business school, University of Western Ontario (Canada).
GORDON T LONG: Thank you Richard! That’s the Ivey School down at UWO.
FRA: Yeah. A great background just in all areas to give you that deep insight from different perspectives as you’ve always had.
GORDON T LONG: Well thank you, but it makes me feel like I’m an awfully old man, but I am…But Richard it’s nice to be on this end of a speaker because of all of the videos we did for FRA together…Videos versus the podcast we are now currently doing so it’s nice to be talking from this end.
FRA: You have done an incredible amount of the videos that we started off with over many years.
I thought today we’d look at the 2018 perspective. Over the last several years you have done a yearly analysis of what the risk are in the economy and the financial markets and put it all together, tying all the dots together, in a sort of thesis that you see happening. And you’ve graciously provided a number of slides that we’ll make available on the website and also as a part of the transcript we will write for this podcast. I thought that we would begin there by using that as a basis for our discussion.
The first slide you illustrate a number of risks — Do you want to elaborate on those?
GORDON T LONG: Yeah, absolutely. As you’ve said I have been doing these every year. I started in 2010 where I actually started circulating it to my subscribers and into the public domain and it’s not where I chose a subject to write about. It starts with a process that I refer to as a “process of abstraction”. And the first part of that process is listing all of the tipping points that need to be tracked and watched without drawing any conclusions. In the first chart we are showing here are showing the risks which are grouped in from high to low risk in segments here. We had just over 34 last year which some of them are shown right here on this chart. This year going in we have 44 that we are following and tracking very closely. And when we take those risks and we start to follow them in a process of abstraction which I will show you how we come up with the thesis…But over on the right hand side of this chart you will notice a red box with 11, those are the new ones of the 44. This is the top 11. Quite a number of them have been there for a year, some of them for a couple years now…the bond bubble, China’s hard landing, Japan’s deflation, but what’s really showing up this year and has been moving into this hierarchy is the stock market valuations you see at number 2 as a tipping point. It hasn’t been up this high before, just maybe barely breaking the top 10 as it has grown. But also down at number 11, flows in liquidity and that is the magnitude of what the normalization by the Federal Reserve, effectively the taper program at the ECB and even the reductions in the rate of growth of money supply at the Bank of Japan. The “flows of liquidity”, which is still very high 135 billion a month, is falling and is mapped out to fall. These are some of the destabilizing factors that we see growing, not that the others here aren’t going away. And another one here is number 8, “credit contraction”. We are at the end of an extended expansionary period, one of the longest in history. We are going into our 9th year and we see signals that the business cycle and credit cycle has reversed and has started to fall off — With that is backdrop. The second chart here is really the process we flow. You see the coloured boxes on the left and then we start to abstract those and group them into themes and then from those themes we try and synthesize them and ask, “What are they trying to tell us?” as we move to the right. At the bottom you can see the kinds of things we track over at a site I have with my son called: Matasii.com. And we track all those and they’re in the public domain if you want to follow them or look at them. But it leads to these conclusions and that is the subject and you can see where it’s led us in previous years as they keep shifting around and the thesis papers that we wrote. What we find too is that we’re always at least 18 months to 2 years ahead of things before they really come into the fray and become major front and centre. When you really recognized financial repression back in 2012, it was pointing us earlier 2 years before that that it was going to be a major movement and that was as quantitative easing was starting to unfold in the United States. But this year it has forced us to talk about something called: “The New World Order” and I need to state right off the bat that it is not what the conspiracy buffs have been talking about for years. It just happens to be the same name. The new world order is basically a social change that is happening right now because of: the advent of networking and networking communications, the degree of inequality that is starting to surface across the developed worlds, the richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, and a number of other factors that we’ll get into, but it’s changing the forms governance, it is going to change the forms of institutions that haven’t changed since the Breton Woods at the end of the Second World War which were predominantly US-based institutions if you would: IMF, World Bank in Washington, the United Nations in New York. But these institutions haven’t really changed and the new world is going to force these changes. Governance, the whole idea of a sovereign state is changing. So in the paper we lay out what those changes are going to look like and how they’ll unfold.
Any questions on that, Richard?
FRA: Yes – Does this include also the network for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies?
GORDON T LONG: Without question. It’s very central because one of the major changes we believe is going to be an exchange in trading around the world. And I’m not proposing that people should go out and buy Bitcoin, but I am saying that it and other factors like that are going to be with us in a massive way, and more importantly, the technology underlying it, the blockchain technology. So it’s going to and is already reinventing banking and you’ll that accelerating in a bigger way because it’s reflective of the sovereign state and borders are going away. Once you’re on the network…That’s the beauty of a product like Bitcoin and how many are there…a thousand different types now? But it says you can go anywhere in the world and do these transactions so how do you police it, tax it, regulate it? That’s the whole beauty of it – It’s self-regulating and self-policed, you don’t need governments and you don’t have the cost that goes with it. And that’s the model. I’m not trying to talk about Bitcoin; I am talking about blockchain and that model. One of the driving forces is that it will allow us to do away in some ways with a nation state. It doesn’t mean that we are getting rid of governance, but the governance of populations is going to change. We have a centralized approach to government, its top-down right? Well our forefathers never designed it that way. At least in the United States it was supposed to be the bottom-up, but it’s changed. And the technology and the network will allow that reverse and bring the control down to the bottom slowly because it’s not like the status quo is suddenly going to rollover, but these social changes are so big and so powerful and there will be some crisis in here that will force this change to happen.
FRA: On one of the slides you have: “The network is the instrument to control the governments or the governments will use it to control us.” Which way do you think it will go or do you think it will be a combination of both?
GORDON T LONG: It will be a war, that’s for sure. The governments will see it as taking away their power and their control and I don’t mean that negatively because they feel they need to have it to manage, but the reality is that they can be managed differently. You mention in the introductory that I had 20 years in corporate life so I was well acquainted with trying to run large scale organizations on a global basis. Back in the 80’s, the corporations were called international and they were just really beginning to grow. Growth internationally was far bigger than domestic and the problems that went with trying to do that and what came out of it with technology was that we had to decentralize. We were forced to decentralize and push it to the lowest level. It allowed us to downsize, right size, outsource, but to flatten organizations so that we could be more responsive and we could operate in more countries effectively. I’m kind of netting that out. Well our governments are actually in the same boat today. They need to be decentralized, but you can’t decentralize over a border though you can decentralize in the United States by pushing more control and power to the towns, but it’s going to be across borders. And we are seeing that really in effectively trade blocks today. That is where they are trying to work together in a coordinated fashion where they are trying to decentralize and have the power of a group, but they haven’t harnessed the technology to do it and that’s going to be a big part of the changes. So from a sovereignty standpoint at top-down, we are going to go to bottom-up. We’ve got inequality between nations within nations. What we’re going to have is equality across nations. These are going to be some of the changes we are going to start to see. Where we have country laws right now we are going to see international laws because globalization was never planned, it happened. Consequently, we never put institutions and laws in place to handle that. Yes, we have the international courts and the United Nations, but they’re not proactive. As Ronald Reagan said, “The government isn’t the solution. The government is the problem.” So they’re standing in the way of the degree and the speed of the change must have right now.
FRA: Yes, I can see the power of blockchain technology as providing decentralized platform to address some of those challenges of inequality by eliminating the middleman, for example, in transactions or services. But what about on cryptocurrency as one of those applications of blockchain — Do you think that governments will allow private-based cryptocurrencies to coexist with the monopoly power of fiat money that they have today?
GORDON T LONG: It depends on what government you’re referring to. I think our listeners are aware of the SWIFT system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), we really have two sets of governments in the world, the developed countries and countries that I will simply refer to as the “bricks”. We have Russia, we have China and we have Brazil, we have India, we have countries that are outside of the formal developed countries with their currencies where they are debasing it, that is the developed countries. So when, for example, we pass sanctions against Russia, the way we impose them is ways through the SWIFT system and various forms. Well obviously there is a tremendous conflict and it leads into this whole concept of de-dollarization which is going to be one of the major changes in the next 24 months — It’s huge. The whole discussion that we should have on here is on de-dollarization, but the conflict that’s going on right now and part of the answer out of that is what’s going to happen to cryptocurrencies because it’s a way of getting around the controls that the central banks really have on the creation of money, the value of that money and the debasements of those currencies. Ever since Bernanke came in with his, “Enrich thy neighbour” and we have rotating debasement that is when we stop debasing, the ECB, and the BoJ. I have referred to them as the currency cartel, the four currencies, the big debtor nations, the USD, Euro, Pound and the Yen. That’s 95% of the currencies that are exchanged in the world and they’re the ones that are the primary debasement on the other side, which I was referring to, of the bricks. They are not debasing, but in many ways are trying to use gold-backing. So there is a fight that is going on and cryptocurrencies really bring that to the floor. Now Russia and China their problem with it is allowing money to flee out of China right now as capital flight. As it shakes itself out we’ve got these huge geopolitical issues that are facing us, but the cryptocurrencies are not going away. I’m not saying that Bitcoin won’t fail and something takes it place, I’m not saying for one moment that the government banks aren’t going to endorse it. But by endorsing it I’m referring it to controls and trying to use it as competitive advantages as opposed to it being a free open-sourced product like Microsoft Edge. If you go to Firefox, its open technology, there’s no charge and it’s open. It’s like Wikipedia. Once you open up that Pandora’s Box, you allow all the people in the world to participate in a really free democracy.
I’m not sure if I’m making any sense there, Richard, but this is how powerful the concept and the reality of the blockchain currency are because it takes it down to how you can vote. I actually lay out in the thesis paper examples and links to videos, which I encourage listeners to go and get the links, of people who have shown how you can take this technology and put it into democratic organizations from the ground up that can actually grow itself into a world organization…How voting would happen, how policies would be set, how individuals would participate in it at a town level, a state level, a regional level, right up through a global basis where you get a really participative democracy and it works in a much faster period. It sounds impossible, but there are just some brilliant people that are showing how to do it just as brilliant people that showed how blockchain and cryptocurrencies could work.
FRA: And do you see this evolution as being a part of a movement towards the fiat currency cycle failure as one of your slides indicates. Are we going to have a coming currency crisis?
GORDON T LONG: I don’t know if we’re not already in it, Richard, and have been for a while, but yes, absolutely. This chart that we have here which is labelled, “Fiat Currency a Failure” really shows how we’re evolving. There is a little star in the middle in the red pointing to whereabouts we are in this cycle. I put out a chart, that’s included in the thesis paper, back at the time of the financial crisis called, “The Fiat Currency Failure” and the cycle that we would go through. This is a very simplified version of it. Once you get off sound money, you put yourself on a road map that nobody has ever retraced themselves from and has always ended in a fiat currency failure because at that point you’ve entered a fiat currency. But it starts at the top right here with growth and debt. Once you start growing your debt, in the case of the United States, when you consume more than you produce and you become a debtor nation and then all of a sudden you balance your trades out there is a lack of savings going on. You get stagnant productivity and what it does is it forces you into a fiat currency which we did officially in August of 1971. But now what starts to happen is you really get stagnant and falling standards of living because savings, which are typically in a capitalist system, invested into productive assets is what in fact improves your standard of living. That’s what allows a standard of living to increase and when that doesn’t happen, investments start to slow and you get falling capital expenditure and a falling velocity of money. You just had Lacy Hunt on and he’s very strong on what the issues of falling velocity of money are. But then it leads to what we’ve had for a long time, financialization of the economy which we now have. When you get the financialization of the economy all of these issues that you and I have talked about for years now associated with financial repression have become front and centre of the government trying to manage the economy at the best that it can do. But it leads to extreme leverage which we have now, unprecedented degrees of leverage, but it creates policy crises – Fiscal, monetary, public, that kind of disruption is where we are at right now. Before we get to the currency failure, the whole leverage itself has to start correcting and what happens then is really collapsing collateral values. There’s insufficient new savings and insufficient profits. And I’m talking about real profits which are coming from productive assets that are creating new profits which is new collateral, new value that underpins our society. We have $230 trillion of debt right now and you don’t lend money out without collateral. So what happens is all the money that has been lent out, the collateral has been repledged so many times, something called rehypothecation, across the global world within the Euro/Dollar system that the issue now is a shortage of collateral. Now if the collateral falls in value, let’s say that interest rates go up on bonds which means the bond price goes down, the collateral against those bonds is being reduced because what we do in our world right now is we’re making debt and asset. So we’re taking bonds and making it an asset and we’re pledging it as an asset. So when it goes down in price because interest rates are going up, you have to produce and pledge more collateral. Where’s that collateral going to come from if you don’t have new savings. That’s the era that we’re entering right now. Then, of course, we’ll have the governments forcing new kinds of systems or policy changes such as helicopter money to push more money into our society and that’s when we start to get into hyperinflation. We’re not there yet. We are still finishing a deflationary cycle because of the globalization, which is starting to peak. When I say peak, the rate of growth is what is beginning to peak. Once we get into fiat currency beginning to fail, we have the social strife and then we get these forced changes into these institutions and forms of government which I talked about earlier.
Didn’t mean to be long winded, Richard, because there’s a lot in that and we lay that out in the paper.
FRA: That’s great. There is a lot going on. On the next slide you mention where we are and that appears to be past the Minsky moment – Can you elaborate?
GORDON T LONG: Yeah Richard. You know governments aren’t going to roll over and quit on us. And I’m not about to say that markets are about to plummet because what governments are very good at doing is changing the rules. When they change the rules they allow things to accelerate. I can give you all sorts of examples of that. Remember the last financial crisis at the bottom of it we had a concept called “mark-to-market”. That was that all the books were so full of derivatives that they had to price them in a way that would price them to market. But to save the market, besides the 13 facilities that the bank came out with, the regulators changed it where they didn’t have to mark-to-market. They marked to fantasy. All of a sudden the bottom was in and the stock market took off and it was running ever since not because of that but it is an example of how they changed the rules. They could’ve never changed that rule is crises never hit, but we do that. So every time we get into a problem we change the regulations so that we change something else. Right now, even if the mark could start to fall, we have such a huge entitlement program, I think in the United States we are at least $10 trillion underfunded in total pensions at all levels – You can’t have that kind of collapse. So it says you got to keep the equities up. As you and I both know, the Bank of Japan is already buying equities. It owns 5% of the Nikkei, north of 70% of all ETFs. The Swiss National Bank buys $65 billion almost every quarter that we know about. A lot of the central banks, even the Norwegian central bank have been buying. So they are buying equities already. Apparently the Fed is not and the ECB is not and the Bank of England is not, but if we get into a crisis you can expect them to start buying equities in some fashion. I’m not saying that’s definitely going to happen, I’m just trying to give you an example that this is not over. They have not run out of tricks that they will bring forward to keep this thing going into this Minsky melt up. It goes back to that cycle we were talking about. You can keep doing it unless there is collateral somewhere and there is just not enough unpledged collateral out there right now unless they just print the money. Then what happens is you just print it without collateral, which is called helicopter money because that the basic derivative of helicopter money, then immediately you get hyperinflation. Whether that’s this year in 2018 or 2019, I don’t know, but I do know that over the next 3 years this big reversal that we talk about in the paper is going to unfold and is going to take away all the options from the governments that have fiat currencies.
FRA: Can you elaborate on how you see that happening and what the reversal may be?
GORDON T LONG: Yeah, absolutely. It is not my concept. This was actually a paper put out by the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland. They were very clear that it is the most important paper they have put out in years. They were warning the central banks to say look, you’ve got to get off this paper money and you’ve got to start normalizing and you’ve got to do it now. And they’ve got the gun to do it. What they’re saying and what they argue is that the issue is that the demographics which are changing dramatically…You know the baby boomers aren’t buying as much, the Millennial’s don’t have as much money, at least in the United States, but around the world even in China where we’ve had a dramatic reduction in the growth in population, we don’t have the youth that’s coming on in relationship with the accumulation of wealth that the previous generations have had. So what we’ve seeing is that the rate of savings, and savings goes back to this building of collateral and underpinning debt and the rollover of the debt, is growing but at a certain rate which is a much slower rate. It is slower than the investment capital that is needed to sustain the debt levels and the growth levels we have right now. The delta, its difference, is growing at a significant rate. That is going to force yields to rise steadily because of supply and demand and not necessarily in a big spike, but consistently. As yields go out, it lowers the collateral value of the bonds and as we were saying earlier before we began the show, Richard, the global swaps marketplace is over $600 trillion and at least $400 trillion of that is in bonds. So a 1%/2% increase in rates is just a staggering reduction in the collateral value which has to be shored up. It’s like a giant margin call. For those who have had a margin call, you know it’s not a very good day. So that’s the problem and it’s like a glacier, it’s coming and we stop this. We can’t create the babies and the people to do it. And now we’ve got so much leverage in the system and they’ll try and stop it using pension plans, buying the market, printing the money and that’s what will eventually lead to a fiat currency failure.
I hope I explained that easily.
FRA: Yes and it’s quite interesting.
GORDON T LONG: It’s a 70 page paper. I tried to summarize it in less than 70 words.
FRA: And with the pension crisis, how do you see that unfolding? What will pension funds be doing given this view that you see unfolding.
GORDON T LONG: Well, I think the pension plans right now are in the middle of a lot of changes that they know they have to do. I think they see a large amount of this pretty clearly, at least the better ones. They have been moving out of the stock market. I think they see a bigger run up, but they’re moving into private equities and exchange traded products. They are not looking for liquidity; they are looking for long-term investments. I think they are also counting on the government to come in and start to guarantee investments. I think you’ll see the governments come in and guarantee investments with payouts on it even if it’s with fiat currencies. I think that they are speculating that the major central banks will enter into buying the equity markets. If that’s the case they will stay in and start going heavily into the equity markets. I don’t think that they have bought into that quite yet – I have. I believe that’s where the central banks are pointed. There was a paper out that showed we have $400 million in pensions around the world globally, all totaled. Right now in the United States we have an $84 trillion underfunded pension entitlement – Where is that money going to come from? They just can’t print it. They have to make sure that it’s created through the financial markets and a big part of that is either in the debt market (bonds) or in the equities.
I’m getting a little off-track here, but it is an important point that right now as we talk here today, they are talking about funding the government’s debt and you know we got a $20 trillion thereabouts U.S. federal debt. And the tax plan on what it’s going to do and how it’s going to increase it. But we are squabbling over nothing because the United States debt is not $20 trillion; it is $84 trillion because of the unfunded liabilities associated with Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs that we’ve made commitments to that are coming due. We have 10,000 baby boomers a day that are retiring and we’ll have a 1,000,000 a year turning 70 years old next year. The rate at which they are now claiming and a number of people who don’t have the money to pay into it, the youth, is significantly out of line. But as bad as that is, that’s still not our debt. This is why this cycle is going to unfold because this debt is actually $220 trillion and you ask how I got this number and that’s what is called the fiscal gap. We’ve had Kotlikoff on a couple times and he’s even laid it out before congress – They know it. What the fiscal gap is let’s say we lend money to Puerto Rico. The U.S. doesn’t lend money to Puerto Rico, the banks do. What we do is we guarantee it and we guarantee it in what is called in accounting lingo, a contingent liability. So the banks lend the money, Puerto Rico pays the banks and by the way they couldn’t pay 6% when bankrupt, but now the banks want 12% or 14% because they are not worried about it. They gouge them because they know if they default we’re going to anti. We pay, if in fact, somebody goes broke. Well we have got $220 trillion because we’ve been bankrolling everyone in the world with “government aid” for whatever country and we have these contingent liabilities. Let’s say the U.S. economy actually suffered a recession or a slowdown and let’s just say 2% defaulted. Now we’re talking close to $5 trillion on $25 trillion
Am I making sense here?
FRA: Yes, absolutely.
GORDON T LONG: And that’s why this is a given. The question is just the timing of it. That’s why we’ve going to see a new world order because out of this crisis, it’s not all bad news. Out of this crisis is the natural set of changes that need to happen and there’s a better world on the other side of it.
FRA: Given this view of a potential unfolding, as you’ve indicated, what are your thoughts on the financial markets short-term, medium-term, long-term and the investment markets in general? How do you see that unfolding for the various asset classes like commodities, equities, bonds and currencies?
GORDON T LONG: Well it really gets bound to what you price it in and that is the U.S. dollar. Gold could be going up or down depending on what is happening to the U.S. dollar, right? So it’s really what’s going to happen in the shorter term — What kind of strength we’re going to see or weakness in the U.S. dollar. A big part of what you see with the U.S. dollar is often it is a flight to safety. If we have geopolitical problems, people tend to flow to the least ugly at the party, if you would. So the money will flow to the U.S. dollar which strengthens the dollar which has a certain behaviour in the asset markets. So we’re facing significant numbers of tipping points (opening slide) right now. Which one of these might create a shock that impacts the U.S. dollar and the various crosses right now? Because the moment we have this is what happens is that Japan takes home their money into the Yen because it’s been a safe currency for them despite the debasement of it and then the carry trade starts to contract. So that’s what you need
to watch. You need to watch what’s going to happen to the dollar. I personally think we’re going to have some pretty significant freights, in the next 6 months, in the financial markets because we’re at such levels it’s only natural. We haven’t had a 5% correction in historical lengths of time. 15%, 20% is perfectly normal in a market, but the leverage couldn’t handle that right now. As we see some of these normal adjustments in the market it’s going to be how we react to them. And whether the policies, which I was eluding to earlier, forces the central banks to reverse course of normalization and taper, whether it forces them to put into things such as helicopter money – Time will tell. These crises are going to happen and it depends on how people are going to react in the market.
I am not sure this is the time you want to be speculating in the markets. That last 5% or 10% can often be the most expensive. There’s a lot of places to invest right now besides the stock and the bond market.
FRA: What would be your suggestions for investors, generically, in terms of asset classes? Where can they protect themselves and get yield?
GORDON T LONG: The best advice I can give is to get out of the currencies and get into hard assets because real wealth, the real collateral we talked about, is hard assets. Money is something where you have to grow it, mine or build it and those are the hard assets. So put your money into those real items. Gold and silver have always been the epitome of a hard asset, but to be frank they are right now a manipulated paper market. I think that is pretty evident, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have some level of those kinds of hard assets. There are a lot of various commodities. Look what’s happening with cobalt, nickel and lithium right now. There is no better performing hard assets then them; They are right off the charts. Why? Because off electric bolts, our cars and it’s not because I think there are going to be a lot of electric cars in Canada and the United States, but because that’s where they are going in China and India. There is no question. There are 50 new models coming out next year. As a Canadian, just go up to Cobalt, Ontario. They are blowing off their lids. Now that game has already happened, but the point is that those are the kinds of areas that are continuously being needed to be looked into. The reason they move is because people say, hey there is some real value here. I know junior gold mining stocks have restarted to move to. But I am not saying to do that. I am saying to look for hard assets.
FRA: You mention also private equity as a potential investment?
GORDON T LONG: For those who can participate in private equity. More typically in the United States you have to be an accredited investor, so you’re limited, but I do know there are new laws changed in Canada that allow you to have a certain percentage in private equity. They aren’t as liquid; they are longer term. But sometimes in a crisis you are just glad to have your money in a safe place.
FRA: Perhaps to end our discussion today we can go to your last slide on, “What All Politicians Can Be Expected to Do” with a quote from President Donald Trump.
GORDON T LONG: I put him up just to say he’s just like all the rest. No matter what, they are going to print the money. It’s not because they are bad people, it’s the only solution that they can agree on because it’s not their money. And Trump was quite clear before he became president he said we can’t go broke because we can print the money. And he said he was the king of debt and I’m not picking on Trump in the least in my comments. He’s a right-wing conservative and he believes this is the solution. So you can bet that as these events unfold, and they will unfold, that that’s the tact they will take. Once you know that then investing becomes relatively easy because once you understand the policies that the government is likely to take, your investment becomes a little bit easier.
FRA: Great insight as always, Gord. This has been a fascinating discussion. We’ll put up those slides.
How can our listeners learn more about your work?
GORDON T LONG: Right now I am pretty well restricted to my work because I am retired, I’m an investor, I just manage my own money and I do this work to really narrow in on where my investing should be, but I publish and put all of this at www.matasii.com and there’s a subscription service for it depending on what kind of detail you want to go down to, but a lot of it is right out on a public page. That’s www.matasii.com. If you sign up for the newsletter, we’ll send you a various list of things if you’re interested.
FRA: Well great. Thank you very much for being on the show. It would be great to do it in the near future again.
GORDON T LONG: Talk to you again, Richard.
< Transcript written by Daniel Valentin >
01/14/2018 - The Roundtable Insight: Yra Harris On His 2018 Outlook
FRA: Hello welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Yra Harris. He’s an independent trader, successful hedge fund manager, global macro consultant, trading foreign currencies bonds commodities and equities for over 40 years. He was also CNE Director from 1997 to 2003. Welcome Yra.
Yra Harris: Well Richard thanks for having me.
FRA: So we begin today with the discussion with what you’ve been writing about “Feeding the Ducks When They Quack”. Can you elaborate?
Yra Harris: You know it comes from the trading floor .. it was always said that when the retail customers came in or any customers who were buying at the top or selling at the bottom,most the time they would come chasing the market and the tongue in cheek attitude,the ducks are quacking feed them and give them what they want. It’s just a trader’s term. It has a derogatory side to basically that the public is always wrong, but you know being a foreign currency trader I learned that wasn’t necessarily the case because, yes, there always has to be winners and losers, but a lot of times you can be opposite the side of the central banker orsomebody doing a massive hedge. So there was room for the public to be more right than the banks believe it or not .. but in this regard as long as the Central Banks are buying and this is what I’ve failed to understand since what we saw in Japan. Of course, once the United States embarked upon quantitative easing, the first blush was actually that the long end of the curve yields went higher because the people who had hedges were afraid that there’s massive infusion of liquidity in the system. Then we’re going to have inflation, if not inflation we’re going to have a greater growth .. So people were actually selling the long end of the curve and were getting steepening, but then when they commenced upon more buying nobody was willing to take on the Central Bank, the Fed. And there were no sellers, sellers disappeared because as I talked about ad nauseam and Rick said over the last 10 years when he would interview me and that basically, you couldn’t make any money. And then the hedgers disappeared because why hedge? You knew that the bank was there compressing yields and essentially when they embarked upon QE2, there became no need to hedge. And as I’m going to write on the blog tonight, I’m going to pick up on Chris Whalen’s wonderful piece that he wrote the other day. I have it sitting on my desk and the Fed doesn’t hedge, the ECB doesn’t hedge because when you have a printing press what do you need to hedge for. If you have the ability to create money whenever you deem that you need it. So why should you hedge? Chris Whalen really beautifully talks about the dynamic hedges that disappeared from the market, which is again another part of the reasons that we are in such a low volatility environment. So that’s what my attitude has been. When the banks come calling you have a natural buyer .. I always thought that the Chinese if they were looking to liquidate some of their treasury portfolios for future inflation, it was time for them to do that and do the ducks are the Fed and all the central banks and their quacking is when they’re buying. So you should be feeding them and when they ran the 10-year, it was Central Banks as much as anything that ran the 10year over the summer down to 1.35/1.36 again. Anybody who needs to unload Treasuries should have been unloading them to the buyers that existed. That’s the purpose of that wisecracked comment “to feed the ducks”.
FRA: And so for 2018, do you see rising interest rates across the entire U.S. yield curve or just a steepening with the low end not moving much?
Yra Harris: I don’t like to make solid predictions like this that I did in the blog last time because some of the people I’ve met who are retired successful business people, who love to discuss markets. When I look across the board and all the readings I’ve done in putting into action really what Chris Whalen talks about .. there is going to become a breakpoint and that’s when there is no longer a Central Bank adding to the global liquidity structure through QE. So now that the ECB is down to 30 billion and the Fed is actually taking out 20 billion a month and the Japanese of course are curtailing their buying, they have been curtailing their buying anyway because there’s just not enough paper for them to buy. And they could have a greater impact or as great an impact by buying far less than they have traditionally been buying or been recently buying I should say. I’m looking for the curve to steepen. I think as I read Jay Powell and I’ve done a lot of research lately and going back to the recent release of the FOMC discussions from 2012. I think Jay Powell will go to maybe 1.75 to 2 percent on the Fed funds, but from all he has talked about in his discomfort with the size of the FOMC balance sheet that you might see them increase Boockvar’s quantitative tightening, which will put upward pressure on the long end of the curve. So I don’t think that they’re willing at this point in time until they really see wage inflation for whatever reason they’re going to hold real yields at neutral, zero. So if inflation is 1.8 and you’re 1.75 on the short end and so they’ll keep those in. If they keep the real yield at basically zero, then they’ll stop there. And then all the pressure will be for long end yields to rise. Now a lot of people say well that’s going to kill the economy. No it’s not. If the yield curve starting to steepen out, the stock market I think will take an original sell-off, but I think it will be the opportunity to buy back in equities because steepening yield curves are not historically negative equity markets. In fact they’re actually positive because it reflects the fact that the Fed is kind of a neutral and somewhat accommodative, but not crazy so you know that’s my scenario. And I think as I said we’re going to go to 3-4. That’s my call for the 10 year at the end of the year. And if that puts the curve at 1.5, so be it. So that would be a fairly steep curve .. That’s what I’m looking for. And a lot of it is based on the fact that as the Fed says to do quantitative tightening, there will be more private sector or market participants who are buying. Who’ll have to step into the void to replace the Fed and they’ll have to hedge. Chris Whalen’s wonderful work is that dynamic hedging will slowly creep into this market and will make an impact on the long end yield.
FRA: Will that be an impact that does anything to the bond bull? What are your thoughts on Bill Gross’ assessment of the end of the bond bull? What will happen to the 10-year and 30-year bonds?
Yra Harris: I’ve been a big fan of Bill Gross. I was a big fan of Paul McCulley. You know they did some great work, but Bill Gross wrote a piece three or four years ago. It was interesting because anybody who’s a global macro trader and in bonds. Certainly, those who partake in bond markets. Bill Gross wrote a piece .. I have great respect for him. In a way, he hasn’t done well over the last few years and he’s kind of struggled .. He wrote a piece saying that maybe he was just lucky. But you know what we talk about it was the end of the bond bull. And then today he’s out saying well you know he expects rates to be 2.8 by the end of the year on the U.S. 10 year Treasury Bond. We’re at 2.57 today in the morning. With everything that’s going on in the world, that’s not much of a call. So that’s the way I’m looking at it. Is it the end of the great bond bull? I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of other things that I’ll look at to put this in because it’s all about context. Everything is about if you don’t have context and perspective you really don’t have much of anything anyway. So that’s what I’m watching. And I believe it. I have great respect for Bill Gross. I have great respect for Jeff Gundlach, as a big thinker. I think they’ll get Europe wrong because they’ve never bothered to read The Rotten Heart of Europe. These people have never read it .. So it’s nice that the Fed stepping back. I think Jerome Powell will vote to shrink the balance sheet. I think that’s where his comfort zone is. And I think Jerome Powell as I stated in the blog last night, where he actually talks to market participants unlike all the governors, who seem to be very insular and just a giant echo chamber. He is a governor, but he seems to want to actually talk to real market participants. In that regard I think he’s a little leery of the flattening that’s taking place, he doesn’t want it to continue. And if he really thinks it’s true, then it’s time to really increase the shrinking of the balance sheet. And I think that will get us a steeper curve.
FRA: And speaking of Europe where do you see the ECB policies going? Monetary policy?
Yra Harris: Well good question. There are things that scare me over in Europe. We talked about the upcoming election. In Italy, in the failure of the Germans to put together a government, these are things that need to scare people because things are not smooth there. And Draghi is in a terrible situation. And again, I will call anybody out on the carpet and anybody who you want to put on and discuss this because it needs to be debated. These people throw out things like the ECB has a has a single mandate, it’s inflation that’s baloney. Mario Draghi in July 2012 told you forget about the inflation mandate, the mandate is securing the existence of the Euro currency and the preservation of the EU. And if you don’t understand that you really need to go in and lock yourself a library and start reading and put the perspective together for yourself. That is what this is about. And so what happens now? Berlusconi is out. And meanwhile Berlusconi and the the Northern League and Fivestar who are not very enamoured with the ECB nor with Brussels are all pushing for various things about the Italian economy. Berlusconi was out yesterday talking about a flat tax and how good it will be. So they’re all playing off the Trump theme, but with Italy running 136 % debt to GDP ratio. And I know your listeners you know in the realm of the Financial Repression Authority understand this. It’s an enormous number that’s way beyond Rogoff danger of 90 % when countries get themselves in trouble and that ratio isn’t even shrinking. I think Italian 10 year yields were down to 1.7 percent. So the amount of money, the amount of the budget that goes to paying interest rates is probably historical in Italy recovering even at debt because of the manipulated actions of the ECB. Imagine if rates start to go higher there. So this is going to be very interesting to watch. Berlusconi has basically woken up to and I’ve never been a great fan of his, but what he has woken up to is this flat tax idea is he knows that Europe cannot afford to do anything to harm Italy. It is because of that massive balance sheet that Draghi has built up. And again, who bears responsibility? Who bears responsibility for that massive amount of sovereign and corporate debt on the book the ECB. Jerome Powell told told me, in a direct question that I asked him over a year ago, that don’t worry they have a printing press. Well it’s interesting because the Italians who have really been crushed by the Euro in this whole situation. They’ve been crushed because the Italians are famous for making financial mistakes. And they used to be able to bail themselves out of course by depreciating the currency the Lira, but they don’t control the currency anymore. So now they have to do the so-called internal devaluation, which is basically financially repressing workers because you have to keep wages low because you feel you can retain or attain some type of competitive advantage. If you can’t appreciate the currency something has to give. Of course it’s wages. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t. I am scared because Berlusconi is going to force it as I say he’s going to call the question. He’s going to call the question. Or he’s going to make somebody call the question and he’s going to look them in the eye and go, “What are you going to do to us?” We saw that you wouldn’t let Greece go. That you bent over a thousand ways and the Italian situation being the third largest economy in the EU, it’s too big and the IMF, they blew their wad with Greece. And they have to be very careful here about push-backs from other parts of the world because they were not happy that they infact got involved in the Greek situation because Greece is part of Europe. Europe is a major developed country. What are you bailing out Greece for? It should’ve been the EU’s situation. And Italy is just too big and Berlusconi with his flat tax is basically, to me, is calling the question: This is how I’m going to stimulate the economy and if you’re going to fight me out it well you’re going to bear the brunt of what do you do. Toss us out? We know you can’t do that because you didn’t ask Greeks out. So we get a free run here. So this gets very interesting as we go forward.
FRA: But will the German credit card be strong enough to make the EU successful?
Yra Harris: That is the $64 trillion question. The question is will the Germans stay the course. What will they get for it. You know this is politics. That’s right. That’s why we don’t study economics. We study political economy because this is the politics of nature .. Merkel she gave a new year’s speech was a joke I thought it was my kindergarten teacher admonishing me about something in the way she talked to the German people and she accepted responsibility. But this goes into what is being spun by the mainstream media. It’s not conspiratorial. That’s a fact. I read the FT front to cover, I have for 35 years already. And the spin is that the AfD and even the Free Democrats did better because people were angry at Merkel for the immigration. And they’re angry because they’re the most financially repressed people in the world because you have 2.5%or maybe 3% growth. You have inflation approaching 2% in Germany and you have the two year shot yielding negative 60 basis points. So they’ve been getting crushed in the effort to bail out Italy and all the others. So these are all things plaguing Europe and look if the German citizens acquiesce and say: OK we agree to a transfer union, we will run in a massive trade surplus of the current account surpluses and we’re willing to transfer money to Italy to help them. We will see you know it if they go that route. Fabulous I’ll go short so many bonds you won’t know what hit you and I’ll buy you know other things. But I’m very skeptical and my skepticism is being actualized by the fact that we’re now almost four months from the German elections and Merkel has yet to form a government.
FRA: Given the potential in Europe for being the epicentre of perhaps the next financial crisis as Peter Boockvar mentions, could we see international capital flows come from Europe and elsewhere to the U.S. markets especially as you mentioned there could be pressure on the long end of the yield curve with the movement into equities. So maybe the financial crises outside of the U.S. spurring capital flows to the U.S. .. plus the tax competitiveness that Trump has created from the new tax bill.
Yra Harris: That was the scenario that everybody painted for 2017 that we know never played out .. this could be the year .. when I look at the Euro currency chart and right now I have a neutral view to the Euro. In fact, I’ve been writing about I think the Euro it bore the angst about Trump and the dollar last year and Trump’s trade agenda. So money flowed into Europe and the Euro gained 13 to 14 % against the dollar, but also gain 10 % against the yen. I think that’s a problem for Europe .. I think the Chinese are unhappy with the weakness of the yen. I think the Koreans whose currency is the Won is really strong, are unhappy with the forced weaknesses because of the policies of Kuroda .. I think that the dollar is going to go lower but on a broad basis. Otherwise, I don’t think the Euro is going to do much this year. I’m not looking for a big rally in the Euro from here I think it’s kind of played out. I think it has Draghi concerned because he doesn’t need a strong Euro. He likes to point to the strong Euro as a statement about the effectiveness of ECB policy, but that’s to placate the Germans anyway, which is a big part of what he has to do. He is on very dangerous ground here and he knows it because he fights well. The last meeting, Jens Weidmann, who is the president the Bundesbank, who sits on the Executive Council of the ECB, they’re voicing their concern and others are joining to get the quantitative easing program has gone too far. So it’s a very difficult time. We’ll see what happens. Last year I thought the dollar was going to lower with Trump, especially with the industrialists, Mark Fields, who was the CEO of Ford at the time when he famously said in February of 2017 that immigration is the mother of all trade barriers. And from that day on the dollar reversed course from strengthening Will we go back down there? No, but I think that 123 area which I will tell you goes back to the range of the week of July 23rd, 2012 when the Draghi, of course, made his famous speech about no taboos and will do whatever it takes. I think that week it was around 120-70 in the Euro and ended up to close I think around 123-80 ..
FRA: For 2018, do you see some type of commodity bull market especially in precious metals and agricultural commodities?
Yra Harris: Yes it’s a great question. It’s a hot topic for a lot of people right now. Yes, I think people are looking to purchase hard assets because our commodities are using securitization like the Chinese are so famously good at securitizing copper whatever. They’re leveraging themselves up, they’re securitizing anything and everything .. I think they are right that commodities have been on the low end of the cycle. So it’s now time and we know that there’s going to be a lot of money with the velocity of money has disappeared. I’m looking for an increase in velocity as the Fed starts to unwind its balance sheet because there’s this money that was tied up at the Fed. The Fed grew its balance sheet because of reserve situations that pile up that these are going to be released. Ben Hunt had made that point for the last year and a half and I applaud him for that I think there’s some validity to it .. we heard the same story last year. I was looking for the Trump inflation, I’m watching very closely to see if now Trump proceeds down that path of being able to get a bipartisan deal on an infrastructure program of significance for the U.S. So there’s a lot of things in play here. The Chinese with their nose know we talked about before when they first announced it about three months ago that they were doing the Yuan-gold-oil interest in arbitrage that helped play it. It is interesting to start to see that we were getting some movement in the commodity sector across a broadly based basket.
FRA: And your sugguestion to the Swiss National Bank would be that they sell their equities and go to hard assets?
Yra Harris: I would say that .. They made their portfolio increased 55 billion with money that was printed in order for them to keep control of their currency. They printed a massive amount of Swiss Franc which they’ve converted to other currencies which they bought equities and they’ve done so well so the paper profit 55 billion last year equal to eight percent of their GDPall through the creation of money in order to keep the Swiss Franc weak, which they’ve managed to weaken against the Euro last year also by about 10 percent even though the Swiss itself held against the dollar was a little bit stronger .. But I would be looking to swap out, but I know they are caught because if they do that the Swiss will gain in value and have been trying to prevent it. I guarantee you that this will be some of these great dissertations on what the Swiss National Bank did .. I think we’ve covered the Swiss as well as anybody, in fact, I did see something that came out from the Ludwig von Mises Institute this morning really discussing in greater detail everything we’ve discussed the Swiss. If I was a Swiss I would for the sake of Swiss citizens start to be moving out of some of that.
FRA: And you gave them the Alchemist Award of the Year.
Yra Harris: Yeah, they definitely get the Alchemist Award of the Year, the ultimate cryptocurrency.
FRA: And finally your thoughts on Larry Lindsey as Fed Vice Chair?
Yra Harris: Oh you making me go down that path. I’m a big fan of Larry Lindsey. I have a lot of respect for Larry and I respect him for exactly why Trump probably won’t pick him is because Larry Lindsey answers. Larry Lindsey is an exceedingly bright analyst. I went back and read some of his old Fed speeches. In fact, I look at the piece in 1996 when he really was not in favour of, or he thought that the markets were ready to exuberant equity markets and they were doing a disservice to hold rates even though he voted with the majority. There was only one dissenter that was Gary Stern from the original Minneapolis bank. But he speaks his mind and he speaks his mind so forthrightly that he even took on the Bush White House when he was a member of that White House as the head of the Council of Economic Advisors and said that their numbers and what the Iraq war would cost in 2003 were way too low. And you know he got sent out into the hinterlands .. He bore all of this to the administration and was sent out to the wilderness, but he spoke his mind and he proved very prescient and he was right. So he tells you he speaks his mind. I think that Donald Trump would fear Larry Lindsey as a role because he’s talked about to be vice chairman which is usually a passive role. Donald Coleman was Vice Chairman to Greenspan and Donald is exceedingly bright, but he knew his place and the same with Stanley Fischer. Vice Chairs’ don’t like to buck, but Lindsey in my estimation will be a bucker of that he will not sit quietly and he will voice his opinion, and it will be heard. And I think that he would overpower Jerome Powell. It’s just my opinion. I don’t know anything else, but it’s what I feel about it. As much as I would love to see it I am a heart to heart money person, I believe that responsible policy is what holds and what’s needed in a fiat currency world. And I think Larry Lindsey would bring that to the table, but I’m not sure that Trump White House is not looking for that type of person. So we’ll see. That will surprise me and I’ve been right on every Fed pick when people where saying it was going to be Gary Coleman, I vote no chance. In 2013, when it was supposed to be Larry Summers, I stood tall and said there’s no chance it’s going to be Larry Summers because I believe that Lizzie Warren was going to block Larry Summers .. we got Janet Yellen which is not bad, I think Yellen played as good a hand as she possibly could with what she was dealt. And I think she’s done a very good quality job. So we’ll see. I’ve been pretty good with this so because it’s not just economics, it’s politics. And let me end by to ask you a question because you’re pretty astute on monetary affairs. So yesterday the St. Louis Fed put out a very short paper title “FOMC Dissents. Why some Members Break from Consensus”. They talked about the way the Fed Board has voted. The St. Louis Fed did a study of the vote of the Fed Board. OK so they looked at the voting patterns. Since 2005 in what has been a major historical period for central banks. Major historical period around the world especially with the Fed. How many dissents have there been by the governors, not regional presidents FOMC governors to any vote. How many dissents over the last 12 years?
FRA: A low number or zero?
Yra Harris: Zero. Can we think about that? Can we think about the power of that in the most turbulent period of central banking? The amount of dissents by FOMC governors has been zero. That should leave us all speechless. I have nothing else to say.
FRA: That’s a great insight and words of wisdom from Yra Harris. Yra how can our viewers learn more about your work?
Yra Harris: They can head to the blog https://yragharris.com/ or all the podcast that I’ve been so honoured to be able to do and to be selected for the FRA, the Financial Repression Authority which have been great. What I blog Notes From Underground is free. All of a sudden the level conversation, the responses to the blog is amazingly high level. I am so honoured by that because the discussion is great .. People read it have serious questions .. It allows me to think and put my thoughts together and put it out there and get feedback from very intelligent people so it helps my training in that way. So it’s not you know so many things in this world today are about validation. People need to be revalidated, that’s the problem of social media. You go to be validated. I’m a Marxist. I need dialectical discourse. And so we are getting it. So people should absolutely go and by The Rotten Heart of Europe .. It’s not my book. It’s written by the brightest guy in Europe. Bernard Connolly. People need to read this book. Europe is going to take center stage in so many different ways. You need to know who the actors are so that you are not blindsided or held captive by a narrative spun by the insiders .. understand what’s going to take place or who’s involved.
FRA: We will have a link to that on the transcript on the website and also a link to your site. and a link to Chris Whalen’s Article that you referenced as well.
Yra Harris: Oh yeah. I sent him an email about how great it was. It’s a great article. Thank you.
FRA: Thank you very much Yra. Thank you.
Yra highly recommends reading The Rotten Heart of Europe – send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to order
12/15/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Dr. Lacy Hunt On The Unintended Consequences Of Federal Reserve Policies
FRA: Hi, welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight ..
Today, we have Dr. Lacy Hunt. He’s an internationally recognized economist and the Executive V.P. and Chief Economist of Hoisington Investment Management Company, a firm that manages over $4.5 billion USD and specializing in the management of fixed income accounts for large institutional clients. He also served in the past as Senior Economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, where he was a member of the Federal Reserve System Committee on Financial Analysis. Welcome. Dr. Hunt.
Dr. Lacy Hunt: Nice to be with you, Richard.
FRA: Great. I thought we’d have a discussion on a variety of topics relating to the economy and the financial markets. You recently mentioned that you thought this was the worst economic expansion recovery in U.S. history since 1790. Wow. Can you elaborate?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: If you calculate the average growth rate in the expansions since 1790, this is a long-running expansion, but it’s the slowest and in the last 10 years the household sector lagged very, very badly. The rate of growth in real disposable household income per capita is only 0.9 percent per year. And in the last 12 months, we’re up only 0.6 percent per year. So it’s a long-running expansion, but it’s been a poor expansion. There are certainly problems with some of the earlier data, but this appears to be the slowest expansion since the turn of the 18th Century and our households are the main problem for the growth rate lag.
FRA: And do you point a finger for this cause as primarily on the Federal Reserve or do you see structural changes happening to the economy?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: I think that the main element suppressing growth is the heavily leveraged U.S. economy. We have too much public and private debt, and this debt does not generate an income stream for the aggregate economy. As a result of the prolonged indebtedness, which is on the verge of going much higher because of problems in the governmental sector, the economy is now experiencing very poor demographics. We have a baby bust, a household formation bust, and the lowest birth rate since 1937. These demographics are exacerbating the problems because we have too much of the wrong type of debt and thus the velocity of money has been falling since 1997. Velocity this year is only 1.43 percent, which is the lowest since 1949. Furthermore, the debt creates a situation where monetary policy capabilities are asymmetric. In other words, a lot of action is needed to provoke even a muted impact on the economy, whereas the slightest monetary tightening goes a long way in depressing economic activity. So the root cause of this underperformance is extreme indebtedness.
FRA: And what about the Federal Reserve? How has it undermined the economy’s ability to grow?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: The Fed’s most serious mistake was made in the 1990s up until 2006 during which they allowed the private sector to become extremely over-indebted with the wrong type of debt. And, in essence, I think that quantitative easing, through the push for higher stock prices, created more problems than it has solved for the economy. QT caused the corporate executives to switch funds from real capital investments into financial investments through the paying of higher dividends, buying shares of their own companies, and buying back their shares from others. While this type of action does produce a higher stock market; it doesn’t generate a higher standard of living. And so, Federal Reserve policy has not improved the economy, although it certainly has well served components of the economy.
FRA: And due to that do you think that there’s been too much financial investment versus real economy investment in terms of diverting the economic financial resources away from the real economy?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: I think that’s the principal problem. Business debt last year reached a record high relative to GDP. As I said earlier, Fed policies have created a higher stock market but have not generated an improved standard of living. When the Reserve undertook quantitative easing, it was a signal to the corporate executives that the Fed preferred and would protect financial investments. But that meant financial assets were preferred over real side investments. And so QT is intermingling with the growth-depressing effects of too much debt. And the debt levels are getting ready to move substantially higher in our governmental sector. Government debt is already approaching 106 percent of GDP, a record high with the exception of a brief period during World War II. And by 2030, federal debt will be approximately 125 percent of GDP. For a long time, we’ve known about the issues that would inflate the entitlements — such as the prior-mentioned demographic problems — but there is an increasing likelihood that new federal programs with expenditure increases will further accelerate the growth in federal debt. I think there is clear evidence that increases in federal debt at these high levels relative to GDP over any measurable length of time, reduces economic activity. Thus, the multiplier is not a positive but negative figure, or otherwise exactly what economist David Ricardo hypothesized in his 1821 work. I have looked at the relationship between per capita changes in real GDP and government debt per capita and the relationship is negative, not positive. And so, we’re trying to solve an indebtedness problem by taking on more debt. You can get intermittent spurts of economic activity and inflation, but ultimately the debt is a millstone around the economy’s neck.
FRA: So would you say that we have migrated to a sort of financial economy?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: Let me give you a couple of examples. There’s so much liquidity in the financial markets, particularly the stock market, that a lot of the economic news is constructively interpreted even when it’s unconstructive. Virtually the world believes that the United States is experiencing large job gains and the idea that such productivity may be incorrect is hardly considered. But the rate of growth in payroll employment on a 12-month basis peaked at 2.4 percent in early 2015 and for the last 12 months, has sunk to 1.4 percent. What is even more critical — if you look at just the expansions and don’t include the recessions since 1968 – is that the average growth in employment in an expansion year was 1.9 percent. And in the last 12 months, we are half a percentage point under that figure. Yet, given these numbers, there is an erroneous perception that the employment gains are strong. And this view undermines the improvement in the standard of living. And because of the liquidity and the need of some investors to fully participate in the rising stock market, investors tend to overlook other important developments. If we go back to the 12 months ending November of 2015, real average hourly earnings were up about 2.5 percent. And in the latest 12 months, real average hourly earnings gained a miniscule 0.2 percent. The liquidity tends to push the focus away from the more realistic interpretation of the economy for certain types of assets.
However, the weak performance overall and the deceleration in some of the indicators that I just referred to is not unnoticed by the bond market. So, we have a dichotomy in which the stock market is strongly up but the long-term bond yields are down. Now, the short-term yields are up because they are under the control or heavy influence of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is in the process of raising the short-term rates and winding down their portfolio. They sold 20 billion dollars of government agency securities in October and November, pushing up the short-term rates. Erstwhile, the long-term rates — which look at some of the more important economic fundamentals — are actually declining.
Another element not in the public understanding, since the Federal Reserve no longer produces this sort of monetary analysis, is a very sharp slowdown in the money supply’s rate of growth, bank loans, and within important credit aggregates. Last year, the M2 money supply was up 7 percent. In the latest 12 months, it decelerated to less than 4.5 percent. The rate of growth in bank loans and commercial paper, which topped out on a 12- month basis about 9 percent, is now under 4 percent. So the Fed is raising the short-term rates, reducing the monetary base, and causing a tightening in the financial side of the economy. Some investors understand what is happening and yet it’s not in the general psyche because such monetary analysis is increasingly rare.
However, another more public indicator is the very dramatic flattening of the yield curve. And when the yield curve flattens in such a way, first of all, it’s a symptom that monetary restraint is beginning to bite. Now, the slowdown in money supply growth and the bank credit flattening of the yield curve will occur well before there is any noticeable impact on a broad array of economic indicators or long lags in monetary policy. But when the yield curve starts flattening, that intensifies the effect of the monetary tightening because it takes away or, at the very least, greatly reduces the profitability of the banks and all those that act like banks. Banks make a profit by borrowing short and lending long. When those spreads recede, bank profitability is hurt, particularly for the higher, riskier types of bank loans since not enough spread exists to cover the risk premium. So the banks begin to pull back, further intensifying the restraint pressing on economic growth. To the vast majority of investors, we have an economy that is apparently doing well, but in fact there are elements right beneath the surface that strongly suggest to me that the outlook for 2018 is considerably more guarded than conventional wisdom implies.
FRA: And do you see the potential for an inverted yield curve in the near future?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: I’m not sure that we will have to invert because the economy is so heavily indebted and the velocity of money is its lowest since 1949. Now, a number of people have pointed out that we typically invert before a recession and historically such inversions have been the case most of the time — but not always if you go back far enough in time — and you should since this is not a normal economy. For example, money supply growth since 1900 has averaged about 7 percent per annum, whereas, currently, the rate of growth in M2 is about 36 percent below the long-term average, indicating a very weak growth rate. And the velocity of money is lower than all of the years since 1942 — with the exception of 7 years — and the economy has never been this heavily indebted. And so the yield curve could possibly approach inversion, but it may or may not occur or stay there very long because at that stage of the game, the flattening of the yield curve will greatly intensify all the other effects — the reduction in the reserve, monetary, and credit aggregates, as well as the weakness in velocity. And when this reduction becomes apparent, the Federal Reserve will not be able to reverse gears quickly enough to ameliorate the impact produced upon future economic growth.
FRA: So do you still see a secular low in bond yields on the long into the yield curve remaining in the future sometime?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: The lows have not been seen. The path there will remain extremely volatile. We will have episodes in which the long yields rise. My attitude is that the long yields can go up over the short run for any number of causes. While many elements work out of the system in the long end, yields cannot stay up. When yields go up — especially now that the yield curve is flattening — this intensifies monetary restraint, which puts downward pressure on commodities. This puts upward pressure on the value of the dollar and cuts back on the lending operations. Something I think has been somewhat overlooked in general euphoria over the strength of economic indicators, is the that commercial and industrial loans for all of the banks in the United States are now only up one-tenth of one percent in the last 12 months. There are forward-looking elements that have historically been very important for signaling that change is ahead. They don’t tell us the timing — timing is always difficult — but they are flashing signals that should be observed.
FRA: And as this plays out, do you see monetary policy and fiscal policy is changing, like will we get fiscal policy stimulus? Will there be a change in monetary policy and how will that look like?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: Here’s my attitude: the new federal initiatives, whether tax cuts or infrastructure or otherwise will not provide a boost to the economy if they are funded with increases in debt — that’s where we’re at. And by the way, it’s been that way for some time. If you go back to 2009, we had a one-trillion-dollar stimulus package that was said to be inflationary and was going to boost economic growth, but yet we still had this very poor expansion and little inflation except for intermittent bouts here and there, largely from highly-priced inelastic goods. All the while, the inflation rate has trended lower.
For example, when President Reagan cut taxes, government debt was 31 percent of GDP and now that’s 106 percent on its way to 120-125 percent. And so if you go back and if you read Ricardo’s great article in 1821, he was asked whether it made a difference as to whether the Napoleonic wars were financed by taxes or by borrowing. Ricardo said that, theoretically, either way private sector activity was going to be suppressed. Now we have a lot of evidence, including some that I produced, that the government multiplier is negative, not positive, over a three-year period. Thus, the tax cuts may work for a very short while, but not on balance. And if the tax cuts were revenue-neutral and financed by reductions in government expenditures that would be a positive since the evidence shows tax multipliers are more favorable than expenditure multipliers. Such a theoretical proposal would provide greater efficiency for private sector spending and government spending. There’s also evidence that you would lower the cost of capital, but that’s not what we’re talking about is it? We’re talking about a debt-financed tax cut and we’re not talking about a revenue-neutral infrastructure plan, just as we were not talking about a revenue-neutral stimulus package in 2009. We’re talking about the debt-financed variety of tax cuts and at this stage of the game, this will make us more vulnerable, except for a few fleeting instances.
I will say this: when you have a debt-financed infrastructure program or tax cut, there will be pockets within the economy that will benefit, but the aggregate economic performance will not benefit and so fiscal policy, as I see it, is not really going to be helpful. The risk is that the debt buildup will add to the problems. There is extensive academic research indicating that when government debt rises above 90 percent of GDP for more than five years, this trend will reduce the economy’s growth rate by a third. Remember, we’re at 106 percent debt to GDP and there’s evidence these higher levels of debt have a non-linear effect. In other words, we use up growth at a faster pace. And there’s a lot of evidence from the available data that we’re even losing a half of our growth rate from the trend. For example, GDP has risen at 2.1 percent per capita since 1790. The latest 10 years produced a reduction to 1.0 percent. And so we should have lost only seven-tenths or come down at 1.3 over 1 but we didn’t and this is a consequence that we have to deal with. We’re not in a position to ignore the debt levels. Fiscal policy can be talked about, we can debate about it, and we can proclaim its benefits, but I don’t see them in the current environment just as I didn’t see them in 2009. I would change my tune if they were revenue-neutral, but that’s not the issue here.
To me, inflation is a money-price-wage spiral not a wage-price spiral as with the Phillips curve. The way inflations begin is by money supply growth acceleration not being offset by weakness in velocity, which shifts the aggregate demand curve inward. Remember, the aggregate demand curve is equal to money times the velocity by algebraic substitution as evidenced in all the leading textbooks on macroeconomics. So you have declines in the money supply and velocity, which will make the aggregate demand curve shift inward over time. This shift gives you a lower price level and a lower level of real GDP. It doesn’t happen every quarter or even every year, but it’s the basic trend. Thus, monetary policy is in the process not of decelerating money supply growth and by a significant amount. If the Fed adheres to their schedule of quantitative tightening, I calculate M2 will grow by the end of the first quarter – it’s currently running around four and a half percent – and the year over year growth rate will be down to less than 3 percent. And so monetary policy is taking steps to lower the reserve monetary and credit aggregates, and these actions will further flatten the curve because they can press the short rates upward. But I think the long-term investors will understand that the inflationary prospects on a fundamental basis are weakening not strengthening.
FRA: And do you see these trends as being exacerbated on the emerging government pension fund crisis? Could there be more debt used to solve that like for bailouts? Do you see that potentially happening?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: Well the main problem with government debt is that we’re going to have approximately one million folks a year reach age 70 in the next 14 to 15 years and we’ve known that this was coming, but we didn’t prepare for it. We’ve made a lot of promises under Social Security Medicare and the Affordable Care Act and government debt will have to be used to fund the entitlement benefits — I don’t see any other way around it. Another overlooked problem is that the actual federal fiscal situation is much worse than these surface numbers. For example, in the last three years, the budget deficit worsened each year. If you sum the budget deficits for 2015, 2016 and 2017, the sum is 1.2 trillion, but a lot of what was previously called “outlays” have been moved off budget — we call them investments (such as student loans) and there are other examples. The actual increase in federal debt in the last three years is 3.2 trillion. So the budget deficit is actually greatly understating what is happening to the level of federal debt which wasn’t always the case. Furthermore, the deficit was made worse by a 2015 bipartisan deal between Congress and the White House. And while neither party is blameless — they both agreed on the deal — yet it doesn’t change the fact that the federal situation is deteriorating and at a much worse rate than the deficit numbers themselves indicate.
FRA: And what about for state and local jurisdiction locales, in terms of their government pension funds? Could there be federal level bailouts at that level?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: Again, what are they going to bail them out with? You’re going to have to sell Federal Securities. And one of the multipliers on new sales of Federal debt is negative, not positive. Forget what was taught you in your macroeconomic class 30, 20, or even 15 years ago. When I was in graduate school, I was taught that the government multiplier was somewhere between four and five percent. Now, it looks like the multiplier is at best zero and even possibly slightly negative.
FRA: Great insight as always. How can our listeners learn more about your work, Dr. Hunt?
Dr. Lacy Hunt: We put out a quarterly letter as a public service. Write to us at hoisingtonmgt.com and we’ll put your name on the subscription list. We don’t spam you with marketing so please go ahead and subscribe.
FRA: Okay, great. Thank you very much for being on the Program, Dr. Hunt. Thank you.
Dr. Lacy Hunt: My pleasure Richard. Nice to be with you.
Submitted by Boheira Manochehrzadeh
12/15/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Yra Harris Sees The Swiss Franc As The Oldest Cryptocurrency
FRA: Hi, welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Yra Harris. He is an independent floor trader, successful hedge fund manager, a global macro consultant trading foreign currencies, bonds, commodities and equities for over 40 years. He was also the CME director from 1997-2003.
YRA HARRIS: Thank you Richard. It’s good to be back with you – It’s been a while.
FRA: Great. I thought today we would start off our discussion with Janet Yellen’s presentation and her statements – Your thoughts?
YRA HARRIS: Well, the conference went just as I thought it would be. Of course, as usual, she handled herself well. She discussed some certain issues, but didn’t give much away. And more importantly she didn’t trap her successor, Jay Powell, to any type of situation. She has been gracious and thoughtful and so she continued in that vein. She didn’t really tell us much. Again, she was struggling to understand the lack of inflation and that will continue to plague her because they just don’t truly understand where the inflation is as the Fed measures it. That’s all we have to go in is the way they measure it. How any of the rest of us measure it at this point in time really is meaningless because we’re not driving the markets in that regard.
FRA: Did she set any expectations for future interest rate hikes?
YRA HARRIS: I’m not sure, maybe a couple, she was kind of reticent. I heard one of the media economists talking about it today saying that Greenspan understood with the technological innovation, going back to 1996, that he thought it was going to have an impact on supply-enhanced growth period so he was reticent to raise interest rates and that was a good thing. But every Austrian economist I know worth their weight and those who are not in the Neo-Keynesian new model will tell you that that was exactly what caused all the problems, was that Greenspan was reticent to raise all the rates even though the return on capital was rising significantly. And that’s when you need to start raising rates because then you head off any type of excess capacity developments which of course we saw by 1997-1998, we had a massive overcapacity situation which started the Asian Contagion. She is kind of settled with this too because she talked about that with the tax cut and the fiscal policy today which was good, not in any type of derogatory way, but she is worried about maybe the increase in debt, but she’s hoping that if this tax cut is stimulative it will be supply-side leaning and we will get greater productivity growth which she said would be the good type of growth that she wants.
So we will see.
FRA: What about the U.S. yield curve? Do you see continued flattening of the yield curve or potential inversion going into next year?
YRA HARRIS: Well again, they tried to pin her on that new version. People have to be specific. I am using the 2-10 yield curve. When the 2-10 inverts, there is danger ahead for a lot of asset classes. People will say, “Well, not so fast”, but I will be the first one to tell you because I’ve looked at this for 35 years as part of my trading paradigm that I developed for myself and I can’t time it. I have a study here that was done in 2003, it is right here I keep it in my drawer and it’s exactly on this. It was done by an intern of mine who is very highly qualified and it was written in July of 2004 titled, An Investigation into the Relationship between Changes in Yield Curve and the Performance of Stock Indices. So we’ve looked at this. It is so difficult to time. I can’t tell you when the results going to be, but I’m going to tell you just like in 2007 when then yield curve inverted, it was only by 6 basis points, we know what followed. In 2000, the yield curve inverted, we know what happened then. In 1979-1981, of course that was a forced inversion by Volcker as he was ringing inflation out of the system, but we know what happened then. This time, I can’t tell you. We’ve discussed this, you and I, for quite a while. We’ve been right in many ways about it and I’ve warned with what the central banks are doing that this is a wild card. I can’t tell you what the impact is going to be. It was interesting when Yellen discussed the yield curve today. She didn’t talk about the effects from other central banks and I think that’s a huge part of the flattening that is going on.
FRA: Yes. And about that…Do you see the ECB, Bank of England and Bank of Japan having their yield curves affected?
YRA HARRIS: Well for the Bank of Japan, Kuroda tried to give us a different spin on it thinking that maybe they were going to put an end to it, but as soon as the dollar/Yen softened off of that, I forget what the exact phrase was, it was from a speech in Switzerland in mid-November where he used certain language that spooked the market, but then he walked it back of course. You see that the dollar/Yen got weak today and then dollar really fell off after the Fed’s action. Tomorrow (Thursday, December 14th, 2017) we have an ECB meeting, an SNB meeting, Bank of England meeting and the Bank of Mexico – They are all in play here. I think Kuroda’s term that he used in November was reversal rate. It was a new term. We hadn’t heard it and myself included. I thought maybe they are thinking about ways that they can finally start to get out of this, but then he walked that back. They’re not going anywhere. And as I was talking with Rick Santelli the other day, I wasn’t on T.V. with him, but I had a tea and he had a cup of coffee and we were just talking about that and it’s different, unlike the U.S., when the U.S. started down the path of tapering when Bernanke stopped being afraid of his own shadow and stopped being plagued by the Taper tantrum and they actually announced how they were going to do it, it was a monthly reduction in the amount of what they were going to purchase and they were going to end it over in less than a year. They went from $85 billion to zero, where they weren’t purchasing any new stuff, in a fairly quick period, but the market new what they were going to do. The ECB is totally different. We know that they are cutting from $60 billion to 30 billion starting January 1st, but they’re not reducing it after that. So Draghi is going to be buying $30 billion instead of 60 billion, but he has already told us he is extending it out to September. So we know we are going to get $270 billion new buying with whatever else they are buying in Europe all of next year. And the Bank of Japan does have some latitude there because of the yield curve control. There is not change coming. I think Draghi has a very grave problem on his hands. You saw it today where the Italian bonds actually got hit even with whatever they are buying because now we know there is going to be an Italian election on March 4th and this is going to be a very contentious election because right now the polls have the Lega Nord and Five Star Movement leading. So this market knows there is an election coming. But more importantly for Draghi is Merkel, And Richard you and I have talked about this before the election that she is not going to be as strong – And she’s not. She is very weakened right now and the German elites, the nomenclature or the thinkers, are so afraid of a new election, but meanwhile it is 3 months’ time from the election and no new governments have been formed yet. It’s a caretaker government. And Merkel offered, because she was pressured to do so, the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany), who swore that they weren’t going to go into coalition and now they’re negotiating for coalition, but she’s phenomenally weakened. This is a very important thing for Draghi because she has been his bodyguard. Whatever he wanted to do, Merkel was willing to deflect criticism. Now that she’s in such a weakened state with the Italian elections, he’s in no position to do anymore tightening or hawkish statements. I’m looking for tomorrow to be excessively dovish.
FRA: Any updates on the gold currency cross exchange rate you’ve written about recently that gold is being restrained from positive real yields?
YRA HARRIS: Right now, the 2 year yields dropped a little bit today, so we’ve about neutral right now using the 2 year on inflation. Real yields are probably about zero, but global real yields are exceedingly negative. That’s why I said gold will perform well against all currencies because global short-term real yields are very negative. In the U.S. they are neutral, but the interesting thing is the dollar is not getting a bit. This defies most things that anybody has looked at this and traded on it and analyzed it. The United States dollar should be screaming right now based on what we saw during the Reagan years because you’re getting a fiscal stimulus package via tax reform and rising interest rates. These are two variables that are very positive for currency and yet nothing. This is really starting to get interesting and forcing me to think because something is wrong here.
FRA: And today Yellen made some statements about Bitcoin, everybody is talking about Bitcoin. She mentions it is not legal tender – Your thoughts?
YRA HARRIS: Well it’s not legal tender, but it definitely should be legal tender. We have talked about Bitcoin before and again I’m far more interested and I’m on record for over a year saying that I’m more interested in the blockchain technology and the concept of it buying Bitcoin, to my own detriment, but I’m with guys like Druckenmiller – I can only trade what I understand. I went through the dot-com bubble and I couldn’t understand them. I didn’t understand when people were talking about burn rates of money and my common response was that I’m a child of middleclass parents – We don’t burn money…You’re going to have to help me better than this. So I’m watching it and it’s intriguing. I wonder whether it’s going to affect gold. Some people think it affects gold because it moves potential gold buyers into another alternative, but as I wrote last week, hell has frozen over when I find myself in agreement with Alan Greenspan. Greenspan just didn’t understand and you cannot create value out of nothing. I know tech people tell me that it’s not nothing and that there is a process here that we can probably find in David Ricardo’s labour theory of value. You have to mine it so there is some value, but I agree with Greenspan about that where you just cannot create value out of nothing although I would’ve asked him the question…Then that would make the Swiss Franc the oldest cryptocurrency in the world because it’s so secretive, so if that’s the definition of crypto is being secretive and basically finding it under the radar. They’ve been doing this for a long time and we’ve watched them for 3 years create value out of nothing by printing Swiss Francs so I’m voting the Swiss Franc as the cryptocurrency of the year. If you actually look at the SNB stock price, it almost mirrors that of Bitcoin – It’s such a dramatic rise this year.
FRA: Do you think that a government-based digital currency or cryptocurrency, if we can call it that, will allow private-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and others to coexist?
YRA HARRIS: I really can’t answer that. Janet Yellen was very good in her answer when somebody asked her if the Feds are looking into it and she said, “Other central banks are. When we said we are looking at it, are people doing research? Yes. But we are looking at digitized money, not cryptocurrencies and there’s a big difference.” And she was very good at explaining that difference. I think that we are going to get digitized currencies…Why? Because people like Larry Summers, Kenneth Rogoff and others have wanted to get electronic money because then they would have greater control over what you and I do. So when you go to financial repression rather than us pulling our money out of the system and hoarding it, they would force us to use an electronic currency which they can control. Then they would hope they can restore velocity to the money which is why Larry Summers said to get rid of the $100 bill because it’s much harder to hoard currencies with smaller denominations because if you’re hiding them under your mattress, it doesn’t take that much money to give you sleepless nights. You can only hold so much currency in smaller denominations.
FRA: And to allow for easier implementation of negative interest rates through monetary policy.
YRA HARRIS: Yeah. Marvin Goodfriend, who has written very extensionally on negative interest rates, that’s right because that’s the whole thing. I’m going to go to negative interest rates and I’m going to force you to keep your money in the system rather than anyone with a brain says, “Negative interest rates? I’m going to pull my money out of the bank.” Because if you have negative interest rates for 10 years and we’re at -2%, I’m going to lose 20% of the value of my currency. Then people pull it out of the bank and do other things with it such as investing in gold and other things. It gets very interesting.
FRA: Exactly. And finally, I’m just wondering about your thoughts on the geopolitical scene in terms of Saudi Arabia and Russia with what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and any new developments on meetings and more discussions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
YRA HARRIS: I have looked at this for quite a while and I stated the last time around that there was major event that took place on October 4th and that’s when the Saudi King, not the crowned prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, the king himself went to Russia for the first time ever. I’m always interested in the events that are first-time-evers because there is always a reason for it. Dixon going to China was amazing event. So the king went to Russia. On those two days he was there, oil traded down to about 49 dollars and then over the next 8 weeks it went all the way up to about 60 dollars. Is this happenstance? No, I don’t think so. I think that major shifts are taking place in the world. You’re seeing it in the mid-east, and Russia is very involved with this because the Obama administration leaped them into a bigger role in Syria which has now given them the primary role. So there are all types of things that are taking place. There are shifting sands, no pun intended, and we have to pay attention.
FRA: Great insight Yra as always. How can our listeners learn more about your work?
YRA HARRIS: You can go to YraGHarris.com and Notes from Underground, which is where I blog, will pop up. They can follow me and register to receive it for the very expensive price of free. And again I don’t talk trades to people, I try to explain to you where I think the next opportunities are going to be from a trader’s perspective because I always have to wear two hats: as a trader and as an investor. And they are radically different.
FRA: Great. Thank you very much Yra for being on the program show again. Thank you.
YRA HARRIS: Well Richard, at this time we’re in I hope I was able to “shed some light”.
Transcript written by: Daniel Valentin <email@example.com>
12/02/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Charles Hugh Smith Insights On Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Charles Hugh Smith. He’s author, leading global finance blogger and America’s Philosopher. He’s the author of nine books on our economy and society including a Radically Beneficial World Automation Technology and Creating Jobs for All .. Resistance Revolution Liberation, A Model For Positive Change .. and The Nearly Free University & The Emerging Economy. His blog oftwominds.com has logged over 55 million page views in his number seven and CNBC top alternative fine sites. Welcome, Charles.
Charles Hugh Smith: Thank you, Richard. I don’t know if I can live up to that .. but I’m very excited about our topic today.
FRA: Oh yeah. You always do. Always live up. And today we’re talking about Cryptocurrencies. You’ve written a lot about that on your blog, including today as we speak with the potential Bitcoin price as you suggest going to the $17,000 level.
Charles Hugh Smith: Yeah that was my sort of back of the envelope forecast a year or so ago and last summer. You know I want to start out Richard by saying that you know there’s a lot of people have an emotional connection to this topic of Cryptocurrency. A lot of people are extremely skeptical or feel like it’s really not worth anything and certainly not worth you know $10000 per bitcoin and other people are kind of evangelistic about it and super excited about the Blockchain, you know disrupting all of the intermediaries in our financial system. And so I think what we’re going to try to do in our program is to be skeptical of the whole Cryptocurrency movement and be open to the potential benefits that it offers, but not like we’re not going to accept anything just uncritically. We’re going to look at everything .. We’re not going to put our belief structure in either camp either anti-Bitcoin or pro-Bitcoin. we’re just going to look at it as coolly and rationally and as we can and try to understand the value if there is value here.
FRA: Excellent. And you’ve provided some charts that we will make available on the website .. maybe we can begin there with the technology adoption curve.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right. And you know it’s it’s almost unbelievable when you think about it, at least it is to me. That the whole Cryptocurrency space is only eight years old. I mean that Bitcoin protocol was released in 2009 and it really didn’t do anything for quite a while, it was kind of a hobby of certain people and Bitcoin trading under a dollar for quite a while and then under $10 for quite a while and then it kind of made a splash in 2013 with the Cyprus bailin .. which was at least one of the triggers that caused Bitcoin to suddenly come out of nowhere and go to about a thousand dollars .. and then various hacks into Bitcoin exchanges caused a complete selloff that drove the price back down into the $200 you know so there was a massive sell off.
But my point is this space is developing very quickly in a lot of different directions that are hard for us amateurs to track. In other words, there’s a proliferation of Cryptocurrencies, but there’s also a lot of development going on .. And then there’s a lot of development of trying to make the transaction rate of Bitcoin faster. You know for instance Bitcoin cash raised a block size from one megabyte to eight megabytes. And this .. was supposed to add a layer on top of Bitcoin that would process transactions much faster. Well that didn’t go because it was withdrawn because of technical difficulties. But you know it’s going to be very difficult to predict where the Cryptocurrency space will be in eight more years. That’s all I’m saying is that there’s a lot of development and innovation going on. And most of it we know will fail or drop away just as the Internet itself proved. But what we’re trying to do is ascertain the core value here. So that whether there will be some winners that will need to develop as as time goes on to meet the needs of people in our financial system .. That’s basically if it meets a need it will it will survive if it doesn’t really meet it. I mean if it doesn’t really have utility then it will fade in and become a novelty.
FRA: Yeah I agree very much with those observations. I mean you have the growth of the block chain based economy that is just massive potential. And then the use of Cryptocurrencies as a payment mechanism for Blockchain based applications and services. Right now there’s about twelve hundred Cryptocurrencies in the universe. And we can see lots of mergers and acquisitions just like what happened in the Internet.com era. Many of those Cryptocurrency is either going out of existence or many of them merging, some acquiring others, so that space could then dwindle down to a very small number of you know of Cryptocurrencies.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right and one of the other charts I proposed using for our program was a chart of the Venezuelan Bolivar, the national currency of Venezuela. And of course as we all know it used to trade about 10 to 1, in terms of the Bolivar to the U.S. dollar. And now last time I checked which was a few months ago it was trading around 6000 Bolivar to the dollar on the black market. So this currency is as experienced what we call, you know you can call it hyperinflation or a tremendous loss of purchasing power. That’s just basically destroyed the wealth of everybody holding Bolivar right. And so this is what we’re all concerned about with Fiat currencies. You know currencies that are created by Central Banks or national governments and that can be created without any restraints. And so this is what I think part of what’s driving the interest in Bitcoin and the Cryptocurrencies is what other financial mechanism is available to people who are trying to preserve their capital when their own national currencies are in free-fall.
FRA: Yeah exactly. Just recently there’s been a couple of quotes. One from Mike Novogratz on Bitcoin and one from Danielle DiMartino Booth on Bitcoin. And I would just like to read you that that. Mike says “this whole revolution came out of a breakdown of trust. It came out of the ’08 financial crisis when people said we no longer trust financial institutions, we don’t trust governments and in parts of the world today still. If you’re in Venezuela, it’s really hard to trust a Central Bank or in Zimbabwe. So the de-centralized revolution was Bitcoin is really the poster child of a response to the breakdown in trust.” And Danielle DiMartino Booth who is a former Federal Reserve Adviser to the Dallas Federal Reserve President, she mentions that “Bitcoin is a reflection of panic. It’s a reflection of people trying to get into a safe place knowing the major governments of the developed world have got their printing presses running 24 by 7. It’s a reflection of anxiety and fiat currencies and the fact it’s not practical to go back to a gold standard. What scares me most about Bitcoin, if the central bankers are studying it to figure out how the blockchain works. They are going to be controlling our spending with blockchain technology that is being perfected in the Cryptocurrency universe.” Comments?
Charles Hugh Smith: Wow. Yeah I think that those two, you chose quotes very wisely because those express very widely held views that you know we’ve all seen expressed by a number of commentators and observers over the last few years, which is Cryptocurrencies are one of the few avenues that an average person might have to escape the kind of financial repression that you know that you’ve covered in so many programs. In terms of capital controls, bail-ins, expropriations, and massive devaluation of the currencies. You know all these different tricks of financial repression, the elimination of cash. And that’s one of the driving factors, but then the fear on a lot of people’s part is that the central banks and central governments are not going to just stand still. They’re either going to issue their own blockchain currency and require their citizens to use only that Cryptocurrency or that they will try to ban or outlaw the existing Cryptocurrencies as an extension of the financial repression.
FRA: And everybody these days is talking about the price of Bitcoin where is that going .. you mentioned Venezuela on that chart – If we look at the history of the price of Bitcoin .. Going up to sort of the 1000 to 2000-dollar level. A lot of that seems to have coincided with Venezuelans in Venezuela and also Chinese in China looking to get money out of their countries – you know capital outflows and then from there, it seemed to have critical mass taking off to where it is today slightly over $10000 as we speak. Comments on that.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right. Well you know before we started recording you were speaking about the costs of mining Bitcoin and as being one factor in that we could use in its evaluation. And so let’s try to contextualize the discussion about the value of Bitcoin and you know a lot of people feel it should be zero because it’s not backed by anything. And of course then proponents say well there’s nothing backing all these national currencies either, there’s nothing backing the Dollar, the Yuan, the Yen or the Euro either. Which is technically true. And so let’s move on to valuation. One factor that’s in a lot of people refer to Bitcoin in particular as having a big impact on its evaluation is, it’s a scarce entity. In other words, there’s only 21 million Bitcoins that will ever be mined. And beyond that beyond that amount then there will be a fee structure to support the blockchain right. Because currently the whole blockchain is maintained, it’s basically paid for by the issuance of the admittance of new Bitcoins. And I think you had some numbers that you found on the estimates of how much that cost in terms of electricity and computing power to mine one Bitcoin.
FRA: Yeah you know with approximately $1000 US to perhaps $1200 US to mine one bitcoin. And that represents the cost of electricity and computing resources .. It’s similar in the gold world where it costs approximately $500 to $800 per ounce to mine one ounce of gold today. So on that basis, if we look at the value of gold being thirteen hundred dollars today relative to the cost of mining .. Bitcoin could approximately be valued at something like $1500 to $2500 dollars US relative to its mining cost.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right .. And so in that analysis it’s overvalued you know by a factor of four then. Alternatively, we can say in a world where national currencies and central bank currencies are no longer trustworthy because they’ve been created in vast sums and continue to be created to the tune of like $300 billion a month or more. That may be what’s really happening is gold is lagging and this has of course been frustrating to a lot of people who feel that maybe gold should be $5000 an ounce if Bitcoin is $10000, then gold shouldn’t be $1300 it should be $5000 an ounce. And so it may be that gold is lagging and to where it should be. But you know let’s look at the utility value of some of these alternative currencies and I’m including precious metals are the historical safe haven because they have intrinsic value and in the case of silver they have utility value as well. I mean that we all know that silver is not only pretty and a nice thing to make art out of, it’s also a an industrial metal with you know that it’s widely consumed. So we understand the utility value in the store of value of precious metals and then Bitcoin is obviously it’s a different animal because it’s a digital thing and it has no physical presence and no physical utility, but it is quite handy in terms of transferring capital around the world. And I myself have used it to pay editors and translators in other countries and you know there’s no fooling around with bank fees and you don’t have to fill out any of the capital control forms required by the Federal government. And this is of course why a lot of people feel that Bitcoin you know it’s all about money laundering and drug money. But I am just a little regular person here doing my running my little business and I used it to pay other people doing you know legitimate services for me. I file my tax return you know what little gain I made on my Bitcoin transactions .. So you know I think there’s a legitimate utility to the Bitcoin and the Cryptocurrency phase in terms of regular people transacting business globally.
FRA: Yeah sort of the mobility utility factor. And as mentioned earlier that seemed to what happened to propel the price to go from $1 up to $1000-$2000 dollars per Bitcoin. Especially from Venezuelans and Chinese using it .. Now there is a development just in the last month or two that I’d like to mention. That has to do with the Internet protocol of Bitcoin. So most if not all of the Cryptocurrencies are operating over the Internet, over the IP Internet Protocol space and there are technologies coming out now that are able to detect Bitcoin transactions, Bitcoin traffic, even if the traffic is encrypted. This is quite new. As that develops, this will actually make it possible for banks to look at bringing into regulatory oversight the Cryptocurrencies, the traffic that’s coming to and from the banks .. and even governments as well for Bitcoin traffic into and out of countries. So this mobility advantage initially may not hold as much you know, given this technological development. The government of China has long been looking at this on how to do it .. this technology can be used by banks and by governments.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right. And that’s an excellent topic and observation. I wasn’t aware of this technology, but I think what it raises for me is the regulation of the Cryptocurrency space is inevitable in developed economies. You know in other words like this is a normal trend. And frankly I think it’s a good trend in the sense that if you want to legitimize a new form of money it has to be regulated to some degree so that people won’t get ripped off by fraud, like people selling Bitcoin they don’t actually own or you know this kind of thing. And I also think that you know if people are fortunate enough to make you know a million dollars trading Cryptocurrencies, then why shouldn’t they pay the same taxes somebody that was fortunate enough to make a million dollars trading stocks or bonds or future contracts. So I think the advent of regulation is a positive development. And the reason why I say that also is some countries are embracing the Cryptocurrency space and I mentioned Japan which has legalized Bitcoin I mean fully. Right. And of course this is the third largest economy in the world. And South Koreans have basically given a pass. So they’re not going to ban it which is taken as a form of approval .. the U.S. itself has deemed Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies as commodities. So in other words they are viewed as, if you’re trading Bitcoin – it’s viewed as equivalent to trading pork bellies or something. Right, it’s a commodity. So I think once a country like Japan, with a huge capital market and a vast economy now that it’s legalized the Cryptocurrencies it’s very difficult for other economies to say oh no we’re going to ban this. And I think we have to draw a distinction between common sense regulation of the Cryptocurrency space, like legalizing it and regulating it and taxing it right, as opposed to banning it. And I’m not so sure that banning it is going to work anymore. Because like I’ve explained on my blog a couple of times, if for instance the United States decided to ban Cryptocurrencies Well I could take my Bitcoin and you know my one Bitcoin or whatever and I could put it on a thumb drive or a so-called hard wallet. And then I could take it with me to Japan or I could mail it in a package with some other stuff. And then I could have an associate or friend in Japan you know upload it and deal with it in a legal country. Where they are legal in a legal setting for Cryptocurrencies and then transfer it into yen or dollars in that country where it’s legal to do so and then transfer it back to the U.S. And so you know if I can figure out a really simple workaround. Pretty much anybody can. So I think where a lot of people fear this tracking of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies and then regulating it, is a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I think it could be a positive development actually.
FRA: Yeah and it will accompany the growth in Blockchain services as the economy develops around those based services you know. The concept of an encrypted Excel spreadsheet type of ledger that Blockchain is.
Charles Hugh Smith: That’s right. And I’m glad you described it so succinctly. Because a lot of people are confused by it and that’s really what it is. It’s basically a ledger that’s public so everybody gets to see what’s been entered. And so that’s the utility value. Well you know let’s also talk about, go back to the financial repression part because one thing I’ve started to write about and other people have also started to write about is the possibility that we finally get some inflation. We all know that unofficial inflation, real world inflation, is running a lot hotter than official inflation, but so far the central banks of the world have created you know trillions upon trillions upon trillions of new currency and they’ve injected that into the financial sector. And there’s been only asset inflation. Right. In other words, stock markets have doubled and tripled. And you know bonds have risen in value and real estates gone back up to bubble levels but there hasn’t been a lot of real world inflation and certainly no wage inflation. So if we started to get inflation that’s going to create a real problem for the central banks because they won’t be able to emit in the quantities of currency they’ve been emitting because that will fuel inflation and inflation of course destroys capital, it destroys the savings, it destroys the purchasing power of wages and people actually have less money to spend, less purchasing power. You know also that’s I think another driver for the whole Cryptocurrency space is that if Cryptocurrency is perceived as something that is a store of value based on scarcity, then it becomes an attractive hedge against inflation.
FRA: Exactly that’s a good observation. So where do we go from here. Like what will happen? How do you see the Cryptocurrency space evolving? You know I guess we have private based Cryptocurrency. And then they’ll also be government based Cryptocurrency.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right. Right. And my sense is the value of of Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Dash and Bitcoin, in other words, we can call these the leading Cryptocurrencies. The value is that they’re non-state, non-central bank, non-government right. And so I don’t see a Cryptocurrency issued by the Bank of China or the Federal Reserve as having any value because the the control of how much of that Cryptocurrency is emitted, is created, is of course still in the hands of the bank and so on. I think the fear of anybody that is at all skeptical of how government and central banks work, as the central bank and say oh well there’s only going to be 21 million of these coins issued and then the next morning they say Oh well actually we’re going to issue $300 billion and then it’s $300 billion. And then that currency has no value at all. And so I think that we have to kind of specify that the value of Bitcoin is that being decentralized, you can’t change the protocol. No one person or agency can say no we’ve decided to issue $210 billion of Bitcoin. Now it doesn’t work like that. And even if somebody claimed that we’re going to do this to the Bitcoin protocol the miners and everybody, the participants in the Bitcoin ecosystem, they would have to follow along and support that. And if they didn’t support it, then that fork would die and others would just vanish. And so if I declare, hey I’m going to start a new version of Bitcoin that there’s a billion coins and nobody comes along to mind that. In other words, maintain the Blockchain, then my version just dies it goes to zero because there’s nobody to support the Blockchain. So there is a rough and ready very free market kind of democracy, if you will, and a lot of people have criticized Bitcoin because it major miners obviously have a lot more influence than people who are mining as a hobby and so on. And so there are blocks of self-interested people who can dominate these Cryptocurrencies. And that’s a danger for sure. But it’s a lot different than having nine people meet in a room and decide to add a zero to the money. Yeah. And so I think that government and central bank versions of Cryptocurrency are going to go nowhere because they’re not again for the elements you described earlier in the program. There’s really no reason to trust them.
FRA: I mean they may be mandated by governments to use just like you know currencies today of the countries of the world. But I guess with the coexistence with private based Cryptocurrencies, the ones that make sense will be ones that are you know operating within the financial system. Even if they’re outside of the banking system, if you will, but still within the financial system. And the ones that are based on sound money, so that they have limited numbers that they can be printed or perhaps they’re based on a commodity like gold.
Charles Hugh Smith: Right. Right. And I think that you raise an excellent point that what people are seeking is sound money and sound money that has utility. In other words, it’s not just a store of value, but it’s a means of exchange and so there’s certainly a role for the precious metals. And that’s why a lot of people are saying if you’re going to go in terms of recommending a hedge that you should have both precious metals and some Cryptocurrency, you know exposure, even if it’s you know one percent or something. But I think you know I would say we’re sort of an equivalent of the Internet or the the world wide web around 1995. You know so we have it back when the first browser emerges. Right. And Mozilla and all that and all the assumptions that we would have drawn that have all turned out differently. Right now there is like Yahoo was the first for the most asked and and and then Yahoo faded and lost all of its advantages. And so we you know to say where will Bitcoin be in eight years. Gosh I would hate to even say. I mean it could it could be surpassed by a new Cryptocurrency or an entirely new Cryptocurrency protocol and then it becomes a legacy system. That’s definitely a possibility right. Something comes in that’s faster better cheaper and it’s going to it’s going to take all the market space away from the existing Cryptocurrencies you know. And that’s what we want. We want innovation, we want faster better cheaper. And that’s part of what we like about the Cryptocurrency space is it’s still open to that kind of thing compared to so much of the developed economies are controlled by monopolies, cartels, central banks, governments, which are only self-serving. You know they only choose policies and enforce policies that protect the few at the expense of the many. On the other hand Bitcoin could transition into being something that’s slow and secure. It’s never going to work in terms of buying a coffee at Starbucks with Bitcoin and that’s just a dead duck. It’s a transaction rate it’s just too small, but it might be useful in interbank transfers or large financial transfers. Maybe Bitcoin will find a home in that space. While other Cryptocurrencies will arise to take care of the the transactions on the level of consumer goods. You know we don’t know.
FRA: You had a chart that shows if Bitcoin replaces or becomes part of reserve currency. We could see prices in the $500000-dollar range:
Charles Hugh Smith: I know and it’s so funny because you know I’ve been following Bitcoin, but I never bought any and I was just kind of an interested observer until I needed it. As for its utility value, in other words, I needed to get some to buy some Bitcoin in order to pay the translators I had in Venezuela because that was the only form of currency that they could they could access right. That made sense. And if you think that the world economy is going to enter a time of instability where a lot of things start falling apart then of course we can say that Bitcoin or other Cryptocurrencies will well maintain their utility value for that reason. In other words, if people can access it and and pay their debts and buy stuff with it or buy other currencies with it, then its going to have utility value.
Charles Hugh Smith: I have another chart here the logarithmic progression of Bitcoin and its obviously kind of a rough guess, but this chart suggests that there is a logarithmic function to the number of days that it takes for Bitcoin to advance tenfold. In other words to go up by ten times and so it was kind of like how long did it take to go from a dollar to 100 an hour to a $10 then to $100 in $2000 and then to ten thousand. And so of course we can play these kind of games and you know those of us who like charts you know we love like tracking charts and projections and stuff, but it certainly we don’t know.
FRABut actually your logarithmic regression chart does seem to be fairly accurate. The November 22 date for $10000 is pretty much on track.
Charles Hugh Smith: Yeah it is. And this was I think the projection was made in late 2014. So by this chart, if we follow if that regression kind of goes continues as charted, then we would be at $100000 Bitcoin in 2021. So while we have to wait a whole four years. Yeah and of course I’m laughing because this is all speculation right, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen and what I like to say is this is the way markets should operate. They shouldn’t be manipulated by central authorities. So they always go higher and there’s never any retrace, there’s no volatility. You know volatility has been destroyed in a stock market, it’s been erased. And so there’s no real price discovery because there’s no volatility, there’s no price discovery. So Bitcoin is extremely volatile and to me, part of that is number one it has a very low float you know that of the 70 million Bitcoin. Several million, at least several million, are estimated to have been lost and in hard drive crashes and things like that. So the founders have about a million Bitcoin that they’ve never touched and never moved. For whatever reason and a lot of people are pursuing the idea of hold on for dear life, otherwise known as HDOL. And so the actual tradable float of Bitcoin is probably a relatively small percentage of that 17 million or 18 billion Bitcoin that are out there. So you got a very small float and like a small float in stocks, you get big volatility when there’s a small float and then if the more open the market is the more volatility you have. Right because you’re exposed to human emotions and there’s more surges of euphoria and panic and all the things that drive volatility, so I don’t see volatility going away.
FRA: Well that’s excellent insight for a balanced view. How can our listeners learn more about your work?
Charles Hugh Smith: Please visit me at oftwominds.com.
FRA: Great thank you very much Charles for being on the show. We’ll do it again.
Charles Hugh Smith: Yeah. Thank you so much Richard. My pleasure. Great topic.
Submitted by Boheira Manochehrzadeh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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 <email@example.com>
11/11/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Yra Harris And Peter Boockvar On The Trends In The Financial Markets And Monetary Policy
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight. This is Richard .. Today we have Yra Harris and Peter Boockvar. Yra is an independent trader, a successful hedge fund manager; global macro consultant trading foreign currencies, bonds commodities in equities for over 40 years. He was also CME director from 1997 to 2003. And Peter is the Chief Market Analyst with The Lindsey Group and the co-chief Investment Officer with Bookmark Advisors. Peter has a newsletter product called The Boock Report. Spell book B-O-O-C-K-REPORT.COM. It offers great macroeconomic insight and perspective with lots of updates on economic indicators. Welcome gentlemen.
Peter Boockvar: Thanks Rich.
Yra Harris: Thanks. Rich.
FRA: It’s great today to start off with a quote that you had in your recent writings, Yra, on flattening yield curve. “It’s the ECB and Bank of Japan policy that is flattening global yield curves as investors search for extra yields” and you made the analogy to something similar which may be happening to the 1994 Orange County bond disaster. Just wondering if you can elaborate on your thoughts.
Yra Harris: OK. So when we look at this you know we were comparing it to Orange County. I do because that was a classic case .. it was actually a meltdown as the Fed started to raise rates and everybody was crowded into a bond trades. We saw first of all the yield curve seeping out dramatically even though it was a shortened because so many people crowded into that trade. But what you really found out what Orange County exposed is that Robert Citron, who was the Treasurer for the Orange County at the time, was busy chasing a little bit extra yield 25-30 basis points and there are many sell side firms who came to him and they were offering him these products and they were exotic products, very exotic at the time. And so in order to please his bosses he chased extra yield, very little. So at 25, 30, 35 basis points and I know this from Sheila Bair’s committee, which I sat on in Washington, in which we analyzed what went wrong there. So I had a pretty good behind the scenes look at it and it reflected in that. So when I look at the world today and I know Peter’s written to me this is a real problem in that people are taking on so much risk in an effort to chase so little return when you’re in a world where Italian bonds are yielding 1.75. You take on all kinds of risk as you search for an extra 30, 35 basis points because 35 basis points in today’s world is a lot. And for those who are trying to outperform the market and these are people who manage institutional money and big pension funds and insurance companies. They are taking on a lot of risk and that’s what keeps me up at night. And I think we’re getting close to crunch time in which some of these trades you know as Warren Buffet would say you know when the tide goes you can find swimmers naked. Well I don’t think there’s many babies who have been sold at all so I think we’re probably more what is it called the hedonism. I’m too old to know and to partake in that. But I think we’ll find out that there’s a lot of nudity in the waters of central bank liquidity.
FRA: Peter do you see a similar 1994 Orange County environment.
Peter Boockvar: I like that analogy. That was great. Yeah I do. It’s good to follow the money. OK so next year even in January when the ECB cuts their QE in half and the Fed goes from draining 10 billion a month to 20 billion a month. Liquidity is going to go to almost zero. Between those two central banks. So that’s a major change. I mean this year on a run rate the ECB was buying net of 700 billion euros of securities and you cut that in half next year and then you subtract what the Fed is taking out and that is almost going to nothing. And that is a really big deal. At the same time the Fed is raising interest rates and the BOJ is buying less ETFs and they’re buying less JGBs. That liquidity flow is going to turn into a drip next year and leaves no room for error anywhere else.
FRA: What about if we look at the U.S. Yra you asked how does the Fed deal with a flattening yield curve in your most recent writing. Noting it’s gone lower than 73 basis points. Any thoughts on that? I mean you did suggest something on the cutting the short term rates on that to make it similar steepened like the German 2/10s.
Yra Harris: Yeah because I compared, Peter and I actually went back and forth of this yesterday on this because I showed them that German 2/10 versus U.S. And if you were a wagering person you say well the ECB is doing all this buying. The Fed is as Peter says has stopped. And in fact is now in contraction. You say well the curve should actually be steepening in the U.S. based on those mechanics. And we should be flattening in Germany, but it’s absolutely the opposite. German curve is out to three year highs and 110 basis points while the U.S. curves was at 70 basis points and flattening. So when you look at this it was a word you used yesterday. You’re absolutely right. They said this is like wild. I said yeah that’s exactly what it is. It makes very little sense and makes in fact no logical sense whatsoever and I don’t know how the Fed, Ron Paul going to have to face this because the Fed has already told us they don’t understand that their models have been wrong and they really don’t understand what’s going on in the inflation world. They don’t understand it. So now they are going to tell us that they don’t understand why the curves are flattening. Because when you look at it and you throw in this tax plan is not tax reform it’s a tax cutting and it’s stimulative by everything that I hold dear to me. This curve should be seeping dramatically. Bond should be getting terrified of what they’re facing. And as Peter says you know next year they’re going to be shrinking. This curve should be steepening and yet it’s not. So if they do and then they’re going to tell us they don’t understand what’s going on with the curve and I know that the curve is one of the big indicators. So if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand inflation. You’ve made a four and a half trillion-dollar wager on the effectiveness of the QE programs. That doesn’t go well with me. So I think that’s what it was. So you can either cut rates which would throw the markets in absolute turmoil. That’s just the way it is there’s nothing else they can do or they can as I say they could increase the amount that you know .. I say if next January if the ECB was cutting to 30 billion or maybe the Fed should be always be selling more than the ECB is buying and you get the curve to steepen and I guarantee that.
FRA: Peter your thoughts?.
Peter Boockvar: Yeah I agree. You know just to quantify the dramatic effect that the ECB had on the entire yield curve in Europe relative to the U.S. and the Fed is that the Fed when they were doing QE infinity, they never bought more than the net issuance of debt that the U.S. government was issuing. In Europe the ECB was buying 7 times the net issuance. It was just so dramatic it was literally the elephant that was stomping everything in its sight. And granted having negative interest rates continuing into 2019 will certainly keep a big anchor on the short end. But because of the dramatic extent that the ECB was buying bonds I have to believe that there is going to be some response when they stop buying bonds. Now again the negative interest rates in the short end will be an anchor. But you know imagine even when that ends. I mean one thing that that we have to take notice, Draghi is now becoming more defensive about negative interest rate. He’s now having to explain himself. Here we are this is three and a half years after he initiated negative interest rates and he is still defending negative interest rates. You have the European Bank Stock Index that is still below where it was three and a half years ago. So I think that the politics around negative interest rates will get more and more difficult as bank profitability continues to be under pressure. And you know that there’s no question that accidents are going to occur here. I just know none of us are smart enough to know how it exactly plays out. But come January when things are shifting in a more dramatic fashion, I think everyone has to be really really careful.
FRA: And so what will happen, your thoughts on the new Federal Reserve chairman nominee Jeremy Powell. How do you see his policies and what will his monetary policies be like in the coming years? Yra you want to start?
Yra Harris: You know I’m not sure .. when I had the opportunity last year to directly ask a question, you know about who guarantees the ECB. It was a two-part question that I asked was who guarantees the ECB and do you think that all sovereigns should be carrying zero weight. Because I know what his expertise, his strength is within the Fed and he was subdued. I was wild about the answer so I would have given him some crap, but I do think that he’s a good choice because he’s very pragmatic and I think he’ll know how to adjust or hopefully. So his response to me on the ECB was they have a printing press, which he didn’t even have to think about that and that came right to him. And the fact that there’s zero weighted. That’s all we have to care about. They are zero weighted and I was never comfortable with those answers, but I think he brings more to the table. I think he is unlike some of the people who do sit in that room with their high level math and Ph.D.’s are too arrogant for the job ..
FRA: And Peter?
Peter Boockvar: Yeah I mean I think while he is very similar to Yellen in that he voted for every QE, he voted for keeping interest rates at zero for as long as they did. So he voted for the committee every single time. There is talk that he was not a big fan of QE. So that’s a positive for the sake of manipulating markets. It won’t necessarily be a positive for markets when we get the next 10 to 20 percent decline and everyone’s screaming oh the Fed save us, the Fed save us. I think he’d be less inclined to be the markets sugar-daddy, which I think is a good thing, but maybe it’s not what the market necessarily wants to hear. Now he’s not going to obviously be as potentially hawkish as Taylor or Warsh would have been. But I think if the market thinks he’s a Yellen look like I think they may be a bit disappointed that he’s going to be thinking more outside the box and he’s not going to believe in John Maynard Keynes to the same extent that Yellen has.
FRA: Just going along the discussion from Europe. Peter you’ve written recently on how higher inflation in the Eurozone is a very under-appreciated risk. Can you elaborate?
Peter Boockvar: Yeah. I follow the market monthly numbers and I like to read their commentary now it’s very anecdotal. So we have to separate the anecdotal commentary from business surveys that they do from the actual consumer price index that the Eurozone comes out with. But on Monday we had the Eurozone services and manufacturing composite index come out and I’ll just read to you what the inflation commentary was. Inflationary pressures have meanwhile lifted higher with price charges for goods and services rising at a rate not seen for over six years. Some price rises merely reflect the pressures of higher cost, but companies are also reporting stronger pricing power as demand conditions continue to improve. Which suggests underlying inflationary pressures are becoming more ingrained than yesterday. Market came out an index on German construction and they talked about intense supply chain constraints contribute to a sharp rise in input costs. The incidence of delivery delays is one of the greatest seen for over a decade while purchase price inflation was pushed to a six and a half year high. And they also reported a retail Purchasing Managers Index for the region and they talked about gross margins facing Eurozone retailers continue to be squeezed. Contributing to this was another rise in average input prices. Moreover, the rate of inflation quickened to a fifty seven month high and remained substantially greater than the long run average. So how that translates into actual inflation. I don’t know what PPI will eventually look, like what CPI will eventually look like I don’t know. But to me when I read that tells you that there’s price pressures that are .. any potential surprise on the inflation numbers in Europe I think will be to the upside using this as as potential evidence. And even with cutting QE by 50 percent there’s still going to be buying 30 billion a month and they still have interest rates deeply negative. So they’re wholly unprepared for a multi-month march to lets just say 2 percent CPI. And I think that that is a major risk for the European bond market. And to me the European bond market is the epicenter of of of the global credit bubble.
FRA: Do you see similar conditions Yra as the biggest bubble being the European bond market?
Yra Harris: Well yeah Peter’s been on the strength of growth and on Europe as he says you know he’s been very bullish in European equity markets, but he’s a more than a little concerned as he’s just talked about about what the banks have done because the interest rate policy is of course the ECB. But you know the issue where we may differ is do I think that Draghi cares about what inflation is? I don’t think so because you know as I’ve talked to Peter and I have discussed I think I’m with you Richard that he has a bigger thing going here and that he’s trying to load that ECB up with as much debt as possible because it’s the only outcome can be of course would be the creation of a Eurozone bond .. The European Commission has not been able to move it forward and you know the talks that came from the Crown was to push it farther and faster. And you know there is of course Germany is more than reticent because they know what’s going to be settled here. So he keeps going and going and going. I agree with Peter once we get over 2 percent inflation. I know what the response is going to be because that’s what you know. They basically use the same kind of dynamic stochastic models that the Fed does and others well you know they’ll call transitory they’ll call this so if it’s the same .. Then if it’s the same for three or four months they’ll have a serious problem and you could see that there is pushback. You know he didn’t talk about it at meetings but there were five dissenting votes to even the cut of 30 of 30 billion, only big movie from 60 to 30 billion and leaving the negative interest rates. And with all that forward guidance so there was pushback and the pushback is coming from just where were the sources from the Dutch the Austrians and now we’ll see even more from Austria because of their political situation. But Merkel’s in severe trouble .. Germany may have to go to a new election because they cannot put together a coalition here because the Free Democrats, they want the Ministry of Finance which, Schäuble used to run and he was fairly hawkish. But they want more. And their issue is you know of course you know with the ECB and their overall policy and that’s the effect on German savers. So this is very very dangerous. In fact, one of Merkel’s ministers, one of her close people came out .. They’re trying to load back the Social Democrats. I don’t think that’s possible. So because the Social Democrats would have to eat such a phenomenal crow it would be it would be the end of them. They could be in this coalition. Well they’ll continue to lose power, but if Germany winds up going into a new election, Merkel is going to get trounced because there’s no way .. So there’s a lot of things yet to play out in Europe again and this is more laid out as Peter and I started the discussion offers her new letters. There were of course was that there’s so much complacency in the world and yet these things are on the boil and I know we haven’t even gotten to the next topic you’re going to go to which puts it more, but Germany is still an unknown yet. And it’s the unknown not because of anything really positive for Europe. It’s a negative for Europe. So she’s got to figure out just what’s going to go on here and who’s going to get one. And she’s trying so hard not to give the free Democrats win there the Ministry of Finance because then he’ll really have a voice. And it’s not going to be a pro-European voice. So a lot of things to be played out here. And as Peter has talked about, where are the banks .. who have really so badly underperformed with this .. the banks are way under-performer as they are in Japan. I mean I’ve been owning Japanese stocks for longer than I care to admit but at least I’ve had some dividends in earnings and they haven’t done anything. But if things are so good why aren’t the banks rising. We’ve seen fairly significant rallies this year in the U.S. Banks and that’s you know even with a quote unquote flattening yield curve. So there are so many uncertainties.
Peter Boockvar: I mean just just to quantify the Japanese TOPIX Bank Index is still 20 percent below its 2015 high. I mean I think the reaction of banks has basically repudiated negative interest rates and central bankers desire to basically destroy their yield curves. And if banks are the transmission mechanism of this sort of policy you wonder how central bankers can contain the circle of damage and profitability of the banks, but continuing on the same path of monetary easing.
FRA: What about now the effect of Saudi Arabia. We’re seeing some incredible events happen over the last week. And you know given all the complacency well how could Saudi Arabia, what’s evolving there affect the financial markets and the global economy. Yra do you want to start.
Yra Harris: Well I believe that you know and I’ve blogged about this the other day too. And this is truly one of my areas is the great strength is the geopolitical events are taking place. And usually it’s for the North Korea statements or nurse those are one off things and I always caution people you know what those moves you can trade them, but don’t look at them as anything longer than a one-day trade or two-day trade because wars don’t push gold higher; wars you know or let’s say some type of conflict. Those are quick one off moves, but what’s going on and I go back to October 5th when we had a seminal event in international relations which is that the King, not the crown prince, but the King of Saudi Arabia went to Russia to meet with Putin for the first time. And as I tongue in cheek say it’s like Nixon going to China. Very unexpected. And ever since that day you can plot a chart take a look at it. Oil prices have risen eight dollars in a steady upward beat and then you had what came out this weekend. But it’s been a steady thing the oil keeps rallying. It’s not a headline grabber. But there are movements of foot here and the Saudis are very concerned about the Shiite influence throughout the Middle East. The role in Syria, the role in Iraq, the role in Lebanon. And then you get of course you know Hariri, who is the Lebanese prime minister, who was in Saudi Arabia and resigned on Saturday night. Now really is interesting because Hezbollah actually assassinated his father. And Hezbollah is a Shiite militia and you know somewhat of a governing group that the Saudis are very worried about as are others in the region. And that has now shown to be even more and then of course you have the downing of a helicopter. So on the Yemen-Saudi Arabian border with some high level Saudi officials supposedly .. You know as I say it’s like the Gulf of Tonkin. We don’t know certain things, but there are movements afoot here and that is you know the Middle East is still a very significant area. It’s significant for China not as much of the United States is used because we don’t get as much oil there. But this is a very dangerous time. And again the equity markets don’t price any of this risk in. It’s like you know I watched Sunday night with what went on and I was amazed that the market was short gold. And I said I’m getting I figured I was going to lose 10 or 20 dollars. It opened basically unchanged and lower. I got this a reprieve I actually turned around and went long. So you know but the market none of this is like if it doesn’t occur on Twitter nobody cares. These are the type of systemic events that take place underneath the radar screens that will when they start to be exposed.
FRA: Peter do you see similar impact from Saudi Arabia and what will be the effect on oil prices?
Peter Boockvar: Well I agree. I think Yra said everything there was to say. I just want to add on that what’s going on with the oil is you know we’ve also had multiple years of a big reduction in the rate of them investment in oil production particularly offshore. You’ve had trillions of dollars of projects get canceled. Yes. And we’ve seen that also in the mining space in the industrial metal space. You know that’s what their markets do and that’s when companies start to focus on returns on capital and cash flow. They spend less on drilling and mining and I think it’s really been the supply side that’s been under more discipline that has created a lift in oil and industrial metals and this rising commodity prices. So I think that’s something to pay attention to that. Yeah this is partly geopolitical, but I think there has been a concerted effort in trying to control at least the supply side and even in yet in the U.S. I think people are waking up to the economics of shale and that markets aren’t necessarily going to be so friendly to continue to finance all the shale drilling where a lot of these companies aren’t generating any cash flows. So while U.S. production will grow over time I think a lot of it’s going to be cash flow driven and less of that just the reckless spending just to drill a hole and create more barrels ..
Yra Harris: And you know what Peter brings up a very good point. For another reason but with the rise in oil prices has pushed the high yield debt of energy companies to the highest levels not yields levels but price levels. And yet when I look I’m looking at JNK the high yield ETF HYG and JNK and those are both have moved underneath the 200 day moving averages which is another warning. There are signs that are developing because what would drag them down, you know last year we did or what sent high yields of course when the energy bonds and all the structured notes that they did were under trouble. Now they rise in the value and yet the high yield indexes, the yields are rising .. So that’s another one of these divergences that really is flashing for me.
Peter Boockvar: Yes, I agree. I think this rise in the cost of capital and expansion .. But you have to remember that the rise in short term interest rates is a really big deal because there’s hundreds of billions of dollars that are seeing a rise in their cost of capital every single day. With this rise in short term interest rates I mean the one-year T-bill is yielding 152 today, the S&P 500 dividend yield is 1.9 percent. These are still obviously very low numbers, but in a world of many years of zero interest rates ..
Yra Harris: In what Peter said that’s such a great point. You know that I’m celebrating 152. I mean world where you know I’m dancing and I’m doing this just because you know.
Peter Boockvar: It’s like shocking to say.
Yra Harris: It’s shocking.
FRA: And maybe we can end with your thoughts on New York Federal Reserve president William Dudley stated “we had a woefully inadequate regulatory regime, it as much better now in place, there is still more work to do” .. In reference to the financial crisis and what’s happened since. Yra you mentioned that was pure rubbish.
Yra Harris: I mean really it’s pure rubbish because the Fed had all the macro prudential tools that they needed, if they wanted to put a halt ..
Peter Boockvar: Yeah and I think Dudley’s comments reflect just an extreme level of delusion that Bernanke had as well. And that for them to, with a straight face, saying that it was regulation that was not in place. That was the cause of the crisis, I’m trying to think the right word, but it’s actually dangerous because they’re deflecting any self blame on monetary policy. I mean monetary policy is the liquor that feed the drunks and where for Dudley and Bernanke before to say well it was the lack of regulation that was the cause. It’s actually scary to hear because it tells you that they don’t understand. They don’t understand and they don’t want to admit the unintended consequences of price fixing the cost of money and that typically goes awry and it has in the past and it is now and it will again. And to think that it’s a regulatory structure in place and that a bunch of bureaucrats are going to somehow manage the economy from that perspective and and create these buffers around economic cycles is just I don’t know if it’s hubris or just complete delusion.
Yra Harris: Really That’s like sums it up and it was a when somebody responded in a blog and I wrote look at Greenspan not only did he not try to curb it he encouraged it. He said use your house as a piggy bank .. refinance it and create demand by spending the money that you can extract from this taking out of course more debt at the same time .. And number two Bernanke he didn’t, as Peter rightly said, they fueled this; this is contained which is no worry here .. They did nothing. I mean at first blush they could have raised reserve requirements to start squeezing the leverage that the banks were employing … Well how do you know it’s a bubble and what if we’re wrong. Because monetary is a blunt instrument you know squeezes the entire economy. Well you know what. Don’t tell me that you didn’t have the tools and you had the tools.
FRA: Exactly agree very much on those thoughts. And that’s great insight. Gentlemen how can our listeners learn more about your work Yra.
Yra Harris: Send money. No Bitcoin .. J just kidding .. I post blogs and Notes From Underground. If you can find register to look up to you but that is a little humor.
Peter Boockvar: You can go to boockreport.com – you can see my daily writings and also you can go to bookmarkadvisors.com.
FRA: Great. Thank you very much gentlemen.
Submitted by Boheira Manochehrzadeh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
11/03/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Daniel Lacalle On How Central Banks Are Nationalizing The Economy
FRA: Hi welcome to as far as The Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Daniel Lacalle. He’s a Spanish economist. He’s the chief economist at Tressel’s and the author of several books including “Escape from the Central Bank Trap” and he’s also done work and in energy and finance sectors more than 24 years’ experience in those sectors in North Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. And he’s also the president of Mrs Institute in Spain. Welcome Daniel.
Daniel Lacalle: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
FRA: Great. With that today we’ll talk about an interesting article that you wrote recently and that is on the nationalization by central banks of the economy. So this sort of applies in general a lot of of central banks appear to be doing this sort of pie’s the different economies. First your general thoughts.
Daniel Lacalle: Well the first is is we’re living in probably one of the most incredible moments in history in terms of monetary policy. We have seen all sorts of monetary policy globally, but I think this is the first time ever in which central banks are issuing so much credit by print what we call printing money, increasing money supply. We’re talking about more than two hundred billion a month globally. And there’s no recession, there’s no crisis, it’s not because there is a big turmoil in financial markets. So you know one of the one of the risks that we’re seeing is that the entire economy is so dependent on central banks lowering rates and increasing money supply that is close to what I mentioned in that article which is the risk of nationalization from central banks. Think about Japan. The Japanese Central Bank currently owns about 60 percent of the ETF of the country, their equity traded funds. So you know that is one of the reasons why I wrote that article.
FRA: And also Bank of Japan is a top 10 shareholder, 90 percent of the Nikkei I think of you mentioned. So that’s that’s just fascinating. You list a number of fascinating facts as well in terms of like the ECB and the Bank of Japan balance sheets exceed 35 percent and 70 percent of their GDP. The Federal Reserve owns more than 14 percent of the U.S. total public debt. The ECB owns 9.2 percent of the European corporate bond market and more than 10 percent of the main European countries total sovereign debt. So these are some fascinating facts, so what is the driving force of this is it. Is it the need by central banks to implement their monetary policies? And then what’s driving that.
Daniel Lacalle: Well I think that at the forefront of all of this is the endless quest from central banks to create inflation by decree. So they they are trying at any at any cost to make savers to make investors take more risk and to sort of put more money into into the real economy. So if you as a central bank push bond yields to historical lows, the expected outcome is that investors will decide not to be invested in such highly liquid assets and move into a sort of long term real economy type of type of investments. However obviously that doesn’t happen now. It creates a perverse incentive. So basically the lower bond yields are higher that valuations of the stock market become what you see is that investors go where the money is created. So central banks are basically in a sort of catch 22 situation by which they try to push investors and savers to take more risk and to and to drive the economy. Strength to a stronger level by investing in the real economy, but what investors do obviously is to increase their exposure to short term liquid financial assets at the forefront of it all is a magical idea that by increasing money supply, the transmission mechanism of monetary policy will end up reaching the real economy in some form and and driving growth higher employment higher and obviously with that inflation.
FRA: And also the Swiss National Bank has a sort of program to buy equities as well right. Can you can you speak to that in terms of why they’re doing that.
Daniel Lacalle: Well you see one of the one of the problems that central banks face is that when they start these programs read repurchase programs is that there is a point at which they run out of things to buy. But at the same time there is a point in which their position is very dangerous because if they run out of things to buy and obviously if you run out of things to buy you basically just stop buying. But if you stop buying you can create a financial crisis because valuations have gone through the roof and therefore you know they become what I call in my book an escape from the Central Bank trap the pyromaniacs firefighter is that they basically have to they have to do more to prevent a crisis happening because of that policy. And therefore that’s why they buy equities or why they buy corporate bonds of companies that have never had problems and financing themselves is because they need to continue to push valuations higher.
FRA: And what about the ECB. Do you see the potential for that central bank in buying for example German equities because maybe running out of bonds or you know sort of certain types of assets in their Asset Purchase program? Do you see the possibility?
Daniel Lacalle: I mean the possibility is obviously there. I think that it’s a long way ahead because extremely loose monetary policy is relatively new in the European Union. However, it is extremely likely. Why? Because the European Union and the European Central Bank itself are actually moving in the same direction as Japan did in the in the late 90s. So one of the reasons why I believe that there is a strong possibility that the European Central Bank will move to, at some point, buy equities is that the same way that it moved from buying you know toxic or high risk sovereign bombs. It is now in a situation in which it needs to buy high quality corporate bonds. So the problem for the European Central Bank is exactly what I was mentioning, is that they are unable to get into a situation in which they they create that level of inflation that they’re looking for. And at the same time they run out of options. So the possibility of buying equities is not small. It is actually quite relevant because if you think about what happened in Japan it is pretty much the same. It started buying the Central Bank of Japan started buying exclusively sovereign bonds. Then it moved to corporate bonds and then as it is doing now it is buying Japanese equities. So if the European Central Bank, as I believe finds itself trapped in a similar situation to which the Japanese Central Bank found itself it will probably also move forward with with purchases of equities.
FRA: So how long do you think these trends will last for like. What is the end game on you know will there be continued buying of corporate bonds in equities by central banks?
Daniel Lacalle: What is the end game? Unfortunately, as it has always been it is no coincidence. It will be a financial crisis. It will be a financial crisis because the excess risk taken will end up you know generating turmoil in financial markets and central banks are never, have never ever been able to predict a crisis let alone see a bubble. So they simply go on and then just because there is no relevant increase in inflation they continue to go on. And then when it bursts then they do it again which is what we have seen over and over again. If you think about the past crisis it is always the same pattern. First central banks try to devalue the currency like there’s no tomorrow by issuing as much pay cuts or by increasing money supply as much as they can. Second they lower rates immensely. That leads investors to take extraordinary levels of risk in financial markets and when valuations are simply you know unjustifiable when those bubbles burst then central banks lower interest rates again and they increase money supply yet again. That was you know those were the origins of the tech bubble, housing bubble, etc. Now the problem next time is that in the past the past crisis that we have analyzed in escape from the central trap when there were a number of tools that central banks can actually use because you can actually lower interest rates from say 65 percent or from 5 to 4, etc. The problem is that right now we’ll live in a world of zero interest rates and in which the balance sheet of central banks is not small is actually very elevated, hence the risk of a much more abrupt crisis in the future because they will run out of options or tools to manage the situation in the way in which they they’ve them the past.
FRA: And do you have any idea of the timeframe for the next financial crisis.
Daniel Lacalle: Yeah that is the problem, that there is always a problem. Financial Crisis always happen in assets and in where the general consensus is that there is no risk. The bubble happened because everybody believed that we were living in a new paradigm and that technology could not be used as stocks or as companies the same way that we used to value traditional companies. The housing bubble happened because in the past the vast majority of population thought that house prices could never go down and therefore you know you could leverage your home or your real estate asset as much as you wanted, etc. But like those bubbles in the past they test even the most astute investor and the best analyst because that’s why their bubbles is that they take longer to create than what many expect and when they burst they burst abruptly. If you think about I don’t know if you’ve been able to read the book or watch The Big Short Movie. If you think about it the guys that predicted the housing bubble from the moment that they saw the immense bubble that had been created until it actually burst. Yeah it was it was a good three and a half or four years. So predicting the timeframe is very challenging particularly when unlike in those previous financial crisis in this one. On top of it you have a number of central banks that are working in a in a sort of coordinated way. So when when the Federal Reserve starts to normalize a little bit its financial policy Japan you know does it a little bit more aggressively then when the European Central Bank goes further than the others reduce a little bit. So there is a lot of manipulation coming from the central planners. But the end game is always the same is it has always been the same. And it will not be different this time.
FRA: Interesting. And so in terms of the nationalization process what are the negatives of this two economy I guess you can consider. Central banks picking picking winners versus not not allowing new entrants into the market like smaller companies perhaps like with like. Is there sort of a hazard of that to the economy. Moral hazard What are your thoughts?
Daniel Lacalle: Yeah it is that is a good point that at the end of the day it generates the same negatives as any level of central planning the economy gets. It’s a decision by a group, by a small group of people of who and how the winners will be created within the economy now. And but more importantly I think that the biggest risk is that it does three things. The first thing is that if you’re a very leveraged very you know a dinosaur type obsolete company it basically perpetuates obsolescence. It also perpetuates overcapacity and it gives the impression that there is no risk in areas where there is a lot of risk. So the biggest risk for the economy is that, as we are seeing way is that despite all this activity on the average citizen you know the middle class, etc. fail to see any improvement in their lives while at the same time in their disposable income, in the kids in their wealth, which is mostly deposits. When they stop they suffer. So the biggest problem is that you’re gradually eroding the middle class which is the most important part of the economy in order to perpetuate sectors that have access to too much debt and that invest in overcapacity.
FRA: Yes. And as you mentioned the private sector suffers the crowding out effect in crisis times and the taxation of wealth confiscation effect and expansion times.
Daniel Lacalle: Exactly. Exactly. When when you see it and we know in America right now, we have seen it in the in particular in the past eight years. The largest transfer of wealth from savers to government in history 1.5 trillion of new taxes with an added 10 trillion of new debt and 4.7 trillion of our money supply increased. So the average citizen basically is in. Throughout the crisis it doesn’t benefit. And an expansion times it gets taxed away from the ability to climb the ladder. So the everything that we’re striving to achieve from the perspective of a family from the perspective of a normal economy. Where you know what you’re basically trying to save a little bit for the future so that your children are able to achieve a better standard and then with that get to a better position in the future. All of those things that get created the developed economies are basically subverted. And what the governments and central banks are doing is literally taking from the pocket of the middle class and giving it to the sectors that are close to government and the sectors that are close to them.
FRA: And as you mentioned also the public sector comes out from these crises more powerful and more indebted.
Daniel Lacalle: Exactly. So from every crisis the mainstream economists will tell you that it is the public sector that has to spend; the public sector that has to borrow. Obviously the private the public sector has an incentive to spend in a manner that is completely different from the private sector; is not looking at profits, is looking at maximizing budgets. Then what happens is that obviously the level of growth, the level of jobs, and the level of salaries that were expected are not created. But the bill of the mistakes of that investment or that spending are passed to the middle class. So if you start doing that in the 50s, you basically achieved some level of, I would say, a cushion in disposable income from families. What you see right now is actually the opposite, is that the ability of families to improve after a crisis is really really limited.
FRA: Well that’s fascinating insight to help our understanding of the macro. Daniel how can our listeners learn more about your work?
Daniel Lacalle: Well I think that the best way obviously is they can follow me on Twitter. I have an international account. And just when all the news and my opinions about what’s going on obviously my books “Escape from the Central Bank Trap”, “The Energy World is Flat” and “Life in the Financial Markets”, which I mentioned all these things about what’s happening in the financial markets and in my website, which is delacounty.com, that is a-d-l-a-a-L-L-e-dot-com.
FRA: Thank you very much Daniel for being on the program show.
Daniel Lacalle: It’s an absolute pleasure Richard. Thank you so much for having me.
Summary written by Boheira Manochehrzadeh
11/01/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Alasdair Macleod And Bosko Kacarevic On Why Physical Gold Makes Sense
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight. This is Richard .. Today we have Alasdair MacLeod and Bosko Kacarevic. Alasdair is the head of research for GoldMoney and an Austrian economist. He has a background as a stockbroker, banker, and fund manager. Basko is the president and CEO of Kindigo Capital, a Canadian based private equity firm in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The whole financial licenses and commodity derivative stocks mutual funds and private equity. Welcome gentlemen.
Alasdair Macleod: Nice to be here.
Bosko Kacarevic: Thank you for having me.
FRA: I thought we’d do a focus today on physical gold. Why physical gold why does it make sense where to store it, how to store it. And then perhaps a comparison to what’s happening in the Cryptocurrency world, sort of Gore versus cryptocurrencies debate and further where we kick it off with if you want Alastair with why physical gold why does it make sense?
Alasdair Macleod: Well the the the basic sense behind physical gold is that it’s nobody else’s liability. It is Money, is money not an investment. And I think that’s an important point. But as money it tends to retain. In fact, over a period of time it tends to increase its purchasing power measured against commodities and if you like the items that are manufactured of commodities. And if you want proof of this basically from 1969 to the present day the dollar priced in gold has lost over 97 percent of its purchasing power. So that’s how strong on gold is. But if you’re going to hold gold in paper form someone can come away and change the rules. Your paper might go bust if let’s say you’re in an ETF, which invests in synthetic gold. If you try and invest in gold on the futures exchanges, sort of rolling contracts. That again is subject to really try and take delivery. You may not get your delivery. The one thing that really matters is that you have the physical gold. Now obviously you can store all your gold at home if you’ve got any significant level of assets. So you need to find if you like a really good LBMA registered faulting company who will store all your gold and that’s basically what we do is go money. We act as custodian; our customer’s gold is not on our balance sheet it’s it. It operates on the Canadian Belman laws. I think that’s the technical term. So if we have some sort of financial accident, there is absolutely no dispute about the ownership of gold which we have as custodians, it belongs to our customers. We have both a metal audit and also financial audit every quarter. So that again you know it’s all recorded, it’s yours and you’ve got a choice of vault around the world. So if you’re an American and you have a fear that the American government might be in a sort of command you to submit your gold in America. It’s not under the American government control, it be put it into a foreign jurisdiction. I mean we you know Switzerland or Singapore or somewhere like that. I wouldn’t say that you break the rules but it just makes it a bit more difficult for your government to get the gold. So there are all sorts of ways in which you can ensure that your money capital if you like is is is safe at all times and that basically is the function of gold stored in a proper vault.
FRA: And your thoughts Bosko.
Bosko Kacarevic: Yeah I have to agree with Alasdair. We approach the gold as a form of currency. We already regulated securities dealer in Canada as an exempt market dealer. So we provide as well storage facilities for investors in physical gold. Our one of our recent announcements was a we have a platform where RSP investors retirement accounts can put physical gold into their retirement accounts and have it stored in LBMA approved vault and they can trade the gold buy and sell it at any time. When the gold is in your RSP account because it’s in trust for the retirement then it can’t and the clients can’t take delivery of it. But the physical gold is there it’s accountable, it’s audited, and there we offer a basically a non fungible system. So when our clients purchased their gold it’s in a specific container, it’s allocated, and segregated to their account. So the exact same gold Maple’s gold bars that someone purchases is the exact same that they’re going to be selling. So we try to explain to people that you know a properly diversified portfolio should have some physical gold and silver in it depending on suitability. You know you might have 10 percent or 20 percent, but it all depends on the rest of the portfolio that the client is holding and at Kindigo we focus on our clients are mostly accredited investors. So there’s considerable due diligence that we do. And the KYC forms that have to be filled out, according to the compliance requirements in Canada.
FRA: And Alasdair what are the risks for for storing gold or ways in which you can have it from your perspective in terms of the industry. Like what are the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of storing gold?
Alasdair Macleod: Well obviously that I think we’ve just agreed the best way to store it, but you know unless you’re talking about small change at home if I can describe it that way is in LBMA registered vault. And again if you have it in a different jurisdiction from the one in which you live that you like is another safeguard. The other safeguard that’s a proper LBMA registered vault gives you is that gold that goes into the gold basically is proper bullion. We ensure that anything that comes in for our customers is bullion and not Tungsten painted gold colour, that unfortunate experience that happened in Canada earlier this week. So that’s terribly important say you’ve got to ensure that you know the gold comes from proper refiner. So it’s not conflict gold. This is another thing which is becoming an increasing issue in our politically correct world. So I would when it comes to dealing with set incentives, such as some of the refiners in Dubai. I sometimes wonder what the source of that gold is. So it is important I think to to deal with reputable people. Storing gold at home does give you potential problems because if you’re careless and you let someone know that you might have an gold at home then you know you’re probably open to being robbed. And if it’s a lot of gold then you know the story gets out then you could actually be robbed by some very very nasty people. So I think that is what I would keep at home is probably fairly limited. I would actually look past having a proper vaulted gold. Physically yes I think we’re OK. But you’ve got to understand that that you don’t have possession of the gold, you have possession of a piece of paper which gives you an entitlement to some gold and you may not even have a direct entitlement to some gold because when it comes to submitting your ETF shares, well stock in return for gold usually it can only be done through authorized banks who are on the list to be able to do it. So that again is is a bit of a problem.
FRA: And your thoughts Bosko.
Bosko Kacarevic: Yeah. You know our system is a closed loop system so we eliminate any possibility of any counterfeit gold products entering our platform because it’s all done through our office. I inspect every product that goes into the vault for my clients and we are providers to the Canadian man to other gold refiners. We have direct relationships. So there’s no that gets out into the public. The the article that Alasdair mentioned regarding the Canadian Mint at RBC you know it seems there was a case I think a few years ago that they found the gold bar or counterfeit bar at a jeweler and always seems that it’s a jeweler or a pawn shop that these things are discovered. You know I haven’t experienced any counterfeit products coming through our business. I don’t think any anyone who wants to pawn off any counterfeit products would go through our business or Alasdair’s business. I’m sure that these people that are attempting this are staying away from reputable dealers because they’ve been caught right away. The Canadian Mint has issued a statement to their defence. I mean I guess we’re an approved a billion and a dealer with the Canadian Mint. So they said that that the gold product was and wasn’t even produced by the Canadian Mint in the Royal Bank is saying that they didn’t even sell their product. So how this came into being I don’t know. But I think people need to understand too that you know the the ownership contract that you own the gold and you know people have to do their due diligence in their background checks on who they’re dealing with. Because at the end of the day when you want to sell you have to make sure that you know the gold is available for you that you’re selling. So when it’s in our vault you have title ownership of the gold and even the clients that are keeping their gold at home. You know we don’t pay out to people when they come into our office right away. We have the gold inspected and we always just to cover ourselves. We tell them they have to wait 24 hours before they receive their funds. So anyone trying to pawn off a fake gold bar isn’t going to leave our office and let us inspect it for 24 hours so we’ve never come across anything like that. And I think this is an isolated incident. But I think people need to be aware of it. If the ownership contract when you’re storing your gold in a vault the title ownership of your gold is what the important thing is.
Alasdair Macleod: Richard can I just add to Bosko saying there, one advantage that you guess of having gold in a proper LBMA vault is that it should be properly insured. And we also have to ensure all our customers gold. So I think that’s a very important point. Another important point to realize is that if you take delivery if you go ahead and you want to sell it, you have to effectively make sure that you know to convince the buyer that it is authentic and that will involve it being tested. So the marketability of gold which leaves the vault is not nearly as good as gold that is kept in the vaults. I just wanted to add those two points.
Bosko Kacarevic: I agree with that it’s very important, the insurance aspect too. We have clients that are storing, some people even for a large quantity of gold and silver at their homes and it’s just too risky and then what eventually happens is when they want to sell it you know in the case of silver. People are holding a few thousand ounces of silver. It gets pretty heavy and it cumbersome moving it you know. And when it’s in the vault for us it’s very easy to identify. Each container has a specific number. I have clients you know across the country and in Europe that they just pick up the phone they call us. We sell the specific holdings and wire them the funds so that people are unable to do that when you have your gold at home and you’re travelling or you’re you want to liquidate it quickly because one of the other issues that comes about is when people call and they want to sell it. If the market’s moving fast or are very volatile I won’t lock in a price for a client unless the gold is in our office. You can’t call me. But if the gold is in the vault I know it’s there. I know the identity of it so I can lock in a price for a client over the telephone and send them the money. But if they have it in their basement and they want to lock in the price you know it’s not possible they have to bring it in person. And once it’s in my possession then we can discuss locking in price.
FRA: Now in this day and age with the advent of cryptocurrencies does physical gold still make sense? So if we look at what’s happening with Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies. Is there a migration of investors holding physical gold towards holding cryptocurrencies either together or as an alternative, Alasdair?
Alasdair Macleod: What a fascinating question. I think Richard the answer to your question whether there’s a migration from buying gold into buying Cryptocurrency. I think there must be. Yes. We can’t deny that. The reason I would say that is because so many people who deal in anything really don’t actually understand the underlying economics of what they’re doing. What they understand I think a trend and quite simply if you see a trend moving or speculating you just jump on the trend. So you are going to have people who will see who take the view that gold is less exciting than Cryptocurrencies, has potentially less return over at whatever time frame that they’re putting in their mind. So they will sell gold and buy Cryptocurrencies, of that I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever. What is interesting in this however and I did actually write a piece on this in I think dated August the 10th. So for anyone who’s interested if you go on to Goldmoney sites and go into research and go into the insights then you will find. August 10th I wrote “Cryptocurrency- its status as money”. Now this is very important because I won’t get through the article. Basically my conclusion is that Cryptocurrency are not money. I mean it is not just a question of volatility, its the origins of it and all the rest of it. But cryptic currencies are the media for speculation par excellence. And you know with the limited supply and all the rest of it and the fact is that so far the people who got into it are basically geeks. If I can be that rude to call them that. The hedge funds are beginning to wake up to this. The authorities are beginning to wake up to it. I mean they even bought it yesterday the CMA decided that they’re going to introduce a bit you know a Bitcoin future. Various governments have sort of taken on the technologies, some are being frightened away by the volatility in the things in it. So I think the Chinese have sort of tried to close down Chinese based operators, but basically the public has yet to buy it. And if you look at any bubble which is essentially what the Cryptocurrencies are, it’s only when the public are really into it that you can say this is time to get out. It is getting dangerous. It is going to collapse. We are some way from that. But what I can’t see is what’s going to stop these Cryptocurrency is rising in the meantime because you know if it’s becoming you just my street futures exchanges and so on and so forth you are going to get asked a lot of hedge fund type money, speculative institutional money if you like yet to buy these things. So I see them going considerably higher than this. You know please don’t hold me to that. That if you like is the theory if you like the madness of crowds as Charles Makai wrote back in the 19th century. We are seeing it and this is pure. It’s like tulips without the bulbs. I mean it is amazing. I get very unpopular for saying this by the way because everybody in Cryptocurrency is convinced it’s money, convinced it’s some sort of new paradigm. And it was ever thus, every bubble is like that everybody involved believes that this is a new future and whatever. What fascinates me you know we’ve looked at it so far in terms of Crypto versus gold, which was the basis of your question. But I think at some stage it’s going to move on from there. What we’re going to be looking at is that potential for Cryptocurrencies to destabilize paper currencies. I’m trying to get this one. Trying to get my head on this one at the moment and I’m planning to write an article on this front shortly. So this to me is a fascinating topic. It really is.
FRA: Could the momentum into Cryptocurrencies keep a lid or a cap on the price of gold in U.S. dollar terms Alasdair?
Alasdair Macleod: As a follow-up, no I don’t think so. There is actually a far bigger story going on gold and it’s all to do with the declining use of the dollar in international trade and this is something that’s being forced on to the rest of the world outside of America by China and Russia working together as head of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I think that we’re likely to see. I mean my information is that we’re going to get in an oil contract settled in Yuan on the Shanghai futures exchange by the end of this month, November, and between Yuan on contracts countries like Iran, who either off a bit to deal in dollars or out of their choice, would not want to go anywhere near a dollar. Will have the facility to buy gold in Yuan. And that I think is something that is likely to lead to a significant rise in the price of gold. The other thing about the price of gold is that there are an awful lot of dollars outside America. We’ve got some people running around saying well you know the American economy is rubbish and the rest of it is just going to collapse and then the end of the purchasing power of the dollar will go up. But the latest figures we have which are over a year old now is that the total portfolios in dollar cash outside America is in excess of 17 trillion dollars. That was midway through the last year 2016. It was barely changed from the level Midway 2015. My guess is that with the dollar having eased over the course of this year we will already be recording a decline in the total value of foreign portfolios, the dollar elements in foreign portfolios. Those figures will be released in next April or May. So we won’t know until then. But just imagine if you go 17 trillion dollars outside America and you have got an economy you’ve got about 19 trillion dollars GDP something like that. This is too much money outside. I think for the situation to be sustained, so I would say the dollar is weak and that is what’s going to drive gold up. And I think it is something which is independent of the Cryptocurrency story, but what does fascinate me is the potential for the Cryptocurrency is to destabilize paper currencies if you like as well. And as I said I’ve got to get my head around that before I write it.
FRA: And your thoughts Bosko.
Bosko Kacarevic: Alasdair and I seem to be in the same camp. I’ve heard actually a number of my clients who have actually sold their precious metals to purchase Bitcoins because it seems like an alternative currency. But you know it’s not officially a currency, but it seems to be operating like one. And you know judging from what’s happening, the attraction to Bitcoin is similar to the attraction to gold. It’s it’s an alternative currency outside the banking system or in government and so on. But the problem with that is is when you’re when you’re comparing it to gold. Gold is still a physical commodity. You can take possession of it. I have a problem with Bitcoin because it exists on the Internet. It doesn’t exist in the real world. You can’t take physical possession like gold or even paper currencies. So there’s a huge cyber threat to the Bitcoin. I mean I find it strange that the person who invented Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is still anonymous, nobody knows who he is or where he came from or whatever. That kind of raises a lot of flags for me. Then when you have issues with Bitcoin or let’s say that there’s a hacker that hacks into Bitcoin who are you going to call. There’s no nobody you can sue. When you invest in a company or you buy gold and silver or invest in the stock there are people behind that. When you invest in currencies, there’s a currency broker. The government issuing the currency, there’s essentially nobody behind bitcoin. It’s operating and it exists on the Internet and apparently from what I understand it’s a series of encrypted keys. But you know I think one of the fundamental changes that Bitcoin is introducing, is the blockchain technology that it’s produced on, which I think that there’s a lot of people in the financial institutions are adopting this new form of a distributed ledger and even that’s questionable as to the advantages of that. I think the credit card companies and the banking system the the technology that’s behind their ledger entries and their software accounting systems are doing fairly well. Introducing a distributed ledger, I’m not sure what the advantages of that are, but it seems that a lot of people are attracted to it. And you know mind you people are always attracted to new things like Alasdair alluded to earlier, but you have to remember that when the Internet was introduced and people were adopting there was a lot of, along with the advantages, it brought in a lot of problems. We have high-frequency trading now. So it’s not always a great thing to not have a central authority. In some cases, you want to have a central authority to be the mediator between two parties. So I’m still sceptical about Bitcoin. Obviously, it’s doing very well on a price level but on a value level. You know I still have a lot of reservations about investing in it, but currently, the CMA group thinks that the futures contract would be in demand and people will have the opportunity to hedge their risk in Bitcoin. So for me, it’s too early to get in. I’d like to see how it develops.
FRA: And I saw today an article by Jim Rickard’s on a new research report out by Goldman Sachs discussing this very issue of gold versus Cryptocurrency. Goldman Sachs appears to be leaning on the side of gold. Well as a preservation of purchasing power. They mentioned that Cryptocurrencies are vulnerable to a hacking, government regulation, and infrastructure failure during a crisis. Those are issues of concern and because of the volatility in Cryptocurrencies, they still see gold as preserving purchasing power better than Cryptocurrency, so that those are the results of the research report by Goldman Sachs and any thoughts on that and. Your final thoughts there.
Alasdair Macleod: Well I’d go along with what Goldman Sachs have concluded. I haven’t read their report, I must say, but as you’ve described it it’s hard to disagree with it. But I don’t know. I know that for people who are trading in it, this is all sort of a big issue. But from an economic point of view there is no doubt about it. Gold is money, always has been money whereas Cryptocurrencies are not then merely a medium for speculation. But you know we don’t actually care about that. Perhaps we always say is Bitcoin going up and we’ve got to get in there or in theory or whatever. We’ve got to go and buy it you know because you can’t stand aside and not buy these things. And this is why I think it’s terribly important to understand that actually it is just a whole load of hot air and nothing else, but this balloon I think, if I’m reading market correctly it is in the early stages rather than the final stages of its inflation. And as I said, I mean so far the people who got into it all the people in the know if you like the people who have been following this story from the outset, the early adopters, the institutions yet to get in. And I think that I mean this is this is the thing about the CMA contract it doesn’t settle in Bitcoin at all. All it does is it uses that bitcoin as a reference price. So that’s actually not going to be anything like gold futures contract where the gold is actually deliverable. This is a very very different thing. So I can’t see really that there is going to be the arbitrage between the futures contract and Bitcoin. I can see how that’s going to happen because there’s nothing deliverable. So that is not going to take demand out of the Bitcoin story so much I don’t think as inflating the number of gold contracts in outstanding on Comix definitely takes demand out of the gold market. So to my way of thinking, you know the the the institutions have yet to get into this. They will get into it because these new instruments look like you know go into contracts themselves so forth are beginning to take place. I think the other thing that’s going to happen is that the regulators are going to come in and insist that anyone maintaining accounts for people with Bitcoins or other Cryptocurrencies are going to have to do their due diligence. And I think the industry as a whole itself is likely to turn round and think we’ve got to clean up our act to make ourselves mainstream. I think all that is still ahead of us. And then you know when you think about the public investing in this, investing is the wrong word, speculating is probably better word, they think they’re investing. This is not just a bubble let’s say in the Shanghai stock market or you know if we go back to the tulips in Amsterdam that’s what 1640s or whatever it was all the Mississippi bubble which was France or the South Sea bubble which was which was England and most particularly, not just you know I mean just sort of England within coaching distance of London. That was the source of this. We’re talking about something that is catching the imagination globally and I mean already we’ve got so many imitators I think there are over a thousand Cryptocurrency I read somewhere. Where is proper paper currencies or something like a 170 only so already we’re you know there’s a lot of funny deals being done around in these icy roads and all the rest of it. This is an act which if it gets cleaned up and they will try and clean it up I’m sure that they will though try and clean it up. They the authorities will want to see cleaned up because they want to tax it apart from anything else. And the other thing is I think that the industry itself will want to see it cleaned up and that will open the gates for everybody to get involved. This is this is a theoretical bubble for any student of psychology in the future. They’re going to look back on this as an absolute wonderful example of a pure speculative bubble which is totally out of thin air.
FRA: And your final thoughts Bosko.
Bosko Kacarevic: You know when you compare the standard deviation of gold versus Bitcoin, I read a report recently that over the past 12 months’ gold has had a 12 percent deviation, where a big coin is over 60 percent. So you know I agree that it is a speculative instrument. It’s going to be quite volatile and the attraction of many people to Bitcoin to elude the financial markets. I think that’s going to be taken care of with the regulators are going to get involved obviously to see him now as is adopting it. So this idea of people being able to have a peer-to-peer and to trade outside of regulation or the government size. I think that’s just an illusion because of you ultimately you have to settle these Bitcoins for currency that’s going to be used in the real world. And you know you have to receive it in a bank. It has to be wired from whatever Bitcoin exchange or so there’s going to be financial institutions involved, regulating it. So I mean is it going to go up further. It’s very possible. I mean I think it is in the early stages and you know it’s it’s going to go through the process like anything else that’s brand new. It’s going to weed out the all the weak currencies and will Bitcoin be the winner in the end. I don’t know. Maybe a theory or the other thousand that are available. Who knows how it’s going to turn out, but there is definitely an attraction to it. And it seems to be distracting some gold investors are distracted and selling their gold and silver for Bitcoin and I disagree with it. But you know people like to follow trends and in some cases, they’re going to have to experience the negative part of following a trend and being wrong. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen but it’s interesting it’s a new technology and we’ll have to see.
FRA: OK great. Great insight gentlemen. How can our listeners learn more about your work, Alasdair?
Alasdair Macleod: Well the easiest way is to have open an account Goldmoney, no, but on Goldmoney site I write weekly is published on Thursdays I usually say if you look if you go onto the site, Goldmoney.com, research and then insight, you’ll find that. I also write a weekly market report and that again can be found under the research column.
FRA: And Bosko?
Bosko Kacarevic: People can reach me at our Website at Kindigo.com and you know on there this information about our company, my background, and they can email us through there. We don’t do a call in, but we do keep in touch with our clients and keep them up to date on what’s happening in the gold market.
FRA: Great thank you very much gentlemen for your insight. Thanks for being on the program show.
Submitted by Boheira Manochehrzadh <email@example.com>
10/27/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Charles Hugh Smith On Will The Private Sector Be Able To Grow Fast Enough To Meet The Demands Of The Public Sector?
FRA: Hi welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Charles Hugh Smith. He’s author leading global finance blogger and philosopher, America’s philosopher we call him. He’s the author of nine books on our economy and society including “A Radically Beneficial World Automation Technology and Creating Jobs for All”, “Resistance Revolution Liberation a Model for Positive Change”, and “The Nearly Free University in the Emerging Economy”. His blog of twominds.com has logged over 55 million page views. It is number seven on CNBC top alternative finance site. Welcome Charles.
Charles Hugh Smith (CHS): Thank you Richard. Always a pleasure to join your roundtable.
FRA: Great. And with that today with the focus on the sort of tension between the private sector and the public sector with many types of revolutions, technological revolutions happening in the in the private sector you know in terms of block chain and biotech, energy environment, lots of revolutions happening much like what happened with the with the Internet.com revolution. And the question is will that growth in the private sector be able to to meet the challenges of the public sector in terms of seemingly unsustainable growth and that growth in Entitlement programs. Dr. Albert Friedberg of the Friedberg Mercantile Group recently observed that in the U.S. it’s basically 10 percent of GDP and rising for entitlement programs. So you know that’s the big question. Your initial thoughts.
CHS: Well Richard I think that’s an excellent context for you know the points we’re going to make. And one of the first points I would start with is ultimately the public sector in this state what we call the state all all layers of government and government related entities. They all live off the private sector right. That the private sector has to generate surplus. It has to generate wages for employees and those are taxed by the public sector and that’s the source of the public sectors revenues. And so what we’re really kind of discussing is can the public sector generate enough profit and employment to support this fast ballooning public sector. And you mentioned the entitlements growing by 10 percent. And I have this chart of consumer goods and services.
The price changes what what we might call inflation. But it’s actually not. Not entirely inflation it’s it’s the cost of services being provided and how far above or below they’re rising then like people’s wages which household incomes as we all know if and stagnating for somewhere between 40 years and 10 years and depending on which sector of the economy you’re looking at. But we look at what is soaring in price and we look at like 200 percent increases and we find out it’s college tuition and we look at what’s climbing at a 100 percent or or more and it’s like health care and child care. And of course these are the sectors that are heavily controlled or are funded by by the public sector. And what we find is declining in price is cell phone service, software, TVs the kind of things that the private sector provides. So it’s pretty clear when you have competition and when you have exposure to innovation then you get it lower prices or at least you get more for your money. Or there’s there’s hope that innovation will impact the consumers, either the quality of the goods and they’re receiving or the price of the goods and services they’re receiving. So to sort of summarize everything that the public sector controls is skyrocketing in price and the quality is also now suspect right.
Like I’ve written a lot about higher education and I have another chart here showing that literally all of the the the higher education student loans that are being issued are actually funded by the federal government. So it’s it’s actually the federal government is funding these private sector lenders and guaranteeing them profits to fund these students getting diplomas which are declining and real world value. You know in terms of statistically what the earnings are of college graduates and so on that that’s been stagnating just along with the rest the wages. So I would propose that higher education is actually declining in its utility and value despite the cost soaring and many other people would make the same claim about health care at least in the U.S. Is that the cost keeps soaring but the actual you know measures of health of the American population are continue to decline. So this is a really striking difference. I think that’s really what we’re talking about is an enormous difference between the sectors controlled by the public sector and those controlled by the private sector.
FRA: Yeah you’ve written a lot about that in terms of several industries being sort of cartelized, you know with special interest group, lobbyists and just the interest by the government in them. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
CHS: Yeah I think that’s a great topic. If the public sector controls something like health care which in the US is dominated by the public sector programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. Then the way to maximize your profit is to lobby the public sector, lobby the government agency, to lock in your cartel pricing. And so that’s what we see is that we see these pharmaceutical companies routinely raising prices 30 40 percent or even 400 percent just on a random basis that they make no claims that they’ve invented something new. They simply raise the price on an existing medication and the public sector also imposes a lot of regulations that some of which are of course important and necessary, but many of which are simply you know churn you know they just create more work, but they’re not really creating that not really impacting the patient in any in a positive way.
So I have a chart here of the growth of physicians and administrators in the health care system. And we see that the number of physicians has been flatlines for like 40 years where the growth of administrators from about the early 90s on has has ballooned up like 3000 percent. And so this is there’s no way that a private sector company could could bloat its management by 3000 percent and get away with it unless its revenues and profits were rising even faster.
And we see the same thing and I have a chart here of the faculty and management of the of the University of California system and it shows that while the faculty has risen slightly over the last 30 years from about 7000 to about 8500 the number of administrators has risen from about 3000 to like 7500. So we have these enormous ballooning of bureaucracies and all of which are really highly paid positions. And and yet where is the output. I mean where’s the gain in quality or any output. And of course there isn’t any. None that we can measure.
FRA: And associated with this involvement by government is an increase in government debt. And if you look at just debt in general in recent years in the developed world it’s taken more and more new debt to create $1 in GDP. I mean the figures are something like $4, of between $4 to $18. I’ve seen some estimates of new debt to create $1 in GDP. Your thoughts on that.
CHS: Right. Right. And I just read a report from a blog that showed that China has the same similar, very strong diminishing returns on its vast expansion of debt. That it’s expanding debt at rates that are multiples of its GDP growth. And so it’s also the case that even in the developing world the same diminishing returns that you describe is that is the dominant reality. And of course we have to ask why is there such a low efficiency or low productivity rate to this new debt. And and it’s because there’s no there’s no pressure of innovation and competition on how the governments are spending this money. And so there’s really no adaptive pressure in terms of natural selection for them to find more efficient ways to do whatever it is they’re doing. Right. The pressure simply to raise more revenues. And if they can’t do that then to borrow more money and this is where financial repression comes in because the only way the public sector can keep adding debt and it’s at this fantastic clip is to lower interest rates to zero or near zero. And create all these perverse incentives for speculation that we’re seeing now as a result of that manipulation if you will or intervention to keep interest rates low enough so the public sector can keep borrowing and borrowing and borrowing, you know to infinity.
FRA: Any ideas on what the endgame could be here if we consider the level of debt and the level of interest rates for the two lever’s, you know with rising debt at some point even small increases in interest rates could be disastrous. I mean where does this all end.
CHS: Right. Right. I just saw a statistic which I can’t verify of course but it sounds fairly close to me. Somebody said that the point six percent rise in the U.S. Treasury yields. That’s a kind of recent rise in one part of the Treasury bond yield spectrum generated 1.7 trillion dollars in losses right then and there you know just a relatively modest increase in only one part of the total global bond market created almost 2 trillion in losses. And so yeah if we extrapolate the possibility of of interest rates going up two or three percent then you’re talking about losses that could be in you know 10 trillion and up in the bond market and then of course as yields rise historically people sell stocks with low dividend yields and high risk. And then if they take the benefit of a higher yield in bonds and so stock markets tend to go down when interest rates go up as well. So we are the end game there is can they can they keep creating debt at a fast enough rate as the returns on that debt continue diminishing. And by some measures as you know that some people feel the return is already negative, like there is by the time you include debt service and other factors than actually we’re losing ground here. So eventually that will erode the the real economy. And I think that’s that’s really what we’re talking about here is can the public and the private sector outgrow the debt that’s being piled up by the public sector.
And I have a chart here. It’s kind of interesting that shows the adoption rates of technologies and it goes back into the 19th century and shows how long it took for electricity and telephony and radio and so on to be adopted by the general populace. And of course as we all know from our our own experience the adoption rates are speeding up for things like cell cell phones and the Internet itself and social media. And so we’re seeing like a faster rate of adoption and development and in the private sector and we’re seeing a glacial change in the public sector or actual resistance to any kind of innovation or change. And so I think the one of the endgames is that people the taxpayers might just simply be run out of patience with with having to pay higher taxes for lower quality public services. Right. And this could this could be a problem because as we all know public pensions are many of them are not really solvent and they’re based on unrealistic expectations of earning seven and a half percent, you know forever. And the number of people pulling the pensions drawing on the pension funds is rising fast as the boomers retire and so on and so there’s it’s not just entitlements but the entire pension system public and private is under pressure as the boomers retire and the wages of the millennials and the younger workers remain stagnant. So there’s there’s a whole other dynamic here that the public sector is going to be forced to borrow trillions more to make up these shortfalls in pension funds if it’s going to meet all those all those promises. On top of the public entitlements of you know social welfare, social security, health care, and so on. So yeah there’s there’s a number of pressures building and what’s the endgame? It’s anybody’s guess but if you destroy or or fatally wound the real economy then there’s no way that borrowing more is going to fix what’s broken.
FRA: So you think none of these revolutions in terms of like block chain in biotech and in others is strong enough for it deep enough to overcome with the general trend is in the public sector.
CHS: Well that’s an excellent question Richard because I mean my book that I wrote about higher education and that the nearly free university. The tools to dramatically reduce the cost of a college education are already enhanced. And of course this is not just remote learning but it’s also in my mind the key is not just remote learning and taking the best of what’s available and making it available to students digitally, but there’s a lot of possibilities for public private sector apprenticeships which are much lower cost than than supporting this gigantic campus with a huge bureaucracy and 42 deans of student affairs and his whole it tremendously expensive infrastructure. The way what actually is the most effective way to learn is to get out there in the real world and augment your book learning or your lecture learning or your lab work with actual experience in the field then of course this is how it works with the construction industry and many other trades. But it also works just as well in the scientific community. And I know for many of our young friends who graduated with degrees in biology or computer sciences they discover that they really don’t know what the employers really need them to know. And so that’s just one example of the kind of revolution that could occur in public funded sectors if the sector allows innovation. And so it’s like how do we break down the resistance of the status quo and the insiders who are benefiting. And I don’t know that we can but at some point when a system becomes completely unaffordable then people will flock to some new alternative and you know health care as another example people might just start going around the existing public sector and buying their own health care services at you know 10 percent of the cost of the official public sector fund. So if there’s definitely a battle royal you know over these sectors that are bloated and efficient super high cost and increasingly unaffordable. And so I’m hoping that it’s like a logjam. You know that is blocking the river of innovation and lower costs that something will break that logjam and exactly what that could be would would have to be some public sector agency or state agency that that broke away from the status quo and accepted a much lower cost model. And that’s what I hope for.
FRA: Could there also be maybe a geographic solution to this in terms of certain countries promoting innovation like Chile has has a program to encourage innovation with new immigrants you know could there be that type of solution. Maybe new countries that take on, you know more innovation that are regulatory friendly to business so that perhaps this is you know a brain drain and wealth drain from from the more stressed countries that we’re talking about.
CHS: That’s a great dynamic that you’re describing and it also works within within regions, like the EU or the United States or North America. And so I think that that’s probably the most likely vector or trajectory for real change is somebody somewhere allows or encourages the kind of innovations we’re talking about and they start reaping these tremendous rewards and and capital and talent and then are attracted to to those places. And as they drain away from the high cost places like Illinois and California and some of the developed nations as a whole then those those those places have their tax base has reduced their the profits generated by their private sector go down as talented capital flees. And so then there is a kind of Darwinian competition that the really high cost sclerotic bureaucratic unfriendly to business and innovation places become insolvent and then they’re forced to change or they or they just with her wither away. So that’s an excellent point. And I think the block chain is another example of that dynamic that whatever country fully legalizes block chain technologies and crypto currencies, like Japan appears to be doing. And it’s sort of baby steps. Even the U.S. appears to be integrating the crypto currencies into its investment sort of scheme. Those countries were prosper compared to countries that are trying to ban crypto currencies and block chain or limit them or co-opt them, you know like make a public sector version and force everybody to use it. Those kind of attempts to to stave off innovation will definitely fail and there’ll be a Darwinian selection process, whether it’s really not controllable because you know you can’t really force people to work hard and you can’t force them to put their money in places that that money is treated badly.
FRA: Could the reaction by governments be similar to what has recently happened in what is happening in Spain for example like with Catalonia. Could that be a blueprint for what is to come in terms of preventing brain drain wealth drain? You know the sort of the within the regions you see that potential.
CHS: Yeah definitely that what we’re talking about to some degree here of course is financial repression that the public sector manipulates interest rates and yields and and then and tries to subvert ban or limit innovative technologies like block chain. And then of course that what you’re describing that financial repression if that isn’t enough then they move to direct political repression. And you know one of my favorite quotes and I’m paraphrasing here was from Napoleon Bonaparte. And who is reputed to have said something along the lines of “what amazes me most is how little power can actually achieve”, In other words if you’re going to use force it’s remarkable how little force can actually accomplish. Because you’re you’re having to monitor and enforce something that’s unpopular that’s going to that’s a tremendously high cost of insurance. And so that’s a good way to go broke is trying to force people to do something they don’t really want to do. And that that doesn’t benefit them. And so I think if we had to summarize what we’re talking about it’s the public sector is default setting is to try to force everybody through financial and political repression or propaganda to do what benefits the public sector and it’s cartels and fiefdoms. But you really don’t. You can’t change anything unless you create a benefit for people that they want to adopt a new change or adopt innovation. They want it because it benefits them in some broad fashion. So and that’s really the battle we’re talking about between the public sector which tends to want to force everybody to do what benefits itself and its insiders and the public sector which realizes the only way you’re going to sell anything, whether it’s an idea or a concept or a product or service, is if it benefits the consumer and the citizen. So and of course you know anybody from the outside we would look at the public sector and go why don’t they accept a more public-private sector mentality. Why don’t they understand they have to generate additional benefits for people not by borrowing more money to pay for like a bloated inefficient corrupt system. But to foster and encourage innovation that that lowers the price of goods and services because it’s more productive. So that’s that’s really kind of the battle that’s being played out I think throughout the world.
FRA: Yeah. Well that’s great insight Charles as always. How can our listeners learn more about your work?
CHS: Please visit me. Oftwominds.com. There’s free free chapters of my book and thousands of various rants and essays.
FRA: OK great. Thank you very much. We’ll do it again next month.
CHS: OK. Thank you Richard.
Summary written by Boheira Manochehrzadeh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
10/24/2017 - The Roundtable Insight: Doug Casey On Cryptocurrencies And On His New Book Drug Lord
FRA: Hi, welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight .. Today we have Doug Casey. He’s an American writer, philosopher, investor, and the founder and chairman of Casey Research. He literally wrote the book on profiting from periods of economic turmoil, his book Crisis Investing spent multiple weeks as number one on the New York Times bestseller list and became the best selling financial book of 1980 with over 400,000 copies sold. He’s lived in 10 countries and has visited over 175, today you’re most likely to find him in La Estancia de Cafayate (Casey’s Gulch), an oasis tucked away in the high red mountains outside Salta, Argentina. And recently he’s been writing a series of fiction books as part of a series High Ground Novel Series. The one that is most recent I guess is Drug Lord and just wondering if you’d like to start on that to give us some idea what that book is about, what the meaning and message you’re intending to convey? Welcome, Doug.
Doug Casey: Thanks, Richard I appreciate it. I’m talking to you today from Aspen, Colorado which is where I usually spend the northern summer, and the rest of the year I’m usually down in Argentina and Uruguay. But talking about Drug Lord, it’s the second to the series of 7 novels and when I decided to do novels as opposed to nonfiction is that it’s a different audience, different people buy fiction then buy nonfiction number one. And number two, you can say a lot of things in fiction that you really best not say in nonfiction, and that’s why I decided to do this series. Last year we completed- because I’m working with my coauthor John Hunt who’s a medical doctor who doesn’t really want to be a doctor anymore for all kinds of obvious reasons, Speculator. Which what we’re trying to do is take unjustly besmirched and highly politically incorrect occupations and we form their reputations. So last year was Speculator, which is about a bush war in Africa and a gold mining fraud and so forth and talks about the theories of speculation. This year Charles, after seven years running, or Charles Knight, our hero decides to get into the drug business. Both the legal drug business regulated by the FDA and the illegal drug business that’s kind of regulated by the DEA. And I think its quite interesting because its instructive as to how the drug business works and all these books are morality tales of course. So, we show that you can be a good guy in the illegal drug business dealing in things that are highly illegal. So that’s Drug Lord and I think you’ll find it a very very good read.
FRA: And what type of message did you have in mind in this particular book? Like is there something that you wanted to convey in general?
Doug Casey: Yeah, of course. I’m a philosophical anarchist and I don’t believe that the state as an institution serves a useful purpose or for that matter even have a right to exist. So, I’m naturally for the full legalization of any kind of drugs. The argument that I make is basically that your primary position, the thing that you own most personally, is your own body. And of these government officials to try to dictate what chemical substances you can or can’t use is insane, it’s immoral, and it creates huge distortions in the marketplace. It’s just like what they did in the 1920s with alcohol when they tried to dictate that no one could drink in the U.S. and all it did was double or triple the size of the liquor industry and give the mafia a way to become the creature it is even today. So, everything the government does along these lines is counterproductive. Of course, as far as drugs are concerned, I’m a believer in Aristotle’s golden mean, it’s that some things are- everything is good in moderation and all things. And I don’t advocate that people take potentially destructive drugs such as heroin and cocaine, although our hero Charles Knight comes up with a marvelous new drug which could actually change the face of civilization but that’s another story. But these things shouldn’t be illegal and people forget that before Harrison Act was passed in 1914 that all these things were completely legal. A grade school kid could go down to the corner drugstore and buy heroin or cocaine and it was not a problem, nor was drug addiction a problem in the country. So almost everything the government does whether it be drugs or anything else turns out to be counterproductive.
FRA: What do you make of the trend in the cannabis industry now?
Doug Casey: Ah this is a very interesting thing, it’s going to be huge. I’m not personally a big fan, personally, I don’t do drugs and I generally choose a company of people (inaudible) why? Because most of these popular recreational drugs including alcohol if you would, cloud the mind and keep people from thinking clearly as well. And the problem with pot has always been that it clouds the mind. So, I’m not a huge fan of it personally. But huge medical uses which have been suppressed so far which are coming to the floor and so people that you know some people it just takes the edge off of them psychologically and they don’t have to get goofy by taking too much of it. So, the answer to your question is there have been scores and scores of marijuana stocks that have come public in Canada primarily where cannabis is going to be legal nationwide shortly and its legal now for practical purposes, just as it is in many states in the U.S. right now. But it’s going to be big. I think that the amount of pot grown in North America and the rest of the world after its legalized is going to multiply by a factor of 10, so this is a great place to be at the moment if you can find a quality company run by ethical guys. Yeah, pots going to be big and people are going to make fortunes on these stocks. And of course, many of people have already made fortunes on them and as a result, there are a lot of frauds out there in the cannabis space, but that’s true when anything becomes too popular, the frauds just always step in.
FRA: Interesting. And another big event happening these days is what’s happening in Spain, Catalonia, what do you make of what’s happening there?
Doug Casey: I think its absolutely wonderful. My ideal scenario would be to have 7 billion nation-states on the face of this planet. As I said, I’m a philosophical anarchist, I don’t believe the space has a right to exist. But what is happening in fact, this is what I like to see, but what’s happening, in fact, is that nation-states all over the world now are starting to break up. It’s not just Catalonia and Spain, the Basque region just north of Catalonia I think might be next on the runway for becoming an independent movement. And throughout Europe, there are a couple score of independent movements. For instance, in the Venezia region around Venice, in Lombardy around Milan, Sardinia, even the Pharaoh Islands belonged to Denmark. And of course, Scotland, I think that’s going to come back as an issue for independence. I think it’s great, if you’re going to have a nation-state, then the nation-state should at least have people that share ethnicity, culture, language, perhaps religion so that they’re similar, they share values. If it’s a multicultural enterprise where they don’t share any of these things, then the state just becomes a vehicle for theft of the group that gets in charge of the government. So, I think this a step in the right direction with Catalonia, that’s the good news. The bad news is that most of these independent movements are run by doctrinaire socialists, of course, all European politicians are doctrinaire socialists, but these people they tend to be even more doctrinaire. But I think it will work out very well in the long run.
FRA: And from the perspective of Spain, could this be a blueprint or a precedent on how indebted governments may act in the future against some of their regions or just the private sector in general as for example the pension crisis unfolds entitlement programs crisis unfolds?
Doug Casey: Oh yeah, you’re absolutely right, Richard. Because I think the main reason that the government in Madrid doesn’t want to see Catalonia break off is because Catalonia sends money, twice as much money, to Madrid as Madrid sends back to them in the form of national services. So, Catalonia is like a milk cow for the Spanish government and of course they don’t want it to go away. They want to keep it there, keep it producing so they can allocate the goods. And of course, this is all the more reason why the Catalonians want to break off, but the fact that the Spanish government in Madrid has clamped down so hard and so violently against the Catalans, I think its actually going to, I think reinforce the Catalans so that even the ones that don’t want to see a doctrinaire socialist Catalonian government are probably still going to vote for it simply because they’re so angry at being exploited by Madrid. And eventually I think that even after Catalonia splits off and like I said the Basque region will probably be next anyway, they’ll probably go to more free market style policies and become realistic. Because you can only have a socialist country where there are others to exploit. If we had 7 billion little nation-states in the world, there would be no socialism. Because how can you exploit yourself?
FRA: Yeah, exactly. And from considering your views on the economy and financial markets and the geopolitical landscape, what is on your mind today? Do you see any trends taking shape?
Doug Casey: Well I’ll tell you what’s really surprised me, and this has been true for several years now. It’s that after the world economy entered the eye of the gigantic financial hurricane in 2007, or entered leading edge of the financial hurricane we’re in, in 2007. And then we went through the leading edge in 2008 and 2009 and now we’ve been in the eye of the storm which has been papered over by not just trillions, but hundreds of trillions of new currencies units created not just by the U.S and Europe, but China, Japan, and all the little countries too. And that’s poured oil on the water and what I fear is that even now as we speak we’re entering the trailing edge of the hurricane and it’s going to be much longer lasting and much worse, and much different then what you might recall from 2008 and 2009. So, I think this is a good time to batten the hatches down, I mean the fact that the DOW is trading at new all-time highs and interest rates are still at or near zero, or I think they’re still below zero in some places, actually, as metaphysically impossible as that seems. I think that this isn’t a cause for rejoicing, this is really like the tidal wave going out before it comes in and washes away everything. So, it’s a good time to batten down the hatches and I don’t like the idea of being involved in the stock market or the bond market. Which isn’t just a bubble, it’s a hyper bubble, it’s a super bubble right now the bond market. So that’s my feeling on the economy in general.
FRA: In what ways will this sort of second part or a second phase of the financial crisis be different from the first phase?
Doug Casey: Well, things really went over the edge back in 2007 and 2008 and 2009 as a deflationary collapse. If the governments hadn’t created these trillions of new currency units, you would have seen the collapse of not only Lehman but Goldman Sachs and AIG and Chase, Morgan, all of them, they all would have collapsed. And that would have been deflationary in nature, we would have seen something that would have resembled 1929, it would have been a deflationary collapse. But they forestalled that and this time, since they’ve already shot most of the arrows in their quiver with ultra-low interest rates, increasing and printing up trillions and trillions of new currency units they called quantitative easing, it’s kind of cute that they make up a phrase like this and everybody just parents it rather than just say inflating the currency. I think that what we’re going to see this time around though is going to be much higher levels of inflation. Because all that money went into the financial end of the market as opposed to the consumer end of the market. So, its created a number of bubbles, stock market bubbles, bond market bubbles, real estate bubbles they’re a number of many many cities around the world. So, when those bubbles break, I don’t know the currency, we’re going to see, I think we’re going to see very high levels of inflation. So, it’s going to be very ugly for the average guy I think.
FRA: And speaking of bubbles, a lot of people see a bubble in the cryptocurrencies, what are your thoughts on cryptocurrencies?
Doug Casey: Yes, that’s very interesting. I was introduced to them about, oh how long ago was that? 2013 when somebody actually gave me a physical Bitcoin when I was in Argentina. It was worth $13 at that time and now the bitcoin is worth 5,600 something in that area today. Good news-bad news, look initially I snookered myself. I liked the idea of it as a private currency, a fiat currency created out of nothing, true, but with a limited number of units, unlike these national fiats currencies. And I missed at the time, the value of these cryptocurrencies. I missed the fact that they are excellent transfer devices. In other words, they obviate the SWIFT system which is expensive, which is slow, which is unreliable, where all your money has to go through New York, its horrible. By using cryptocurrencies to send money across borders, its private, instantaneous, cheap. So, this is a really really big thing, this is what gives Bitcoin and others its value. Like gold has value because its one of the 92 naturally occurring elements, so it has many many uses and more everyday in a high-tech world. But the cryptocurrencies are A primarily a transfer device, and then there’s a second thing that I failed to catch back then and that was that 2/3s of the people, 3 quarters of the people in the world live in 3rd world countries. Where if they want to save, if they want to produce more then they consume and save the difference, you’ve got to save ridiculous things like Zambian Quatches and Argentine Pesos and ridiculous fiats currencies like that. And when they save them, they’re all inflated badly and they’re worthless outside of their home country. But if they save in Bitcoin, its got the same value everywhere in the world, so this is a very big deal. So, I’ve become a convert, cautiously because it is bubbly. Anything that’s gone up 300 times in a few years kind of looks bubbly, but I can see why the bubble going to get a lot bigger. So, the answer to your question, I mean I was a recent investor in something called Hive blockchain which is about the only publicly traded company that mines these cryptocurrencies, this thing’s gone from $.30 to $30 in the last six weeks, I expect it’s going higher. So, it’s a bubble, but it’s going to get to be a bigger bubble, Richard.
FRA: And so, the value you see is being based on the payment transfer utility, but also you sort of referencing as a store of value as well?
Doug Casey: Yes, especially for people in the third world, two-thirds of the human race which don’t really have the opportunity to bank, not that the banks in those third world countries, Africa, Central Asia, places like that, are worth saving in. They’re all insolvent and the local currencies are horrible so this is a boon for the average guy in the third world, this is a very big deal. So, this is the two things, transfer device and a savings device for third world people. Now I don’t know how it’s going to end because eventually there’ll be a Bitcoin version 2.0 and what happens to version 1.0? Does anybody want it? Is everybody going to dump it all of a sudden? So, there’s risks, there’s dangers here. But right now, the trend is still up, the bubble is going to get bigger. In principle, it’s an excellent idea. And its also, I’ve got to point out, it’s going to draw peoples attention to the nature of money. Which people don’t think about, they only thing they’ve got their local currency or the dollar. But then they see oh, Bitcoin, why is Bitcoin worth something? And eventually, it’s going to grow their attention to gold because eventually there’s going to be one of these cryptocurrencies that will become very popular that launches instantaneously going to gold to silver and so forth. So, it’s going to expose a lot of flaws in the current monetary system, it’s good from every point of view.
FRA: Do you see governments getting into cryptocurrencies perhaps as a way of doing away with cash or implanting negative interest rate policies for example?
Doug Casey: Oh yeah, unquestionably that’s going to happen. It’s happening now, all these governments want to get rid of cash. Cash is only paper but at least paper cash allows you privacy, secrecy, it lets you transfer things and own things that are unbeknownst to the authorities. So, they’re trying to get rid of cash, they’re trying to get rid of the U.S. $100 bill, they’re getting rid of the €500 note, they want to get rid of even the U.S. $50, the U.S. $20. So, they’re going to come out, and some governments have come out already with their own digital currencies. And it’s a disaster when governments do that because they will manipulate them and inflate them but worse than that, they’ll know where everything you have is, everything you buy and sell, they’ll know absolutely everything about you financially. And they will control you totally, they can just shut off your iPhone and you’ve got nothing. So as wonderful as cryptocurrencies are when the government gets a hold of them they’ll corrupt and destroy them like everything else, so it’s a huge danger also.
FRA: Wow, great insight as always. Doug, how can our listeners learn more about your work?
Doug Casey: Well, they can go to www.internationalman.com, that’s one website. And the other website is www.internationalman.com they’re both totally different with different products, we have lots of excellent free articles posted on them and so forth, they’re good websites. So, people should check in there and send me a note if you’ve got any reactions or whatever at either of those websites.
FRA: Great, thank you very much, Doug, for being on the show.
Doug Casey: Well, thank you, Richard. And I hope that a few listeners decide to go out and pick up a copy of Drug Lord
Transcript written by Jake Dougherty <email@example.com>
10/21/2017 - The Roundtable Insight – John Browne And Yra Harris On The Geo-Political Trends Affecting The Financial Markets And Economy
FRA: Hi ― Welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight ….. Today we have Yra Harris and John Browne. Yra is an independent trader, a successful hedge fund manager, a global macroeconomic consultant trading foreign currencies, bonds commodities and equities for over 40 years. He was the CME Group Director from 1997-2003. John is the Senior Market Strategist for Euro Pacific Capital, a distinguished former member of Britain’s parliament who served on the Treasury Select Committee as Chairman of the Conservative Small Business Committee, and also as a principal adviser to the British government on issues relating to geopolitical matters. He has worked at Morgan Stanley as an investment banker also working for other firms such as Barclays Bank and Citigroup. Welcome gentlemen.
JOHN BROWNE: Thank you very much Richard. Hello and to Yra too.
YRA HARRIS: Yeah John, hello to you and thanks Richard for having us and putting us together.
FRA: I thought we’d begin with a discussion on the Chinese oil contract. And just a general theme for today’s discussion are undercurrents geopolitically that are happening which could have implications in factors on the financial markets and the economy. Yra you have recently written on this new crude oil futures contract that is priced in Yuan and is convertible to gold. You wrote, “China’s ability to monetize gold is a direct assault on the US ability to manipulate the global financial system to it’s advantage ― A remnant of the Bretton Woods post-World War II global system.” Any thoughts on that?
YRA HARRIS: Well, as we’ve had the breakdown of the system this is all part of what’s taking place. People who don’t want to admit to themselves that there are major changes afoot. We see what China is doing and I’m not making a qualitative judgment one way or another, that’s just history. I just finished reading a book by Giovanni Arrighi, who people might find that he’s on the left, but in the 20th century there are changes going on, and there’s always changes going on in the international system. The United States is seeing itself diminished as the global hegemon. These things are taking place and the Chinese are very astute global watchers. We’ve talked about this before last time that when NAFTA started on January 1st, 1994, China devalued the Yuan from 5.8 to 8.7, where they held it for a long time after that, but that was a 50% devaluation. The Chinese are very astute watchers of the world situation and this is just more of that.
FRA: And John you have also written about the same subject about huge ramifications and a move with little notice outside of the financial world.
JOHN BROWNE: Yes, and interesting enough China is now the largest consumer of oil in the world and it’s two largest suppliers are Saudi Arabia and Russia. Just that fact alone is quite interesting when you think of the Saudi visit to Russia. But what recently happened, and it’s amazing it missed most of the financial media, China created a domestic oil contract that would be traded internationally in Yuan, and that Yuan would be convertible for gold. In other words, people that receive Yuan for their oil like Saudi Arabia or Russia or any other country that sells them oil, maybe even Britain, will be paid in Yuan, not dollars. This is the crucial thing because what Yra referred to after Bretton Woods was that the dollar became the reserve currency and most commodities in the world had to priced in dollars. If you were a German you would have to buy dollars in order to buy pork bellies in the Chicago exchange. What was most interesting is that in the early 1970’s when the oil crisis happened, Dr. Kissinger flew into Saudi Arabia and managed to persuade the Saudis to persuade the rest of OPEC to only sell oil for dollars. In other words, no longer would sterling be any good or any other currencies to buy oil ― Their oil was only to be sold in dollars. That underpinned the U.S. dollar and enabled the enormous expansion of dollar liquidity once Nixon had broken the gold window in August of 1971 and underpinned it. Now this is a very interesting thing here because now Saudi Arabia has stopped using dollars and other countries have stopped using dollars, particularly China. Say Saudi Arabia sells oil for Yuan to be paid rather than for dollars, and it can convert those Yuan into gold. That’s very attractive for all oil exporters to be exporting to China for it’s currency because unlike dollars, it’s convertible into gold. This strikes exactly to what Yra was saying, the hegemony of the United States and the power that it was in 1944 with Bretton Woods, it was by far the most powerful economy in the world and the richest country, and then by 1945 it was the most powerful military nation on Earth, and it has traded on that ever since. If you look at the depreciation of the dollar since 1914 when the federal reserve opened it’s doors, the dollar has depreciated by 90% or more. In other words, 2 cents of that dollar would buy you a present day dollar. And sterling has been even worse because there were 8 dollars to the sterling pound in those days, now it’s 1.2. So you can see that sterling has virtually been depreciated over 99%, and yet nobody has noticed it because all of the other currencies depreciated too, or most of them, because they have all been valued in dollars and not in gold. That particularity happened after 1971 and that’s when the real scam took place. Today we’re left with a world of seeming wealth, but really it’s just huge liquidity. There are dollars swimming everywhere hence these stock markets are rising ― People got to put them to work. You’ve got negative real interest rates, the interest rate in the U.S. is about 1.5% and the inflation rate is just over 2%. So there’s a negative interest rate in the United States as well. And we’ve reached ridiculous things where people are finding somewhere to put their money, even into junk bonds. In 2009, a European junk bond traded at 25% yield, today it yields less than a 10-year U.S. treasury bill ― It’s 2.2% as opposed to 2.3%. That can’t go on, I mean it just doesn’t make sense, and it’s a vast, vast bubble. I think Trump has done a wonderful job on trying to drain this swamp, but when he was in Puerto Rico he said he may wipe out Puerto Rican debt. If he wipes out Puerto Rican debt, and we have great sympathy for these poor people who have been cheated by their local government, if that happens then people will say, “What about Illinois? What about California? What about New York?” is the government going to wipe their debts? Eventually if you extend that argument further, what about America? Maybe a president comes in here and says we’ll wipe out the debt. So you start to get a real beginning of a fear as to whether I should start buying dollars and U.S. debt. That is the beginning of the pricking of this vast balloon, in my opinion.
FRA: Yra, any thoughts on that?
YRA HARRIS: I agree with everything that John has said. When you look at the European high yield index that yields less than 10-year U.S. treasuries, considered to be the safest debt in the world. If you don’t think you have a problem then you must be a central banker. This is an enormous problem and of course the world march is on, but so be it, that’s the way markets work. I think we can all agree that central banks have broken the signaling mechanism of what bond markets are supposed to do, so where they would be offering us warning signals, they can’t, because you cannot overcome the power of their printing press. They can print and print and we know that money in a world in which capital flows freely, all money is fungible, there is nothing to stop it. When you buy 60 billion a month in Europe, that money goes somewhere, it goes to buy other assets and so they’re buying all types of bonds. So we don’t have a market price and we know that the biggest fear for the central banks is for the market to take over the pricing mechanism because then it would reflect some sense of reality. As long as the central banks control we won’t have that sense of reality. That’s just the world that we live in and I think John is a 100% right, especially in what the Chinese want to do here. This is not a mistake and I want to see what their next move is. It’s interesting that Russia came out the other day and they are creating their own Ruble cryptocurrency. Ultimately, if there are these electronic medium of exchange, what we call currency, it will be controlled by the governments. They will not let this out of their control. One of the main things in the U.S. constitution is the government’s ability for currency and coinage, so they will lose control of it. But when we really look at it, and I think this is where John goes, because if we go back to 1960’s when Jacques Rueff was writing The Monetary Sin of the West and he was calling it, “the question”, because what we had was not a gold standard, we had a gold exchange standard. The United States was willing to exchange gold for currencies until the Vietnam War and the war on poverty began, and then there was just too much currency to exchange, so Nixon said that they were going to kill us here and we got to get off this standard. It’s the same thing if you look at Bitcoin. Bitcoin is nothing but a dollar exchange standard because it’s not like someone created Bitcoin out of nothing. If you are buying Bitcoins you are exchanging some underlined value. You might be exchanging gold, but most of the time you are exchanging dollars for those Bitcoins because they are always valued in dollars. The Chinese are really going to try hard to take us away from that. I think John wrote an important article about what China is doing and that we have to be very attentive to it.
JOHN BROWNE: What Yra said I think is so interesting because what we’ve got is an illusion of wealth and unreality. Governments and central banks have just created this incredible unreality and I mentioned those differences in yields, are just beyond belief. But the thing is when we go back to the gold standard we had before, there was real money because of the gold standard, before the first World War. What I find fascinating is that it had a rule of law within money, but it translated into national rule of law. There were very few wars when international currency came in based on gold and it was only when we broke from gold that we suddenly unleashed huge amounts of unrest and irregularity and the breaking of the law. The law is broken by the government all the time. Just look at the illegal immigration and the new secret funding of Obamacare ― illicit and unconstitutional, but it’s still accepted by all these rhino politicians who are corrupt. Populations are getting violent and very depressed and angry with each other ― It’s a great shame. I think it’s because we live in a world of unreality. Yra mentioned cryptocurrencies, of course this is a fantastic thing. A Bitcoin plus it’s blockchain methodology is an offer to clear the financial swamp. President Trump is trying to clear a political swamp in America, but a financial swamp is almost more severe. It offers the individual freedom from government, instant transactions at no cost and a tremendous degree of anonymity. I think it’s a fantastic revolution that’s taking place and that’s Bitcoin which of course is becoming the reserve cryptocurrency of the roughly 1200 cryptocurrencies. They all translate or measure against Bitcoin and Bitcoin is measured in dollars at the moment and the blockchain technology behind it is going to challenge governments and major corporations on how they do business. It is going to, in my view, almost redefine capitalism because it’s going to be a completely new way of doing it. The devoid of regulations where there is so much more freedom for the individual and I think we’re heading to a time of phenomenal change in the financial world because of blockchain. All the big financiers including: Jamie Dimon, who I like and is a tremendous guy, are all decrying Bitcoin because it is such a threat to the financial system that we’ve got now which is so expensive. They used to do everything for free, but they they are charging for everything, even wiring they are charging $15 to wire money. Is it just staggering when it’s all digital stuff I doubt it costs even 15 cents. So all of these things are going to change, in my view, if you just imagine 1850 compared to 1950, who could’ve imagined electricity and machine guns and all this sort of stuff ― It was fantastic. I think we are going to experience that in the next few years that one of the leading things is going to be the technology behind Bitcoin, the block chain, that it’s going to transform the world. It’s going to really face these big corporations, not just governments, on their whole business models. You think the internet was bad enough for brick-and-mortar companies, blockchain is phase 2 of the internet and it’s going to be an even bigger challenge for commerce and the whole of capitalism. So I think that we’re going to see a reversal and a technological draining of the financial swamp. It has huge implications for Wall Street, the city of London and every other financial centre because if I come along and I dial up Germany.com and I deposit $10,000 into an account that I’ve opened and they do due diligence, takes a few days to open the account where the check you out, know your customer, they do all that by regulation to avoid money laundering, I put the $10,000 in and convert it to Bitcoin and that money has come out of the banking system. No longer is it in deposit and leveraged up to make loans ― It’s gone. To the banking system it is dead money. At the beginning it was difficult to get into Bitcoin, but it’s getting very simple now, and if you don’t leave the money on the Bitcoin exchange and put it in your wallet then it is entirely secure. You have remember your password or it vanishes. The thing is it is going to change and the thing it’s going to do is create dead money in the banking system, in other words, taking deposits out of the banks and they’re going to be really strapped. I think Bitcoin is a majoy economic threat to bursting the balloon and then Bitcoin would rise phenomenally if money collapses. The only way you can get into cryptocurrency is through Bitcoin. None of the other currencies accept fiat money. You can put fiat money into Bitcoin and then Bitcoin into the other cryptocurrencies. This is going to siphon money out of the banking system, it’s going to siphon money that people think is real money. The combination of Bitcoin and gold, where the Bitcoin being much more mobile and easily moved around the world at no cost is a thing that I see of the future resulting from the swindle that people have been had by their governments and the banking system ― And that could prick the balloon.
FRA: Speaking of the move away from dollars, we talked about the Chinese, do you think the Russians may move away from accepting dollars for oil?
JOHN BROWNE: They already have done deals with China. That was a ridiculous thing about forcing the Russians which Obama did over the Crimea. Instead of seeing that the Crimea was to Russia as Cuba was to the United States under Kennedy, when Khrushchev put his missiles underneath the soft belly of America next to Florida Kennedy had to get them out even if it meant going to nuclear war. He simply couldn’t accept missiles sitting that close with such a short time fuse to get into the United States, he couldn’t accept it. He had to get it back and luckily Khrushchev realized that and climbed down as America removed their missiles from Turkey. Obama and Kerry hadn’t read their history because they didn’t see that Crimea and the Ukraine was a similar thing for Russia. And instead of accepting it and finding some weasel words typical of politicians to get over this problem, they forced Russia out and into the hands of the Chinese where we’ve spent ages trying to lead them away from the Chinese. Now Russia makes no bones about being awkward with us and one of the things they’ve done is tied up huge deals with China in their mutual currencies avoiding the U.S. dollar ― So they’re out. One of the things to break America is very interesting, we’ve piled up huge amounts of money in military systems, but maybe the Achilles heel of the western world is its money and not it’s forces because if China and Russia could break the dollar, it would smash America without firing a shot. The great generals are the ones who win without actually fighting. Just like in chess you threaten the king with a checkmate, you don’t’ even have to take him because he can’t move. That’s the game is to win with the minimum amount of fighting and the Chinese could be doing that by etching out our fiat currencies. When we’re talking trillions, I mean even a billion is enough to get your head around. I’ve seen a football crowd at Wembley stadium of 100,000 and that’s a huge number, a billion is way out of my comprehension. I went to a funeral in South Korea and there was said to be a million people at the funeral and even then you couldn’t see the size of the crowd, you can’t see a million. A trillion seconds ago was 31,500 years ago. The American government owes 20 trillion in direct debt and another trillion in unfunded liabilities and guarantees. These are staggering figures and people have no comprehension. It’s the big game of bluff that is run by the governments and the central bank ― Ordinary people have no idea. And if that bubble was to burst, the abject poverty that is to be reaped upon everyone as search, as to what Yra said right at the beginning, as the search for real value is way below these prices in almost everything. And we said what we’re trying to do next after oil, what about copper? Probably the most widely used natural resource in the world, other than water, for raw materials is probably copper. If they’ve done it for oil with this instrument then why not do the same thing for copper if the oil one is successful and then gradually spread it around. Who would be buying dollars to buy any commodities? You’d kill the dollar and with the dollar you’d kill the United States.
FRA: And Yra, what are your thoughts on the Russians moving away from accepting dollars for oil, the potential for that. You recently pointed out the Saudi King’s first ever visit to Russia.
YRA HARRIS: John talked about that, he eluded to it. These are major events. These are far more important than any of these Trump tweets. The Saudi King going to Russia for the first time ever ― That’s an enormous event, that a signaling event. When John talks about the Obama thing, they had no idea what was going on. Go read probably the best book on political science, Graham Allison’s The Essence of Decision, and you’d understand first of all everything that is going down in Washington because it’s the greatest study of bureaucratic politics and it’s acknowledged as that. This is all that is going on and Obama and Kerry dropped the ball because the Russians are never going to give up the Crimea. Why is Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? Why does the United States still have a naval base in Cuba? Because Cuba protects New Orleans and New Orleans is the grain-shipping capital of the world. Cuba protects the entire Gulf of Mexico which is huge for oil and food just like Crimea. Why did the Russians always want a base in Crimea? Because it allows it to either threaten or protect. Forget Turkey, if the Russians want to shut that down they can shut that down and that’s why you’re not going to move them out of Crimea. When people look at a map, so much of this becomes logic. The Russians learned a lot from Obama. They red-lined and they saw all the weaknesses and all of the apologies, so they just kept moving in and moving in. When the ambassador of Ukraine was trying to insight Putin with the whole revolution, Putin played that exactly right. Then John McCain, the idiot, sorry John I used to respect you, but when you want to give the Ukrainians advanced weaponry you are setting them up for massacre because Putin was waiting for that to happen. So things have quieted in the Ukraine because the Russians have the eastern part and they have their people in and it will work itself through, but the world is fascinating with all these things with the oil. The Russians are going to squeeze this too which is why they are working with the Saudis and the Saudis are in need of the Russians now that Russia is in control of Syria. What the Saudis fear most is the Shia crescent that extends out of Iran across Iraq into Lebanon. They know now that the Russians are the key players here, not the United States. As soon as the Russians took back that naval base in Syria it was a major game changer. John Kerry was ridiculous ― They had no plan and they got totally blindsided by the events that unfolded. We’ll see what John says about this, but the greatest wild card in the game for the Russians is Gerhard Schroeder. He has an enormous position now. Before it was just the pipelines, but now they’ve actually brought him in to Rosneft as a major director, are you kidding me? This guy was a chancellor. This would be like George W. Bush serving on the the board of Gazprom. There are things afoot here that are so big that nobody is paying attention to them and they will unfold. What’s going to be the market dynamic? I don’t know, but I know these things are in motion and we have to be very attune to them.
JOHN BROWNE: Yes, that Gerhard Schroeder thing is fascinating because obviously Russia and Germany have always had a huge trade and when the sanctions came on organized by Obama, the United States did less than a fifth of the amount of dollar volume trade with Russia than Germany did and so it hurt Germany far more. That threatened to break NATO because the Germans didn’t want to go ahead with these sanctions. That was a threat to NATO and a slit to NATO would’ve been very, very bad, but it risked it and eventually Merkel obeyed what Obama and Kerry had wanted, but it was a dangerous time and the Gerhard Schroeder thing illustrates this great weakness. I am appalled when I think the government here is focused on trying to fix a Russian assassination on the president and meddling around in these silly, unbelievable investigations of people while the big crooks go and these huge events are happening in the world and nothing seems to be done. But I think people are getting really fed up and they’re sick of being financially swindled by their governments and seeing their living standards fall. When I first came to Wall Street in 1969, most people had one family breadwinner, now both parents have to work to have a living wage and yet this huge illusion of wealth is there. Really the ordinary people are being squeezed to death. I think that they are getting fed up with that and also with their governments doing things that people now, thanks especially to the internet, are seeing things happening in the world which are totally against their interests and the government are doing it. It started with a big rebellion in Britain with Brexit, then with the election of President Trump, the people spoke and the financial elite were absolutely staggered that he won as they were staggered by the victory of Brexit. Now you see Catalonia wanting to leave in Spain, you saw the same sort of problem in Greece, in Italy, then in the German elections with the huge movement of right from 0 to 88 seats. They were saying that they were never going to get 1 seat, but they got 88 seats and now you see in Austria the similar sort of thing. The people are speaking and they are very, very fed up with their governments and I believe as I went back to that gold story when you dilute and you create turmoil with the money system it eventually spread to the political system where we had gold that is law and order within money and when that vanished, the law and order in the streets broke down. It has now reached a fever pitch and people have to live on the streets, I mean our leaders live in limousines and chauffeur-driven cars with police escorts and everything else, ordinary people have to live with their children going to school down streets that are dangerous. They are beginning to speak and I think all of these things are beginning to reach a crescendo which is extremely worrying.
FRA: Yra, you have written about the Sunday election in Austria as well, just wondering about your thoughts on that. You also mentioned financial repression will be the next theme for the European ripe.
YRA HARRIS: There’s no question and I know John will agree. The media and the established elites, whatever that means, it exists and I call it the DAVOS crowd who meet amongst themselves and claim their own self-importance, they want to make it into anti-immigration, but it’s so much more than that if you pay attention. I mean, today the German court basically sided with what the ECB has been doing up to a point, but this isn’t going to stay that way forever because they were all economists and yes, they got sidetracked because Merkel made that terrible decision about open immigration, but there are things that are going to re-rise because they are not going to back off of this. If the FDP is brought in and Linda gets the financial ministership, this is going to be a continuing issue because German citizens are paying, by design, the entire bailout of Europe. Right now because the world has enough growth, they are able to smooth it over, but that’s not going to last long either. Japan was able to go through a terrible period of non-growth or very low growth, but a lot of that is because the rest of the world is expanding. That alleviated a lot of the problems. Japan had more problems, of course, when the world went into a major repression in 2008/2009. Ben Hunt writes about it continuously: it’s a narrative. Do I accept the narrative of the mainstream? And it’s not that I’m a fanatic, I’m not, but I read everything that I can because I need to in order to prosper in what I do. I don’t accept that narrative because there are underlining things that are far more powerful going on and it’s outside of the narrative that they want to concoct as the way the world is ― It’s just not so. There is so much disruption going on and now we have the Chinese with the 5 year meeting and of course you have the Japanese elections. The Austrian elections were very important because, as John was talking about with the rise of the right there, this is the second time. The first time was back when the Euro was coming to existence and the Austrian people were not enamored with it. It’s harder to shun people now because you got the Catalans, you’ve got Brexit, you’ve got Poland whose not very happy with the way things are, you have other eastern members of the EU who are not very happy. There is a lot of underlined unhappiness and Merkel is right now in a very wounded position. The only thing that would salvage her would be if she created another coalition with the SPD. But the SPD, who just won an election that they weren’t suppose to do very well in, has no desire and they’ve said that. They do better as an out party than they do as a part of a coalition so Merkel is in a very precarious situation here. This will be interesting to watch.
FRA: John, your final thoughts?
JOHN BROWNE: Just listening to Yra I agree with everything he has said. What I see happening now is what I’ve said before. I think my summary feeling is that we have this illusion of wealth and we’ve built this massive bubble thanks to the Fed and the other central banks that have followed suit ― Absolutely gigantic, trillions of dollars of hot air. If that was to go, the higher the balloon goes, the more devastating the fall and we are really high up at the moment with the 23,000 stock market and everything. I think it’s shocking the way people have been treated and what’s really worrying is that people are beginning to act. And if the balloon is pricked because their actions on the street, and they get politicians who really will prick the balloon, it’s going to be a very nasty financial situation.
FRA: Great insight gentlemen. How can our listeners learn more about your work? Yra?
YRA HARRIS: Notes From Underground is available if you go to YraHarris.com. You can subscribe to it and it costs nothing. You can find me there and there’s a lot of dialogue that goes on.
FRA: And John?
JOHN BROWNE: I write for Euro Pacific Capital on the internet which is EuroPac.net. My articles are on there together along with Peter Schiff on the front page. That’s probably the best way other than lectures that I give every now and again and of course your wonderful podcast.
FRA: Great! Thank you very much gentlemen for being on the show.
Transcript written by: Daniel Valentin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
10/01/2017 - The Roundtable Insight – Charles Hugh Smith On Why Wages Are Stagnant In The Developed World
FRA: Hi – Welcome to FRA’s Roundtable Insight. Today we have Charles Hugh Smith. He is America’s philosopher as we have called him in the past. He is the author of 9 books on our economy and society including: A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs For All, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change and The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy. His blog, OfTwoMinds.com has logged over 55 million page views and is number 7 on CNBC’s top alternative finance sites. Welcome Charles!
C. H. SMITH: Thank you Richard. I always wonder if I can live up to that glowing introduction.
FRA: You always do. You have great insight as always. I thought maybe today we take a look at a topic you have written a lot about and that is on stagnant wages, particularly in the developed world such as the U.S. and Canada, and what the challenges are behind that…Why it’s happening and if there are any solutions to get out of that trend.
C. H. SMITH: Right – Well it’s an excellent topic. It confuses the conventional economic commentators because as of right now we all know in the developed world, at least in North America, the unemployment is quite low – It’s less than 5 percent which is considered full employment. Normally when we have full employment then employers have to start bidding higher wages and benefits to attract the most productive workers. A rising tide raises all ships and in other words wages tend to rise across the board. When you have full employment and a rising gross domestic product, but we have rising GDP and very low unemployment, according to the statistics, and our wages remain stagnant so something has changed. So I think that is the question that we are going to try to explore.
FRA: And as your writings have indicated that there are a lot of explanations that include automation, globalization, offshoring, the high cost of housing, the climb in corporate competition, the failure of the educational complex to keep pace, a global labour arbitrage as a big factor. What do you make of those explanations?
C. H. SMITH: Yeah – I think all elements and part of what we’re proposing here is that there is not just one explanation. If we could just nail it down to one cause then we might be able to change that which policy, but what you’re talking about is these very large structural forces such as globalization and the fact that the economy is changing faster than our higher education systems can change so they are falling behind what employers actually need employees to know. And so these are structural and very difficult to modify or change with just a few policy tweaks here and there. That’s not even mentioning the impact of financialization and financial repression which we all know has kicked into gear in the 21stcentury. That has also changed the distribution of the gains we’ve made from productivity. I have a chart here that the New York Times published in August indicating that virtually all of the income increases over the last few years are now going to the top half of 1%. That’s completely different than it was in the 80’s and 90’s where the distribution of increasing incomes was skewed to the lower end income and middle income sectors. That to me shows the impact of financialization because we know the top 0.5% are generally not people inventing something wonderful, they are not Steve Jobs, they are people that are simply getting nearly free money from central banks then using that cheap money to leverage it into ownership of income streams. They are not creating any income streams they are simply acquiring them with all the evil fruit of financial repression, cheap money, limited liquidity and high leverage.
FRA: For our listeners, Charles has made a collection of charts that provide good insight and we’ll have those charts in the write up of this podcast as well for everybody to look at. If you could go into what is the need for rising wages – the whole system is based on rising wages, could you go a little bit into that and why stagnant wages is a problem?
C. H. SMITH: Yeah – That is a critical point because our whole economy, the advanced post-industrial developed economies, they are all consumer economies – They depend on consumers buying goods and services on a permanent basis. So you have to have higher wages in order to support more consumer spending and more consumer borrowing because if we are going to borrow more than we need to make more net income so we can service that higher debt. So stagnant wages throw a monkey wrench into the whole permanent growth and expansion of consumption that our economies are based on. Now we can question that model and say what we really need is a growth model where we are actually getting more happiness and satisfaction with using less resources are earning less income, but that’s a discussion for another day. The economy we have is one that starts falling apart if wages stagnate or decline. I have a chart here of wages and salary as a percent of GDP and it’s quite interesting because it goes back to 1960. It’s basically a measure of how much of the economic activity or output of the economy is going to wages and salaries. What we find is is that it’s dropped quite a bit. In the 70’s, about 50% of all the GDP went to wages and salaries such as working and self-employed people, now it is hovering around 42% or 43%. That is a significant chunk because the GDP currently is about 18 trillion, so if you’re talking about 7% of that then you’re talking about a trillion dollars that used to be directed to wages and salaries and now is going to corporate profit or financier profits and basically financialization. So that’s a big change, but it’s secular, in order words it started in the 1970’s with the stagflation of the 70’s then it continued to climb in the financial boom in the 80’s and the only counter trend was in the Dot-com era, then the percentage of the GDP growth that went to wages and salaries actually increased, but when that boom ended it went back to a decline.
So we have to look for answers that don’t just start 5-10 years ago, we have to look back and say something has been happening for a decade or two. One possibility is productivity, that if we look at productivity growth – I have a chart here that goes back to 1980. Obviously it’s a volatile metric, it goes up and down depending on if the economy is entering a recession or not, but recently even though we’ve had strong growth in the GDP, the productivity has been very anemic and not just for a year or two but since 2010. That’s another change that’s undermining wages and salaries because all real growth comes from increases in productivity.
FRA: Now in some parts the local governments, which have growing budgets tied to increased collection of property taxes due to rises in housing prices, that could also become problematic in a similar way in the public sector if the housing prices stagnate or decline. How are property taxes going to be maintained or increase based on budgets that are factored in for growth?
C. H. SMITH: That’s right and an excellent point – And especially for municipalities and states where the majority of the local government income is largely based on property taxes rather than sales or income taxes. And of course if wages stagnate then people have less money to spend so sales taxes stagnate, they have less income so income taxes stagnate and then they can’t afford to move up to more expensive housing if they can’t afford the property tax. I think we can see the local governments around the U.S. are feeling a dwindling, a stagnation of their revenues. Another thing is I have a chart here of the annual change in the number of new firms or in other words how many new companies are emerging and succeeding enough to hire employees and pay taxes and all the good stuff that we expect of new business growth – That has been stagnant or declining since the 2009 global financial crisis as well, compared to the previous decades of very strong growth of new small businesses. That’s another element, it’s becoming more difficult to start a new business and to succeed. That also means that there is less opportunity for wage earners because the fast growing small businesses tend to be the engines of employment because they are growing fast and need talent and are willing to outbid existing corporations for the best talent and so they are a big part of higher wages. That is also causing stagnation in wages and salaries.
FRA: So, if we consider the big reason of financialization as the reason that wages have stagnated and that the economy is optimized for financialization, can we focus on that to explain what is financialization, how does it work, what does it mean to the average consumer and so what’s exactly happening behind financialization?
C. H. SMITH: That’s a great question. It’s a word that has various definitions. My personal definition is that it’s the commodification of everything in the economy into something that can be marketed globally. So for instance, home mortgages in North America, back in the ancient days or 20 year ago banks would originate a mortgage and hold it. It was a very slow, steady, low-risk business with a guaranteed return. Once that financial industry got financialized then the mortgages were packaged into financial instruments that can then be marketed globally as investments and then they could be sold as AAA-rated instruments to credulous investors and huge profits could be spun off of this. So that’s an example of how financialization works, is that it’s basically taking what was once a low risk industry and hyperfinancialzing it so it could be sold off and traded for immense profits. The high risk that is generated from that is then passed onto other people. The role of central banks in financialization is that the cheaper you make money, the more speculation that you enable. For example in the housing bubble of 2007-2008, that speculation was fueled on both ends of the spectrum. You had small-time players getting liar loans, which were of course enabled by central bank liquidity. And then you’ve got financiers that were selling F-rated financial instruments as AAA-rated. Nowadays, because of the credit-tightening and the regulations that were finally imposed on the banking sector, the small fry doesn’t really have the same access to liar loans and easy money, and so now it’s congregated up in the very top of the wealth power pyramid that if you’re a financier or a corporation, then you have almost unlimited access to cheap money. You can sell bonds at low rates or borrow money from a money centre bank at rates that no normal employee can possibly match. So the corporations can do thing that would not have been possible without financial repression because if they had to pay 7% or 8% to borrow the money, then it would no longer make sense to buyback so many millions of shares of their company in order to boost their wealth and capital gains. So it’s the cost of money and the availability of money to the apex of the wealth power pyramid and that’s why the chart from the New York Times shows that the vast majority of income gains over the 21thcentury are congregated over that very small part of the population that has access to unlimited liquidity at very low interest rates and then they can buy the income streams and outbid everybody else. I think that is one of the devastating impacts of financial repression, that the benefits are not evenly distributed. If you and I could go borrow a billion dollars at 1%, we could do some amazing things because all I would need to do is buy bonds that pay 3% and I would be skimming 2% for nothing. I would be earning 40 million dollars a year simply because I have access to cheap money. That is one of my favourite examples of how financialization works.
FRA: And you’ve got a great quote from one of your blog writings earlier this month saying, “Financialization funnels the economy’s rewards to those with access to opaque financial processes and information flows, cheap central bank credit and private banking leverage.” Those aspects cover what a lot of what financial repression is about such as cheap central bank credit – The whole money printing and quantitative easing aspects of central bank activities.
C. H. SMITH: Right – And the fact that for the 99.95% of us, we can borrow money to do something specific, modest and limited such as buying a house or getting a small business loan if we jump through a lot of hoops, but we can’t go borrow money with the size and leverage that the big players can – That’s why they’re scooping all the income gains. If we look at the chart here of declining wages for all layers of the educational accomplishment, in other words even the workers with advanced degrees, their wages are stagnating too while those with less education may actually be declining once you adjust for inflation. This is quite amazing that even the highest educated workers are no longer making gains. That shows how pervasive the damage is with financial repression.
FRA: That is an interesting chart. And if we can now ask what is the way out of this – Are there any solutions? Could a repeat of the dot-com bubble, where there was a break in the trend, be repeated through the revolutions we have going on like in blockchain, bio-tech, energy & environment, robotics. There are a whole bunch of revolutions that are happening in different industries. Could any one of those or perhaps collectively altogether duplicate a dot-com effect?
C. H. SMITH: That’s a great question and I think the more we learn about each of these scientific and technological revolutions, the more potential we see. Just as a beginning comment: there is a lot of media coverage of the replacement of human-beings such as the self-driving driving vehicles which are going to get rid of millions of drivers, that is definitely a real possibility, but we have to also make mention of something that is less sexy which is that a lot of technology tends to augment human labour. For instance, an industrial robot on a factory floor, it doesn’t just do it’s thing with no human interaction for months on end, years on end. More and more you need to change your product line very quickly and modify your production and so you actually need skilled humans to reprogram the robot. There is a lot of this kind of technology where the tool increases human productivity, but humans are definitely still the key part of the whole chain of production. So I think there is a definite possibility for higher wages which would basically mean the higher productivity that’s flowing from technological advances would go to those doing the work as opposed to those who own the income streams. But I have to say we are going to have to find some way to limit the predation of financialization in order to press those gains down the wealth power pyramid to those who are actually doing the work and creating the advances. That’s going to require certainly a political change that puts limits on financialization so there is more of the nation’s income left to be shared with the workers.
FRA: Could all of these trends have deflationary effect on the economy in terms of the need to sell assets for generating enough income to service debt and to pay ordinary everyday expenses? Do you see that potential in terms of deflationary effects on the economy in general?
C. H. SMITH: That’s a great question because it calls to my mind Japan, which as we know has been sort of in a deflationary cycle for roughly 25 years. When we look at Japan there are many aspects we can comment on and it’s stagnating too in terms of it’s wage structure and it’s growth. But one thing we might posit is that Japan’s export industry, it’s most productive sectors like automotive and various technology sectors, their productivity is increasing enough that Japan’s national economy has been able to stumble forward in a very low growth and stagnate way, but the very high productivity of the industrious sectors of Japan how allowed that to be modified. In other words, without those high productivity industries, then Japan would be in a real perhaps deathbell of deflationary dynamics. My point here is that if you have these very productive revolutionary technologies, they may be a small sector of the overall economy in terms of a percentage of economic activity, but in terms of the gross and productivity that they create, they have an outsized impact. So we might see something like that and we may be already be seeing something like that in the U.S. where the sectors that are growing fast and creating a lot of value are keeping the U.S. economy from entering a deflationary cycle. And because we know one cause of deflation is technology lowers costs and so things get faster, better, cheaper, or at least that’s the idea. That’s not a very complete answer to your question, which I think is a good one, but my point being is that technological revolutions can lower the cost of goods and services which is deflationary, but their productivity gains can increase the GDP which tends to counter that deflationary impact – In other words the whole economy can be growing even as prices decline.
FRA: That’s interesting and great insight – How can our listeners learn more about your work, Charles?
C. H. SMITH: Please visit me at OfTwoMinds.com
FRA: Great – We’ll have you on again. Looking forward to the next discussion.
C. H. SMITH: Thank you so much Richard – It’s been my pleasure.
Transcript by: Daniel Valentin <email@example.com>