Earlier I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2018. I'm adding some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.5) Monetary Policy: The Fed raised rates three times in 2017 and started to reduce their balance sheet. The Fed is forecasting three more rate hikes in 2018. Some analysts think there will be more, from Goldman Sachs: "We expect the next rate hike to come in March with subjective odds of 75%, and we continue to expect a total of four hikes in 2018."Will the Fed raise rates in 2018, and if so, by how much?For years, following the great recession, I made fun of those predicting an imminent Fed Funds rate increase. Based on high unemployment and low inflation, I argued it would be a "long time" before the first rate hike. A long time passed ... and in 2015 I finally argued a rate hike was likely. The Fed raised rates once in 2015, and then once again in December 2016, and then three times in 2017. Currently the target range for the federal funds rate is 1-1/4 to 1‑1/2 percent.There is a wide range of views on the FOMC. As of December, the FOMC members see the following number of rate hikes in 2018:25bp Rate Hikesin 2018FOMCMembersOne Rate Cut1No Hikes1One1Two3Three6Four3More than Four1The main view of the FOMC is three rate hikes in 2018.As the economy approaches full employment, and with the new tax law adding a little stimulus, it is possible that inflation will pick up a little in 2018 - and, if so, the Fed could hike more than expected.Tim Duy wrote Thursday: 5 Questions for the Fed in 2018Is this the year inflation begins to pick up?...Will job growth slow as expected?...Are policy makers underestimating the impact of the tax cuts?...Should the Fed care about inverting the yield curve?...Will financial stability concerns affect rate policy?...... as we think about these issues, note that the Fed will be navigating these waters with a new captain as Chair Janet Yellen is succeeded by Governor Jerome Powell. Plus, there will be a new crew in the form of Randy Quarles and, if confirmed, Marvin Goodfriend. Moreover, the more dovish voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee such as December dissenters Kashkari and Charles Evans rotate off in favor of the more hawkish voices such as John Williams and Loretta Mester. On net, the Fed will find more reasons to hike rates than hold steady in 2018, leaving the current three hike projection as the best bet.My current guess is the Fed will hike three times in 2018.As an aside, many new Fed Chairs have faced a crisis early in their term. A few examples, Paul Volcker took office in August 1979, and inflation hit almost 12% (up from 7.9% the year before), and the economy went into recession as Volcker raised rates. Alan Greenspan took office in August 1987, and the stock market crashed almost 34% within a couple months of Greenspan taking office (including over 20% in one day!). And Ben Bernanke took office in February 2006, just as house prices peaked - and he was challenged by the housing bust, great recession and financial crisis.Hopefully Jerome Powell will see smoother sailing.Here are the Ten Economic Questions for 2018 and a few predictions:• Question #5 for 2018: Will the Fed raise rates in 2018, and if so, by how much?• Question #6 for 2018: How much will wages increase in 2018?• Question #7 for 2018: How much will Residential Investment increase?• Question #8 for 2018: What will happen with house prices in 2018?• Question #9 for 2018: Will housing inventory increase or decrease in 2018?• Question #10 for 2018: Will the New Tax Law impact Home Sales, Inventory, and Price Growth in Certain States?
Влиятельный британский журнал «Экономист» считается глобальным рупором старейшего финансового клана планеты. Иные конспирологи даже называют Ротшильдов тайными правителями мира, связывая с этой династией все важнейшие события… Сам журнал прославился шифрованными обложками – головоломками про год гря...
If the government ably channelizes the policies and implements pro-investors and pro-corporate reforms, Wall Street would continue to be ruled by bulls.
Americans who are lucky enough to own their own little slice of the 'American Dream' are about $2 trillion wealthier this year courtesy of Janet Yellen's efforts to recreate all the same asset bubbles that Alan Greenspan first blew in the early 2000's. After surging 6.5% in 2017, the highest pace in 4 years according to Zillow data, the total market value of homes in the United States reached a staggering all-time high of $31.8 trillion at the end of 2017...or roughly 1.5x the total GDP of the United States. If you add the value of all the homes in the United States together, you get a sum that’s a lot to get your mind around: $31.8 trillion. How big is that? It’s more than 1.5 times the Gross Domestic Product of the United States and approaching three times that of China. Altogether, homes in the Los Angeles metro area are worth $2.7 trillion, more than the United Kingdom’s GDP. That’s before this luxury home on steroids hits the market. In the New York City metro, total home values equal $2.6 trillion, more than the French economy — and enough money to buy 8,494 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners. And here is a look at the "Housing Bubble 2.0" on a state-by-state basis: Ironically, among the 35 largest U.S. housing markets, the one to experience the greatest total home value growth happened to be Columbus, Ohio, which gained 15.1% to $152.3 billion. Meanwhile, the millions of Americans who have been forced into renting following their short sales or foreclosures in the wake of the last housing bubble, threw a record $485.6 billion dollars down the drain in 2017 on rent, an increase of $4.9 billion from 2016. Not surprisingly, folks in New York and Los Angeles spent the most on rent in 2017 while San Francisco rents soared to such high levels that renters collectively paid $616 million more in rent than Chicago renters did, despite there being 467,000 fewer renters in San Francisco than in Chicago. Of course, as we pointed out at the end of November, while staggering, the pricing gains on housing only look to just now be heating up... As the latest housing data shows an uptick in sales, Case-Shiller's 20-City Composite index surged 6.19% YoY in September - the fastest rate of gain since July 2014. As Bloomberg notes, the residential real-estate market is benefiting from steady demand backed by a strong job market and low mortgage rates. The ongoing scarcity of available houses on the market, especially previously-owned dwellings, is likely to keep driving up prices. Eight cities have surpassed their peaks from before the financial crisis, according to the report. All 20 cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 12.9 percent increase in Seattle and a 9 percent advance in Las Vegas (slowest gains in Washington area at 3.1 percent, Chicago at 3.9 percent) Luckily, American's are too 'smart' to get crushed by another housing crash this cycle...no, this time around they're not taking any chances and are instead taking all their equity out of their homes to buy Bitcoin...which is a genius plan if we understand it correctly.
Экономисты Уолл-стрит согреваются мыслью о том, что ФРС может повысить процентные ставки четыре или более раз в следующем году, то есть будет двигаться быстрее своего текущего прогноза. ФРС прогнозирует три повышения процентных ставок на 2018 год, но рынок провел текущий год с сомнением о том, что сможет ли ФРС повысить ставки, по крайней мере, два раза из-за медленных темпов инфляции - и до второй половины года - медленных темпов роста экономики. Но рост ускорился до такой степени, что существует потенциал зафиксировать третье подряд квартальное расширение больше чем на 3%, что наблюдалось в последний раз в 2005 году. "Я думаю, что данная серия роста расширится до 4-х кварталов при поддержке от снижения налогов, - сказал Марк Занди, главный экономист Moody's Analytics. - Это подтолкнет безработицу ниже 4% и будет оказывать большее давление на ФРС, чтобы нормализовать ставки намного быстрее". Руководство ФРС подняло базовую краткосрочную процентную ставку по федеральным фондам на четверть процентного пункта до диапазона от 1,25%-1,5% в декабре. В итоге, ФРС повысила ставки три раза в этом году. Фондовые стратеги, между тем, говорят, что неожиданно агрессивный настрой ФРС может стать одним из самых больших встречных ветров для акций в следующем году, если экономика не будет продолжать наращивать темпы роста. Экономисты, опрошенные CNBC / Moody's Analytics, в среднем ожидают рост ВВП на 2,7% в четвертом квартале, при этом Марк Занди сказал, что рост может продолжаться в высоком 2-процентном диапазоне в следующем году. "Дело не в том, что ФРС может стать слишком агрессивной. Проблема в том, что рынок не будет учитывать такой настрой в ценообразовании, - сказала Дайан Сонк, генеральный директор DS Economics. По ее словам, фондовый рынок быстро повышался при поддержке налогового законопроекта, который сокращает корпоративные налоги до 21% с 35%. Джон Бриггс, глава стратегии NatWest Markets, заявил, что ожидает четырех повышений ставки в 2018 году из-за сохранения сильной экономики и рынка труда, но рынок отстает, и ожидает всего три повышения ставки в 2018 году. «Рынок нуждается в доказательствах того, что инфляция снова улучшается, чтобы начать учитывать в ценообразовании четыре повышения ставки", - сказал он, добавив, что ФРС может изменить прогноз по процентным ставкам на своем мартовском заседании. Мартовское совещание будет первым под председательством Джерома Пауэлла, нового председателя ФРС, который заменит Джанет Йеллен, когда ее срок полномочий закончится в начале февраля. Хотя взгляды Пауэлла считаются несколько похожими с мнением Йеллен, общий совет Федеральной резервной системы может показаться немного более ястребиным, чем нынешняя группа. Информационно-аналитический отдел TeleTradeИсточник: FxTeam
Можно воспользоваться спокойными торгами и поговорить о составе Комитета по открытым рынкам Федерального резервного банка США в 2018 году. Помимо ухода Джанет Йеллен, будет внесен ряд дополнительных изменений, которые могут оказать значительное влияние на желание ужесточения политики в следующем году. Традиционно FOMC состоит из 12 членов - 7 членов Совета управляющих, главы центробанка и 4-х президентов Резервного банка, которые работают на 1-летней основе. Когда нынешний глава ФРС Джанет Йеллен уйдет в отставку в феврале, FOMC будет состоять из следующих членов: Председатель ФРС - Джером Пауэлл Совет управляющих - Лайел Брейнар, Рэндал Куорлз ФРС Нью-Йорк - Уильям Дадли ФРС Кливленд - Лоретта Местер ФРС Сан-Франциско Джон Уильямс ФРС Атланта - Рафаэль Бостич ФРС Ричмонд ФРС - ??? Из него выходят Чарльз Эванс и Нил Кашкари, единственные 2 члена, которые проголосовали против повышения ставок в декабре, и в нем появляется Местер, который является ястребом и Уильямс и Бостик, которые являются центристами. Уильямс ранее предположил, что в следующем году ставки могут возрасти в 3 раза, тогда как Бостик менее привержен конкретному масштабу, заявив, что может быть 2,3 или 4 похода. На пост главы ФРС Ричмонда по-прежнему необходимо назначить замену Джеффри Лэкеру, который ушел в отставку в апреле, и на пост ФРС Нью-Йорка нужно будет найти замену Уильяму Дадли, который планирует выйти на пенсию в середине 2018 года. Помимо этих открытых мест в Совете осталось еще 4 вакансии губернаторов. В этом месяце Трамп назначил экономиста Марвина на одну из вакансий. Он широко уважаемый экономист и бывший политик в ФРС Ричмонда, который выступает за более строгий таргетинг на инфляцию и отрицательные процентные ставки по сравнению с количественным ослаблением. Несколько вице-директоров были приглашены на должность вице-председателя - ни один из которых не имеет прямого опыта в области денежно-кредитной политики. Говорят, что Белый дом рассматривает Ричарда Клариду (управляющего директора PIMCO NY), Лоуренса Линдсей (советника по экономическим вопросам у Буша) и Джона Тейлора (отмеченного экономиста) за эту должность. Это оставляет одно дополнительное место в Совете управляющих и заменяет президентов ФРС Нью-Йорка и Ричмонда. Лоуренс Линдсей и Джон Тейлор вероятные претенденты на эту должность. Из подтвержденных членов мы знаем, что взгляды Пауэлла и Дадли совпадают с взглядами Йеллен. Блейнард - голубь, Куарлз проголосовал с большинством на последней встрече, Местер, Уильямс и Бостик, которые немного более ястребины. Таким образом, если голубки не будут назначены на оставшиеся должности, в 2018 году у центрального банка будет более яростный наклон. Информационно-аналитический отдел TeleTrade Источник: FxTeam
Число американцев, подавших заявки на пособие по безработице, сохранилось без изменений на прошлой неделе, оставаясь вблизи исторически низких уровней по мере приближения конца 2017 года. Первоначальные заявки на пособие по безработице, индикатор увольнений по всем штатам США, составили 245 000 с учетом сезонных колебаний за неделю, закончившуюся 23 декабря, оставшись без изменений по сравнению с предыдущей неделей, сообщило в четверг Министерство труда. Экономисты на прошлой неделе ожидали 240 000 новых заявок. Данные о заявках на пособие по безработице могут быть неустойчивыми от недели к неделе, а сезонные корректировки, как правило, особенно сложны в праздничные дни (понедельник был Рождеством). Четырехнедельная скользящая средняя первичных обращений на прошлой неделе выросла на 1750 до 77 750. После подъема из-за нескольких мощных ураганов поздним летом, заявки на пособие по безработице опустились до низких уровней, соответствующих здоровью на рынке труда США. Еженедельные первичные заявки на пособие по безработице остались ниже 300 000 в течение 147 недель подряд - самая длинная такая полоса с 1970 года, когда население и рабочая сила в США были намного меньше, чем сегодня. Последствия ураганов Ирма и Мария все еще ощущаются на некоторых территориях США. Министерство труда в четверг предупредило, что «процедуры рассмотрения обращений продолжают нарушаться на Виргинских островах» и что процесс в Пуэрто-Рико «все еще не вернулся в норму». Количество повторных заявок выросло на 7 000 до 1,943 миллиона за неделю, закончившуюся 16 декабря. Данные о повторных заявках выпускаются с недельной задержкой. Экономика США заканчивает 2017 год с попутным ветром. Уровень безработицы в ноябре составил 4,1%, оставаясь второй месяц подряд на 17-летнем минимуме. Рост производства был солидным во втором и третьем кварталах, а модель GDPNow Федерального резервного банка Атланты на прошлой неделе предсказала прирост валового внутреннего продукта на 2,8% в четвертом квартале. «Расходы домашних хозяйств растут умеренными темпами, инвестиции в бизнес выросли, и благоприятные экономические условия за рубежом оказали поддержку экспорту», - сказала в середине декабря председатель Федеральной резервной системы Джанет Йеллен. «В целом мы по-прежнему ожидаем, что экономика будет развиваться умеренными темпами». Информационно-аналитический отдел TeleTradeИсточник: FxTeam
Authored by Jeffrey Snider via Alhambra Investment Partners, When Janet Yellen spoke at her regular press conference following the FOMC decision in September 2017 to begin reducing the Fed’s balance sheet, the Chairman was forced to acknowledge that while the unemployment rate was well below what the central bank’s models view as inflationary it hadn’t yet shown up in the PCE Deflator. Of course, this was nothing new since policymakers had been expecting accelerating inflation since 2014. In the interim, they have tried very hard to stretch the meaning of the word “transitory” into utter meaninglessness; as in supposedly non-economic factors are to blame for this consumer price disparity, but once they naturally dissipate all will be as predicted according to their mandate. That is, actually, exactly what Ms. Yellen said in September, unusually coloring her assessment some details as to those “transitory” issues: For quite some time, inflation has been running below the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run objective. However, we believe this year’s shortfall in inflation primarily reflects developments that are largely unrelated to broader economic conditions. For example, one-off reductions earlier this year in certain categories of prices, such as wireless telephone services, are currently holding down inflation, but these effects should be transitory. Such developments are not uncommon and, as long as inflation expectations remain reasonably well anchored, are not of great concern from a policy perspective because their effects fade away. Appealing to Verizon’s reluctant embrace of unlimited data plans for cellphone service was more than a little desperate on her part. Even if that was the primary reason for the PCE Deflator’s continued miss, it still didn’t and doesn’t necessarily mean what telecoms were up to was some non-economic trivia. Over the past few years, consumers have been hit with almost regular (not “residual seasonality”) shocks to incomes that seem to be increasing in intensity as well as duration. These are, in effect, downturns within a downturn; short run drops or contractions inside an already lost decade. Acceleration of cheap might actually be the most logical of outcomes. Rather than dismiss these continued problems in favor of fanciful bias towards monetary policy, it was of a far more scientific basis to wonder whether the Fed knows anything about inflation. A lot has changed in official terms between September and December, which is to say in terms of inflation nothing changed. There is as yet no acceleration in the PCE Deflator (or CPI) that isn’t someway connected to oil price effects. In November 2017, the BEA calculates that consumer prices rose by 1.76% year-over-year, up from 1.59% in October as gasoline prices rose 131% (month-over-month, annual rate). Core rates that strip out energy prices, such as the Dallas Fed’s trimmed mean, continue to undershoot and therefore suggest no momentum and zero upon which to base expectations for acceleration. It’s not nothing that monetary policy has missed its target for sixty-five out of the last sixty-seven months, and ninety of the past 110 months going back to October 2008 and the botched monetary response to Lehman and everything before it. Because of all that within the realm of inflation, meaning the monetary system, it has been more than fair or reasonable to ask whether economists really know what they are doing. Up until 2016, that was a question you weren’t allowed to consider unless well outside of the mainstream. Since then, more and more policymakers are actually asking of themselves the same idea. Having failed all throughout 2017, the year almost completely over, Janet Yellen’s final press conference for December, then, was subtly changed from the prior one to at least admit that maybe they really don’t know – trying hard not to make too much of a big deal about it. We continue to believe that this year’s surprising softness in inflation primarily reflects transitory developments that are largely unrelated to broader economic conditions. As a result, we still expect inflation will move up and stabilize around 2 percent over the next couple of years. Nonetheless, as I’ve noted previously, our understanding of the forces driving inflation is imperfect. As a final official act, Yellen downgraded from “definitely transitory” to “imperfect understanding.” This matters a great deal, for if their grasp of basic economic factors is this flawed (just an 18% hit rate in nearly 10 years) there’s likely far more gone wrong than just the price effects of unlimited wireless data.
After selecting Fed governor Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen as Fed Chair when her term expires in February, the Trump White House has now moved on to interviewing a series of candidates for the Vice Chair position. As the Wall Street Journal notes this morning, two of the more likely candidates for that role are a pair of economists who served in senior positions in the George W. Bush administration. The pair being considered by Trump consists of Richard Clarida, a managing director at money manager Pimco and a professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University, and Lawrence Lindsey, who runs an economic-advisory firm in Washington. In addition to his current roles, Clarida served as assistant secretary for economic policy at the Bush Treasury Department from 2002 to 2003. Lindsey was a top economic adviser to the Bush White House from 2001 to 2002 and served as a governor on the Fed’s board from 1991 to 1997. As further background, here is Clarida's bio from PIMCO: Dr. Clarida is a managing director in the New York office and PIMCO's global strategic advisor. In this capacity he leads PIMCO's annual Secular Forum process and works closely with the Investment Committee to assess and analyze global monetary and fiscal policy trends. Since joining the firm in 2006, he has worked extensively with and served as a trusted adviser to the firm's many central bank and sovereign wealth fund clients. Prior to joining PIMCO, he gained extensive experience in Washington as assistant Treasury secretary, in academia as chairman of the economics department at Columbia University, and in the financial markets at Credit Suisse and Grossman Asset Management. He has 19 years of investment experience and holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. He received his undergraduate degree with Bronze Tablet Honors from the University of Illinois. And Lindsey's bio from The Lindsey Group: Larry Lindsey is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Lindsey Group. He has held leading positions in government, academia, and business. Prior to forming The Lindsey Group, he held the position of Assistant to the President and Director of the National Economic Council at the White House and was the chief economic adviser to candidate George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign. Dr. Lindsey also served as a Governor of the Federal Reserve System from 1991 to 1997, as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Economic Policy during the first Bush Administration, and as Senior Staff Economist for Tax Policy at the Council of Economic Advisers during President Reagan’s first term. Dr. Lindsey served five years on the Economics faculty of Harvard University and held the Arthur F. Burns Chair for Economic Research at the American Enterprise Institute. From 1997 until 2001 he was Managing Director of Economic Strategies, a global consulting firm. Dr. Lindsey earned his A.B. Magna Cum Laude from Bowdoin College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was awarded the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award by the National Tax Association and named the Citicorp Wriston Fellow for Economic Research at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of numerous articles and three books: The Growth Experiment, Economic Puppet Masters and What a President Should Know…but Most Learn Too Late. In terms of policy preferences, Clarida has often spoken favorably in interviews about the accommodative monetary policies of Yellen. The Obama administration considered nominating Clarida to a vacant Fed seat in 2011, but he withdrew from consideration which ultimately resulted in Powell being chosen for the seat. Lindsey, on the other hand, was one of the few to warn of a stock-market bubble in 1996 and said the Fed had an obligation to prevent the bubble from growing out of control...advice that someone should have given Janet Yellen about a year ago. In terms of other candidates, the Trump administration is also considering Mohamed El-Erian, the former chief executive of Pimco and a former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund. El-Erian is also considered by many Fed watchers to be a potential candidate to lead the New York Fed, which will name a new president next year.
Authored by John Hussman via HussmanFunds.com, Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of the errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive.” – Charles MackayExtraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Delusions are often viewed as reflecting some deficiency in reasoning ability. The risk of thinking about delusions in this way is that it encourages the belief that logical, intelligent people are incapable of delusion. An examination of the history of financial markets suggests a different view. Specifically, faced with unusual or extraordinary price advances, there is a natural tendency (particularly in the presence of crowds, feedback loops, and potential rewards) to look for explanations. The problem isn’t that logic or reason has failed, but that the inputs have been distorted, and in the attempt to justify the advance amid the speculative excitement, careful data-gathering is replaced by a tendency to confuse temporary factors for fundamental underpinnings. While true psychological delusions are different from financial ones, a similar principle is suggested by psychological research. Delusions are best understood not as deficiencies in logic, but rather as explanations that have been logically reached on the basis of distorted inputs. For example, individuals with delusions appear vulnerable to differences in perception that may involve more vivid, intense, or emotionally-charged sensory input. While those differences might be driven by neurological factors, the person experiencing these unusual perceptions looks to develop an explanation. Maher emphasized that despite the skewed input, the delusions themselves are derived by completely normal reasoning processes. Similarly, Garety & Freeman found that delusions appear to reflect not a defect in reasoning itself, but a defect “which is best described as a data-gathering bias, a tendency for people with delusions to gather less evidence” so they tend to jump to conclusions. The reason that delusions are so hard to fight with logic is that delusions themselves are established through the exercise of logic. Responsibility for delusions is more likely to be found in distorted perception or inadequate information. The problem isn’t disturbed reasoning, but distorted or inadequate inputs that the eyes, ears, and mind perceive as undeniably real. Let’s begin by examining the anatomy of speculative bubbles. We’ll follow with a discussion of three popular delusions that have taken hold of the crowd, and the premises that drive them: the delusion of paper wealth, the delusion of a booming economy, and the delusion that is Bitcoin. The anatomy of speculative bubbles Across centuries of history, speculative financial bubbles have repeatedly emerged from the seeds of distorted financial environments, where speculative behavior increasingly produces self-reinforcing feedback. Specifically, the speculative behavior of the crowd results in rising prices that both impress and reward speculators, and in turn encourage even greater speculation. The more impressed the crowd becomes with the result of its own behavior, the more that behavior persists, and the more unstable the system becomes, until finally the flapping wings of a butterfly become sufficient to provoke a collapse, launching a self-reinforcing feedback loop in the opposite direction. The 1929 bubble was built on the foundation of real economic prosperity during the roaring 20’s, but the late stages of that boom were largely fueled by debt and easy money. Observing the persistent market advance, investors largely ignored the contribution of their own speculation in producing that advance. Rather, as traditional valuation measures became increasingly stretched, the first impulse of investors was to try to justify the elevated valuations in novel ways, which gradually became nothing but excuses for continued speculation. As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote decades ago in his book, The Great Crash 1929: “It was still necessary to reassure those who required some tie, however tenuous, to reality. This process of reassurance eventually achieved the status of a profession. However, the time had come, as in all periods of speculation, when men sought not to be persuaded by the reality of things but to find excuses for escaping into the new world of fantasy.” Keep in mind that yes, the economy was strong, business was booming, and money was easy. The problem was that investors stopped thinking about stocks as a claim on a very, very long-term stream of discounted cash flows. Valuations didn’t matter. It was enough that the economy was expanding. It was enough that earnings were rising. Put simply, the trend of earnings and the economy, not the actual level of valuation, became the justification for buying stocks. Graham & Dodd described this process: “During the latter stage of the bull market culminating in 1929, the public acquired a completely different attitude towards the investment merits of common stocks… Why did the investing public turn its attention from dividends, from asset values, and from average earnings to transfer it almost exclusively to the earnings trend, i.e. to the changes in earnings expected in the future? The answer was, first, that the records of the past were proving an undependable guide to investment; and, second, that the rewards offered by the future had become irresistibly alluring. “Along with this idea as to what constituted the basis for common-stock selection emerged a companion theory that common stocks represented the most profitable and therefore the most desirable media for long-term investment. This gospel was based on a certain amount of research, showing that diversified lists of common stocks had regularly increased in value over stated intervals of time for many years past. “These statements sound innocent and plausible. Yet they concealed two theoretical weaknesses that could and did result in untold mischief. The first of these defects was that they abolished the fundamental distinctions between investment and speculation. The second was that they ignored the price of a stock in determining whether or not it was a desirable purchase. “The notion that the desirability of a common stock was entirely independent of its price seems incredibly absurd. Yet the new-era theory led directly to this thesis… An alluring corollary of this principle was that making money in the stock market was now the easiest thing in the world. It was only necessary to buy ‘good’ stocks, regardless of price, and then to let nature take her upward course. The results of such a doctrine could not fail to be tragic.” – Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, Security Analysis, 1934 The 2000 tech bubble featured the same process in a slightly different form. The inputs and premises that investors observed were valid, but incomplete. Economic growth and employment were strong, and money was easy. The internet did indeed have tremendous growth prospects. But again, as the advance became more speculative, investors largely ignored the impact of their own speculation in producing that advance. Instead, their first impulse was again to try to justify the elevated valuations in novel ways (recall “price-to-eyeballs”). By March 2000, on the basis of historically reliable valuation measures, I projected that a retreat to normal valuations would require an -83% plunge in tech stocks. In the 19 months that followed, that estimate turned out to be precise for the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index. The mortgage bubble leading up to the global financial crisis was built on the same sort of distorted inputs, this time fueled by the insistence of the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates at just 1% after the tech collapse. As yield-starved investors looked for relatively safe alternatives to low-yielding Treasury securities, they turned to mortgage securities, which had to-date never experienced major losses. Wall Street responded to the appetite for more “product” by creating new mortgage securities, which required the creation of new mortgages, and led to the creation of no-doc, zero-down mortgages and the willingness to lend to anyone with a pulse. All of this produced a glorious period of temporary prosperity and rising prices. As usual, instead of recognizing the impact of their own speculation in producing the advance, the first impulse of investors was to try to justify why elevated asset and housing valuations made sense. As the bubble expanded, Janet Yellen, then the head of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, offered this benign assessment of the risks: “First, if the bubble were to deflate on its own, would the effect on the economy be exceedingly large? Second, is it unlikely that the Fed could mitigate the consequences? Third, is monetary policy the best tool to use to deflate a house-price bubble? My answers to these questions in the shortest possible form are, ‘no,’ ‘no,’ and ‘no’ … It seems that the arguments against trying to deflate a bubble outweigh those in favor of it. So, my bottom line is that monetary policy should react to rising prices for houses or other assets only insofar as they affect the central bank’s goal variables—output, employment, and inflation.” Missing from Yellen’s benign assessment was the fact that the speculative distortion and debt buildup enabled by the bubble itself would be the primary driver of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The Fed appears to exclude such risks from its thinking, despite the fact that the worst economic collapses in history have generally gone hand-in-hand with episodes of financial speculation and their inevitable collapse. In the apparent attempt to bookend her term as Fed Chair by brushing aside the current progression toward financial collapse with an equally benign and milquetoast risk assessment, Janet Yellen observed on December 14, 2017: “If there were an adjustment in asset valuations, the stock market, what impact would it have on the economy, and would it provoke financial stability concerns? … I think when we look at other indicators of financial stability risks, there’s nothing flashing red there, or possibly even orange.” Despite risks that I fully expect to devolve into a roughly -65% loss in the S&P 500 over the completion of the current market cycle, it’s absolutely critical to distinguish the long-term effects of valuation from the shorter-term effects speculative pressure. Historically-reliable valuation measures are remarkably useful in projecting long-term and full-cycle market outcomes, but the behavior of the market over shorter segments of the market cycle is driven by the psychological inclination of investors toward speculation or risk-aversion. The most useful measure we’ve found of that psychological inclination is the uniformity or divergence of market internals across a broad range of individual stocks, industries, sectors, and security types (including debt securities of varying creditworthiness). When investors are inclined to speculate, they tend to be indiscriminate about it. Faced with extreme valuations, the first impulse of investors should not be to try to justify those valuation extremes, but to recognize the impact of their own speculative behavior in producing and sustaining those extremes. It then becomes essential to monitor market conditions for the hostile combination of extreme valuations and deteriorating market internals. In the recent advancing half-cycle, the speculation intentionally provoked by zero-interest rate policy forced us to elevate the priority of market internals to a far greater degree than was required during the tech and mortgage bubbles. It was necessary to prioritize the behavior of market internals even over extreme “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” features of market action. Those syndromes were effective in other cycles across history, but in the advancing half-cycle since 2009, our bearish response to those syndromes proved to be our Achilles Heel. The process of adaptation was very incremental, and therefore painful in the face of persistent speculation. We’ve adapted our investment discipline so that without exception, a negative market outlook can be established only in periods when our measures of market internals have also deteriorated. A neutral outlook is fine when conditions are sufficiently unfavorable, but establishing a negative outlook requires deterioration and dispersion in market internals. Faced with extreme valuations, the first impulse of investors should not be to try to justify those valuation extremes, but to recognize the impact of their own speculative behavior in producing and sustaining those extremes. It then becomes essential to monitor market conditions for the hostile combination of extreme valuations and deteriorating market internals. At present, we observe that combination, but would still characterize the deterioration in market internals as “early,” in the sense that it’s permissive of abrupt market losses, but not severe enough to infer a clear shift from speculation to risk-aversion among investors. The delusion of paper wealth Across history, the evaporation of paper wealth following periods of speculation has repeatedly taught a lesson that is never retained for long. Unfortunately, the lesson has to be relearned again and again because of what J.K. Galbraith referred to as “the extreme brevity of the financial memory.” Speculation is dangerous because it encourages the belief that just because prices are elevated, they must somehow actually belong there. It encourages the belief that the paper itself is wealth, rather than the stream of future cash flows that investors can expect their securities to deliver over time. On Saturday, December 16, the St. Louis Fed posted a rather disturbing tweet: “Negative interest rates may seem ludicrous, but not if they succeed in pushing people to invest in something more stimulating to the economy than government bonds.” This tweet was disturbing because it reflects a strikingly flawed understanding of financial markets. A moment’s reflection should make it obvious that once a security is issued, whether it’s a government bond or a dollar of base money, that security must be held by someone, at every point in time, until that security is retired. The only way to get people to invest in something “more stimulating to the economy” than government bonds is to stop issuing government bonds. It takes only a bit more thought to recognize that securities, in themselves, are not net wealth. Rather, every security is an asset to the holder, and an equivalent liability to the issuer. If Joe borrows dollars from Mary to buy something from Bob, Joe issues an IOU to Mary, Mary transfers her dollars to Joe, and the dollars end up in Bob’s hands. The IOU is a new security, but it doesn’t represent new economic wealth. It’s just evidence of the transfer of current purchasing power from Mary to Joe, and a claim on the transfer of future purchasing power from Joe to Mary. Neither the creation of securities, nor changes in their price, create net wealth or purchasing power for the economy. Yes, an individual holder of a security can obtain a transfer of wealth from someone else in the economy, provided that the holder actually sells the security to some new buyer while the price remains elevated. But in aggregate, the economy cannot consume off of its paper “wealth,” because in aggregate, those paper securities cannot be sold without someone else to buy them, and those paper securities must be held by someone until they are retired. What actually matters, in aggregate, is the stream of cash flows. Specifically, the activity that produces actual economic wealth is value-added production, which results in goods and services that did not exist previously with the same value. Value-added production is what actually “injects” purchasing power into the economy, as well as the objects available to be purchased. I’ve detailed the mechanics of “stock-flow accounting” in previous commentaries, so it will suffice here to cut to the bottom line. If one carefully accounts for what is spent, what is saved, and what form those savings take (securities that transfer the savings to others, or tangible real investment of output that is not consumed), one obtains a set of “stock-flow consistent” accounting identities that must be true at each point in time: 1) Total real saving in the economy must equal total real investment in the economy; 2) For every investor who calls some security an “asset” there’s an issuer that calls that same security a “liability”; 3) The net acquisition of all securities in the economy is always precisely zero, even though the gross issuance of securities can be many times the amount of underlying saving; 4) When one nets out all the assets and liabilities in the economy, the only thing that is left – the true basis of a society’s net worth – is the stock of real investment that it has accumulated as a result of prior saving, and its unused endowment of resources. Everything else cancels out because every security represents an asset of the holder and a liability of the issuer. Securities are not net wealth. Conceptualizing the “stock of real investment” as broadly as possible, the wealth of a nation consists of its stock of real private investment (e.g. housing, capital goods, factories), real public investment (e.g. infrastructure), intangible intellectual capital (e.g. education, knowledge, inventions, organizations, and systems), and its endowment of basic resources such as land, energy, and water. In an open economy, one would include the net claims on foreigners (negative, in the U.S. case). A nation that expands and defends its stock of real, productive investment is a nation that has the capacity to generate a higher long-term stream of value-added production, and to sustain a higher long-term standard of living. Understand that securities are not net economic wealth. They are a claim of one party in the economy – by virtue of past saving – on the future output produced by others. When paper “wealth” becomes extremely elevated or depressed relative to the value-added produced by an economy, it’s the paper “wealth” that adjusts to eliminate the gap. Several years ago, I introduced what remains the single most reliable measure of valuation we’ve ever developed or tested, easily outperforming popular measures such as the Fed Model, price/forward operating earnings, the Shiller CAPE, price/NIPA profits, and a score of other alternatives. From the above discussion, it shouldn’t be surprising that this measure is based on the ratio of equity market capitalization to corporate gross-value added. Specifically, the chart below shows the market capitalization of U.S. nonfinancial equities, divided by the gross value-added of U.S. nonfinancial companies, including estimated foreign revenues. This measure is shown on an inverted log scale (blue line, left scale). The red line shows actual subsequent S&P 500 average annual nominal total return over the following 12-year period. We prefer a 12-year horizon because that’s where the “autocorrelation profile” of valuations (the correlation between valuations at one point and valuations at any other point) reaches zero. Presently, we estimate negative total returns for the S&P 500 over the coming 12-year period. Among the valuation measures we find best correlated with actual S&P 500 total returns in market cycles across history, the S&P 500 is currently more than 2.8 times its historical norms. Importantly, this estimate of overvaluation is not somehow improved by accounting for the level of interest rates. The reason is that interest rates and economic growth rates are highly correlated across history. Lower interest rates only “justify” higher market valuations provided that the trajectory of future cash flows is held constant. But if interest rates are low because growth rates are also low (which we’ll establish in the next section below), no valuation premium is “justified” at all. So even given the level of interest rates, we expect a market loss of about -65% to complete the current speculative market cycle. That’s a much different proposition, however, than saying that this collapse will occur right away. If you watch financial television, you’ll hear a great deal of chatter about the “fundamental support” below current prices. But attend carefully, and you’ll find that nearly all of these arguments reduce to a list of factors that make the investment environment feel good at the moment. These feel-good factors are being extrapolated into the future just as surely as Irving Fisher did in 1929 when he proposed that stocks had reached “a permanently high plateau.” The best place to watch for cracks in this narrative is not valuations; they are already extreme, and are uninformative about near-term outcomes. Rather, it’s essential to monitor the uniformity of market internals across a wide range of individual securities (when investors are inclined to speculate, they tend to be indiscriminate about it). We’ve already observed deterioration in our key measures of market internals, but I would still characterize that deterioration as “early.” When paper ‘wealth’ becomes extremely elevated or depressed relative to the value-added produced by an economy, it’s the paper ‘wealth’ that adjusts to eliminate the gap. Extending our focus beyond immediate conditions, the chart below shows the total market capitalization of nonfinancial and financial U.S. corporations, along with three lines. The lowest red line shows total gross-value added (GVA) of U.S. corporations. The green line shows 1.2 times total GVA, representing the pre-bubble norm around which market capitalization has historically traded. That green line is the level historically associated with S&P 500 total returns of roughly 10% annually, though the same level today would be associated with lower expected future returns, because structural economic growth is lower today than in the past. The purple line is essentially the most “optimistic” value-line, in that no bear market in history, including the 2002 low, has failed to reach or violate that level. The upshot is this. At present, U.S. investors are under the delusion that the $37.3 trillion of paper wealth in their equity portfolios represents durable purchasing power. Unfortunately, as in 2000 and 2007, they are likely to observe an evaporation of this paper wealth. Nobody will “get” that wealth. It will simply vanish. If a dentist in Poughkeepsie sells a single share of Apple a dime lower than the previous trade, over $500 million dollars of paper wealth is instantly wiped from the stock market. That’s how market capitalization works. Over the completion of this market cycle, we estimate that between $19.8 and $24.2 trillion in paper “wealth” will evaporate into thin air. A nation that expands and defends its stock of real, productive investment is a nation that has the capacity to generate a higher long-term stream of value-added production, and to sustain a higher long-term standard of living. While our immediate market outlook remains only moderately negative, based on the still-early deterioration we observe in market internals, recognize that from a valuation perspective, we are now witnessing the single most offensive speculative extreme in history. The chart below shows my variant of Robert Shiller’s cyclically-adjusted P/E, which substantially improves the correlation with subsequent market returns by accounting for variation in the embedded profit margin. The current extreme exceeds both the 1929 and 2000 highs. The chart below shows the correlation of our Margin-Adjusted CAPE with actual subsequent S&P 500 total returns, in nearly a century of market history. As we observe with MarketCap/GVA, the Margin-Adjusted CAPE presently implies negative expected S&P 500 total returns over the coming 12-year horizon. The delusion of a booming economy A second delusion, unleashed by exuberance over the prospect of tax reductions, is the notion that U.S. growth has even a remote likelihood of enjoying sustained 4% real growth in the coming years. The most frequent reference is to the years following the Reagan tax cut, followed closely by references to the Kennedy tax cuts. This particular delusion is undoubtedly an example what Garety & Freeman described as “a data-gathering bias, a tendency for people with delusions to gather less evidence.” The central feature of both the Reagan and Kennedy tax cuts was that they were enacted at points that provided enormous slack capacity for growth. In particular, the Reagan cuts were enacted at a point where the unemployment rate had hit 10%, and an economic expansion was likely simply by virtue of cyclical mean-reversion. The Kennedy tax cuts (which brought the top marginal tax rate down from 90%) occurred as baby-boomers were just entering the labor force, again providing enormous capacity for growth. Presently, the situation is the reverse. The structural drivers of U.S. economic growth are likely to constrain real U.S. GDP growth to less than 2% annually in the coming years, even in the unlikely event that corporate tax cuts encourage increased gross domestic investment. Corporate profits are already near record levels. The effective U.S. corporate tax rate (taxes actually paid as a fraction of pre-tax income) is already at 20% even without tax cuts. We know from the 2004 repatriation holiday that tax breaks on foreign profits encouraged little but special dividends and share buybacks. Already, the available corporate surplus is being primarily driven into dividend payouts, share buybacks, and mergers and acquisitions, rather than real investment. Frankly, the notion that corporate tax cuts will unleash some renaissance in U.S. real investment and growth would be laughable if the bald-faced corporate giveaway wasn’t so offensive. The policy not only vastly favors the wealthy, but is even more preferential to wealthy individuals who take their income in the form of profits rather than wages. The current tax legislation isn’t some thoughtful reform to benefit Americans. It’s a quickly planned looting through a broken window in our nation’s character. On the subject of economic growth, an examination of the structural drivers of economic growth will illuminate the current situation. Real economic growth is the sum of two components: employment growth plus productivity growth. That means growth in the number of employed workers, plus growth in the level of output per-worker. We can further break employment growth into “structural” and “cyclical” components. The structural part is determined primarily by demographics, particularly population growth and the age distribution of the working-age population. The cyclical part is determined by fluctuations in the unemployment rate (which is equal to 1-civilian employment/civilian labor force). If civilian employment grows faster than the civilian labor force, the unemployment rate falls. If the civilian labor force grows faster than civilian employment, the unemployment rate rises. Let’s take a look at these components, and how they’ve changed over the decades. You’ll quickly see that while a quarterly pop in GDP growth is always possible, expectations of sustained 4% real GDP growth fall into the category of “delusion.” The first chart below shows the civilian labor force, on a log scale (so trendlines of different slopes represent different growth rates). For much of the post-war period until about 1980, the growth rate of the civilian labor force averaged about 1.8% annually. That growth slowed to 1.2% until about 2010. That 2010 figure is 1945 plus 65; the year that the first post-war baby-boomers hit retirement age. Since then, the growth rate of the civilian labor force has dropped to just 0.4% annually. That’s demographics. Now let’s take a look at productivity growth. In the early years of the post-war era, labor productivity increased at a rather explosive 2.6% annual growth rate. Growth then gradually slowed to about 1.9% annually, though in fits and starts, until about 2003. Over the past 14 years, U.S. productivity growth has slowed to just 0.6% annually. One of the core drivers of long-term productivity growth is expansion in net U.S. domestic investment (in excess of depreciation). As a general rule, booms in real U.S. investment are closely associated with deterioration in the trade deficit, because we export securities to foreigners in order to finance the boom. Because payments have to balance, this means we also export fewer goods for any given level of imports. The bottom line is that investment booms tend to be associated with larger trade deficits, so not surprisingly, booms in U.S. real investment typically emerge from a position of near-balance or surplus in the U.S. current account. Now, add the current 0.4% growth rate in the civilian labor force to 0.6% growth in productivity, and you get the current “structural” growth rate of the U.S. economy; that is, the growth rate we would observe in the absence of changes in the unemployment rate. That structural growth rate has deteriorated to just 1% annually. The labor force component of structural growth is largely baked in the cake due to demographics, which in the absence of a substantial increase in the rate of immigration, leaves productivity growth as the main factor that could raise structural U.S. growth. Still, given civilian labor force growth of just 0.4%, even a steep acceleration of productivity growth from the current rate of 0.6% to the 1972-2008 rate of 1.9% would still produce only 2.3% structural economic growth. Anything greater than that would have to be driven by a decline in the unemployment rate from the already low level of 4.1%. It’s worth noting that U.S. economic growth has expanded at a rate of 2.1% annually in the 7-year period since 2010 (I’ve chosen a 7-year period to confine growth to the recent expansion, without including data from the global financial crisis). What’s remarkable about this is that nearly half of this growth is attributable to a decline in the U.S. unemployment rate, which is a wholly cyclical factor. The chart below shows what’s going on. The blue line shows actual 7-year real growth in U.S. GDP across history. The red line shows the “structural” component of GDP growth, excluding the effect of changes in the unemployment rate. The green line shows the contribution to 7-year growth from changes in unemployment. Put simply, in the absence of further declines in the U.S. unemployment rate, U.S. real GDP growth is likely headed toward 1% annually, not 4% annually. If our policy makers are interested in boosting long-term structural U.S. GDP growth, they should be providing direct and targeted tax incentives for real investment, education, research & development, and other factors that could, over time, increase our nation’s productive capacity. Instead, they’ve opted for a giveaway to corporations and wealthy individuals, which will likely expand the deficit while doing virtually nothing for economic growth. Since 1950, the U.S. unemployment rate has been below 4.5% about 20% of the time. Over the following 5-year period, real federal tax revenues grew at an average rate of less than 1% annually. Given current structural economic constraints, and barring a further decline in the unemployment rate from an already low 4.1%, there’s a significant likelihood that government revenues will actually contract in the coming years. The current tax legislation isn’t some thoughtful reform to benefit Americans. It’s a quickly planned looting through a broken window in our nation’s character. The delusion of Bitcoin “We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first”– Charles Mackay With regard to Bitcoin, my view is that the Blockchain algorithm itself is brilliant. Bitcoin itself, however, is just one application of Blockchain, and a rather awkward one. It’s not unique, meaning that other competing “cryptocurrencies” can be established just as easily. It’s not fiat, meaning that no country requires it to be used as legal tender. But beyond anything else, its inefficiency is so mind-boggling that the continued operation of the Bitcoin network could plausibly contribute to global warming. So be careful to distinguish Blockchain from Bitcoin. The Blockchain algorithm will undoubtedly become a useful component of validating transactions, tracking supply chain movements, and all sorts of other applications, but Bitcoin itself is likely to become the same thing to cryptocurrencies as Visicalc was to spreadsheets, or if you’re younger, what MySpace was to social networking. Bitcoin essentially uses a decentralized network of computers (anyone can join) that “listen” for transactions that are broadcast over the network. Each computer can accept and attempt to validate any “block” of transactions, which is done by discovering a particular “hash” for those transactions. The hash is a long string of ones and zeros corresponding to the input, and has to satisfy the current level of “difficulty” (specifically, a certain number of leading zeros). The difficulty is set so that only one block of transactions is validated every 10 minutes or so, across the entire network. The maximum size of a Bitcoin transaction block is 1MB, which is about 2000 transactions. That’s the total number of Bitcoin transactions that can be processed worldwide in any 10-minute interval. When you’re trying to validate a block of transactions, an extra transaction is included which designates a reward to your own account if you’re successful. Whoever discovers a hash that validates their block gets a reward, in Bitcoin. That’s what “mining” means. The validated block is added to the Blockchain – essentially a running ledger of every transaction ever made. The header for the next block has to contain the hash of the previously validated block (which is what creates the block “chain”). But here’s the thing. Every time a block is validated, a single node in the network gets a reward, and everyone else’s computing time is completely wasted. Those required computations already absorb the same amount of energy as the entire country of Denmark. Some people will get mad at that statement, arguing that it may only be half of Denmark. Ok. Ireland, along with more than 150 other countries. We can wait a few months to include Denmark. So ultimately, the Bitcoin features a combination of breathtaking inefficiency and constrained scalability. The system already features a rather steep cost per transaction, and hardly any of those transactions are for the purchase of goods and services. I’ve regularly observed that the value of a currency is essentially the present value of the stream of “services” that the currency can be expected to deliver over time, either by serving as a means of payment or as a store of value. That depends greatly on the willingness of other individuals to hold it and accept it into the indefinite future. My sense is that, as with all speculative bubbles, buyers are conflating “rising price” with “store of value.” Meanwhile, there’s little evidence to suggest that Bitcoin will ever be an efficient means of payment for ordinary goods and services. Episodes of speculation can persist for some time, so there may be some speculative profit potential in Bitcoin yet. Looking over the very long-term, it may also be worth something in the future, because value is always ascribed to things that have some combination of scarcity and usefulness. To the extent that Bitcoin is assured to have a limited supply, and is undoubtedly being used for money-laundering already, I doubt that the future value of Bitcoin will be identically zero, assuming governments refrain from any regulatory effort. There will likely be numerous alternative cryptocurrencies launched in the future, each one constructed to first enrich its originator with a large number of units, and then released in the hope that it will catch on. In evaluating these alternatives, efficiency and scalability will be worth considering. A final note While I have little to offer in support of speculative delusions about paper wealth, improbable growth expectations, or Bitcoin, I’d be remiss to write a commentary without acknowledging the many things that can be fully embraced. From an investment standpoint, every market cycle in history has ended at valuations consistent with prospective future market returns of at least 8% annually, and more often well above 10% annually. Even if the future will be permanently different, and even 8% return prospects will never ever be seen again, the prospect of negative 12-year returns is likely to be resolved in far fewer than 12 years (as similarly poor prospects were within 2 years of the 2000 market peak). The strongest expected market return/risk classifications we identify emerge when a material retreat in valuations is joined by an early improvement in market action. While we can’t identify when that opportunity will occur, I expect that the cumulative market return between now and that point will be negative, because even a gradual 2-year improvement in prospective 12-year S&P 500 returns to just 4% would require a market loss of more than 20% over that 2-year period. In my view, a defensive posture here is an optimistic stance, because it recognizes the likelihood that prospective returns will again be positive before too long. I actually expect a much more substantial improvement in prospective market returns, but as in 2000 and 2007, that would require much deeper market losses than investors seem to contemplate. So if there is something in the financial markets to be optimistic about, it’s the prospect of opportunities that will evolve over the completion of the current market cycle. Despite extreme valuations in this cycle, we’ve learned to limit negative market outlooks to periods featuring deteriorating and divergent market internals. We observed that shift last month, but I’d still call it “early” deterioration; permissive of abrupt losses but not yet encouraging aggressive downside expectations. We’ll respond to market conditions as they change. Of course, there are so many more things to fully embrace, particularly this holiday season. To be alive, breathing, sharing humanity with others we love on this little blue and green rock, spinning around a star, floating through a vast infinity, is miracle enough to demand no delusions at all. Wishing you the joy that comes from recognizing all of your blessings. With gratitude to so many of you, who are among mine.
Во время Великой рецессии 2008-09 годов уровень инфляции в США резко снизился и в течение последних девяти лет в основном оставался ниже целевого показателя Федерального резерва 2%. Первоначально это рассматривалось как естественное следствие слабой экономики, но в последнее время становится все более озадачивающим, почему инфляция остается низкой, даже когда экономика восстанавливается, а уровень безработицы упал до 4,1%, - пишет Скотт Самнер - старший научный сотрудник Центра Mercatus в Университете Джорджа Мейсона, в статье для U.S.News . Вот реальный вопрос, который нам следует задавать: почему мы позволяем применять экономические модели, которые, по-видимому, не влияют на реальную жизнь и политику?, - пишет автор. Председатель ФРС Джанет Йеллен использует «модель кривой Филлипса» для прогнозирования инфляции. Согласно этой теории, инфляция вызвана напряженными рынками труда, которые оказывают повышенное давление на заработную плату и цены. И наоборот, теория утверждает, что инфляция падает во время спадов, когда наблюдается высокий уровень безработицы. Поскольку инфляция не увеличилась по прогнозам Криса Филлипса, Йеллен и другие официальные лица ФРС искали особые факторы, которые могли бы объяснить настойчиво низкий уровень инфляции. "Но ФРС ищет ответы в неправильном месте. Она должна смотреть в зеркало", - пишет Самнер. Тот факт, что ФРС несет ответственность за инфляцию на уровне 2%. Почему ФРС взяла на себя эту обязанность, а не какая-то другая организация? Очевидно, что ФРС считает, что денежная политика определяет уровень инфляции. И есть много доказательств того, что это так. Инфляция резко возросла, когда мы отказались от золотого стандарта и приняли систему бумажных денег. Инфляция упала, когда председатель ФРС Пол Волкер принял жесткую денежную политику в 1981 году, хотя в остальной части правительства наблюдался большой бюджетный дефицит. Таким образом, денежно-кредитная политика действительно определяет уровень инфляции. Это означает, что если инфляция будет постоянно ниже 2-процентной цели ФРС, позиция денежно-кредитной политики слишком жесткая. Рассмотрим аналогию океанского лайнера, проплывающего через Атлантику в направлении Нью-Йорка. Если бы корабль пошел по течению, повернувшись к Бостону, чья вина была бы? Ответ может быть только один «особые факторы», такими как сильные ветры, которые выталкивали корабль с курса. Но на более глубоком уровне это было бы, конечно, неудачей навигации, так как капитан должен регулировать руль, чтобы компенсировать влияние ветра и волн. Аналогичным образом, ФРС необходимо скорректировать денежно-кредитную политику, чтобы компенсировать влияние особых факторов, какими бы они ни были, что могло бы подтолкнуть инфляцию. В конечном счете ФРС фактически является единственной организацией, которая может контролировать инфляцию. Удивительно, но недавнее недовольство инфляцией произошло в период, когда ФРС повышала процентные ставки, политику, которая обычно направлена на замедление, а не увеличение инфляции. Как будто капитан корабля ответил на постоянные встречные ветры, повернув руль в неправильном направлении. Если ФРС хочет поразить свой целевой уровень инфляции в 2%, то нужно прекратить полагаться на часто ненадежную модель Криса Филлипса и уделять больше внимания тому, как экономика фактически отвечает на решения о денежной политике. Информационно-аналитический отдел TeleTradeИсточник: FxTeam
In an article published by the WSJ today, which was originally titled "Are Central Bankers About to Lose Control?" but after some shoulder taps was renamed to the far more neutral "Can Central Banks Keep Control of Interest Rates?" author Jon Sindreu looks at the current Goldilocks state of the market, in which global growth is "coordinated and widespread" yet inflation remains absent preventing central banks from hiking rates rapidly, resulting in "elated investors" who nonetheless are haunted by a question "will interest rates develop a mind of their own?" The response to this question will also answer the overarching question posed by the WSJ: are central bankers about to lose control after nearly a decade of artificial vol suppression and asset inflation on the back of $15 trillion in excess liquidity. The goalseeked response that the WSJ is looking for, is also the result of a Blackrock report released last week titled "The real story behind low interest rates." For those who are too busy to bother with the semantic definitions of interest rates and their technical components, whether breakevens or term premia, ultimately the cost of money boils down to one thing: the inflation-adjusted opportunity cost of holding one asset relative to another. This is why the world's central banks have been scrambling over each other to push rates as low as possible for the better part of the past decade to force investors into risky assets, or, as the WSJ puts it, "low inflation-indexed—or “real”—rates push money into risky assets, because investors get little extra purchasing power for holding safer securities." Here the WSJ references the BlackRock report which claims that "subdued real rates have been 2017’s main driver of returns in global infrastructure debt and investment-grade corporate debt. They also boost gold and real estate, analysts say, which don’t pay coupons but don’t lose value when inflation rises." Here a problem emerges: real rates have often move in lockstep with central-bank policy—but not always. In the 1970s, runaway inflation pushed real rates down even as the Fed and other central banks increased nominal rates. Such non-parallel moves also explain why the yield curve always inevitably inverts when central banks commence hiking rates. Still, at least for the short-term central banks end up having a disproportionate distorting effect on real yields. For some perspective, yields on 10-year inflation-linked Treasurys are currently near 0.5%. Before the 2008 financial crisis, they hovered at around 2%. After the Fed unleashed unseen amounts of monetary stimulus, they hit a record-low of minus 0.87% in 2013. Many analysts and investors see it as a sign of either "policy makers having strong control over real rates" according to the WSJ, or simply flooding the system with so much cash that one central bank's actions has an impact on other central banks and what securities they end up purchasing. “We are overweight global indexed bonds,” said Paul Rayner, head of government bonds at Royal London Asset Management. “We’ve done a lot of analysis on this, and ultimately the biggest driver of government bond yields still remains central bank activity, even for [inflation-linked bonds].” Another problem: eventually even the most manipulated markets learn to price out central bank stimuli and intervention: "classic economic theory says that central banks can only influence rates at first, as people ultimately see through their meddling. So unless officials set policy to reflect the economy’s long-term economic trends—which is how the Fed’s Janet Yellen and Mark Carney at the Bank of England have justified keeping rates low in recent years—inflation or deflation will follow. According to this view, rates are so low because people are saving a lot and these saved funds can be lent out and used to invest, a copious supply that pulls down the cost of borrowing." Ah yes, Greenspan's "great conundrum" aka the global savings glut - wrong then, wrong now and wrong always - but it makes for an entertaining editorial detour. Here is Sinderu channeling Blackrock which last week decided that enough of today's 20-year-old algo programmers and asset managers had never heard of the "savings glut" fabrication, that it could recycle it as credible economic theory once more. Some money managers and analysts now warn that the tide is about to shift, whether central banks keep policy easy or not. By looking at the share of the population aged between 35 and 64—when people save the most—research firm Gavekal predicts real rates will soon rise as people retire and spend their life savings, eroding gains in stock markets. It “could happen tomorrow or 10 years from now, but I’m not counting on the latter,” said Gavekal analyst Will Denyer. J.P. Morgan Asset Management argues that aging is already starting to push rates higher, meaning that 10-year real yields will be 0.75 percentage point higher over the next 10 years. Well, if this theory is right, it better hurry: as we showed last week, the personal savings rate in the US dropped below 3% for the first time since 2008, and is rapidly approaching the lowest prints in US history, as consumers finally tap out to buy that must-have CIA Amazon microphone that listens in to their every conversation courtesy of Jeff Bezos... ... and are forced to rely almost entirely on their credit cards. Other investors have a different worry: as the WSJ notes, "they fear that yields will stay low even if central banks try to tighten policy because they are concerned a recession may be coming. This year, the Fed has nudged up rates three times and yields on long-term government bonds—both nominal and inflation-linked debt—have stayed unchanged or declined, echoing similar issues that then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had in 2005." It is this worry that is the bogeyman every time the pancaking yield curve is mentioned: the yield curve is now at its flattest since 2007, and many investors underscore that, in the past, this has always preceded an economic slowdown in the U.S. “Unless the evidence is very compelling that’s a false signal, I think the market’s going to be nervous,” said David Riley, head of credit strategy at BlueBay Asset Management, who is now investing more cautiously. Yet others such as the BIS have a different theory altogether. "In research looking at 18 countries since 1870, the BIS found no clear link between rates and factors like demographics and productivity—it is mostly central-bank policy that matters." It is here that things get especially hair. Does this mean investors can rest easy because rates won’t creep up on them? Not so fast, said Claudio Borio, head of the monetary and economic department at the BIS, because officials may still raise them to contain market optimism. Central banks in Canada, Sweden, Norway and Thailand are thinking along these lines, analysts said. If central banks control real rates, then it is inflation that has a life of its own—it isn’t just a reaction to officials deviating from economic trends—and it could explain why central bankers have failed to stoke it for years. So officials might as well raise rates to quash bubbles instead of “fine-tuning inflation so much,” Mr. Borio said. Still, Isabelle Mateos y Lago, global macro strategist at BlackRock, thinks investors don’t have to worry about this yet. “The conversation is moving this way, but I don’t think central bankers have a fully articulated view,” she said. Which, of course, goes back to the original question: central banks may or may not have a view, but have they lost control? And while it is obvious why the WSJ, Blackrock and various finance professionals - whose earnings and advertising dollars depend on perpetuating the myth that central banks are in control - would deny the rhetorical question, it is what Citi's credit team admitted last month that is especially troubling. Recall What Citi's Hans Lorenzen said in late November: In the context of a self-reinforcing, herding market, the pivot point where the marginal investor is indifferent between putting more money back into risk assets and holding cash instead is fluid. But when the herd suddenly changes direction, the result is a sharp non-linear shift in asset prices. That is a problem not only for us trying to call the market, but also for central bankers trying to remove policy accommodation at the right pace without setting off a chain reaction – especially because the longer current market dynamics run, the more energy will eventually be released. That seems to be a growing fear among a number of central bankers that we have spoken to recently. In our experience, they too are somewhat baffled by the lack of volatility and concerned about the lack of response to negative headlines. Translation: when asked if they have lost control, "a number" of central bankers - at least in private - will say that yes, they have. Which is bad news for those hoping that the great reflation experiment will be tame and controlled, because if it was all nothing more than a giant con game to which the markets were voluntary participants as long as everything went up, then all hell is about to break loose now that the process is officially in reverse.
The Fed raised rates another 0.25% the week before last. This marks the 5th rate hike since the Fed embarked on its policy tightening in December 2015 and the fourth rate hike in the last 12 months. The Fed’s latest statement also indicates it plans on raising rates three more times in 2018. It is easy to gloss over the significance of this, but the Fed’s actions are indeed unusual; other major Central Banks (the Swiss National Bank, Bank of Japan, European Central Bank and Bank of England) are all currently running QE programs (the BoJ, ECB and BoE) or openly printing new money to buy stocks outright (the SNB). What precisely is the Fed doing? Why the urge to tighten when other banks are all printing new money by the billions? The following quotes from Fed offer us clues. Fed Monetary Policy Report, June 2017: “Forward price-to-earnings ratios for equities have increased to a level well above their median of the past three decades, Fed minutes, July 2017: "Since the April assessment, vulnerabilities associated with asset valuation pressures had edged up from notable to elevated, as asset prices remained high or climbed further, risk spreads narrowed, and expected and actual volatility remained muted in a range of financial markets." Janet Yellen response to question from IMF Panel, October 2017: Market valuations “are at high level in historical terms” when assessed on metrics akin to price-earnings ratios, Fed Minutes, October 2017: "In light of elevated asset valuations and low financial market volatility, several participants expressed concerns about a potential buildup of financial imbalances," Janet Yellen during Fed presser December 13th, 2017: Stock valuations are at high end of historical levels. I want to be clear on the significance of these statements. The Fed’s primary role is to maintain financial stability. This means that the Fed will always downplay risks in its public statements. Indeed, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke once stated that Fed policy is “98% talk, 2% action.” With that in mind, the above quotes are astonishing in their clarity: the Fed is explicitly stating (in Fed terms) that the markets are in a bubble. And the Fed didn’t just do this once, the Fed has been warning about asset valuations/froth in the system for six months straight. So just how “frothy” are things that the Fed is being so explicit? Try “1999-levels” frothy. Perhaps the best means of measuring frothiness in stocks is the Price to Sales (P/S) multiple. Most investors prefer to use Price to Earnings (P/E), but I am wary of that method because earnings can easily be fudged via gimmicks (different methods of depreciation, write-offs, reducing loan loss reserves, tax loopholes, etc.). Sales, on the other hand, are very hard to fudge. Either money came in the door, or it didn’t. And if a company gets caught fudging its revenues, someone goes to jail. With that in mind, consider that the S&P 500’s current P/S multiple has surpassed its former all time peak from 1999: a period that is now widely considered to be the single largest stock bubble in history. Put simply, stocks are extraordinarily overvalued by a reliable measure. H/T Bill King However, there is one main difference between 1999 and today... Namely, that the Fed has been INTENTIONALLY creating bubbles for nearly 20 years today... and it's out of more senior asset classes to use! Let me explain... The late ‘90s was the Tech Bubble. When that burst in the mid-‘00s, the Fed created a bubble in housing. When that burst in ’08 the Fed created a bubble in US sovereign bonds or Treasuries. And because these bonds are the bedrock of the US financial system, the “risk-free rate” of return against which ALL risk assets are valued, when the Fed did this it created a bubble in EVERYTHING (hence our coining of the term “The Everything Bubble” and our bestselling book by the same name). On that note, we are putting together an Executive Summary outlining all of these issues as well as what’s to come when The Everything Bubble bursts. It will be available exclusively to our clients. If you’d like to have a copy delivered to your inbox when it’s completed, you can join the wait-list here: https://phoenixcapitalmarketing.com/TEB.html Best Regards Graham Summers Chief Market Strategist Phoenix Capital Research
Подписывайтесь на канал: http://goo.gl/Rpsm62 Смотрите видео по Форекс: https://goo.gl/SNF0Ho Информационный партнёр - Finversia-ТV: https://goo.gl/psct2M Евро\доллар незначительно вырос на завершившейся неделе, достигнув отметки 1.1853 на фоне снижающейся активности на рынках. В течение недельной сессии евро\доллар достигал уровня сопротивления 1.1900, однако после объявления результатов выборов в Каталонии пара откатилась почти на 50 пунктов. Абсолютное большинство голосовавших высказалось в пользу независимости региона от Испании. При этом, инвесторы не считают результаты голосования реальными рисками, так как официальный Мадрид неоднократно заявлял, что не допустит отделения Каталонии любыми способами. Инфляция в Еврозоне по прежнему остается низкой, несмотря на недавние оптимистичные прогнозы ЕЦБ. Базовый индекс потребительских цен снизился в ноябре на 0.1% и сохранил годовой темп роста на уровне 0.9%. Основной индекс потребительских цен не изменился и остался на уровне 1.5% в годовом выражении. Низкая инфляции ограничивает в действиях европейский Центробанк, который объявил о постепенном завершении программы количественного смягчения, однако по прежнему сохраняет процентные ставки на низком уровне. Налоговый законопроект был принят на прошлой неделе Конгрессом США. Ожидается, что Дональд Трамп подпишет указ о принятии реформы в начале следующего года. Налоговые льготы для бизнеса приведут к росту американской экономики, что повлияет на дальнейшие действия ФРС по ужесточению кредитно-денежной политики. Уже сейчас предполагается, что регулятор повысит процентную ставку трижды в 2018 году. На это решение ФРС может повлиять низкая инфляция в США. Джанет Йеллен в своем выступлении на прошлой неделе заявила, что инфляция может сохраняться на текущих уровнях в течение достаточно долгого времени. Эту позицию разделяют и другие представители ФРС, поэтому низкая инфляция может стать главной проблемой для американской экономики в следующем году. Предстоящая неделя, как и завершившаяся, будет проходить в условиях низковолатильных торгов. В отсутствие важных экономических публикаций главным фактором, способным серьезно повлиять на движение евро\доллара, станет возможная информация по дальнейшему продвижению налоговой реформы в США. Пара будет торговаться в узком боковом диапазоне 1.1800 – 1.1920, сохраняя восходящую тенденцию. В нашем прогнозе на предстоящую предновогоднюю неделю ожидаем незначительный рост евро\доллара к уровням сопротивления 1.1860, 1.1875, 1.1890 и 1.1900.
Authored by Dave Collum via PeakProsperity.com, A downloadable pdf of the full article is available here, for those who prefer to do their power-reading offline. Introduction “He is funnier than you are.” ~David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, on Dave Barry’s Year in Review Every December, I write a survey trying to capture the year’s prevailing themes. I appear to have stiff competition - the likes of Dave Barry on one extreme and on the other, Pornhub’s marvelous annual climax that probes deeply personal preferences in the world’s favorite pastime. (I know when I’m licked.) My efforts began as a few paragraphs discussing the markets on Doug Noland’s bear chat board and monotonically expanded to a tome covering the orb we call Earth. It posts at Peak Prosperity, reposts at ZeroHedge, and then fans out from there. Bearishness and right-leaning libertarianism shine through as I spelunk the Internet for human folly to couch in snarky prose while trying to avoid the “expensive laugh” (too much setup). I rely on quotes to let others do the intellectual heavy lifting. “Consider adding more of your own thinking and judgment to the mix . . . most folks are familiar with general facts but are unable to process them into a coherent and actionable framework.” ~Tony Deden, founder of Edelweiss Holdings, on his second read through my 2016 Year in Review “Just the facts, ma’am.” ~Joe Friday By October, I have usually accrued 500 single-spaced pages of notes, quotes, and anecdotes. Fresh ideas occasionally emerge, but most of my distillation is an intellectual recycling program relying heavily on fair use laws.4 I often suffer from pareidolia—random images or sounds perceived as significant. Regarding the extent that self-serving men and women of wealth do sneaky crap, I am an out-of-the-closet conspiracy theorist. If you think conspiracies do not exist, then you are a card-carrying idiot. Currently, locating the increasingly fuzzy fact–fiction interfaces is nearly impossible thanks to the post-election bewitching of 50 percent of the populace. “The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.” ~David Ogilvy, marketing expert You might be asking, “What’s with the title, Dave? My 401K is doing great, and I own a few Bitcoin!” Yes, indeed: your 401K fiddled its way to new highs day after day, but this too shall pass—it always does—and not without some turbulence. This year was indeed a tough one to survey. As many peer through beer goggles at intoxicatingly rising markets, I kept seeing dead people (Figure 1). “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping: I admit to not understanding it.” ~Richard Thaler, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics Figure 1. An original by CNBC's Jeff Macke, chartist and artist extraordinaire. A poem for Dave's Year In Review The bubble in everything grew This nut from Cornell Say's we're heading for hell As I look at the data…#MeToo [email protected] Some will notice that in decidedly political sections, the term “progressives” is used pejoratively. Their behavior has become nearly incomprehensible to me. My almost complete neglect of the right wing loonies may reflect some bias, but politically, they have taken a knee. They have become irrelevant. Free speech is a recurring theme, introducing interesting paradoxes for employee–employer relationships. Some say I have no filter. They obviously have no clue what I want to say. In case my hints are too subtle, I offer the following: Sources I sit in front of a computer 16 hours a day, at least three of which are dedicated to non-chemistry pursuits. I’m a huge fan of Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson (Peak Prosperity), Tony Greer (TG Macro), Doug Noland (Credit Bubble Bulletin), Grant Williams (Real Vision and TTMYGH), Raoul Pal (Real Vision), Bill Fleckenstein (Fleckenstein Capital), James Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), and Campus Reform—but there are so many more. ZeroHedge is by far my preferred consolidator of news. Twitter is a window to the world if managed correctly. Good luck with that. And don’t forget it’s public! Everything needs an open mind, discerning eye, and a coarse-frit filter. “You are given a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you are given a front row seat, and some of us get to sit there with notebooks.” ~George Carlin, comedian Contents Footnotes appear as superscripts with hyperlinks in the “Links” section. The whole beast can be downloaded as a single PDF xxhere or viewed in parts—the sections are reasonably self-contained—via the linked contents as follows: Part 1 Introduction Sources Contents My Personal Year in Review Investing Economy Broken Markets Market Valuations Market Sentiment Volatility Stock Buybacks Indexing and Exchange-Traded Funds Miscellaneous Market Absurdities Long-Term Real Returns and Risk Premia Gold Bitcoin Housing and Real Estate Pensions Inflation versus Deflation Bonds Banks Corporate Scandals The Fed Europe Venezuela North Korea China Middle East Links in Part 1 Part 2 Natural Disasters Price Gouging The Biosphere and Price Gouging Sports Civil Liberties Antifa Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood Political Correctness–Adult Division Political Correctness–Youth Division Campus Politics Unionization: Collum versus the American Federation of Teachers Political Scandals Clintons Russiagate Media Trump Las Vegas Conclusion Books Acknowledgements Links in Part 2 My Personal Year in Review Who cares what an academic organic chemist thinks? I’m still groping for that narrative. In the meantime, let me offer a few personal milestones that serve as a résumé while feeding my inner narcissist. I remain linked into the podcast circuit, having had chats with Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert (Russia Today aka RT),5 Chris Martenson,6 Jim Kunstler (The KunstlerCast),7 Lior Gantz (Wealth Research Group),8 Anthony Crudele (Futures Radio Show),9 Susan Lustick (News-Talk 870 WHCU),10 Jason Burack (Wall St. for Main St.),11 Dale Pinkert (FXStreet),12 Lance Roberts (Lance Roberts Show),13 and Jason Hartman (Hartman Media Company).14 I also spoke at Lance Roberts’s Economic and Investment Summit discussing campus politics15 and the Stansberry Conference (Figure 2) arguing the merits of price gouging.16 I got into a big spat with the American Federation of Teachers and some local social justice warriors that made it to the national press (see “Unions”) and dropped 30 pounds unaided by disease. “And, before anyone should doubt what a chemistry professor would know about unions and what effect they would have, it should be noted that Collum has amassed a following for his annual 100-page papers on the state of business and politics. Turns out, he knows a thing or two about economics and politics as well.” ~Joe Cunningham, RedState Figure 2. The lovely Grant Williams, brainy Danielle DiMartino Booth, and one of the Paddock brothers in Las Vegas. On the professional side, I had a great year: I finished my stint as department chair; started a sabbatical leave; broke my single-year total publication record; and broke my single-year record for papers in the elite Journal of the American Chemical Society. I attempted to extend a contiguous string of 20 federal grants without a rejection by submitting two NIH grants and subsequently got totally blown out of the water. (OK. I’m still walking that one off. I think the panel finally noticed that I am deranged.) I was accepted into an organization called the Heterodoxy Academy, whose membership includes hundreds of tenured professors standing up for free speech on college campuses.17 “My job is to write the exact same thing between 50 and 100 times a year in such a way that neither my editors nor my readers will ever think I am repeating myself.” ~Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal columnist Investing “I dig your indefatigable bearishness, my friend.” ~Paul Kedrosky, one of the earliest bloggers I’m sensing a tinge of Paul's sarcasm. My net worth from January 1, 2000, has compounded at a ballpark annualized rate of 7 percent. That’s not so bad, but the path has been rather screwy. From mid ’99 through early ’03, I carried cash, gold, silver, and a small short position. I kept buying gold through about 2005 (up to $700 an ounce), resumed in 2015, and bought several multiples of my annual salary’s worth in 2016. I’m done now. Gold is up 8 percent, and silver is down –2 percent in 2017 thanks to a minor end-of-year sell off. The spanking from ’11 to ’15 seems to have subsided. Precious metals, etc.: 29% Energy: 0% Cash equivalent (short term): 62% Standard equities: 9% “Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be. I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest.” ~Richard Rainwater I was totally blindsided by the downturn in gold starting in ’11 and energy in ’13. (Energy peaked in ’08 but was on the mend until ’13.) I bought energy steadily starting in ’01 with broadly based energy funds and a special emphasis on natural gas. The timing of entry was impeccable and all was going swimmingly—I was a genius!—until the Saudi oil minister attempted to talk oil down from $110 to $80 per barrel18 in '13. He thought he could blow the frackers out of the game fast, but it was a hold-my-beer moment for our credit system. The frackers kept fracking, the oil price overshot the Sheik's target by $50 per barrel, and I got whacked for 30–45% losses over four years starting in '14.19 It is impossible to know when you’re being a highly disciplined buy-and-hold investor—a Microsoft and Apple gazillionaire refusing to sell—or just an idiot. I sensed that the rotten debt had been purged and we were through the worst of the energy downturn. I worried that a recession could do a number on me, but it took years to get to my position through incremental buying. I’m holding on, goddammit! We seem to be running out of downside. Unbeknownst to me until October, however, my employer had liquidated my energy funds—every last one of them—and put me in a life-cycle fund in April. Sell ’em after they plummet? Thanks guys. A rational investor, if committed to hold them, would undo the general equity fund restrictions—I did—and buy the energy funds right back—I didn’t. Friends in high places all said to wait. About a week later, the Middle East erupted in what looked like a sand-to-glass phase transition (see “Middle East”), and energy started to move in sympathy. Peachy. Fidelity actually saved me a little money, but I am still white-knuckling the cash, growing a long wishlist, waiting for a generalized sell-off/recession to offer some serious sub-historical-mean bargains (see “Broken Markets”). The correction in ’09 at the very bottom brought us to the historical mean, but not through it. For this reason, I have largely skipped this equity cycle. The current expansion is long in the tooth and founded on poor fundamentals. I hope that the wait won’t be too long. Until then . . . “Remember, when Mr. Market shows up at your door, you don’t have to answer.” ~Meb Faber, co-founder and CIO of Cambria Investment Management Economy “A decade after the biggest crisis since the Depression, a broad synchronized recovery is under way.” ~The Economist, March 2016 Whoa! Fantastic! Goldilocks survived another bear. There is just one hitch: that was a total load of crap in 2016, and it’s a colossal load now. Let’s take a peek at a few gray rhinos—“large and visible problems in the economy that are ignored until they start moving fast.” GDP growth rates from 1930–39 and 2007–16 were as follows:20 GDP growth in the 1930’s 1930: –8.5% 1935: 8.9%1931: –6.4% 1936: 12.9%1932: –12.9% 1937: 5.1%1933: –1.3% 1938: –3.3%1934: 10.8% 1939: 8.0% GDP growth in the new millennium 2007: 1.8% 2012: 2.2%2008: –0.3% 2013: 1.7%2009: –2.8% 2014: 2.4%2010: 2.5% 2015: 2.6%2011: 1.6% 2016: 1.6% Whether you use the arithmetic or geometric mean, both gave us 1.3 percent annualized growth. Let’s spell this out: during the recent era in which markets soared, the economy tracked the Great Depression. It is instructive to look at the economy with a little more granularity than the writers at The Economist-Lite. According to John Mauldin, total domestic corporate profits have grown at an annualized rate of just 0.1 percent over the last five years.21,22 Goldman’s Abby Joseph Cohen says R&D spending is down to 2.5 percent of GDP from 4.5 percent and is a drag on the economy.23 Economic bellwether General Electric saw revenue drop 12 percent and earnings fall 50 percent year-over-year,24 and these numbers are aided by the company’s legendary creative accounting schemes.25 Meanwhile, corporate America witnessed a 71 percent rise in business debt since 2008. According to economist Lacy Hunt, “It’s the investment, the real investment, which grows the economy,” prompting the legendary market maven @RudyHavenstein to state dryly, “I like Hunt.” Where are they spending all that borrowed money? Hold that thought. Long-term demographic problems—“quantitative aging” (Figure 3)—exacerbated by dropping sperm counts26 suggests the economy will continue to shoot blanks. Figure 3. Demographics looking sketchy. Putative job gains affiliated with this low growth are fragile if not dubious as hell and are being boosted by the “Dusenberry effect”—consumers’ reluctance to stop spending even after their income drops—which will cause the next recession to be a real Dusey. (Sorry.) Eventually, common sense prevails as companies run out of credit and savings-deficient consumers reassume the fetal position. According to extensive work by Ned Davis Research, cash levels among households are near their lowest levels of all time; consumer resiliency is always temporary. “When it is all said and done, there are approximately 94 million full-time workers in private industry paying taxes to support 102 million non-workers and 21 million government workers. In what world does this represent a strong job market?” ~Jim Quinn, The Burning Platform blog The Bureau of Labor Statistics has turned to Common Core math. How can we have 100 million working-age adults—40 percent of the working-age population—not working, 4 percent unemployment, and employers claiming the labor market is tight? Are 90 percent of those without jobs professional couch potatoes? Let’s first look at employment in some detail and then address that whole “tight” part. Googles of pixels have been dedicated to the obligatory labor force participation rate (Figure 4), a critical component of any economic debunking. Of those employed, 26 million people are in low-wage, part-time jobs (Figure 5), 8 million hold multiple jobs, and 10 million are “self-employed.”27 Another 21 million work for the government, which means they are a tax on the free market. In 2016, 40 percent of new jobs were fabricated through the specious “birth and death model.”28 2017 will presumably post similar numbers. Occasional reports of large job growth are deceptive. July, for example, witnessed 393,000 benefit-free, part-time, low-skill jobs offset by a drop of 54,000 full-time workers. Payroll numbers keep coming in lower than expected, which economists invariably blame on some big, yet unseen effect they are paid to notice. Nine out of 10 millennials living on their parents’ couches a year ago are still clutching TV remotes.29 There are now 45–50 million Americans on food stamps, up from 14 million in December 2007,30 when the last recession was already underway. Figure 4. Labor force participation. I am going to let Jeff Snyder take a crack at explaining the tight labor market:31 “The economy is tight, not favourably tight as in no slack in the labour market, but more so tight in that there is little margin for addition. . . . The reality in the markets is this: executives are reluctant to pay wages at a market-clearing rate.” ~Jeff Snyder, Alhambra Investments Figure 5. Low-paying service jobs versus manufacturing jobs. Poor economic numbers are pervasive. Auto sales are canaries in the coal mine and getting crushed despite aggressive incentives.32 Ford is already suffering and predicting a multi-year slowdown.33 A car industry crunch analogous to that in ’09 may appear in ’18 as expiring leases leave consumers underwater owing to dropping used car prices, and decreasing profits in the auto industry may “then turn from secular to structural problems.”34 Morgan Stanley predicts a 50 percent drop in used car prices over the next 4–5 years,35 which will gut the new car business. The auto downturn has already begun. Wells Fargo is reporting large drops in auto loans after a long stretch during which subprime car loans flourished yet again.36 That should put a fork in the new car market. Yield-starved investors are chasing cash- and income-starved car buyers. Subprime auto-asset-backed securities will take yet another beating. Chrysler is teaming up with Santander Consumer USA to push out “unverified income” subprime auto loans using “automated decision making.” Santander seems to have nine lives, and they’ll need all of them. The hyperdeveloped loan market for used cars, however, is already faltering (Figure 6); delinquency rates are rising. Goldman expects “challenging consumer affordability” and has downgraded General Motors to “sell.”37 Those cars y’all bought on cheap credit yesterday will not be bought tomorrow. Claims that the hurricanes cleared out auto inventory38 are grotesquely underestimating the magnitude of the overhang and will be paid for by reduced consumption in other sectors. Any consumption pulled forward with debt has a deferred cost. Figure 6. Some key auto industry stats (a) loans and leases, (b) loan delinquencies. We’ll take a crack at the housing market in its own section and simply note here that the cost of renting or buying normalized to income has never been higher. Approximately half of tenants spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, doubling from a decade ago.39 A survey of 20 cities showed that housing costs are growing at a 6 percent annualized pace. Our paychecks are not. Housing is a bubblette and likely to offer fire-sale bargains again. What many fail to grasp is that the reduced cost of borrowing owing to low rates is offset by higher prices. When interest rates were 15 percent, houses were cheap. Austrian business cycle theory says easy money policies generate overdevelopment and other malinvestment. The day of reckoning appears to be here. (I say that every year…channeling Gail Dudek.) Familiar brands like Toys “R” Us (my keyboard has no backwards R), JCPenny, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sears, Bon-Ton, and Nordstrom are gasping their last gasps before drowning in debt with no customers to save them. Total retail revenues and sales (including online) are up only 28 percent from the 2007 high.40 The management of Ascena Retail referred to an “unprecedented secular change.”41 More than 100,000 retail jobs have vaporized since October 2016.42 Credit Suisse estimates that more than 8,000 retail outlets closed this year.43 Consumer goods companies have held up better because consumers generally put off starving or freezing to death until all options are exhausted. Restaurants are extending the longest stretch of year-over-year declines for 16 consecutive months (last I looked).44 Business Insider blames millennials because they are “more attracted than their elders to cooking at home” (particularly when it’s their parents’ home.) Manhattan retail bankruptcies are called “horrifying.”45 Chapter 11s and company reorganizations in foreign courts increased sevenfold.46 Mall owners are using jingle mail—a term from the ’08–’09 crisis referring to leaving keys to creditors. Commercial retail will be coming into its own refinancing wave in 2018. Bears are sniffing around commercial-mortgage-backed securities as malls around the country begin to die.47 The next downturn will finish many of them off. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are positioning to short the brick-and-mortar retail. (Quick: somebody grab the ticker symbol “MAUL.”) Some suggest the Rout in Retail is merely a secular shift to online. Sounds logical except online sales represent only 8.5 percent of total retail sales.48 This argument might be masking a huge downturn in retail corresponding to the bursting of yet another Fed-sponsored bubble. As Amazon encroaches on every nook and cranny of retail sales, what began as a murmur has turned into a chorus: “This isn’t fair; somebody must do something!” Walmart knows this plotline. Market dominance does not connote “monopoly,” but Amazon has an image problem. Amazon gets a $1.46 subsidy (discount) per box from the USPS, well below its cost.49 Seems cheesy. Congress is showing concern out of self-interest. A monopoly is when a company uses its power to blow its competitors out of the water garishly. Who decides what is garish and when enough is enough? A judge under political pressure. A detailed summary of the breadth of Amazon’s market share and its anti-competitive pricing suggests that we are getting close.50 There’s nothing like a protracted anti-trust suit to mute the growth of a large conglomerate. Just ask the Microsoft high command. If our problems are not Amazon, what are they? Austrian business cycle theory says that our debt-driven, consumer-based economy endorsed by sell-side economists and analysts worldwide is unsustainable. Wealth is made, mined, grown, or coded, only then do you get to consume it. Wealth is extinguished by consumption, depreciation, and destruction. Central bankers seem to believe you can will wealth into existence by generating animal spirits. The next recession will start unnoticeably. Economists seem to miss every single one, often declaring telltale indicators irrelevant. Then you will hear phrases like “technical recession,” “growth recession,” or “earnings recession,” all eventually giving way to somebody opening the Lost Arc. If the next recession flushes the waste products (malinvestment) left behind by the central-bank-truncated ’08-’09 recession, it will reveal the central bankers to be charlatans. Even a typical recession witnesses near 40 percent losses in equity portfolios, which will leave already immunocompromised consumers vegetative. Banks will constrict lending to preserve capital, further slowing the economy. Weak businesses living off easy credit will become pink mist. An accelerating vicious cycle downward will take with it formerly viable businesses that could have survived a less arrogant monetary policy. This collateral damage was avoidable at least in its magnitude, but it can’t be avoided now. Are we on the cusp of the next recession? Citigroup “clients” say not even close (Figure 7). I think we are staring into the abyss. Figure 7. June 2017 Citigroup client survey of recession odds. Will this expansion continue because it has been pathetic or die because it is old? I cast my vote for the latter. The Fed and its central bank brethren, whether to retrieve residual credibility—they have precious little—or out of the deep-seated, albeit misguided belief that they are in charge of the economy, have decided it is time to “normalize rates” and undo quantitative easing. (We are now forced to accept the equally silly term “quantitative tightening.”) You can blame the ensuing problems on the tightening if you wish, but the huge mistakes were made long before this tightening cycle commenced. Every postwar recession until now was been preceded by a tightening cycle (although not all tightening cycles lead to recessions). Why not simply refuse to tighten? It won’t work, but the Fed governors are probably entertaining this possibility. “The central banks did their job. Unfortunately, almost nobody else has done theirs.” ~Martin Wolf, Financial Times “As has come to be commonplace, almost everything Mr. Wolf suggests is incorrect.” ~Tim F. Price, Cerberus Capital and author of Investing Through the Looking Glass (see “Books”) I’ll close this discussion with a brief mention of “creative destruction,” the process by which the new (and improved) ushers out the decrepit and out-of-date. It is a central tenet of capitalism—survival of the fittest—but has a disruptive dark side. McDonald’s (and every other service industry) is turning to kiosks to replace more costly human labor. Driverless cars will be awesome but also force car-based workers—potentially millions of them—to find new work. The financialization of the economy by central bankers has tipped the capital–labor balance profoundly toward capital. We will produce goods better and more efficiently, but the Darwinian adjustments will rock the system. Accelerated product cycles facilitated by excess capital can also be highly inefficient. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and faced its own black swan—railroads—that same year. Blockbuster was offed by Netflix as fast as it appeared. Can creative destruction happen too fast? Have product cycles become too short? Bulldoze your house every five years to build a better one and tell me how that works. Loose credit accelerates creative destruction, but not without a price. “A high initial saving rate has been associated with subsequently stronger economic growth, while a low saving rate produces a lower growth pattern.” ~Lacy Hunt, economist, noting soaring consumer debt Broken Markets “I think we have fake markets. . . . Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.” ~Bill Gross, Janus "One word characterizes why the bull market can go on for years…'Goldilocks'" ~Sam Ro, Yahoo Finance “I’m not worried about the economy so much; what I’m concerned about is valuation.” ~David Swensen, Yale University’s longtime CIO "I think the bull market could continue forever." ~Jim Paulsen, Wells Fargo Regression to the mean is a force of nature. It is also a mathematical truism that markets reside below the mean for half of their price-weighted existence. The failure to go through the mean in ’09 is an anomaly caused by global central bankers that remains as an IOU on investors’ balance sheets and foreshadows trouble to come. Our system is constantly being overtly displaced from equilibrium by central bankers who view displacement as their mandate. Physical scientists know that any system displaced from equilibrium tends to return to equilibrium. The French physicist Carnot, often called the father of modern thermodynamics, showed that the round trip necessarily comes at a cost no matter how efficient the process: it’s a law of physics. Any chemist will tell you that a system massively displaced often returns with a considerable cost: you blow up your laboratory. Geologists? Volcanoes and earthquakes. Ski bums? Avalanches. How far are asset markets from equilibrium? The pros have some opinions: “Asset valuations historically aren’t way out of line, but elevated I would say, relative to historical averages.” ~Lael Brainard, Federal Reserve governor “Measured against interest rates, stocks actually are on the cheap side compared to historic valuations.” ~Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, channeling the Fed model “Compared to the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1637, stocks still look undervalued.” ~Rudy Havenstein (@RudyHavenstein), Funniest Tweeter of the Millennium Case closed. Let’s get a six-pack and watch football. The problem is that Brainard is a Fed governor, Havenstein is nuts, and Buffett is known for spewing some serious bullshit. Buffett’s favorite indicator—market cap to GDP—is double the historical mean (vide infra)—what market analyst John Hussman calls “historically offensive valuations.” Buffett also wrote an article in 1999 stating without qualification that returns are not about the economy at all.51 Secular bull markets are powered by falling interest rates and secular bear markets by rising rates. With interest rates at multi-century lows, it seems likely the old codger knows that his implicit reliance on the Fed’s valuation model is lunacy. As an aside, Berkshire has the largest cash hoard in its history—$100 billion—and it’s not being used to buy stocks that are “on the cheap side.” Others, only partially impeded by cognitive dissonance and the task of selling assets at any cost, seem to have neurons firing spasmotically (sense something): “We think the market still has the potential to move higher as investors capitulate into equities.” ~Merrill Lynch “Folks, I have been in this business for over 46 years, and observing markets with my father for 54 years, and I have never experienced anything like what is currently happening. . . . There are years left to run in this one.” ~Jeff Saut, Raymond James “It seems like uncertainty is the new norm, so you just learn to live with it.” ~Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch The fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving the markets way out over their skis. Markets could get much crazier, of course, but as any serious blackjack card counter will tell you, when the deck is stacked against you, size your bets accordingly. "If you pay well above the historical mean for assets, you will get returns well below the historical mean." ~Paraphrased John Hussman This Hussman quote is a recycle from last year but well worth repeating to make sure you understand it. He goes on to channel Ben Graham by noting that the devastating losses come from purchasing low-quality securities when times are good. The Hussman quote also pairs well with ideas about valuation I cobbled together from a well-known maxim about savings: “Overvaluation is appreciation pulled forward.” “Undervaluation is deferred appreciation.” ~David Collum This one passed the Google test for originality. I don’t know about you, but I want my appreciation in the future, or as James Grant (channeling Joe Robillard) likes to say, “I want everybody to agree with me . . . only later.” Valuations are meaningless as long as market participants are determined to buy stocks, but that mood will change at some point. Once markets are overvalued, however, you will give back those and any further gains during the next irrepressible regression to the mean, more so as you linger below the mean. I hasten to add that slight overvaluation is not a problem: the regression will be embedded within the noise. If, however, markets are way overvalued, an unknowable but inevitable combination of price drop and time—a retrenchment that could last decades—will usher invested boomers to the Gates of Hell. What do current valuations tell us about future returns assuming the laws of thermodynamics have not been repealed? Market Valuations “The median stock in the S&P has never been valued higher than it is today.” ~Jesse Felder, The Felder Report “There’s just no other way to say it: the market is insanely overvalued right now. It’s the longest recovery in history. It’s also the weakest. But you’d never know it from the stock market.” ~ David Stockman, former Reagan economic advisor and former Blackstone group partner “We are observing an episode that will make future investors wince. Just like the two closest analogs, the 1929 high and the tech bubble, I expect that future investors will shake their heads in wonder at the stark raving madness of it all, and ask what Wall Street could possibly have been thinking.” ~John Hussman, Hussman Funds “The gap between the S&P 500 and economic fundamentals can now be measured in light years.” ~Eric Pomboy, president of Meridian Macro Research "I believe fragilities today are much more systemic on a global basis than back in 2007. Where’s the Bubble? Virtually everywhere… The scope of today’s global Bubble goes so far beyond 2007." ~Doug Noland, McAlvaney Wealth Management It took a few years to blow up yet another equity bubble—referred to fondly by Jesse Felder and others as the “everything bubble”—but determined central bankers are not in short supply. A host of metrics point to a very mean regression cited below. As I rattle off a few stats, bear in mind the serious yet unknowable losses possible if regression rips through the mean. “Russell 2000 with a 75 p/e is just astronomical.” ~Jesse Felder Starting simple: McDonald’s saw zero revenue growth between 2008 and 2016 but had a 154 percent growth in debt. Its share price is up more than 200 percent. This is not an outlier. Additional examples assembled by Mike Lebowitz of 720Global are shown in Figure 8. I know it’s a table, but look at the contrasting revenue growth versus share price gains! Figure 8. Revenue growth versus price change. “And please don’t claim corporate profits are soaring, so the valuations are justified. . . . Corporate profits are unchanged since 2014—no growth at all.” ~Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds blog The S&P 500 resides 70 percent above its ’07 high even though nominal GDP and total sales rose 10 percent during the same period. Price-to-revenue ratios are sharing the nosebleed seats with 1929 and 2000 (Figure 9).52 Buffett’s market cap–to-GDP indicator is no better, prompting Felder to guesstimate prospective 10-year returns—returns going to somebody else, apparently—at -2.6% annualized.53 In case you suck at math, you will be 10 years older, 33 percent poorer, and in need of a 50 percent gain to stumble your way back to even. Ever the optimist, John Hussman and his relatively complex valuation model, which shows high correlations when back-tested, predicts 60–70 percent losses over the next 10 years.54 To help the value-driven bottom-feeders, Hussman broke down the markets by valuation “deciles” and found that even the deep-value guys are looking at a >50 percent haircut—“haircut” sounds better than “castration” or “blood eagle”—at the end of the current market cycle.55 “Given the performance of certain stocks, we wonder if the market has adopted an alternative paradigm for calculating equity value. . . . What if equity value has nothing to do with current or future profits and instead is derived from a company’s ability to be disruptive, to provide social change, or to advance new beneficial technologies, even when doing so results in current and future economic loss? . . . After years of running into the wind, we are left with no sense stronger than, ‘it will turn when it turns.’ . . . Just because AMZN can disrupt somebody else’s profit stream, it doesn’t mean that AMZN earns that profit stream. For the moment, the market doesn’t agree. Perhaps, simply being disruptive is enough.” ~David Einhorn with tongue in cheek The legendary Howard Marks, using non-GAAP earnings (with a 25 percent fictional fudge factor)56 to calculate trailing P/E ratios, sees a 40 percent regression to the mean. The Case-Shiller weighted P/E ratio—far superior to the non-GAAP alternatives—is in the top 3 percent of historical readings,57 prompting Bob Shiller to dryly note that the markets are “at unusual highs.” (By the way, it was Shiller who slipped Greenspan the phrase “irrational exuberance.”) Dividend yields have flopped around over the centuries. A 56 percent equity decline is required to attain the 150-year historical average of 4.4 percent—assuming reduced cash flows owing to the price collapse don’t lead to dividend cuts.58 Tobin’s Q—essentially price-to-book value ratio and the favorite of Mark Spitznagle—is at all-time highs. The Economist sounds dismissive by suggesting that “a high Tobin’s Q signals that an industry is earning a lot from its assets,"59 which suggests that The Economist is underutilizing its intellectual assets. Figure 9. Valuation metrics from Grant Williams’s World of Pure Imagination.60 Consistency aside, how can these predictions possibly be correct? The reported P/Es are not that bad. The high-growth QQQ index, for instance, is sporting a P/E of only 22, and the Russell 2000—the small-cap engine of economic growth—is in the same neighborhood. Alas, Steve Bregman of Horizon Kinetics notes that the P/E of the QQQ is calculated by rounding all P/Es above 40 down to 40 and assigning a P/E of 40 to all negative P/Es—companies losing money, aka Money Pits.61 For some of the largest companies in the QQQ—think Amazon—with almost no GAAP earnings, these little fudge factors are not just rounding errors. In the scientific community, we call such adjustments “fraud.” Bregman pools the market caps and earnings to give a more honest analysis, which gently nudges the QQQ P/E to 87. In short, Wall Street is “making shit up.” Mark Hulbert, noting that more than 30 percent of the Russell 2000 companies are losing money, concurs with Bregman and suggests that the rascals at the parent company would get a P/E of 80 if they weren’t fibbing like teenagers.62 Market Sentiment Which FANG Stock Will Be The First To Break Out? ~Headline, Investor’s Business Daily (September) I couldn’t care less about market sentiment except to understand how we got to such lofty valuations and how investors have become drooling idiots babbling incoherently about their riches. Nothing scares these markets. Previous bubbles always had a great story, something that investors could legitimately hang their enthusiasm on. The 1929 and 2000 bubbles were floated by dreams of truly fabulous technological revolutions. The current bubble is based on a combination of religious faith in central bankers and, as always, investors’ deluded confidence in their own omnipotence as market timers. Oh gag me with a spoon, really? Unfortunately, some group of prospective toe-tagged investors with silver dollars on their eyes are going to own these investments to the bottom. For now, though, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Veni vidi vici. “This is not an earnings-driven market; it is a momentum, liquidity, and multiple-driven market, pure and simple.” ~David “Rosie” Rosenberg, economist at Gluskin Sheff The FOMO model is not restricted to Joe and Jane Six-pack. Norway’s parliament ordered the $970 billion sovereign wealth fund to crank up its stock holdings from 60 percent to 70 percent.63 Queuing off an analysis I did last year, a collective (market-wide) allocation shift of such magnitude would cause a 55 percent gain in equities.64 The percentage of U.S. household wealth in equities is in its 94th percentile and above the 2007 numbers.65 A survey of wealthy folks shows they expect an annualized 8.5 percent return after inflation.66 Good luck with that if you wish to stay wealthy. At current bond yields, a 60:40 portfolio would need more than 12 percent each year on the equities. Venture capitalists think they can get 20 percent returns (despite data showing this to be nuts.)67 Maybe they can set up an ETF to track the 29-year-old high school dropout and avid video gamer who professed to love volatility and got himself a 295 percent gain in one year trading some crazy asset (probably Tesla or “vol”).68 He actually ordered a Tesla and proclaimed, “I will soon get my license!” Better get that Tesla ordered soon, young Jedi Knight, given the company’s annualized $2+ billion burn rate and stumbling production numbers. Meanwhile, the legendary Paul Tudor Jones' fund saw 50 percent redemptions.69 (Boomers: Insert Tudor Turtle joke here.) Prudence disappoints investors in the final stages of a market cycle. Unsurprisingly, the complacency index is at an all-time high.70 The oft-cited Fear and Greed Index (explained here71) is pegging the needle on extreme greed (Figure 10). A survey by the National Association of Active Investment Managers found investment managers to be more than 90 percent long the market.72 An American Association of Individual Investors survey showed that retail portfolios were at their lowest cash levels in almost two decades.71 High “delta,” which supposedly reflects investors’ willingness to use levered calls to catch this rally,72 suggests that investors perceive that risk has been eradicated in these central-bank-supervised markets. The few investors retaining a modicum of circumspection are “suffering extreme mental exhaustion” (PTSD) watching the consequences of the “deadweight of [the] US$400 trillion ‘cloud’ of financial instruments . . . supported by ongoing financialization” levitate anything with a price tag on it.73 Booyah Skidaddy. Let’s not forget, however, that traders make tops and investors make bottoms. In the next bloodletting, we may see bonds and stocks compete in synchronized diving. While traders run with the Pamplona bulls, investors sit in the shadows waiting for their day in the sun. Figure 10. Fear and Greed Index. Volatility Market pundits hurl around several definitions of volatility, and both have gotten huge press this year. A narrow dispersion of prices has arisen from the collusion of sentiment, $3 trillion of quantitative easing this year alone,74 trading algos, and programmed contributions to index investments that have created markets that seem very tame (not volatile). Headlines reported all sorts of records such as days without a 1 percent drop,75 consecutive S&P 500 closes within 0.5 percent of previous closing price,76 longest streak of green closes on the S&P, consecutive months without a loss,77 index advances accompanied by new 52-week lows,78 and days without a 3 percent draw down.79 Often the records were kept intact thanks to late-day panic-buying by the FOMO crowd. For the short sellers, it has been the Bataan Death March, particularly in February, when a leveraged fund was forced to liquidate billions of dollars of short positions.80 Even the treasury market shows an “implied volatility” at its lowest level in more than 30 years,81 which highlights historic investor complacency. Some say it is a new era; others see a calm before the storm. A second definition of volatility is explained in Investopedia:82 Volatility: A variable in option pricing formulas showing the extent to which the return of the underlying asset will fluctuate between now and the option’s expiration. Volatility, as expressed as a percentage coefficient within option-pricing formulas, arises from daily trading activities. How volatility is measured will affect the value of the coefficient used. Glad to have cleared that up. It’s no surprise the market players found a way to turn an arcane market indicator into a trading device: you can buy and sell vol through various indices such as the “VIX,” XIV, and “SVXY.” What’s more, the buying and selling of vol influences the markets (10× leveraged according to Peter Tchir). As the vol indices go down, the markets go up, and if I have this right, there is causality in both directions. Vol has been plumbing record lows. Indeed, those shorting vol (driving it down) are making fortunes—a one-decision trade—at least until buying vol becomes the new-and-improved one-decision trade. Billions have flooded into vol short funds each week.83 It is estimated to be a $2 trillion market. Barron’s called shorting the VIX “the nearest thing to free money.”84 References to exceptionally high “risk-adjusted returns” leave me wondering: How do you adjust for risk on the vol trade? Maybe we should consult the logistics manager at a Target store who made a cool $12 million in five years by shorting the VIX.85 He reminds me of those Icelandic fishermen-turned-bankers. They did quite well for a while, but they returned to fishing the hard way. In an incisive analysis of the risks of the vol trade,86 Eric Peters notes that “to sell implied volatility at current levels, investors must imagine tomorrow will be virtually identical to today.” Seems like a reach given that such an assumption has no precedent in the recorded history of anything. The fact that 97 percent of VIX shares are sold short also seems a wee bit lopsided (Figure 11).87 The VIX even had a flash crash88: how ironic is that? JPM’s Marko Kolanovic—reputed to be one of the best technical traders in the known universe—says that a regression of the VIX to the historical norm could cause “catastrophic losses” because of all the shorts.89 Given that volatility begets volatility, forcing an epic short squeeze on $2 trillion of vol shorts at some point, one wonders what comes after “catastrophic”? Figure 11. Volatility (VIX) short positions. Stock Buybacks “Companies might have to start rotating out of the debt that they incurred to buy back their stock and start issuing stock.” ~Chris Whalen, The Institutional Risk Analyst In 2016, I referred to Whalen’s vision of stock buybacks as “buying high–selling low.”90 Peter Lynch’s original enthusiasm for buybacks was that clever management sneakily buys back undervalued shares, not overvalued shares. This buyback ploy began to turn into a scam in 1982, when buybacks were excluded from rules prohibiting price manipulation.91 Buybacks are so large now that they correlate with and quite likely cause large market moves (Figure 12). Since 2009, U.S. companies have bought back 18 percent of the market cap, often using debt—lots of debt.92 The 30 Dow companies have 12.7 billion fewer shares today than in ’08: “the biggest debt-funded buyback spree in history.” An estimated 70 percent of the per-share earnings—24 percent versus only a 7 percent earnings gain since 2012—is traced to a share count reduction from buybacks.93 Pumping the share prices at the cost of rotting the balance sheet (which gullible investors ignore) achieves two imperatives: it prolongs executive employment and optimizes executive compensation. Contrast this with paying dividends to enrich shareholders to the detriment of option holders. The rank-and-file employees might be comforted if companies plugged the yawning pension gaps instead (vide infra), but such contributions would have to be expensed, lowering earnings and, stay with me here, reducing executive compensation. Figure 12. (a) S&P real returns versus margin debt. (b) S&P nominal returns versus share buybacks, and (c) buybacks versus corporate debt. In one hilarious case, Restoration Hardware, a loser by any standard except maybe Wall Street’s, used all available cash and even accumulated debt to buy back 50 percent of its outstanding shares to trigger a greater than 40 percent squeezing of the short sellers who, mysteriously, think the company is poorly run.94 In the “eating the seed corn” meme, the 18 biggest pharmaceutical companies’ buybacks and dividends exceed their R&D budgets.95 Market narrowing—the scenario in which a decreasing number of stocks are lifting the indices—is acute and ominous to those paying attention.96 The so-called FAANGs + M (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Microsoft) have witnessed a 50 percent spike in their P/E ratios in less than 3 years.97 The FAANGs compose 42 percent of the Nasdaq and 13 percent of the S&P. An astonishing 0.2 percent of the companies in the Nasdaq have accounted for 45 percent of the gains.98 This is a wilding. The average stock, by contrast, is still more than 20 percent off its all-time high. What is going on? Indexing and Exchange-Traded Funds “When a measure becomes an outcome, it ceases to be a good measure.” ~Goodhart’s Law Charles Goodhart focused on measuring money supply,99 but his law loosely applies to any cute idea that becomes widely adopted (such as share buybacks). This is total blasphemy, but market indexing may be a colossal illustration of Goodhart’s Law. John Bogle was the first to articulate the merits of indexing in his undergraduate thesis at Princeton.100 Columbia University professor Burt Malkiel provided a theoretical framework for the notion that you cannot beat the market, which was translated into the best-selling book A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Even Warren Buffett endorses the merits of indexing, although once again, his words belie his actions. Bogle’s seminal S&P tracking fund now contains 10% of the market cap of the S&P 500 after quadrupling its share since ’08. (Behaviorist Peter Atwater attributes the recent enthusiasm to investors who are PO’d at active managers.)101 “When the world decides that there is no need for fundamental research and investors can just blindly purchase index funds and ETFs without any regard to valuation, we say the time to be fearful is now.” ~FPA Capital Then there are the massively popular ETFs that allow you to index while picking your favorite basket of stocks (have your cake and eat it too). Is there anybody who disagrees with the merits of indexing? Didn’t think so. Do ya see the problem here? Goodhart might. Maybe I was oblivious, but acute concerns about indexing seem to have emerged only in the last year or so. Let’s ponder some of them, but only after a brief digression. “There is no such thing as price discovery in index investing.” ~Eric Peters, CIO of One River Asset Management In his must-read book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki posits that a large sample size of non-experts, when asked to wager a guess about something—the number of jelly beans in a jar, for example—will generate a distribution centered on the correct answer. Compared with experts, a crowd of clueless people offers more wisdom. I submit that this collective wisdom extends to democracies and markets alike. A critical requirement, however, is that the voting must be uncorrelated. Each player must vote or guess independently. As correlation appears, the wisdom is lost, and the outcome is ruled by a single-minded mob. Thus, when everybody is buying baskets of stocks using the same, wholly thoughtless protocol (indexing), the correlation is quite high. Investors are no longer even taking their own best guesses. The influence of correlation is amplified by a flow of money (votes) putting natural bids under any stock in an index, even such treasures as Restoration Hardware. What percentage of your life’s savings should you invest without a clue? Cluelessness has been paying handsome rewards. A big problem is that index funds and ETFs allocate resources weighted according to market cap and are float-adjusted, reflecting the market cap only of available shares not held by insiders. You certainly want more money in Intel and Apple than in Blue Apron, but indexing imposes a non-linearity that drives the most overpriced stocks to become even more overpriced. That is precisely why the lofty valuations on the FAANGs just keep getting loftier. The virtuous cycle is the antithesis of value investing. The float adjustment drives money away from shares with high insider ownership. Curiously, an emerging strategy that is not yet broadly based (recall Goodhart’s Law) is to find investments that are not represented in popular indices or ETFs on the notion that they have not been bid up by indexers. “With $160-odd trillion global equity market capitalization, we have much more opportunities for ETFs to grow, not just on equities, but in fixed income. And I believe this is just the beginning.” ~Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the largest provider of ETFs The indexed subset of the investing world could be at the heart of the next liquidity crisis. In managed accounts, redemptions can be met with a stash of cash at least for the first portion of a sell-off. This is why air pockets (big drops) often don’t appear early in the downdraft. By contrast, ETFs trade shares robotically—quite literally by formulas and algos (the robots)—with zero cash buffer. The first hint of trouble causes cash inflows to dry up and buying to stop. Redemptions by nervous investors cause instantaneous selling. Passive buying will give way to active selling. The unwind should also be the mirror image of the ramp: FAANGs will lead the way down owing to their high market caps. Once again, selling begets selling, and the virtuous cycle quickly turns vicious. Investors will get ETF’d right up the...well, you get the idea. “You’re better off knowing which ETFs hold this stock than what this company even does. . . . That’s scary to me. . . . The market needs to have a major crash.” ~Danny Moses, co-worker of Steve Eisman “Throw them out the window.” ~Jeff Gundlach, CIO of DoubleLine Capital, on index funds I would be remiss if I failed to note that there are also some really wretched ETFs. What are the odds, eh? I’m not sure I even believe this, but it has been claimed that a 3×-levered long gold mining ETF lost –86 percent while a 3×-levered short gold mining ETF lost –98 percent, both over the same time frame that the GDX returned zero percent. You wouldn’t want to pair-trade those bad boys. It is also rumored that the SEC has approved 4×-levered equity ETFs. Investors are going to be seeing the inside of a wood chipper at some point. A 3×-levered Brazilian ETF (BRZU) lost 50 percent in a single day. Apparently none of these investors ever saw The Deer Hunter. We might as well set up ETFs in which investors choose the leverage multiple. One quick click, and it's gone. “ETFs are the new Investment Trusts (similar vehicles in 1920’s) that led to the Great Crash and will lead to the next crash.” ~Mark Yusko, CEO and CIO of Morgan Creek Capital Management “Passive investing is in danger of devouring capitalism. . . . What may have been a clever idea in its infancy has grown into a blob which is destructive to the growth-creating and consensus-building prospects of free market capitalism.” ~Paul Singer, founder and president of Elliott Management Corporation Miscellaneous Market Absurdities “Last time this mood took over, it ended very badly. Look at your investments with 2009 eyes. Did you tail hedge then? Should you risk up now?” ~Jeff Gundlach Recent initial public offerings (IPOs) get routinely flogged. SNAP’s 33 percent drop has become onomatopoetic. What would you expect for a company whose customer demographic is 12- to 18-year-olds with no income? GoPro (GPRO) has lost 95 percent in two years. A few more show precipitous drops from post-IPO highs: FIT, TWLO, FUEL, TWTR, ZNGA, and LC. Blue Apron (APRN) dropped 45 percent from its highs in the 36 days after its IPO. The company also cut 1,200 of a total of 5,000 jobs, prompting one veteran to ponder: “Seriously, how is that not illegal?” This is a new era, dude. The froth creeps into the screwiest places. The hard asset purchase of the year was the da Vinci painting of Salvatore Mundi that sold for $450 million. It was the only known da Vinci in private hands. A Modigliani nude sold for $170 million. A Basquiat painting purchased in 1984 for $19,000 moved across the auction block at a snot-bubble-blowing $111 million (23% compounded annualized return). The fabulously creative modern artwork, The Unmade Bed (Figure 13), sold for a cool $4 million.102 (I have one of those in my bedroom that I got for a lot less.) According to CBS News, a Harambe-shaped Cheeto sold for almost $100K on eBay.103 An obscure Danish penny stock company (Victoria Properties) surged nearly 1,000 percent in a few days, prompting management to remind investors that “there has been no change in Victoria Properties’ economic conditions. . . . The company’s equity is therefore still equal to about zero kroner.”104 Ford is valued at around $7,000 per car produced. Tesla is valued at $800,000 per car produced—they are literally making one model by hand on a Potemkin assembly line.105 A company called Switch has a “chief awesomeness officer.106 Ding! Ding! Ding! Figure 13. A $4 million masterpiece of modern art. Long-Term Real Returns and Risk Premia “Maybe it’s time to quietly exit. Take the cash, hide it in the mattress, and wait for the next/coming storm to pass.” ~Bill Blain, Mint Partners “People have just gotten so immune to any pain and anguish in any of these markets that when it happens it is going be very psychologically painful.” ~Marilyn Cohen, Envision Capital Management If the next correction is only 20–30 percent, I was simply wrong. Mete out a 50 percent or larger thwacking, and I am declaring victory (in a twisted sort of way). When the pain finally arrives, the precious few positioned to take advantage of the closeout sales will include idiots sitting in cash through the current equity binge buying (me). In theory, the short sellers would be in great shape too, but they all reside in shallow graves behind the Eccles Building. Some wise folks, like Paul Singer, have had the capacity and foresight to be raising billions of dollars for the day when monkey-chucking darts can find a target.107 "We think that there has never been a larger (and more undeserved) spirit of financial market complacency in our experience.” ~Paul Singer after raising $5 billion to buy distressed assets in the future There will be few victory laps, however, because boomers will be living on Kibbles ’n Bits. How painful will it be? Figure 14 from James Stack shows the fractions of the last 100 years’ bull markets that were given back.108 On only one occasion were investors lucky enough to hang onto three-fourths of their bull market gains. One-third of the bulls were given back entirely. Two-thirds of the bulls gave half back. The results are oddly quantized. How much will the next bear take back? It depends on how much the reasoning above is out of whack. Do ya feel lucky? Figure 14. Fraction of the bull taken by the bear.108 “The vanquished cry, but the victor doesn’t laugh.” ~Roman proverb Ethereal gains bring up an interesting point, more so than I first thought. In a brief exchange with Barry Ritholtz, I asserted that the “risk premia” on equities—the higher returns because of underlying risk—will be arbitraged away in the long run because occasionally risk turns into reality, and you get your ass kicked. I’m not talking inefficient high-frequency noise but rather the long term—call it a century if you will. With his characteristically delicate touch, Barry noted that I was full of hooey. Refusing to take any of his guff, I dug in. Certainly a free market would price equities much the way junk bonds are priced relative to treasuries to account for mishaps. Look back at Figure 14 in case it didn’t sink in. There is also the problem with interpreting index gains owing to survivor bias. Economist David Rosenberg claims that if the eight companies who left the Dow in April 2004 had remained, the Dow would still be below 13,000.109 Of course, presumably investors swapped them out as well if they were indexing (although somebody ate those losses). “I will get back to you next week with the answer to your singular investment question. Should you have further easy questions such as: is there a God and what gender he/she may be, that will necessarily be part of a separate email chain.” ~Brian Murdoch, former CEO of TD Asset Management on bonds versus stocks Start with the inflation-adjusted principle gains on the Dow (Figure 15), which returns less than 2 percent annualized. Think that’s too low? Take a look at my all-time favorite chart—the Dow in the first half of the 20th century, when inflation corrections weren’t needed (Figure 16). Now throw in some dividends (4 percent on average) and some wild-ass guesses on fees and taxes (including those on the inflated part of the gains). I get a real return on the Dow in the 20th century—a pretty credible century to boot—of only 4–5 percent annualized. Let’s adjust recent returns using the Big Mac inflation metric.110 Big Macs have appreciated sixfold since 1972 (4–5 percent compounded) with little change in quality. Over the same period, the capital gains on the Dow rose twentyfold. Adjusted for Big Mac–measured inflation, the Dow averaged less than 3 percent compounded (ex-dividends). An eightfold rise in the price of extra-large pizzas since 1970 (cited in my now-extinct blog for Elizabeth Warren) paints an even bleaker picture of inflation-adjusted S&P returns. Figure 15. Inflation-adjusted DOW. Figure 16. Non-inflation-adjusted Dow: 1900–1940. Those 4–5 percent inflation-adjusted equity gains do not account for the fourfold increase in the U.S. population, which should be included because the wealth of the nation was shared by four times as many carbon-based life-forms. The returns are also not in the same zip code as the 7–8 percent assumed by many pensioners. Back to the debate, the 4–5 percent inflation-adjusted equity gains contrast with 30-year treasuries returning about 4–5 percent nominally. Hmm...Seems like equities still won, and that Ritholtz appears to have been right. I consulted both digital and human sources (Brian Murdoch, Benn Steil, and Mark Gilbert), and everybody agreed: that punk Ritholtz was right. Even more disturbing, is it possible that Jeremy Siegel is not being a total meathead by asserting that you should buy equities at all times (BTFD)? The explanations for why markets fail to arbitrage the risk premia are said to be rather “mysterious.” According to Brian Murdoch, “academics have been remarkably unsuccessful in modeling it. . . . Despite three decades of attempts, the puzzle remains essentially intact.” Benn Steil concurred. Academic studies (warning!) claim that bonds do not keep up with stocks even over profoundly long periods, and no amount of fudging (fees, taxes, disasters, or survivor bias) accounts for the failure to arbitrage the marginal advantage of stocks to zero. Schlomo Benartzi and Richard Thaler suggest that short-term losses obscuring long-term gains—“myopic loss aversion”—is the culprit.111 (Ironically, I read this paper a week before the Nobel committee told me to read this paper.) Elroy Dimson et al. dismiss all the possible errors that could be root causes and put the sustainable risk premium on stocks at 3–5 percent.112 Let’s flip the argument: Why would you ever own a bond? There are rational answers. To the extent that you do not buy and hold equities for 100 years (unless you are Jack Bogle), you also pay a premium for the liquidity—the ability to liquidate without a huge loss because you were forced to sell into a swoon. You also forfeit the ability to sell into a rally, however, and certainly wouldn't want to sell into a bond bear market either. Of course, the role of financial repression—sovereign states’ ability to force bond yields well below prices set by free markets—could explain it all. Governments like cheap money and have the wherewithal to demand it. Maybe the message is to never lend to governments. I remain in an enlightened state of confusion. Gold “Gold is no more of an investment than Beanie Babies.” ~Gary Smith, economist “If you don’t have 5–10% of your assets in gold as a hedge, we’d suggest you relook at this. . . . [I]f you do have an excellent analysis of why you shouldn’t have such an allocation to gold, we’d appreciate you [sic] sharing it with us. ~Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates Ray is rumored to have ramped Bridgewater’s gold position fivefold this fall. He cites geopolitical risk as a reason to own the barbecued relic. “If we actually see missiles in the air, gold could go higher.” ~CNBC trader on thermonuclear war Since the early 1970s, gold has had an annual return of 8 percent (nominal). Gold bears are quick to point out it doesn’t pay interest. Nor does my bank, and by the way, what part of 8 percent don’t they understand? By that standard, the 8 percent gain in 2017 was good but not statistically unusual. Coin sales are down,113 which suggests that either retail buyers are not in the game or the bug-out plans of hedge fund managers—I’m told they all have them—are complete. Sprott Asset Management made a hostile move on the Central Fund of Canada, a gold–silver holding company, in a move that might portend promising future returns.114 “Significant increases in inflation will ultimately increase the price of gold. . . . [I]nvestment in gold now is insurance. It’s not for short-term gain, but for long-term protection. . . . We would never have reached this position of extreme indebtedness were we on the gold standard. . . . It wasn’t the gold standard that failed; it was politics. . . . Today, going back on to the gold standard would be perceived as an act of desperation.” ~Alan Greenspan, 2017, still babbling On the global geopolitical front, Deutsche Bundesbank completed repatriation of 700 tons of gold earlier than originally planned.115 The urgency may be bullish, but a possible source of demand is now gone. Chinese gold companies have been actively searching for domestic deposits and international acquisitions as they push to quadruple their reserves to 14,000 tons by 2020.116 (The U.S. sovereign stash is less than 9,000 tons.) The gold acquisitions of China (Figure 17) show a curious abrupt and sustained increase in activity in 2011. When did gold begin its major correction? Right: 2011. Makes you wonder if geopolitics somehow preempted the supply–demand curve. Because gold can leave Shanghai but not China, it’s a one-way trip. The Shanghai Gold Exchange must get its bullion from other sources. Russia continues to push its reserves up too. Rumors swirl that China and Russia are colluding for something grand, possibly a new global reserve currency based on the petro-yuan and gold. This would change the global landscape way beyond generic goldbuggery. Figure 17. Abrupt changes in Chinese gold acquisitions through Hong Kong in 2011. “Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy would it be wonderful. We’d have a standard on which to base our money.” ~Donald Trump, 2016 The gold market continues to be dominated by gold futures rather than physical gold. The bugs think this will end. I can only hope. In this paper market, gaming is the norm. On a seemingly monthly basis, gold takes swan dives as somebody decides to sell several billion-dollar equivalents (20,000–30,000 futures contracts) when the market is least liquid (thinly traded). Stories of fat-fingered trades abound, but I suspect these are just traders molesting the market for fun and profit, unconcerned that a regulator would ever call them on it. The silver market looked even creepier for 17 days in a row (Figure 18). I never trust that kind of linearity. Figure 18. Silver acting odd over 5 minutes and 17 days. Price changes often appear proximate to geopolitical events, but everything is proximate to a geopolitical event somewhere. India’s success at destroying its cash economy—the only economy it had—via the fiat removal of high-denomination bills117 was akin to announcing that only electric cars are legal starting next week. Some suggested that the move was also an attempt to flush gold out of households and into the banking system.118 Gold inched toward currency status at a more local level as Idaho, Arizona, and Louisiana voted to remove state capital gains taxes on gold—baby steps toward an emergent gold standard.119 The Brits are going the other way by banning salary payments in gold.120 Finishing with some fun anecdotes, a massive gold coin worth millions was stolen from a German museum.121 Some guy restoring a World War II tank found $2.5 million in gold bullion tucked in a fake fuel tank.122 A piano repairman discovered 13 pounds of gold in an old piano.123 According to British law, the repairman gets half, and the folks who donated the piano get squat. Beyond that, the gold market has been quiet for almost five years (Figure 19). Some wonder whether Bitcoin is sucking oxygen away from gold. Which way is gold gonna break if Bitcoin or the dollar tanks? Inquiring minds want to know. Figure 19. Five years of gold price discovery. Bitcoin “Worse than tulip bulbs. It won't end. Someone is going to get killed. . . . [A]ny [JPM] trader trading Bitcoin will be fired for being stupid. . . . [T]he currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think the people buying it are really smart. It’s worse than tulip bulbs." ~Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPM Unbeknownst to Dimon, his daughter was trading Bitcoin: “It went up and she thinks she is a genius.” More to the point, traders at JPM were already firing up crypto exchanges (while Goldman and the CFTC seemed to be positioning to enter the game). Dimon decided it was a prudent time to STFU (shut up) by declaring, “I'm not going to talk about Bitcoin anymore.” The joke was on us, however; nobody seemed to notice that Dimon slipped in an earnings warning the same day his Bitcoin quotes hit the media.124 Well played, Jamie. “Bitcoin owners should appeal to the IRS for tax-exempt status as a faith-based organization.” ~Andy Kessler, former hedge fund manager I wish I had a Bitcoin for every time somebody asked me about it. Cryptos and goldbugs share a common interest in escaping the gaze of the authorities. My ignorance of blockchain technology is profound, but I suspect that is true for many who talk the talk. I wonder if somehow blockchain might play a role in bypassing the SWIFT check-clearing system used by Western powers to shake down opposition (Russia).125 I also wonder, however, if the miracles of blockchain should not be confused with those of Bitcoin. Any mention of price or gains below should be followed with an implicit "last time I checked" or even “as of two minutes ago.” My failure to jump on Bitcoin leaves no remorse: (a) I never take a position that risks a you-knew-better moment, and (b) I would have been flushed out, and then I really would have kicked myself. Recall the legendary founding shares in Apple that were sold for $800 and are now estimated to be worth maybe $100 billion?126 There’s rumor of a guy who lost his Bitcoin “codes” that are now estimated at more than $100 million. That’s real pain. I offer my current view of cryptos from a position of total technical ignorance guided by an only slightly more refined understanding of history and markets. Please forgive me, crypto friends. I know you are tired of hearing the counter arguments and the cat calling. I am restrained by the words of a famous philosopher: “Only God is an expert. We’re just guys paid to give our opinion.” ~Charles Barkley, former NBA star What would have flushed me out of a Bitcoin long position? Let’s take it to the hoop: The price action. Exponential gains, even wildly bent on a semi-log plot, have few analogs in history, all of which led to legendary busts (Figure 20). The South Sea bubble, Tulipmania, Beanie Baby, and Mentos-in-a-Coke analogies are legion. They all had a story that convinced many. Figure 20. One-year price chart of Bitcoin (as of 2 minutes ago). The participants. I have a friend—a very smart former Wall Street guy—who swears by it and is up 100,000 percent. You do not need to size your position correctly with that kind of gain. But then there is the clutch of camp followers emblematic of all manias. We have grad students speculating in Bitcoin. A 12-year-old bought his first Bitcoin in May 2011 with a gift from his grandmother.126a At more than $17,000 per coin, his stash is more than $5 million. On MarketWatch, he declared he had a price target of $1 million. “I’m obviously very bullish, but I expect to make a couple million dollars off very little money. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Finance is getting its Internet.” ~Bitcoin investor Competitors. A Bitcoin competitor issued by Stratis soared to more than 100,000 percent since its initial coin offering (ICO) this past summer. As of December 1, there were 1,326 cryptocurrencies with a total market cap of >$400 billion.127 Paris Hilton has a cryptocurrency.128 The market is saturated more than the dot-com market ever was. It is a certainty that more than 99 percent will die much like most of the 270 auto companies in the ’20s and dot-coms in the ’90s. A site called Deadcoins shows that some already have.129 The debate is whether 100 percent is the final number. Volatility. Massive corrections followed by ferocious rallies akin to a teenager on driving on black ice would have convinced me it was too crazy for my style. Corrections last seconds to hours, with wildly enthusiastic buyers poised to BTFD. Isaac Newton got into the South Sea bubble, was smart enough to get out, and then reentered in time to go bankrupt. I am decidedly dumber than Isaac. Figure 21. Bitcoin photo bomber (acquiring $15K of Bitcoin via crowdsourcing). For Bitcoin to become a currency in its current form, out of reach of sovereigns, seems to require a society-upheaving revolution, which is a rare event that usually gives way to new, equally ham-fisted regimes. The chances seem slim to none for several reasons. “No government will ever support a virtual currency that goes around borders and doesn’t have the same controls. It’s not going to happen.” ~Jamie Dimon (again) The competition. I am doubtless that central banks and sovereign states will never endorse Bitcoin in its current form. They have their own digital currencies and a monopoly on the power to create more, and they commandeer our assets through taxation. Existential risk will bring on the power of the State. When sovereigns decide to do battle, the cryptos will be brought to heel or forced underground. Instabilities. Digital currencies are showing digital instabilities that could just be growing pains or evidence of more systemic problems. How software buffs who know that software is duct tape and bailing wire could think that a software-dependent currency is invincible is beyond me. Ethereum dropped 20 percent in a heartbeat when a hacker theft was reported.130 It dropped 96 percent after the Status ICO clogged the network.131 One user put a stop-loss on Ethereum at $316 on GDAX, which executed at $0.10 during a flash crash.132 So-called “wallets” have been freezing up, although there is some debate as to whether the owners lost the Bitcoins.133 This stuff happens with all risk assets now but not with usable currencies. Volatility. Nobody will use a currency to pay for groceries if prices move 10 percent a day or even 5 percent as you move from the frozen food to the vegetable aisle. This, by the way, is the same explanation for why I don’t consider gold “money” or a “currency.” As long as there exists a Bitcoin–dollar conversion, a sovereign wishing to keep Bitcoin in the realm of a speculative plaything could use its unlimited liquidity to trigger price swings with a little day trading. Legality. If up against the wall, sovereigns will use arguments about fighting crime, stemming ransomware, or controlling monetary policy and declare a War on Cryptos akin to the potential War on Cash. China has already blown shots across the Bitcoin bow by shutting down exchanges as well as ICOs as they struggle with excessive sovereign debt and capital outflows.134 Britain has also done some sabre rattling.135 The IRS has declared gains taxable (akin to gold) and is paying companies to locate digital wallets.136 The fans of BTC declare invincibility—freedom! The average blokes may smoke pot and drive too fast, but they seem less likely to risk a spat with the State on this stuff. “Right now the trust is good—with Bitcoin people are buying and selling it, they think it’s a reasonable market—but there will come a day when government crackdowns come in and you begin to see the currency come down.” ~Mark Mobius, executive director at Franklin Templeton Investments Others have unshakeable faith even in the more obscure cryptocurrencies. I’m unsure what I’m hoping for on this bet (Figure 22): Figure 22. John McAfee, technology pioneer, chief of cybersecurity, visionary of MGT Capital Investments, going all in on cryptocurrencies. Housing and Real Estate “We bailed out the financial system so that financiers with access to cheap credit can buy up all of America’s real estate so that they can then rent it back to you later.” ~Mike Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg blog Greenspan claimed those who predicted the housing bubble were “statistical illusions” (as were those who saw Greenspan as a charlatan). There are, once again, housing bubbles littered across the globe at various stages of expansion and contraction owing to central banks providing in excess of $3 trillion dollars of QE this year. Credit is fungible, so the flood of capital can come from anywhere and migrate to anywhere it finds an inflating asset. Hong Kong’s spiking prices are rising by dozens of basis points per day. Attempts by authorities to cool the market only fanned the flames, resulting in “a sea of madness.”137 Australian authorities tried to cap the dreaded interest-only loans at 30% of the total pool, prompting one hedge fund to return money to investors and declare that “Mortgage fraud is endemic; it’s systemic; it’s just terrible what’s going on. When you’ve got 30-year-olds, who have never seen a property downturn before, borrowing up to 80% to buy three and four apartments, it’s a bubble.”138 Prices in London are now collapsing.139 Why would anything collapse with so much global credit? Simple: top-heavy structures tend to collapse from even small shocks. I will focus, however, on only two countries—the U.S. because it is my home turf and Canada because it is the most interesting of the markets. The U.S. appears to be in a bubblette, an overvalued market that does not approach the insanity of 2007 (detected by statistical illusions as early as 2002).140 Twenty percent down payments have become passé again. A survey of 20 cities reveals 5.9 percent annualized price rises.141 The median sale price of an existing home has set an all-time high and is up 40 percent since the start of 2014141 despite what seems to be muted demand (Figure 23). Thus, home ownership has dropped by 8 percent since ’09 because soaring prices have rendered them unaffordable. More than 40 percent of 25-34 year olds, a group historically en route to home ownership, have nothing set aside for a down payment.141 Those who scream about the need for affordable housing don’t notice that we have plenty of low-quality houses. We lack low-cost houses. And the Fed says inflation is good. Figure 23. Median new home sales price in the U.S. versus number sold and versus home ownership rate. In 1960, California had a median home price of $15,000—three times the salary of an elementary school teacher.142 The median home price in San Francisco is now $1.5 million,143 which is unlikely to be three times a teacher’s salary. A couple earning $138,000 will soon qualify for subsidized housing in San Francisco. California housing seems to be interminably overvalued, possibly owing to the draw of droughts, mudslides, crowds, and, fires. Despite modest 6 percent population growth since 2010, housing units have shown an only 2.9 percent increase. There could be a supply–demand problem, especially when the fires subside. Florida is rumored to have eager post-hurricane sellers—those with something left to sell, that is.144 Condo flippers drove prices skyward in Miami, but they are heading earthward with a glut of units scheduled to come online in 2018. It’s not just the sand states starting to see softness. In New York City, rising rates seem to be nudging commercial and residential real estate down and foreclosures up to levels not seen since the 2009 crisis (79 percent year-over-year in Q3).145 Sam Zell is, once again, a seller and claims "it is getting hard."146 Recall that Zell nailed the real estate top by selling $38 billion in real estate in ’07.147 “The condo market at the high-end [in Manhattan] . . . is a catastrophe and will get worse.” ~Barry Sternlicht, Starwood Property Trust Those who already own houses can once again “extract equity” from their homes using home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).148 They then wake up with more debt on the same house. Pundits claim consumers’ willingness to mortgage their future is “a healthy confidence in the economy.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also entered phase II of the catch-and-release program. Their regulators have authorized them to once again engage in unchecked, reckless lending, prompting some to begin estimating the cost of the next bailout.149 What happened to all that inventory from the colossal boom leading to the Great Recession? Some fell into the foundations, but a lot found its way into private equity firms. Mind you, single-family rentals are a low- or no-profit-margin business under normal circumstances. As long as rates stay low—Where have I heard that one before?—inherently thin profits can be amplified to a significant transitory revenue stream through leverage. A proposed merger of Invitation Homes (owned by Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by Starwood Capital) would spawn the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion.150 Of course, rates will rise again, and these sliced-and-diced tranches of mortgage-backed securities must be offloaded to greater fools. Private equity guys are already frantically boxing and shipping.151 To avoid costly and time-consuming appraisals, market players are using “broker price opinions,” which can be had by simply driving by the house and taking a guess (or just taking a guess). In ’09, the legendary “Linda Green” signed off on thousands using dozens of different signatures.152 U.S. securities regulators are investigating whether bonds backed by single-family rental homes and sold by Wall Street’s biggest residential landlords used overvalued property assessments.153 Let me help you guys out: yes. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government.” ~IMF, on the Canadian housing market Heading north, we find that Canada’s real estate market never collapsed in ’09 (Figure 24), an outcome often ascribed to the virtues of the country’s banking system. An estimated 7 percent of Canadians work in housing construction,154 and Canadians are using HELOCs like crazy.155 After Vancouver tried to burst a huge bubble in 2016 with a 15 percent buyers’ tax,156 Chinese buyers chased Toronto houses instead. Annualized gains of 33 percent with average prices of $1.5 million are pushing even the one-percentile crowd to remote ’burbs.157 Toronto authorities have now imposed the Vancouver-like 15 percent foreign buyers tax,158 causing a single-month 26 percent drop in sales and ultimately chasing the hot money to Montreal,159 Guelph, and even Barrie.160 “Make no mistake, the Toronto real estate market is in a bubble of historic proportions.” ~David Rosenberg Figure 24. Canadian versus U.S. median home prices and what they buy ($700,000 for that little gem). The most interesting plotline and a smoking gun in Canada’s bursting bubble was failing subprime lender Home Capital Group (HCG). Marc Cahodes, referred to as a “free-range short seller” and “the scourge of Wall Street,” spotted criminality and shorted HCG for a handsome profit.161 HCG was so bad it was vilified by its auditor, KPMG.162 Imagine that. HCG dropped 60 percent in one day when news hit of an emergency $2 billion credit line at 22.5 percent interest by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.163 (The CEO of the pension plan sits on Home Capital’s board and is also a shareholder.) Cahodes was printing money and ranting about jail sentences when, without warning, the legendary stockjobber Warren Buffett took a highly visible 20 percent stake in HCG at “mob rates” (38 percent discount).164 The short squeeze was vicious, and Cahodes was PO’d. As Paul Harvey would say, “now for the rest of the story.” HCG is, by all reckoning, the piece of crap Cahodes claims it is. Buffett couldn’t care less about HCG’s assets—Berkshire can swallow the losses for eternity. Warren may have bought this loser as a legal entry to the Canadian banking system, which is loaded with hundreds of billions of “self-securitized” mortgages. The plot thickened as a story leaked that Buffett met with Justin Trudeau (on a tarmac).165 When the Canadian real estate bust begins in earnest, Buffett will have the machinery of HCG and the political capital to feed on the carcasses of the big-five Canadian banks. Pensions “This massive financial bubble is a ticking time bomb, and when it finally goes off, it is going to wipe out virtually every pension fund in the United States.” ~Michael Snyder, DollarCollapse.com blog The impending pension crisis is global and monumental with no obvious way out. The World Economic Forum estimates the pension gap—unfunded pension liabilities—at $70 trillion and headed for $250 trillion by 2050.166 Conservative but still conventional assumptions about prospective investment returns and spending patterns in old age suggest that retiring into the American dream in your mid 60s requires you bank 20–25 multiples of your annual salary (or a defined benefit plan that is the functional equivalent) to avoid the risk of running out of money. A friend—a corporate executive no less—retired with 10 multiples; he could be broke within a decade (much sooner if markets regress to historical means). Of course, you can defiantly declare you will work ’till you drop, but then there are those unexpected aneurysms, bypass surgeries, layoffs, and ailing spouses needing care. I’ve seen claims that more than 50 percent of retirees do not fully control their retirement age. “Companies are doing everything they can to get rid of pension plans, and they will succeed.” ~Ben Stein, political commentator The problem began as worker compensation became reliant on future promises—IOUs planted in pension plans—often assuming the future was far, far away. However, a small cadre of demographers in the ’70s smelled the risk of the boomer retirements and began swapping defined-benefit plans for defined-contribution plans.167 (A hybrid of the two traces back to 18th century Scottish clergy.168) The process was enabled by the corporate-friendly Tax Reform Act of ’86.169 Employees were unknowingly handed all the risk and became their own human resource specialists. Retirement risk depends on the source of your retirement funds. Federal employees are backstopped by the printing press, although defaults cannot be ruled out if you read the fine print.170 States and municipalities could get bailed out, but there are no guarantees. Defined-benefit corporate plans can be topped off by digging into cash flows provided that the cash flows and even the corporation exist. The depletion of corporate earnings to top off the deficits, however, will erode equity performance, which will wash back on all pension funds. The multitude of defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s and IRAs managed by individuals are totally on their own and suffer from a profound lack of savings. Corporate and municipal defined-benefit plans assumed added risks by falling behind in pension contributions motivated by efforts to balance the books and, in the corporate world, create the illusion of profits. The moment organizations began reducing the requisite payments by applying flawed assumptions about prospective returns, pensions shifted to Ponzi finance. My uncanny ability to oversimplify anything is illustrated by the imitation semi-log plot in Figure 25. The red line reflects the assumed average compounded balance sheet from both contributions and market gains. The blue squiggle reflects the vicissitudes of the market wobbling above and below the projection. If the projections are too optimistic—the commonly reported 7–8 percent market returns certainly are—the slope is too high, and the plan will fall short. If the projected returns are reasonable but management stops contributing during good times—embezzling the returns above the norm to boost profits—the plan will fall below projection again. Of course, once the plan falls behind, nobody wants to dump precious capital into making up the difference when you can simply goose projected returns with new and improved assumptions. In a rational world, pensions would be overfunded during booms and underfunded during busts. Assuming we can agree that we are deep into both equity and bond bull markets and possibly near their ends, pensions should be bloated with excess reserves (near a maximum on the blue curve), and bean counters should keep their dirty little paws off those assets and keep contributing because we won’t stay there. Figure 25. Childish construct of pension assets. That’s a good segue to drill down into the contemporaneous details. Public pensions are more than 30 percent underfunded ($2 trillion).171 A buzzkiller at the Hoover Institution says that the government disclosures are wrong and puts the deficit at $3.8 trillion.172 Bloomberg says that “if honest math was being used . . . the real number would actually be closer to 6 trillion dollars.”173 What is honest math? Using prevailing treasury yields for starters. Bill Gross—the former Bond King—says that if we get only 4.0 percent total nominal return rather than the presumed 7.5 percent, pensions are $5 trillion underfunded.174 Assuming 100 million taxpayers, that’s $50,000 we all have to pony up. California’s CalPERS fund dropped its assumption to a 6.2 percent return—still seriously optimistic in my opinion—leaving a $170 billion shortfall.175 The Illinois retirement system is towing a liability of $208 billion with $78 billion in assets ($130 billion unfunded).176 Connecticut is heading for a “Greece-style debt crisis” with $6,500 in debt per capita (every man, woman, and child?).177 The capital, Hartford, is heading for bankruptcy.178 South Carolina’s government pension plan is $24 billion in the hole. Kentucky’s attempt to fill a gigantic hole in its pension fund (31 percent funded) was felled by politics.179 A detailed survey of municipal pension obligations shows funding ranging from 23 percent (Chicago) to 98 percent (Suffolk).180 My eyeball average says about 70 percent overall. Notice that despite being at the peak of an investment cycle, none are overfunded (Figure 26.) Large and quite unpopular 30 percent hikes in employee contributions are suggested. The alternative of taking on more municipal debt to top off pension funds is a common stop-gap measure of little merit long term; somebody still has to pay. Figure 26. State pension deficits. The 100 largest U.S. corporate defined-benefit plans have dropped to 85 percent funded from almost 110 percent in 2007. During the recent market cycle that burned bright on just fumes, the companies gained only 6 percent above the 80 percent funding at the end of 2008. Of the top 200 corporate pensions in the S&P, 186 are underfunded to the tune of $382 billion (Figure 27). General Electric, for example, is $31 billion in the hole while using $45 billion for share buybacks. Figure 27. Underfunding of 20 S&P pension funds. When are serious problems supposed to start, and what will they look like? Jim Bianco says “slowly and then suddenly.” Some would argue “now.” The Dallas Police and Firemen Pension Fund is experiencing a run on the bank.181 They are suing a real estate fund who slimed them out of more than $300 million182 and are said to be looking at $1 billion in “clawbacks” from those who got out early trying to avoid the pain.183 The Teamsters Central States and the United Mineworkers of America plans are failing.184 The New York Teamsters have spent their last penny of pension reserves.185 The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has paid out nearly $6 billion in benefits to participants of failed pension plans (albeit at less than 50 cents on the dollar), increasing its deficit to $76 billion. CalPERS intends to cut payouts owing to low returns and inadequate contributions (during a boom, I remind you). “The middle 40% [of 50- to 64-year olds] earn $97,000 and have saved $121,000, while the top 10% make $251,000 and have $450,000 socked away.” ~Wall Street Journal Looks like those self-directed IRAs aren’t working out so well either. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute anything to retirement. Only 4 percent of those earning below $50,000 a year maxes out their 401(k)s at the current limits.186 They are so screwed, but I get it: they are struggling to pay their bills. However, only 32 percent of the $100,000+ crowd maxes out the contribution. When the top 10 percent of the younger boomers have two multiples of their annual salary stashed away, you’ve got a problem.186 If they retired today, how long would their money last? That’s not a trick question: two years according to my math. Half the boomers have no money set aside for retirement. A survey shows that a significant majority of boomers are finding their adult children to be a financial hardship.187 Indeed, the young punks aren’t doing well in all financial categories; retirement planning is no exception. Almost half of Gen Xers agreed with this statement: “I prefer not to think about or concern myself with retirement investing until I get closer to my retirement date.” Moody’s actuarial math concluded that a modest draw down would cause pension fund liabilities to soar owing to a depletion of reserves.188 There is a bill going through Congress to allow public pensions to borrow from the treasury; they are bracing for something.189 This is a tacit bailout being structured. The Fed cowers at the thought of a recession with good reason: Can the system endure 50% equity and bond corrections—regressions to the historical mean valuation? What happens when monumental claims to wealth—$200 trillion in unfunded liabilities—far exceed our wealth? Laurence Kotlikoff warned us; we are about to find out.190 Beware of any thinly veiled claim that the redivision of an existing pie will create more pie. My sense is that we are on the cusp of a phase change. Stresses are too large to ignore and are beginning to cause failures and welched promises. Runs on pension funds akin to runs on banks would be deadly: people would quit working to get their pensions. At this late stage in the cycle, you simply cannot make it up with higher returns. Enormous appreciation has been pulled forward; somebody is going to get hosed. It’s only fourth grade math. Bankruptcy laws exist to bring order to the division of limited assets. We got into this mess one flawed assumption at a time. On a final note, there is a move afoot to massively reduce contributions to sheltered retirement accounts. This seems precisely wrong. (I have routinely sheltered 25–30 percent of my gross income as a point of reference.) Congress is also pondering new contributions be forced into Roth-like accounts rather than regular IRAs. I have put a bat to the Roth IRA both in print191 and in a half-hour talk.192 Here is the bumper sticker version: Roth IRAs pull revenue forward, leaving future generations to fend for themselves; Fourth grade math shows that Roth and regular IRAs, if compounded at the same rate and taxed at the same rate, provide the same cash for retirement. Roth IRAs are taxed at the highest tax bracket—the marginal rate—whereas regular IRAs are taxed integrated over all brackets—the effective tax rate. If you read a comparison of Roth versus regular IRAs without reference to the “effective” versus “marginal” rate, the author is either ignorant or trying to scam you. Phrases like “it depends on your personal circumstances” are double-talk. This synopsis of a Harvard study has two fundamental errors: Can you find them? “If a worker saves $5,000 a year in a 401(k) for 40 years and earns 5% return a year, the final balance will be more than $600,000. If the 401(k) is a Roth, the full balance is available for retirement spending. If the 401(k) is a traditional one, taxes are due on the balance. Let’s say the person’s tax rate is 20% in retirement. That makes for a difference of $120,000 in spending power, which a life annuity will translate into about $700 a month in extra spending.” ~John Beshears, lead author of a Harvard study Inflation versus Deflation “Deflation does not destroy these resources physically. It merely diminishes their monetary value, which is why their present owners go bankrupt. Thus, deflation by and large boils down to a redistribution of productive assets from old owners to new owners. The net impact on production is likely to be zero.” ~Guido Hülsmann. Mises Institute “My own view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target.” ~Lael Brainard “Inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.” ~Esther George, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City “Barring major swings in value of the dollar, inflation is likely to move up to 2 percent over the next couple of years.” ~Janet Yellen, Federal Open Market Committee chair Barring major swings in the value of the dollar? What kind of circular reasoning is that? The Fed tells us inflation is too low relative to their arbitrary 2 percent target. I say they are lying—through their teeth—and I have company. John Williams of ShadowStats has been ringing the alarm for decades, currently putting inflation at 6 percent compared with official numbers of less than 2 percent (Figure 28).193 A study by the Devonshire Group concurs with Williams.194 The most notable support for the official consumer price index (CPI) inflation numbers comes from MIT’s Billion Prices Project (BPP).
Outside Brexit Britain, the view looks rosy and borrowing is being pushed to new highs. What could go wrong? Almost everythingThere is a complacency in the air as we stumble into 2018. Global economic forecasts are coated with sugar. Stock markets keep heading skywards and borrowing is at an all-time high. Brexit may be a brick through the window of the UK’s economic outlook, but for the rest of the developed world, the view is decidedly rosy.Such is the exuberance among those with plenty of spare cash that there is a return of borrowing with the sole purpose of betting on stock market gains. To this end, investors are using any asset to hand – their house, their pension or their deposit savings – to get a boost from the alpha funds that promise stellar returns. Bitcoin is another feature of this relaxed attitude to risk. Who needs safety nets when there is no prospect of a fall? It’s not hard to see why the picture looks so rosy and why it is likely to conclude with an ugly denouement. Continue reading...
Authored by Tsvetana Paraskova via OilPrice.com, As we roll into 2018, analysts and investors are more optimistic that the oil market will further tighten next year and support higher oil prices, but rising U.S. shale production will likely cap any significant price gains. On the demand side, expectations are that global economic growth will support solid oil demand growth. On the supply side, Venezuela’s dire situation, possible new sanctions on Iran, and increased tension in the Middle East mostly with the Saudi-Iran issues and the Iraq-Kurdistan standoff may take more barrels off the market than OPEC and friends plan, and send geopolitical jitters through the oil market. However, according to energy policy expert Michael Lynch, there remain three potential events in the markets that could send oil prices tumbling. These include a large correction in the U.S. stock market that could spread to a sell-off in commodities; one of the OPEC members or Russia breaking away from the unusually strong compliance to the cuts we have seen so far; and U.S. oil production rising so much as to make OPEC see it as a threat to its long-term oil market share. In markets, there are already some signs that we may be seeing some bubbles, Bitcoin being the most likely candidate, according to Lynch. In addition, the price to earnings ratio of the S&P 500 index is now over 25, well above the mean historical average of just over 15. Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said, referring to the high valuation in some asset classes, “the fact that those valuations are high doesn’t mean that they are necessarily overvalued.” According to VTB Capital’s Global Macro Strategist Neil MacKinnon, the ultra-low volatility in U.S. equities this year is “very vulnerable” to shocks, and current stability could actually bring future instability. According to Lynch, if the U.S. market moves into bear territory next year with a big correction, it could spread the financial contagion to commodities such as oil. Another potential threat to oil prices is that of an OPEC/non-OPEC pact participant beginning cheating outright—Iraq and Russia, for example—which could lead to the Saudis deciding to let the price of oil drop, Lynch argues. Yet the Saudis have little choice but to support oil prices because of their heavily oil-reliant economy and the planned IPO of Saudi Aramco, Amy Myers Jaffe at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in the Houston Chronicle last week. According to Myers Jaffe, if Russia makes a U-turn and boosts its oil production, the ultimate battle for market share will be between the U.S. and Russia, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia continues to hold influence in the oil policy of OPEC and its partners. “For now, Russia seems content to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on oil market stability, which ironically also suits the current U.S. administration, whose America-first jobs message is tied heavily to the economic engine of the shale revolution,” Myers Jaffe said. The shale revolution and the rise of U.S. oil production is the third possible factor that could lead to an oil price collapse, Lynch argues. If OPEC sees that it needs to defend market share in the long run, chances grow that the cartel may decide to let oil prices drop, Lynch says. OPEC is now outright acknowledging that U.S. shale outperformed initial expectations, and last week the cartel revised up its projections for non-OPEC supply growth for this year and next. The International Energy Agency (IEA), for its part, said that while OPEC producers had decided to roll over the production cuts to the end of 2018, non-OPEC supply would increase more than previously expected, and total supply growth could exceed demand growth next year. The EIA forecasts in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) that total U.S. crude oil production will average 9.2 million bpd this year and 10.0 million bpd in 2018, which would mark the highest annual average production, surpassing the previous record of 9.6 million bpd from 1970. OPEC is well aware of the second U.S. shale resurgence, and it looks like it’s currently sacrificing short-term market share in the name of higher oil prices—or “oil price stability”, as it loves to call it. As for letting the price of oil slide, OPEC members’ budgets may currently need higher oil prices even more than some U.S. shale drillers do. While many analysts and OPEC expect the oil market to finally rebalance at some point in late 2018, a sharp correction in the financial markets, a dip in OPEC/non-OPEC compliance, and the market share wars could result in lower oil prices, or in the extreme case—in an oil price crash.
Крупнейшие центробанки массово скупают акции в поисках доходности и получают огромные прибыли на растущем рынке. В итоге регуляторы загнали себя в ловушку: они участвуют в раздувании пузырей, но остановиться уже не могут
First part of a series. By @Sellputs, this post first appeard on the Hedge Accordingly.com All the world is a stage—for the Bitcoin Bubble. Never mind that stocks have soared up 30% in the full year since Donald Trump stunned even himself by winning the presidential election—everybody would rather talk about bitcoin and its brethren. The other day I got this text from a friend: “What’s up bud long time , u know anything about litecoin”? This, from my gardener. JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, calls bitcoin a “fraud” used mostly by “murderers, drug dealers and other miscreants,” as the FT put it. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen just called out bitcoin as a “highly speculative asset” that “doesn’t constitute legal tender,” nor is it “a stable store of value.” After which the price of bitcoin (BTC) rose another $3,000 or 18% in the next four days, to approach the $20,000 mark. Nobody puts Bitcoin Baby in the corner. The boldest risk-loving investors out there view bitcoin as a panacea for the digital millennium: a soaring store of value propped up by insanely great encryption, untraceable origins and the urgent need for a post-dollar currency that can survive global catastrophe. Similar enthusiasm adorns “altcoins” that came in bitcoin’s wake: Litecoin (LTC), Ethereum (ETH), Zcash (ZEC), Dash (DASH), Ripple (XRP), Monero (XMR) and some 800 more rival forms of digital currency. A soaring store of value: yes, indeed. If you were ballsy enough to buy a bit of bitcoin at the end of 2013, investing, say, $1,000, you got in at a low of $600 per coin; today that $1,000 stake would be worth roughly $15,000. That is up 24-fold—2,400%!—in four years. And if you were ballsy enough to bet on bitcoin, it may be time to get out now, because other people view the cryptocurrency as the Next Great Meltdown, a malignant mash-up of P.T. Barnum (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) and Charles Ponzi, the circa-1920 swindler who popularized the kind of scheme that made Bernie Madoff famous. The truth may lie somewhere in-between—and, either way, it’s good to know a few things about bitcoin and all that it entails. This is the first part of a series on my Bitcoin Breakdown—read it and reap! First, some breaking thoughts: · Bitcoin just got more real. The legitimate, old-guard world of Wall Street and finance now figures this crypto-currency is worth betting on (that’s high praise from these guys.) On the Chicago Board Options Exchange, futures for betting on bitcoin price swings began trading on December 10. A week later, TD Ameritrade began letting holders of its 11 million accounts trade those futures, just as Cboe’s crosstown rival, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launched its own bitcoin futures exchange (although with no TD Ameritrade support, as yet). · Bitcoin futures contracts, essentially, are electronic bets on the future prices of bitcoin (just as other futures let you bet on and hedge prices in pork bellies, soy beans, orange juice, ad to-infinity-and-beyond). You buy or sell a futures contract based on whether you think bitcoin prices are headed up or down. Eventually, I expect the CME to create options on futures contracts: traders will be able to buy and sell “puts and calls,” the right to buy (a “call” option) or sell (a “put” option) a bitcoin futures contract at a particular price by a particular date. · So when a pro someday will trade options on bitcoin futures, he’s using a kind of triple-synthetic. Bitcoin itself doesn’t exist the way, say, bacon from pork bellies exists, so that is one synthetic layer; a Cboe option is a second synthetic layer; and on the CME traders may one day bet on the future-price-of-bitcoin-futures, not just on the price of bitcoin—a third synthetic layer. A triple-synthetic. Bitcoin’s fans are anything but fazed by this. · Coming soon: Bitcoin ETFs. ProShares and VanEck have filed applications for new ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) based on bitcoin futures. (Come to think of it, that’s a triple-synthetic, too.) Look for SEC approval by the end of the first quarter of next year, some reports say. New ETFs would push bitcoin even more into the mainstream for mom-and-pop investors. All of this increases already manic investor demand for an “asset” that no one even can see. · A bitcoin supply-squeeze could fuel more price gains. Supposedly, only 21 million bitcoins are in existence (however invisible, digital and intangible that may be). It is said that a thousand early buyers of the digital coin own fully 40% of the world’s supply. (And I bet ya dozens of these bitcoin billionaires are drug smugglers, given that’s how bitcoin got its start.) · Typically, ETFs are required to own the underlying assets on which the ETFs are based—an ETF representing a “basket” of energy stocks requires the ETF’s issuer to go out and buy those stocks and keep them on hand. Given the short supply, if enough bitcoin-based ETFs enter the market, each one required to hold a store of bitcoins commensurate with its total value, the law of supply and demand dictates what happens next: the price of bitcoin could rise higher still. Though, I mean, who knows, right? Bitcoins are, in truth, little more than a contrivance, a non-existent thing derived from some horribly complex, secret formula cum algorithm invented by some guy (or gal or people) whose authenticity remains masked and uncertain. What’s to stop him (or her or them) from tapping a few buttons on the keyboard to make 21 million more bitcoins? Suddenly, supply doubles, each coin is worth only half what it was just days before. Or what’s to stop the same anonymous forces from inventing a “New! Improved!” version of bitcoin that obviates the original? If you do get involved in the bitcoin rush-to-riches, you would do well to discard any notion of yourself as an investor; view yourself as an ice-in-the-veins speculator, a gambler with gonads (or ovaries) the size of boulders. Next up: Should you buy into the bitcoin bubble? Evan McDaniel, aka @sellputs, is a derivatives trader, algorithm wizard and advisor to hedge funds. You can reach him at [email protected]
Как и ожидалось, члены совета управляющих Федрезерва США проголосовали за повышение процентной ставки на 0,25 процентного пункта по итогам двухдневного заседания. Базовая процентная ставка выросла с 0,75–1% до 1–1,25%.
Zerohedge.com: Йеллен говорит, что скупка акций – это “хорошая вещь, о которой стоит подумать”, и эта мера может помочь в случае рецессии
Намекнув прошлым вечером о том, что “возможно, в будущем” Федрезерв мог бы начать скупать акции, Джанет Йеллен опять проболталась, подтвердив, что Федрезерв рассматривает возможность скупки прочих активов, помимо долгосрочного долга США. Несмотря на полный и оглушительный провал политики Национального банка… читать далее → Запись Zerohedge.com: Йеллен говорит, что скупка акций – это “хорошая вещь, о которой стоит подумать”, и эта мера может помочь в случае рецессии впервые появилась .
Глава ФРС США Джанет Йеллен объявила о сохранении базовой процентной ставки в диапазоне 0,25–0,5%. При этом были снижены прогнозы по ВВП и инфляции в американской экономике, а также прогнозы дальнейшего повышения процентных ставок.
Руководство Федеральной резервной системы США объявило о повышении базовой процентной ставки на 0,25%.
Американская экономика "в значительной степени восстановилась" после Великой рецессии, и готова продолжить рост на фоне укрепления инфляции - таким был посыл главы ФРС Джаннет Йеллен, которая в своем вчерашнем выступлении постаралась максимально подготовить рынки к первому пов читать далее…
В руководстве Федеральной резервной системы рассматривают возможность использования отрицательных процентных ставок в случае, если американская экономика вновь столкнется с серьезным кризисом.
В руководстве Федеральной резервной системы рассматривают возможность использования отрицательных процентных ставок, в случае если американская экономика вновь столкнется с серьезным кризисом.
Инвесторам некуда вкладывать деньги! Другого объяснения для прошедшего в США аукциона по размещению трехмесячных трежерис просто нет, поскольку доходность на нем составила 0% - даже ниже, чем после краха Lehman Brothers.
Оказывается, пока все на статую пялились кафедры ООН да на Сирию смотрели из фондов взаимных инвестиций США вывели 63 $ млрд (за последние 3 месяца) Инвесторы боятся всего, изменения процентной ставки ФРС, апокалиптической турбулентности и нестабильности... "биржевой зверь болен, и паника вот-вот поглотит мир" (цитата из одного из "срочников" на форуме выживальщиков)).Факт тот, что бежать инвесторам некуда (только в нефть)).Ну и еще всех испугала речь речь председателя ФРС Джанет Йеллен, которая выступая на совещании, посвященному в т.ч. возможному повышению ставки Федеральной резервной системы, конкретно залипла -- выглядело это действительно апокалиптически (дорогой Леонид Ильич отдыхает)
По итогам очередного заседания в руководстве Федеральной резервной системы приняли решение сохранить монетарную политику без изменений. Вместе с тем, официальные прогнозы ФРС США указывают, что до конца этого года процентные ставки будут повышены дважды.
Председатель ФРС США Джанет Йеллен предупредила о потенциальных рисках, связанных с повышенными ценовыми уровнями американского фондового рынка.
Председатель ФРС США Джанет Йеллен предупредила о потенциальных рисках, связанных с повышенными ценовыми уровнями американского фондового рынка.
Оригинал взят у barskaya в Финансы и кредит, долги, нефтедоллар, золото... - Часть 1СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Меня зовут Стив Майерс. И я хочу поблагодарить вас за внимание к этому эксклюзивному интервью в программе Денежное Утро с Джимом Рикардсом (Jim Rickards), аналитиком по вопросам финансовых угроз и асимметричных военных действий, работающим на Пентагон и ЦРУ. Недавно был выпущен шокирующий доклад с участием всех 16 отделов нашего Разведсообщества. Среди этих агентств – ЦРУ, ФБР, Армия и Военно-морской флот, они уже начали оценивать влияние падения доллара как мировой резервной валюты. И наше господство как глобальной сверхдержавы уничтожается подобно тому, как приходил конец Британской империи после Второй мировой войны. Финальная игра может проходить по кошмарному сценарию, когда весь мир погрузится в длительный период анархии. Джим Рикардс опасается, что предостережения, высказываемые им и его коллегами, игнорируются нашими политическими лидерами и Федеральным Резервом, и мы находимся на грани вступления в самый мрачный экономический период в истории нашей страны. Начнётся Великая Депрессия, которая продлится четверть века. Сегодня мы изучим всё, что он обнаружил, потому что хаос может начаться в ближайшие 6 месяцев. Вот почему каждый американец должен услышать его предостережения, пока не стало слишком поздно. Джим Рикардс, спасибо, что вы с нами. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Очень приятно, Стив. Рад быть с вами. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: В начале восьмидесятых вы были членом команды переговорщиков, которая помогла окончить иранский кризис с заложниками. В конце девяностых, когда стало ясно, что Long-Term Capital Management, фирма с Уолл-Стрит, может вызвать полный обвал финансовых рынков, Федеральный Резерв должен был обратиться к вам с целью не дать Америке погрузиться в рецессию. И до 9/11 вы выполняли задание ЦРУ по выявлению инсайдерских сделок, которые могли быть проведены до террористических атак. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Совершенно верно. Дело в том, что у ЦРУ нет никакого опыта по работе на рыке капитала. И с чего бы он у них был? До начала глобализации рынки капитала не были частью поля боя. Поэтому ЦРУ запустили какую-то программу, наняли каких-то людей, меня в их числе, чтобы у агентства появились какой-то опыт, связанный с Уолл Стрит. Так начался проект «Пророчество». Итак – ЦРУ интересовало, не будет ли где-нибудь ещё какой-то сильно зрелищной атаки? Можно ли каким-то образом по действиям участников рынка определить, террористы ли это, или какие-то стратегические противники Соединённых Штатов? Можно ли это увидеть? Можно ли получить информацию и разрушить заговор, спасти жизни американцев? СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Эта система, которую вы построили в рамках проекта «Пророчество», действительно предсказала террористическую атаку, которая была предотвращена в 2006. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: 7 августа 2006 года я получил емейл от своего партнёра. Он писал: «Джим, у нас есть совершенно чёткий сигнал по Американским Авиалиниям. Выглядит как возможная террористическая атака». Мы всё записали. Я проснулся в 2 часа ночи в своём кабинете, включил СNN и увидел, как МИ-5 и Новый Скотланд Ярд предотвратили террористическую атаку. Они арестовывали подозреваемых и изымали файлы. Итак, система работала. Она хороша не только для предсказания атак террористов, но и для предсказания террористических атак противников и соперников Соединённых Штатов. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Вот уже многие годы вы помогаете Пентагону и ЦРУ быть готовыми к противостоянию асимметричным военным действиям и финансовым угрозам, потому что сегодня есть чрезвычайные опасения, что по нам нанесут удар, и это будет, как вы описывали ранее, финансовый Перл Харбор. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Есть озабоченность в разных частях американского правительства. Исторически, о долларе заботились Вашингтон, Фед и Казначейство. Пентагон и Разведсообщество занимались остальными угрозами, но что делать, если доллар и есть угроза? Американцы знают, что: Фед увеличил денежную массу на 3.1 триллиона. У нас 17.5 триллиона долга. У нас 127 триллионов нефинансируемых обязательств. Что это значит? Медикер, Медикейд, Социальное страхование, студенческие займы, Фанни Май, Фредди Мак, FHA. Вы спускаетесь по списку, а он всё не кончается. И нет способов это всё оплатить. Долг не может больше использоваться для того, чтобы наращивать нашу экономику. Во время бума 50-х и 60-х на каждый доллар долга мы получали 2.41 доллара экономического роста. Доллар получил такой неплохой толчок. Но к концу семидесятых это соотношение на самом деле разрушилось. На доллар долга в конце семидесятых мы получали только 41 цент роста, очевидно, огромное падение. И вы знаете, какое это число сегодня? Сегодня на каждый доллар долга мы получаем 3 цента роста. То есть мы наращиваем долг, но получаем всё меньше и меньше роста. Вот такой тренд – 2.41, потом 41, потом 3. Скоро пойдут отрицательные числа. Это признак того, что сложная система скоро рухнет. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Об этом как раз идёт речь в вашей новой книге, Смерть Денег, с таким красноречивым заголовком, который как бы говорит нам – источник опустел. Вы предупреждаете, что мы вот-вот упадём в четвертьвековую Великую депрессию. Что фондовый рынок может просесть на день на 70%. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: (прерывает) Знаете, когда я использую термин «25-летняя депрессия», это звучит немного чересчур, но исторически тут ничего экстраординарного. У нас была 30-летняя депрессия в США с 1870 года по 1900. Экономисты называют её «Длинной Депрессией». Это было до Великой депрессии. Великая депрессия продолжалась с 1929 по 1940, тоже довольно долго. В США уже началась депрессия. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Ну, наверное многие бы с вами не согласились насчёт того, что у нас уже депрессия. Слово «депрессия» вызывает в памяти образы тридцатых годов и бесплатные столовые. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Так у нас уже есть сегодня бесплатные кухни… Они прямо в Whole foods и ваших местных супермаркетах, потому что 50 миллионов американцев сидят на фудстемпах. Дело не в том, есть ли у нас проблемы. У нас огромные проблемы, но они спрятаны различными способами. Уровень безработицы сегодня 23 процента, если считать её правильно. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: И вы показываете прямо на Фед, Конгресс и Белый Дом. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Я был на встрече в Казначействе и там сказал: «Главными угрозами национальной безопасности являются Фед и Казначейство, а не Аль Каида». Прямо там, в этом здании, перед этими людьми… «Это вы разрушаете доллар и вопрос времени, когда он разрушится». По этому поводу я свидетельствовал перед Сенатом Соединённых Штатов. Я предупреждал Сенат, может быть мы не можем прекратить землетрясения по разлому Сан Андреас… Но никто не думает, что послать армейских инженеров сделать этот разлом больше – хорошая идея. Но печатая деньги, раздавая кредиты и проводя беспечную монетарную политику Феда, мы ежедневно делаем разлом Сан Андреас больше. А когда вы делаете сложную систему большой, риск растёт не постепенно, а экспоненциально. И сейчас риск стал уже неуправляемым. Коллапс ещё не наступил, но силы накапливаются, и вот-вот выстрелит. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Джим, ваш подход, и многих из Разведсообщества… Очень отличается от того, что мы слышим с Капитолийского холма. Вот почему обвинения, которые вы делаете в этой книге, вызывают такое отторжение в Вашингтоне. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Недавно я был на закрытом собрании в Скалистых Горах с парой главных банкиров, один из Федерального Резерва и один из Банка Англии. В частной беседе они могут сказать то, что не скажут официально. И мне передали сборник Джанет Йеллен. То, что делает Фед – это какие-то пропагандистские попытки… Врать нам по поводу экономических перспектив, говорить о «признаках роста», вселять ложный оптимизм, чтобы заставить нас потратить деньги. Фед не знает, что он делает. И не думайте, что они знают, что делают. Вы можете напечатать сколько угодно денег, но если люди не хотят их брать в долг, если они не тратят эти деньги, тогда ваша экономика коллапсирует, хоть вы и печатаете деньги. Вот так оно примерно происходит… Предположим, что я иду на обед и даю чаевые официанту. Официант берёт мои чаевые и берёт такси, чтобы доехать домой. Водитель такси берёт плату и заливает в бак бензин. В этом примере у моего доллара есть скорость «три». 1 доллар поддерживает три доллара товаров и услуг: чаевые, поездку на такси и топливо. Ну а что если я себя плохо чувствую? Я остаюсь дома и смотрю телевизор. Я не трачу деньги. И у денег скорость ноль. Я оставляю деньги в банке, но не трачу ничего. Посмотрите на то, что происходит со скоростью денег. Она тонет. Она падает очень быстро. Сравните это падение скорости сегодня с тем, что, как мы видели, привело к Великой депрессии. Во дни Великой депрессии скорость была ещё меньше… Но… Если сравнить то, что происходит сегодня, с тем, что было в конце двадцатых, как раз перед Великой депрессией, можно увидеть поразительное сходство. Так что не имеет никакого значения, сколько денег печатает Фед. Представьте себе пикирующий самолёт. Он падает… падает… приближается к земле. Фед пытается схватить штурвал и вывести самолёт из пике, вернуть его опять в воздух… Но это, к сожалению, не работает, катастрофа всё ближе. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Мы сейчас обсудили много всех этих поразительных чисел, эти признаки приближающейся Великой Депрессии. Давайте посмотрим, удастся ли мне всё это собрать вместе. Никто не отрицает, что у нас в стране долговой кризис, но вы говорите, что мы не можем больше наращивать долг без существенного замедления экономики. Мы сейчас едва над водой. Это сигнал номер 1. Сигнал номер 2 – опасное замедление в скорости денег. Скорость уже замедлилась до уровней, не наблюдаемых со времени Великой Депрессии тридцатых годов. Есть ли какие-то другие сигналы, наблюдаемые Разведсообществом, которые бы говорили, что катастрофа прямо за углом? ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Да, есть, Стив. Сигналов много, и они очень, очень беспокоящие. За одним из них я наблюдаю очень пристально, и я знаю людей из Разведсообщества, которые тоже этим занимаются. Называется «индекс Горя». Индекс Горя = Реальный уровень инфляции + Реальный уровень безработицы. Если посмотреть на индекс Горя сегодня, и сравнить его с периодом стагфляции поздних семидесятых и ранних восьмидесятых, которые американцы помнят очень хорошо, что сегодня всё на самом деле хуже. Это может привести к социальной нестабильности… Посмотрите, что было во времена Великой Депрессии. Индекс Горя был 27. Сейчас он 32,89. Верите или нет, сегодня хуже, чем было во времена Великой Депрессии. Что происходит, когда депрессия усиливается? Бизнесы не могут платить свои долги. Банки несут потери. Банки в конце концов падают. Такое случалось раньше. Феду приходилось спасать банки. Но что случится, когда Фед, в свою очередь, оказывается в опасности? СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Судя по тем сигналам, за которыми вы наблюдаете, Федеральный Резерв должен упасть? ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Федеральный Резерв, на самом деле, в некотором смысле уже упал. Я говорил с членом Совета Управляющих Федерального Резерва и я сказал, что думаю, что Фед неплатёжеспособен. Управляющий сначала отнекивался и возражал. Но потом я надавил немного сильнее и он сказал: «Да, может быть». А потом я просто посмотрел на неё и она сказала: «Ну, да. Но это не имеет никакого значения». Другими словами, тут Управляющий Федерального Резерва признаётся мне, в частной беседе, что Федеральный Резерв неплатёжеспособен, но, продолжает он, это не имеет значения, потому что центральным банкам не требуется капитал. А я думаю, что центральным банкам очень нужен капитал. Посмотрите на эту диаграмму. Она показывает, что Фед увеличил капитал на 56 миллиардов. Звучит неплохо. Можно сказать – 56 миллиардов большие деньги, неплохая база. Но это не всё Надо сравнить капитал с балансовым листом. Как это соотносится с активами и обязательствами? Смотрим и видим, что картина гораздо более пугающая, потому что действительные обязательства, или долги, если хотите, по книгам Феда – 4.3 триллиона. То есть у вас 4.3 триллиона долгов сидит на тощей основе капитала в 56 миллиардов… Очень нестабильная ситуация. До 2008 года левередж Феда был 22 к 1. Это значит, что у них было 22 доллара долга на 1 доллар капитала. Сегодня левередж 77 к 1. Да, капитал вырос, но долг и обязательства выросли гораздо больше. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Ваши предостережения не прошли полностью незамеченными. В бюджете, который он представлял в этом году, сенатор Рон Пол цитировал вашу работу, говоря о том, каким образом наша экономика подведена к краю, за которым может последовать коллапс в стиле Римской Империи. У нас даже есть отрывок, где сенатор Пол инструктирует американцев прислушиваться к вашим предостережениям. СЕНАТОР РОН ПОЛ: Джим Рикардс указывает на неплатёжеспособность Феда. Фед лишается своего капитала. Конечно, Фед ведёт записи в своём реестре. Но если сделать правильную переоценку, то Фед окажется разорённым. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Сначала, я хотел бы отдать должное cенатору Рону Полу. Он один из немногих людей, которые понимают, какие здесь скрыты опасности. Но проблема не ограничивается Федом. Она также заражает частную банковскую систему. На балансовых счетах нашей банковской системы 60 триллионов долга. Достаточно долго банки и долги росли примерно вдвое быстрее, чем росла экономика. Но в конце концов это взорвалось. Сегодня соотношение 30 к 1. Другими словами, на каждый доллар экономического роста есть 30 долларов кредита, созданного банковской системой. Всё это очень нестабильно Вот очень хороший пример, из физики. Представьте 35-фунтовый кусок урана в форме куба. Он будет довольно безопасным. Такое поведение называется подкритическим. Радиоактивность будет, но довольно спокойная. А теперь представьте, что вы осуществляете с этим куском манипуляции. Вы берёте один кусок и придаёте ему форму, скажем, грейпфрута. Берёте другой кусок и придаёте ему форму, похожую на бейсбольную биту. Потом укладываете вместе в трубу и свариваете вместе с помощью взрывчатки. Это вызывает ядерный врыв. Так можно разрушить город. Форма и компоновка – вот что переводит систему из подкритической в надкритическую. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Джим, вы видите какие-то признаки того, что наш фондовый рынок достиг надкритического состояния? ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Да, к сожалению да. Мы видим много признаков. Один из них, и он действительно фундаментальный, и на самом деле важный, это отношение капитализации фондового рынка к ВВП. Потому что, вспомните, сумма всех акций на фондовом рынке должна как-то отражать реальную экономику. Эта сумма не должна вести свою собственную жизнь. Но стоит посмотреть на то, что происходит с этим соотношением в последнее время: оно устремилось в небеса. Сейчас оно 203 процента. Как раз перед рецессией… Это число было 183% Вернёмся к известному пузырю хайтека, схлопыванию доткомов 2000 года. Тогда величина составляла 204%. Ну а если вы хотите услышать самые страшные новости… Как раз перед Великой Депрессией это число было 87%. Другими словами… Капитализация фондового рынка в процентах ВВП сейчас вдвое выше, чем было как раз перед Великой Депрессией. Так что это действительно хороший параметр для того, чтобы задаться вопросом, а не собирается ли фондовый рынок упасть. И данные говорят – да, собирается. Но есть ещё один параметр, ещё один знак опасности, если хотите, и он ещё более пугающий. Это валовая лицевая стоимость деривативов. Есть какая-то часть акций IBM, про которые мы знаем, что они не обеспечены, но мы точно знаем, какая. А деривативам нет предела. Я могу выписывать опционы и контракты на акции IBM с утра до вечера, и на акции других компаний на фондовом рынке. И это то, что происходит в действительности. И сейчас валовая лицевая стоимость деривативов в мире более 700 триллионов. Не миллиардов. 700 триллионов. Это в десять раз выше мирового ВВП. Коллапс неизбежен. Пора задаться вопросом – насколько всё плохо может быть? Ну, это уже случалось в 2007, 2008, когда рынки коллапсировали… Мы все помним, как падала цена акций. Падали цены на недвижимость… Суммарное падение стоимости составило 60 триллионов. Проблема в том, что система стала больше, и я ожидаю, что падение стоимости в этот раз будет 100 триллионов... возможно, намного больше. Мы сейчас в этом критическом состоянии, подходим к надкритическому, когда система схлопывается. Но системе требуется искра, требуется катализатор. Я исследовал некоторое количество потенциальных точек воспламенения. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Джим, через какое-то время я хотел бы обсудить, какие шаги надо предпринять американцам со своими инвестициями и личными финансами для того, чтобы быть готовым к тому, что предсказываете вы и ваши коллеги. Но сейчас давайте ненадолго сфокусируемся на этих главных точках воспламенения. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Одина из ключевых точек – это иностранное владение государственным долгом США. Это очень важная для понимания вещь. Мы все знаем, что Казначейство выпустило более 17 триллионов долговых обязательств. Вопрос – кто их покупает? Многие долговые обязательства США находятся в руках иностранцев. Кто владеет ими? Китай, Россия, другие страны… Страны, которые не обязательно наши друзья. И они могут захотеть избавиться от этих бумаг. И вообще-то такое уже происходит. С недавнего времени иностранная доля во владении госдолгом США падает. Но есть и более интересные вещи. Мы недавно говорили о проекте, которым я занимался для ЦРУ… Проект «Пророчество» Как мы говорили, вы можете видеть не только действия на рынке, но и то, стоят ли за ними противники, враги или террористы, работающие на финансовых рынках. Итак, мы знаем, что Россия напала на Крым весной 2014 года. Представьте себе, что вы Путин. Вы собираетесь напасть на Крым. Вы можете ожидать финансовых санкций со стороны США. Что бы вы стали делать? Вы просто начинаете смягчать влияние санкций, начинаете сбрасывать долговые обязательства заранее, чтобы когда вы сделали свой ход, и Казначейство начнёт играть против вас, вы бы были подготовлены. Вернёмся назад, в октябрь 2013 года, вот Россия сбрасывает трежериз месяц за месяцем. Это был ясный сигнал, что они что-то замышляют… Чтобы вступить в финансовую войну с США. Но всё ещё хуже. Мы знаем, что Россия и Китай работают вместе. Поэтому стоит ли удивляться, что когда русские стали сбрасывать обязательства… Китайцы стали сбрасывать их тоже? СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Есть ли у Разведсообщества возможность защитить нашу страну в случае, если такие события будут развиваться и дальше? ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: Верите или нет, в Казначействе есть подразделение разведки. И у них есть там штаб. Это значит, что финансовая война уже ведётся, она реальна. Так что если русские сбрасывают обязательства… Если китайцы сбрасывают… Кто собирается выкупать весь этот долг? И вот появляется таинственный покупатель. Недавно Бельгия купила невероятное количество долговых обязательств… Это сотни миллиардов долларов за долговые бумаги правительства США. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: То есть Бельгия стала скупать трежериз, случайно в то же самое время, когда Россия и Китай стали их сбрасывать? ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: (прерывает) Это не Бельгия. Эти количества больше, чем есть денег у Бельгии. Такие вещи покупают не бельгийские стоматологи. Бельгия это фасад Знаете, может быть это сам Фед? Вот в чём дело. Может быть общественность не знает, кто этот таинственный покупатель, но спецслужбы знают. Итак, Казначейство, ведя операции через штаб, Фед… таинственный покупатель в Бельгии… Сейчас им удалось удержать рынок трежериз. Он пока не развалился. Но они не смогут постоянно вытаскивать кроликов из шляпы, есть предел. Это должно быть очень страшно, потому что если Фед упадёт… а мы недавно говорили про то, что левередж Феда 77 к 1. То есть Фед находится на пределе того, что он может сделать. Иностранцы избавляются от трежериз, и если их никто не будет покупать… представьте, процентные ставки пойдут вверх. Это утопит фондовый рынок, утопит рынок недвижимости. Более высокие процентные ставки означают, что долг растёт, поэтому процентные ставки растут ещё выше. Вы попадаете в воронку, и из неё нет выхода. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Атака на наш рынок долговых обязательств – достаточно серьёзная точка воспламенения, которая и может вызвать Великую Депрессию, о которой вы написали в своей книге. Давайте поговорим о другой точке воспламенения. ДЖИМ РИКАРДС: То, что я называю точкой воспламенения номер 2, имеет отношение к нефтедоллару. СТИВ МАЙЕРС: Вы можете объяснить, что такое нефтедоллар? продолжение
ФРС нашла способ просканировать рынок труда Глава ФРС Джанет Йеллен не единожды говорила о том, что уровень безработицы не отражает всей полноты картин... From: Экономика ТВ Views: 0 0 ratingsTime: 02:25 More in News & Politics
Американский центробанк продолжит стимулирование экономики, прежде всего потому, что ситуация на рынке труда пока далека от желаемой. Об этом заявила председатель ФРС США Джанет Йеллен, выступая перед Конгрессом. Правда, Йеллен признала, что экономика США восстанавливается быстро. Если в 2013 ВВП Америки увеличился на 2,6%, то "в этом году я жду более высоких темпов деловой активности, чем в прошлом", - сказала Йелен. Впрочем, по ее словам, США, помимо внутренних факторов, должны учитыват... ЧИТАТЬ ДАЛЕЕ: http://ru.euronews.com/2014/05/07/yellen-us-economy-still-needs-help-on-jobs-slack-and-disappointing-housing- Последние новости смотрите здесь: http://eurone.ws/1hfoGvh euronews: самый популярный новостной канал в Европе. Подписывайтесь! http://eurone.ws/ZdZ0Zo euronews доступен на 14 языках: http://eurone.ws/11ILlKF На русском: Сайт: http://ru.euronews.com Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/euronews Twitter: http://twitter.com/euronewsru Google+: http://eurone.ws/1eEChLr VKontakte: http://vk.com/ru.euronews
Чиновники ФРС США в четвертый раз подряд приняли решение урезать программу покупки активов. Объем стимулирования снижен еще на $10 млрд. По итогам двухдневного заседания федерального комитета по открытому рынку (Federal Open Market Committee, FOMC), которое прошло 29 и 30 апреля, было принято решение продолжить сокращение объемов программы количественного смягчения. Решение было принято единогласно, все 9 членов комитета проголосовали за сокращение ежемесячных объемов стимулирования на $10 млрд. Таким образом, по итогам прошедшего заседания начиная с мая 2014 г. объем ежемесячных покупок трежерис (гособлигации США) снизится с $30 млрд до $25 млрд. Объем покупок ценных бумаг, обеспеченных ипотечными облигациями, выкупаемых ежемесячно со стороны ФРС, сократится с $25 млрд до $20 млрд. Общий объем ежемесячных покупок активов сократился с $55 млрд до $45 млрд. Стоит отметить, что после апрельского заседания FOMC объем программы количественного смягчения стал почти в два раза ниже уровня ежемесячного стимулирования в размере $85 млрд, который сохранялся в течение 2013 г. В опубликованном на сайте ФРС тексте сопровождающего заявления отмечается: “Данные, которые были получены с момента последнего заседания федерального комитета по открытому рынку в марте, показывают, что экономическая активность улучшается после резкого замедления в течение зимы, отчасти из-за сложных погодных условий. Показатели рынка труда остаются довольно смешанными, однако в целом продолжают показывать дальнейшее улучшение. Уровень безработицы, однако, остается повышенным. Потребительские расходы растут более быстрыми темпами. Капитальные затраты снизились, при этом восстановление в секторе недвижимости остается довольно медленным. Фискальная политика США сдерживает рост экономики, но при этом размер данного ограничения сокращается. Уровень инфляции остается ниже долгосрочного целевого ориентира комитета, однако долгосрочные инфляционные ожидания продолжают оставаться стабильными. По оценкам комитета, риски для дальнейшего развития экономики и рынка труда США в целом остаются сбалансированными. На текущем этапе комитет ожидает, что даже после того как безработица и инфляция достигнут приемлемых уровней, общее состояние экономики США потребует сохранения процентных ставок на более низких уровнях, чем те уровни, которые в комитете считают нормальными в долгосрочной перспективе”. Мнение эксперта ГК TeleTrade Евгений Филиппов Аналитик ГК TeleTrade TeleTrade var RndNum4NoCash = Math.round(Math.random() * 1000000000);var ar_Tail='unknown'; if (document.referrer) ar_Tail = escape(document.referrer);document.write('')"Вероятнее всего, ФРС действительно продолжит планово сокращать программу выкупа активов, что, судя по графику сокращений, приведет к ее полному исключению до конца года. Уверенность в таком варианте дает риторика самого регулятора, которая с приходом Джанет Йеллен стала более четкой, хотя промах на первой конференции не спрятать. Как следует из цитат последнего заседания (30.04.2014), ФРС будет придерживаться плана сокращений программы. Поводом для изменения политики может послужить слабая макростатистика, сейчас на ней сконцентрировано внимание большинства участников рынка. И это повод для беспокойства появился уже сегодня, если смотреть на статистику пессимистичным взглядом. Данные по росту ВВП по первой оценке оказались символическими: за первые три месяца 2014 г. ВВП США вырос всего на 0,1%. Однако суровые погодные условия и еще две оценки самого показателя ВВП оставляют возможность регулятору не отступать от планов. Вряд ли стоит переоценивать проблему коммуникации регулятора и рынков, есть более серьезные проблемы в реальных измерениях. Безусловно, некоторые треволнения возможны, но, вероятнее всего, они будут носить краткосрочный характер. Отменяя привязки к привычным в последнее время макроэкономическим индикаторам, ФРС тем самым расширяет их набор, но вряд ли отказывается от их важности. Данные по рынку труда, как и раньше, являются центральным аспектом".