Category Archives: Economics

GDP Is Bogus: Here’s Why, by Charles Hugh Smith

The title is not hyperbole. GDP is in fact bogus, and the article offers a concise and easy to understand explanation why. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Here’s a chart of our fabulous always-higher GDP, adjusted for another bogus metric, official inflation.
The theme this week is The Rot Within.
The rot eating away at our society and economy is typically papered over with bogus statistics that “prove” everything’s getting better every day in every way. The prime “proof” of rising prosperity is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which never fails to loft higher, with the rare excepts being Spots of Bother (recessions) that never last more than a quarter or two.
Longtime correspondent Dave P. of Market Daily Briefing recently summarized the key flaw in GDP: GDP doesn’t reflect changes in the balance sheet, i.e. debt.
So if we borrow money to pay people to dig holes and then fill them with the excavated dirt, GDP rises to general applause. The debt we took on to fund the make-work isn’t accounted for at all.
Here’s Dave’s explanation:
Once I learned about accounting, I figured out why the GDP metric wasn’t sufficient. What is missing?
The balance sheet.
Hurricanes are a direct hit to your nation’s balance sheet. The national income statement goes up because of increased spending to replace lost assets, but the “equity” part of the national balance sheet ends up taking a hit in direct proportion to the damage that occurred.
Even if you rebuild everything just the way it was, your assets remain the same, while your liabilities have increased.
We know this because we use the balance sheet equation: equity = assets – liabilities. Equity is another word for wealth.
Before hurricane:
wealth = (house + car) – (home debt + car debt)
After hurricane, you rebuild your house, and buy a new car, using borrowed money:
wealth = (house + car) – (2 x home debt + 2 x car debt)
Wealth (equity) has declined by the sum (home debt + car debt)
So when you see pictures of a hurricane strike, you can now look through all that devastation and see the impact on the balance sheet. National equity (wealth) just dropped by the amount of damage inflicted by the hurricane. Whether it is ever rebuilt doesn’t actually matter; that equity is just gone. Destruction is always a downside for equity – even if there is a temporary positive impact on the income statement.
To continue reading: GDP Is Bogus: Here’s Why
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Ray Dalio’s Shorting The Entire EU, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

The head of the world’s biggest hedge fund complex is bearish on Europe. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

A point BOE Governor Mark Carney made recently may be the biggest cog in the European Union’s wheel (or is it second biggest? Read on). That is, derivatives clearing. It’s one of the few areas where Brussels stands to lose much more than London, but it’s a big one. And Carney puts a giant question mark behind the EU’s preparedness.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks

Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. [..] When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts , he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe . Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.”

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…

If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.” [..] “I wouldn’t want to use financial stability issues as leverage. I wouldn’t want them to be addressed in a bloodless technocratic way in the interests of all the citizens.”

To continue reading: Ray Dalio’s Shorting The Entire EU

Report: Renewable Energy Is Bigger ‘Scam’ than Bernie Madoff and Enron, by Thomas D. Williams

People are wising up to the fact that paying $2 dollars for $1 dollar’s worth of energy doesn’t make any sense. From Thomas D. Williams at breitbart.com:

The greatest scam being perpetrated against taxpayers and consumers is renewable energy, according to a new analysis published by the Australian, greater even than Ponzi, Madoff and Enron.

While sinking enormous financial resources into propping up renewable energy prospectors, national governments are providing no perceptible benefits to their citizens, writes Judith Sloan, a renowned Australian economist who has served on the Australian government’s Productivity Commission.

“With very few exceptions, governments all over the world have fallen into the trap of paying renewable energy scammers on the basis that it is necessary, at least politically, to be seen to be doing something about climate change,” Sloan writes, before providing readers with an avalanche of economic data to back up her assertion.

In Australia, more than 2 billion taxpayer dollars a year are funneled to renewable energy handlers by virtue of the operation of the renewable energy target and the associated renewable energy certificates, Sloan observes.

At the same time, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency “shovels out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to subsidise renewable energy companies, many of which are overseas-owned,” she states, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation was given $10 billion in equity by the Gillard Labor government “to lend or grant money to renewable energy companies.”

Despite this enormous taxpayer “investment,” so-called renewable energy has yet to pay any dividends or to suggest it will be economically viable for the foreseeable future.

Sloan’s grim analysis of the state of renewable energy as a financial sinkhole in Australia is mirrored by other countries such as the United States.

According to Forbes, on a total dollar basis, wind and solar together get more from the federal government than all other energy sources combined, despite the fact that neither is anywhere close to self-supporting. Wind has received the greatest amount of federal subsidies. Solar is second.

Based on production (subsidies per kWh of electricity produced), however, solar energy “has gotten over ten times the subsidies of all other forms of energy sources combined, including wind,” writes energy expert and planetary geologist Dr. James Conca.

To continue reading: Report: Renewable Energy Is Bigger ‘Scam’ than Bernie Madoff and Enron

Hard Core Doom Porn, by Robert Gore

It will be a crash like we’ve never seen before.

SLL has been accused of trafficking in “doom porn.” Guilty as charged. If you don’t like doom porn, don’t read this article, it’s hard core. If you prefer feel good and heartwarming, there are plenty of Wall Street research reports and mainstream media stories about the economy available. Enjoy!

In 1971, President Nixon closed the “gold window,” which allowed foreign governments to exchange their dollars for gold. This severed the last link between any government and central bank-created debt and the real economy. Debt could be conjured at whim, and governments and central banks have done so for the last 46 years.

Not surprisingly, credit creation without restraint has papered the globe with the greatest pile of debt mankind has ever amassed, measured in nominal terms or relative to the underlying economy. A measure of how extraordinary this situation is: most people regard it as normal, if they think of it all. Debt is a first mover, a financial constant. Any exigency small or large can be met from an unlimited credit pool that will always be with us. How to rebuild Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico? No problem, borrow.

Although fiat credit creation by governments and central banks is unconnected to the real economy, its effects are not. Their debt becomes an asset within the financial system. Through fractional reserve banking, securitization, and derivatives it become the basis for a multiplication of the original debt. That multiplication is many times the multiplier (the reciprocal of the reserve requirement) taught in introductory macroeconomics classes whereby the debt is contained within the banking system.

Nominal global debt is reckoned at between $225 and $250 trillion, or about three times global GDP. Financial, debt-supported derivatives (financial instruments whose prices are derived from the prices of other financial instruments) are estimated at anywhere from $500 trillion to $1 quadrillion notational, or six to twelve times global GDP.

Overpriced houses did not cause the last financial crisis and almost bring down the world’s financial system, securitized packages of mortgages and their associated derivatives did. The Panglossian view of derivatives is that most of them can be netted out against offsetting derivatives, thus actual exposures are far less that notational amounts. The real world view is they can only be netted out as long as all counterparties remain solvent. As we learned in 2009, that is not always a correct assumption.

Globally, unfunded old age pension and medical liabilities, not counted as debt but still promises made that often have the force of law, sum to another $400 trillion. In the US, they are about $210 trillion, or about 11 times US GDP. Demographics amplify the liability: across the developed world, declining birth rates and extensions in life expectancies mean a shrinking pool of workers supports an expanding pool of beneficiaries. In the last month, SLL has posted four excellent articles by John Mauldin for those who want all the gruesome details. (Just enter John Mauldin in SLL’s search box and they’ll pop right up.)

This doom porn, the skeptics will say, is almost as old as Deep Throat (released in 1972). Markets crash from time to time, but they always bounce back. Central banks and governments come to the rescue with fiscal stimulus (increased government debt) and unlimited fiat debt. Why should we worry now?

There are a number of reasons. When the world was less indebted, a fiat currency unit’s worth of debt produced more than a fiat currency unit’s worth of expanded output of goods and services. Sometime within the last year or two, the marginal economic effectiveness of all that government and central bank debt reached zero, and is negative after debt service.

With the world saturated in debt, another fiat currency unit of debt produces no increase in output. Kick in the costs of servicing and repaying that debt, and increasing debt is actually retarding economic growth. It accounts for the long-term slowing growth trend, flat incomes, and “secular stagnation” that puzzle so many economists.

It also accounts for the lack of inflation that puzzles so many central bankers, at least in the price indexes they look at. They are looking at the wrong indexes. The relevant indicia are stock, high-grade bond, real estate, and cryptocurrency prices, still at or close to record highs, and corporate and securitized-debt credit spreads to treasury benchmarks at record lows (indicating massive complacency about corporate credit risk). Here inflation—the speculative kind that blows bubbles—is alive and thriving.

With the Federal Reserve now taking steps to shrink its balance sheet and other central banks making noises about doing the same, global fiat debt creation may go into reverse for the first time in many years. Brandon Smith at Alt-Market.com argues that this is part of plan leading to a crash and global, centralized monetary control.

He may or may not be on to something, however, valuation extremes and sentiment indicators point to the same conclusion concerning a crash. SLL maintains financial markets are exercises in crowd psychology, impervious to government and central bank efforts to control them, designed to separate the maximum number of speculators from a maximum amount of their money.

Robert Prechter, of Elliott Wave International, has written the chapter and the verse on markets and psychology. (SLL reviewed his groundbreaking tome, The Socionomic Theory of Finance.) Consider the following from Elliot Wave International’s October “Financial Forecast.”

Every month another sentiment indicator seems to pop to a frothy new extreme. Last month it was the percentage of cash that members of the American Association of Individual Investors harbored in their investment portfolios. At 14.5%, it was the smallest allocation to this safe alternative since January 2000, the same month that the Dow Industrials began a 38% decline that lasted through October 2002. Last month, we also showed a new bullish extreme for the five-day average of Market Vane’s Bullish Consensus survey of advisors. On September 15, the average pushed to 71%, a new ten-year extreme.

The most recent Commitment of Traders Report shows that Large Speculators in futures on the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) have amassed a record net- short position of 172,395 contracts.

This record bet on subdued volatility sets the stage perfectly for the period of “high volatility” that EWFF called for in August.

…Large Speculators in the E-mini DJIA futures have pushed their net-long position to 95,976 contracts, more than four times the number of contracts they held in January 2008, shortly after the Dow started its largest percentage decline since 1929. So, investors are betting to a record degree that the stock market will continue to rise and volatility will continue to remain subdued. Paradoxically, these measures indicate that exact opposite.

Various media accounts confirm that a rare complacency now dominates the stock market.

One doesn’t have to buy in to socionomics to realize that virtually everyone is now on the same side of the boat, a condition generally followed by the boat capsizing. Using conventional valuation measures, the only time stocks have been more highly valued is just before the tech wreck in 2000.

If one does buy into socionomics, the last few upward squiggles in the stock market will put the finishing touches on intermediate, primary, cycle, supercycle, and grand supercycle Elliot Waves dating back to 2016, 2009, 1974, 1932, and the 1780s, respectively. In other words, this is going to be a crash for the ages.

Given the unprecedented level of global debt, that appears to be the most likely scenario. Every financial asset in the world is either a debt claim or an even less secure equity claim—a claim on what’s left after debt is paid. Much of the world’s real, tangible assets are mortgaged.

When the debt bubble implodes, a global margin call will prompt forced selling, driving down all asset prices precipitously. Most of what is currently regarded as wealth will vanish. Opening up the world’s fiat debt spigots full force won’t stop this one. The notions that governments and central banks have speculators’ backs, that problems caused by excessive debt can be solved with more debt, will be revealed as monumental follies. And markets will not come back, at least in our lifetimes.

Long-time readers will point out that SLL has been issuing warnings for years. Again, guilty as charged. However, we’ll join Mr. Prechter and company in their prediction that US equity markets top out before the end of this year. (They called last year’s top in the government bond market, adding to an impressive list of correct calls.) If we’re wrong, it won’t be the first or last time. If we’re right, given the magnitude of what’s coming, being a few years early won’t matter at all. Our concluding clichés: fear is stronger than greed and markets go down much quicker than they go up.

Alt-Historical Fiction!

AMAZON

KINDLE

NOOK

Uncle Sam’s Unfunded Promises, by John Mauldin

John Mauldin gets two articles on SLL tonight, and they’re both excellent. From Mauldin at mauldineconomics.com:

Here’s a surprisingly profound question: What is a promise? Dictionaries offer various definitions. I like this one: “An express assurance on which expectation is to be based.”


Image: Simon James via Flickr

That definition captures the two-sided nature of a promise. One party offers an assurance, which the other converts into an expectation. You deposit money in your checking account, and the bank assures you that you can have it back on demand. You expect that the bank will fulfill its promise when you visit an ATM.

Governments likewise make promises, but those are different. Government is the ultimate enforcer of promises, but we have no recourse if it chooses to break them – except at the ballot box. As we’ve seen in recent weeks regarding public pensions, that’s ineffective when the promises were made long ago by officials who are no longer in office.

The federal government’s keeping its promises is important for everyone in the US, because almost all of us are part of the largest public pension system: Social Security. We pay taxes our whole working lives and expect the government to give us retirement benefits. But what happens if it can’t?

Three weeks ago we visited the problems with local and state pensions. Last week we looked at European pensions. This week we are going to take a hard look at the unfunded liabilities and debt of the US government. And even though the federal unfunded pension liabilities dwarf those of state and local pensions, I want to make it clear that I believe the state and local problems will be far more intractable.

I have to warn you: You may be hopping mad when you finish reading this.

Doubled Debt

In the United States we have two national programs to care for the elderly. Social Security provides a small pension, and Medicare covers medical expenses. All workers pay taxes that supposedly fund the benefits we may someday receive. That’s actually not true, as we will see in a little bit.

To continue reading: Uncle Sam’s Unfunded Promises

How Puerto Rico Can Rebuild And Become The Hong Kong Of The West, by Benjamin R. Dierker

The author’s proposal for an Economic Freedom Zone is never going to happen, but if it did, it would be a refreshing intellectual sea change…and it would work. From Benjamin R. Dierker at fee.org:

After a particularly devastating hurricane season, Puerto Rico has an uncertain future. Already mismanaged and saddled with debt, the island territory now faces the virtually insurmountable task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy. But amidst the rubble and heartache lies one of the greatest opportunities in the modern era not just to rebuild, but to reimagine the possibilities for economic and political freedom.

Two simple but powerful steps taken by Congress could hasten recovery and redefine the trajectory of the island’s future. First, the United States should assume all of Puerto Rico’s outstanding bond debt. Second, in exchange for debt assumption, the federal government should establish the island as an Economic Freedom Zone. Within a year, these reforms would help rebuild Puerto Rico; within a decade, they could rebuild our conception of the free market in the Western Hemisphere.

It is important to note that hurricane destruction has not created economic gain by boosting demand for construction. This broken-window view fundamentally misunderstands the nature of this potential. Nor should this plan come at the expense of traditional disaster relief. Before infrastructure can be rebuilt, urgent human needs must be met with outside aid.

But rather than pursue traditional recovery with an eye toward returning to business as usual, this proposal seeks to fundamentally remake Puerto Rico into a modern and dynamic economy built to match and surpass any on earth.

To continue reading: How Puerto Rico Can Rebuild And Become The Hong Kong Of The West

 

Global Retirement Reality, by John Mauldin

Here’s the reality: there won’t be enough money for most people to have what we now consider a decent retirement. From John Mauldin at mualtineconomics.com:

Today we’ll continue to size up the bull market in governmental promises. As we do so, keep an old trader’s slogan in mind: “That which cannot go on forever, won’t.” Or we could say it differently: An unsustainable trend must eventually stop.

Lately I have focused on the trend in US public pension funds, many of which are woefully underfunded and will never be able to pay workers the promised benefits, at least without dumping a huge and unwelcome bill on taxpayers. And since taxpayers are generally voters, it’s not at all clear they will pay that bill.

Readers outside the US might have felt smug and safe reading those stories. There go those Americans again, spending wildly beyond their means. You are correct that, generally speaking, we are not exactly the thriftiest people on Earth. However, if you live outside the US, your country may be more like ours than you think. Today we’ll look at some data that will show you what I mean. This week the spotlight will be on Europe.

First, let me suggest that you read my last letter, “Build Your Economic Storm Shelter Now,” if you missed it. It has some important background for today’s discussiion, as well as a special invitation to attend my Strategic Investment Conference next March 6–9 in San Diego. With so much change occurring so quickly now, next year’s conference is an event you shouldn’t miss.

Global Shortfall

I wrote a letter last June titled “Can You Afford to Reach 100?” Your answer may well be “Yes;” but, if so, you are one of the few. The World Economic Forum study I cited in that letter looked at six developed countries (the US, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, and Canada) and two emerging markets (China and India) and found that by 2050 these countries will face a total savings shortfall of $400 trillion. That’s how much more is needed to ensure that future retirees will receive 70% of their working income. This staggering figure doesn’t even include most of Europe.

To continue reading: Global Retirement Reality