Category Archives: Investing

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

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Infographic: The Everything Bubble Is Ready to Pop, by Jared Dillian

The centerpiece of the greatest debt bubble ever created has been the bubble in central bank and government debt, which has in turn created myriad subsidiary bubbles. From Jared Dillion at riskhedge.com:

Infographic: The Everything Bubble Is Ready to Pop

It wasn’t always this way. We never used to get a giant, speculative bubble every 7–8 years. We really didn’t.

In 2000, we had the dot-com bubble.

In 2007, we had the housing bubble.

In 2017, we have the everything bubble.

I did not coin the term “the everything bubble.” I do not know who did. Apologies (and much respect) to the person I stole it from.

Why do we call it the everything bubble? Well, there is a bubble in a bunch of asset classes simultaneously.

And the infographic below that my colleagues at Mauldin Economics created paints the picture best.

I don’t usually predict downturns, but this time I bet my reputation that a downturn is coming. And soon.

When there’s nothing left but systemic risk, everyone’s portfolio is on the line. To that end, I’ve put together a FREE actionable special, Investing in the Age of the Everything Bubble, in which I discuss ways to prepare for the coming bloodbath (download here).

http://www.riskhedge.com/post/infographic-everything-bubble-ready-pop

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

 

The US Government Lost Nearly $1 Trillion In FY2017. Again by Simon Black

The headline is a bit misleading. To lose money you have to have it to begin with. The government didn’t lose money is had, it simply went deeper into debt. Nevertheless, this is a good article. From Simon Black at sovereignman.com:

There was a time, centuries ago, that France was the dominant superpower in the world.

They had it all. Overseas colonies. An enormous military. Social welfare programs like public hospitals and beautiful monuments.

Most of it was financed by debt.

France, like most superpowers before (and after), felt entitled to overspend as much as they wanted.

And their debts started to grow. And grow.

By the eve of the French revolution in 1788, the national debt of France was so large that the government had to spend 50% of tax revenue just to pay interest to its lenders.

Yet despite being in such dire financial straits the French government was still unable to cut spending.

All of France’s generous social welfare programs, plus its expansive military, were all considered untouchable.

So the spending continued. In 1788, in fact, the French government overspent its tax revenue by 20%, increasing the debt even more.

Unsurprisingly revolution came the very next year.

There are presently a handful of countries in the world today in similar financial condition– places like Greece, which are so bankrupt they cannot even afford to pay for basic public services.

But the country that has the most unsustainable public finances, by far, is the United States.

The US government’s ‘Fiscal Year’ runs from October 1st through September 30th. So FY2017 just ended last Friday.

During that period, according to the Department of Treasury’s financial statements, the US government took in $2.95 trillion in federal tax deposits.

And on top of that, the government generated additional revenue through fees and ‘investments’, including $62 billion in interest received on student loans, and $16 billion from Department of Justice programs like Civil Asset Forfeiture (where they simply steal property from private citizens).

So in total, government revenue exceeded $3 trillion.

That sounds like an enormous amount of money. And it is. That’s more than the combined GDPs of the poorest 130 countries in the world.

But the US government managed to spend WAY more than that– the budget for the last fiscal year was $4.1 trillion.

So to make up the shortfall they added $671 billion to the national debt– and this number would have been even larger had it not been for the debt ceiling fiasco.

Plus they whittled down their cash balance by $194 billion.

So in total, the federal government’s cash deficit was $865 billion for the last fiscal year.

To continue reading: The US Government Lost Nearly $1 Trillion In FY2017. Again

21st Century Shoe-Shine Boys, by Pater Tenebrarum

This article is pretty much chapter and verse on why the stock market should head down soon. It’s a good primer for those blissfully unaware of downside risk. From Pater Tenebrarum at acting-man.com:

Anecdotal Flags are Waved

“If a shoeshine boy can predict where this market is going to go, then it’s no place for a man with a lot of money to lose.”

– Joseph Kennedy

It is actually a true story as far as we know – Joseph Kennedy, by all accounts an extremely shrewd businessman and investor (despite the fact that he had graduated in economics*), really did get his shoes shined on Wall Street one fine morning, and the shoe-shine boy, one Pat Bologna, asked him if he wanted a few stock tips. Kennedy was amused and intrigued and encouraged him to go ahead. Bologna wrote a few ticker symbols on a piece of paper, and when Kennedy later that day compared the list to the ticker tape, he realized that all the stocks on Bologna’s list had made strong gains. This happened a few months before the crash of 1929.

 

Joseph Kennedy in 1914, at age 25 – at the time reportedly “the youngest ever bank president in the US”

Photo credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Kennedy sold all his stock market investments over the next several months and put the money in what he considered the safest banks. He had already made a fortune in the bull market, and reportedly augmented it later by going short in the bear market. We are pretty sure his meeting with the market-savvy shoe-shine boy wasn’t the only reason for which he decided to sell. He did mention the anecdote later in life though and the experience served to solidify a conclusion he had already arrived at: It was very late in the game and the market was likely to  crack badly fairly soon.

We felt reminded of this story when a good friend (who invests for a living) visited us this summer. He inter aliatold us about an acquaintance of his, whom he described as an autopilot investor who only very rarely looks at the market and has a record of getting the wrong ideas at the wrong time. His latest idea was noteworthy: he thought it would be a good idea to “sell volatility” (by writing puts, if memory serves). This was in July, just before the VIX reached a new all time low.

To continue reading: 21st Century Shoe-Shine Boys

China Battles “Impossible Trinity,” by Jim Rickards

A country can’t have an open capital account, fixed exchange rate, and an independent monetary policy at the same time. It can have two out of three, and as the Meat Loaf song says, two out of three ain’t bad, but trying for three out of three can lead to disaster. From Jim Rickards at dailyreckoning.com:

Just because something is inevitable does not mean it cannot be postponed.

The popular name for this is “kicking the can down the road,” which is a perfectly good description.

I prefer more technical terms such as dynamic systems in “subcritical” and “supercritical” state space, but it amounts to the same thing.

A financial crisis can be a long time in the making, but it will definitely erupt. When it does, there will be huge losses for those who ignored the warning signs.

China is in a pre-crisis situation today.

It is confronting the harsh logic of the “Impossible Trinity.”

The Impossible Trinity theory was advanced in the early 1960s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell. It says that no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time.

You can have one or two out of three, but not all three. If you try, you will fail — markets will make sure of that.

Those failures (which do happen) represent some of the best profit-making opportunities of all. Understanding the Impossible Trinity is how George Soros broke the Bank of England on Sept. 16, 1992 (still referred to as “Black Wednesday” in British banking circles. Soros also made over $1 billion that day).

The reason is that if more attractive total returns are available abroad, money will flee a home country at a fixed exchange rate to seek the higher return. This will cause a foreign exchange crisis and a policy response that abandons one of the three policies.

But just because the trinity is impossible in the long run does not mean it cannot be pursued in the short run. China is trying to peg the yuan to the U.S. dollar while maintaining a partially open capital account and semi-independent monetary policy. It’s a nice finesse, but isn’t sustainable.

To continue reading: China Battles “Impossible Trinity

Controlled Demolition, by James Howard Kunstler

If stocks were to drop bigly, it might be the weapon the Deep State has been looking for to dislodge Trump. From James Howard Kunstler at kunstler.com:

This is the week-of-weeks when the official grand viziers of finance gather at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to confab and interpret the lay of animal neck-bones and other auguries scattered in the sand, with the hope of steering the awesome powers of the universe this was or that as they affect the operations of money. The exercise is hardly different in function from the sort of rude ceremonials that took place on top of Sumerian ziggurats and Aztec temples — to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God.

Or “money,” we should say, because the old definitions don’t fit so well anymore. It used to have a straightforward relationship with the work required to produce actual things of value, but those days are gone. “Money” nowadays is a byproduct of wishful analytics and computer legerdemain seasoned with generous measures of fraud and larceny. This is a big problem when everything is measured in money and it becomes quite impossible to state with assurance what the value of money actually is. Obviously, you end up not knowing the value of anything.

That’s the perilous situation the world faces. And since the USA is the straw the stirs the world’s drink — at least for now — the utterances emanating from Jackson Hole may determine which way that situation turns. We should suppose that the officers of the Federal Reserve are upright, well-intentioned, patriotic people. No doubt they think they are. But the perilous situation is largely one of their own making, and seems to be veering out of their control, and reputations are at stake. Their task at this year’s Jackson Hole confab is to maintain the appearance of confidence in their own rituals. But with a kicker.

To continue reading: Controlled Demolition