Tag Archives: Central banks

The Two Charts That Dictate the Future of the Economy, by Charles Hugh Smith

Debt and asset bubbles can’t hide the fact that real incomes have gone nowhere for over two decades for the bottom 80 percent of the US population. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

If you study these charts closely, you can only conclude that the US economy is doomed to secular stagnation and never-ending recession.

The stock market, bond yields and statistical measures of the economy can be gamed, manipulated and massaged by authorities, but the real economy cannot. This is especially true for the core drivers of the economy, real (adjusted for inflation) household income and real disposable household income, i.e. the real income remaining after debt service (interest and principal), rent, healthcare co-payments and insurance and other essential living expenses.
If you want to predict the future of the U.S. economy, look at real household income. If real income is stagnant or declining, households cannot afford to take on more debt or pay for additional consumption.
The Masters of the Economy have replaced the income lost to inflation and economic stagnation with debt for the past 17 years. They’ve managed to do so by lowering interest rates (and thus lowering interest payments), enabling households to borrow more (and thus buy more) with the same monthly debt payments.
But this financial shuck and jive eventually runs out of rope: eventually, the rising cost of living soaks up so much of the household income that the household can not legitimately afford additional debt, even at near-zero interest rates.
For this reason, real household income will dictate the future of the economy.If household incomes continue stagnating or declining, widespread advances in prosperity are impossible.
The Masters of the Economy have played another financial game to mask the erosion of real income: inflating speculative asset bubbles to boost the illusion of wealth, a form of financial sorcery called the wealth effect: households that see their stock and bond funds swelling by 50% to 100% in a few years are emboldened to believe this phantom “wealth” is permanent and thus can be freely spent in the present.
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Central Banks ARE The Crisis, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Raúl Ilargi Meijer cuts cleanly through the crap. From Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

If there’s one myth -and there are many- that we should invalidate in the cross-over world of politics and economics, it‘s that central banks have saved us from a financial crisis. It’s a carefully construed myth, but it’s as false as can be. Our central banks have caused our financial crises, not saved us from them.

It really should -but doesn’t- make us cringe uncontrollably to see Bank of England governor-for-hire Mark Carney announce -straightfaced- that:

“A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.”

Or, for that matter, to see Fed chief Janet Yellen declare that there won’t be another financial crisis in her lifetime, while she’s busy-bee busy building that next crisis as we speak. These people are now saying increasingly crazy things, and that should make us pause.

Central banks don’t serve people, or even societies, as that same myth claims. They serve banks. Even if central bankers themselves believe that this is one and the same thing, that doesn’t make it true. And if they don’t understand this, they should never be let anywhere near the positions they hold.

You can pin the moment central banks went awry at any point in time you like. The Bank of England’s foundation in 1694, the Federal Reserve’s in 1913, the ECB much more recently. What’s crucial in the timing is where and when the best interests of the banks split off from those of their societies. Because that is when central banks will stop serving those societies. We are at such a -turning?!- point right now. And it’s been coming for some time, ‘slowly’ working its way towards an inevitable abyss.

Over the past few years the Automatic Earth has argues repeatedly, along several different avenues, that American society was at its richest between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Yet another illustration of this came only yesterday in a Lance Roberts graph:

To continue reading: Central Banks ARE The Crisis

Our Financial Buffers Are Thinning, by Charles Hugh Smith

The 2008 financial crisis almost sunk the global financial system, and the backup systems to prevent meltdown are weaker now than they were then. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

The fragility of our financial buffers will only be revealed when they fail in the next crisis.
While buffer has a specific meaning in chemistry, I am using the word in the broad sense of a reserve resource that absorbs the initial destructive impacts of crises or system overloads. Marshland along a sea coast is a buffer against destructive storm waves, for example.
A savings account acts as a buffer against financial drawdowns or losses of income that would otherwise quickly cascade into a full-blown crisis.
Redundancy of resources can act as a buffer. If an airline maintains an aircraft in reserve, this reserve plane acts as a buffer against the disruption to the airline’s scheduled flights should one of its aircraft be unexpectedly removed from service by a mechanical failure. The reserve aircraft can replace the plane that was withdrawn from service with minimal disruption.
Stockpiles act as buffers against supply disruptions. A storage tank of oil buffers a refinery against any delay in its incoming shipments of crude oil. Supplies of food and water buffer against severe natural disasters that disrupt regional water service and food deliveries.
Credit can act as a financial buffer against unexpectedly high expenses or declines in revenue. If a tire on our vehicle goes flat during a road trip and we only have a few dollars cash, a credit card buffers the disruption by funding the replacement tire and labor.
But over-using credit can end up thinning our financial buffers. If someone starts using their credit card not as an emergency buffer but to augment their cash income–in effect, acting as if the borrowed money was a pay raise rather than a loan–their credit line diminishes to near-zero and when they actually need credit for an emergency, it’s no longer available.
A key feature of buffers is that it’s difficult for observers to tell if they’ve been thinned to the point where they can no longer stave off disruption. Outside observers can’t tell if the oil storage tank is full or empty, or if an individual’s credit card is maxed out or has a completely untapped credit line.

Has Super Mario Met His Match? by Don Quijones

Anybody who thinks central bankers don’t dole out tips to favored financial insiders—mostly at investment banks that give central bankers huge speakers’ fees and lucrative jobs after they leave central banking—has led a sheltered life indeed. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

Cozy relations between central bankers and financial firms get unwanted attention.

ECB President Mario Draghi wields more power than just about any other public official in Europe, perhaps even including Angela Merkel. The organization he heads not only controls the monetary policy levers of the entire Eurozone, it also supervises the region’s 130 biggest banks. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, it even has the power to decide which of Europe’s struggling banks get to live and which don’t.

Yet it is answerable to virtually no one. Until now.

Emily O‘Reilly, the EU Ombudsman, an arbiter for the public’s complaints about EU-institutions, has just sent Draghi a letter asking him to explain his role in the potentially compromising Group of Thirty (G30) and how he makes sure that he does not divulge insider information or runs into conflicts of interest. The tenor, tone and direction of O’Reilly’s inquiries make it clear that she means business.

The Washington-based G30 was founded in the late seventies at the initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation, which also provided start-up funding for the organization. Its current membershipreads like a Who’s Who of the world of global finance. It includes current and former central bankers, many of whom now work or worked in the past for major financial corporations, such as:

  • Mario Draghi (ECB, Bank of Italy, Goldman Sachs)
  • Ben Bernanke (former Chairman of the Federal Reserve)
  • William Dudley (New York Fed, Goldman Sachs)
  • Timothy Geithner (Warburg Pincus, former US Treasury Secretary, New York Fed)
  • Mark Carney (Bank of England, Bank of Canada, Goldman Sachs)
  • Axel Weber (UBS, ECB, Bundesbank)
  • Haruhiko Kuroda (Bank of Japan)
  • Christian Noyer (Bank for International Settlements, Bank of France)
  • Jaime Caruana (Bank for International Settlements)
  • Jacob Frenkel (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of Israel)
  • Philipp Hildebrand (BlackRock, Swiss National Bank)

To continue reading: Has Super Mario Met His Match?

If We Don’t Change the Way Money Is Created, Rising Inequality and Social Disorder Are Inevitable, by Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith points out some of the many problems that render central banking unsustainable. From Smith at oftwominds.com:

Centrally issued money optimizes inequality, monopoly, cronyism, stagnation and systemic instability.
Everyone who wants to reduce wealth and income inequality with more regulations and taxes is missing the key dynamic: central banks’ monopoly on creating and issuing money widens wealth inequality, as those with access to newly issued money can always outbid the rest of us to buy the engines of wealth creation.
History informs us that rising wealth and income inequality generate social disorder.
Access to low-cost credit issued by central banks creates financial and political power. Those with access to low-cost credit have a monopoly as valuable as the one to create money.
Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit.
Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest.
There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes.
The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.
This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small percentage of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves.

How Debt-Asset Bubbles Implode: The Supernova Model of Financial Collapse, by Charles Hugh Smith

When debt expands at a greater rate than underlying economic growth, and all real assets become collateral, eventually something has to give. It’s never pretty. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Gravity eventually overpowers financial fakery.

When debt-asset bubbles expand at rates far above the expansion of earnings and real-world productive wealth, their collapse is inevitable. The Supernova model of financial collapse is one way to understand this.
As I noted yesterday in Will the Crazy Global Debt Bubble Ever End?, I’ve used the Supernova analogy for years, but didn’t properly explain why it illuminates the dynamics of financial bubbles imploding.
According to Wikipedia, “A supernova is an astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final titanic explosion.”
A key feature of a pre-supernova super-massive star is its rapid expansion. As the star consumes its available fuel via nuclear fusion, the star’s outer layer expands. Once there is no longer enough fuel/fusion to resist the force of gravity, the star implodes as gravity takes over.
This collapse ejects much of the outer layers of the star in an event of unprecedented violence.
The financial analogy is easy to see: when rapidly expanding debt consumes a critical threshold of earnings (fuel), the equivalent of gravity (default, inability to service the enormous debt) triggers the collapse of the entire debt/leverage-dependent financial system.
As I explained yesterday, if earnings stagnate or decline while debt races higher, eventually earnings are insufficient to service the debt and default is inevitable. The other problem that arises as more and more of earned income goes to debt service is that there is less and less disposable income left to support consumer spending–the lifeblood of economies worldwide.

You Are Not An Investor, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Investment requires markets, and Raúl Ilargi Meijer argues that financial markets, controlled by central banks, no longer function as markets. From Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

You are not an investor. One can only be an investor in functioning markets. There have been no functioning markets since at least 2008, and probably much longer. That’s when central banks started purchasing financial assets, for real, which means that is also the point when price discovery died. And without price discovery no market can function.

You are therefore not an investor. Perhaps you are a cheat, perhaps you are a chump, but you are not an investor. If we continue to use terms like ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ for what we see today, we would need to invent new terms for what these words once meant. Because they surely are not the same thing. Even as there are plenty people who would like you to believe they are, because it serves their purposes.

Central banks have become bubble machines, and that is the only function they have left. You could perhaps get away with saying that the dot-com bubble, maybe even the US housing bubble, were not created by central banks, but you can’t do that for the everything bubble of today.

The central banks blow their bubbles in order to allow banks and other financial institutions to first of all not crumble, and second of all even make sizeable profits. They have two instruments to blow their bubbles with, which are used in tandem.

The first one is asset purchases, which props up the prices for these assets, through artificial demand. The second is (ultra-) low interest rates, which allows for more parties -that is, you and mom and pop- to buy more assets, another form of artificial demand.

The most important central bank-created bubble is in housing, if only because it facilitates bubbles in stocks and bonds. Home prices in many places in the world have grown much higher than either economic growth or homebuyers’ wages justify.

To continue reading: You Are Not An Investor