Posts Tagged ‘Stagflation’
by Dave Brown, Gold Senior Reporter
Thu, Oct 20, 2011
Gold Investing News
Even as spot market gold prices have traded at historical highs over the past few months, central banks are increasing positions and demonstrating support for the precious metal.
Earlier this week, the World Gold Council released an update on its official gold holdings indicating the Bank of Thailand reported an increase for its gold reserves of 9.3 tonnes in August following the net purchases of 28 tonnes during the first half of the year. These purchases combine to represent 4.2 percent of the total foreign reserves and an increase of gold holdings to 136.9 tonnes. This might seem of interest for gold investors as the Bank of Thailand may continue to add to the position during short term fluctuations in gold prices to the downside, given the still relatively modest percentage of foreign reserves in gold that it has. In terms of a monetary policy, Thailand has maintained its interest rate level for the first time this year, terminating the longest consecutive period of increases since 2006. A weakening global economy and the worst floods in five decades are seen as impediments for growth in the South East Asian nation.
Regional peer, Vietnam has recently re-authorized gold trading on foreign accounts in order to narrow the difference between domestic and international gold prices following a recent increase in demand for gold in Vietnam. The State Bank of Vietnam changed its policy following a careful collaboration with its domestic gold jewellery industry and commercial banks.
South American demand
The central bank of Bolivia reported an increase of 7.0 tonnes in gold reserves bringing its total to 42.3 tonnes of gold. The country is holding approximately 21.3 percent of its foreign reserves in gold with its last reported gold acquisition dating to last December when it also reported a 7.0 tonne increase. Bolivia has recently been in the news as a result of strong environmental protests and declining political support for the leader Evo Morales. Mr. Morales’ socialist agenda appears committed to reducing the country’s poverty; however, requisite infrastructural progress, mining activity and gas development which are critical for economic growth are generating protest movements. Although the administration’s second term in office is due to end in early 2015, some observers are uncertain that stability in the South American nation will be maintained until a new election.
Russia adding gold to its reserves
Russia has also increased its gold position to 841.1 tonnes, adding 8.0 tonnes of gold to its reserves during the summer months of July and August. Russia has been consistently adding to its gold reserves for 52 consecutive months.
The central bank of the Philippines recorded a decrease in gold reserves of 10.3 tonnes, bringing its total to 147.8 tonnes of gold. Recently the central bank of the Philippines decided to protect growth by maintaining the benchmark interest rate at 4.5 percent, keeping with the monetary policy demonstrated by South Korea and Indonesia.
Sri Lanka has reduced its gold reserves to 8.1 tonnes as the result of selling 9.3 tonnes of gold. The country has followed other Asian examples in maintaining a cautious monetary policy; however, Mr. Anoop Singh, Director of Asia Pacific Department from the IMF indicates in a press briefing last month, “Sri Lanka has introduced new fiscal reforms to broaden the tax base, to remove exemptions, to bring these in line with international standards, and I think we can be quite confident the government and the central bank remain confident to carry forward these reforms.” Facing such uncertainty in the global economic context, the country is also modestly holding 4.6 percent of its foreign reserves in gold.
Read the entire article HERE.
HOLY BAILOUT – Federal Reserve Now Backstopping $75 Trillion Of Bank Of America’s Derivatives Trades
OCTOBER 18, 2011
The Daily Bail
This story from Bloomberg just hit the wires this morning. Bank of America is shifting derivatives in its Merrill investment banking unit to its depository arm, which has access to the Fed discount window and is protected by the FDIC.
This means that the investment bank’s European derivatives exposure is now backstopped by U.S. taxpayers. Bank of America didn’t get regulatory approval to do this, they just did it at the request of frightened counterparties. Now the Fed and the FDIC are fighting as to whether this was sound. The Fed wants to “give relief” to the bank holding company, which is under heavy pressure.
This is a direct transfer of risk to the taxpayer done by the bank without approval by regulators and without public input. You will also read below that JP Morgan is apparently doing the same thing with $79 trillion of notional derivatives guaranteed by the FDIC and Federal Reserve.
What this means for you is that when Europe finally implodes and banks fail, U.S. taxpayers will hold the bag for trillions in CDS insurance contracts sold by Bank of America and JP Morgan. Even worse, The Total Exposure Is Unknownbecause Wall Street successfully lobbied during Dodd-Frank passage so that no central exchange would exist keeping track of net derivative exposure.
This is a recipe for Armageddon. Bernanke is absolutely insane. No wonder Geithner has been hopping all over Europe begging and cajoling leaders to put together a massive bailout of troubled banks. His worst nightmare is Eurozone bank defaults leading to the collapse of the large U.S. banks who have been happily selling default insurance on European banks since the crisis began.
Original Article HERE.
*****Bloomberg By Bob Ivry, Hugh Son and Christine Harper – Oct 18, 2011*****
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC- insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis, had $1.04 trillion in deposits as of midyear, ranking it second among U.S. firms.
“The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.”
Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, declined to comment on the transfers or the firm’s discussions with regulators. The company “continues to accommodate the needs of our clients through each of our multiple trading entities, including Bank of America NA,” he said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the company’s deposit-taking unit.
Barbara Hagenbaugh, a Fed spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss supervision of specific institutions. Greg Hernandez, an FDIC spokesman, declined to comment.
Bank of America posted a $6.2 billion third-quarter profit today, compared with a loss of $7.3 billion a year earlier, as credit quality improved and the firm booked one-time accounting gains. The lender rose 7.3 percent to $6.47 at 1:54 p.m. in New York trading, making it the day’s best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Credit-default swaps on Bank of America eased 10 basis points to a mid-price of 380 as of 11:49 a.m. in New York, according to broker Phoenix Partners Group.
Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Bank of America’s long-term credit ratings Sept. 21, cutting both the holding company and the retail bank two notches apiece. The holding company fell to Baa1, the third-lowest investment-grade rank, from A2, while the retail bank declined to A2 from Aa3.
The Moody’s downgrade spurred some of Merrill’s partners to ask that contracts be moved to the retail unit, which has a higher credit rating, according to people familiar with the transactions. Transferring derivatives also can help the parent company minimize the collateral it must post on contracts and the potential costs to terminate trades after Moody’s decision, said a person familiar with the matter.
Bank of America estimated in an August regulatory filing that a two-level downgrade by all ratings companies would have required that it post $3.3 billion in additional collateral and termination payments, based on over-the-counter derivatives and other trading agreements as of June 30. The figure doesn’t include possible collateral payments due to “variable interest entities,” which the firm is evaluating, it said in the filing.
Dubrowski declined to comment on collateral or termination payments after the downgrade.
Bank of America’s rating is now four grades below the one Moody’s assigned to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the biggest U.S. bank by deposits at midyear, and a level below the rating given to Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-biggest. Bank of America is the only U.S. lender that lacks a rating of A3 or higher among the five firms listed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as having the biggest derivatives books.
“We had worked very hard over the course of the last nine months to be prepared to the extent that we did receive a downgrade, and feel very good about the way that we’ve minimized the potential impact” Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said in a conference call today with analysts. “Since the downgrade, we have not seen any change in our global excess liquidity sources.”
Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in the weather or interest rates.
Keeping such deals separate from FDIC-insured savings has been a cornerstone of U.S. regulation for decades, including last year’s Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulation.
The legislation gave the FDIC, which liquidates failing banks, expanded powers to dismantle large financial institutions in danger of failing. The agency can borrow from the Treasury Department to finance the biggest lenders’ operations to stem bank runs. It’s required to recoup taxpayer money used during the resolution process through fees on the largest firms.
Bank of America benefited from two injections of U.S. bailout funds during the financial crisis. The first, in 2008, included $15 billion for the bank and $10 billion for Merrill, which the bank had agreed to buy. The second round of $20 billion came in January 2009 after Merrill’s losses in its final quarter as an independent firm surpassed $15 billion, raising doubts about the bank’s stability if the takeover proceeded. The U.S. also offered to guarantee $118 billion of assets held by the combined company, mostly at Merrill. The company repaid federal bailout funds in 2009 with interest.
‘The Normal Course’
Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
The moves by Bank of America are part of “the normal course of dealings that we’ve had with counterparties since Merrill Lynch and BofA came together,” Thompson said today.
‘Created a Firewall’
Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
“Congress doesn’t want a bank’s FDIC insurance and access to the Fed discount window to somehow benefit an affiliate, so they created a firewall,” Omarova said. The discount window has been open to banks as the lender of last resort since 1914.
As a general rule, as long as transactions involve high- quality assets and don’t exceed certain quantitative limitations, they should be allowed under the Federal Reserve Act, Omarova said.
In 2009, the Fed granted Section 23A exemptions to the banking arms of Ally Financial Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, Fifth Third Bancorp, ING Groep NV, General Electric Co., Northern Trust Corp., CIT Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among others, according to letters posted on the Fed’s website.
The central bank terminated exemptions last year for retail-banking units of JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and Deutsche Bank AG. The Fed also ended an exemption for Bank of America in March 2010 and in September of that year approved a new one.
Section 23A “is among the most important tools that U.S. bank regulators have to protect the safety and soundness of U.S. banks,” Scott Alvarez, the Fed’s general counsel, told Congress in March 2008.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Eric King
September 17, 2011
King World News
With continued volatility in the gold market and identities of individuals being named in the JP Morgan silver manipulation lawsuit, today King World News interviewed Michael Pento, President of Pento Portfolio Strategies. Pento started off discussing the economy and ended with his thoughts on the JP Morgan silver situation. Let’s begin with Pento’s comments on the economy, “The stagflation condition that maligns the U.S. is worsening on a daily basis. Last week we saw an increase in initial jobless claims and an increase in the YOY rate of Consumer Price Inflation. Jobless claims increased by 11k to a level of 428k and the CPI jumped to 3.8% over the last 12 months.”
Michael Pento continues:
“Remarkable, instead of taking steps to address our inflation problem, the Federal Reserve has locked in their dollar-killing zero percent interest rate for another two years, and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans is on record saying the target rate of inflation needs to be raised!
Our debt and deficits continue to pile up and has caused John B. Chambers, Chairman of Standard & Poor’s Sovereign Debt Rating Committee, to warn last Thursday that there is a one in three chance of another U.S. debt downgrade. That’s because the single-celled organisms in both parties that run our government have hatched a scheme to cut just about $20 billion in spending, but want to add $450 billion.
The bottom line is that the U.S. will have added $1.3 trillion in debt during fiscal 2011 alone. China is watching and waiting to pounce on European and U.S. assets to pick up those pieces after the collapse of our dollar and bond market occurs.
“To top off everything, last week the follicle challenged Donald Trump accepted gold as a lease deposit worth about $200,000 from Michael Haynes, chief executive of precious metals dealer APMEX. But Trump has the payment method for this transaction 100% correct.
The faith in the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar is falling about as fast as our crumbling GDP. We must, as a country, defend the middle class by promoting savings and investment. We can only do this by balancing our budget and fighting inflation. Unfortunately, we are doing everything to kill whatever value is left in our currency and our economy.
As a side note, if the allegations that JP Morgan has engaged in silver manipulation are proven correct, as discussed in the King World News piece, the conspiracy theorists will have been exonerated. This will vindicate those who believed for so many years that prices in the silver market were being artificially depressed. Chalk one up for the hard money advocates as this is a big blow to the wire houses who have been hopelessly defending their silver short positions.”
Read the entire article HERE.
Yes, indeed it is. While everyone and their grandmother is foaming at the mouth how both republicans and democrats hiked the debt ceiling for umpteen times over the past x years, the truth is that never before has the ratio of the proposed debt ceiling to the tax receipt ratio been as high as it is now. At nearly 6 times, this means that the top line (forget bottom line) cash inflows into the Treasury are 6 times lower than the current debt ceiling. And following the upcoming $2.5 trillion this number will surge to almost 8 times. So please ignore the next “pundit” who is complaining about the hypocrisy of not agreeing to an outright debt ceiling hike this time around – as usual they have no idea what they are talking about.
(Click Image for Larger View)
There is however one correlation that will continue to trend at 1.000:
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Read the entire article HERE.
July 18, 2011
Back during the financial crisis of 2008, the American people were told that the largest banks in the United States were “too big to fail” and that was why it was necessary for the federal government to step in and bail them out. The idea was that if several of our biggest banks collapsed at the same time the financial system would not be strong enough to keep things going and economic activity all across America would simply come to a standstill. Congress was told that if the “too big to fail” banks did not receive bailouts that there would be chaos in the streets and this country would plunge into another Great Depression. Since that time, however, essentially no efforts have been made to decentralize the U.S. banking system. Instead, the “too big to fail” banks just keep getting larger and larger and larger. Back in 2002, the top 10 banks controlled 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets. Today, the top 10 banks control 77 percentof all U.S. banking assets. Unfortunately, these giant banks are also colossal mountains of risk, debt and leverage. They are incredibly unstable and they could start coming apart again at any time. None of the major problems that caused the crash of 2008 have been fixed. In fact, the U.S. banking system is more centralized and more vulnerable today than it ever has been before.
It really is difficult for ordinary Americans to get a handle on just how large these financial institutions are. For example, the “big six” U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) now possess assets equivalent to approximately 60 percent of America’s gross national product.
These huge banks are giant financial vacuum cleaners. Over the past couple of decades we have witnessed a financial consolidation in this country that is absolutely unprecedented.
This trend accelerated during the recent financial crisis. While the big boys were receiving massive bailouts, the hundreds of small banks that were failing were either allowed to collapse or they were told that they should find a big bank that was willing to buy them.
As a group, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo held approximately 22 percent of all banking deposits in FDIC-insured institutions back in 2000.
By the middle of 2009 that figure was up to 39 percent.
That is not just a trend – that is a landslide.
Sadly, smaller banks continue to fail in large numbers and the big banks just keep growing and getting more power.
Today, there are more than 1,000 U.S. banks that are on the “unofficial list” of problem banking institutions.
In the absence of fundamental changes, the consolidation of the banking industry is going to continue.
Meanwhile, the “too big to fail” banks are flush with cash and they are getting serious about expanding. The Federal Reserve has been extremely good to the big boys and they are eager to grow.
For example, Citigroup is becoming extremely aggressive about expanding….
Citigroup has been hiring dozens of investment bankers, dialing up advertising and drawing up plans to add several hundred branches worldwide, including more than 200 in major cities across the United States.
Hopefully the big banks will start lending again. The whole idea behind the bailouts and all of the “quantitative easing” that the Federal Reserve did was to get money into the hands of the big banks so that they would lend it out to ordinary Americans and get the economy rolling again.
Well, a funny thing happened. The big banks just sat on a lot of that money.
In particular, what they did was they deposited much of it at the Fed and drew interest on it.
Since 2008, excess reserves parked at the Fed have grown by nearly 1.7 trillion dollars. Just check out the chart posted below….
The American people were promised that TARP and all of the other bailouts would enable the big banks to lend out lots of money which would help get the economy going for ordinary Americans again.
Well, it turns out that in 2009 (the first full year after Congress passed the bailout legislation) U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.
Lending has never fully recovered since the crash of 2008. The big financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase have been able to get all the cash that they need, but they have not passed that generosity along to ordinary Americans.
In fact, the biggest U.S. banks have actually reduced small business lending by about 50 percent since the crash of 2008.
That doesn’t sound like what we were promised.
These “too big to fail” banks have been able to borrow gigantic amounts of money from the Fed for next to nothing and yet they still refuse to let credit flow to local communities. Instead, the big banks have found other purposes for all of the super cheap money that they have been getting from the Fed as Ellen Brown recently explained….
It can be very profitable indeed for the big Wall Street banks, but the purpose of the near-zero interest rates was supposed to be to get banks to lend again. Instead, they are, indeed, paying “outrageous bonuses to their top executives;” using the money to engage in the same sort of unregulated speculation that nearly brought down the economy in 2008; buying up smaller banks; or investing this virtually interest-free money in risk-free government bonds, on which taxpayers are paying 2.5 percent interest (more for longer-term securities).
What makes things even worse is that these big banks often pay next to nothing in taxes.
For example, between 2008 and 2010, Wells Fargo made a total profit of 49.37 billion dollars.
Over that same time period, their tax bill was negative 681 million dollars.
Do you understand what that means? Over that 3 year time period, Wells Fargo actually got 681 million dollars back from the U.S. government.
Isn’t that just peachy?
Meanwhile, the big financial giants have not learned their lessons and they continue to do business pretty much as they did it prior to 2008.
The big banks continue to roll up massive amounts of risk, debt and leverage.
Today, Wall Street has become one giant financial casino. More money is made on Wall Street by making side bets (commonly referred to as “derivatives“) than on the investments themselves.
If the bets pay off for the big financial institutions, mind blowing profits can be made. But if the bets go against the big financial institutions (as we saw in 2008), firms can collapse almost overnight.
In fact, it was derivatives that almost brought down AIG. The biggest insurance company in the world almost folded in 2008 because of a whole bunch of really bad bets.
The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”. It has been estimated that the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars.
The largest banks have tens of trillions of dollars of exposure to derivatives. When the next great financial collapse happens, derivatives will almost certainly be at the center of it once again. These side bets do not create anything real for the economy – they just make and lose huge amounts of money. We never know when the next great derivatives crisis will strike. Derivatives are essentially like a “sword of Damocles” that perpetually hangs over the U.S. financial system.
When I start talking about derivatives I get a lot of people in the financial community mad at me. On Wall Street today you can bet on just about anything you can imagine. Almost everyone in the financial world has gotten so used to making wild bets that they couldn’t even imagine a world without them. If anyone even tried to put significant limits on futures, options and swaps it would cause Wall Street to throw a hissy fit.
But someday the dominoes are going to start to fall and the house of cards is going to come crashing down. It is an open secret that our financial system is fundamentally unsound. Even a lot of people working on Wall Street will admit that. It is just that people are so busy making such big piles of money that nobody wants the party to stop.
It is only a matter of time until some of these big banks get into a huge amount of trouble again. When that happens, we might really find out whether they are “too big to fail” or whether we could get along just fine without them.
Read the entire article HERE.
Jun 10, 2011
The Straits Times
BEIJING – A CHINESE ratings house has accused the United States of defaulting on its massive debt, state media said on Friday, a day after Beijing urged Washington to put its fiscal house in order.
‘In our opinion, the United States has already been defaulting,’ Guan Jianzhong, president of Dagong Global Credit Rating Co Ltd, the only Chinese agency that gives sovereign ratings, was quoted by the Global Times saying.
Washington had already defaulted on its loans by allowing the dollar to weaken against other currencies – eroding the wealth of creditors including China, Mr Guan said.
Mr Guan did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment. The US government will run out of room to spend more on August 2 unless Congress bumps up the borrowing limit beyond US$14.29 trillion (S$17.57 trillion) – but Republicans are refusing to support such a move until a deficit cutting deal is reached.
Ratings agency Fitch on Wednesday joined Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to warn the United States could lose its first-class credit rating if it fails to raise its debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on loans.
A downgrade could sharply raise US borrowing costs, worsening the country’s already dire fiscal position, and send shock waves through the financial world, which has long considered US debt a benchmark among safe-haven investments. — AFP
Read the entire article HERE.
Source: Karen Roche
The Gold Report
May 2, 2011
Economic recovery? What economic recovery? Contrary to popular media reports, government economic reporting specialist and ShadowStats Editor John Williams reads between the government-economic-data lines. “The U.S. is really in the worst condition of any major economy or country in the world,” he says. In this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, John concludes the nation is in the midst of a multiple-dip recession and headed for hyperinflation.
The Gold Report: Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has given a warning to the U.S. government that it may downgrade its rating by 2013 if nothing is done to address the debt and deficit. What’s the real impact of this announcement?
John Williams: S&P is noting the U.S. government’s long-range fiscal problems. Generally, you’ll find that the accounting for unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and other programs on a net-present-value (NPV) basis indicates total federal debt and obligations of about $75 trillion. That’s 15 times the gross domestic product (GDP). The debt and obligations are increasing at a pace of about $5 trillion a year, which is neither sustainable nor containable. If the U.S. was a corporation on a parallel basis, it would be headed into bankruptcy rather quickly.
There’s good reason for fear about the debt, but it would be a tremendous shock if either S&P or Moody’s Investor Service actually downgraded the U.S. sovereign-debt rating. The AAA rating on U.S. Treasuries is the benchmark for AAA, the highest rating, meaning the lowest risk of default. With U.S. Treasuries denominated in U.S. dollars and the benchmark AAA security, how can you downgrade your benchmark security? That’s a very awkward situation for rating agencies. As long as the U.S. dollar retains its reserve currency status and is able to issue debt in U.S. dollars, you’ll continue to see a triple-A rating for U.S. Treasuries. Having the U.S. Treasuries denominated in U.S. dollars means the government always can print the money it needs to pay off the securities, which means no default.
TGR: With the U.S. Treasury rated AAA, everything else is rated against that. But what if another AAA-rated entity is about to default?
JW: That’s the problem that rating agencies will have if they start playing around with the U.S. rating. But there’s virtually no risk of the U.S. defaulting on its debt as long as the debt’s denominated in dollars. Let’s say the U.S. wants to sell debt to Japan, but Japan doesn’t like the way the U.S. is running fiscal operations. It can say, “We don’t trust the U.S. dollar. We’ll lend you money, but we’ll lend it in yen.” Then, the U.S. has a real problem because it no longer has the ability to print the currency needed to pay off the debt. And if you’re looking at U.S. debt denominated in yen, most likely you would have a very different and much lower rating.
TGR: Is there a possibility that people would not buy U.S. debt unless it’s in their currency?
JW: It is possible lenders would not buy the Treasuries unless denominated in a strong and stable currency. As the USD loses its value and becomes less attractive, people will increasingly dump dollar-denominated assets and move into currencies they consider safer. And you’ll see other things; OPEC might decide it no longer wants to have oil denominated in U.S. dollars. There’s been some talk about moving it to some kind of basket of currencies—something other than the U.S. dollar, possibly including gold. This would be devastating to the U.S. consumer. You’d get a double whammy from an inflation standpoint on oil prices in the U.S. because the dollar would be shrinking in value against that basket of currencies.
TGR: Different countries are starting to discuss the creation of an alternative to the USD as reserve currency. How rapidly could an alternative currency appear?
JW: That would involve a consensus of major global trading countries; but just how that would break remains to be seen. Let’s say OPEC decides it no longer wants to accept dollars for oil. Instead, it wants to be paid in yen. It’s done. It’s not a matter of creating a new currency—it’s a matter of how things get shifted around.
TGR: What other commodities or monetary issues would that create?
JW: Again, the dollar’s weakness is doubly inflationary. It is the biggest factor behind the ongoing rise in oil prices. Let’s say you’re a Japanese oil purchaser. Oil, effectively, is purchased at a discount in a yen-based environment due to the dollar’s weakness. Usually, the market doesn’t let such advantages last very long. As the dollar weakens, you see upside pressure on oil prices. If, hypothetically, you’re pricing oil in yen, there’s no reason for anybody to hold the USD. The dollar would sell off more rapidly against the yen and oil inflation would be even higher in a dollar-denominated environment.
TGR: You’ve mentioned that hyperinflation will happen as soon as 2014. If that is true, wouldn’t OPEC want to shift off dollar pricing as quickly as possible?
JW: From a purely financial standpoint, that would make sense. Other factors are at play, though, including political, military and unstable times in both North Africa and the Middle East. Those who are able to get out of dollars, I think, will do so rapidly and as smoothly as possible.
TGR: And how will they do that?
JW: They will sell their dollar-denominated assets. They will convert dollars to other currencies. They will buy gold. Generally, they will dump whatever they hold in dollars and sell the dollar-denominated assets they don’t want. There’s a market for them; it’s just a matter of pricing. As the pressure mounts to get out of the USD, the pricing of dollar-denominated assets will fall, which in turn would intensify that selling. The dollar selling will intensify domestic U.S. inflation, which is one factor that picks up and feeds off itself and will help to trigger the hyperinflation.
TGR: The U.S., even in recession, is still the largest consuming economy. If the U.S. continues in, or goes into a deeper, recession, doesn’t that impact the rest of the world?
JW: If the U.S. is in a severe recession, it will have a significant negative economic impact on the global economy. That doesn’t necessarily affect the relative values of other currencies to the USD. If you look at the dollar against the stronger currencies, a wide variety of factors are in effect—including relative economic strength. The U.S. is probably going to have an economy as bad as any major country will have, with higher relative inflation. The weaker the relative economy and the stronger the relative inflation, the weaker will be the dollar. Relative to fiscal stability, the worse the fiscal circumstance in the U.S., the weaker is the dollar. Relative to trade balance, the bigger the trade deficit is, the weaker the currency. As to interest rates, the lower the relative interest rates in the U.S., the weaker will be the dollar.
Part of the weakness in the dollar now is due to the way the world views what’s happening in Washington and the ability of the government to control itself. That’s a factor that may have forced S&P to make a comment. So, even having a weaker economy in Europe would not necessarily lead to relative dollar strength.
TGR: If the U.S. experiences a continued, or even greater, recession, doesn’t that impact spill over into Canada?
JW: The Canadian economy is closely tied to the U.S. economy, and bad times here will be reflected in bad times in Canada. However, I’m not looking for a hyperinflation in Canada. Its currency will tend to remain relatively stronger than the U.S. dollar. Canada is more fiscally sound; it generally has a better trade picture and has a lot of natural resources. Keep in mind that economic times tend to get addressed by private industry’s creativity and, thus, new markets can be developed. For instance, you’re already seeing significant shifts of lumber sales to China instead of to the U.S.
TGR: What about the effect on other countries?
JW: The world economy is going to have a difficult time. You do have ups and downs in the domestic, as well as the global, economy. People survive that. They find ways of getting around problems if a market is cut off or suffers. I view most of the factors in Canada, Australia and Switzerland as being much stronger than in the U.S. Even when you look at the euro and the pound, they’re generally stronger than in the U.S. Japan is dealing with the financial impacts of the earthquake. There’s going to be a lot of rebuilding there. But, generally, it’s a more stable economy with better fiscal and trade pictures. I would look for the yen to continue to be stronger. Shy of any short-term gyrations, the U.S. is really in the worst condition of any major economy and any major country in the world and, therefore, in a weaker currency circumstance.
TGR: Then why are media analysts talking about the U.S. being in a recovery?
JW: You’re not getting a fair analysis. There’s nothing new about that. No one in the popular media predicted the recession that was clearly coming upon us, and the downturn wasn’t even recognized until well after the average guy on Main Street knew things were getting bad. We have some particularly poor-quality economic reporting right now. The economy has not been as strong as it advertised. Yes, there has been some upside bouncing in certain areas, but it’s largely tied to short-lived stimulus factors.
Let’s look at payroll numbers and the way those are estimated. In normal economic times, seasonal factors and seasonal adjustments are stable and meaningful. What’s happened is that the downturn has been so severe and protracted it has completely skewed the seasonal-adjustment process. It’s no longer meaningful, nor are estimates of monthly changes in many series. The markets are flying blind—it’s unprecedented, in terms of modern reporting.
Are we really seeing a surge in retail sales? If so, you should be seeing growth in consumer income or consumer borrowing—but we’re not seeing that. The consumer is strapped. An average consumer’s income cannot keep up with inflation. The recent credit crisis also constrained consumer credit. Without significant growth in credit or a big pick-up in consumer income, there’s no way the consumer can sustain positive economic growth or personal consumption, which is more than 70% of the GDP. So, you haven’t started to see a shift in the underlying fundamentals that would support stronger economic activity. That’s why you’re not going to have a recovery; in fact, it’s beginning to turn down again as shown in the housing sales volume numbers, which are down 75% from where it was in normal times.
TGR: But we were in a housing boom. Doesn’t that make those numbers reasonable?
JW: Housing starts have never been this low. Right now, they are running around 500,000 a year. We’re at the lowest levels since World War II—down 75% from 2006—and it’s getting worse. I mean the bottom bouncing has turned down again. We’re already seeing a second dip in the housing industry. There’s been no recovery there.
In March, all the gain in retail sales was in inflation. Retail sales are turning down. You’re going to see a weaker GDP number for Q111. The GDP number is probably the most valueless of the major series put out; but, as the press will have to report, growth will drop from 3.1% in Q410 to something like 1.7% in Q111.
TGR: You’ve stated that the most significant factors driving the inflation rate are currency- and commodity-price distortions—not economic recovery. Why is that distinction important?
JW: The popular media have stated that the only time you have to worry about inflation is when you have a strong economy, and that a strong economy drives inflation. There’s such a thing as healthy inflation when it comes from a strong economy. I would much rather be in an economy that’s overheating with too much demand and prices that rise. That’s a relatively healthy inflation. Today, the weak dollar has spiked oil prices. Higher oil prices are driving gasoline prices higher—the average person is paying a lot more per gallon of gas. For those who can’t make ends meet, they cut back in other areas. The inflation of Q410, which is now running at an annualized pace of 6%, was mostly tied to the prices of gasoline and food.
You also have higher food prices. It’s not due to stronger food or gasoline demand—it’s due to monetary distortions. Unemployment is still high, even if you believe the numbers. I’ll contend the economy really isn’t recovering. At the same time, you’re seeing a big increase in inflation that’s killing the average guy.
TGR: Why isn’t there more pressure on the U.S. government to reduce the debt deficit?
JW: When you get into areas like debt and deficit, it’s a little difficult to understand. The average person, though, should be feeling enough financial pain that political pressure will tend to mount before the 2012 election; but whether or not the average person will take political action remains to be seen. I don’t think you have until 2012 before this gets out of control and there’s hyperinflation. It could go past that to 2014, but we’re seeing all sorts of things happening now that are accelerating the inflation process.
TGR: Like the dollar at an all-time low.
JW: If you compare the U.S. dollar against the stronger currencies, such as the Australian dollar, Canadian dollar and Swiss franc, you’re looking at historic lows. You’re not far from historic lows in the broader dollar measure.
TGR: In your April 19 newsletter, you stated, “Though not yet commonly recognized, there is both an intensifying double-dip recession and a rapidly escalating inflation problem. Until such time as financial market expectations catch up with the underlying reality, reporting generally will continue to show higher-than-expected inflation and weaker-than-expected economic results.” What do you mean by “until such time as financial market expectations catch up with the underlying reality?”
JW: A lot of people look closely at and follow the consensus of economists, which is looking at (or at least still touting) an economic recovery with contained inflation. I’m contending that the underlying reality is a weaker economy and rising inflation. I think the expectation of rising inflation is beginning to sink in. Given another month or two, I think you’ll find all of a sudden the economists making projections will start lowering their economic forecasts. Instead of looking at half-percent growth in industrial production, they’ll be expecting it to be flat; if it comes in flat, it will be a consensus—and the markets will be pleased it wasn’t worse in consensus. But the consensus outlook will have shifted toward a more negative economic outlook.
TGR: Do you think economists will shift their outlooks before we get into hyperinflation or a depression?
JW: In terms of economists who have to answer to Wall Street, work for the government or hold an office like the Federal chairman, by and large, they’ll err on the side of being overly optimistic. People prefer good news to bad news. If Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said we were headed into a deeper recession, it would rattle the market. People on Wall Street want to have a happy sales pitch. What results may have little to do with underlying reality.
TGR: In your April 15 newsletter, you mentioned that a signal of an unfolding double-dip recession is based on the annual contraction of the M3, which was the Fed’s broadest measure of money supply until it ceased publishing it in 2006. Recent estimates show that the annual contraction of M3 went down from 4.3 in February to 3.6 in March. Is this good news?
JW: No. It doesn’t have any particular significance as a signal for the economy. You do have recessions that start without M3 going negative year over year. In the last several decades, every time the M3 went negative, there followed a recession—or an intensifying downturn—if a recession was already underway. If you tighten up liquidity, you tend to tighten up business conditions. Again, though, you’ve had recessions without those signals. When it goes positive, it does not signal an upturn in the economy. It doesn’t make any difference if it continues negative for a year or two, or if it’s negative for three months. The point is—when it turns negative, that’s the signal for the recession.
We had a signal back in December 2009, which would have indicated a downturn sometime in roughly Q310. We already were in a recession at that point. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the defining authority in timing of the U.S. business cycle, the last recession ended in June 2009. So, this current recession will be recognized as a double-dip recession. The Bureau doesn’t change its timing periods.
I’ll contend that we’re really seeing reintensification of the downturn that began in 2007. Although it’s not obvious in the headline numbers of the popular media, you’ll find that September/October 2010 is when the housing market started to turn down again. That is beginning to intensify. We’ll see how the retail sales look when they’re revised. When all the dust settles, I think you’ll see that the economy did start to turn down again in latter 2010. Somewhere in that timeframe, they’ll start counting the second or next leg of a multiple-dip recession.
TGR: Does M3 have anything to do with calculating potential inflation or hyperinflation?
JW: It does; but when you start looking at the inflation picture, you also have to consider that we are dealing with the world’s reserve currency and the volume of dollars both outside and inside the U.S. system. Right now, M3 is estimated at somewhat shy of $14 trillion. You have another $7 trillion outside the U.S., which is available for overnight liquidation and dumping into the U.S. markets. It’s not easy to measure how much is out there, but that has to be taken into account to assess the money supply related to inflation. Again, that’s where the Fed chairman’s policies come into play.
Efforts have been afoot to weaken the U.S. dollar. Usually with the weakening of the U.S. dollar, you see increased repatriation of dollars from outside the system. If everyone is happy holding the dollars, the flows can be static; but when they start shifting and the dollars are repatriated, you begin to have currency problems. That’s when you have the money supply and the inflation problems we’re beginning to see.
TGR: This has been very informative, John. Thank you for your time.
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