Sunday, March 27, 2022

Which Major Currency Will Be The First To Fall? - Could The Euro Beat The Yen In Race To Graveyard?

Before saying anything else, it is important to note, when it comes to the major currencies, it is safe to assume they are manipulated by central banks. It is in the best interest of Central Bankers to keep them trading in a rather tight pattern as so not to rock the foundation of the global financial system. On top of the stress being placed upon economies due to the war in Ukraine, the one thing bankers don't want to deal with is the growing fear the fiat monetary system is about to fail. 

The destruction of the myth that a major currency cannot fail could create a situation where we would see skittish investors dumping currencies in mass. As wealth rushed from currencies into tangible assets inflation would soar. When a currency implodes it fosters a transfer of wealth from those holding the now worthless paper to those holding other currencies or tangible assets. The group-think of all the major central banks until just recently has been concreted into a global monetary policy favoring inflation in order to support economic growth. This monetary policy is now being challenged by rising prices at the same time economies are slowing.

It is important to remember that fiat currency systems depend on the faith of its users and participants to survive. The emergence of a slew of new cryptocurrencies is an indication faith in the current fiat currencies is beginning to wane. These digital currencies that have flooded the market are disconnected from central banks. Also adding to the perception we are about to see a major shakeup in the global financial system are efforts by countries such as China and Russia to move more trade away from the dollar. This is happening at the same time we see the cost of living for the 16 nations that share the euro currency rose to 5.1% in January, a  new record high, few interest rate increases expected in 2022, and a time the German PPI is 18% and Spain’s 31%.

Recently, Zoltan Poz­sar, an In­vest­ment Strategist at Credit Suisse and is based in New York, has appeared all over the media touting a theory that would affect us all. He is touting the idea Russian sanctions combined with its relationship with China and a crisis in some commodities are threatening the dollar’s reserve status. He claims this will bring about a Bretton Woods III event where commodity collateral may repave the road to hard money

While Pozar may not be completely right, if we are moving in that direction, the effect has broad implications for all of us. It would substantially redefine the relationship between fiat currency and tangible assets. A strong argument can be made that even though the BOJ is the top dog when it comes to monetizing debt it may not be for long. The ECB is catching up in the percentage of central bank holdings of government bonds in percent of total issuance. Considering all of Europe's problems the big issue is envisioning a scenario from which an economic renaissance might flow.

To say the Euro-zone banking system deception which has been going on for many years is continuing understates the size of the fraud occurring before our eyes. A program known as "Target 2" has been the salvation of the euro and is responsible for preventing countries from collapsing. Since 2015 when Draghi started QE, the Bundesbank has been buying bonds on the market. The Italian central bank is dependent on the ECB which buys Italian government bonds. Germany then sends euros to Italy transferring the debt via Target 2 to their German bank. The growing differences in the Target 2 balance sheet are the result of the Germans taking these bonds. Italians have also added to the capital flight by liquidating their bonds and sending their money abroad. 

 Italy Is Far Worse Post Covid-19
Target 2 translates into enormously huge debt claims on the Germans that are not covered by any securities. In short, if Italy (or even Spain) would withdraw from the Euro-zone, the Germans would be left holding worthless paper. The bottom-line is Brussels and Germany must continue buying what could be considered, "bad debt" to keep the system afloat. All this raises the question of when the value of the euro will begin to reflect the stress which has been masked over and greatly ignored. In short, the choice of Europe has been whether to put a lot of bad debt on the balance sheet of the European Central Bank or deal with defaults and the contagion that flows from them. To be clear, many German economists criticize Target 2 and see it as a check that cannot be cashed.

As for the yen, for a long time, many investors have viewed it as a safe-haven currency, so much in fact that it has been called a "widowmaker" trade for those betting on its decline. For years Japan has been the poster child and living proof that low-interest rates do not guarantee economic growth and prosperity. Going unnoticed by many investors is that the BOJ  has been pumping up Japan's stock market by buying into the ETF market. This has morphed into a program that seems akin to Mario Draghi's fraud of doing "whatever it takes" to give the appearance their economy is moving forward. Following along the line of thought that while there is no way of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion years ago, Ludwig Von Mises wrote; "The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved." In short, the BOJ now has little choice but to go all-in which strips away any illusion all is well.

Japan Led The Way In This Experiment

Before the "Bernanke has all the answers" era, many of us criticized Japan for failing to own its problems. At the time the idea was that only by letting its zombie banks and industries fail could Japan clean out the system and move forward. Instead, the Government of Japan ran huge deficits and ran up massive debt. For decades Japan languished and avoided disaster only by the fact that it enjoyed a large trade surplus year after year and was able to pigtail onto the rapid growth occurring in China. Today much of that trade surplus has vanished but Japan's massive debt remains.

After 2008 Japan decided to put itself on the leading edge of an experiment to propel its economy forward. This includes the BOJ not only expanding its balance sheet but pumping up the market by jumping into the ETF market, what the country is not doing is taking big steps toward economic reform. All this has morphed into a program that seems to share a key focus on doing "whatever it takes" to keep the economy moving forward. The problem in pursuing the flawed policy of never allowing the market to slip but putting it on a path ever upward until everyone doubting the strength of the market finally capitulates is that it thwarts true price discovery.

Recently articles have surfaced exploring how the central banks and governments have distorted true price discovery in stock markets across the world. By buying stocks they are taking or transferring branches of industry or commerce from the private sector to state ownership or control. The keyword here is "ownership." This is because the state may choose to abdicate control over decisions leaving them in the hands of management. It has been estimated the BOJ holds around 35 trillion yen, accounting for roughly 80% of Japan’s ETF market. In some ways, the actions of Japan's central bank could be considered nothing more than a new model of "stealth nationalization." 

This is a course filled with moral hazard since it destroys true price discovery the bedrock of free markets. We cannot underestimate the importance between assets prices and the feedback signals they send. These are critical in determining value, especially when it comes to assets such as stocks, bonds, currencies, or paper promises which carry no utility value and can perform no useful task. When true price discovery is lost or impaired management teams no longer get market feedback as to whether an executive decision is good or bad, this dilutes the market's ability to reward and punish companies no matter how disastrous their decisions.

To keep the illusion of a viable economy alive central banks must continue expanding credit and debt so the wheels do not come off the economy. It is hard to create the illusion all is well if unemployment soars and defaults skyrocket. This means the central banks remain trapped in a box Ben Bernanke built, Janet Yellen reinforced, and Jerome Powell has not tried to escape from. It is easy to see how central bank policy, right or wrong, falsely accomplishes two things, it bolsters and supports current holdings while reinforcing the image markets are climbing higher because our economic future is getting brighter which is a narrative mainstream media is glad to provide.

This may have started as a "short-term solution" but Ben Bernanke upped the ante by setting the money printing machines on high and flooding America and the world with QE. When other central bankers embraced this solution the world embarked on a grand experiment. The big problem is momentum seems to ebb shortly after each new wave of stimulus and another fix seems to constantly be needed. Current policies are not creating true growth in productivity or real wealth but simply driving up the value of certain markets and assets. This benefits those who own or have assets but does little or even hurts the poor or those who have nothing. It also increases economic inequality and social unrest. The harsh reality central bankers, politicians, and the world must face is the medicine for curing high inflation is high-interest rates. This will not go down well and to some an unacceptable solution.

For years, Japan and Italy, both mired in debt, have been on artificial support. Not only the size of the debt, but the quality of the debt, suggest a huge drop in the values of their currencies must occur. Weakness in the euro or even the yen almost certainly will result in a stronger dollar which could be the catalyst for a crisis in currencies issued by emerging market economies. In short, there is the potential to see such an incident over to the rest of the developed world and evolve into a global deleveraging event. This will most likely be seen as part of the great reset many of us have come to expect will occur at some point. Meaning, promises will be broken and rules will be rewritten as we go through the wash. If I'm correct this reset will involve a massive transfer of wealth with many people having their assets rinsed away as society gets put through the wringer.

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Footnote; For more on this subject, see the articles below.                                                                       

 (Republishing of this article welcomed with reference to Bruce Wilds/AdvancingTime Blog)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The “Wealth Effect,” Is Failing As A Key Fed Policy Driver

In a world where optimism and hope have dominated the investment landscape for over a decade, we should be prepared for reality to raise its ugly head. This time is not different and debt does matter. As pointed out by many economists over the years, low-interest rates and easy money, do not always result in a strong vibrant economy. Japan's failure to recover from its bubble bursting decades ago remains proof of this.

Much of the rationale behind QE has been that it creates what the Fed calls a “Wealth Effect.” For years this has been a key driver of central bank policy. This view is firmly embedded in the macro-econometric models used by the Fed. The notion, widely adopted by central bankers, is that by inflating asset prices to make the wealthy (the asset holders) even wealthier, these people will spend more of what they see as free money from asset price inflation. The premise is that this additional spending will create additional demand for goods and services thus providing jobs for the masses. 

Sadly, several times over the years the wealth effect formula has slid off the tracks and most likely will again. Consumption does not create wealth, it creates debt. The example that stands out in the minds of most people is from back in 2008. By loaning money against homes with little scrutiny as to the borrower's ability to repay them the Fed created a financial bubble with broad implications. It could be argued that since 2008, Fed policy has never really addressed that mess but attempted to paper over it by printing money and expanding debt through quantitative easing.

Wealth Effect Policies Have Failed To Generate Enough Growth

Looking back at how pursuing policies that breed the Wealth Effect can slide off track or lose their effectiveness, we see it always centers on the risk they create. At some point, the combination of easy-to-borrow money at low-interest rates tends to morph into a high-risk environment of increased speculation and leverage. In short, savers and investors seeking a return on their savings are forced out of traditional accounts because such investments get ravaged by inflation.

Many Consumers Bought Into This
The 2008 financial crisis resulted in the worst economic disasters in modern times and caused the biggest recession since the great depression of 1930. It is also referred to as the global financial crisis (GFC). Over the last several years, the Fed has been getting a great deal of well-deserved bad press for driving inequality and fracturing society. Since 2008 it has become apparent the Fed has created an unfair system that is broken, unfair, and corrupt. This has affected different generations in rather specific ways.

It is again becoming very apparent the wealth effect policies are failing. Not only have they failed to create a healthy economy but they have brought the financial system to the brink of collapse. Following the GFC the Federal Reserve and the Bush administration spent hundreds of billions of dollars to add liquidity to the financial markets. They worked hard to avoid a complete collapse. They almost didn't succeed. Today we are spending not billions, but trillions of dollars to keep the same corrupt policy moving forward. 

History shows investors should treat the wealth effect with caution because it is susceptible to reversals. Since the GFC, attempt after attempt has been put forth to change the tide, but still, we have watched the middle class shrink. The elephant in the room when it comes to growing the economy is how "the broken window theory" is spun and interpreted. The gist of this theory is that if a window is broken, the subsequent repair expenditure will have no net benefits for the economy. Still, it is not uncommon to see destruction touted as a good thing because it promotes spending. In truth, the idea destruction is good discounts several facts. 

One has to do with where the money is coming from but whether it is from an insurance company or someplace else, it still means the money is diverted from being used on another purchase. Repairing a broken window is maintenance spending which doesn’t improve growth because it doesn’t improve productivity. This expenditure would have occurred anyway. The only thing a broken window does is  cause maintenance spending to occur earlier and lower the useful life of the window. Maintenance spending may keep the economy going it doesn’t provide a boost. Instead, it is better to invest the money in something which creates wealth by increasing productivity.

Many people and even economists have real misconceptions as to how the economy works. Where money flows and who it enriches is a key component of economics. The failure to consider this is a blind spot many people have. Years of being told everything revolves around spending has diminished the important role savings plays in the scheme of a balanced economy. Fans of Keynesian economics that encourage government spending to stabilize the economy during a downturn tend to discount the importance that where and how money is spent matters a great deal. 

Wealth Effect Policy Has A Poor Record
In the end, this all comes back to the fact current policies are presenting us with diminishing returns while increasing risk. Sadly, financial corruption has played a huge role in getting us here. Never before in our history have Presidents, Fed Chairs, and politicians in general been able to exploit their power and gained massive wealth following their time as so-called public servants. A big part of our current problems is the elite top-down efforts to control our society has created a permanent government. Today an army of government workers, most un-elected have been empowered to nibble away at our rights.  

Bubbling up to the surface is the recognition the Fed has to shoulder a huge responsibility in pushing inequality higher. Powell has even gone so far as to claim there was little demand for loans below $1 million. Sadly, the same policies that dump huge money into larger businesses because it is an easier and faster way to bolster the economy give these concerns a huge advantage over their smaller competitors.

The long-term ramifications of destroying smaller businesses will hurt America in the long run. It eliminates competition, reduces opportunity, and over time fuels inflation. This drives my angst directed at companies such as Amazon and big tech. The policy of making people feel better so they spend more than they can afford is part of voodoo economics.  So is sending jobs abroad and increasing our consumption of imported goods which has resulted in a massive trade deficit. Good economic policy encourages personal responsibility and is rooted in saving not spending. 


(Republishing of this article welcomed with reference to Bruce Wilds/AdvancingTime Blog)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Turning The Wealth Pyramid Upside Down

When we look at upside down wealth pyramid at the left, I have a big problem with the picture it promotes. It is clearly based on someone's opinion of what investments are safe. The one thing it does well is to scream that some investments have a high degree of risk and it is best not to put all our eggs in the same basket. 

Another issue is how a 401 or pension will fare during hard times or if we do see a huge number of defaults. Consider this an indication that placing your wealth into paper promises means it has the potential to vanish or be converted into something to would never agree to. Again, the devil is in the small print or the fact "they" can change the rules at any time.

While a great deal of speculation has been showered upon us concerning inflation turning to deflation, we will not know the true direction of things until they occur. One thing to keep in mind is that government employs a tremendous number of people that will never accept a cut in pay. This will put a solid net under falling prices. Combined with the refusal of many workers to consider working for anything near minimum wage helps push away the notion of deflation. In fact today, my local paper announced the City Council in Fort Wayne, Indiana just approved retroactive COVID-19 hazard bonuses for all city workers.

It is important to move towards forecasting based on probability rather than predictions. Keep in mind a great deal of how we deal with the options before us is centered on how we position ourselves. This can result in a lot of study and hard work or, in the case of many people, be a duty we cast off to other people. The harsh reality is that there is no guarantee that any strategy we choose will be able to stand up to the barrage life throws at us. 

If we are indeed about to enter a body-slamming bear market that will reshape the financial landscape, what many people want to hear is how to make a million dollars overnight in a bear market. This is far more difficult to do than say. So much depends on timing and the direction the dominoes fall. Sadly, the inverted pyramid above should give us little reassurance we are in control of our own destinies. 

While overall I see investing in precious metals in a positive light, even investing in gold has a slew of drawbacks. The same holds true with bonds and cash. With bonds, there is the huge risk that they will be repaid in deflated or less valuable dollars or defaulted on. When it comes to holding cash in its truest form, not only are you bludgeoned by inflation but risk it will be stolen or lost. 

Old Chart, Derivatives Are Now Much Bigger

Interestingly, the widest and most perilous area of where to stash your wealth is that of derivatives. On occasion, it is important to revisit issues that have been swept under the rug or simply overlooked. For most people, the derivatives market falls into this category, partly because they don't understand exactly what derivatives are or why this market is so important. The problem is the derivative market has the potential to explode like a bomb.

Derivatives are financial contracts, set between two or more parties, that derive their value from an underlying asset, group of assets, or benchmark. These contracts hold the power to unleash a great deal of pain and grief during volatile markets. Years ago, Paul Wilmott who holds a doctorate in applied mathematics from Oxford University has written several books on derivatives. At the time, Wilmott estimated the derivatives market at $1.2 quadrillion, to put that in perspective it is about 20 times the size of the world economy. 

Since then, the derivative market has only grown larger. today, the world’s annual gross domestic product is around 100 trillion dollars. Trying to regulate this complex market is easier said than done. While QE was able to halt an implosion of derivatives and the resulting contagion and shock that would have spread throughout the financial system following the 2008 financial crisis this time we may not be so lucky. 

Returning to the inverted wealth pyramid, I see little to spur optimism going forward, add in geopolitical tensions and slowing economic growth across the world and it is very easy to envision risks pushing things over the edge. If history is any indication, the idea this time is different will prove to be false. Contagion seeping over from one sector of the economy to another has the potential to create a rather grim future in which we are forced to pay for our past sins of excessive greed and arrogance.

Several things are moving down a path I saw coming but like many of you, I'm shocked by the twist and speed things are moving. The one big surprise is how a little war can rapidly turn things upside down and be declared as the catalyst for our economic downfall. I have not been writing much as of late because I've been spun by much of what is happening, however, I plan to settle back in and crank out a few new articles soon. Stay safe, and remember this is not the time to take on new risks or believe the propaganda being thrown at us.


Footnote; Below are a few YouTube videos worth a quick look.

In a special update, co-founder and CEO of Real Vision Raoul Pal shares with us how he’s approaching the market amid this incredibly chaotic environment. Raoul outlines several scenarios for how the Russia-Ukraine situation could play out.

 (Republishing of this article welcomed with reference to Bruce Wilds/AdvancingTime Blog)