Something for Nothing, Report 20 May 2018

By Keith Weiner

Money has a dual function. Please allow us to go deeper, and more philosophical than we typically do. We promise to tie this into our ongoing discussion of capital consumption. In the following, we will discuss some examples that use the dollar. We are not conceding that the dollar is money (i.e. the most marketable good, or the extinguisher of debt). We just need some simple cases to consider the medium of exchange. Today, that medium is obviously not gold but the dollar.

Money’s first function is flows. People experience this as income. If you work for an hour as a plumber, you might earn $25. If you work for an hour as a lawyer, you might earn $250. If you set up and operate a successful restaurant, you might earn $500,000 in a year. Every job, every profession, and every business earns a certain amount. The market value of everything is finite. These values are set by other market participants, who bid what they are willing to pay for what you do.

Money as Exchange Medium

The dollar is the general medium of exchange. This is how you take what your employer pays you, to buy something from a third party.

At any given moment in time, the market value of everything is fixed. You can take your wage or your profits to any other market participant, and buy whatever he produces. For example, the plumber might exchange an hour of his labor for a meal at the restaurant. Or he could exchange a day of his labor for an hour consultation with that lawyer.

We can abstract away the dollar, and see that there is a finite ratio of exchange of any good or service for any other. A plumbing repair is worth one restaurant meal, or one tenth as much as legal advice.

Continue reading Something for Nothing, Report 20 May 2018

Demand to Hoard, Report 13 May 2018

By Keith Weiner

[Biiwii comment: Gold and silver supply/demand report last segment]

Since 1981, interest rates have been in a falling trend. Last week, we said this trend will continue, and the present blip up in rates is just a correction. We did not argue technical analysis, nor quantity of dollars, nor the general price level.

Instead, we asked a question:

…It seems obvious that if one wishes to say that a trend has changed, after enduring for well over three decades, one needs to explain why. The Question of the Day is: what has suddenly happened?

For extra credit, no scratch that, to get any credit your answer should include an explanation of why the rate has been falling for so long. Is this too much to ask? Your explanation should contain three parts:

  1. The cause that drove interest rates to fall for most of the time that Generation X has been alive, for most of the duration of the careers of even the oldest Baby Boomers
  2. Why the old cause is now inoperable
  3. Identify a new cause, and show why it will drive the new trend for rising rates

We discussed a graph from the BIS, showing that as of 2015, 10.5% of corporations did not earn enough gross profit to pay the interest expense on their debt. Even at the lower interest rates of 2015, it is a sharply rising trend (from 5% in 2007). Who knows how much it would have risen even if rates had remained unchanged? And how much did it rise with the little blip up in interest rates we have had so far?

To answer part 1, we identified the cause of the trend. The cause is when interest > productivity (return on capital in this context), and each drop in interest drives down productivity. It’s a ratchet.

Continue reading Demand to Hoard, Report 13 May 2018

Chart Of The Week: US Dollar Index

By Callum Thomas

This week it’s the US Dollar Index.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe that saying should be updated – unless you’ve been living out of range of wifi), you will have noticed 2 key things about the US dollar index: 1. The US dollar bull market seemed to end at the end of 2016; and 2. A violent short-squeeze kicked off in April.

But while I certainly would agree that it has all the classical signs of a short-squeeze, I would be quick to point out that there may be a little more to it than that.  The chart of the week comes from a report on the outlook for the US dollar (which also dealt with the implications for crude oil prices).  The chart shows my composite yield support indicator for the US dollar against the DXY, with a substantial gap… “the alligator’s jaws”.

Continue reading Chart Of The Week: US Dollar Index

Wealth-Destroying Zombies, Report 6 May 2018

By Keith Weiner

The hot topic in monetary economics today (hah, if it’s not an oxymoron to say these terms together!) is whither interest rates. The Fed in its recent statement said the risk is balanced (the debunked notion of a tradeoff between unemployment and rising consumer prices should have been tossed on the ash heap of history in the 1970’s). The gold community certainly expects rapidly rising prices, and hence gold to go up, of course.

Will interest rates rise? We don’t think it’s so obvious. Before we discuss this, we want to make a few observations. Rates have been falling for well over three decades. During that time, there have been many corrections (i.e. countertrend moves, where rates rose a bit before falling even further). Each of those corrections was viewed by many at the time as a trend change.

They had good reason to think so (if the mainstream theory can be called good reasoning). Armed with the Quantity Theory of Money, they thought that rising quantity of dollars causes rising prices. And as all know, rising prices cause rising inflation expectations. And if people expect inflation to rise, they will demand higher interest rates to compensate them for it.

The quantity of dollars certainly rose during all those years (with some little dips along the way). Yet the rate of increase of prices slowed. Nowadays, the Fed is struggling to get a 2% increase and that’s with all the “help” they get from tax and regulatory policies, which drive up costs to consumers but has nothing to do with monetary policy. Nevertheless interest rates fell. And fell and fell.

Continue reading Wealth-Destroying Zombies, Report 6 May 2018

Savers Are Just Collateral Damage, Report 29 Apr 2018

By Keith Weiner

A reader asked us this week about the personal savings rate. Most people can sense that something is wrong if the rate is in a long-term falling trend, or if it falls too low (whatever level that may be). We argue that falling savings is part of the larger process of capital destruction. And unfortunately, one should expect falling savings rates when there is falling yield purchasing power.

The personal savings rate is defined as the ratio of personal saving to disposable personal income. Income excludes capital gains (as it should!) It is a measure of how much is left. This savings will pay for the saver’s own future, and in the meantime it is (presumably) invested to finance the production of new goods and services (and the government’s ever-growing welfare expense).

The personal savings rate is in a secular decline. As with other trends we have examined (e.g. marginal productivity of debt), the decline has a high correlation with the falling interest rate. Here is a graph.

Continue reading Savers Are Just Collateral Damage, Report 29 Apr 2018

Liquidating Civilization, Report 22 Apr 2018

By Keith Weiner

Further to our ongoing theme of capital destruction, let’s look at a topic which is currently out of favor in the present market correction. Keynes called for pushing the interest rate down near to zero, as a way of killing the savers, whom be believed are functionless parasites. The interest rate has been falling since 1981.

It did not merely fall near to zero. Nor even to zero. It has gone beyond zero, into negativeland. This alone ought to wipe out the mainstream notions of how interest rates are set in our very model of a modern monetary system. You know, the rubbish about bond vigilantes, inflation expectations, real interest rates, risk, etc. Might as well add unicorns, dragons, and leprechauns!

Instead of this rubbish, the world needs a non-linear theory of interest and prices in irredeemable currency.

In recent years, rates have plunged below zero in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and other countries. Despite the current global uptick in rates, all Swiss government bonds out to 8-year maturity have a negative yield. Hey, at least that’s a recovery from when the 20-year had a negative yield. In Germany, bunds out to 5 years are negative, as they are in Japan.

This is pathological (in fact, due to negative long bond yields in Switzerland, Keith wrote a paper arguing that the Swiss franc will collapse).

As an aside, we note that when people hear our arguments, they go through a process akin to the well-known stages of grief. These include denial, anger, bargaining, and then finally acceptance and hope. It is much easier to think about rising quantity of dollars, and the presumed linear effect of rising consumer prices. And more pleasant, too.

Continue reading Liquidating Civilization, Report 22 Apr 2018

Gettin’ High on Bubbles

By Keith Weiner

Back in the drug-soaked, if not halcyon, days known at the sexual and drug revolution—the 1960’s—many people were on a quest for the “perfect trip”, and the “perfect hit of acid” (the drug lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD). We will no doubt generate some hate mail for saying this, but we don’t believe that anyone ever attained that goal. The perfect drug-induced high does not exist. Even if it seems fun while it lasts, the problem is that the consequences spill over into the real world.

Today, drunk on falling interest rates, people look for the perfect speculation. Good speculations generally begin with a story. For example dollar-collapse. And then an asset gets bid up to infinity and beyond (to quote Buzz Lightyear, who is not so close a friend as our buddy Aragorn). It happened in silver in 2010-2011. It happened more recently in bitcoin.

Most speculators don’t care about the economic causes and effects of bubbles. They just want to buy an asset as the bubble begins inflating, and sell just before it pops. But bitcoin and many gold proponents are different. They promise that their favorite asset will cure many social ills, fix many intractable problems, and increase liberty. Oh yeah and get-rich-quick.

Continue reading Gettin’ High on Bubbles

Milking the Savers

By Keith Weiner

Do you want to lend your hard-earned money to the US government? In exchange for the high, high interest rate of 2.8%? It’s a most generous deal, even though the Federal Reserve is committed to dollar devaluation at the rate of 2% per annum. So you are getting 0.8% per year, assuming that the Fed hits its goal. In exchange for lending to a profligate and counterfeit borrower—the government has neither the means nor intent to repay.

No, you don’t? This sounds like a bad deal? Well, tough.

It sucks, but if you need to hold a cash balance, your other choices suck more. Instead of lending to the government, you could deposit the cash in a bank. There’s only one problem. The bank will lend to the government. After taking out the costs of compliance, this rate is 2% according to the St Louis Fed.

This is actually up from 0.13% over the last three years, in our current bout of risinginterestrate-itis. Enjoy this high rate while you can.

In any case, the bank adds risk. On top of all of the risks you incur by lending to the government, you take the risk of bank insolvency too. The government does provide deposit insurance—but this is the same government whose risk you are trying to avoid by not buying its bonds.

Finally, you could hold paper cash, $20 bills. Ignoring the risk of theft, there is still a problem with this. You are lending to the Fed. The Fed issues dollars, which are its liability, to fund its purchase of Treasury bonds. The dollar is backed by government bonds.

To have a dollar is not to own a thing. It is a credit relationship. Someone else owes you. If you own the dollar bill, the Fed owes you.

Continue reading Milking the Savers

U.S. Dollar: Why it Pays to Use the Elliott Wave Model

By Elliott Wave International

The signs that could’ve helped you nail two junctures in the greenback’s trend

The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi believed that a winning team is built on mastering the game’s basics — so much so that at the start of the season he would “remind” veteran players, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Lombardi would even take them out to the field, discuss the boundaries and remind the players that the goal is to get the football into the end zone.

This relentless review of the basics paid off. His team, the Green Bay Packers, won five championships, including the first Super Bowl.

It also pays to master the basics of Elliott wave analysis.

The basic Elliott wave pattern for financial markets is five waves in the direction of the main trend with corrections, i.e., moves against the trend, unfolding in three waves.

So, in an uptrend, prices would rise in five waves and fall in three waves. In a downtrend, prices would fall in fives and rise in three waves.

With that in mind, let’s review how our U.S. Short Term Update editor made this bearish call on the U.S. Dollar Index last November.

Continue reading U.S. Dollar: Why it Pays to Use the Elliott Wave Model

Slaves to Government Debt Paper

By Keith Weiner

Picture, if you will, a group of slaves owned by a cruel man. Most of them are content, but one says to the others, “I will defy the Master.” While his statement would superficially appear to yearn towards freedom, it does not. It betrays that this slave, just like the others, thinks of the man who beats them as their “Master” (note the capital M). This slave does not seek freedom, but merely a small gesture of disloyalty. Of course, he will not get his liberty (but maybe a beating).

Today we do not have slavery, but we are shackled nevertheless. Savers are forced to use the government’s debt paper as if it were money. Most are content, but one says “gold will go up.” He does not expect a beating (but maybe a price suppression).

The slave cannot escape from his bondage, until he stops thinking of the brute as “Master” with a capital M. Freedom does not come from a little show of resentment. So long as malcontent slaves are content to limit themselves to petty disobedience, the Master is content that his rule is absolute. Freedom first takes an act of thinking. One must see the brute for what he is.

Today’s investor cannot escape from the bondage of the Federal Reserve, until he stops thinking of the dollar as “Money” with a capital M. So long as malcontent investors are content to limit themselves to betting on the dollar-price of gold, the Federal Reserve is content that its rule is absolute. Freedom takes an act of thinking. One must see the dollar for what it is.

Continue reading Slaves to Government Debt Paper

Standing Ready to Lease Gold

By Keith Weiner

We will take another break from capital destruction, to treat a topic which has come up this week. On March 11, we said:

“…central bankers do not think about gold.

Granted, they once did. In the 1960’s, there was the now-infamous London Gold Pool to keep the price of gold at $35. This is endlessly cited as evidence of current central bank price suppression, without bothering to mention that until 1971 the official US policy was to maintain the dollar to gold exchange rate of $35 to the ounce. …

But today? We see no sign that central bankers care about the price of gold.”

This turned out to be very controversial. Some conspiracy theorists cited Deputy Secretary of State Thomas O. Enders in 1974. The State Department records the minutes of a meeting with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here is an excerpt:

“Henry Wallich, the international affairs man, this morning indicated he would probably adopt the traditional position that we should be for phasing gold out of the international monetary system…”

Changing the Dollar

This meeting can only be understood in context. So let’s review three key changes to the dollar that led up to it. The dollar had long been redeemable in gold. However, in 1933 President Roosevelt was desperate to stop the run on the banks (and to push interest rates down). He ended gold redeemability to Americans in 1933 (and criminalized the possession of gold).

When the soon-to-be-victorious Allied Powers met in 1944 at Bretton Woods, they agreed to an insane postwar monetary system, in which the national currencies would be pegged to the US dollar which would be redeemable in gold at a fixed exchange rate. This system contained the seeds of its own destruction as Robert Triffin said in the 1960’s. However, the Allied economies were in ruins (not to mention the Axis)—so who was in a position to say no?

Continue reading Standing Ready to Lease Gold

Dollar Strength Is Hiding In Plain Sight

By Heisenberg

And One Strategist Says It’s Here To Stay

Overnight, the yen rose against all its G10 peers because Donald Trump has lost his mind completely and is now firing everyone in sight.

On Thursday evening, the Washington Post reported that a “very stable genius” called “Dennison” is now planning on ridding himself of national security adviser H.R. McMaster who, according to some accounts, once called Trump an “idiot” with “the intelligence of a kindergartner” at a dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz.

This kind of thing usually gets reflected in risk appetite one way or another and right now USDJPY is even more of a natural expression than it would be anyway thanks to a variety of factors not the least of which is that the ongoing land scandal has everyone on edge about Aso and ultimately Abe, which in turn raises questions about the future of Abenomics. Here’s USDJPY overnight:

USDJPY

Continue reading Dollar Strength Is Hiding In Plain Sight