by ilene - March 28th, 2015 5:01 pm
Courtesy of Bill Bonner at Acting-Man blog
Today, we continue mouth wide open (Part 1 here) … staggered by the shabby immensity of it … a tear forming in the corner of our eye.
Yes, we are looking at how the US economy, money and government have changed since President Nixon ended the gold-backed monetary system in 1971. It is not pretty.
We already know about the money. Since 1971, it’s been a credit-based, not a gold-based, system. The pre-1971 economy had three key characteristics:
1) It was healthy – Industry made things and sold them at a profit
2) It was fair – Financial progress was fairly evenly distributed.
3) It was solvent – The US was a creditor, not a debtor, nation.
Cartoon by David Horsey
Change in global share of manufacturing output, selected countries (via Vox EU)
Platitudes and Hypocrisies
Americans still say they believe in free markets, democracy and financial rectitude. But only as platitudes and hypocrisies. America’s industries have largely been shipped over to China and other lower-cost producers in the emerging world.
That didn’t “just happen.” The Fed’s EZ money financed it. American consumers borrowed to spend more than they could afford. Walmart met their desires (if not their needs) with “Everyday Low Prices,” courtesy of low-paid Chinese workers.
This sent US dollars to China. The Chinese used the profits to build even more, and better, factories. Pity the American businessman who tried to compete. He was overwhelmed. He had to pay wages 10 times higher than the Chinese. He also had to bow to regulations – tax, environment, labor, diverse bullying – that left him hobbled and fettered.
There’s not much left of America’s industrial economy. Seventy percent of the US economy is made up of consumer spending. Manufacturing has fallen to just 12% of the economy… down from 24% in 1971. And it’s now the main source of wealth in only seven states. The deindustrialization of the US is blamed for the slipping wages of low- and middle-class Americans. So is immigration. And robots.
by ilene - March 28th, 2015 2:12 pm
The Economist discusses the merits of Buffett's latest acquisition, Kraft Foods.
Berkshire Hathaway’s latest big deal is quite a mouthful
WARREN BUFFETT says he likes to buy companies that are easy to understand and are performing well. His latest deal, the $50 billion acquisition of Kraft Foods that was announced on March 25th, passes only one of those tests. Most people can get their heads around the slices of processed cheese and hot dogs that Kraft churns out—indeed Mr Buffett, known to favour plain fare, would probably like to get his lips round them, too. But as a business, Kraft is a bit of a mess.
Last year its revenues were stagnant and its volumes and profits fell. Its chief executive left in December. It generates 98.5% of its sales in the mature markets of America and Canada, where, the suspicion is, a new generation of healthier eaters no longer aches to scoff a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, followed by a plate of Jello and washed down by a Capri Sun drink.
Kraft’s predicament is in large part a result of its turbulent ownership over three decades, in turn a testament to the hyperactivity of Wall Street’s dealmakers. It has been the subject of seven big mergers or spin-offs since 1980, including an unhappy spell under the ownership of Philip Morris, a tobacco firm, between 1988 and 2007. Most recently Kraft was separated from its global snack brands in 2012, which were renamed Mondelez International.
Reflecting Kraft’s troubled past and iffy present performance, Mr Buffett is not buying it alone, nor managing it. Instead he is working with 3G Capital, a buy-out firm with Brazilian roots which is the closest thing the consumer-goods industry has to a miracle-worker. In 2013 Berkshire Hathaway, Mr Buffett’s investment vehicle, teamed up with 3G to buy Heinz, another food company, with each taking 50%.
Keep reading Buffett buys Kraft Foods: A big bite | The Economist.
by ilene - March 28th, 2015 1:31 pm
Are you supplementing with vitamin D? I have been; my levels are consistently low. In Who Should—And Who Shouldn’t—Take Vitamin D, Alice Park suggests that supplementing with more than 600 IUs is too much. Her argument makes sense: there isn't enough data to understand the effects of vitamin D (or specifically, trying to increase blood levels vitamin D) and the dangers of over-dosing are not clear. Not addressed, was the question of whether some people should take more D to make up for lack of sun exposure.
Here's what experts say, based on the latest evidence…
By Alice Park
Does your diet need a little extra D? For researchers, it’s one of nutrition’s most vexing questions. “It’s the wild, wild west,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The issue has become murkier over time rather than clearer.” Research is mixed about whether doctors should routinely test for vitamin D levels, like they do for cholesterol, and whether people should be supplementing their diets with vitamin D pills.
Keep reading Who Should—And Who Shouldn’t—Take Vitamin D | TIME.
by ilene - March 28th, 2015 1:29 pm
Courtesy of Mish.
On the lighter side, in the March 28, 2015 Dilbert, Wally becomes the new chief economist.
Wally: "The exchange rate on derivatives will trigger a bubble in monetary policy and deflate the Yen."
I like the phrase "bubble in monetary policy". It aptly expresses precisely what has been happening globally.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock
by ilene - March 28th, 2015 12:28 pm
I’ve written plenty about the markets over the past six months since I started growing the correction beard. But I regularly get questions related to one post or the other that I’ve already answered somewhere else. So I thought I’d try to write a more comprehensive view aggregating much of what I’ve written over that time so it’s all in one place. The underlined words and phrases below link to articles for further reading.
The stock market has done very well over the past six years. In fact, there are only a few other times in history where it’s seen a 200% rise in such short a time. This has led many to believe that investing in the stock market is an easy game when they should really be on guard against just this sort of hubris.
This may be the single greatest mistake investors make – extrapolating recent performance out into the future, especially after the sort of historic run we have seen lately. Momentum can be a powerful force and even an effective trading strategy on its own but in this case long-term investors are likely to be sorely disappointed. Stocks are just as overvalued today as they were in 2000. Why, then, should, investors expect a vastly different result?
You may counter this idea by saying, ‘forecasts like that aren’t usually worth much,’ but, in my humble opinion, everything is a forecast. Buying stocks today is making a forecast that they will generate an adequate return over the coming decade. If that’s what you’re doing, I challenge you to show me why your forecast is more valuable than mine. I’m sincerely curious. And please know that in making this forecast, I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to help you.
Like some very smart people I know, you may also try to justify the extreme overvaluation in the stock market right now by pointing to ultra-low interest rates. Rather than justifying high valuations, though, low-interest rates confirm the idea that equity returns will also be ultra-low going forward.
Because stock market valuations have remained so high for so long, it’s
by ilene - March 27th, 2015 11:08 pm
Courtesy of John Rubino.
Among the many things that mystify economists these days, the biggest might be the lingering perception, despite six years of ostensible recovery, that the average person is getting poorer rather than richer. Lots of culprits come in for blame, including the growing gap between the 1% and everyone else, negative interest rates (which starve savers and retirees of income) and the crappy nature of the new jobs being created in this recovery.
But one that doesn’t get much mention is the changing nature of the bills we’re paying. It seems that Americans are spending a lot more on health care, which leaves less for everything else. Here’s an excerpt from a MarketWatch report of a couple of weeks back, with two charts that tell the tale:
The percentage of money U.S. consumers spend on health care rose in 2014 for the third straight year to another record high, according to one government measure.
Some 20.6% of total consumer spending in 2014 was devoted to health care, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, annual figures from the Commerce Department report on personal expenditures show. That’s up from 20.4% in 2013.
Health-care expenses has been rising for decades regardless of government efforts to control costs. The percentage of consumer spending on health care rose from 15% in 1990, topping 20% for the first time in 2009.
With the health-care pie continuing to expand, consumers are paying the same or less as percentage of their spending on most other goods and services compared to 10 years ago.
Americans spend a smaller share of their money on cars and clothing, among other things. The percentage of money they spend on housing and going out to eat is basically unchanged over the longer run.
Not surprisingly, the only other major category to show a sustained increase in spending over the past 25 years is education. The share of money Americans spend on college has climbed to 1.59% from 0.9% in 1990.
————– End of Excerpt ————-
by ilene - March 27th, 2015 9:40 pm
Courtesy of Mish.
The Patriot act expires in June, and anyone in their right mind would wish the entire concept to go away entirely. NSA Spying has a 100% perfect track record of failure.
Sadly, the answer to the question Would NSA Data Surveillance End With Patriot Act? is a resounding "No".
The National Security Agency would lose its legal justification for collecting data on Americans' phone and email activity if Congress does not reauthorize the Patriot Act by June 1, but privacy advocates are skeptical about whether that would mean the end of the controversial surveillance program.
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to pass a bill that would end the bulk surveillance program while keeping certain spying powers intact for national security reasons. The clock is ticking, however, as the NSA loses its legal authority for domestic surveillance provided by Section 215 of the Patriot Act in June. If Congress does not renew that provision then the Obama administration will not push to continue the program, although its absence would damage America’s national security, says Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
“If Section 215 sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” Price tells U.S. News. “Allowing Section 215 to sunset would result in the loss, going forward, of a critical national security tool that is used in a variety of additional contexts that do not involve the collection of bulk data.”
The NSA, however, could invoke other legal powers to continue the data collection program without Section 215 of the Patriot Act, says Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology advocacy group. The government has also conducted bulk collection of email metadata in the past using Section 214 of the Patriot Act, for instance, which is also called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “pen trap statute,” Geiger says.
“The FISA pen trap statute does not have a sunset and would not be affected by a sunset of Section 215,” he says. “For these and other reasons, we believe that legislation to end bulk collection would be more effective than merely letting Section 215 sunset. However, we believe Congress should sunset Section 215 if effective reform is not possible.”
Passing surveillance reform may be difficult in
by ilene - March 27th, 2015 4:30 pm
Courtesy of Lance Roberts via STA Wealth Management
This weekend's reading list is a bit of a hodge-podge of reads on a variety of different topics. However, before we get into it I wanted to address an interesting statement by the Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart who Thursday:
"Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart said on Thursday there was little risk of a misstep that would force the Fed to lower rates once it begins raising them.
The economy is in solid shape to weather the upcoming turn to tightening monetary policy Lockhart, said at an investment education conference in Detroit.
"'Conditions are pretty solid,' said Lockhart, who regards an initial rate hike at the June, July or September Fed meetings as a high probability. 'I take the decision pretty seriously,' Lockhart said. 'Once we start, I want to be able to move deliberately towards higher rates.'"
This is a pretty common meme among the majority of economists as of late, and particularly surprising coming from the Atlanta Fed President considering:
- The U.S. is currently more than 6-years into an economic recovery (long by historic standards), and;
- The Atlanta Fed's own GDPNow forecast is pegging a near 0% growth rate for the first quarter.
But let's take a look at the decline in durable goods orders this week. Paul McCulley, the former legendary economist and fund manager at PIMCO, viewed durable goods a bit differently than the mainstream analysis generally given. He preferred the year-over-year trend of the 3-month moving average of core CAPEX orders as an indicator of broader economic activity over the next few quarters. If you are currently "bullish" on the direction of the US economy, you may want to take a closer look at the chart below.
Secondly, core CAPEX has been negative on a monthly basis for 6-consecutive months. Since 1992, there have only been 5-instances where core CAPEX orders have been negative for 4-or more consecutive months. The first three instances were leading indicators of future recessions. In 2012, there were 6-consecutive months of decline as the economy got very close to a recession but was saved by Central Bank interventions and the warmest winter in 65-year. The…
by ilene - March 27th, 2015 4:20 pm
Economy in U.S. Grew 2.2% in Fourth Quarter on Consumer Spending — The U.S. economy expanded at 2.2 percent annualized pace in the fourth quarter, led by the biggest gain in consumer spending in eight years.
A Physicist Is Building a Time Machine to Reconnect With His Dead Father — The hour is late.
His scientific papers were published years ago, filled with equations wrought by the energies of a younger man. But at 69, theoretical physicist Ron Mallett still goes to work every day to build a time machine based on his most elegant construct…
[Photo: American theoretical physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett pours dry ice into a ring laser at a laboratory at the University of Connecticut on March 23, 2015. Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg]
If getting trapped in a time warp doesn't scare you, how about pirates and bombs?
Add Bombs to Worries for Ships Dodging Pirates, Terror Off Yemen — When it comes to world trade, a 17-day shortcut trumps terror, piracy and now bombs.
The Complete Bull Vs. Bear Debate on Whether Biotech Is in a Bubble — Which side are you on?
The battle as to whether or not we are in a Biotech bubble is raging on, and Credit Suisse analyst Ravi Mehrotra is laying out his thoughts on what is going to drive the sector moving forward.
There has been much debate over whether we are in a Biotech bubble, especially since the Fed warned last year last the sector may be overstretched. Yet, these stocks are continuing to make new highs and are now up five years in a row, something that no other sector has ever done before.
by ilene - March 27th, 2015 4:20 pm
Courtesy of David Stockman
They were trying to put in a bottom—–again! The sell-off earlier this week amounted to the sixth sizeable “dip” since November 20—-so the market’s ingrained reflex was back at work all afternoon, trying to scoop up the “bargains”.
But the roundtrip to the flat-line shown below is not a classic “wall of worry” and its not a “bottom” that’s being put in. This market is dumber than a mule, and the nation’s central bank and its counterparts around the world have made it so.
The plain truth is that six years of torrential money printing and worldwide ZIRP have not happened with impunity. On the one hand, massive, sustained and universal financial repression caused an artificial growth and investment boom in much of the world, especially China and the EM, which has now run out of steam and is visibly and rapidly cooling.
There is probably no better proxy for the global investment boom than the spot price of iron ore because it captures China’s massive infrastructure construction spree and the waves of mining, shipbuilding, steel-making and construction materials spending that it set off all over the world. But this huge tidal wave has now crested, leaving behind the worst of both worlds——cooling demand and still expanding supply.
For the first time since around 1980, China’s steel consumption is projected to fall in 2015——with demand slumping from 830 million tons last year toward 800 million tons, and that is just the beginning as China’s credit-fueled construction frenzy finally comes to a halt. In fact, during the boom that took iron ore prices from a historic level of around $20-30 per ton to a peak of nearly $200 in 2011, China’s iron and steel capacity grew like topsy. Production capacity expanded from about 200 million tons at the turn of the century to upwards of 1.1 billion tons at present.
Yet this year’s decline of demand to around 800 million tons does not begin to reflect the coming adjustment. That’s because there is still a residual component of one-time demand in that number that is in no way sustainable. Even if the pace is slackening, the Chinese are still building high-rise apartments which will remain empty and airports, roads, rails and bridges that are hideously redundant.…