by ilene - January 13th, 2011 3:33 am
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
Conventional wisdom is that the Fed wants the U.S. dollar lower, so it must drop. But the dollar seems to be lacking proper obedience to the Fed’s grand commands.
Before you shout that all fiat currencies go to zero, let’s stipulate that the U.S. dollar has already proceeded 95% of the way to zero. According to the handy BLS inflation calculator, the 2010 dollar is roughly worth 4.5 cents of the 1913 dollar. Put another way, it now takes $22.10 to buy what $1 purchased in 1913.
(Interesting that the BLS inflation calculator only goes back to the birth of the Federal Reserve….)
So a 50% rise in the dollar would register as a mere blip on a 100-year chart. I mention this to put a 50% rise in perspective. It will seem like a large move in the present, but on a longer timeline it wouldn’t be that big a deal.
How could the dollar rise when the Treasury and Fed are moving Heaven and Earth to drive it down? Let’s turn to the Fed Flow of Funds for some perspective: what happened from 2007 (pre-recession) to the present?
Household Real Estate Assets: $22.7 trillion to $16.5 trillion: -$6.2 trillion
Corporate Equities: $9.6 trillion to $7.8 trillion: -$1.8 trillion
Mortgage debt: $10.53 trillion to $10.12 trillion: -$ .41 trillion
Household/non-profit Net Worth: $64.2 trillion to $54.9 trillion: -$9.3 trillion
And this is after a tremendous run-up in both bonds and stocks since early 2009. Add in whatever estimates of commercial real estate losses you reckon are semi-accurate and other impaired enterprise assets currently valued at "historical cost," i.e. marked to fantasy, and you get a number well north of $12 trillion even at conservative estimates.
The Fed has fought off this mass devaluation of assets by expanding its balance sheet by $2 trillion. First it sought to stem the collapse of the housing market by buying $1.2 trillion in impaired mortgage backed securities (taking garbage off the banks’ balance sheets) and now it is trying to suppress interest rates by buying $1 trillion in Treasury bonds (recall that QE1 already loaded the boat with T-Bills, so QE2 is simply adding another $600 billion to an already heavy cargo.)
by ilene - January 2nd, 2011 8:18 am
Here’s the latest Stock World Weekly Newsletter, New Year’s Edition.
Feedback welcome — please leave comments, we value your input. - Ilene
Picture credit: William Banzai7
For Stock World Weekly archives, click here.
by ilene - December 28th, 2010 10:09 pm
Charles Hugh Smith agrees with us on the wisdom of cash: One Investment Strategy for Q1 2011: Cash, Baby, All the Way - Ilene
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith
In response to readers’ requests, I disclose my own amateur’s Investment Strategy for Q1 2011: cash is king, and the U.S. dollar looks good simply because almost everyone expects it to collapse.
Despite my oft-avowed amateur-market-observer status, readers often ask me for advice or opinions on where to put their capital. This is not advice (please read the HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER below), it is a disclosure of my own personal opinion, what we might call "one investment strategy of many possible investment strategies" for the first quarter of 2011: cash, baby, cash all the way.
Why am I in cash? Because I don’t trust the parallel rallies, and I am extremely skeptical of the various "stories" which are driving the rallies. Why am I skeptical? Because everybody and their sister has bought into the stories, and a one-sided trade is rarely the winning one.
Yes, it’s my contrarian nature: when everyone is a believer in a "story" that is too good to be true, then I become skeptical. This often gets me in trouble. When everyone was buying GM at $50, I was shorting it. When everyone was buying Fannie Mae at $60, I was shorting it (via puts). Both GM and FNM were obviously, painfully insolvent, but it took practically forever for reality to intrude on the fantasy/narrative that each firm was a "solid blue chip" investment with numerous analyst recommendations. In the meantime, I lost money treading water for quarter after quarter.
So even though the market is clearly top-heavy, the short-side trade may yet be ground down by the Fed’s prop-job and the Wall Street/Central State partnership’s desperate desire to use a rising stock market as a propaganda proxy for the "recovery."
(Hey, just borrow and squander roughly 13% of GDP, year after year after year (roughly 45% of the entire Federal budget), and you might stimulate a modest "recovery," too.)
So let’s examine each of the "stories" driving the rallies.
1. The global recovery is solid, and Central State stimulus and quantitative easing will keep growth rising and interest rates low. This narrative drives capital into "risk assets," i.e. stock markets, commodities, FX carry trades, Chinese real estate, junk bonds, etc.
by ilene - December 15th, 2010 2:34 pm
This is a thoughtful analysis by Mike Whitney showing what a financial mess we’re in – the proverbial rock and a hard place scenario. – Ilene
Courtesy of MIKE WHITNEY, originally published at CounterPunch and Global Research
Paul Volcker is worried about the future of the dollar and for good reason. The Fed has initiated a program (Quantitative Easing) that presages an end to Bretton Woods 2 and replaces it with different system altogether. Naturally, that’s made trading partners pretty nervous. Despite the unfairness of the present system--where export-dependent countries recycle capital to US markets to sustain demand—most nations would rather stick with the "devil they know", then venture into the unknown. But US allies weren’t consulted on the matter. The Fed unilaterally decided that the only way to fight deflation and high unemployment in the US, was by weakening the dollar and making US exports more competitive. Hence QE2.
But that means that the US will be battling for the same export market as everyone else, which will inevitably shrink global demand for goods and services. This is a major change in the Fed’s policy and there’s a good chance it will backfire. Here’s the deal: If US markets no longer provide sufficient demand for foreign exports, then there will be less incentive to trade in dollars. Thus, QE poses a real threat to the dollar’s position as the world’s reserve currency.
Here’s what Volcker said: “The growing sense around much of the world is that we have lost both relative economic strength and more important, we have lost a coherent successful governing model to be emulated by the rest of the world. Instead, we’re faced with broken financial markets, underperformance of our economy and a fractious political climate…..The question is whether the exceptional role of the dollar can be maintained."
This is a good summary of the problems facing the dollar. Notice that Volcker did not invoke the doomsday scenario that one hears so often on the Internet, that China, which has more than $1 trillion in US Treasuries and dollar-backed assets, will one day pull the plug on the USA and send the dollar plunging. While that’s technically possible, it’s not going to happen. China has no intention of crashing the dollar and thrusting its own economy into a long-term slump. In fact, China has…
by ilene - December 3rd, 2010 3:31 pm
Courtesy of Bondsquawk
The November employment report came in weaker than expected with a 39k gain in payrolls after an upward-revised 172k increase in October. Private hiring increased 50k after a 160k gain, the weakest reading since the spring although it would appear there are some seasonal adjustment issues as retail hiring rose 13k in October and dropped 28k in November. The October reading appears to have been firmer than the underlying trend while the November reading is likely below trend, smoothing through this the 3-month average of private hiring slowed to 107k from 138k but has been tracking just above 100k since August. The report also highlights some of the seasonal adjustment problems that have led to a downtrend in initial jobless claims. These difficulties have meant that claims have been providing unreliable signals throughout this year. The household survey has been considerably weaker than the payroll survey showing a loss of 173k jobs in November after a 330k loss in October. With labor force participation steady at 64.5% the job loss in the household survey led the unemployment rate to jump to 9.8% from 9.6%, the highest since April highlighting the underlying slack in the economy that motivated the Fed to initiate QE2. The U6 unemployment rate held steady at 17.0%. Average hourly earnings were flat leading the annual pace to slow to 1.6% from 1.7% and aggregate hours worked ticked up 0.1% after a 0.4% gain suggesting slower gains in wage and salary income. The report highlights the headwinds facing the US economy as the boost from inventories fades and other sectors are slow to pick up the slack.
Courtesy: BNP Paribas
20 Statistics That Prove That Global Wealth Is Being Funneled Into The Hands Of The Elite – Leaving Most Of The Rest Of The World Wretchedly Poor
by ilene - November 30th, 2010 10:07 am
Michael Snyder provides "20 Statistics That Prove That Global Wealth Is Being Funneled Into The Hands Of The Elite – Leaving Most Of The Rest Of The World Wretchedly Poor." He argues that what we have now is a world dominated by a small group of ultra-wealthy elitists. The larger group of "middle managers" do their bidding and are paid well for it. Then we have workers, a larger group, but by far the largest group is the several billions of "useless eaters." - Ilene
Courtesy of Michael Snyder at Economic Collapse
Today global wealth is more highly concentrated in the hands of the elite than it ever has been at any other point in modern history. Once upon a time, the vast majority of the people in the world knew how to grow their own food, raise their own animals and take care of themselves. There weren’t many that were fabulously wealthy, but there was a quiet dignity in having land you could call your own or in having a skill that you could turn into a business. Sadly, over the past several decades an increasingly growing percentage of agricultural land has been gobbled up by big corporations and by corrupt governments. Hundreds of millions of people have been pushed off their land and into highly concentrated urban areas.
Meanwhile, it has become increasingly difficult to start a business of your own as monolithic global corporations have come to dominate nearly every sector of the world economy. So more people than ever around the world are forced to work for "the system" just to make a living. At the same time, those at the very top of the food chain (the elite) have spent decades rigging the system to ensure that increasing amounts of wealth will continue to flow into their pockets. So now in 2010 we have a global system where a few elitists at the top are insanely wealthy while about half the people living on earth are wretchedly poor.
There are very few nations around the world that have not been almost entirely plundered by the global elite. When the elite speak of "investing" in poor countries, what they really mean is taking control of the land, water, oil and other natural resources. In dozens of nations around the world today, big global corporations are stripping fabulous amounts of wealth out of the…
by ilene - November 24th, 2010 9:46 am
Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds discusses "The Key to Understanding "Recession" and "Recovery": The Wealth Pyramid."
The top 20% are prospering and spending money; the bottom 80% are not, but thanks to vast wealth disparity, the top slice of households can keep consumer spending aloft. This provides an illusion of "recovery" that masks the insecurity and decline of the bottom 80%.
There is statistical and anecdotal evidence supporting both a "we never left recession" and "the economy is recovering" interpretation. The key to making sense of the conflicting data is to understand that there are Two Americas.
Roughly speaking, we can divide the U.S. economy into "Wall Street"--the financialized part of the economy which encompasses the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) economy and its bloated partner in predation, the Federal government--and "Main Street," the looted, overtaxed remainder of the "real economy" which isn’t a Federally supported corporate cartel (i.e. the military-industrial sector, the "healthcare"/sickcare sector, Big Agribusiness, etc.)
Main Street is small business, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, small property owners (independent motels, vineyards, truck farms, etc.) and local service providers (dentists, accountants, etc.). This class of small business and their employees is in decline: Few Businesses Sprout, With Even Fewer Jobs (WSJ.com)
Needless to say, the Federal/financialized/corporate cartel tranch of the economy is doing very, very well, thank you. The number of Federal employees pulling down $150,000 annually is skyrocketing, hundreds of billions in revenues slosh into National Security and sickcare cartels, and Wall Street bonuses are in the tens of billions.
A thin, overhyped tranch of the tech economy is also doing well--Google employees just got a 10% raise, for example--but this overhyped tranch includes a razor-thin share of the 130 million person U.S. workforce. Google’s global workforce is about 23,000, Twitter has a staff of roughly 300 and Facebook employs about 1,500 people.
There are two Americas in terms of wealth and income: In terms of income, the top 10% earn about half the total income, and in wealth, the top 5% own roughly 70% of all financial wealth.
I have prepared a Wealth and Income Pyramid of the U.S. to illustrate this reality. Notice that the "middle class" is mostly a…
Ireland’s “String and Sealing-Wax Fix”; Irish PM Loses Confidence of Own Party; European Sovereign Default Risk Hits All Time High
by ilene - November 23rd, 2010 4:53 pm
Courtesy of Mish
News in Europe regarding Ireland, Spain, and Portugal is ominous. Credit Default Swaps (CDS) are soaring in Spain and Portugal. European sovereign risk jumped to an all-time high.
Lloyds TSB says "Ireland’s debt woes may spread because investors have lost confidence in policy makers".
Members of his own party are calling on Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen to resign.
The quote of the day goes to Bill Blain, a strategist at Matrix Corporate Capital LLP in London who said "“Bailouts are nothing but a short-term string-and-sealing-wax fix”.
With that let’s take a look at some specific news.
Zero Confidence in Irish Solution
Lloyds says Ireland’s Woes May Spread on ‘Zero Confidence’
“The markets currently have virtually zero confidence that the bailout in Ireland will solve the European crisis even though fiscal austerity measures in both Portugal and Spain have been severe and prima facie, sufficient to ease market concerns,” Charles Diebel and David Page, fixed-income strategists in London, wrote in an investor note today.
“With markets effectively in a position to dictate policy, the risk is that the credibility crisis shifts to more sizeable European Union countries and thereby poses a greater risk to the system as a whole,” they wrote. That may also raise “valid questions about the prescriptive policy measures being sufficient to deal with issues of such magnitude.”
Credit Default Swaps Soar in Spain, Portugal
In spite of the Irish bailout, Spain, Portugal Bank Debt Risk Soars as Traders Look South
The cost of insuring Spanish and Portuguese subordinated bank bonds soared as traders of credit-default swaps turned their focus to southern Europe following Ireland’s bailout.
Swaps on Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA rose to a record while contracts on Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s second-biggest lender, climbed to the highest in more than five months. The benchmark gauge of European sovereign risk also jumped to an all-time high, while two indexes tied to bank debt surged the most since June.
Ireland’s rescue “achieves completely the opposite of what it allegedly tries to achieve, namely to calm markets,” Tim Brunne, at UniCredit SpA said in a report.
“Instead, the credit profile of both the sovereign and the impaired financial institutions has been weakened,” the Munich-based strategist wrote.
by ilene - November 23rd, 2010 2:44 am
Courtesy of Ellen Brown
The deficit hawks are circling, hovering over QE2, calling it just another inflationary bank bailout. But unlike QE1, QE2 is not about saving the banks. It’s about funding the federal deficit without increasing the interest tab, something that may be necessary in this gridlocked political climate just to keep the government functioning.
On November 15, the Wall Street Journal published an open letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke from 23 noted economists, professors and fund managers, urging him to abandon his new “quantitative easing” policy called QE2. The letter said:
We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called “quantitative easing”) should be reconsidered and discontinued. . . . The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.
The Pragmatic Capitalist (Cullen Roche) remarked:
Many of the people on this list have been warning about bond vigilantes while also comparing the USA to Greece for several years now. Of course, they’ve been terribly wrong and it is entirely due to the fact that they do not understand how the US monetary system works. . . . What’s unfortunate is that these are many of our best minds. These are the people driving the economic bus.
The deficit hawks say QE is massively inflationary; that it is responsible for soaring commodity prices here and abroad; that QE2 won’t work any better than an earlier scheme called QE1, which was less about stimulating the economy than about saving the banks; and that QE has caused the devaluation of the dollar, which is hurting foreign currencies and driving up prices abroad.
None of these contentions is true, as will be shown. They arise from a failure either to understand modern monetary mechanics (see links at The Pragmatic Capitalist and here) or to understand QE2, which is a different animal from QE1. QE2 is not about saving the banks, or devaluing the dollar, or saving the housing market. It is about saving the government from having to raise taxes or cut programs, and saving Americans from the austerity measures crippling the Irish and the Greeks; and for that, it…
by ilene - November 18th, 2010 10:50 am
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
The Federal Reserve is an example not just of run-of-the-mill hubris but of the far more profound Pathology of Power.
The rule of law has been supplanted in the U.S. by self-serving propaganda campaigns serving State and financial Elites: this is the Pathology of Power. The Federal Reserve is an instructive example because it is so blatant.
Despite the dearth of evidence that goosing the stock market actually generates a "wealth effect" which "trickles down" from the top 10% who own the vast majority of equities to the bottom 90%, the Fed has waged a ceaseless propaganda campaign claiming this policy goal is now essential for the nation’s well-being.
As Ben Bernanke recently made clear: "Higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending (that) will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion."
No mention of its positive effect on Wall Street; cui bono (to whose benefit?) indeed. To better understand the pathology of power, we should turn first to Pathology Of Power by Norman Cousins, published in 1988.
Cousins was particularly concerned with the National Security State, a.k.a. the military-industrial complex, which at that point in U.S. history was engaged in a Cold War with the mighty Soviet Empire.
In a classic case of structural decay and destabilization (including failed coups), the Soviet Empire dissolved in December 1991. Nonetheless, Cousins’ description of the pathology of power is an uncannily accurate account of the Fed and all the Central State fiefdoms.
"Connected to the tendency of power to corrupt are yet other tendencies that emerge from the pages of the historians:
1. The tendency of power to drive intelligence underground;
2. The tendency of power to become a theology, admitting no other gods before it;
3. The tendency of power to distort and damage the traditions and institutions it was designed to protect;
4. The tendency of power to create a language of its own, making other forms of communication incoherent and irrelevant;
5. The tendency of power to set the stage for its own use.