Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘bond yields’

• Debt/Bailout Bubbles May Burst. Brighter Future Beyond 2012!

Posted by Ron Robins on July 19, 2009

A stressed American consciousness focusing on material acquisition to the virtual exclusion of satisfying higher inner values has given rise to an unwieldy debt mountain. Now the U.S. government is borrowing and spending massively as it tries to pump-up the economy while backstopping much of the countries debt.

Consumers and companies have largely hit a ‘debt wall.’ And with a possible derivative meltdown and the recognition of enormous unfunded U.S. liabilities, we may see the U.S. government itself hit the debt wall in the not-so-distant future. The subsequent reaction would topple the debt mountain and pop the bailout bubble. But I believe a new higher consciousness will arise from these extraordinary events creating a truly enlightened economy mirroring our higher, inner human values.

Bailouts, guarantees, and write-offs galore
So far in this phase of the crisis the U.S. federal government and Federal Reserve have already guaranteed or spent around $13 trillion! And the current 2009 U.S. federal budget deficit will top $2 trillion, or about 14% of U.S. GDP. More stimulus packages are likely and massive deficits for years into the future are projected as it is unlikely that the economy will gain self-sustaining traction to stop unemployment from increasing. Economists such as 2008 Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and others in the Obama administration are already discussing the possibility of another huge stimulus package.

Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on April 21, 2009, estimated global financial system write-offs to exceed $4,100 billion. The write-offs to-date are not anywhere close to that figure therefore, enormous additional financial system losses are yet to come.

A two-phased crisis
I see two phases to the U.S. financial crises. Each alone is capable of bursting the bailout bubble. Phase 1, which we are currently in, involves the write-offs of bad mortgages, loans, deleveraging, extraordinary U.S. government and Federal Reserve guarantees and financing, and a potential derivative implosion. Any sudden interest rate hikes and/or currency movements could trigger an implosion in the $450 trillion (ISDA April 22 press release) derivatives market and cause further financial chaos.

To enable U.S. government bond sales, it is probable that the U.S. federal government will, if it is not doing so already, pressure the banks with whom it has ‘invested in,’ to purchase considerable amounts of its bonds. The banks in turn will get substantial loans from the Federal Reserve for these purchases. In essence this is back-door ‘monetization’ (read ‘quantitative easing’) of U.S. government debt. Monetization simply means the printing of new money by central banks to purchase assets, in this case, U.S. government bonds.

Of course the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and other central banks have already engaged or have announced significant monetization efforts. The central banks claim that they will be able to drain this liquidity (excess money) out of the system as their economies recover. Unfortunately, historical examples do not give much reassurance that this can be done, especially in a global trading environment and where the major countries have amassed such extraordinary levels of debt.

Deeply indebted governments and societies have the choice of trying to reduce their debt levels—which can produce a potentially deflationary recession/depression—or they can encourage central bank monetization efforts that offer a ‘chance’ to get the economy rolling and create sufficient inflation, thus lessening the relative debt load. However, once started hefty monetization efforts often prove impossible to contain, leading to uncontrollable inflation—and even hyper-inflation. Subsequently, interest rates soar, the countries currency plunges in value, its debt mountain topples, and bailout bubbles burst.

Adding to the impetus for monetization will be when Phase 2 of this crisis kicks-in in 2010 as the U.S. begins to face its looming, huge, unfunded liabilities for medicare and social security. These are estimated by Shadowstats at $65.5 trillion. To properly fund this liability would require the U.S. government to put aside trillions of dollars yearly. Clearly, the U.S. government has no possibility or desire to put aside such funds. In addition, the current proposals for health care reform may add considerably to these numbers.

Taken together, these two phases of economic crisis make it unlikely that the U.S. can escape its fate of the bursting of its debt and bail-out bubbles.

Beyond 2012 a brighter future
I believe the underlying collective consciousness of U.S. society is moving toward higher values, and the more balanced approach to consumption and savings is evidence of this. However, in the course of these changes the likelihood of the debt mountain toppling, the bailout bubble bursting, and the onset of high or hyperinflation are real possibilities. By the end of this process, sometime around 2012, the American collective consciousness will have sufficiently evolved to begin the path of developing a truly sustainable economy mirroring the values of an economics based on our higher inner human values and consciousness—and that path is the realm of Enlightened Economics.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

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• Interest Rate Manipulation and Loose Money Promote Economic Collapse

Posted by Ron Robins on April 6, 2009

Few people would compare downward central bank interest rate manipulation and loose money policies to Soviet style command economics. But I do. And I suggest that if these policies continue for much longer, it could lead to an economic collapse, something approaching that of the Soviet Union’s in the late 1980s. Consider the outcomes for the United States of excessively low interest rates and loose monetary policies in recent years fostered by the U.S. Federal Reserve:

  • A real estate boom and bust, with massive over-building.
  • Discouragement of savings which fell to all-time lows relative to incomes.
  • The taking of inordinate financial risks.
  • The creation of excessive debt, particularly by consumers.
  • The expansion of total debt far faster than either GDP or income.

Furthermore, the Japanese experience with many years of zero-based interest rates and easy money has enormously compounded its economic problems. Here is the situation in Japan today:

  • Japan cannot raise interest rates in any meaningful way due to its gargantuan public debt. To do so could bankrupt the nation. The country is trapped into lower rates.
  • Until recently, Japan had become the financier of ultra cheap plentiful loans that artificially boosted global asset prices. The so-called ‘yen carry-trade’, and, its recent collapse has helped crush global asset values.
  • Zero-based rates combined with major monetary expansion smashed down Japan’s exchange rate, making imports expensive and discouraged balanced domestic consumption.
  • A ‘cheap’ Yen gave Japanese exporters an unfair trade advantage relative to other developed economies, particularly that of the United States.
  • Japan has failed to pull itself out of an almost twenty-year slump.
  • Japan has produced a situation of significantly diminished resources to fight its present downturn, not only due to the enormity of its government debt, but also because of deteriorating savings in recent years and lack of domestic consumer demand.

With central bank rates of zero per cent proving inadequate to get individuals and companies borrowing, and banks lending again, governments now seek to lower their bond yields. Thereby rates for mortgages, auto loans, consumer loans, etc., are also manipulated down, hoping to kick-start consumption. Hence, the U.S., Japanese, British and other central banks are engaged in a massive ‘printing money’ exercise to buy huge quantities of their respective governments’ bonds in an effort to lower their bond yields and create the easy money. Such policies usually have the following outcomes:

  • If successful, debt levels go from really bad to extremely bad!
  • Short-term artificial demand stimuli distort longer term supply/demand relationships. Look what has happened to the American auto industry arising from zero-cost financing a few years ago. It appears that much of the increased sales was at the expense of future consumption and has helped shape the horrendous situation for the industry today.
  • Financial and economic imbalances mount, producing an ever more unstable economic environment. As Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote on March 10, 2009 in the Financial Times, “Policies are being framed with an aim towards recreating the boom. Washington wants to get credit flowing again to indebted US consumers… It is a recipe for disaster.”

Economies with excessively loose monetary policies and who force interest rates to ultra low levels for extended periods of time eventually succumb to a massive top-heavy debt structure which at some point ‘topples over.’ These countries then suffer either a deflationary debt implosion/depression in which much of the debt is liquidated, or the country’s central bank instigates a huge inflationary push to reduce the value of all credit market debt in the country by vastly increasing the amount of currency and the expansion of its money supply.

A big inflationary push frequently leads to a lack of confidence in the country’s currency and hence the possibility of ‘hyper-inflation’ occurring as everyone unloads the country’s currency for real goods or other currencies. Argentina earlier this decade and Zimbabwe recently, are examples of central bank sponsored inflation that led to no confidence in their currencies, resulting in hyper-inflation. The inflationary approach is what appears to be favoured by the American, Japanese and British central banks.

From an Enlightened Economics perspective, the actions of manipulating down interest rates and the over printing of money by central banks fall under a terrible fallacy: the belief that we can resolve our short-term economic problems by going more into debt and not concern ourselves with the long-term consequences. A global consciousness has to arise which understands that manipulating markets, most especially interest rates and money supply, leads to highly unstable economies which in time either implode or explode!

Sometime in the next few years we will again learn history’s lesson concerning long periods of ultra-low interest rates and loose money. And the lesson is that by artificially enforcing such policies for extended periods of time leads to an inevitably unwieldy mammoth debt structure that eventually crushes the economy. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it is comparable in my view to that of the Soviet command economy which finally imploded after trying for decades to make it work.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

Posted in Banking, Monetary Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• The US Consumer Price Index: Let’s Have An Enlightened Approach!

Posted by Ron Robins on December 13, 2007

Update December 14, 2007

Media relentlessly publish the latest government statistics, and markets react to them, sometimes violently. Often your paycheque, government support payments and investment income are significantly influenced by them. But are they valid? Some astute economists and statisticians conclude there is obfuscation of these statistics, and subsequent misrepresentation of them in the media – who usually have neither the time nor expertise to examine them. Take the US ‘consumer price index’ or CPI. These authoritative observers note that the current US CPI incorporates numerous and continuous changes in components and weightings of components within the index, rendering it a mostly theoretical exercise based on highly questionable hypotheses.

According to John Williams (a private New Jersey consulting economist who has specialized in government statistics for several decades), the “Cost of living was being replaced by the cost of survival. The old system told you how much you had to increase your income in order to keep buying steak. The new system promised you hamburger, and then dog food, perhaps, after that.” (The old system, Mr. Williams says, existed prior to the Clinton Administration.)

On his website at http://www.shadowstats.com/cgi-bin/sgs/article/id=343, Mr. Williams states that, “Inflation, as reported by the [US] Consumer Price Index (CPI) is understated by roughly 2.7% per year… due to recent redefinitions of the series as well as to flawed methodologies, particularly adjustments to price measures for quality changes.”

Mr. Williams discusses how the government statisticians include a concept called ‘hedonics’ to adjust values in the index. He states, “Hedonics adjusts the prices of goods for the increased pleasure the consumer derives from them. That new washing machine you bought did not cost you 20% more than it would have cost you last year, because you got an offsetting 20% increase in the pleasure you derive from pushing its new electronic control buttons instead of turning that old noisy dial, according to the BLS [US Bureau of Labor Statistics].”

Williams continues, “When gasoline rises 10 cents per gallon because of a federally mandated gasoline additive, the increased gasoline cost does not contribute to inflation. Instead, the 10 cents is eliminated from the CPI because of the offsetting hedonic thrills the consumer gets from breathing cleaner air. The same principle applies to federally mandated safety features in automobiles. I have not attempted to quantify the effects of questionable quality adjustments to the CPI, but they are substantial.”

The way US housing costs are included is another oddity, keeping that component — at 32% of the CPI — low. Despite two-thirds of the US population living in their own homes, the statisticians use theorized ‘imputed’ home rents as the basis for the housing statistic! Of course rents have been virtually stagnant for years — even going down in many cities due to overbuilding — while home purchase prices, insurance and local taxes, etc., have been going through the roof!

For those Americans dependent on CPI adjustments to their welfare, social security or other government payments, they have had their payments massively depressed. Williams says that US government welfare and social security payments are now 70% lower than what they would have been had the old 1970s style CPI been used with its fixed basket of goods.

Another astute statistician, Jim Willie, elaborates further on this point. In Domino Distortions from Inflation, an article on his website at http://www.goldenjackass.com/jwarticles.html, he comments, “In my view, the [US] CPI has become little more than a measure intended to exploit the trend of falling imported finished product prices, in order to keep cost of living raises down in US Government pensions of various types…The CPI is kept low by ignoring numerous rising prices, such as property taxes, town usage fees (water, sewer, sanitation), professional services (doctor, dental, lawyer), home services (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, roofing), college tuition, restaurant meals, sports club fees, and more.”

The US CPI affects not only Americans, but consumers and investors everywhere. US domestic and global interest rates, bond yields, and returns from many other investments — all are significantly influenced by it.

It is worth remembering that the BLS is headed by a political appointee, who just may have certain biases towards statistical methodologies that most please the government — as well as to what gets out to the media.

Reviewing the December 2007 charts on Mr. Williams’ website, we can easily see the startling differences in outcomes with the varying CPI methodologies used over the past thirty years. Using the CPI methodology as it was in 1980 shows inflation today rising +12% year-over-year; employing the CPI methodology as of 1990 shows inflation higher now by +7.5%. However, today’s BLS press release has their CPI-U (urban dwellers) gaining just +4.3% over the past year!

Is the current US government reported CPI presented to play down inflation, to artificially reduce interest rates, social secuurity payments, and government payouts dependent on CPI indexing? I believe so. And it is simply unethical. As the public begins to see through these deceptions, an enlightened economics can begin to truly flourish!

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© Ron Robins, 2007.

Posted in Statistics, Unethical Statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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