Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘deflationary’

• Severe Debt Scarcity Coming to US

Posted by Ron Robins on December 30, 2010

By Ron Robins. First published December 26, 2010, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

If US consumers believe it difficult to borrow now, just wait! In the next few years credit conditions are likely to go back seventy years when private debt was difficult to obtain. Most Americans intuitively believe there is too much debt at every level of society. But the economic and political vested interests do not want them worried about that. They want to give them credit to infinity to keep this economic mess from imploding. The US Federal Reserve’s new round of quantitative easing (QE2) is clear evidence of that. However, Americans are right about their inordinate debt load, and future economic conditions are likely to create a severe debt scarcity.

The principal reasons for the coming debt scarcity are that ‘debt saturation’—where total income cannot support total debt—has arrived, say some analysts; also, the growing understanding that adding new debt may not increase GDP—it could decrease it; and that the banks and financial system are a train wreck in waiting, eventually being forced to mark their assets to market, thus creating for them massive asset write-downs and strangling their lending ability.

The realization that debt saturation has arrived will not surprise many people. But understanding that new debt can decrease economic activity might surprise them. And the numbers illustrate this possibility. In Nathan’s Economic Edge, Nathan states, “in the third quarter of 2009 each dollar of debt added produced NEGATIVE 15 cents of productivity, and at the end of 2009, each dollar of new debt now SUBTRACTS 45 cents from GDP!”

In fact Nathan also shows that for decades, each new dollar of debt produces less and less in return, from a return of close to $0.90 in the mid 1960s to about $0.20 by 2007. One explanation for this is that as societal debt increased it focused disproportionately on consumption rather than productive enterprise, whose return appears greater.

On the subject of consumption, the renowned economist David Rosenberg in The Globe & Mail on August 16 stated that “U.S. household debt-income ratio peaked in the first quarter of 2008 at 136 per cent. The ratio currently sits at 126 per cent, but the pre-2001 norm was 70 per cent. To get down to this normalized ratio again, debt would have to be reduced by about $6-trillion. So far, nearly $600-billion of bad household debt has been destroyed.” This data reaffirms Americans growing aversion to debt, that debt has become too onerous, and is suggestive of debt saturation.

Replacing declining consumer debt is the exponential growth of US government debt. For 2009 and 2010, the combined US government’s fiscal deficits required or require borrowing an extra $2.7 trillion or so. Yet with all that spending—combined with about $2 trillion of ‘money printing’ from the US Federal Reserve (the Fed)—it created only around $1 trillion in increased economic growth!

One may argue that the phenomenal US government borrowings will provide returns far into the future and that the present low economic returns are due to not funding areas with potentially better returns. Some economists say that spending on infrastructure and education provides the best returns. However, with economists such as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and numerous others predicting huge continuing deficits for years ahead, and with a Japan-like slump in economic activity, the odds are likely that any new borrowed dollar will continue to provide only poor returns for years to come.

A further, major reason for the coming debt scarcity will be the tremendously impaired financial condition of the banks. The values assigned to many bank assets are fictional according to numerous experts. QE2 is about many things but one of them is aimed at delaying the potential for implosion of the banking system. In 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) caved in to government and banking industry lobbyists to allow many bank assets to be ‘marked to fantasy’ and not ‘marked to market.’

This viewpoint is best expressed by highly respected Associate Professor William Black (and formerly a senior regulator who nailed the banks during the savings and loan debacle) and Professor L. Randall Wray, who wrote an article on October 22 in The Huffington Post, entitled, “Foreclose on the Foreclosure Fraudsters, Part 1: Put Bank of America in Receivership.” They wrote that, “FASB’s new rules allowed the banks (and the Fed, which has taken over a trillion dollars in toxic mortgages as wholly inadequate collateral) to refuse to recognize hundreds of billions of dollars of losses. This accounting scam produces enormous fictional ‘income’ and ‘capital’ at the banks.”

However, the Federal Reserve may be realizing that it might not have been such a good idea to buy some of these ‘toxic’ securities. Bloomberg reported on October 19 that, “citing alleged failures by Countrywide to service loans properly… Pacific Investment Management Co., BlackRock Inc. and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are seeking to force Bank of America Corp. to repurchase soured mortgages packaged into $47 billion of bonds by its Countrywide Financial Corp. unit, people familiar with the matter said.”

Also, on November 2, CNBC reported that Citigroup could be liable for huge amounts of toxic security buy-backs as well. “If all four mortgage acquisition channels turn out to be equally as defective… Citi’s liability for repurchases could soar to about $100 billion dollars at a 60 per cent defect rate – and to around $133 billion dollars at an 80 per cent defect rate.”

Clearly, such numbers are staggering. These, as well as many other banks and financial entities, could collapse. Politically, in the present circumstances, it would be difficult for the US government to provide massive new funds to support the financial system. Therefore, it will be up to the Fed to decide what to do.

If the Fed prints ever increasing amounts of new money to try to moderate the financial collapse, hyperinflation could be the result. If it does not print massive amounts of new money, a deflationary depression could be born.

In high inflationary or hyperinflationary conditions, few will want to lend as they get paid back in dollars that are declining very rapidly in value. In a deflationary episode, lending is reduced due to huge loan losses. Therefore, during either, and/or after such events, debt scarcity will be in full force.

Data indicates that American consumers do not want to increase their debt. Debt saturation is occurring, and with it a declining return on each borrowed dollar—even for the US government. Most significantly, the banks and the financial system will probably soon experience a new round of massive real estate related losses and subsequent financial institutions’ bankruptcies. Thus, a new major financial crisis will likely soon engulf America, greatly impairing its lending facilities and creating a severe scarcity of debt.

Copyright alrroya.com

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• Gold Lust Re-Emerges

Posted by Ron Robins on December 9, 2010

By Ron Robins. First published May 22, 2010, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

Why the emerging lust for gold? Concerns of excessive debt and potential inflation are mostly influencing gold’s rise. But other factors are in play too. These include ancient and new cultural and spiritual attitudes towards the metal, as well as apparently failing manipulation schemes.

Cultural and spiritual reasons for gold’s rise
In China, which is fast becoming the world’s largest gold market, gold historically and culturally stands for good luck. The very symbol of Chinese culture, the golden dragon, represents happiness, procreation, and immortality. In India, which likely still has the world’s biggest private hoards of gold, the Vedic tradition associates the metal with purity of life, immortality, truth, magnificence—and has long been revered as money and the store of wealth. In ancient Persia, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East, gold is often referred to in divine terms and considered the only true money.

In recent years, a possibly rapidly growing (though of unknown magnitude) new source of gold buying has arisen. Respected sociologist Paul Ray has identified a group he labels ‘Cultural Creatives’ (CCs). These CCs form the backbone of most New Age movements and other spiritual groups, many of whom buy gold for purported spiritual benefits. According to Dr. Ray, CCs probably number around 25-30 per cent of adults in most developed countries and are likely to form majorities in those countries in the next ten to twenty years.

Alleged failing gold market manipulation increases gold price
A major factor influencing the gold market is alleged gold market manipulation. Gold market manipulation has existed since the earliest of times. Its deep cultural and historical significance has been the bane of kings, emperors and modern day central bankers. Monetary systems based on gold tended to be restrictive, therefore inhibiting the ability of kings and governments to finance wars, etc. By contrast, paper (fiat) currency systems are able to create credit and debt at will, hence all modern societies have chosen paper-based currencies and attempted to reduce and suppress the role of gold.

The attempt to control the role of gold in the modern world has, according to the Gold Anti Trust Action Committee (GATA), been onerous. GATA claims the U.S. Treasury, The Federal Reserve and other governments and central banks have collaborated to suppress its price. GATA has extraordinary documentary evidence of this. One instance of how gold suppression has been working is a quote from the former head of the U.S. Federal reserve, Alan Greenspan. In testimony to the Committee on Banking and Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives, on July 24, 1998, he said that “… central banks stand ready to lease gold in increasing quantities should the price rise.” Evidence by James Turk, Dimitri Speck, Eric deCarbonnel, and others suggests that they have done that and more over the past decade.

Also, backing up GATA’s claim, Michael Gray wrote in the New York Post, May 9, 2010, ”Federal agents have launched parallel criminal and civil probes of JPMorgan Chase and its trading activity in the precious metals market.” JPMorgan Chase has very close ties with the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve. Considering the fact that a major New York daily has published this story, it has received remarkably little attention. Why the media silence? I believe it exhibits an ingrained cultural bias to keep a lid on gold suppression so as to minimize the increasing loss of confidence in major currencies.

However, as is obvious from the rising gold price, if price suppression had been working it does not seem to be functioning too well at present. Central banks may have lost too much gold in loaning and selling into the gold markets to keep its price down. Also, they are now realizing it may well be the best asset to hold. Incidentally, nobody knows for sure how much gold the U.S. government has as the last public audit of its gold reserves was in 1971.

Gold as currency
In the time of the Prophet Muhammad the gold dinar was the currency of exchange. In Europe, the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Dutch, Spanish and British, all found gold to be the ideal currency. As a currency, gold has the advantage of having a value in and of itself. It is also durable, divisible, convenient, relatively rare, and cannot be ‘manufactured.’

In recent years, the Gulf Cooperation Council proposed a common currency, which some key supporters want backed by gold. Throughout the Muslim world a cultural monetary renaissance is occurring as a return to the ancient gold dinar as a principle form of currency is debated. The Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi’s top hotel, has even introduced an ATM offering gold bars. Internationally, the proposed revised Special Drawing Rights of the International Monetary Fund may also have a commodity component that includes gold.

The re-emergence of gold as the alternative currency is gaining momentum. This appears to be not only because of the current monetary debacle affecting paper currencies, but also due to purchasing of the metal by those re-discovering its cultural underpinnings, by those valuing its purported spiritual properties, and the increasing failure of central banks in suppressing its price. As the lust for gold gains momentum, it again reveals itself as the ancient metal of kings.

Copyright alrroya.com

Posted in Finance & Investing, Gold & Precious Metals, Monetary Policy, Personal Finance | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• The Allure of Gold: Now and through the Ages

Posted by Ron Robins on February 10, 2010

While respected sociologist Dr. Paul Ray reveals the rise of higher consciousness in society today, we also note the rise of something else unparalleled in our modern epoch: the declining confidence in developed countries’ paper currencies. This is clearly evidenced by that eternal barometer of currency health—gold.

Having seen gold’s U.S. dollar price rise four-fold over the past decade and with substantial gains in all currencies (while outperforming every other major asset class), gold is resuming its historical monetary role.

Why is this happening? Mainly because of our gradual realization of what I call the Really Bad Three ‘Ds’ of the developed world:

1) Debt (The Global Debt Bomb, Forbes);

2) Derivatives (… the new ‘ticking bomb,’ Marketwatch); and,

3) Demographics (The 81% Tax Increase, by Bruce Bartlett, and Global Ageing Population–Financial and Economic Crisis Brewing, by Niels Jensen.

Also supporting gold’s ascent and paralleling Dr. Ray’s thesis of a rising higher consciousness globally, is the increasing appreciation of gold’s age old and alluring spiritual, cultural, and healing qualities.

Gold through the ages
Gold has enthralled people from time immemorial. In ancient Egypt, Egyptians ingested gold for spiritual, mental, and bodily purification. In India’s Vedic tradition gold is associated with the sun, light, fire, purity, life, immortality, truth, splendour—and long revered as money and wealth. In China, traditionally gold is owned for good luck. The golden dragon, the symbol of Chinese culture, stands for happiness, procreation, and immortality.

In Europe, the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Dutch, Spanish and British, all found gold to be the ideal currency. Gold has historically been chosen as currency due to it being “durable, divisible, consistent, convenient, and have value in and of itself.”

In our modern era New Agers call gold “the Master Healer’… Gold symbolizes the purity of spirit and they attribute the power of cell regeneration, energy conductivity, communication transmission and energy purification to the metal… In the world of spiritual healing, gold has the emotional power to ease tension, feelings of inferiority, and anger as well as encouraging the realization of one’s potential and bringing comfort.” (From: jewellerysupplier.com)

Growing practical uses of gold today
Gold also has new and rapidly growing practical applications. It is used in electronics and computers as an extraordinary natural conductor of electricity which will not rust or degrade. In medicine, it is used to treat arthritis, and gold nanoparticles are central in much of biological research. In aerospace, NASA uses gold in a film to reflect infrared radiation and as a lubricant for mechanical devices operating in space.

Gold alloys are utilized in dentistry for fillings, crowns, bridges, and orthodontic appliances. Dentists find gold easy to work with, nonallergenic, and chemically inert. (See geology.com)

Perhaps the oldest and best known use of gold is for jewellery. Analysis of GFMS Ltd.’s third quarter, 2009 report, shows gold used in jewellery represented about 59% of usage and that gold for investment purposes accounted for 28% of demand; electronics 9%; other industrial demand for 2%; and dentistry 2%.

Inflation/hyperinflation/deflation fears increase gold’s attraction
However, it seems that for 2009 as a whole, something extraordinary happened: for the first time in decades investment demand for gold exceeded that of jewellery use. Gold is being purchased as a hedge against the anticipated currency chaos resulting from the Really Bad Three D time-bombs of uncontrollable Debt, explosive Derivatives, and aging population Demographics.

The fears are that the governments and central banks of the U.S., E.U., U.K., and Japan, may of necessity create high inflation to alleviate the burden of their unsustainable debts and obligations. Unfortunately, inflation can get out of control, increase rapidly, and result in hyperinflation causing huge loss of confidence in the affected currency.

Central banks can generate inflation by printing money. Put simply, they flood the economy with almost free, ‘excess’ money, which forces a decline in value of each monetary unit, thus producing inflation. Countries (or anyone in debt) can then pay off their debts with money that buys a lot less—thus cheating their lenders. This has been common practice of indebted governments throughout time and is what ignites the lust for gold as the safe haven from the ensuing monetary and economic maelstrom.

However, renowned economics’ professors Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, as well as Dr. Lacy H. Hunt, and others, believe that deflation will rule. In deflationary periods, as in the 1930s, the money supply contracts, prices fall, debt deleveraging occurs, major financial system defaults occur, the economy shrinks, and government deficits and debts explode upwards. Even in deflationary episodes, investors fearing losses or government failure buy gold for protection. (See The Long Wave Analyst.)

Therefore, central banks in the developing world possessing the world’s largest reserves of developed countries’ currencies and debt are fearful of losses arising from any of the above potential conditions. So, to protect the value of their assets they do what central banks have always done—they buy that ancient metal of kings—gold. The central banks of China, India, and Russia, are among the biggest buyers of gold today.

Furthermore, as these developing nations grow they are investing increasingly in their own locales where investment returns are higher than in developed countries. Thus, their reduced buying or outright selling of developed countries’ debt and currencies is further lowering the value of those currencies and debt.

Gold’s new role
These developments are creating mounting instabilities in the world’s financial system and are encouraging discussions of a new global currency that might compete with or replace the U.S. dollar. Already, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC nations) as well as developed countries such as France, are demanding the establishment of a new world currency order.

To accommodate these demands the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDRs—a ‘basket’ of currencies used as money between central banks) may well be re-formulated to include new currencies and commodities. Theoretically, the re-formulated SDRs could even become the world currency.

Top gold analysts like Jim Sinclair see the linking of gold to both the SDRs and to the U.S. dollar money supply. By anchoring the dollar to a rising gold price the U.S. could likely stem the dollars declining value.

The downside of gold production
If proper safety and environmental rules are not followed the mining and production of gold can mean ill health for miners and mining communities, and environmental degradation. Mining and processing of gold ore usually requires the use of the highly toxic chemicals such as arsenic and mercury.

The ore after processing is left in tailings ponds, and if the ponds are not carefully designed, built, and maintained, the water from these ponds can contaminate water sheds, rivers, and farm fields. If not properly managed, there are real downside risks in the mining of gold.

However, there are two reasons why I feel more optimistic about gold mining in the future. Firstly, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world are bringing to light those gold mining activities that are doing harm. In some cases NGOs have caused abusive mining operations to shut-down or to make major changes in their operations. Secondly, governments are implementing ever tighter health and environmental controls concerning mining.

These factors are slowing the amount of gold mined, as well as making the mining itself more expensive. Hence, as gold demand increases and the above factors help to restrain its supply, gold prices are likely to receive even further support. Incidentally, since the 1990s, global gold demand has substantially exceeded what is mined, while the amount of new gold found is unable to replace that mined.

To summarize, gold is re-incarnated
In the next few years the probability of currency and economic turmoil due to the Really Bad Three Ds—Debt, Derivatives, and Demographics of the developed world—will be greater than at any time since the 1930s. Similar turmoil has occurred innumerable times over countless millennia, and can be seen from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, China—to modern Europe. As turmoil occurs, gold becomes the store of wealth and assumes its role as the currency of choice.

However, gold is not only rising due to currency and economic instabilities. It is also rising because of its many fast growing commercial applications and particularly because of the allure of its age-old spiritual, cultural, and healing characteristics. In the era of higher consciousness where Enlightened Economics reigns, gold serves many key functions. The future is indeed golden!

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© Ron Robins, 2010.

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology, Economics, Finance & Investing, Gold & Precious Metals, Personal Finance, Spiritual | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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