Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘hyper-inflation’

• Positive ‘Spin’ Grows U.S. Economy… But For How Long?

Posted by Ron Robins on November 9, 2014

‘Spin’ — “Political hyperbole, especially when intentionally misleading” — The Online Slang Dictionary

American political and economic elites are forever spinning the idea that self-sustaining economic growth is imminent. And this time the spin might be working — but only for a while.

Underpinning the spin are U.S. government economic statistics. Unfortunately — and it seems unknown to even most economists — there are huge methodological and philosophical issues with these statistics, some of which I detailed in Dubious Positive Biases in Revised U.S. Economic Statistics.

In that post I investigated how unemployment rates, payroll numbers, the consumer price index (CPI), savings rates, and gross domestic product (GDP), have seen their statistical philosophical and methodological foundations changed. And these changes almost always make the economy appear in better shape than it would have been by using prior statistical methodologies.

Furthermore, these changed methodologies have not occurred by only wanting to make the statistics more honest. No. In fact, political interference (documented by Shadowstats) is behind most of the major changes so that the government of the day appeared in a better light.

The spin of this ‘growing’ economy has been taken to heart by the richest 20% of families — those who have been able to borrow for next to nothing and invest in foreclosed homes, stock and bond markets. They have invested and seen their investments rise markedly. They are happy.

But for most people — the other 80% — they are neither happy nor convinced of the efficacy of the present government’s economic spin. (See the exit polls of the November 4 midterm elections!) Truly illustrating the difference in economic well-being between the rich and everyone else are the results of a Gallup poll.

In August, Gallup found that, “Americans with an annual household income of $90,000 or more continue to have more economic confidence than those who live in households with less annual income. Upper-income Americans had an index score of -2 in August, up slightly from -5 the past two months. Lower and middle-income Americans, on the other hand, averaged -18, similar to -19 in July.” Recent data from multiple sources indicates this divergence continues to exist.

The difficulty for most working Americans is that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers incomes over the past few years are barely matching — if at all —  their rising cost of living as measured by BLS’s own (politically influenced) consumer price index (CPI). But ask most workers and they will tell you their living costs are up much more than the government’s CPI.

This is verified by independent inflation measures such as the Guild Basic Needs Index (GBNI) which includes only food, clothing, shelter and energy (thus covering most of the expenses for the majority of people). Using their latest data points from July 2009 to July 2014, the GBNI rose by a significant 22.8% compared to the 10.6% rise in the CPI over the same period.

Interestingly, while living costs have risen and left individuals with less disposable income, savings rates have increased. It seems the experience of financially difficult times for most people in recent years, including unemployment, severe losses in home equity, and for many the need to save for a fast approaching retirement, has convinced them to save more. Savings rates are now averaging above 5% says the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

But again, savings rates would be much less if previous methodologies were used. For instance, in 2006 and 2007, savings rates were about -2% but had become +3% after methodical revisions. Savings rates prior to 1985 were mostly above 10%.

Perhaps of even greater concern is that consumer debt is once again growing much faster than incomes indicating the U.S. is on the continuing treadmill to further financial crises. Between July 2011 and July 2014, Federal Reserve data show consumer debt grew from $2,722 billion to $3,233 billion, a rise of 18.8%, compared to personal income gains over the same period of just 11.8% ($13,294 billion and $14,860 billion.)

The real concern with consumer debt was highlighted by Constantine Van Hoffman, writing for CBS Moneywatch on September 11, 2014. She wrote that, “[quoting CardHub] ‘by the end of 2014 U.S. consumers [with about $7,000 each in credit card debt] will be roughly $1,300 away from the credit card debt tipping point, where minimum payments become unsustainable and delinquencies skyrocket.” And this is with ultra low-interest rates. What happens when they rise?

Rapid debt accumulation in excess of income growth indicates people demanding goods and services now no matter the eventual financial cost to themselves. To me, this suggests — barring extreme confidence about their future circumstances — the possibility of deep inner insecurity and lack of personal fulfillment among individuals. Unbeknownst to our political and economic leaders, this mental state is really the central issue that has to be resolved before lasting economic sustainability can be gained. (See, The Missing Ingredient in Economics — Consciousness.)

Government and financial institutions are aware of the harm caused by excessive and irresponsible debt growth and asset valuations. Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has remarked that central banks are afraid to ‘prick’ asset bubbles for fear of causing market chaos. So, our economic elites believe they must continue to spin the illusion of economic good times no-matter the reality. Eventually, as in 2008, the illusory good times end, and sadly, financial difficulties and ruin occurs for many.

As understanding grows about the spinning of government economic statistics, as increasing savings rates restrain consumer spending, and as consumer debt rises far faster than incomes, it is just a question of time before the spin stops working and a bust ensues. For now though, the spin is working for the 20%. And they are happy.

© Ron Robins 2014


Posted in Consciousness/Psychology, Economics, Monetary Policy, Statistics, Unethical Statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• New Bank Regulations Likely to Fail

Posted by Ron Robins on December 22, 2010

By Ron Robins. First published December 15, 2010, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

New banking and financial industry regulations in the US and the Basle III rules for banks globally—might fail on key issues. The newly enacted US Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, despite its noble purpose to prevent further financial chaos, is unlikely to do that. And the Basle III requirements for higher and better quality bank reserves are good on paper, but full implementation is improbable amidst likely future hefty bank losses.

At the heart of the financial crises were derivatives, and as Warren Buffett the famed investor has warned, “derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction.” Yet, after about two years of Congressional wrangling, the Dodd-Frank bill incorporates a rough future structure for derivatives but authorizes yet another committee to report back in the spring of 2011 with detailed regulations governing them. And the old expression, ‘the devil is in the details,’ is never more apt than in this instance.

Already, US Banks are calling for derivatives called ‘foreign exchange swaps’—a $42 trillion market—to be exempt from the rules.

Derivatives are major profit centres for the too-big-to-fail US banks. These banks have repeatedly told US lawmakers—who receive considerable campaign funding from them—not to restrict those profits. Because of the influence of Wall Street on the Obama Administration and the US Congress, it is difficult to be hopeful that when it comes to the detailed regulations, and especially their enforcement, that much will really change concerning US banks’ derivatives’ activities.

Two particular varieties of derivatives are at the centre of our financial debacle. They are mortgage backed securities (MBS) and credit default swaps (CDS). The latter, though originally considered ‘insurance policies’ against debt default, are now frequently gambling vehicles that incentivize the taking-down of struggling companies (AIG)—and now, governments (Ireland?).

The size of the derivative problem for US banks cannot be overstated. As Alasdair Macleod, a British banker and economist remarked on October 28, “according to the FDIC [the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation], outstanding derivatives held by US banks increased from $155 trn to $225 trn between mid-2007 and mid-2010. In other words, since the credit-crunch the derivative bubble in the US has grown a further 45 per cent and is now fifteen times total US GDP, literally dwarfing the banks’ total equity, which is only $1.35 trn. Consider this fact: derivative exposure is 189 times total bank equity.”

Aside from the derivatives issue, and also not addressed in the Dodd-Frank bill, are the two massive US mortgage progenitors now on US government life-support, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were formerly somewhat private institutions and own or guarantee about half of all US residential mortgages. But as the real estate crises exploded and due to their potential for vast losses that could paralyse the housing markets, the US government commandeered them in September 2008.

The principle offering in the Dodd-Frank bill concerning Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is that by January 2011 President Obama offers a proposal to Congress to bring them out of government receivership.

Thus, on the two vital issues of derivatives and real estate, the Dodd-Frank bill seems queasy and deficient. These inadequacies allow for a re-ignition of the financial meltdown at almost any time.

Acknowledging the severe problems in the banking industry, banking regulators have introduced new global banking rules. In September, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Geneva, Switzerland—which sets the regulations that banks everywhere generally adhere to—issued its Basel III regulations, which are due to come into effect for all banks between 2013 and 2019.

Basel III’s most important requirement will be that banks hold higher and better quality reserves.

But the BIS may be too optimistic about the ability of many banks, particularly the too-big-to-fail banks, to reach the new reserve requirements. For instance, a Reuters report on November 21 said, “the new Basel III banking rules will leave the biggest US banks short of between $100 billion and $150bn in equity capital, with 90 per cent of the shortfall concentrated in the top six banks, the Financial Times said, citing research from Barclays Capital.”

However, these equity shortfalls may well err on the low side. In the next few years, US and European banks especially, are likely to be hit with big waves of new losses related to real-estate, derivatives, and sovereign debt.

Real estate losses because US and European banks have still not written-off their full potential losses concerning toxic MBS that they may have to buy back due to newfound paperwork improprieties related to the emerging foreclosure fraud, as well as mortgage losses generally, on foreclosed and other properties.

Additionally, banks may suffer further huge derivative losses as they are eventually forced to price certain derivative and other asset classes at more realistic appraisal values instead of the ‘mark to fantasy’ that often now exists.

And recently, an even greater potential hit to banks’ capital has arisen: the possibility of gargantuan losses on bad sovereign debt in the EU and elsewhere.

On September 13, The Economist magazine had this to say on the MBS and derivatives issue relating to Basle III. “The most serious failure in Basel III is that it doesn’t address the principal contribution of Basel II to the last financial crisis, namely, the calculation of risk-weights [for instance, risks associated with MBS]… What brought banks like Citigroup and Bank of America to their knees wasn’t direct exposure to sub-prime loans, but exposure to triple-A-rated debt backed by pools of such loans, debt which turned out not to be risk-free at all.”

The US Dodd-Frank bill either passes the buck or overlooks the very problems that led to the financial meltdown, and the Basel III regulations may be rendered impotent due to massive future bank losses. Thus, these new bank regulations are likely to fail.

As Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford car company once said about banking, “it is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

Copyright alrroya.com

Posted in Banking, Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

• 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 »

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