Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Keep up spending- Who?s right? Europe or America?

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Sometime last year, we were discussing with someone in the finance ?industry? about the possibility of a double-dip recession. Back then, the mainstream assumption was that government spending will somehow ?stimulate? the private-sector of the economy. But we argued that this assumption was simply incorrect. As we wrote in August 2009 at Will governments be forced to exit from ?stimulus??,

In fact, the word ?stimulus? is the most misleading word in economics lexicon because it conveys the idea of a surgeon ?stimulating? a heart into self-sustained beating. In reality, what government interventions did was to put the economy on a crutch.

Based on this faulty assumption, the financial market?s expectation is that the worst of the GFC is well and truly over and that the global economy will return to ?trend growth.? But as we wrote in January 2009 at Soft landing hope built on faulty framework assumptions,

Built into the blinkers of the mainstream neo-classical economic framework, the assumption is that the economy is like an elastic band that will spring back to its previous un-stretched state of ?equilibrium? after being stretched by external ?shocks? (e.g. global financial crisis). For those who studied economics at university, you will realise that the phrase ?external shock? is often used in the text-books to describe phenomena that are beyond the scope of economic model. Furthermore, you will find that your text-book are full of simultaneous equations, which implies some sort of ?equilibrium? has to unquestionably happen.

Today, there is a lot of talk in the financial markets about the threat of a double-dip recession. The expected (assumed is the more accurate word) recovery in the United States seems to be stalling. China is enacting policies to slow growth. Europe is mired in sovereign debt problems.

But for you, our dear readers, all these should not come as a surprise. As we already wrote in March this year at Black Swans lurking because Uncle Sam has less margin for error,

If the right word is used (e.g. ‘crutch,’ ‘prop up’) to describe the counter-productive government policies of spend, spend and spend, then it will do wonders to increase the economic IQ of the masses (see Are governments mad with ?stimulating??). Consider this very simple chain a logic:

  1. Someone is falling.
  2. You place a crutch to prevent him from falling.

Isn’t it plain common sense to see that once you remove the crutch, that person will crumble? From this, it follows that government crutch (‘stimulus’) lifts government expenditure to a higher plateau. Once we have bigger government, it is very difficult to shrink it as the difficulty currently faced by Greek government shows.

This is the issue that the Europeans are facing right now. If governments attempt to ‘stimulate’ their stagnant economies by spending big, their fiscal deficits will continue to grow, even to the point of no return. Consequently, the financial markets will lose faith in the governments’ debt because it will mean either (1) raising taxes, (2) default, (3) printing money, or (4) some combinations of the three. That’s their motivation for pledging to cut fiscal deficits in the recent G20 Summit.

But the problem is, if they cut their fiscal deficits (i.e. cut spending), their economies as measured by the GDP will shrink. Not only that, a shrinking economy implies a shrinking tax receipts for the governments, which in turn implies that they will have greater difficulty trying to repay existing debts. When that becomes obvious, you will see the bond and stock market reacting very negatively.

But for the Americans, since their government bonds are not yet under attack (given that among other reasons, the USD is still the world reserve currency), their more immediate problem is domestic growth. In fact, demand for American government bonds increased as a result of the flight to ‘safety.’ Hence, Obama was on record to urge the Europeans not to kill growth by shrinking government spending. But as Niall Ferguson said, at this current trajectory, the US will be like Greece in several years time.

So, who is right? The Americans or the Europeans?

Obama could urge for a policy of continued government spending because time is more on America’s side. The financial wolf packs are currently busy with Europe. So, Obama must be thinking that if America can try another shot at ‘stimulating’ their economy, maybe in due time, the government can then let the private sector take over. That will be the time to reduce the US government’s fiscal deficits. Hopefully, that can be done before the financial wolf packs set their sights on America.

Using an analogy, the current situation is like Europe being pressured on two fronts simultaneously with no room to move. America, on the other hand, is facing pressure only on one front. Obama’s plan is to send troops to that front, deliver the knock-out blow before sending troops to face off the looming second front. The plan will fail spectacularly if the enemy arrives on the second front before the knock-out blow on the first front can be concluded.

So, place your bet on whether you think America’s plan will succeed. If you think they can pull it off (i.e. honour their debts), then buy US Treasuries (American government debt). If not, get physical gold.

How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver bullion

Watch April 15 2010: simmering tensions between US and China

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

April 15, 2010 is a day worth watching. It will be the day when the US Treasury will issue a report, designating whether China is a “currency manipulator” or not. While the repercussions of China being labelled a “currency manipulator” are worrying, this issue is hardly new. In fact, as we wrote in US shooting own foot with tariff on Chinese goods three years ago,

At present [April 2007], the US Congress is simmering in antagonism against China for her trade surplus against the US. They see China as a convenient scapegoat for America?s economic woes, accusing her of misconducts that includes currency ?manipulation,? unfair trade practices and so on.

For the past three years, both sides seem to be going round in circles regarding the Chinese currency peg issue. It seemed that China was repeatedly on the verge of officially being accused of currency manipulation, only for that charge to be withdrawn from the final assessment. Based on statistical probability, the chances for that charge to be issued again are slim. But as our long-time readers know us, we are no fans of using statistical probabilities to ‘predict.’

One thing is clear: the pressure for officially labelling China as a “currency manipulator” is much strong today than three years ago. Firstly, President Obama is more inclined towards that than former President Bush. Secondly, the US economy today is at a more advanced stage of deflation (i.e. unemployment, fall asset values, economic stagnation) than three years ago. Thirdly, mid-term elections are coming and consequently, there are a lot of domestic pressures for Obama to get tough on China.

In the face of further economic stagnation, the US is sliding downward towards mob rule. With a clear understanding of Irving Fisher’s debt deflation theory of the Great Depression, we can easily understand that for an economy heavily addicted to debt, all it takes for the economy to slow down is a slowdown in credit growth. As we wrote in Australia?s credit growth is still falling,

Marc Faber once said that for an economy that is addicted to debt, all it needs to tip it into a recession is for credit growth to slow down- no contraction of credit is required. Also, as Professor Steve Keen explained, at this stage of the debt cycle, the aggregate spending in the economy is made up of income plus change in debt. In the absence of income growth, a slowdown in credit growth implies declining aggregate spending by the private sector.

Currently, the US is in the midst of a generational shift in culture/mindset from borrowing to saving. That is, in economic terms, the US private sector is de-leveraging. The symptoms of de-leveraging will be asset price deflation, economic stagnation, rising unemployment and so on, which will be counteracted by increase in government debt and spending (which itself is limited by market’s confidence in government debt).

In lay-person’s terms, the US is suffering because they are on cold turkey from debt. In contrast, the Chinese are postponing their pain by going further into debt (i.e. policy of inflation and force-feeding of credit into the economy). This result in an illusion that America is suffering while China is ‘prospering’ (which is worsened by Chinese government’s propensity to doctor the figures to look good in order to save ‘face’).

But the mob wants to find a scapegoat to blame for their woes. It so happens that the most convenient scapegoat is China (specifically, China’s policy of artificially holding its currency down) because at this point of the cycle, China is looking very good. It is perceived that this policy worsen America’s unemployment rate. By implication, it is perceived that with China’s official unemployment rate much lower, China is ‘prospering’ at America’s expense.

The problem is that if China is to acquiesce to America’s demands today, it will not solve the America’s problem tomorrow. In fact, the immediate effect will be to worsen America’s (and China’s as well) economic woes. Price inflation will rise and market based interest rates will go up, worsening America’s debt deflation problem. The reason is because the Chinese currency control had been in place for too long and that resulted in long-term structural changes to both the US and China’s economies. Removing the control immediately means that both economies will have no time to adjust, compounding the current level of pain for both sides.

For China, if the words of its Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan are accurate, the profit margins of many Chinese exporters were less than 2%. By appreciating the yuan, many Chinese exporters will go under, which by implication will have serious impacts on unemployment in China, and by extension, on social stability.

SEO Secrets e-bookBut as we wrote before in Chinese government cornered by inflation, bubbles & rich-poor gap, China has their own inflation problem that will eventually threaten social stability. They are already taking tentative steps to rein in inflation (see Is China going to allow its banks to fail in the upcoming (potentially gigantic) wave of bad debts?). Letting their yuan appreciate is very likely part of their overall plan to re-balance their economy. It will happen eventually. But the problem is, the Chinese wants to do it gradually. But the US politicians, on the other hand, want China to do it quickly in order to appease their electorates. Already, we have American economists like Paul Krugman (who is of the same ideology as Ben Bernanke with regards to money printing to solve economic problems) writing inflammatory articles and egging for a economic fight with China.

So, April 15, 2010 will be an interesting date to watch. If China gets labelled as a “currency manipulator,” then trade tensions jump up a level. If left unchecked, that will result in trade war. If trade war is left unchecked, the gloves will come off and there will be more unsportsmanlike actions from both sides (i.e. covert dirty war). If dirty war goes unchecked, there is a risk of shooting war. We are not saying all these things will happen- our point is that there will be a time and sequence for things to happen.

Money & politics to cause more sell-off ahead?

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Today, we are supposed to discuss the “next sequence in the time-line” from our previous article. But before we go into that, we will discuss some new developments that is more urgent.

As we all know, last week was a very bad week for the global stock markets. On Wednesday, various markets (including the commodity markets) had hit the trend lines in price charts. What this means is that prices had reached the minimum in which the up-trend was still regarded as being intact by technical analysts. On Thursday, many trend lines were breached simultaneously. The last time such a similar event happened was in August 2008, which heralded the Panic of 2008.

Is this the beginning of the correction that many (including us) since September last year (see Aborted correction)? Back then, stocks were already in highly overbought territory and some contrarian traders were even shorting stocks. In the reverse sense, that was very similar to November 2008 when stocks were in highly oversold territory and many were anticipating a rally. The rally did not arrive until March 2009. In the same way, has the long anticipated correction finally arrived?

Those who enjoy having adrenaline rushes may want to take the courageous step of shorting the S&P 500 index. Historically, years ending with zeros tend to perform badly (for whatever reason that we have no idea). Also, election years tend to be bad for stock markets. 2010 is the mid-term election for the United States.

The Chinese government’s decision to halt lending (after an orgy of lending in the first couple of weeks of 2010) was the initial pin-prick against the up-trend. Commodity prices in general fell, with the exception of palladium and platinum. But Thursday’s news that Barrack Obama is going for the jugular of Wall Street (you can read the details from the mainstream press) was the trigger for the reversal in trend that even brought down strong and steady palladium and platinum. Since 2010 is the year for mid-term elections in the US, it is hardly surprising that Obama is embracing populism with stronger gusto. Also, there are rumours that Ben Bernanke, who is perceived to be too soft on Wall Street, may be ousted as chairman of the Federal Reserve (in a vote by senators). It is no secret that Wall Street is perceived to have looted Main Street. So, in an election year, politicians will pander for the support of Main Street.

In principle, we support Obama’s stand against Wall Street. But we disagree with his counter-productive way of dealing with Wall Street by imposing more regulations. The reason why we believe this is counter-productive is because in general, more regulations:

  1. Implies more red-tape
  2. Increase costs of doing business
  3. Restrictive on the good guys as well

Instead, we take the same approach as Jimmy Rogers, whom we quoted at Jimmy Rogers: ?Abolish the Fed?,

More regulations? You want Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke? These are the guys who got us into this situation. They are supposed to be regulating the banking system for the past 50 years. These are the guys who let it all happen. I don?t want more regulations. Let the market regulate it. If xyz needs to go bankrupt, let them go bankrupt. I promise you, that will send a very straight signal and you will have a lot of self-regulation when these guys [Wall Street] start to go bankrupt.

Obama’s plan requires the approval of Congress. We can be sure that Wall Street, with their money, will lobby Congress and fight tooth and nail to frustrate Obama’s plan. That goes without saying.

Not only that, we believe that Wall Street will step up the pressure against Obama by dumping everything in sight on the stock market, perhaps even going to the extent of doing naked short-selling (see Short selling, who loans their share?). Since selling begets more selling, a plunging stock market will bring back memories of the Panic of 2008 to Main Street, which in turn can do damage to consumer sentiments (see Do sentiments make the economy or the economy makes the sentiments?). Of course, this is just our conjecture. If our theory is correct, then it implies that there will be more sell-offs in the days to come.

This is indeed money and politics.