Why Central Bank Stimulus Cannot And Will Not Bring Economic Recovery by Patrick Barron | Mises.org | June 4, 2014
Fed engages in futile effort to stimulate economy through an expansion of fiat money credit Today every central bank on the planet is printing money by the bucket loads in an attempt to stimulate their economies to escape velocity and a sustainable recovery. They are following Keynesian dogma that increasing aggregate demand will spur an increase in employment and production. So far all that these central banks have managed to do is inflate their own balance sheets and saddle their governments with debt. But make no mistake, central banks are not about to cease their confidence in the concept of insufficient aggregate demand. In fact, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi is considering imposing negative interest rates to force money out of savings accounts and into the spending stream. Such an action is fully consistent with Keynesian dogma, so other central bankers will be impelled by the failure of their previous actions to follow suit. Violating Say’s Law Keynes’s dogma, as stated in his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, attempts to refute Say’s Law, also known as the Law of Markets. J.B. Say explained that money is a conduit or agent for facilitating the exchange of goods and services of real value. Thus, the farmer does not necessarily buy his car with dollars but with corn, wheat, soybeans, hogs, and beef. Likewise, the baker buys shoes with his bread. Notice that the farmer and the baker could purchase a car and shoes respectively only after producing something that others valued. The value placed on the farmer’s agricultural products and the baker’s bread is determined by the market. If the farmer’s crops failed or the baker’s bread failed to rise, they would not be able to consume because they had nothing that others valued with which to obtain money first. But Keynes tried to prove that production followed demand and not the other way around. He famously stated that governments should pay people to dig
holes and then fill them back up in order to put money into the hands of the unemployed, who then would spend it and stimulate production. But notice that the hole diggers did not produce a good or service that was demanded by the market. Keynesian aggregate demand theory is nothing more than a justification for counterfeiting. It is a theory of capital consumption and ignores the irrefutable fact that production is required prior to consumption. Central bank credit expansion is the best example of the Keynesian disregard for the inevitable consequences of violating Sayâ€™s Law. Money certificates are cheap to produce. Book entry credit is manufactured at the click of a computer mouse and is, therefore, essentially costless. So, receivers of new money get something for nothing. The consequence of this violation of Sayâ€™s Law is capital malinvestment, the opposite of the central bankâ€™s goal of economic stimulus. Central bank economists make the crucial error of confusing GDP spending frenzy with sustainable economic activity. They are measuring capital consumption, not production. Two Paths of Capital Destruction The credit expansion causes capital consumption in two ways. Some of the increased credit made available to banks will be lent to businesses that could never turn a profit regardless of the level of interest rates. This is oldfashioned entrepreneurial error on the part of both bankers and borrowers. There is always a modicum of such losses, due to market uncertainty and the impossibility to foresee with precision the future condition of the market. But the bubble frenzy fools both bankers and overly optimistic entrepreneurs into believing that a new economic paradigm has arrived. They are fooled by the phony market conditions, so bold entrepreneurs and go-go bankers replace their more cautious predecessors. The longer the bubble lasts, the more of these unwise projects we get.
Another chunk of increased credit goes to businesses that could make a profit if there really were sufficient resources available for the completion of what now appears to be profitable long term projects. These are projects for which the cost of borrowing is a major factor in the entrepreneur’s forecasts. Driving down the interest rate encourages even the most cautious entrepreneurs and bankers to re-evaluate these shelved projects. Many years will transpire before these projects are completed, so an accurate forecast of future costs is critical. These cost estimates assume that enough real capital is available and that sufficient resources exist to prevent costs from rising over the years. But such is not the case. Austrian business cycle theory explains that absent an increase in real savings that frees resources for their long term projects, costs will rise and reveal these projects to be unprofitable. Austrian economists explain that a declining interest rate caused by fiat money credit expansion does not reflect a change in societal time preference — that is, society’s desire for current goods over future goods. Society is not saving enough to prevent a rise in the cost of resources that long term projects require. Despite central bank interest rate intervention, societal time preference will reassert itself and suck these resources back to the production of current goods, where a profit can be made, and away from the production of future goods. No Escape from Say’s Law No array of bank regulation can prevent the destruction of capital that becomes apparent to the public through an increase in bank loan losses, which may reach levels by which major banks become insolvent. Bank regulators believe that their empirical research into the dynamics of previous bank crises reveals lessons that can be used to avoid another banking crisis. They believe that banker stupidity or even criminal culpability were the underlying causes of previous crises. But this is a contradiction in logic. We must remember that the very purpose of central bank credit expansion is to trigger an increase in lending in order to stimulate the economy to a self-sustaining recovery. But this is impossible. At any one time there is only so much real capital available in society, and real capital cannot be produced by the click of a central bank computer mouse. As my friend Robert Blumen says, a central bank can print money but it cannot print software engineers or even cups of Starbucks coffee to keep them awake and working. Furthermore, requiring banks to hold more capital — which is the goal of the latest round of negotiations in Basel, Switzerland — is nothing more than requiring stronger locks on the barn door, while leaving the door wide open. Closing the door tightly after the horse is gone still means the loss of the horse. Why would an investor purchase new bank stock offerings just to see his money evaporate in another round of loan losses? Conclusion The governments and central banks of the world are engaged in a futile effort to stimulate economic recovery through an expansion of fiat money credit. They will fail due to their ignorance or purposeful blindness to Say’s Law that tells us that money is the agent for exchanging goods that must already exist. New fiat money cannot conjure goods out of thin air, the way central banks conjure money out of thin air. This violation of Say’s Law is reflected in loan losses, which cannot be prevented by any array of regulation or higher capital requirements. In fact rather than stimulate the economy to greater output, bank credit expansion causes capital destruction and a lower standard of living in the future than would have been the case otherwise. Governments and central bankers should concentrate on restoring economic freedom and sound money respectively. This means abandoning market interventions of all kinds, declaring unilateral free trade, cutting wasteful spending, and subjecting money to normal commercial law, which would recognize that fiat money expansion by either the central bank or commercial banks is nothing more than outright fraud. The role of government would revert to its primary, liberal purpose of protecting life, liberty, and property and little more.
Financial Reporter Claims Debt â€œIs The Bridge From Working Hard To Playing Hardâ€? by Zero Hedge | June 4, 2014
"This country has been built on consumer debt," he says "There is a debt problem in America..." warns Lynette Khalfani-Coz (askthemoneycoach.com) in this brief CNBC interview, expanding in the huge debt loads from mortgaging cars to student debt that Americans soak up every day in ever greater amounts. And then Steve Liesman rolls in "debt is always pointed out as a negative thing, when in fact debt is the great bridge between working hard and playing hard in this country." Then Liesman really hangs himself, "this country has been built on consumer debt," he proudly states (as if it was some badge of honor) adding carefully that "too much of it is negative thing." - well Mr Liesman... one look at the current debt load might suggest that American consumers built that 'bridge to playing-hard' just a little too far. As Khalfani-Cox admirably retorts, "excessive debt levels are simply unsustainable... It is not the job of the consumer to play the role of financial hercules... why should we have to prop up the US economy?" The Largest Peacetime Accumulation of Total Credit Market Debt in World History It took the United States 193 years (1789?1981) to aggregate $1 trillion of government debt. It then took 20 years (1981?2001) to add an additional $4.8 trillion and, in the last 10 years (2001?2011), a whopping $9.8 trillion has been added to the federal debt. Since 1981, the US increased its sovereign debt by 1,560% while its population increased by only 35%. Remember the old economic theory of diminishing marginal utility?
Similar amounts have been accumulated all over the developed world. Total global credit market debt has grown at over a 10% annualized pace for the last 10 years while global population has grown at only 1.2% and global real GDP has grown at 3.9%.
Americaâ€™s Insatiable Demand For More Expensive Cars, Larger Homes And Bigger Debts by Michael Snyder | Economic Collapse | June 3, 2014
One of the things that this era of American history will be known for is conspicuous consumption. Even though many of us won’t admit it, the truth is that almost all of us want a nice vehicle and a large home. They say that “everything is bigger in Texas”, but the same could be said for the entire nation as a whole. As you will see below, the size of the average new home has just hit a brand new record high and so has the size of the average auto loan. In the endless quest to achieve “the American Dream”, Americans are racking up bigger debts than ever before. Unfortunately, our paychecks are not keeping up and the middle class in the United States is steadily shrinking. The disparity between the lifestyle that society tells us that we ought to have and the size of our actual financial resources continues to grow. This is leading to a tremendous amount of frustration among those that can’t afford to buy expensive cars and large homes. I remember the days when paying for a car over four years seemed like a massive commitment. But now nearly a quarter of all auto loans in the U.S. are extended out for six or seven years, and those loans have gotten larger than ever… In the latest sign Americans are increasingly comfortable taking on more debt, auto buyers borrowed a record amount in the first quarter with the average monthly payment climbing to an all-time high of $474. Not only that, buyers also continued to spread payments out over a longer period of time, with 24.8 percent of auto loans now coming with payment terms between six and seven years according to a new report from Experian Automotive. That’s the highest percentage of 6 and 7-year loans Experian has ever recorded in a quarter. Didn’t the last financial crisis teach us about the dangers of being overextended? During the first quarter 0f 2014, the size of the average auto loan soared to an all-time record $27,612. But if you go back just five years ago it was just $24,174. And because we are taking out such large auto loans that are extended out over such a long period of time, we are now holding on to our vehicles much longer. According to CNBC, Americans now keep their vehicles for an average of six years and one month. Ten years ago, it was just four years and two months. My how things have changed. And consumer credit as a whole has also reached a brand new all-time record high in the United States. Consumer credit includes auto loans, but it doesn’t include things like mortgages. The following is how Investopedia defines consumer credit… Consumer credit is basically the amount of credit used by consumers to purchase non-investment goods or services that are consumed and whose value depreciates quickly. This includes automobiles, recreational vehicles (RVs), education, boat and trailer loans but excludes debts taken out to purchase real estate or margin on investment accounts.
As you can see from the chart below, Americans were reducing their exposure to consumer credit for a little while after the last financial crisis struck, but now it is rapidly rising again at essentially the same trajectory as before…
Have we learned nothing? Meanwhile, America also seems to continue to have an insatiable demand for even larger homes. According to Zero Hedge, the size of the average new home in the United States has just hit another brand new record high… There was a small ray of hope just after the Lehman collapse that one of the most deplorable characteristics of US society – the relentless urge to build massive McMansions (funding questions aside) – was fading. Alas, as the Census Bureau today confirmed, that normalization in the innate desire for bigger, bigger, bigger not only did not go away but is now back with a bang. According to just released data, both the median and average size of a new single-family home built in 2013 hit new all time highs of 2,384 and 2,598 square feet respectively. And while it is known that in absolute number terms the total number of new home sales is still a fraction of what it was before the crisis, the one strata of new home sales which appears to not only not have been impacted but is openly flourishing once more, are the same McMansions which cater to the New Normal uberwealthy (which incidentally are the same as the Old Normal uberwealthy, only wealthier) and which for many symbolize America’s unbridled greed for mega housing no matter the cost. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a large home. But if people are overextending themselves financially, that is when it becomes a major problem.
Just remember what happened back in 2007. And just like prior to the last financial crisis, Americans are treating their homes like piggy banks once again. Home equity lines of credit are up 8 percent over the past 12 months, and homeowners are increasingly being encouraged to put their homes at risk to fund their excessive lifestyles. But there has been one big change that we have seen since the last financial crisis. Lending standards have gotten a lot tougher, and many younger adults find that they are not able to buy homes even though they would really like to. Stifled by absolutely suffocating levels of student loan debt, many of these young adults are putting off purchasing a home indefinitely. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article about this phenomenon… The Millennial generation is great at many things: texting, social media, selfies. But buying a home? Not so much. Just 36% of Americans under the age of 35 own a home, according to the Census Bureau. That’s down from 42% in 2007 and the lowest level since 1982, when the agency began tracking homeownership by age. It’s not all their fault. Millennials want to buy homes — 90% prefer owning over renting, according to a recent survey from Fannie Mae. But student loan debt, tight lending standards and stiff competition have made it next to impossible for many of these younger Americans to make the leap. This is one of the primary reasons why homeownership in America is declining. A lot of young adults would love to buy a home, but they are already financially crippled from the very start of their adult lives by student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt is now up to approximately 1.1 trillion dollars. That is even more than the total amount of credit card debt in this country. We live in a debt-based system which is incredibly fragile. We experienced this firsthand during the last financial crisis. But we just can’t help ourselves. We have always got to have more, and society teaches us that if we don’t have enough money to pay for it that we should just go into even more debt. Unfortunately, just as so many individuals and families have found out in recent years, eventually a day of reckoning arrives. And a day of reckoning is coming for the nation as a whole at some point as well. You can count on that.
Gold Price Manipulation Was “Routine”, FT Reports by Tyler Durden | Zerohedge | June 3, 2014
Wait a minute... this smells remarkably familiar to the LIBOR rigging Two weeks ago when news broke about the first confirmed instance of gold price manipulation (because despite all the “skeptics” claims to the contrary, namely that every other asset class may be routinely manipulated but not gold, never gold, it turned out that – yes – gold too was rigged) we said that this is merely the first of many comparable (as well as vastly different) instances of gold manipulation presented to the public. Today, via the FT, we get just a hint of what is coming down the pipeline with “Trading to influence gold price fix was ‘routine’.” We approve of the editorial oversight to pick the word “influence” over “manipulate” – it sound so much more… clinical. What the FT found: When the UK’s financial regulator slapped a £26m fine on Barclays for lax controls related to the gold fix, the UK financial regulator offered more ammunition to critics of the near-century-old benchmark. But it also gave precious metal traders in the City of London plenty to think about. While the Financial Conduct Authority says the case appears to be a one off – the work of a single trader – some market professionals have a different view. They claim the practice of nudging a tradeable benchmark in order to protect a “digital” derivatives contract – as a Barclays employee did – was routine in the industry. Well, then, if gold price manipulation, pardon, “influence” was routine, be it to avoid digital option trips or any other reasons, then it’s all good, right?
Apparently not, especially if a “customer” of a bank that was running a prop trade against the customer ended up costing said customer millions in lost profits. As a result, customers of Barclays and other market-making banks may be looking to see if they too have cause for complaint, according to one hedge fund manager active in the gold market. The only piece of actionable information from the above sentence is that Barclays actually has customers: we expect that to change. After all, with the exception of Goldman’s muppets, there hasn’t been a more clear abuse of client privileges than what relatively junior trader Daniel Plunkett did while at Barclays. However, Plunkett is just the first of many. Many, many. “If I was at the FCA I would be looking at all banks trading digitals. This could be the tip of the iceberg – there’s a massive issue with exotic derivatives and barriers.” That, naturally, assumes that the FCA wasnt to catch more manipulators, pardon, “influencers” of gold and other OTC derivative prices. Which is hardly the case: after all one never knows which weakest link rats out the people at the very top: the Bank of England itself, and perhaps even higher: going all the way to the BIS and those who equity interests the BIS protects. So just what is the most manipulated product with either gold or FX as underlying? In the City, digital options are common in the precious metals sector and, especially, in forex trading. A payout is triggered if a predetermined price – or “barrier” – is breached at expiry date. If it is not, the option holder gets nothing. One former precious metals manager at a big investment bank says there has long been an understanding among market participants that sellers and buyers of digitals would try to protect their positions if the benchmark price and barrier were close together near expiry. Ideally, the underlying will be relatively illiquid, with a price fixing set by a small number of individuals, individuals who can be corrupted or simply onboarded to your strategy, thus incetivizing them to keep their mouth shut and assist you in ongoing rigging attempts. In the case of gold, this means trying to move the benchmark price, which is set during the twice daily auction “fixing” process run by four banks, including Barclays. That is what the Barclays trader, Daniel Plunkett, did on June 28, 2012. Exactly a year earlier, the bank had sold an options contract to an unnamed customer stating that if after 12 months the gold price was above $1,558.96 a troy ounce, the client would receive $3.9m. By placing a large sell order on the fix Mr Plunkett pushed the gold price beneath the barrier, thus avoiding the payout. After the counterparty complained, the FCA became involved. Barclays paid the client the $3.9m, and was fined. Mr Plunkett was also fined – £95,600 – and banned from working in the City. In its ruling, the FCA criticised Barclays for its poor controls related to the gold fix and said the bank had failed to “manage conflicts of interests between itself and its customers”.
“We expect all firms to look hard at their reference rate and benchmark operations to ensure this type of behaviour isn’t being replicated,” said Tracey McDermott, the FCA’s director of enforcement and financial crime. Still, why did gold manipulation go on for as long as it did? Because the Barclays trader was an amateur, and instead of taking the money of one of the “old boys’ club” participants, ended up robbing an outsider, someone who had the temerity fo lodge a formal complaint. The identity of the Barclays client has not been revealed. But a senior gold trader with knowledge of the transaction says it was not another investment bank or hedge fund. “This was not professionals going head to head,” he says. Wait a minute… this smells remarkably familiar to the LIBOR rigging – after all there it was one “sophisticated” investors against another: the impact of rigging the IR market hardly ever escaped the arena of “sophisticated” influencers, pardon, traders. It is also why Libor was manipulated for a decade before the regulators finally figured it out: because while banks may have lost money to this rigger or that, they were all in it together, and better to lose money individually than to sink everyone at the same time. Alas, that is precisely what happened with Libor. And now it is coming to gold. “If you have Goldman Sachs on one side and JPMorgan on the other, the gloves are off. But not everybody in the market has the same level of sophistication and vindictiveness.” The gold trader familiar with the Barclays case expresses some sympathy for Mr Plunkett, saying in the pre-financial crisis days the trader may have been censured by his bosses if he had not defended the digital option sold by the bank. it gets worse: “What’s changed now is the market morality,” he says. “We can’t simply say: it’s always been done this way.” Well that’s ironic: because it has always been done this way. Influenced. Or manipulated… or however you want to call it. And while in the case of Libor the regulators could get away with it by stating only other professionals were impacted by years of wholesale market rigging because tracking the impact of daily gyrations in a rigged fix are virtually impossible for normal individuals to trace, and thus prove monetary impairment, with the gold market they may find some significant resistance using this approach. So what approach will they use? Why, just like in the case of HFT: there may have been manipulation, but it only impacts hedge funds and other “sophisticated” investors they will say. Because when it comes to rigged markets, mom and pop have surely never had it better.
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