The EVERYTHING bubble…..

21 05 2017

I’m no financial guru.  Since studying Nicole Foss’ and Chris Martenson’s work, I have a reasonable understanding of how the economy works, enough to know it’s completely unsustainable and will eventually crash. I’m only interested in when it crashes because I worry it will all turn to dust before our new house is finished, and that could make my life difficult…. so I have to rely on proper gurus. I’d never heard of Mike Maloney until I heard him interviewed by Chris Martenson in a podcast, and my gut feeling is that he knows what he’s talking about.

We don’t have stocks and shares or gold and silver, because I believe that the real investment needed is farm land, and a shelter that doesn’t need to be connected to the rest of a collapsing world, which is why I don’t really follow all this stuff. But this turned up in my newsfeed, and it’s rattled me a bit……  so glad I’ve started building! it might even be time to pull money out of the bank and stash it under the mattress….

This is lifted from srsroccoreport.com, and I hope it’s useful to someone following this humble blog……

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The U.S. economy and markets are now the BIGGEST BUBBLES in history.  In 2000, we experienced  the Tech Bubble.  In 2008, we suffered both a Stock Market and Housing Bubble.  However, today… we are in the “EVERYTHING BUBBLE.”

This is an excellent video presentation by Mike Maloney at GoldSilver.com.  Mike puts together some of the best quality videos in the precious metals industry.  This one is a MUST SEE.  If you are frustrated with the performance of gold and silver since 2012, this video shows just how insane the markets have become.

In the video, Mike provides charts showing how the economic and market indicators are peaking, even much higher than what took place in 2008.  For example, Mike shows a chart on “Margin debt” in the stock market and how it is the highest ever:

The indicators and charts in Mike’s video presentation provides evidence that the market is now one GIANT BUBBLE ready to POP.  While the insanity could continue a bit longer, the indicators are now a BLINKING RED LIGHT that something is seriously wrong.

I highly recommend my readers to watch this video and please feel free to share it with others who are still gambling in the broader markets.  Maybe it might WAKE THEM UP before it’s too late.

You can also find this video presentation here: THE EVERYTHING BUBBLE: Code Red

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Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash (1)

5 09 2016

Nicole Foss, one of my gurus, has not written much since going on a world speaking tour. This article, split into a four part series by Raul Ilargi of the Automatic Earth where this was first posted because of its length, is so important it must be widely shared….. people must wake up to what the powers that be are up to in the vain attempt of keeping business as usual going in the increasingly obvious Limits to Growth wall we are approaching at very high speed…..

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nicolefoss

Nicole Foss

As momentum builds in the developing deflationary spiral, we are seeing increasingly desperate measures to keep the global credit ponzi scheme from its inevitable conclusion. Credit bubbles are dynamic — they must grow continually or implode — hence they require ever more money to be lent into existence. But that in turn requires a plethora of willing and able borrowers to maintain demand for new credit money, lenders who are not too risk-averse to make new loans, and (apparently effective) mechanisms for diluting risk to the point where it can (apparently safely) be ignored. As the peak of a credit bubble is reached, all these necessary factors first become problematic and then cease to be available at all. Past a certain point, there are hard limits to financial expansions, and the global economy is set to hit one imminently.

Borrowers are increasingly maxed out and afraid they will not be able to service existing loans, let alone new ones. Many families already have more than enough ‘stuff’ for their available storage capacity in any case, and are looking to downsize and simplify their cluttered lives. Many businesses are already struggling to sell goods and services, and so are unwilling to borrow in order to expand their activities. Without willingness to borrow, demand for new loans will fall substantially. As risk factors loom, lenders become far more risk-averse, often very quickly losing trust in the solvency of of their counterparties. As we saw in 2008, the transition from embracing risky prospects to avoiding them like the plague can be very rapid, changing the rules of the game very abruptly.

Mechanisms for spreading risk to the point of ‘dilution to nothingness’, such as securitization, seen as effective and reliable during monetary expansions, cease to be seen as such as expansion morphs into contraction. The securitized instruments previously created then cease to be perceived as holding value, leading to them being repriced at pennies on the dollar once price discovery occurs, and the destruction of that value is highly deflationary. The continued existence of risk becomes increasingly evident, and the realisation that that risk could be catastrophic begins to dawn.

Natural limits for both borrowing and lending threaten the capacity to prolong the credit boom any further, meaning that even if central authorities are prepared to pay almost any price to do so, it ceases to be possible to kick the can further down the road. Negative interest rates and the war on cash are symptoms of such a limit being reached. As confidence evaporates, so does liquidity. This is where we find ourselves at the moment — on the cusp of phase two of the credit crunch, sliding into the same unavoidable constellation of conditions we saw in 2008, but on a much larger scale.

From ZIRP to NIRP

Interest rates have remained at extremely low levels, hardly distinguishable from zero, for the several years. This zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) is a reflection of both the extreme complacency as to risk during the rise into the peak of a major bubble, and increasingly acute pressure to keep the credit mountain growing through constant stimulation of demand for borrowing. The resulting search for yield in a world of artificially stimulated over-borrowing has lead to an extraordinary array of malinvestment across many sectors of the real economy. Ever more excess capacity is being built in a world facing a severe retrenchment in aggregate demand. It is this that is termed ‘recovery’, but rather than a recovery, it is a form of double jeopardy — an intensification of previous failed strategies in the hope that a different outcome will result. This is, of course, one definition of insanity.

Now that financial crisis conditions are developing again, policies are being implemented which amount to an even greater intensification of the old strategy. In many locations, notably those perceived to be safe havens, the benchmark is moving from a zero interest rate policy to a negative interest rate policy (NIRP), initially for bank reserves, but potentially for business clients (for instance in Holland and the UK). Individual savers would be next in line. Punishing savers, while effectively encouraging banks to lend to weaker, and therefore riskier, borrowers, creates incentives for both borrowers and lenders to continue the very behaviour that set the stage for financial crisis in the first place, while punishing the kind of responsibility that might have prevented it.

Risk is relative. During expansionary times, when risk perception is low almost across the board (despite actual risk steadily increasing), the risk premium that interest rates represent shows relatively little variation between different lenders, and little volatility. For instance, the interest rates on sovereign bonds across Europe, prior to financial crisis, were low and broadly similar for many years. In other words, credit spreads were very narrow during that time. Greece was able to borrow almost as easily and cheaply as Germany, as lenders bet that Europe’s strong economies would back the debt of its weaker parties. However, as collective psychology shifts from unity to fragmentation, risk perception increases dramatically, and risk distinctions of all kinds emerge, with widening credit spreads. We saw this happen in 2008, and it can be expected to be far more pronounced in the coming years, with credit spreads widening to record levels. Interest rate divergences create self-fulfilling prophecies as to relative default risk, against a backdrop of fear-driven high volatility.

Many risk distinctions can be made — government versus private debt, long versus short term, economic centre versus emerging markets, inside the European single currency versus outside, the European centre versus the troubled periphery, high grade bonds versus junk bonds etc. As the risk distinctions increase, the interest rate risk premiums diverge. Higher risk borrowers will pay higher premiums, in recognition of the higher default risk, but the higher premium raises the actual risk of default, leading to still higher premiums in a spiral of positive feedback. Increased risk perception thus drives actual risk, and may do so until the weak borrower is driven over the edge into insolvency. Similarly, borrowers perceived to be relative safe havens benefit from lower risk premiums, which in turn makes their debt burden easier to bear and lowers (or delays) their actual risk of default. This reduced risk of default is then reflected in even lower premiums. The risky become riskier and the relatively safe become relatively safer (which is not necessarily to say safe in absolute terms). Perception shapes reality, which feeds back into perception in a positive feedback loop.

 

The process of diverging risk perception is already underway, and it is generally the states seen as relatively safe where negative interest rates are being proposed or implemented. Negative rates are already in place for bank reserves held with the ECB and in a number of European states from 2012 onwards, notably Scandinavia and Switzerland. The desire for capital preservation has led to a willingness among those with capital to accept paying for the privilege of keeping it in ‘safe havens’. Note that perception of safety and actual safety are not equivalent. States at the peak of a bubble may appear to be at low risk, but in fact the opposite is true. At the peak of a bubble, there is nowhere to go but down, as Iceland and Ireland discovered in phase one of the financial crisis, and many others will discover as we move into phase two. For now, however, the perception of low risk is sufficient for a flight to safety into negative interest rate environments.

This situation serves a number of short term purposes for the states involved. Negative rates help to control destabilizing financial inflows at times when fear is increasingly driving large amounts of money across borders. A primary objective has been to reduce upward pressure on currencies outside the eurozone. The Swiss, Danish and Swedish currencies have all been experiencing currency appreciation, hence a desire to use negative interest rates to protect their exchange rate, and therefore the price of their exports, by encouraging foreigners to keep their money elsewhere. The Danish central bank’s sole mandate is to control the value of the currency against the euro. For a time, Switzerland pegged their currency directly to the euro, but found the cost of doing so to be prohibitive. For them, negative rates are a less costly attempt to weaken the currency without the need to defend a formal peg. In a world of competitive, beggar-thy-neighbour currency devaluations, negative interest rates are seen as a means to achieve or maintain an export advantage, and evidence of the growing currency war.

Negative rates are also intended to discourage saving and encourage both spending and investment. If savers must pay a penalty, spending or investment should, in theory, become more attractive propositions. The intention is to lead to more money actively circulating in the economy. Increasing the velocity of money in circulation should, in turn, provide price support in an environment where prices are flat to falling. (Mainstream commentators would describe this as as an attempt to increase ‘inflation’, by which they mean price increases, to the common target of 2%, but here at The Automatic Earth, we define inflation and deflation as an increase or decrease, respectively, in the money supply, not as an increase or decrease in prices.) The goal would be to stave off a scenario of falling prices where buyers would have an incentive to defer spending as they wait for lower prices in the future, starving the economy of circulating currency in the meantime. Expectations of falling prices create further downward price pressure, leading into a vicious circle of deepening economic depression. Preventing such expectations from taking hold in the first place is a major priority for central authorities.

Negative rates in the historical record are symptomatic of times of crisis when conventional policies have failed, and as such are rare. Their use is a measure of desperation:

First, a policy rate likely would be set to a negative value only when economic conditions are so weak that the central bank has previously reduced its policy rate to zero. Identifying creditworthy borrowers during such periods is unusually challenging. How strongly should banks during such a period be encouraged to expand lending?

However strongly banks are ‘encouraged’ to lend, willing borrowers and lenders are set to become‘endangered species’:

The goal of such rates is to force banks to lend their excess reserves. The assumption is that such lending will boost aggregate demand and help struggling economies recover. Using the same central bank logic as in 2008, the solution to a debt problem is to add on more debt. Yet, there is an old adage: you can bring a horse to water but you cannot make him drink! With the world economy sinking into recession, few banks have credit-worthy customers and many banks are having difficulties collecting on existing loans.
Italy’s non-performing loans have gone from about 5 percent in 2010 to over 15 percent today. The shale oil bust has left many US banks with over a trillion dollars of highly risky energy loans on their books. The very low interest rate environment in Japan and the EU has done little to spur demand in an environment full of malinvestments and growing government constraints.

Doing more of the same simply elevates the already enormous risk that a new financial crisis is right around the corner:

Banks rely on rates to make returns. As the former Bank of England rate-setter Charlie Bean has written in a recent paper for The Economic Journal, pension funds will struggle to make adequate returns, while fund managers will borrow a lot more to make profits. Mr Bean says: “All of this makes a leveraged ‘search for yield’ of the sort that marked the prelude to the crisis more likely.” This is not comforting but it is highly plausible: barely a decade on from the crash, we may be about to repeat it. This comes from tasking central bankers with keeping the world economy growing, even while governments have cut spending.

Experiences with Negative Interest Rates

The existing low interest rate environment has already caused asset price bubbles to inflate further, placing assets such as real estate ever more beyond the reach of ordinary people at the same time as hampering those same people attempting to build sufficient savings for a deposit. Negative interest rates provide an increased incentive for this to continue. In locations where the rates are already negative, the asset bubble effect has worsened. For instance, in Denmark negative interest rates have added considerable impetus to the housing bubble in Copenhagen, resulting in an ever larger pool over over-leveraged property owners exposed to the risks of a property price collapse and debt default:

Where do you invest your money when rates are below zero? The Danish experience says equities and the property market. The benchmark index of Denmark’s 20 most-traded stocks has soared more than 100 percent since the second quarter of 2012, which is just before the central bank resorted to negative rates. That’s more than twice the stock-price gains of the Stoxx Europe 600 and Dow Jones Industrial Average over the period. Danish house prices have jumped so much that Danske Bank A/S, Denmark’s biggest lender, says Copenhagen is fast becoming Scandinavia’s riskiest property market.

Considering that risky property markets are the norm in Scandinavia, Copenhagen represents an extreme situation:

“Property prices in Copenhagen have risen 40–60 percent since the middle of 2012, when the central bank first resorted to negative interest rates to defend the krone’s peg to the euro.”

This should come as no surprise: recall that there are documented cases where Danish borrowers are paid to take on debt and buy houses “In Denmark You Are Now Paid To Take Out A Mortgage”, so between rewarding debtors and punishing savers, this outcome is hardly shocking. Yet it is the negative rates that have made this unprecedented surge in home prices feel relatively benign on broader price levels, since the source of housing funds is not savings but cash, usually cash belonging to the bank.

 

The Swedish property market is similarly reaching for the sky. Like Japan at the peak of it’s bubble in the late 1980s, Sweden has intergenerational mortgages, with an average term of 140 years! Recent regulatory attempts to rein in the ballooning debt by reducing the maximum term to a ‘mere’ 105 years have been met with protest:

Swedish banks were quoted in the local press as opposing the move. “It isn’t good for the finances of households as it will make mortgages more expensive and the terms not as good. And it isn’t good for financial stability,” the head of Swedish Bankers’ Association was reported to say.

Apart from stimulating further leverage in an already over-leveraged market, negative interest rates do not appear to be stimulating actual economic activity:

If negative rates don’t spur growth — Danish inflation since 2012 has been negligible and GDP growth anemic — what are they good for?….Danish businesses have barely increased their investments, adding less than 6 percent in the 12 quarters since Denmark’s policy rate turned negative for the first time. At a growth rate of 5 percent over the period, private consumption has been similarly muted. Why is that? Simply put, a weak economy makes interest rates a less powerful tool than central bankers would like.

“If you’re very busy worrying about the economy and your job, you don’t care very much what the exact rate is on your car loan,” says Torsten Slok, Deutsche Bank’s chief international economist in New York.

Fueling inequality and profligacy while punishing responsible behaviour is politically unpopular, and the consequences, when they eventually manifest, will be even more so. Unfortunately, at the peak of a bubble, it is only continued financial irresponsibility that can keep a credit expansion going and therefore keep the financial system from abruptly crashing. The only things keeping the system ‘running on fumes’ as it currently is, are financial sleight-of-hand, disingenuous bribery and outright fraud. The price to pay is that the systemic risks continue to grow, and with it the scale of the impacts that can be expected when the risk is eventually realised. Politicians desperately wish to avoid those consequences occurring in their term of office, hence they postpone the inevitable at any cost for as long as physically possible.

The Zero Lower Bound and the Problem of Physical Cash

Central bankers attempting to stimulate the circulation of money in the economy through the use of negative interest rates have a number of problems. For starters, setting a low official rate does not necessarily mean that low rates will prevail in the economy, particularly in times of crisis:

The experience of the global financial crisis taught us that the type of shocks which can drive policy interest rates to the lower bound are also shocks which produce severe impairments to the monetary policy transmission mechanism. Suppose, for example, that the interbank market freezes and prevents a smooth transmission of the policy interest rate throughout the banking sector and financial markets at large. In this case, any cut in the policy rate may be almost completely ineffective in terms of influencing the macroeconomy and prices.

This is exactly what we saw in 2008, when interbank lending seized up due to the collapse of confidence in the banking sector. We have not seen this happen again yet, but it inevitably will as crisis conditions resume, and when it does it will illustrate vividly the limits of central bank power to control financial parameters. At that point, interest rates are very likely to spike in practice, with banks not trusting each other to repay even very short term loans, since they know what toxic debt is on their own books and rationally assume their potential counterparties are no better. Widening credit spreads would also lead to much higher rates on any debt perceived to be risky, which, increasingly, would be all debt with the exception of government bonds in the jurisdictions perceived to be safest. Low rates on high grade debt would not translate into low rates economy-wide. Given the extent of private debt, and the consequent vulnerability to higher interest rates across the developed world, an interest rate spike following the NIRP period would be financially devastating.

The major issue with negative rates in the shorter term is the ability to escape from the banking system into physical cash. Instead of causing people to spend, a penalty on holding savings in a banks creates an incentive for them to withdraw their funds and hold cash under their own control, thereby avoiding both the penalty and the increasing risk associated with the banking system:

Western banking systems are highly illiquid, meaning that they have very low cash equivalents as a percentage of customer deposits….Solvency in many Western banking systems is also highly questionable, with many loaded up on the debts of their bankrupt governments. Banks also play clever accounting games to hide the true nature of their capital inadequacy. We live in a world where questionably solvent, highly illiquid banks are backed by under capitalized insurance funds like the FDIC, which in turn are backed by insolvent governments and borderline insolvent central banks. This is hardly a risk-free proposition. Yet your reward for taking the risk of holding your money in a precarious banking system is a rate of return that is substantially lower than the official rate of inflation.

In other words, negative rates encourage an arbitrage situation favouring cash. In an environment of few good investment opportunities, increasing recognition of risk and a rising level of fear, a desire for large scale cash withdrawal is highly plausible:

From a portfolio choice perspective, cash is, under normal circumstances, a strictly dominated asset, because it is subject to the same inflation risk as bonds but, in contrast to bonds, it yields zero return. It has also long been known that this relationship would be reversed if the return on bonds were negative. In that case, an investor would be certain of earning a profit by borrowing at negative rates and investing the proceedings in cash. Ignoring storage and transportation costs, there is therefore a zero lower bound (ZLB) on nominal interest rates.

Zero is the lower bound for nominal interest rates if one would want to avoid creating such an incentive structure, but in a contractionary environment, zero is not low enough to make borrowing and lending attractive. This is because, while the nominal rate might be zero, the real rate (the nominal rate minus negative inflation) can remain high, or perhaps very high, depending on how contractionary the financial landscape becomes. As Keynes observed, attempting to stimulate demand for money by lowering interest rates amounts to ‘pushing on a piece of string‘. Central authorities find themselves caught in the liquidity trap, where monetary policy ceases to be effective:

Many big economies are now experiencing ‘deflation’, where prices are falling. In the euro zone, for instance, the main interest rate is at 0.05% but the “real” (or adjusted for inflation) interest rate is considerably higher, at 0.65%, because euro-area inflation has dropped into negative territory at -0.6%. If deflation gets worse then real interest rates will rise even more, choking off recovery rather than giving it a lift.

If nominal rates are sufficiently negative to compensate for the contractionary environment, real rates could, in theory, be low enough to stimulate the velocity of money, but the more negative the nominal rate, the greater the incentive to withdraw physical cash. Hoarded cash would reduce, instead of increase, the velocity of money. In practice, lowering rates can be moderately reflationary, provided there remains sufficient economic optimism for people to see the move in a positive light. However, sending rates into negative territory at a time pessimism is dominant can easily be interpreted as a sign of desperation, and therefore as confirmation of a negative outlook. Under such circumstances, the incentives to regard the banking system as risky, to withdraw physical cash and to hoard it for a rainy day increase substantially. Not only does the money supply fail to grow, as new loans are not made, but the velocity of money falls as money is hoarded, thereby aggravating a deflationary spiral:

A decline in the velocity of money increases deflationary pressure. Each dollar (or yen or euro) generates less and less economic activity, so policymakers must pump more money into the system to generate growth. As consumers watch prices decline, they defer purchases, reducing consumption and slowing growth. Deflation also lifts real interest rates, which drives currency values higher. In today’s mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbour world of global trade, a strong currency is a headwind to exports. Obviously, this is not the desired outcome of policymakers. But as central banks grasp for new, stimulative tools, they end up pushing on an ever-lengthening piece of string.

 

Japan has been in the economic doldrums, with pessimism dominant, for over 25 years, and the population has become highly sceptical of stimulation measures intended to lead to recovery. The negative interest rates introduced there (described as ‘economic kamikaze’) have had a very different effect than in Scandinavia, which is still more or less at the peak of its bubble and therefore much more optimistic. Unfortunately, lowering interest rates in times of collective pessimism has a poor record of acting to increase spending and stimulate the economy, as Japan has discovered since their bubble burst in 1989:

For about a quarter of a century the Japanese have proved to be fanatical savers, and no matter how low the Bank of Japan cuts rates, they simply cannot be persuaded to spend their money, or even invest it in the stock market. They fear losing their jobs; they fear a further fall in shares or property values; they have no confidence in the investment opportunities in front of them. So pathological has this psychology grown that they would rather see the value of their savings fall than spend the cash. That draining of confidence after the collapse of the 1980s “bubble” economy has depressed Japanese growth for decades.

Fear is a very sharp driver of behaviour — easily capable of over-riding incentives designed to promote spending and investment:

When people are fearful they tend to save; and when they become especially fearful then they save even more, even if the returns on their savings are extremely low. Much the same goes for businesses, and there are increasing reports of them “hoarding” their profits rather than reinvesting them in their business, such is the great “uncertainty” around the world economy. Brexit obviously only added to the fears and misgivings about the future.

Deflation is so difficult to overcome precisely because of its strong psychological component. When the balance of collective psychology tips from optimism, hope and greed to pessimism and fear, everything is perceived differently. Measures intended to restore confidence end up being interpreted as desperation, and therefore get little or no traction. As such initiatives fail, their failure becomes conformation of a negative bias, which increases the power of that bias, causing more stimulus initiatives to fail. The resulting positive feedback loop creates and maintains a vicious circle, both economically and socially:

There is a strong argument that when rates go negative it squeezes the speed at which money circulates through the economy, commonly referred to by economists as the velocity of money. We are already seeing this happen in Japan where citizens are clamouring for ¥10,000 bills (and home safes to store them in). People are taking their money out of the banking system to stuff it under their metaphorical mattresses. This may sound extreme, but whether paper money is stashed in home safes or moved into transaction substitutes or other stores of value like gold, the point is it’s not circulating in the economy. The empirical data support this view — the velocity of money has declined precipitously as policymakers have moved aggressively to reduce rates.

Physical cash under one’s own control is increasingly seen as one of the primary escape routes for ordinary people fearing the resumption of the 2008 liquidity crunch, and its popularity as a store of value is increasing steadily, with demand for cash rising more rapidly than GDP in a wide range of countries:

While cash’s use is in continual decline, claims that it is set to disappear entirely may be premature, according to the Bank of England….The Bank estimates that 21pc to 27pc of everyday transactions last year were in cash, down from between 34pc and 45pc at the turn of the millennium. Yet simultaneously the demand for banknotes has risen faster than the total amount of spending in the economy, a trend that has only become more pronounced since the mid-1990s. The same phenomenon has been seen internationally, in the US, eurozone, Australia and Canada….

….The prevalence of hoarding has also firmed up the demand for physical money. Hoarders are those who “choose to save their money in a safety deposit box, or under the mattress, or even buried in the garden, rather than placing it in a bank account”, the Bank said. At a time when savings rates have not turned negative, and deposits are guaranteed by the government, this kind of activity seems to defy economic theory. “For such action to be considered as rational, those that are hoarding cash must be gaining a non-financial benefit,” the Bank said. And that benefit must exceed the returns and security offered by putting that hoarded cash in a bank deposit account. A Bank survey conducted last year found that 18pc of people said they hoarded cash largely “to provide comfort against potential emergencies”.

This would suggest that a minimum of £3bn is hoarded in the UK, or around £345 a person. A government survey conducted in 2012 suggested that the total number might be higher, at £5bn….

…..But Bank staff believe that its survey results understate the extent of hoarding, as “the sensitivity of the subject” most likely affects the truthfulness of hoarders. “Based on anecdotal evidence, a small number of people are thought to hoard large values of cash.” The Bank said: “As an illustrative example, if one in every thousand adults in the United Kingdom were to hoard as much as £100,000, this would account for around £5bn — nearly 10pc of notes in circulation.” While there may be newer and more convenient methods of payment available, this strong preference for cash as a safety net means that it is likely to endure, unless steps are taken to discourage its use.

Part 2 is here





Global Economic Red Alert

9 07 2015

I knew it.  Just as we are on the cusp of selling Mon Abri, bloggers everywhere, and some economists, are warning that we are in for a shock or major correction, this year.  Ever since I started Damn the Matrix, but especially since the 2008 GFC, I have been predicting such an event, even though such forecasts are fraught with possibilities of getting it wrong…..

Red-Alert-Button-460x306Based on information that I am bombarded with daily, I have come to the conclusion that a major financial collapse is imminent.  Therefore, I am reluctantly joining the blogosphere by issuing a RED ALERT for the last six months of 2015.

When I say ‘imminent’ I don’t mean that it will occur in the next couple of days…..  And I am in no way saying that our predicaments will be ‘over’ once we get to the end of 2015.  In fact, this correction will only be the beginning of worse things to come as we enter 2016.

Let’s start with some discussion about the U.S. economy.  Most of the time, when I say ‘economic collapse’ I actually mean ‘financial collapse’.  And that’s because the entire economy has been hijacked by the financial sector over the past 20 or so years, with the job almost finished.  Just because the stock markets have recently been hitting all-time record highs does not mean that the overall economy has been doing well.  The stock market is not the economy.  I contend that we are in the middle of a long-term economic collapse, and it has been ongoing for many years, and is happening right now as you read this article; the difference now is that will accelerate over the coming months.

I have already published info about the velocity of money.  When an economy is healthy, money circulates fairly rapidly.  I buy something from you, then you take that money and buy something from someone else, etc.  In a stable, healthy, and growing economy, people generally feel good about things and they are not afraid to spend.  They have confidence in the Matrix.  But during hard times, the exact opposite happens, which is why the velocity of money almost always slows down during a recession.  The chart below demonstrates how the velocity of money has indeed gone pear shaped during every recession since 1960.  Once a recession is over, the velocity of money goes back up.  But a funny thing happened after the last recession ‘ended’ (it never actually ended…).  The velocity of money continued to go down, and it has now hit an all-time record low…

Velocity Of Money M2

This is the kind of chart that you would expect from a very sick economy.  And without a doubt, the US economy is very sick.  Official government numbers paint a picture of an economy that is deeply troubled.  Corporate profits have declined for two quarters in a row, U.S. exports drpped by 7.6 percent during the first quarter of 2015, U.S. GDP shrunk by 0.7 percent during the first quarter, and manufacturing has declined year on year for six months in a row.  How long before Australia joins the club?

Were the stock market connected to reality, it too would be going down the gurgler.  But instead, it just keeps going up.  And up.  A classic case of an irrational financial bubble.  Of course, where else would any greedy capitalist invest when banks pay near zero interest?  Just about every pattern that has popped up prior to previous stock markets crashes is happening right now.

Without a doubt, financial markets are primed for a crash.

Only twice before has the S&P 500 been up by more than 200% over a six year time frame.

The first was in 1929, and the stock market subsequently crashed.

The second was in 2000, right before the dotcom bubble burst.

And by just about any measure that you care to imagine, stocks are hugely overvalued at present.

For instance, just check out the chart below.  It comes from Doug Short, and it shows that the ratio of corporate equity prices to GDP has only been higher once since 1950.  That was in 2000 just before the dotcom bubble burst…

The Buffett Indicator from Doug Short

Now look at this chart.  This one comes from Phoenix Capital Research; it shows that the CAPE ratio (cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio) has rarely been higher.  The only times that it has been higher, we have seen stock market crashes immediately afterwards…..

CAPE - Phoenix Capital Research

Yale economics professor Robert Shiller is also deeply concerned about the CAPE ratio

I think that compared with history, US stocks are overvalued. One way to assess this is by looking at the CAPE (cyclically adjusted P/E) ratio that I created with John Campbell, now at Harvard, 25 years ago. The ratio is defined as the real stock price (using the S&P Composite Stock Price Index deflated by the CPI) divided by the ten-year average of real earnings per share. We have found this ratio to be a good predictor of subsequent stock market returns, especially over the long run. The CAPE ratio has recently been around 27, which is quite high by US historical standards. The only other times it has been that high or higher were in 1929, 2000, and 2007—all moments before market crashes.

But the CAPE ratio is not the only metric I watch. In my book Irrational Exuberance (3rd Ed., Princeton 2015) I discuss several metrics that help judge what’s going on in the market. These include my stock market confidence indices. One of the indicators in that series is based on a single question that I have asked individual and institutional investors over the years along the lines of, “Do you think the stock market is overvalued, undervalued, or about right?” Lately, what I call “valuation confidence” captured by this question has been on a downward trend, and for individual investors recently reached its lowest point since the stock market peak in 2000.

This next chart is another one from Doug Short.  It shows the average of four of his favorite valuation indicators.  There is only one other time when stocks have been more overvalued than they are today according to the average of his four favorite indicators, and that was just before the stock market crashed when the dotcom bubble burst…

Four Valuation Indicators - Doug Short

Another one of the things that points to a financial bubble is the level of margin debt.  This is no doubt caused by the fact the whole world now runs on nothing but debt….  Whenever margin debt has gone over 2.25% of GDP a stock market crash has always followed.  As I write, it is far above that level.  From the chart below, it can be seen that there have been three major peaks in margin debt in modern U.S. history.  The first one just before the dotcom bubble burst, the next just before the financial crisis of 2008, and the third is happening right now…

Margin Debt - Doug Short

Something else that we would expect to see just before a major financial crisis is the decoupling of high yield debt and stocks.  This happened just prior to the 2008 stock market crash, and it is happening again, right now.  The following chart comes from Zero Hedge, which demonstrates this brilliantly…

SP-500-HY-Credit-460x495

Are you starting to get the picture?

‘The smart money’ is beginning to pull their investments out of stocks while they still can.  According to USA Today, mutual fund investors have pulled more money out of stocks than they have put into stocks for 16 weeks in a row

In a sign of stock market nervousness on Main Street, mutual fund investors have yanked more money out of U.S. stock funds than they put in for 16 straight weeks.

The last time domestic stock funds had positive net cash inflows was in the week ending Feb. 25, according to data from the Investment Company Institute, a mutual fund trade group.

In the week ended June 17, the most recent data available, mutual funds that invest in U.S. stocks suffered net outflows of $3.45 billion, according to the ICI.

Since late February, U.S. stock funds have suffered estimated outflows of nearly $55 billion. Those net withdrawals come despite the fact the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 hit a fresh record high of 2130.82 on May 21 and the Dow Jones industrial average notched a fresh record on May 19.

But it’s not just stocks that are going to crash during the next financial crisis.  Bonds are going to crash as well.   But the real elephant in the room are derivatives.

Derivatives are going to play a starring role in the next major financial crisis.  This form of legalised gambling is going to destroy “too big to fail” banks everywhere, including Australia, during the coming downturn.  The “too big to fail” banks in the U.S. alone have 278 trillion dollars of total exposure to derivatives, but they only have 9.8 trillion dollars in total assets.  Globally, they add up to 500 trillion dollars.

For much more on the coming derivatives crisis read “Warren Buffett: Derivatives Are Still Weapons Of Mass Destruction And ‘Are Likely To Cause Big Trouble’“.

Where do I get all this info from?  The list is long…….

Ron Paul has just released a new video in which he warned all of us to “prepare for a bear market in bonds“.

Carl Icahn says that financial markets are “extremely overheated—especially high-yield bonds“.

Martin Armstrong says that his Economic Confidence Model predicts that the “Big Bang” is coming in “2015.75“.

Jeff Berwick of the Dollar Vigilante says that “we’re getting very, very close to the next crisis collapse” and he has specifically pointed to the month of September.

James Howard Kunstler has predicted that stocks are going to “crater in Q3 as faith in paper and pixels erodes“.  Of course, JHK has got it wrong before……

Lindsey Williams recently sent out an email alert in which he warned that his elite friend has told him that “they have a World Wide Financial Collapse scheduled between September and the end of December 2015“.

Gerald Celente has warned about “the Great Panic of 2015“, though at times I’ve regretted publishing Gerald’s dire warnings when he’s got things wrong too….

Bill Fleckenstein has said that 2015 could be the year of the “big accident“.

Ray Gano has stated that we will see a financial collapse “probably starting in the third quarter of 2015″.

Legendary investor Jim Rogers recently said that he believes that “we will see some kind of major, major problems in the world financial markets” within the next year or two.

And then we have Greece…….  where that will lead Europe, nobody knows.

The Chinese stock market is tanking big time too.  And I doubt China’s too worried about Greece, something far bigger is happening in the far East…..  now all I have to do is worry about where to park our money from selling Mon Abri.





Commodity Prices Are Cliff-Diving

31 12 2014

headshot

David Stockman

Submitted by David Stockman via Contra Corner blog,

Crude oil is not the only commodity that is crashing. Iron ore is on a similar trajectory and for a common reason. Namely, the two-decade-long economic boom fuelled by the money printing rampage of the world’s central banks is beginning to cool rapidly. What the old-time Austrians called “malinvestment” and what Warren Buffet once referred to as the “naked swimmers” exposed by a receding tide is now becoming all too apparent.

This cooling phase is graphically evident in the cliff-diving movement of most industrial commodities. But it is important to recognize that these are not indicative of some timeless and repetitive cycle—–or an example merely of the old adage that high prices are their own best cure.

Instead, today’s plunging commodity prices represent something new under the sun. That is, they are the product of a fracturing monetary supernova that was a unique and never before experienced aberration caused by the 1990s rise, and then the subsequent lunatic expansion after the 2008 crisis, of a cancerous regime of Keynesian central banking.

Stated differently, the worldwide economic and industrial boom since the early 1990s was not indicative of sublime human progress or the break-out of a newly energetic market capitalism on a global basis. Instead, the approximate $50 trillion gain in the reported global GDP over the past two decades was an unhealthy and unsustainable economic deformation financed by a vast outpouring of fiat credit and false prices in the capital markets.

For that reason, the radical swings in commodity prices during the last two decades mark the path of a central bank generated macro-economic bubble, not merely the unique local supply and demand factors which pertain to crude oil, copper, iron ore, or the rest.  Accordingly, the chart below which shows that iron ore prices have plunged from $150 per ton in early 2013 to about $65 per ton at present only captures the tail end of the cycle.

Iron Ore- Click to enlarge

What really happened is that the central bank instigated global macro-economic bubble ripped commodity pricing cycles out of their historical moorings, resulting in a one time eruption of price levels that had no relationship to sustainable supply and demand factors in the mines and petroleum patch. What materialized, instead, was an unprecedented one-time mismatch of commodity production and use that caused pricing abnormalities of gargantuan proportions.

Thus, the true free market benchmark for iron ore is the pre-1994 price of about $20-25 per ton. This represented the long-time equilibrium between advancing mining technology and diminishing ore grades available to steel mills in the DM economies.

But as shown below, after Mr. Deng institutionalized export mercantilism and printing press prosperity in the form of China’s red capitalism in the early 1990s, iron ore prices broke orbit and soared to $100 per ton in the second half of the decade and then went parabolic from there. After peaking at $140 per ton on the eve of the financial crisis,China’s mad cap “infrastructure” stimulus boom after 2008 drove the price to a peak of $180 per ton in 2011-2012. To wit, iron ore prices peaked at nearly 9X their historic range.

Post 1994 Commodity Bubble - Click to enlarge

The crucial point is that there was nothing normal, sustainable or economic about the $180 per ton peak. It was a pure deformation of central bank credit expansion and the accompanying false pricing of debt and other forms of long-term capital.

Needless to say, the same thing is true of copper. Its historical benchmarks were in the 60 cents to 100 cents per pound range. Yet after 1994, the global bubble—again led by the enormous credit explosion and currency exchange rate suppression in China and its BRIC satellites—carried the price to  $4 per pound in the eve of the financial crisis, and then to nearly $5 during the peak of China’s post-crisis credit explosion.

Indeed, in the case of copper, not only was the cycle driven by unsustainable construction demand; it was also powered by dodgy forms of financial engineering that turned copper inventories into financing collateral that was sometimes re-hypothecated many times over.

The exact same considerations apply most especially to crude oil. China’s GDP grew from $1 trillion to $9 trillion during the 13 years after the turn of the century. Growth of such enormous proportions is not remotely possible in an honest economy based on productivity, savings, investment and sound money. Likewise, China’s call on the global oil supply system—-which soared by 4X from 3 million bbls/day to nearly 12 million—–is also a drastic aberration; it is a product of runaway credit creation that financed false “demand”.

And that was only the beginning of the aberration. The China engine pulled additional false petroleum demand into the world market equation due to the boom among its suppliers—such as Brazil, Canada and Australia for raw materials and South Korea and Taiwan for  components and parts. Output levels and petroleum consumption in Germany and the US were also goosed by China’s voracious demand for German capital goods and Caterpillar’s heavy machinery, for example.

Accordingly, the crude oil price path shown below reflects the same global monetary supernova. The $20 price in place during the 1990s was no higher in inflation adjusted terms than it had been one century earlier when the mighty Spindletop gusher was discovered in East Texas in 1901. By contrast, the 5X eruption to north of $100 per barrel during this century represents the impact of fiat credit and false capital market prices deforming the entire warp and woof of the global economy.

 

fredgraph

Self-evidently, we are now in the cliff-diving phase, but unlike the bounce after the September 2008 financial crisis, there will be no rebound this time around. That is owing to two reasons.

First, most of the world is at “peak debt”. That is, the ratio of total credit market debt to current national income ranges between 350% and 500% in every major economy; and that is the limit of what can be serviced even at today’s aberrantly low interest rates.

As Milton Friedman famously observed, markets are ultimately not fooled by the money illusion. In this case, the illusion is that today’s sub-economic interest rates will last forever and that debt carrying capacity has been elevated accordingly.

Not true. Short-term interest rates may be temporarily and artificially pegged at the zero bound by central bankers, but at the end of the day debt carrying capacity is tethered by real economics and normalized costs of money and debt.

Accordingly, the central banks are now pushing on a string.  The credit channel of monetary transmission is over and done. The only remaining effect of the residual level of money printing still underway is that ZIRP enables carry trade gamblers to drive financial asset prices ever higher, thereby setting up another thundering collapse of the financial bubbles being generated for the third time this century by the world’s central banks.

The second reason for no commodity price rebound is the monumental overhang of the malinvestments which have been made, especially since the 2008 crisis. That is obviously what is now pummelling the petroleum sector.

The huge expansion of high cost crude oil capacity—–in the shale patch, tar sands and deep off-shore—-was due to the aberrationally high price of oil and the inordinately cheap cost of capital which were generated during the last two decades by the global central banks. The above price chart for the WTI marker price of crude, for example, is what explains the eruption of shale oil production from 1 million bbls/day prior to the financial crisis to more than 4 million at present., not an alleged technological miracle called “fracking”.

However, the iron ore capacity expansion story is no less cogent. On the eve of the financial crisis, the Big Three miners—-Vale, BHP and Rio—had already doubled their mining capacity from 250 million tons annually at the turn of the century, to 195 million tons per quarter or 780 million tons annually.

Q production

But when prices soared to $180/ton in 2012, investment levels were drastically scaled-up even further. Currently, the Big Three have combined capacity of more than 1.1 billion tons annually that is not only in the investment pipeline, but is actually so far advanced that completion makes more sense than abandonment.  Accordingly, not withstanding the massive over-supply already in the market, several hundred million more tons will compound the surplus and drive prices even closer to the out-of-pocket cash cost of production in the years immediately ahead.

Curent n planned capacity

The above depicted capacity expansion is a quintessential reflection of the manner in which false prices in the capital markets drive excessive and wasteful investment, and cause the crash following the credit driven boom to be all the more destructive. So the cliff-diving price action here is not just another commodity cycle, but instead is a proxy for the fracturing global credit bubble, led by China department.

During the course of its mad scramble to become the world’s export factory and then its greatest infrastructure construction site, China’s expansion of domestic credit broke every historical record and has ultimately landed in the zone of pure financial madness. To wit, during the 14 years since the turn of the century China’s total debt outstanding–including its vast, opaque, wild west shadow banking system—soared from $1 trillion to $25 trillion, and from 1X GDP to upwards of 3X.

But these “leverage ratios” are actually far more dangerous and unstable than the pure numbers suggest because the denominator—national income or GDP—-has been erected on an unsustainable frenzy of fixed asset investment. Accordingly, China’s so-called GDP of $9 trillion contains a huge component of one-time spending that will disappear in the years ahead, but which will leave behind enormous economic waste and monumental over-investment that will result in sub-economic returns and write-offs for years to come. Stated differently, China’s true total debt ratio is much higher than 3X currently reported due to the unsustainable bloat in its reported national income.

Nearly every year since 2008, in fact, fixed asset investment in public infrastructure, housing and domestic industry has amounted to nearly 50% of GDP. But that’s not just a case of extreme of growth enthusiasm, as the Wall Street bulls would have you believe. It’s actually indicative of an economy of 1.3 billion people who have gone mad digging, building, borrowing and speculating.

Nowhere is this more evident than in China’s vastly overbuilt steel industry, where capacity has soared from about 100 million tons in 1995 to upwards of 1.2 billion tons today. Again, this 12X growth in less than two decades is not just red capitalism getting rambunctious; its actually an economically cancerous deformation that will eventually dislocate the entire global economy.  Stated differently, the 1 billion ton growth of China’s steel industry since 1995 represents 2X the entire capacity of the global steel industry at the time; 7X the size of Japan’s then world champion steel industry; and 10X the then size of the US industry.

Already, the evidence of a thundering break-down of China’s steel industry is gathering momentum. Capacity utilization has fallen from 95% in 2001 to 75% last year, and will eventually plunge toward 60%, resulting in upwards of a half billion tons of excess capacity. Likewise, even the manipulated and massaged financial results from China big steel companies have begin to sharply deteriorate. Profits have dropped from $80-100 billion RMB annually to 20 billion in 2013, and are now in the red; and the reported aggregate leverage ratio of the industry has soared to in excess of 70%.

But these are just mild intimations of what is coming. The hidden truth of the matter is that China would be lucky to have even 500 million tons of annual “sell-through” demand for steel to be used in production of cars, appliances, industrial machinery and for normal replacement cycles of long-lived capital assets like office towers, ships, shopping malls, highways, airports and rails.  Stated differently, upwards of 50% of the 800 million tons of steel produced by China in 2013 likely went into one-time demand from the frenzy in infrastructure spending.

Indeed, the deformations are so extreme that on the margin China’s steel industry has been chasing its own tail like some stumbling, fevered dragon. Thus, demand for plate steel to build dry bulk carriers has soared, but the underlying demand for new bulk carrier capacity was, ironically, driven by bloated demand for the iron ore needed to make the steel to build China’s empty apartments and office towers and unused airports, highways and rails.

In short, when the credit and building frenzy stops, China will be drowning in excess steel capacity and will try to export its way out— flooding the world with cheap steel. A trade crisis will soon ensue, and we will shortly have the kind of globalized import quota system that was imposed on Japan in the early 1980s. Needless to say, the latter may stabilize steel prices at levels far below current quotes, but it will also mean a drastic cutback in global steel production and iron ore demand.

And that gets to the core component of the deformation arising from central bank fueled credit expansion and the drastic worldwide repression of interest rates and cost of capital. The 12X expansion of China’s steel industry was accompanied by an even more fantastic expansion of iron ore production, processing, transportation, port and ocean shipping capacity.

On the one hand, capacity could not grow at the breakneck speed of China’s initial ramp in steel production—so prices soared. And again, not just in the range of traditional cyclical amplitudes. As indicated above, prices rose from $20 per ton in the early 1990s to $180 per ton by 2012—meaning that vast windfall rents were earned on the difference between low cash costs on existing or recently constructed iron ore capacity and the soaring prices in spot and contract markets.

The reality of truly obscene current profits and the propaganda about endless growth in the miracle of red capitalism, combined with the cheap debt available in global capital markets, resulted in an explosion of iron ore mining capacity like the world has never before witnessed in any mineral industry.

Stated differently, the Big Three miners would never have expanded their capacity from 250 million tons to 1.1 billion tons in an honest free market. Nor would they have posted such egregious financial trends as have occurred over the past decade. To wit, even as the global iron ore (and also copper) boom gather steam in the run-up to the financial crisis, the three miners spent $55 billion on CapEx during the four years ending in 2007.

By contrast, during the four most recent years they spent 3.2X more or $175 billion. Not surprisingly, the residue on their balance sheets is unmistakable. Their combined debt went from about $12 billion in 2004 to more than $90 billion at present.

But now, prices will be driven down to the lowest marginal cost of supply, meaning that Big Three EBITDA will violently collapse, causing leverage ratios to soar and new CapEx to be drastically downsized. In turn, Caterpillar’s order book will take a giant hit, and so will its supply chain running all the way back to Peoria.

 

So the collapse of the mother of all commodity bubbles is virtually baked into the cake. As one industry CEO recently acknowledged, his company’s truly variable, cash cost of production is about $20 per ton and he will not hesitate to keep producing for positive variable profit. That means iron ore prices will also plunge far below the current $66 per ton quote now extant in the market.

In short, when the classical Austrians talked about “malinvestment” the pending disasters in the global steel and iron ore industries (and also mining equipment and other supplier industries) are what they had in mind. Except none of them could have imagined the fevered and irrational magnitudes of the deformations that have resulted from the actions of the mad money printers who now run the world’s central banks.





The future belongs to the adaptable

14 08 2014

Nicole Foss

Nicole Foss

Nicole Foss was back recently, on a speaking tour with, this time David Holmgren.  You may remember that the two disagree on how to handle the future, with David asking for ‘Crash on Demand’, while Nicole believes the crash will occur soon enough without any of our assistance…..

I seriously considered going to listen to her again, because I have rarely found a better speaker anywhere, but in the end felt I knew her message well enough, and so decided not to.  Nicole is a Master Communicator, and explains things in a manner that anyone, even me, can understand!  I reported on this, but relying on my memory to tell you what she said isn’t a good idea……  what memory?

This time, we are all lucky.  Her talk was taped and broadcast on Radio National for all to listen to, and in my case digest many times over as I downloaded it, and saved it to a SD card I can play on my car stereo when I drive!  I may bag technology all the time, but sometimes it sure comes in handy..

Several things Nicole mentioned are worth emphasising here, so I have taken the time to itemise the more salient points as I see them.

  1. The Trust Horizon.  I’ve heard no one else use this concept, and it’s more than interesting, because I believe that these days, trust is a fast disappearing commodity as people become more and more disjoined.  More to the point, if you’re going to start a revolution, something I say all the time, you need to know you can trust those you are revolting with, and they need to know they can trust you.  Which more than likely explains the lack of a revolution so far…….
    And yet, we – well, some of us! – trust financial and government institutions to do the right thing by us…
  2. The great collateral grab by the filthy rich is already underway; this involves the disappearance of a lot of virtual value, happening in Greece right now where ports, railways, islands, and beaches, and even the Parthenon are being sold off….  the Greeks will soon own very little of their country and will end up being renters.
  3. We’re going to see falling prices; unfortunately, it doesn’t mean things will become more affordable.  If the amount of money in your pocket disappears faster than prices come down, you’re going to find things difficult.
  4. Places that had bubbles burst significantly, like Iceland, Ireland, Spain, looked very much like Australia before their bubbles burst…..
  5. Local government may end up being the only level at which governance will still work because of the trust horizon.  Nicole even suggest a coup of sorts by standing in local elections to change the rules to allow more people to become self sufficient, something I have had personal experience with here as you would not believe the stupid rules that are in place to stop you from disconnecting from the Matrix……
  6. Australia’s business plan is utterly reliant on what’s happening in China, and that makes us very vulnerable.  China has already overbuilt infrastructure, and it has also stockpiled huge amounts of everything and could stop buying our resources at very short notice……  China’s economy is the biggest ponzi scheme on the face of the planet.
    USPOchart2USPOchart3
  7. If Energy Profit Ratio falls by a factor of ten (as it is doing…) then gross production needs to rise by a factor of ten just to keep you in the same place.  Gross production is however flat to falling.  When BOTH energy profit ratio AND production fall simultaneously, that means a serious energy crunch.  This will lower our levels of complexity substantially, and our lives will have to simplify…
  8. Dependency equals vulnerability, replace brittleness with resilience.  We have to decentralise everything…….  from money supply, to control over the essentials of your very existence, the future belongs to the adaptable.  Local grassroots initiatives will not give us Business as Usual which is a phenomenon caused by cheap energy and credit which are both going to disappear……

If you’ve never heard Nicole speak, you will relish this presentation.  Enjoy.





The Crash Ratchets Up…..

13 07 2014

It’s often been said among Peakniks that ‘the crash’ is not an event that will occur smoothly or suddenly, but rather in steps… so a sudden downturn like what happened when the GFC first hit would hit a low, followed by perhaps another rise at best, or a plateau.  Then another sharp downturn would shape the next step down to an even lower plateau.  How long these plateaus last of course is anyone’s guess, and they are at the mercy of events.  Who can guess what might happen in the Middle East next?

Just such a downturn may now not be far away.

Bank lending, it seems, has been setting new records since mid-2013, especially in the USA.  If the last credit bubble – when too many dodgy loans were made by overenthusiastic loan officers before it all blew up in 2008 – was spectacular, this one is even more so….. Based on the loose principle that the US economy can only grow if bank lending balloons, it appears that the lowering ERoEI of the oil industry may be at its core.

This is what the auspicious chart of core bank loans outstanding looks like (via OtterWood Capital Management):

https://i0.wp.com/wolfstreet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/US-Core-bank_loans.png

This time around, economists have been using the borrowing binge as proof that investment was suddenly picking up, that these investments would filter into economic growth, and that after all this time of mirages and sour disappointments, the ever elusive “escape velocity” would finally come……..

It turns out that that jump in investment – powered by bank lending, investment is a code word for debt – that economists have so enthusiastically shown as ‘proof of return to normal’ has been nothing but an illusion. And no, it wasn’t some blogger spouting off pessimistic data, but the Financial Times, quoting such sources as “senior executives” inside major US banks who “are privately warning” that this new lending binge “should not be seen as evidence of an economic recovery.”

Instead, much of the borrowed money was used “to fund payouts to shareholders” via dividends (remember Shell..?) and stock buybacks and to “finance acquisitions,” the source said.  None of these activities are productive, in fact, these acquisitions lead companies to boast about synergies and labour efficiencies – that is, redundencies – at either end, as these businesses get consolidated.

And here’s the sting……  Part of that borrowed money is being ploughed into the American fracking boom where drillers on the terrible treadmill that fracking really is have to contend with terribly sharp depletion rates, forcing them to drill ever more wells just to maintain production.  And they can never get off that treadmill because production would soon collapse if they did, and with each new well they have to borrow more, and then they require more production just to service the ballooning debt.  Revenues have risen 5.6% over the last four years while debt that drillers have piled on has nearly doubled [read… The Fracking Shakeout].

Watch this space, things might get awfully interesting soon…… because as soon as Peak Fracking hits, and that is bound to happen before 2020, all hell will break loose.





IEA Says the Party’s Over

7 06 2014

Posted Jun 5, 2014 by Richard Heinbergheinberg

Originally published at Post Carbon Institute

The International Energy Agency has just released a new special report called “World Energy Investment Outlook” that should send policy makers screaming and running for the exits—if they are willing to read between the lines and view the report in the context of current financial and geopolitical trends. This is how the press agency UPI begins its summary:

It will require $48 trillion in investments through 2035 to meet the world’s growing energy needs, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday from Paris. IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement the reliability and sustainability of future energy supplies depends on a high level of investment. “But this won’t materialize unless there are credible policy frameworks in place as well as stable access to long-term sources of finance,” she said. “Neither of these conditions should be taken for granted.”

Here’s a bit of context missing from the IEA report: the oil industry is actually cutting back on upstream investment. Why? Global oil prices—which, at the current $90 to $110 per barrel range, are at historically high levels—are nevertheless too low to justify tackling ever-more challenging geology. The industry needs an oil price of at least $120 per barrel to fund exploration in the Arctic and in some ultra-deepwater plays. And let us not forget: current interest rates are ultra-low (thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing), so marshalling investment capital should be about as easy now as it is ever likely to get. If QE ends and if interest rates rise, the ability of industry and governments to dramatically increase investment in future energy production capacity will wane.
Other items from the report should be equally capable of inducing policy maker freak-out:
The shale bubble’s-a-poppin’. In 2012, the IEA forecast that oil extraction rates from US shale formations (primarily the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in Texas) would continue growing for many years, with America overtaking Saudia Arabia in rate of oil production by 2020 and becoming a net oil exporter by 2030. In its new report, the IEA says US tight oil production will start to decline around 2020. One might almost think the IEA folks have been reading Post Carbon Institute’s analysis of tight oil and shale gas prospects! www.shalebubble.org This is a welcome dose of realism, though the IEA is probably still erring on the side of optimism: our own reading of the data suggests the decline will start sooner and will probably be steep.
Help us, OPEC—you’re our only hope! Here’s how the Wall Street Journal frames its story about the report: “A top energy watchdog said the world will need more Middle Eastern oil in the next decade, as the current U.S. boom wanes. But the International Energy Agency warned that Persian Gulf producers may still fail to fill the gap, risking higher oil prices.” Let’s see, how is OPEC doing these days? Iraq, Syria, and Libya are in turmoil. Iran is languishing under US trade sanctions. OPEC’s petroleum reserves are still ludicrously over-stated. And while the Saudis have made up for declines in old oilfields by bringing new ones on line, they’ve run out of new fields to develop. So it looks as if that risk of higher oil prices is quite a strong one.
A “what-me-worry?” price forecast. Despite all these dire developments, the IEA offers no change from its 2013 oil price forecast (that is, a gradual increase in world petroleum prices to $128 per barrel by 2035). The new report says the oil industry will need to increase its upstream investment over the forecast period by $2 trillion above the IEA’s previous investment forecast. From where is the oil industry supposed to derive that $2 trillion if not from significantly higher prices—higher over the short run, perhaps, than the IEA’s long-range 2035 forecast price of $128 per barrel, and ascending higher still? This price forecast is obviously unreliable, but that’s nothing new. The IEA has been issuing wildly inaccurate price forecasts for the past decade. In fact, if the massive increase in energy investment advised by the IEA is to occur, both electricity and oil are about to become significantly less affordable. For a global economy tightly tied to consumer behavior and markets, and one that is already stagnant or contracting, energy constraints mean one thing and one thing only: hard times.
What about renewables? The IEA forecasts that only 15 percent of the needed $48 trillion will go to renewable energy. All the rest is required just to patch up our current oil-coal-gas energy system so that it doesn’t run into the ditch for lack of fuel. But how much investment would be required if climate change were to be seriously addressed? Most estimates look only at electricity (that is, they gloss over the pivotal and problematic transportation sector) and ignore the question of energy returned on energy invested. Even when we artificially simplify the problem this way, $7.2 trillion spread out over twenty years simply doesn’t cut it. One researcher estimates that investments will have to ramp up to $1.5 to $2.5 trillion per year. In effect, the IEA is telling us that we don’t have what it takes to sustain our current energy regime, and we’re not likely to invest enough to switch to a different one.
If you look at the trends cited and ignore misleading explicit price forecasts, the IEA’s implicit message is clear: continued oil price stability looks problematic. And with fossil fuel prices high and volatile, governments will likely find it even more difficult to devote increasingly scarce investment capital toward the development of renewable energy capacity.

As you read this report, imagine yourself in the shoes of a high-level policy maker. Wouldn’t you want to start thinking about early retirement?