Did The Fed Just Ring A Bell At The Top?

By Graham Summers – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

Very few investors caught on to it, but a few weeks ago the Fed made its single largest announcement in eight years.

First let me provide some context.

For eight years now, the Fed has propped up the stock market. In terms of formal monetary policy the Fed has:

  • Kept interest rates at ZERO for seven years making money virtually free and forcing investors into stocks and junk bonds in search of yield.
  • Engaged in over $3.5 TRILLION in Quantitative Easing or QE, providing an amount of liquidity to the US financial system that is greater than the GDP of Germany.

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“Bigger Systemic Risk” Now Than 2008 – Bank of England

By Mark O’Byrne – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

– Bank of England warn that “bigger systemic risk” now than in 2008
– BOE, Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) concerns re financial system
– Banks accused of “balance sheet trickery” -undermining spirit of post-08 rules
– EU & UK corporate bond markets may be bigger source of instability than ’08
– Credit card debt and car loan surge could cause another financial crisis

– PRA warn banks returning to similar practices to those that sparked 08 crisis
– ‘Conscious that corporate memories can be shed surprisingly fast’ warns PRA Chair

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US Economy Keeps Moving Into Summer Storm

By David Haggith – Re-Blogged From http://www.Silver-Phoenix500.com

One of the kookiest moments last month came when Fed Chairwoman Yellen spoke about seeing no financial collapse in sight during our lifetimes

“Would I say there will never ever be another financial crisis? No. Probably that would be going a little too far, but I do think that we’re much safer, and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes, and I don’t believe it will be.”  (CNBC Play video for quote on next crisis.)

That certainly calls to mind the times when Chairman Ben Break-the-banky pontificated about there being no housing bubble and no recession in sight:

Yellen’s predecessor, Ben Bernanke, once famously called problems in the subprime mortgage market “contained,” a statement that would be proven wrong when the collapse of illiquid mortgage-backed securities cascaded through Wall Street and contributed to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Asked at a recent FOMC meeting about any possible problem with banks still being too big to fail, Yellen only said, “I’m not aware of anything concrete to react to.”

Nice to know she’s sound asleep while sugar plums dance in her head, bringing forth prophecies of good times for the rest of everyone’s foreseeable life … or, at least, the rest of hers.

When a Fed chair says something as audacious as there is no chance of another financial crisis in our lifetimes and when she sees no concrete situations of banks being too big to fail, even when the ones that were too big to fail last time are now twice as big, I think Titanic disaster. I think of all those nuclear experts who said, when three Fukushima reactors were blowing up and melting down, that they saw no chance of meltdown anywhere because these reactors were built too tough to melt down. As they spoke, you could hear the reactors exploding and see tops blowing off the buildings on videos playing behind them and watch people running around in protective suits, which made for quite a spectacular orchestration of expert feel-safe baloney.

“Nothing to see here, folks. Just minor gas venting, typical of reactors in a non-meltdown stage of something. Move along.”

I think minor gas venting is what we are hearing out of Yellen.

The inability of central bankers to see anything coming, even as it is bearing down on top of them, is classic. If recessions were trains, Yellen would be tied to the tracks right now, sipping tea. Her saucer would be rattling on the rails, but you wouldn’t be able to hear the rattle because of the rumbling of a locomotive in the background. Yellen would look up from her tea cup and smile at you like the nice grandmother that she is as the train runs over her.

You can also comfort yourself with this bit of superior Fed protection: All of Yellen’s major underling banks just passed the Fed’s most stringent stress test of their reserves. Because they passed gloriously, Yellen & Co told them they can now reduce their reserves, just as she is talking about strapping the economy with quantitative tightening. This move is for the important reason of freeing up something like $100 billion so they can pay themselves fat bonuses and share the wealth with their stockholders.

Whew! Glad the risk of being too big to fail is over. Maybe she meant she has just removed the risk for banksters and major share holders because they all get their bonuses now before the banking collapse.

If you wonder how blind Grandma Yellen is, look at her following statement, which offers a penetrating glance into the obvious:

Valuation pressures across a range of assets and several indicators of investor risk appetite have increased further since mid-February… (Zero Hedge)

Really? Just since mid-February? That was the first time you noticed that maybe, just maybe, the stock and bond markets were starting to look a little bubbly? These high valuations are just now pressuring the Fed to back off on stimulus because the market started to look a tad inflated in February?

She made this statement in order to justify her other statement ab out the Fed’s following choice to reduce stimulus even though it’s inflation target has not yet been met:

The Committee currently expects to begin implementing the balance sheet normalization program this year provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated…

So, the Fed has changed its metric from its mandate of manipulating inflation to setting policy based on curbing overly exuberant market valuations. Once again, we see evidence that the Fed is manipulating markets and setting a course correction on stimulus because of markets.

In other words, the Fed wants you to believe the bubblicious pricing of stocks was not something they rigged by “trying to create a wealth effect” in “front-running the stock market” as former Fed governor Richard Fisher said of the actions he was involved in, but that it is just a side-effect of their stimulus that now pressures them to back down. No, it was dangerous manipulation that is now pressuring the Fed to pursue a course of unwinding stimulus.

The Great Unwind Is About To Begin

The unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has been saved to the end because it is more problematic than either the end of quantitative wheezing or the end of low-interest policy, and it is being carried out be people who have never seen a recession coming in the past and who see no reason to believe we will ever again in our lifetimes see a financial crisis like the last one.

By “the Great Unwind,” I mean the reversal of QE (quantitative tightening). While investors are buoyed a little by Yellen’s dovish indication this week that the Fed will only raise interest one more time, the reversal of QE over time will be by far the Fed’s most difficult change toward normalization to navigate.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman Jamie Dimon said the unwinding of central bank bond-buying programs is an unprecedented challenge that may be more disruptive than people think.

“We’ve never have had QE like this before, we’ve never had unwinding like this before,” Dimon said at a conference in Paris Tuesday. “Obviously that should say something to you about the risk that might mean, because we’ve never lived with it before…. We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen and we don’t.”

All the main buyers of sovereign debt over the last 10 years — financial institutions, central banks, foreign exchange managers — will become net sellers now, he said. (Newsmax)

A risk never experienced in the history of the world. Never is a long time. That risk, anticipated to begin at the end of summer, is far greater than the mere termination of QE that already took place or than the incremental rise in interest rates. This change actually sucks liquidity out of the market, versus slowing the expansion of liquidity.

Considering the Fed has pumped $4.5 trillion of liquidity into the economy to help “recover” from the Great Recession, there is potentially a lot of unwinding to now begin, and it starts in an economy that is limping along the ground, not in the kind of recovery the Fed anticipated rewinding from. Between the European Central Bank, the Bank of the Japan and the Fed, there is $14 trillion to unwind … or, at least, some large portion of that.

The Great Unwind happens in a period where global debt has reached $217 trillion, which presents a major problem for the Fed in selling off so many bonds. They will almost certainly have to offer them at better yields more interest in order to attract buyers. That sifts throughout debt markets to raise the interest on carrying or refinancing all of this debt. Nations will have to compete with central bank yields in order to issue new debt or refi old. The European Central Bank and Bank of Japan are also looking like they may start unwinding soon, so compound all of that in your mind.

“As I believe the main factor in driving market multiples to historically high levels was QE, ZIRP and NIRP, then yes, the reversal will have major implications for markets and volatility.” Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, told MarketWatch.

The Fed’s Great Unwind is scheduled to start (if the Fed’s hints bear out) during the stock market’s unwind from Trumphoria, too, and during the retail apocalypse and auto market crash:

Crispin Odey, who made money for a second straight month by sticking to bearish equity bets, said the chance of a market crash is rising as growth slows and the Federal Reserve normalizes interest rates.

The credit cycle boosted by loose monetary policy has peaked and there’s a widespread slowdown in the auto, commodity, industrial and retail sectors, Odey wrote in a letter to investors. Unlike previous dips since the financial crisis, central banks aren’t responding by printing more money.

“This time they are doing the reverse,” which is likely to exacerbate the negative trend, the London-based hedge fund manager wrote. “All this sits very uncomfortably with the fun being felt in the stock markets. When I look at the move up since Trump’s election as president, I detect the walk of a drunken man.”

“The chances of car crashes everywhere are rising,” according to Odey. “Enjoy the hot summer,” (Newsmax)

The timing for the Fed’s Great Unwind does not look fortuitous. Key to understanding why the Federal Reserve always has such bad timing so that it routinely crashes its own recoveries can be found in recognizing that the Fed’s dual mandate — setting monetary guidance based on maximizing jobs and maintaining inflation at a set level — means the Fed is always aiming to create goals that may take a year to develop from the time they make any change.

Inflation is largely dependent on the wage/labor market, and a change in hiring decisions is dependent first on a change in economic conditions; so the movement of these lagging indicators that the Fed monitors the most can easily be a year or more away. Thus, the Fed will continue to move every quarter more and more toward their new bias of stimulus reduction until they see the results in their job and inflation metrics. But they are doing that when the economy is already receding. By the time they see the results in their two sacred metrics, they’ve moved further than they need to and downhill momentum has already built up.

So, they will do it again.

The Death Of Trumphoria

The irrational exuberance that superheated the stock market after Trump’s election is dead right where I said months ago it died. A quick look at any chart of its biometrics proves that:

The patient has been pretty-well flatlining for half a year with a couple of attempted jolts with the paddles that yielded no lasting results. The market has scratched its way sideways in daily tremors up and down ever since, but has gone almost nowhere for more than four months.

While the NASDAQ just looks like a heart attack:

Chris Whalen, a long-time bank analyst, expects [bank] earnings to come in soft enough that the stocks will trade off. “There’s no real growth on the top line,” he told MarketWatch. After several lean years, banks have run out of expenses to cut to boost the bottom line.

And most investors are finally starting to acknowledge that the hoped-for “reflation trade” isn’t coming, Whalen said. “The Trump Bump is dead.”

Hopes that the economy would be boosted by structural reforms, including tax reform, have faded as the administration of President Donald Trump has made little leeway on its plans. (Marketwatch)

The stock market gained a little more headroom in the first half of last month, but has, again, petered out. The market is in its summer doldrums — that hot, sultry period of dead winds before the summer storms — where any gains look like a mirage, typically passing away as soon as they are reached. Relentless stories about Trump’s supposed Russian electioneering collaboration — whether true or fake — also have diminished investor hopes that a fiscal stimulus plan will come about this year, an outcome I’ve suggested is likely all year.

And FAANG stocks — those high-tech draft horses of the stock market — are now weighing down on the market with dead weight, rather than dragging it up. This is a major reversal of the pattern that has supported the market for years when many stocks were in a bear market, but the FAANG’s relentlessly pulled the averages ever skyward.

Bank of America’s chief strategist Michael Harnett sees the top forming in the market and predicts the stock market will crash this fall:

We don’t think this is “big top” in stocks;  greed harder to kill than fear; don’t think this “big top” in stocks…. summer 2017 = significant inflection point in central bank liquidity trade…will likely lead to “Humpty-Dumpty” big fall in market in autumn, in our view. But Big Top likely occurs when Peak Liquidity meets Peak Profits. We think that’s an autumn not summer story. (Zero Hedge)

In BofA’s view, the stagnant humidity we feel in the market now — the doldrums after Trumphoria  — is building toward an autumn storm more likely than a summer storm because it will required the Fed’s move into the Great Unwind to really kick things off. I’ve said summer because I’d rather err’ on the side of safety, miss a part of the ride and be out ahead of the stampede. (And I’m not a trader, just someone who has moved his retirement funds out of stocks. I do not even try to give trading advice. My interest on this blog is macro-economics — where the economy is headed — and the stock markets of this world are only a part of that (a part we now know is rigged by central banks’ direct stock purchases).

Carmageddon 0n Cruise Control

“There’s been a consistent reduction in plant output in the last six months, and what is ahead in the next six months could be pretty startling,” said Ron Harbour, a noted manufacturing analyst….

“The industry has dramatically expanded employment in the United States in the last several years, but the growth is just not there anymore,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

And companies are increasingly looking to build their less profitable car models outside the United States. Ford Motor, for example, said in June that it would move production of its Focus sedan to China from Michigan….

Scaling back jobs in car plants is part of a newfound discipline among automakers to avoid bloated payrolls and inventories when sales start slipping….

Moreover, the Detroit companies have also hired large numbers of lower-wage, entry-level employees with less costly unemployment benefits….

G.M., for example, has reduced the number of shifts at several of its domestic plants….

“We are beginning to enter a period we call the post-peak,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive, which operates the auto-research sites Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. (New York Times)

And auto parts are not doing any better than autos. O’Reilly Automotive Inc.’s disappointing sales slammed a sector already seen as Amazon’s next source of fodder, taking a record plunge as it missed its second-quarter projections. Advanced Auto Parts and AutoZone are also continued declining. O’Reilly shares plunged as much as 21%. It is another area where demand is shifting away from brick-and-mortar stores and toward online purchases. Some say that auto manufacturers, seeing that customers are hanging on to their old cars longer, are stiffening up competition from OEM parts, too.

Attempts To Ward Off The “Retail Apocalypse”

Mitigating forces are at work, trying to turn the massive number of closures of mall anchor stores and smaller stores into opportunity for new life, but no one knows yet if these extravagant and creative efforts will work.

Costs are escalating as mall owners’ work to keep their real estate up to date and fill the void left by failing stores. The companies are turning to everything from restaurants and bars to mini-golf courses and rock-climbing gyms to draw in customers who appear more interested in being entertained during a trip to the mall than they are in buying clothes and electronics. The new tenants will pay higher rents than struggling chains such as Macy’s and Sears, and hopefully attract more traffic for retailers at the property, according to Haendel St. Juste, an analyst at Mizuho Securities USA LLC.

“The math is pretty obvious, pretty compelling, but there are risks,” St. Juste said in an interview. “This hasn’t been done before on a broad scale.”

…So far, jettisoning and replacing undesirable tenants has been a successful formula for many landlords, but there is still a lot of work to be done, according to Jeffrey Langbaum, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. Some companies won’t have the cash to keep up amid the relentless pace of store closures, he said.

“For the most part, these companies have been able to redevelop and backfill space,” Langbaum said. “That’s great, but the big wave is still coming.”

…For Ziff of Time Equities, which buys outdated malls and renovates them, it doesn’t matter how you categorize the expenses of making over a center for the modern era, or if there is a linear path to a return on a particular project. Whether it’s installing a fireplace in a new food hall, or buying artwork for the common area, the aim is to drive higher traffic and tenant sales, he said. Ultimately, it’s all cash going out the door. (Newsmax)

The response teams to the retail crisis are already at work on makeovers, but the costs are high, and no one knows yet if it will work beyond a few well-positioned success stories. The fact that they are taking such major risks shows how significance this retail paradigm shift is.

Government Bankruptcies Continue To Grow

I recently reported on the near-default situation of several states, showing how deeply to the core of the state the residual problems of the financial crisis cuts. You can add to that list of serious funding problems, the capital city of Connecticut:

Like many other local governments across the country, Hartford — city of Mark Twain and the young John Pierpont Morgan — has been grappling with budget problems for years. On the same day that Illinois lawmakers finally scrapped together a long-overdue budget, Hartford hired the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP to evaluate its options, which include bankruptcy. It would be the first prominent U.S. municipality to seek protection from its creditors since Detroit did so in 2013. (Newsmax)

The rise in both corporate and national defaults right now is showing up in other areas of the world, too:

Sovereign government and corporate defaults in both developed and developing economies are beginning to emerge. For example, China has registered in 2017 its highest level of corporate defaults in the first quarter of a calendar year on record. Delinquencies and charge-offs in the United States soared to $US1.4 billion in the first quarter of 2017, the highest recorded level since the first quarter of 2011….

In May 2017, six major Canadian banks were downgraded by Moody’s Investor Service (Moody’s) as concerns rise over soaring Canadian household debt and house prices leave lenders more vulnerable to losses. Moody’s also downgraded China’s sovereign debt in May 2017 for the first time since 1989 and has warned of further downgrades if further reforms are not enacted….

In May 2017, S&P has downgraded 23 small-to-medium Australian financial institutions as the risk of falling property prices increases and potential financial losses start to increase. In June 2017, Moody’s downgraded 12 Australian banks, including Australia’s four major banks.

Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded bonds for the US State of Illinois down to one notch above junk bond status as the state has over $US 14.5b in unpaid bills. (Zero Hedge)

These pressures are spreading at a rate that could be considered endemic around the world by next year.

More Storm Clouds Keep Gathering

Credit demand for both credit cards and auto loans has gone deeply negative for the first time in years. Credit cards briefly touched into the negative in 2012 with a 4% decline; but this year’s decline of 11% far exceeds that. Auto loans haven’t gone negative since 2011, but are now seeing a 14% decline.

US tax receipts have matched this negative move, also down about 14% this year with an uptick last month. They haven’t gone negative since the Great Recession, other than a brief downtick of about -4% in 2011. Other than that brief downtick, a negative turn of this indicator has exactly matched with every recession in the post WWII era.

Factory orders took their second monthly drop and fell by more than economists expected. Durable goods orders declined in April and May, following a year of steady albeit slight growth.

Even the formerly blind Fed Chair Alan Greenspan sees that we are now entering what he says will be a long, “very tough” period of stagflation. He anticipates GDP will bump up to growth of 3% for the second quarter, but says that is misleading number, “a false dawn,” that is merely born of problematic adjustments happening this quarter. “The presumption that we’re going to come bouncing back is utterly unrealistic.” (Newsmax) That’s quite a change for Greenspan who, like most central-bank chiefs, never saw trouble coming in the past.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s “Sellside Indicator” hit its highest level since the official end of the Great Recession in June 2011.  The indicator measures how bullish strategists are on US equities, now showing a strong move toward the “jump out and sell” side.

The Chicago Fed National Economic Activity Index took its biggest drop since August, 2016.

US mortgage applications and home purchases have seen steep declines recently. The week ending the month of June, usually a hot time for buying, dropped week-on-week by the most in half a year, even as interest rates had returned to nearly their lowest levels. Correspondingly, pending home sales fell each month from March through May. A majority of economists polled by Reuters, naturally, forecasted that May sales would increase. Here’s dirt in your eye, Economists.

In summary, nothing happening this summer threatens my forecast from the beginning of the year, which said that a major economic breakdown would become evident by summer and that the stock market would crash sometime between early summer and the start of 2018, with it likely to be earlier than later. I’ve bet my blog on it, and I’ll comfortably stay with that bet. I don’t think the above confluence of forces proves that bet right, by any means; but clearly forces are continuing to build strongly in that direction. There is, in fact, almost nothing on our horizon in the US that looks like a playful summer on the beach. (I hope YOU have such a summer, but I am speaking in terms of the economy.)

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This Stock Market is Priced to Sell

By Vitaliy Katsenelson – Re-Blogged From IMA

If you feel that you have to own stocks no matter the cost; if you tell yourself, “Stocks are expensive, but I am a long-term investor,” — there’s help for you yet.

First, let’s scan the global economic landscape. The health of the European Union has not improved, and Brexit only increased the possibility of other nation’s “exits” as the structural issues that render this union dysfunctional go unfixed.

Meanwhile, Japan’s population isn’t getting any younger — in fact, it’s the oldest in the world. Japan is also the world’s most-indebted developed nation (though, in all fairness, other countries are desperately trying to take that title away from it). Despite the growing debt, Japanese five-year government bonds are “paying” an interest rate of negative 0.10%. Imagine what will happen to the government’s budget when Japan has to start actually paying to borrow money commensurate with its debtor profile.

Regarding China, the bulk of Chinese growth is coming from debt, which in fact is growing at a much faster pace than the economy. This camel has consumed a tremendous quantity of steroids over the years that have weakened its back — we just don’t know yet which straw will break it.

n the U.S., meanwhile, S&P 500 SPX, -0.12% earnings have stagnated since 2013, but this has not stopped analysts from launching into a new year with forecasts of 10%-20% earnings growth — only to gradually take expectations down to near-zero as the year progresses. The explanation for the stagnation is surprisingly simple: Corporate profitability overall has been stretched to an extreme and is unlikely to improve much, as profit margins are close to all-time highs (corporations have squeezed about as much juice out of their operations as they can). And interest rates are still low, while corporate and government indebtedness is very high — a recipe for higher interest rates and significant inflation down the road, which will pressure corporate margins even further.

I am acutely aware that all of the above sounds like a broken record. It absolutely does, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We are in the final innings of this eight-year-old bull market, which in the past few years has been fueled not by great fundamentals but by a lack of good investment alternatives.

Starved for yield, investors are forced to pick investments by matching current yields with income needs, while ignoring riskiness and overvaluation. Why wouldn’t they? After all, over the past eight years we have observed only steady if unimpressive returns and very little realized risk. However, just as in dating, decisions that are made due to a “lack of alternatives” are rarely good decisions, as new alternatives will eventually emerge — it’s just a matter of time.

The average stock (that is, the market) is extremely expensive. At this point it almost doesn’t matter which valuation metric you use: price to 10-year trailing earnings; stock market capitalization (market value of all stocks) as a percentage of GDP (sales of the whole economy); enterprise value (market value of stocks less cash plus debt) to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) — they all point to this: stocks were more expensive than they are today only once in the past century — during the late 1990s dot-com bubble.

Investors who are stampeding into expensive stocks through passive index funds are buying what has worked — and will likely stop working. Mutual funds are not much better. When I meet new clients, I get to look at their mutual-fund holdings. Even value-oriented funds, which in theory are supposed to be scraping equities from the bottom of the stock-market barrel, are full of pricey companies. Cash (which is another way of saying, “I’m not buying overvalued stocks”) is not a viable option for most equity-fund managers.

Thus this market has turned professional investors into buyers not of what they like but of what they hate the least. In 2016 less than 10% of actively managed funds outperformed their benchmarks (their respective index funds) on a five-year trailing basis. Unfortunately, the last time this happened was in 1999, during the dot-com bubble, and we know how that story ended.

To summarize the requirements for investing in an environment where decisions are made not based on fundamentals but due to a lack of alternatives, look to Mark Twain: “All you need in this life [read: lack-of-alternatives stock market] is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

To succeed in the market that lies ahead of us, one will need to have a lot of confidence in his ignorance and exercise caution and prudence, which will often mean taking the much less-traveled path.

So, how does one invest in this overvalued market? Our strategy is spelled out in this fairly lengthy article.

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Raise The Inflation Target And Put A Date On It!

By Michael Pento – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

Raise the Inflation Target and Put a Date on It! That’s the direction some high-profile economist and former members on the FOMC want to go. According to these academics, including Narayana Kocherlakota the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 to 2015, raising the inflation target just isn’t enough. They want to put a time horizon on it as well. In other words, they want to raise the inflation target higher than the current 2% level, and then place a firm date as to when that inflation goal must be achieved.

Their rational for doing both actions is to reduce the level of real interest rates, which they somehow believe is the progenitor for viable GDP growth. You see, once the Fed has taken the nominal Fed Funds Rate to zero, there isn’t much more room to the downside unless these money manipulators assent to negative nominal interest rates. But charging banks to hold excess reserves is fraught with danger, and so far this idea has been eschewed in this country and has been proven ineffectual in Europe.

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Dollar May Become “Local Currency Of The US Only”

By Mike Gleason – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

Listen to the Podcast Audio: Click Here

Mike Gleason: It is my great privilege to be joined now by James Rickards. Mr. Rickards is editor of Strategic Intelligence, a monthly newsletter, and Director of the James Rickards Project, an inquiry into the complex dynamics of geopolitics and global capital. He’s also the author of several bestselling books including The Death of Money, Currency Wars, The New Case for Gold, and now his latest book The Road to Ruin.

In addition to his achievements as a writer and author, Jim is also a portfolio manager, lawyer and renowned economic commentator having been interviewed by CNBC, the BBC, Bloomberg, Fox News and CNN just to name a few. And we’re also happy to have him back on the Money Metals Podcast.

Jim, thanks for coming on with us again today. We really appreciate your time. How are you?

Jim Rickards: I’m fine, Mike. Thanks. Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Mike Gleason: Absolutely. Well first off, Jim, last week, the fed increased the fed funds rate by another quarter of a point as most of us expected, but during that meeting, we also heard Janet Yellen say she wants to normalize the Fed’s balance sheet, which means the Fed could be dumping about $50 billion in financial assets into the marketplace each month. Now you’ve been a longtime and outspoken critic of the fed and their policies over the years. So, what are your thoughts here, Jim? Do you believe they will actually follow through on this idea of selling off more than $4 trillion in bonds and other assets on the Fed’s books? And if so, what do you think the market reaction would be including the gold market?

 

Jim Rickards: Well, I do think they’re going to follow through. Of course, it’s important to understand the mechanics of the Fed. They’re actually not going to sell any bonds. But they are going to reduce their balance sheet by probably two to two and a half trillion. So just to go through the history and the math and the actual mechanics there, so prior to the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed’s balance sheet was about $800 billion. As a result of QE1, QE2, QE3, and everything else the fed has done in the meantime, they got that balance sheet up to $4.5 trillion. By the way, if the Fed were a hedge fund, they’d be leveraged 115 to one. They look a really bad hedge fund. But that’s how much the Fed is leveraged, they have about 40 billion of equity, versus 4.5 trillion of assets. Mostly U.S. government securities of various kinds. So, they’re leveraged well over 100 to one.

And if you mark the balance sheet to market, not always but sometimes depending on what interest rates are doing, they’re actually technically insolvent. There have been times, again not all the times, but times when the mark to market basis, the Fed would have negative equity or basically would be broke if they were anyone other than the Fed. So that’s how leveraged they are. That’s how bad it is.

Now, what they want to do is to get the balance sheet down to what they consider normal. Now normal is completely subjective. There’s no rigorous scientific formula for what’s normal. The way you would do it is go back to 2008, start with the 800 billion, and say well look, if we had grown the balance sheet on the prior path, where would we be today in 2017, going into 2018, 2019? That number’s around two trillion. I mean it wouldn’t have been 800 billion. They’re not going to hold it steady. But probably just two to two and a half trillion for an approximation, which means that they have to reduce the balance sheet by two trillion dollars or more to get back to normal.

Now the question is, how do you do that? And again, I just want to emphasize, they’re not going to sell any bonds. What they do is they let them mature. If you want to go buy a treasury bond, let’s say we bought a 5-year note, five years ago and it was maturing today. What would happen? The Treasury just sends you the money. It’s like any bond. You don’t have to sell it. You don’t have to do anything with it. They just send you the money. They have your account and the money just shows up in your account. Well, it’s the same thing with the Fed, they have all these trillions of treasury notes and bonds and bills and mortgages and all that. And when they mature, the Treasury just sends them the money.

So, if that’s true, which it is, why hasn’t the balance sheet been going down all along? Well the answer is, they have been reinvesting the proceeds. So, as I say, if you have a 5-year note you bought five years ago, it matures, treasury sends you the money. Well the Fed has been going out buying a new 5-year note to replace the 5-year note that just matured. So that holds the balance sheet constant. During QE, they were actually doing more than that. They were not only rolling over the existing balance sheet. They were buying new securities with money from thin air.

That, by the way, for listeners who may not be familiar, that is how the Fed creates money. So, the Federal Reserve calls one of the so-called primary dealers which are the big banks. It’s Goldman Sachs, City, JP Morgan, the usual suspects. And they say, “offer me 10-year notes or 5-year notes, whatever.” And the dealer will offer them a price. And the Fed will say, “Okay, you’re done.” And then the dealer delivers the treasury notes to the Fed. And the Fed pays for them. But the money comes from nowhere. If you or I called Merrill Lynch of Goldman Sachs or somebody and said, I’d like to buy some 10-year treasury notes, they would sell them to us, but we’d have to pay for them with real money. I mean the money would come out of our brokerage account or a bank account. Whereas when the Fed does it, they just say, “Here’s the money.” And it literally comes from thin air.

So that’s what Quantitative Easing was. That was printing money to buy bonds to build up the balance sheet. And then that money went into the banking system. Of course, all the banks did was give it back to the Fed in the from excess reserves. On which they got interest, so the whole thing was just a way to funnel earnings from the treasury to the banks at the tax payers expense without anyone knowing. I mean obviously, technically I just described it, but this is not something that the everyday American necessarily understands that well. So, that’s what QE is, and this is now the opposite. And the name for it is quantitative tightening. So, when they were printing money, it was Quantitative Easing. Now that they’re making money disappear, that is what happens, it’s Quantitative Tightening, so we call it QT.

So, we had QE1, QE2, QE3. Now we’re going into QT or quantitative tightening. Now this does make money disappear. It’s the opposite of creating money. So again, simple example. The 5-year treasury note on the Fed balance sheet, it matures. The Treasury sends you the money. Now what they’re going to do, Mike, this is what you referred to, instead of going out and buying a new one to roll it over, they do nothing. And then the money disappears, the bond disappears, because it matured. And the balance sheet shrinks. So, the significance is not that they’re dumping bonds, because they’re not going to sell a single bond. The significance is that they are not buying new ones. Now at the margin, that still affects the market. The Fed has been the biggest buyer of new treasury issues for the last eight years.

In recent years, they’ve been buying as much as 30% of all the treasury bonds. So of course, the treasury issues bonds all the time to cover the deficit, right? So, we’ve had these huge deficits. They were over a trillion dollars back in the Obama days. They’re now down to around 400 billion, but that’s still a very big number as a percentage of GDP. And the Treasury covers those deficits by issuing notes and bonds. Well, the Fed has been buying 30% of them. So, it’s like any market. You take the biggest buyer out of the market, what’s going to happen? Well prices are going to fall, which means that interest rates go up. So that’s going to be a very strong headwind for the economy.

Now the Fed is trying to pretend that that’s not going to happen. And I know that sounds ridiculous, but here’s the way they’re spinning this whole thing. The Fed is saying, “Look, our policy tool is interest rates.” When they were zero, they didn’t have any flexibility. They couldn’t go below zero. I mean technically, you could go to negative interest rates, but the Fed never did. The evidence is pretty good that negative interest rates don’t work anyway. So, let’s just put negative interest rates off to one side for the time being. They are a tool in the toolkit, but not a tool that the fed has ever used or is planning to use. So, put negative interest rates to one side. Treat the zero interest rates as a hard boundary. When they were on the boundary, they couldn’t really do anything with interest rates. They couldn’t cut them anymore. They certainly weren’t going to raise them at the time.

But now they’ve got them up to 1%. We’ve had four interest rate hikes. December 2015, December 2016, March 2017 and June 2017. So, we have four rate hikes behind us – 25 basis point each. So that actually got rates up to 1%. Now they’re indicating they’re going to raise them some more. I don’t see that until December at the earliest. Maybe not even then, but I don’t think they’re going to raise rates in September. But they’re hinting that they will. They think they can raise them. If somehow we dropped into a recession, they wouldn’t do this right away, but they could cut them.

So, the Fed feels that the interest rate tool is now in use again. They can raise them or cut them. They’ve got a little bit of flexibility both ways. So, they don’t need to use the balance sheet. So, what they’re saying is, “Okay, starting now, we’re not going to sell any securities, but we’re not going to buy new ones. The amount that we’re not going to buy.” It’s kind of a strange concept, how much are you not going to buy? Or in other words, what’s the ceiling on the amount that you’re prepared not to roll over. And it’s going to start low. They’re going to start at 10 billion a month at six billion in treasuries and four billion in mortgages, but they’re going to ratchet it up. Every three months that number’s going to go up and up and up. Until they get to the point where, and this is the number you mentioned, it’s $50 billion a month broken into 30 billion in treasuries, 20 billion in mortgages.

But it’s 50 billion a month times 12 months is 600 billion dollars a year. So sooner than later, meaning late 2018, early 2019, the Fed is going to not roll over $600 billion a year. Put differently, $600 billion a year in money is going to disappear. The Fed would like us to believe that that’s not a monetary tightening, that that’s not going to have any impact on the economy. That’s nonsense. How could they tell us for eight years that Quantitative Easing was stimulative, that Quantitative Easing acted through the portfolio channel sect by pumping up stock prices, by pumping up house prices, making it good collateral for loans. This would increase funding and spending, have a wealth effect. All this wonderful stuff.

By the way, a lot of what I just said is nonsense. I mean I’m describing how the Fed thinks about it. It’s not necessarily how I think about it. Nor do I think all that stuff works the way they think it does, but that’s what they told us. That Quantitative Easing would have all these wonderful effects. Well how come Quantitative Easing has those good effects, but Quantitative Tightening or QT doesn’t have any bad effects? That seems ridiculous. So, little by little, they’re going to work their way up to $600 billion a year of money that disappears, that reduces the base money supply (M0), but somehow, we’re all supposed to pretend that that’s going to have no impact on stock prices or housing. I think that’s nonsense.

So, it’s a very big deal and the Fed says they wanted to run on background, wants to pretend that this not rolling over the 600 billion a year is going to run on background, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. We’re not going to use it as a policy tool. We’re just going to do interest rates up or down over here, so ignore this. Well they can say that, but the market’s not going to ignore it. The market understands what’s going on. And it will have this tightening effect as you described.

So, the Fed is blundering once again. They can’t seem to get anything right. That’s not really surprising when you have the wrong models, obsolete models, you’ll get the wrong policy every single time. But the economy’s weak. It’s getting weaker. We may be in a recession sooner than later. The market looks vulnerable and now the Fed wants to launch this major tightening program. I think it’s nonsense to think that won’t have some very bad effects.

Mike Gleason: Switching gears here a little bit. I want to talk about the dollar. It’s long been said that the U.S. dollar is significantly boosted and allowed to maintain its status as perhaps the world’s most reliable fiat currency or the tallest midget at the circus, so-to-speak, because the world’s financial system is built around the dollar. It is used to settle trades of oil and practically everything else. Now you’ve written a lot about currency wars and how this type of thing plays out and what goes on behind the scenes with all of this. And you just know people like the Chinese and Russians would love nothing more than to see the Petro-dollar taken out and replaced. Is our US dollar going to retain its Petro-dollar status over time here, Jim?

Jim Rickards: I don’t think so. There’s a very famous line from an Ernest Hemingway novel. The novel is The Sun Also Rises. It’s basically two guys, they’re having a drink at the bar and the one guy’s recently gone bankrupt. The other guy’s a little incredulous and he says, “Well how did you go bankrupt?” And his very famous answer was, “Slowly at first, then quickly.” Meaning, with any exponential algorithm or any exponential function, it starts slowly at first and then quickly. In other words, it’s the famous story of the courtier to the emperor of Persia, who did the emperor a service. The emperor was so pleased, he said, “I’ll give you anything you want. What do you want?” And the guy took out a chess board and he put one grain of rice on one corner. He said, “I’d like you to double the rice every square, so I’ll get two grains of rice on the second square, four grains of rice on the third square. And eight grains of rice on the fourth square, etc. around the board. And that’s how much rice I want.”

So, the king goes, “Done. You got it.” And then of course, he didn’t do the math. That’s two to the 4th power because there’s 64 squares on a board. And then the king’s administer came back later and said, “That’s more rice than the entire kingdom.” So, it’s an example of how starting with a grain of rice, you can bankrupt a kingdom when you have any kind of exponential effect going on. So, with regard to the U.S. dollar, yeah, the dollar is 60% of global reserves today. It’s 80% of global payments today when you look at all bank wire transfers and purchases of securities and currency trading and global trade, etc. No doubt that it is used to price oil and a lot of other things. So, no doubt that the dollar is the dominant global reserve currency today.

But I see at least seven or eight different, very powerful threads. Those grains of rice are going two, four, eight, 16, 64, 128 and so forth, leading to the demise of the dollar. So, what are they? Well number one, is gold. I think the China gold acquisition story is pretty well known. The Chinese officially say they have about 800 tons of gold. By the way, all these numbers I’m going to recite, these are all government gold. I’m not talking about private gold, which is a separate area, also important, but just government gold. China says they have about 1,800 tons. But (there’s a) very good reason to believe, based on Chinese mining output figures, Chinese gold imports, activities of People’s Liberation Army, which moves the gold. I’ve been to China recently. I met with the top gold banks in China.

I’ve also been to Switzerland recently and met with refiners there who actually sell gold to the Chinese and based on a lot of sources, it looks like they probably have more like maybe 4,000 tons, maybe even higher than that from all it’s probably higher, maybe 5,000 tons of gold. Russia is a lot more transparent than China, but they have tripled their gold reserves in a little over 10 years. In 2006, they had about 600 tons. And now they just passed 1,700 tons. We just got the numbers for May. That may not sound like a lot compared to the 8,000 tons that the United States has, officially 8,133 tons, but remember Russia’s economy’s only 1/8th the size of the U.S., but they have almost one quarter the amount of gold, which means that their gold to GDP ratio is double the United States.

If you had to back up your economy with gold, Russia would have twice as much as the United States again, all relative to the size of their economy. China is about on the par with the United States. It seems determined to pass the United States. So, two of the most powerful countries in the world are buying all the gold they can lay their hands on. The way I put it to people is, you can draw two conclusions. Number one, the Chinese and the Russians are really dumb. Or, they see something that you don’t. They see something that most people don’t see coming. I’ve spent time in Russia and China, they’re not dumb, meaning they see something that most people don’t see. And they’re preparing for a post dollar world or a world in which the confidence in the dollar is greatly eroded. So that’s one thread right there.

Beyond that, we have crypto-currencies. And I don’t want to get into Bitcoin and all that, but that’s a whole separate subject. It’s a long subject and a difficult one for a lot of people. But in all my discussions, I’ve always separated block chain from bit coin. Block chain is the technology behind the distributive ledger and how you actually account for the bitcoins. Bitcoin is the specific digital currency. And there are others out there. Bitcoin may or may not be the future though. That remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but others disagree. But there’s no question that block chain technology has a bright future. Russia is exploring that. If you were Russia, then you were the central bank of Russia, why would you want to be talking to the founder of Etherium or other experts on block chain technology.

Well one answer would be that you’re building a digital currency alternative to the dollar that the U.S. cannot hack or disrupt, because right now everybody’s vulnerable to dollar sanctions. So, Russia doesn’t love the dollar. They don’t love the United States, apparently. But when they sell their oil on global markets, they get paid in dollars. Now they then take the dollars. They do stuff with them. Sometimes they buy gold. We talked about that, and that they store the gold of Russia. They don’t store it in New York by the way.

Or they can buy U.S Treasury securities and they have some of those. They can buy European or Euro denominated securities, German government bonds – they have some of those etc. or they can put it into their sovereign wealth fund. So, there are a number of things they can do with the money, but they always start with dollars. And when you start selling dollars for euros, or buying gold, sending the dollars to a Swiss refinery, getting the gold in return, etc. you’re trapped in this dollar payment system that I was describing earlier, where all of what is called the message traffic – I pay you, you pay me. And we do it through banks. How is that actually done? Is it through these MT forms on Swift MT stands for message traffic?

That’s how we make irrevocable transfers. Well the United States has a choke hold on all that. We definitely have a choke hold on Fed-wire, which is the dollar payment system. And through our allies and out intelligence services, we have a choke hold on Swift, which is the international payment system.

Russia is very uncomfortable having to transact through a system that the United States holds in its grip. It’s like you’re in intensive care and you’re on oxygen and your worst enemy has his hand on the oxygen supply. They can cut it off anytime they want. So, Russia is building alternative payment systems. It’s not enough to try to get out of dollars into gold. You actually – if you’re going to transact, if you’re going to pay people for things – you need an alternative payment system that the U.S. does not control. Block Chain offers that. So, Russia and China are pursuing that.

There are there threads out there. The Chinese are very heavily diversifying into euros right now. Not all at once… none of these things happened all at once. But if you look around at the landscape, and Russia and China are buying gold. Russia and China are looking at digital payment systems, block chain type technology that the U.S. can’t control. Russia and China are doing currency swaps. China’s doing currency swaps throughout the world with Brazil, Switzerland, and with a lot of other countries. Saudi Arabia is looking at perhaps pricing Chinese oil in yuan. They’ve done currency swaps with China. They’re working on these block chain based technologies. China’s buying euros. This has the look of, you lose your status slowly, and then quickly at the end.

So, yes, I think that the dollar will sooner than later lose its status as the dominant global reserve currency. It doesn’t mean dollars go away. It does not mean that we wake up one day and, “Oh, gee. There’s no dollars.” It just means that it becomes less and less important, the U.S. loses its financial leverage, and the dollar may end up like the Mexican peso. If I go to Mexico, I’m going to get some pesos, because I need them down there for taxi drivers or tips or bartenders or whatever. So, it’s a local currency, but I’m not going to take them back to the United States with me.

Well, the dollar could get to the point where it’s the local currency of the United States. You’ll have some when you come here. And you and I might get paid in dollars or spend money in dollars or whatever, because we live in the United States. But it loses its global reserve currency status. And that’s a very big deal in terms of the ability of the United States to run perpetual trade and budget deficits without having to suffer inflation or suffer devaluation or the consequences that countries like Argentina know all too well.

And we haven’t even talked about the SDR, which is another alternative to the dollar. I’ve been talking about Russia and China and block chain and gold and euros, but the SDR is out there as well. The last issuance of SDRs was fairly recent in 2009, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. And then the next global liquidity crisis, which again, you can foresee and expect. Independent of the decline of the dollar. That’s something that’s just happening in front of our eyes. But a global liquidity crisis could happen at any time. And it begs the question. How do you re-liquefy the world? How do you put out or end a global liquidity crisis?

The last time it was the central banks bailing out Wall Street and really bailing out the world, but going back to the earlier part of the interview, Mike, when we talked about the Fed reducing their balance sheet. Well the way the fed dealt with it last time was by expanding their balance sheets. From 800 billion to 4.5 trillion. Printing money in other words.

Well what if a global liquidity crisis hit soon or maybe even next year long before the Fed reduces their balance sheet? Why is the Fed reducing their balance sheet? Why do they care? Why not just keep the 4.5 trillion? What’s the big deal? Well the answer is they’re at the outer limit of a confidence boundary. They’re at the outer limit of how much money they can print before people start to question the value of the money itself. So, they want to get it down to two trillion, so they can go back up to 4.5 trillion again if they have to. In other words, if here’s another liquidity crisis. And you start at maybe two trillion, you can take your balance sheet up to five trillion with, that would be QE4 and QE5 and QE6.

And that would help to maintain the U.S.’ dominance. But here’s my question. What if the liquidity crisis hits before the Fed can get their balance sheet normalized, which in my view is very likely. Well in that case, you need another source of liquidity, and that source would be the IMF issuing SDRs and that would be the end of the dollar. So, the threats are everywhere. They could come from a lot of different directions. In fact, all these things will tend to converge, each one will amplify the other. But they all point in the same direction, which is the devolution in confidence in the value of the dollar and much, much higher dollar prices for gold.

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Checklist For Market Tops

By Bob Hoye – Re-Blogged From http://www.Silver-Phoenix500.com

Signs Of The Times

“Celine Dion Drops the Price on Her Jupiter Island Estate by $27 million”

– L.A. Times, May 28.

“Hard Times Hit Billionaire’s Row with Luxury Condo Foreclosure”

– New York Post, May 30.

“Pending Home Sales Crash Most In 3 Years”

– Zero Hedge, May 31.

“Debt Pile-Up in US Car Market Sparks Subprime Fear”

– Financial Times, May 30.

“Per Capita Taxes Have More Than Doubled Since JFK”

– CNS News, May 31.

“Rents Are Deflating in the Hottest Cities”

– Business Insider, June 4.

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