Friday, June 22, 2018

James Rickards: A New Global Debt Crisis Has Begun

Emerging-market debt crises are as predictable as spring rain. They happen every 15–20 years, with a few variations and exceptions.

In recent decades, the first crisis in this series was the Latin American debt crisis of 1982–85. The combination of inflation and a commodity price boom in the late 1970s had given a huge boost to economies such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and many others, including countries in Africa.

This commodity boom enabled these emerging-market (EM) economies to earn dollar reserves for their exports. (By the way, we didn’t call them “emerging markets” in the 1980s; they were the “Third World” after the Western world and the communist world.)

These dollar reserves were soon supplemented with dollar loans from U.S. banks looking to “recycle” petrodollars that the OPEC countries were putting on deposit after the oil price explosion of the 1970s.

I worked at Citibank from 1976–1985 during the height of petrodollar recycling and even discussed the process personally with Walter Wriston, Citibank’s legendary CEO. In the 1960s, Wriston invented the negotiable eurodollar CD, which was later critical to funding those EM loans.

Wriston is considered the father of petrodollar recycling once the petrodollar was created by Henry Kissinger and William Simon under President Nixon in 1974. I remember those days extremely well. The bank made billions and our stock price soared. It was a euphoric phase and a great time to be an international banker.

Then it all crashed and burned. One by one, the lenders defaulted. They had squandered their reserves on vanity projects such as skyscrapers in the jungle, which I saw firsthand when I visited Kinshasa on the Congo River in central Africa. Most of what wasn’t wasted was stolen and stashed away in Swiss bank accounts by kleptocrats.

Citibank was technically insolvent after that but was bailed out by the absence of mark-to-market accounting. We were able to pretend the loans were still good as long as we could refinance them or roll them over in some way. Citibank has a long and glorious history of being bailed out, stretching from the 1930s to the 2010s.

After the defaults, the reaction set in. Emerging markets had to flip to austerity, devalue their currencies, cut spending, cut imports and gradually rebuild their credit. There was a major EM debt crisis in Mexico in 1994, the “Tequila Crisis,” but that was contained by a U.S. bailout led by Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin. On the whole, the EMs used the 1990s to rebuild reserves and restore their creditworthiness.

Gradually, the banks looked favorably on this progress and new loans started to pour in. Now the target of bank lending was not Latin America but the “Asian Tigers” (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong) and the “mini-tigers” of South Asia.

The next big EM debt crisis arrived right on time in 1997, 15 years after the 1982 Latin American debt crisis. This one began in Thailand in June 1997.

Money had been flooding into Thailand for several years, mostly to build real estate projects, resorts, golf courses and commercial office buildings. Thailand’s currency, the baht, was pegged to the dollar, so dollar-based investors could get high yields without currency risk.

Suddenly a run on the baht emerged. Investors flocked to cash out their investments and get their dollars back. The Thai central bank was forced to close the capital account and devalue their currency, forcing large losses on foreign investors.

This sparked fear that other Asian countries would do the same. Panic spread to Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and finally Russia before coming to rest at Long Term Capital Management, LTCM, a hedge fund in Greenwich, Connecticut.

I was chief counsel to LTCM and negotiated the rescue of the fund by 14 Wall Street banks. Wall Street put up $4 billion in cash to prop up the LTCM balance sheet so it could be unwound gradually. At the time of the rescue on Sept. 28, 1998, global capital markets were just hours away from complete collapse.

Emerging markets learned valuable lessons in the 1997–98 crisis. In the decade that followed, they built up their reserve positions to enormous size so they would not be disadvantaged in another global liquidity crisis.

These excess national savings were called “precautionary reserves” because they were over and above what central banks normally need to conduct foreign exchange operations. The EMs also avoided unrealistic fixed exchange rates, which were an open invitation to foreign speculators like George Soros to short their currencies and drain their reserves.

These improved practices meant that EMs were not in the eye of the storm in the 2007–08 global financial crisis and the subsequent 2009–2015 European sovereign debt crisis. Those crises were mainly confined to developed economies and sectors such as U.S. real estate, European banks and weaker members of the eurozone including Greece, Cyprus and Ireland.

Yet memories are short. It has been 20 years since the last EM debt crisis and 10 years since the last global financial crisis. EM lending has been proceeding at a record pace. Once again, hot money from the U.S. and Europe is chasing high yields in EMs, especially the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the next tier of nations including Turkey, Indonesia and Argentina.

As Chart 1 and Chart 2 below illustrate, we are now at the beginning of the third major EM debt crisis in the past 35 years.

Chart 1 measures the size of hard-currency reserves relative to the number of months of imports those reserves can buy. This is a critical metric because emerging markets need imports in order to generate exports. They need to buy machinery in order to engage in manufacturing. They need to buy oil in order to keep factories and tourist facilities operating.

Chart 1 shows how many months each economy could pay for imports out of reserves if export revenue suddenly dried up.

Chart 2 shows the gross external financing requirement, GXFR, of selected countries calculated as a percentage of total reserves. GXFR covers both maturing debt denominated in foreign currencies (including dollars and euros) and the current account deficit over the coming year.

Both charts reflect a crisis in the making.

The hard-currency import coverage for Turkey, Ukraine, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa, among others, is less than one year. This means that in the event of a developed-economy recession or another liquidity crisis where demand for EM exports dried up, the ability of those EMs to keep importing needed inputs would be used up quickly.

Chart 2 has even more disturbing news. Turkey’s maturing debt and current account deficit in the year ahead is almost 160% of its available reserves. In other words, Turkey can’t pay its bills.

Argentina’s ratio of debts and deficits to reserves is over 120%. The ratio for Venezuela is about 100%, and Venezuela is a major oil exporter.

These metrics don’t merely forecast an EM debt crisis in the future. The debt crisis has already begun.

Venezuela has defaulted on some of its external debt, and litigation with creditors and seizure of certain assets is underway. Argentina’s reserves have been severely depleted defending its currency, and it has turned to the IMF for emergency funding.

Ukraine, South Africa and Chile are also highly vulnerable to a run on their reserves and a default on their external dollar-denominated debt. Russia is in a relatively strong position because it has relatively little external debt. China has huge external debts but also has huge reserves, over $3 trillion, to deal with those debts.

The problem is not individual sovereign defaults; those are bound to occur. The problem is contagion.

History shows that once a single nation defaults, creditors lose confidence in other emerging markets. Those creditors begin to cash out investments in EMs across the board and a panic begins.

Once that happens, even the stronger countries such as China lose reserves rapidly and end up in default. In a worst case, a full-scale global liquidity crisis commences, this time worse than 2008.

A full-blown EM debt crisis is coming soon. It is likely to start in Turkey, Argentina or Venezuela, but it won’t end there.

The panic will quickly affect Ukraine, Chile, Poland, South Africa and the other weak links in the chain.

The IMF will soon run out of lending resources and will have to pass the hat among the richer members. But the Europeans will have their own problems, and the U.S. under President Trump is likely to reply, “America First,” and decline to participate in bailing out the EMs with U.S. taxpayer funds.

At that point, the IMF may have to resort to printing trillions of dollars in special drawing rights (SDRs) to reliquify a panicked world. SDRs are essentially world money. Elites are working behind the scenes to ultimately replace the dollar with SDRs as the leading reserve currency.

A new crisis will bring that goal one step closer to reality.

- Source, James Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Recession Is Coming... And the Fed Can't Stop It

Is the Fed ready for the next recession?

The answer is no.

Extensive research shows that it takes between 300 and 500 basis points of interest rate cuts by the Fed to pull the U.S. economy out of a recession. (One basis point is 1/100th of 1 percentage point, so 500 basis points of rate reduction means the Fed would have to cut rates 5 percentage points.)

Right now the Fed’s target rate for fed funds, the so-called “policy rate,” is 1.75%. How do you cut rates 3–5% when you’re starting at 1.75%? You can’t.

Negative interest rates won’t save the day. Negative rates have been tried in Japan, the eurozone, Sweden and Switzerland, and the evidence is that they don’t work to stimulate the economy.

The idea of negative rates is that they’re an inducement to spend money; if you don’t spend it, the bank takes it from your account — the opposite of paying interest. Yet the evidence is that people save more with negative rates in order to meet their lifetime goals for retirement, health care, education, etc.

If the bank is taking money from your account, you have to save more to meet your goals. That slows down spending or what neo-Keynesians call aggregate demand. This is just one more example of how actual human behavior deviates from egghead theories.

The bottom line is that zero means zero. If a recession started tomorrow, the Fed could cut rates 1.75% before they hit zero. Then they would be out of bullets.

What about more quantitative easing, or “QE”? The Fed ended QE in late 2014 after three rounds known as QE1, QE2 and QE3 from 2008–2014. What about QE4 in a new recession?

The problem is that the Fed never cleaned up the mess from QE1, 2 and 3, so their capacity to run QE4 is in doubt.

From 2008–2014, over the course of QE1, 2 and 3, the Fed grew its balance sheet from $800 billion to $4.4 trillion. That added $3.6 trillion of newly printed money, which the Fed used to purchase long-term assets in an effort to suppress interest rates across the yield curve.

The plan was that lower long-term interest rates would force investors into riskier assets such as stocks and real estate. Ben Bernanke called this manipulation the “portfolio channel” effect.

These higher valuations for stocks and real estate would then create a “wealth effect” that would encourage more spending. The higher valuations would also provide collateral for more borrowing. This combination of more spending and lending was supposed to get the economy on a sustainable path of higher growth.

This theory was another failure by the eggheads.

The wealth effect never emerged, and the return of high leverage never returned in the U.S. either. (There is a lot more leverage overseas in emerging-market dollar-denominated debt, but that’s not what the Fed was hoping for. The EM dollar-debt bomb is another accident waiting to happen that I’ll explore in a future commentary.)

The only part of the Bernanke plan that worked was achieving higher asset values, but those values now look dangerously like bubbles waiting to burst. Thanks, Ben.

The problem now is that all of that leverage is still on the Fed’s balance sheet. The $3.6 trillion of new money was never mopped up by the Fed; it’s still there in the form of bank reserves. The Fed has begun a program of balance sheet normalization, but that program is not far along. The Fed’s balance sheet is still over $4 trillion.

That makes it highly problematic for the Fed to start QE4. When they started QE1 in 2008, the balance sheet was $800 billion. If they started a new QE program today, the they would be starting from a much higher base.

The question is whether the Fed could take their balance sheet to $5 trillion or $6 trillion in the course of QE4 or QE5?

In answering that question, it helps to bear in mind the Fed only has $40 billion in capital. With current assets of $4.4 billion, the Fed is leveraged 110-to-1. That’s enough leverage to make Bernie Madoff blush.

To be fair to the Fed, their leverage would be much lower if their gold certificates issued by the Treasury were marked to market. That’s a story for another day, but it does say something significant about the future role of gold in the monetary system.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) led by left-wing academics like Stephanie Kelton see no problem with the Fed printing as much money as it wants to monetize Treasury debt. MMT is almost certainly incorrect about this.

There’s an invisible confidence boundary where everyday Americans will suddenly lose confidence in Fed liabilities (aka “dollars”) in a hypersynchronous phase transition. No one knows exactly where the boundary is, but no one wants to find out the hard way.

It’s out there, possibly at the $5 trillion level. The Fed seems to agree (although they won’t say so). Otherwise they would not be trying to reduce their balance sheet today.

So if a recession hit tomorrow, the Fed would not be able to save the day with rate cuts, because they’d hit the zero bound before they could cut enough to make a difference. They would not be able to save the day with QE4, because they’re already overleveraged.

What can the Fed do?

All they can do is raise rates (slowly), reduce the balance sheet (slowly) and pray that a recession does not hit before they get things back to “normal,” probably around 2021. What are the odds of the Fed being able to pull this off before the next recession hits?

Not very good.

Have a look at the chart below. It shows the length of all economic expansions since the end of World War II.

The current expansion is shown with the orange bar. It started in June 2009 and has continued until today. It is the second-longest expansion since 1945, currently at 107 months. It is longer than the Reagan-Bush expansion of 1982–90.

It is longer than the Kennedy-Johnson expansion of 1961–69. It’s longer than any expansion except the Clinton-Gingrich expansion of 1991–2001. Just on a statistical basis, the odds of this expansion turning to recession before the end of 2020 are extremely high.

In short, there’s a very high probability that the U.S. economy will go into recession before the Fed is prepared to get us out of it.

That means once the recession starts, the U.S. may stay in the situation for decades, which is exactly what happened to Japan beginning in 1990. By the way, Japan’s most recent GDP report for the first quarter of 2018 showed negative growth. Japan has had three “lost decades.” The U.S. is just finishing its first lost decade and may have two more to go.

The situation is even worse than this dire forecast suggests. The reason is that by preparing to fight the next recession, the Fed may actually cause the recession they’re preparing to cure. It’s like trying to run a marathon while being chased by a hungry bear.

The Fed needs to raise rates and reduce their balance sheet in order to have enough policy leeway to fight a recession. If they move too quickly, they’ll cause a recession. If they move too slowly, they’ll run out of time and get eaten by the bear.

This is the ultimate monetary finesse. This mess was caused by Bernanke’s failure to raise rates in 2010 and 2011 when the economy was in the early stages of an expansion and in a better position to absorb rate hikes. It was also caused by Bernanke’s insistence on QE2 and QE3 despite zero evidence then or now that it does any good. (QE1 was actually needed to deal with a liquidity crisis, but that was over in 2009. There’s no excuse for what came later.)

A recession is coming, the Fed is unprepared and it’s extremely unlikely the Fed will be prepared in time.

The Fed may not be ready, but you can be. This is a time to reduce your exposure to risky assets such as stocks, increase your allocation to safe assets such as cash and allocate 10% of your portfolio to gold and silver as insurance against a collapse scenario much worse than a recession.

The only other recommendation is to do what the Fed is doing… pray.

- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Axis of Gold Will Drive Gold Higher by the End of 2018

A major blind spot in U.S. strategic economic doctrine is the increasing use of physical gold by China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and others both to avoid the impact of U.S. sanctions and create an offensive counterweight to U.S. dominance of dollar payment systems.

This is the Axis of Gold.

This gold-based payments system will dilute and ultimately eliminate the impact of U.S. dollar-based sanctions.

Gold offers adversaries significant defenses against these dollar-based sanctions. Gold is physical, not digital, so it cannot be hacked or frozen. Gold is easy to transport by air to settle balance of payments or other transactions between nations.

Gold flows cannot be interdicted at SWIFT, the international payment system. Gold is fungible and non-traceable (it is an element, atomic number 79), so its origin cannot be ascertained.

We have a lot of data to support the claim that the Axis of Gold exists and is gaining strength.

We know that for example, Russia has tripled its gold reserves in the last ten years. It’s gone from about 600 tons to over 1800 tons of physical gold, and is moving very quickly towards 2,000 tons. That’s an enormous amount of gold.

China is also amassing physical gold at an astounding rate. Like Russia, it has tripled its gold reserves, officially from 1,600 tons to 1,800 tons.

But we have very good reason to believe China actually has a lot more gold than that.

China might actually own up to 4,000 tons of physical gold. We don’t know the exact number because China is highly secretive about its gold acquisitions. But that’s a reasonable estimate. China is also the world’s largest gold producer with mining output of about 450 tons per year.

Iran also has an enormous amount of gold. Iran received billions of dollars in gold from the Obama administration as bribes to join in the now discredited nuclear deal (the “JCPOA” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Iran has also received gold imported from Europe via Turkey, but the exact amount is unknown.

We don’t have any insight into how much it has because it’s also highly nontransparent. But in the first quarter of 2018, Iranian gold bar and coin purchases more than tripled.

Turkey is also acquiring enormous amounts of gold, which should not be surprising given Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s recent comments questioning the role of the dollar in global trade.

The Turkish central bank has almost doubled its gold holdings since last May, according to the World Gold Council. And it was the second largest buyer of gold among central banks for the first quarter of 2018.

So that’s the Axis of Gold. Again, evidence for this Axis of Gold is overwhelming.

I have contacts in the national security industry community who have, in their own roundabout way, been able to confirm that to me, so it’s very clear that’s what’s happening.

This is the type of information you don’t see in the headlines. This is very granular, but it’s all going on behind the scenes.

I’ve explored the implications in many financial war games and other meetings as I’ve described in my books.

I’m also on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Sanctions and Illicit Finance, which is the leading think tank on this subject. I meet with others who are expert in this area, including current and former government officials.

I’ve warned the Pentagon and the Treasury Department about this threat for years. But the message has yet to sink in. The U.S. is still unprepared for this coming strategic alternative to dollar dominance.

Meanwhile, U.S. trade sanctions on China, Russia and Europe are just beginning to bite. Trump’s new sanctions on Iran may be the last straw in the world’s willingness to tolerate what is perceived as U.S. bullying through the use of dollar-based sanctions.

These headwinds are illustrated in the chart below. This shows the customers for oil exported by Iran. China is Iran’s largest oil customer by a wide margin. China’s need for imported oil is huge and Iran’s need for hard currency from its oil exports is existential.

If the U.S. makes it impossible for Iran to pay or receive dollars or other hard currencies for its oil exports and machinery imports, Iran will have to resort to other payment channels. China would be willing to pay Iran in yuan, but Iran’s appetite for yuan is limited.

As mentioned above, an obvious solution is for Iran and China to settle their balance of payments accounts in gold.

Trump’s sanctions on Iran are a double-whammy.

On the one hand, they impede global trade and growth; especially in Europe where growth was already slowing down before the sanctions. On the other hand, the Axis of Gold will create enormous demand for physical gold as an alternative to dollar payments vulnerable to U.S. sanctions.

At the same time, the Axis of Gold creates huge embedded demand for gold as the Axis nations build out an alternative to the dollar payments system.

But right now gold mining output is flat, western central bank sales of gold have ceased, and acquisition of gold by the Axis is increasing.

With limited output, limited western sales, and huge eastern purchases, it’s only a matter of time before a link in the physical gold delivery chain snaps and a full-scale buying panic erupts. Then the price of gold will soar regardless of paper gold manipulations.

Meanwhile, Fed tightening combined with weak growth will push the U.S. economy to the brink of recession later this year.

That will cause the Fed to reverse course and pause in their path of rate hikes. The pause will come possibly in September, and almost certainly by December. The perception of the Fed flipping from tightening to ease will remove a major headwind to higher gold prices and create a tailwind.

Future Fed ease combined with strong demand for physical gold will result in much higher gold prices by year end. The next few months could still be a bumpy ride for gold, but late summer and fall look promising for much a push to $1,400 per ounce or higher.

Last week’s drawdown in gold prices should be seen for what it is, a temporary reversal in a new bull market. The current gold price of about $1,300 per ounce is a classic “buy-the-dips” opportunity that won’t come again soon.

But before long it may be too late for investors to benefit because the ready supply of physical gold will be gone. The time to take a position is now.

The days of dollar dominance are numbered. The process won’t happen overnight, but the signs all point in one direction.

- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Monday, June 11, 2018

James Rickards: Trouble Brewing in Emerging Markets

Emerging markets, EMs, have had an amazing run over the past two years. Moving in lock step with U.S. stock markets, the leading EM stock ETF has produced gains of over 50% since early 2016.

But just as U.S. stocks have run into higher volatility and major drawdowns in recent months, EM stocks have also encountered head winds. A major reversal of EM stock gains is emerging.

The reason U.S. stocks and EM stocks have moved together is not difficult to discern. Both asset classes are what economists call “risky” assets, in contrast to “safe” assets such as developed-market government bonds or even “risk-free” assets such as short-term U.S. Treasury bills.

(Of course, no asset is truly risk free. The U.S. credit rating suffered a downgrade in 2011 and may be downgraded again later this year).

These distinctions between risky and risk-free assets are used by portfolio managers to construct diversified portfolios that attempt to optimize total returns on a risk-adjusted basis — that is, taking into account volatility, return and liquidity.

The difficulty is that major institutional investors such as banks, insurance companies and pension funds have return targets they must meet in order to have a profitable and competitive business. These return targets come from promises to insurance policy holders, retirees or stockholders. Naturally, portfolio managers are expected to take more risk in order to earn higher returns.

Developed-market government bonds have been unattractive to many portfolio managers for the past decade. These bonds offered negative returns in the cases of Japan, Germany and Sweden. Returns were not much higher in the U.S. and Canada.

Pension managers and insurance companies in particular expect their portfolios to meet return targets of 6–8% in order to pay promised benefits. With government bond rates stuck near zero, these portfolio managers went elsewhere in search of higher returns.

Many low-yielding developed-economy government bonds were purchased by the central banks of the issuing countries as part of money printing programs intended to drive down yields and force investors into risky assets such as stocks and real estate.

This effort on the part of central banks to reduce yields on safe assets and force investors into risky assets, known as the “portfolio channel” method, was supposed to produce a “wealth effect.”

In theory, investors would drive up stock prices, which would encourage consumer confidence and consumer spending and ultimately result in a return to trend economic growth of 3% or higher.

The wealth effect never materialized. Consumer confidence was boosted by higher stock prices but consumers never increased their spending to any significant extent. Instead, they paid down debt as a way to repair their personal balance sheets after the historic losses of 2007–08.

Instead of producing more consumption, the portfolio channel effect only produced asset bubbles in U.S. and emerging-markets stocks. Investors chased the stock market higher as a way to meet their investment return targets.

The same was true in emerging markets. EMs also borrowed heavily in dollars at low rates to finance the expansion of their manufacturing and export capacities. U.S. and EM stocks enjoyed a “Goldilocks” moment the past two years. Institutional investors purchased these assets for higher yields.

The purchases drove up prices, which attracted more buying. The feedback loop continued as higher prices encouraged more buying, which led to higher prices, and so on.

The persistence of this feedback loop practically eliminated volatility, as stocks seemed only to rise and never fall. Computers interpreted this absence of volatility as a sign that these markets were less risky, since volatility is a standard measure of risk in prevailing risk-management models.

Using “risk parity” approaches, the computers then bought even more equities because they seemed to offer an optimal combination of high return and low risk, the Holy Grail of investment management.

Now lately this entire process has been thrown into reverse. The three bears have returned home and Goldilocks has jumped out the window and fled into the forest.

The primary cause of this reversal is central bank tightening. This already exists in the U.S. and is coming soon to the U.K. and the eurozone. Japan may be a few years behind the rest of the developed world but it is also working toward policy normalization.

The result is that yields on low-risk developed-economy government bonds suddenly look relatively attractive to institutional investors compared with the drawdowns and increased volatility of U.S. and EM stocks.

The Great Unwind has begun.

Hot money has been heading out of stocks and moving in the direction of government bonds, where higher risk-adjusted returns await.

With this market backdrop in mind, what are the prospects for emerging markets in the months ahead?

Outflows from EM stocks have just begun and are set to accelerate dramatically in the months ahead.

This could lead to a full-blown emerging-market debt crisis with some potential to morph into a global liquidity crisis of the kind last seen in 2008, possibly worse.

- Source, James Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

James Rickards: Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye

Investors can be forgiven for thinking they hit the trifecta last Friday.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment had dropped to 3.9%, the lowest in almost 20 years.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reported that its widely followed GDP forecasting tool was showing projected growth for the second quarter of 2018 at 4%, exactly where Trump boosters like Larry Kudlow said it would be.

Finally, the Dow Jones industrial average rallied 332 points (1.39%), partly in response to the other good news. It was almost enough to make a trader sing, “Happy days are here again.”

Or not.

The fact is that this good news hides more than it reveals. A look behind the numbers discloses a sobering outlook for investors.

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%.

The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s.

The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story.

Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks.

If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%.

Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR.

The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4 percentage points.

If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

Of course, there are limits to labor force participation. Some potential workers suffer chronic pain or other disabilities, some are retired, some are students, some are at home raising children. Those are reasons why the LFPR has never been much over 67% since the data have been recorded.

But the drop in LFPR to 62.8% in the ninth year of an economic expansion is stunning. America has a missing workers problem that accounts in large measure for the slow growth, persistent low inflation, stagnant wages, declining velocity of money and social dissatisfaction that have characterized the U.S. economy since the end of the last recession in June 2009.

American labor markets are not tight. America is not even close to full employment. America is in a depression. That’s one reason why wages have been stagnant despite declining unemployment rates.

Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as a percentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale).

From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense.

But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

That’s unusual because normally when unemployment drops the economy is getting stronger, benefit spending drops and the budget deficit shrinks. In effect, America uses the good times to save for a rainy day (or at least tries not to spend as much as when it’s raining).

This is good evidence that the economy is not nearly as strong as the low unemployment rate indicates. That’s because of the army of 10–15 million “missing workers” described above, many of whom are receiving benefits in the form of disability payments, early Medicare, food stamps or rental assistance. Instead of shrinking rapidly, these payments are stuck at near-recession levels.

It’s also the case that past deficit spending has now caught up with the U.S. The debt-to-GDP ratio is over 105%. Research shows that any debt-to-GDP ratio over 90% results in slower growth instead of faster growth when you pile on more debt. The U.S. is no longer getting any bang for the buck from deficit spending.

We’re just going broke faster.

As for the Atlanta Fed GDP estimate of 4% for second-quarter growth, that’s a statistical quirk based on the methodology used by the Atlanta Fed. It’s not that the number is bogus, it’s just that the measures suggesting stronger growth are reported earlier in the quarter and those suggesting weaker growth are not available under later in the calendar quarter. This means the estimates start high but come down to Earth as the quarter progresses.

The Atlanta Fed GDP estimate is useful but you have to know how to interpret it. In the first quarter, the estimate showed 5.4% growth but declined to 2% by the end of the quarter. (The actual reported growth was 2.3%, not too far from the Atlanta Fed estimate).

The same thing is happening again. I expect Atlanta’s number to decline from 4% today to 2% by mid-June, near the end of the quarter. That’s the same-old, same-old weak growth we’ve had since 2009. Nothing to write home about.

As for that stock market rally, it’s a temporary blip. Investors should be reminded that the stock market peaked on Jan. 26, 2018, and is down about 10% since then notwithstanding occasional one-day rallies. The market has traced out a series of “lower highs” after each rally. That’s a sign of a dying bull market and more declines to come.

So don’t believe the TV happy talk. Rigorous analysis of employment, debt, deficits, growth and stock markets reveals a dismal picture. Investors should lighten up on equities and increase their allocations to cash and gold.

Events will probably get worse from here.

- Source, Jim Rickards

Friday, May 25, 2018

James Rickards: The Coming Currency War with China and Gold's Role in It

James Rickards forecasts a grim future in which he sees both China and the United States entering into a full out currency war. Perhaps this has already started and perhaps there is now no turning back?

Who will win, both sides have their leverage and both sides have their moves to make. This will not end well however, for either side. War is upon us, the currency wars are here.

Jim Rickards is a lawyer, investment banker and economist with over thirty years’ experience in capital markets. He is currently Senior Managing Director at Tangent Capital Partners LLC. 

He advises the Department of Defense, the U.S. intelligence community, and major hedge funds on global finance, and served as a facilitator of the first ever financial war games conducted by the Pentagon.

- Video Source, Old Radio

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Jim Rickards: The Empire State Moves Against Bitcoin

Bitcoin got hammered yesterday after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an investigation into some of the major cryptocurrency exchanges.

I’ve been warning about a coming government crackdown on bitcoin for several months, and now we’re seeing it happening around the world.

From China to Japan to South Korea and here in the U.S., the regulators are closing in on bitcoin. And all those who thought their bitcoin was invisible to the IRS are getting a rude awakening these days.

Bitcoin was the classic bubble. Market bubbles are nothing new. In the 17th and 18th centuries we had the Dutch tulip bubble, the French Mississippi bubble and the U.K.’s South Sea bubble.

The 19th century saw bubbles in canal building (1830s), gold (1869) and railroads (1890s). In the 20th and 21st centuries we have seen bubbles in Florida real estate (mid-1920s), stocks (late 1920s), dot-coms (2000) and mortgages (2007).

All of these episodes of investment mania crashed, causing enormous losses for investors. As always, some investors got in early and got out before the crash and walked away with their winnings. But most did not.

Analysts should remind themselves that those bubble winnings of the lucky few represent not wealth creation or rewards for hard work, but a simple wealth transfer from a mass of latecomer losers to a lucky few winners.

That’s hardly a desirable model for finance in particular or society as a whole, not least because the end result destroys confidence in markets and retards normal financial functions for a full generation.

The latest bubble, of course, is bitcoin. Last December as bitcoin was making its way higher from $8,000, I said that bitcoin might go to $20,000 (it did), but that it would surely come crashing down sooner rather than later.

I based this forecast on a Nasdaq chart showing the dot-com bubble of 1996–2000. The hyperbolic rise in the price of bitcoin and dot-com stocks was a close fit, which made the subsequent crash easy to see coming.

Now that bitcoin has crashed more about 70% based on recent lows, the resemblance to the Nasdaq dot-com episode is even more dramatic.

The biggest difference is that the bitcoin rise and fall happened 15 times faster than the Nasdaq collapse. A projection of bitcoin at $2,000 is easily justified.

My own projection is much lower, but either way economic historians will look back on the bitcoin episode as the greatest bubble since the Dutch tulip bubble, maybe greater.

At least with the tulip bubble, the last investors got to keep the tulips. With bitcoin, investors will end up with nothing.

Goldman briefly flirted with cryptocurrencies but eventually came around to the view that cryptos like bitcoin suffer from too many problems.

All of the cryptocurrencies that rely on clunky “proof of work” to validate their blockchains, such as bitcoin, are heading for the scrap heap. They are too slow, too cumbersome and too expensive to compete with Visa, Mastercard and PayPal in the payments space.

The only use case for bitcoin is to support criminal transactions, and even criminals have moved to some other cryptos because they have better security and privacy features. Bitcoin also suffers from slow processing times and other inefficiencies.

Goldman’s assessment is mostly right. However, some coins will survive. And as I’ve argued before, blockchain technology has a bright future.

Goldman also admits that blockchain technology has a future, but caution is indicated because processing speeds are still not as fast as existing systems. The bottom line is don’t invest in cryptocoins but invest in blockchain technology instead.

- Source, James Rickards

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The World Wants Its Gold Back From the U.S.

We’re all familiar with the so-called “run on the bank.” It usually begins quietly with just a few depositors getting nervous about the solvency of the bank.

They line up to get their cash out before the bank closes its doors. Soon the word spreads and the line gets longer. The bank projects an air of confidence and gives cash to depositors who request it as long as they can, but pretty soon the cash runs out.

The classic image of this is the scene from the Christmas-season film It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart. We’ve all seen it. Now something similar is happening at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

What’s different is that the run on the bank involves gold, not cash. The New York Fed will never run out of cash because they can print all they need. But they could run out of gold.

Until recently, the New York Fed had about 6,000 tons of gold stored in its vaults on Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan. Contrary to popular belief, the gold stored there does not belong to the United States (the U.S. gold is stored in Fort Knox and West Point).

The Fed gold belongs to countries around the world and the International Monetary Fund.

Beginning a few years ago, central banks demanded the return of their gold to their home countries. Germany was the most prominent example, but there were others, including smaller holders such as Azerbaijan.

The process is difficult because the Fed bullion consists of old bars, some stacked up since the 1920s, that don’t meet today’s standard for purity and size. This doesn’t mean the gold is bad, just that the bars have to be melted down and re-refined to meet the new standards.

Now, one of the largest holders, Turkey, is reclaiming its gold also. Turkey has had 220 tons stored in the U.S.

And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently suggested that international loans should be made in gold instead of dollars.

Here’s what he told the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul on April 16:

I made a suggestion at a G-20 meeting. I asked: Why do we make all loans in dollars? Let’s use another currency. I suggest that the loans should be made based on gold…

With the dollar the world is always under exchange rate pressure. We should save states and nations from this exchange rate pressure. Gold has never been a tool of oppression throughout history.

Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to amass gold.

The gold stash in New York is dwindling and global behavior is coming to resemble a run on the gold bank.

Skeptics claim not all of the gold is there. My own view is that New York does have the gold, although a lot of it may be leased out to support gold price manipulation by the big banks and China.

Either way, we may soon find out if New York has to shut its gold doors just like any other insolvent bank.

And we may also find out how much patience the world has left with the dollar.

- Source, Jim Rickards

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Jim Rickards Provides the Best Summary of Gold Price Manipulation to Date

In his latest book, "The New Case for Gold," fund manager, geopolitical analyst, and financial letter writer James G. Rickards may have summarized the international gold price suppression scheme better than anyone, including GATA itself.

Indeed, the book's subchapter titled "Paper Manipulation" is so expert, specific, and compelling that your secretary/treasurer today asked Rickards and his publisher, Penguin Publishing Group, for permission to share it with you, though it is far longer than excerpts for which reprint permission is customarily granted. Your secretary/treasurer argued that the subchapter is really a historic document, containing information the world simply must have if it ever is to achieve free markets and a more democratic financial system.

Rickards and Penguin quickly and most generously granted the request and provided PDF copies of the subchapter's 15 pages. A link to them is appended. (The pages are excerpted from "The New Case for Gold" by James Rickards, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, and are copyright 2016 by James Rickards.)

Remarkably, the book is available through Amazon for less than $11 and your secretary/treasurer enthusiastically recommends it:

Here is your secretary/treasurer's summary of Rickards' outline of gold market manipulation:

-- It can be done by what gold market observers like to call "banging the close" in the Comex futures market, where there is huge leverage in trading and little transparency for buyers and sellers.

-- Big banks that are "authorized participants" in the gold exchange-traded fund GLD can use their exclusive access to the fund's metal for market rigging.

-- Gold from the U.S. gold reserve and the gold reserves of other countries may be leased, leveraged, or sold.

-- Leasing of unallocated gold -- that is, paper gold, gold credits, imaginary gold -- by bullion banks allows them to sell the same gold as much as 10 times over to 10 different buyers.

-- "A central bank," Rickards writes, "can lease gold to one of the London Bullion Market Association banks, which include large players like Goldman Sachs, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and HSBC. Gold leasing is often conducted through an unaccountable intermediary called the Bank for International Settlements. Historically, the BIS has been used as a major channel for manipulating the gold market and for conducting sales of gold between central banks and commercial banks. ... The BIS is the most nontransparent institution in the world. ... The BIS is the ideal venue for central banks to manipulate the global financial markets, including gold, with complete nontransparency."

-- The United States and China share an interest in suppressing the gold price in the short term. The Federal Reserve, Rickards maintains, doesn't so much mind an orderly rise in the gold price but fears sharp and sudden rises that could change inflationary expectations in the markets. China wants the gold price suppressed while it accumulates metal for hedging its huge foreign exchange position in U.S. dollars. The United States, Rickards writes, must accommodate China's accumulation of gold lest China sell its U.S. Treasury bonds. "This." Rickards writes, "is an issue I have discussed with senior officials at the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve, and they have confirmed my understanding that a global rebalancing of gold from the West to the East needs to proceed, albeit in an orderly way. ... The United States is letting China manipulate the market so China can buy gold more cheaply. The Fed occasionally manipulates the market as well so that any price rise isn't disorderly."

-- Rickards concedes that ordinary investors cannot beat central bank manipulation of the gold market in the short run but contends that central banks will fail in the long run. Eventually, he writes, citing examples from history, "the manipulators run out of physical gold or a change in inflation expectations leads to price surges even governments cannot control. There is an endgame. ... Physical gold is also rapidly disappearing as more countries are buying it up. That puts a limit on the amount of paper gold transactions that can be implemented."

-- Rickards advises investors: "It's important to understand the dynamics behind gold pricing. You need to understand how the manipulation works, what the endgame is, and what the physical supply-demand picture looks like. Understanding these dynamics lets you see the endgame more clearly and supports the rationale for owning gold even when short-term price movements are adverse."

The PDF copy of Rickards' "Paper Manipulation" subchapter is posted at GATA's internet site here:

Please read it carefully and send it to those market analysts who disparage complaints of gold market manipulation by governments and to mainstream financial news organizations that ignore the manipulation. Invite those analysts and news organizations to specify where and how they think Rickards is mistaken. While you're at it, invite them to dispute any of the documentation compiled at GATA's internet site here:

Of course you're not likely to get any response but you just might wake somebody up or give him a guilty conscience. And if you purchase a copy of "The New Case for Gold" you may gain confidence that eventually truth, justice, and what used to be the American way will prevail.

- Source, GATA

Friday, May 11, 2018

James Rickards: Financial Meltdown Just Around The Corner?

Could the next financial crisis be just around the corner? The signs of a looming meltdown are ‘unmistakable,’ this according to best-selling author Jim Rickards. Giving his 2017 outlook to Kitco News, he said the next crisis would be far worse than any previous one markets have experienced...

- Source, Kitco News

Friday, May 4, 2018

Jim Rickards: A Fed Governor Actually Told Me "We Don’t Know What We’re Doing"

“We don’t know what we’re doing.” That’s what one Fed governor recently told investor and bestselling author Jim Rickards at a small private dinner. 

This Fed official continued saying, “We try stuff, and if it works, we do a little more. If it doesn’t, we back off and try something else. We don’t know what we’re doing.” It’s a pervasive feeling among central bankers, Rickards says. 

He recalls another private conversation he had this time with former Fed head Ben Bernanke. “He described everything he did as ‘an experiment’ and said, ‘We won’t know whether it worked or not for another 30 years.’” 

In the video excerpt above, from a broader interview with Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough, Rickards describes the hubris of central bankers tinkering with their economies. “The problem with all this activism is that it creates uncertainty, and the capital goes on strike,” he says. “That’s the situation you’re in today.” When Jim Rickards speaks, investors listen. 

Rickards has worked on Wall Street for the past 35 years, including as general counsel for hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Rickards is also the best-selling author of the book “The Road to Ruin.” 

He is currently an economic adviser to the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence community. Rickards brings all of this past experience to bear in the interview above with McCullough.

- Source, Hedegeye TV

Monday, April 30, 2018

James Rickards: Return to the Pentagon

In my 2011 book, Currency Wars, I gave a detailed description of the first-ever financial war game sponsored by the Department of Defense.

This financial war game took place in 2009 at the top-secret Applied Physics Laboratory located about twenty miles north of Washington, D.C. in the Maryland countryside.

Unlike typical war games, the “rules of engagement” for this financial exercise did not permit the use of any kinetic weapons such as bombs, missiles or drones.

The only weapons allowed were financial instrument including stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities and derivatives.

The contestants included about 40 players on the six teams and another 60 participants including uniformed military, civilian defense officials and observers from the Treasury, Federal Reserve, CIA and other government agencies as well as think tanks, universities and financial industry professionals.

In that original financial war game, a scenario involving Russia, China, gold and the destruction of the U.S. dollar was played out against a backdrop of geopolitical events including the collapse of North Korea and a threatened Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

On May 8, 2015, the Pentagon sponsored a new financial warfare session, which I was also invited to attend. This time the financial war took place inside a secure meeting facility at the Pentagon itself.

This new financial war game exercise was smaller and more focused than the one in 2009. I was one of three individuals from the investment management community. Our scenario this time was not global, but was limited to a confrontation between China and the U.S. in the South China Sea.

Our role was not to contemplate the use of aircraft carriers, submarines or missiles in such a confrontation. We were there to consider the use of financial weapons such as disruption of payments systems, cyber-attacks on banks and stock exchanges, and trade sanctions that could cut off supply chains and dry up energy imports.

One of the main topics of discussion was the use of sanctions involving access to the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as SWIFT.

Contrary to the assumptions of many, SWIFT is not a bank or a financial institution itself. It is more like a phone company or internet service provider that facilitates communication among its members.

SWIFT has over 10,500 banks and asset managers as members and handles over 5 billion messages each year amounting to trillions of dollars of payments from one member to another.

SWIFT message traffic is literally the oxygen supply that keeps the global financial system alive.

In 2012, the U.S. and its allies were successful in kicking Iranian banks out of the SWIFT system.

This was extremely damaging to the Iranian economy and led to hyperinflation, bank runs, instability and social unrest until President Obama eased these sanctions in late 2013.

The U.S. Senate has more recently called for the use of SWIFT-related sanctions against Russia. In response, Russia has said that it would regard an effort to ban access to SWIFT as an act of war.

In our new financial war game, we asked; what would happen if the roles were reversed?

What if financial weapons developed by the U.S. were adopted by China and turned against the U.S. and its allies?

These and other interesting scenarios made for a long and lively day of discussions among our team of experts convened for this exercise in twenty-first century warfare.

I learned two lessons that day.

The first is that when nations engage in financial warfare, individual investors can be collateral damage. If China tries to attack the U.S. by closing the New York Stock Exchange, it will be tens of millions of Americans who will suffer an immediate loss of wealth as prices plunge and accounts are locked-down or frozen.

The second lesson was that the future wars will be fought in cyber-space using digital technology applied to payments systems such as SWIFT, FedWire, MasterCard, Visa and Europe’s Target2 system.

The answer to both threats — collateral damage and digital warfare — is to have some hard assets in physical form that cannot be attacked digitally. Such assets include cash and physical gold and silver, among others. These are the things that cannot be erased in a digital attack or frozen when payments systems are disrupted.

That’s why I recommend you keep some cash in a safe place outside the banking system. I’m talking paper money now. Having some cash is like having a battery and flashlights. I live in a place that occasionally gets hurricanes and nasty storms, so the power goes out on occasion. You want to keep some flashlight batteries around. And that means cash.

Remember, when the power’s out, nothing works. The ATMs don’t work. The gas stations don’t work, etc. It’s good to have some what we used to call in Philadelphia “walking around money.” But you can’t withdraw too much from your bank because the government won’t let you.

Try withdrawing $20,000 in cash from your bank and you’ll be reported to the government on a currency transaction report. That report will be put in a file right next to Al-Qaeda and the drug cartels, with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

The point is, you might think you can get your cash, but you can’t. When you go down to the bank and actually try to, you’ll be treated like a criminal. This is of course part of the war on cash. The American people are being led like sheep to the slaughter. They’re being herded into digital pens, which are the banks.

Most people think we have a cash system. But we really don’t. How much cash do you carry in your purse and wallet? Probably not that much. You use your debit card. You use autopay. You use your online banking account. You use your iPhone if you have Apple Pay. You use your credit card. It’s all digital.

You don’t actually have that much cash, and if you try to get it, you won’t be able to get it.

That’s why I also recommend you put some money into physical gold or silver, in a monster box. A monster box has 500 ounces of American silver eagles, one ounce each. They cost about $10,000 on the market. You should find a good dealer that doesn’t charge too much commission.

But it’ll preserve your wealth. In an emergency situation, people will take it. Many people will gladly give you some groceries for a solid ounce of silver because no one trusts any other money.

I also recommend real estate as part of your portfolio. It’ll still be there if there’s a storm or a power outage or your bank’s shut down.

These are some of the things I recommend before the next great crisis strikes. They are important ways to preserve your wealth in the years ahead.

- Source, James Rickards via the Daily Reckoning