This article originally appeared at The Daily Reckoning.
-- I was rudely and abruptly awakened by alarm bells ringing. I reflexively shot off an entire clip of expensive ammunition into the darkness before I realized it was not the Mogambo Homicidal Wife Detector (MHWD) that was ringing, but the Mogambo Economic Seismograph (MES). As I switch on the light, my wife peeks out from under the bed, and is yelling "What in the hell was THAT all about, you crazy stupid bastard?" I calmly reply, trying to be soothing, "Shut your fat yap. It looks like Total Fed Credit fell $1.8 billion last week, and at the same time as foreign banks' holdings of US debt at the Fed decreased by $7.8 billion, too."
I gulp at the news. My wife sees me gulp, and quickly slides back under the bed. An economy based on debt-created fiat currency, like ours, must have a continuously-rising level of debt just to pay the interest on the existing debt, if nothing else. And we need even more rising levels of debt to achieve "growth." And now we don't seem to have it anymore. Again I gulp in fear.
But this is all just statistics proving the onset of the inevitable. The announcement last month by the G-7, of which the USA is a member, was that they all agreed that the US dollar has to be massively devalued to address our gaping, terrifying trade and budget imbalances. The current range of estimates of the total proposed devaluation of the purchasing power of the dollar is between 30% to 50%!
For one thing, at the most optimistic, least-damaging 30% total devaluation of the dollar, and further assuming that absolutely nothing else changes except the buying power of the dollar, this means that we'll be buying crude oil for $95 per barrel.
And if you think that "nothing will change" when oil is at $95 (and up!) per barrel and the dollar is 30% weaker, then I am sorry to tell you that you are very, very wrong. And if you further think that not being heavily-armed and heavily into gold and silver bullion is a good idea at this particular point of the boom-bust cycle, then I am also sorry to tell you that you are wrong about that, too.
And while we are talking about the dollar and things that are wrong, we bid farewell to John Snow, who is resigning as Secretary of the Treasury. I don't know whether John Snow was as stupid as he sounded, or whether he was somehow forced to say those asinine things, such as constantly invoking the Laffer Curve argument that low tax rates can mean higher tax collections, or how even THAT ridiculous, special-case over-simplification morphed into the absurd idea that lower taxes automatically produce higher tax revenues! Hahaha! But the United States was not well served by such silliness, except to convince the rest of the world that we are a nation of greedy, raving imbeciles.
But government has always meant greedy, raving imbeciles, as I gather from Sean Corrigan, at Diapason Commodities Management, who writes "As the great Ludwig von Mises is apocryphally said to have quipped, only the institution of government could take an honest piece of paper and make it worth less through the simple act of printing something on it."
And the result is inflation, and if you really want to see inflation eating your guts out, then take a look at Bea.gov, where you can find month-over-month percentage increases in "Personal income", measured in current dollars. For the first four months of this year, from January through April, the figures were 0.7, 0.4, 0.5, 0.5. Sounds like nice little boosts to income!
As a subset, however, the "Disposable personal income" for the first four months of this year were a little lower, and came in at 0.3, 0.3, 0.4 and 0.4. Still up, but not quite as nice.
However, (and here is the inflation monster you were warned about) in chained (2000) dollars, increases in DPI are a LOT lower yet! Check this out: The first four months of this year, DPI registered MOM increases of -0.2 , 0.2 , 0.0, -0.1! Half the months showed actual losses in income, thanks to inflation! Losses!
The same thing is evident in the Personal Consumption Expenditures for the same first four months of this year. Measured in current dollars, consumption rose spectacularly in January through April, up by, respectively, 0.8, 0.3, 0.5, and 0.6 percentages over the prior month. It is from these same robust figures that increases that show up in the calculation of GDP.
In contrast, in testament to roaring price inflation, in chained (2000) dollars, PCEs increased, MOM, only 0.3, 0.2, 0.1, and 0.1! Hahaha! What a ripoff!
This shows, clear as any bell, even as clear as that bell that The Mogambo rings every morning at dawn while yelling "Wake up! Wake up and face economic death by inflation, you stupid, sleepy morons!" that the consumer is not buying more, but is merely paying more. Which is how monetary inflation shows up in price inflation. And here it is!
On an even worse note, the same government report noted that "Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was a negative $146.8 billion in April, compared with a negative $128.2 billion in March. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income was a negative 1.6 percent in April, compared with a negative 1.4 percent in March." As if we have to be told, they add, helpfully, "Negative personal saving reflects personal outlays that exceed disposable personal income." In short, not only are we Americans spending every dime we have on higher-priced goods and services (due to inflation), but we are increasingly going farther into debt to do it! Yow!
But this horrible news is apparently lost on stock speculators, as the AP reports that people think that the Federal Reserve would soon stop raising interest rates, as "A sharp drop in April orders for big-ticket manufactured items drove hopes that the Fed has lifted rates enough to slow a robust economy."
So will the Fed stop raising interest rates? According to the Mogambo Interest Rate Computer (MIRC) and James Turk in that famous Barron's interview this week, "It took Paul Volcker bringing real interest rates up to 6%, 7%, 8% in a short period of time before the market was convinced he was going to save the dollar."
Inflation, measured the old tried-and-true way that Volcker knew, is running at about 9%. So, add 8% to that to get the "real" interest rate, and that means that for Ben Bernanke to convince the world that the dollar can be saved right now, he should have already pushed the Fed Funds rate to 17%.
And since the Really, Really, Really Bad News (RRRBN) is that inflation in prices has only gotten started, you can look forward to a Fed Funds rate of 25% and long-bonds yielding 30%.
-- But the Fed is not going down without a fight, and the Fed processed $20 billion of repos last Thursday alone, which is not a new record, but it is right up there.
-- Congress is crafting an "immigration bill" that is the poster child for everything that is wrong with America. On the one hand, the Democrats are parading their bigotry and filthy racism by fawning over trespassing, border-jumping illegal Mexicans as merely darling wayward little brown children, who just need grown-up white people to take care of them.
Democrats forget completely that these Mexicans are fully-grown adults from a democratic republic, and these are the same people who have, decade after decade, deliberately elected a corrupt, economy-destroying government. It has now finally gotten so bad there that millions of them desperately want to escape the dysfunctional economic, political and social system they deliberately created. Talk about Americans underwriting moral hazard!
The despicable Republicans, on the other hand, also want an immigration bill, only one that will supply them with lots of cheap, disposable strong-back labor ("It's not slavery! Same wages and benefits, but they can leave anytime they like!"). Republicans further want employers to be allowed to pass the enormous costs of health care and the other crippling transfer costs (contained in the hundreds of welfare-type programs made available to these exploited working-poor) to the general public. Their argument is that this is desirable since a low cost of agricultural and manual labor keeps inflation low! Hahaha! Wrong, morons! Jeez! How morally and intellectually bankrupt can you be?
This is the same ridiculous argument that I get from my own kids. They say that they can easily live on a part-time, minimum wage, no-benefits, slave-labor job! No problem, as long as they can live free at my house forever, eat my groceries, stay on my health insurance plan, and maybe get a few bucks from me every once in a while. Hahaha!
What in the hell does this have to do with economics? Just this: Whatever happens, it will be expensive. Very expensive. And for a long time, too.
-- Alert reader John J sent me a link to Ben Bernanke's response to some questions posed by Jim Saxton of the Joint Economic Committee. Mr. Bernanke was explaining the use of the Personal Consumption Expenditure index as "the" inflation figure, instead of the Consumer Price Index figure, which is usually higher. Mr. Bernanke writes that the evidence indicates that "the PCE weights are measured more accurately than the CPI weights." I leap to my feet, waving my hand in the air like an idiot, and say "Huh? You change the weighting of an item in the market basket in accordance with the change in the price of the item, at a rate seemingly consistent with whim, and then you have the nerve to tell me that one way of doing this is more precise than the other? How stupid so you think we are, you arrogant little twerp?"
But he does not address my question, but quickly changes the subject by saying "The PCE measure also has some disadvantages relative to the CPI; most important, its broader scope necessitates the inclusion of some prices that are not derived from market transactions and so may add some noise to the overall index as a proxy for the cost of living."
Hahahaha! If I was Jim Saxton, I would have that little Bernanke twit hustle his arrogant butt into my office and explain to me exactly how it is that some prices are going up, but are not counted as inflation, and how this is because they are not "market transactions", meaning that they were imposed by, I guess, governments or monopolies. Do you mean to tell me that some rising prices are not counted as inflation because of WHO is getting the money, or HOW they arrived at their prices? What am I, some kind of stupid guy with his finger up his nose who is going to listen to this condescending crap and say 'Well, duh, okay! If you say so!' "
The article on MarketWatch.com reported the letter with a headline "Price Indexes Overstate Inflation, Bernanke Says". The article goes on to say "Commonly used government price indexes overstate the level of inflation in the economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Thursday." I will note that, normally, I would wax increasingly hostile at such a blatant lie, usually ending with me calling the Federal Reserve in a big huff and screaming into the phone "Put me through to Bernanke, the lying butthead!" They never do, but I can hear the Homeland Security guys who are tapping my phone trying not to laugh, so it was a small victory, after all.
The truth is that the way the government calculates inflation grossly UNDERSTATES actual inflation, and everybody knows it. People laugh at us for it. Now, John Snow resigned rather than continue to look like an idiot, but I think it is expecting too much of Mr. Bernanke to follow him out the door for the same reasons.
-- The Gross Domestic Product figure came out, and the economy is, so the number implies, growing. That the economy was still, according to this new GDP figure, expanding gave the stock bulls a reason to invest, driving the averages up. Or the Plunge Protection Team was at work, clandestinely manipulating the markets with the public's money. Or both. I dunno.
Whatever it is, it ain't working so well. Kurt Richebächer, writing for DailyReckoning.com, figures that business in America is bad, and is reflected in "America's worst profit performance in the whole post-war period." He reports that profits are down to "3% of GDP. Measured as a share of GDP, profits today are at their lowest level in the whole post-war period. During the last year of the boom, in 2000, before-tax profits of nonfinancial firms were equivalent to 4.3% of GDP. That was down from 6% of GDP in 1997."
So while profits may be down, they are still profits, and nobody ever denied that you would get economic activity if the government deficit-spent almost a trillion dollars a year (the increase in the national debt plus the Social Security surpluses) which is about 8% of GDP! If you did NOT get a boom would be surprising!
Then add in another infusion of money as foreign central banks bought another $200 billion in government debt last year, and put it on deposit at the Fed. Then add in $600 billion of new equity-extraction spending.
So, suddenly, we're talking about $1.8 trillion dollars of new spending pumped into the economy last year! Almost 15% of GDP! And you think anybody in their right mind would NOT expect a boom? Hahaha!
If you are not laughing at the idea of deficit-spending 15% of GDP, then you have not achieved True Mogambo Economic Enlightenment (TMEE). As a little Mogambo Tip, the instant that TME happens to you for the first time, expect to vomit up blood in your panic and fear, and to cry like a little baby. Maybe make a mess in your pants, too. Don't worry; it's perfectly natural, and we all went through it.
The downside, of course, is that all of this spending came at the expense of going farther into debt, in an economy based on government spending. I don't use the words "suicidal" and "economics" together more than seventy or eighty times a day, but this is one economic paradigm where the use of that word is entirely apropos.
-- I keep looking in wonder at the action in precious metals, and I wonder to myself "I wonder what in the hell is going on?"
If I was the head honcho in China, then I could tell you what I, Emperor Mogambo, would be doing that could explain it. I would be accumulating gold, and lots and lots of it, because my clever Asian reasoning ran along these lines. "Confucius say; 'Do you honestly think that foreign investors are going to invest long-term in China, when Chinese history is one long and sad tale of xenophobic, confiscatory, imperialist, repressive government, just like all the rest of the world's governments, only this time we are communists, too? Why in the hell would anyone trust China or Chinese money?' "
To answer the question, I would cleverly review American history, especially that part where America rose from nothing to be an economic superstar and dictatorial overlord of the world. In doing so, I would discover ("All hail Emperor Mogambo for his discovery!") that it was done by gold being money.
Then perhaps, as the new Chinese leader, I would take a few grudging minutes away from auditioning pretty dancing girls for my new Fabulous Mogambo All-Girl Review (FMAGR) to read the Sandra Ward interview of James Turk, founder of Gold Money.com, in Barron's magazine this week. It is entitled "Yes, $8,000 An Ounce" which is a real nice way to get my attention, which it did. She writes that Mr. Turk, speaking about Ben Bernanke, says "he seems to be focused on the deflation in the 1930s, and this is quite alarming. What we don't need today is a greater supply of dollars. What we need is a greater demand for dollars. The way you improve demand for dollars is to take those steps that will give people confidence in the dollar and its purchasing power for a long, long period of time."
With typical Chinese logical precision, I merely come to the conclusion that since we Chinese own so damned many dollars and dollar-denominated assets, and since gold is cheap, cheap, cheap by any metric, then the optimal strategy would be to accumulate ALL the world's gold, starting with the biggest hoarder of gold, the Federal Reserve.
And as the All Powerful Mogambo (APM), glorious new emperor of China, I would instruct my ministers to tell that little pipsqueak Bush that I want him to pack up all the gold and ship it to me, collect, or I'll sell his stupid bonds and stocks so fast that he will probably crap in his Occidental pants as he re-discovers exactly who is actually the boss in the creditor/debtor relationship.
And, to make matters worse for the dollar, there are also indications of an Asian Currency Unit forming, mostly consisting of China and Japan, to trade goods and services their currencies, too.
And it is not just the Chinese setting up shop, or the Iranians, or the South Americans, but also now the Russians have decided that they want to open an exchange to trade in oil, gas, and other goods, and for it all to be paid for with rubles.
Another big reason, aside from the prestige, is that the velocity of money will, necessarily, increase, as it comes pouring through the many intermediaries in the Russian marketplace. No doubt Mr. Putin was looking at the past century, where gigantic money flows in the American oil market produced American-made fortunes, as each American intermediary raked off another few bucks as the money went boinka, boinka, boinka through the system, and then, multiplied by the Required Reserve Multiplier, into the economy as "growth." And that is good for profits, higher local real estate values, wages, economy, standard of living and a feeling of prosperity that makes for easy-pickings in the corruption department.
How soon will all of this happen? Well, Julian Phillips of the GoldForecaster.com reports that Putin said "work on making the national currency fully convertible should be completed by July 1, almost six months ahead of the original January 1, 2007 deadline." July first! Of this year!
So are foreigners ganging up on us? Yeah, I figure they are. And for good reason: We Americans treat every treaty like the ones we made with the American Indians. Without exception (as far as I can tell), we Americans gave them the short end of the stick. From there we lied, broke every treaty, stole everything they had, and then killed most of them if we ever had the slightest reason, no matter how slight or temporary, to do so.
And (fast-forwarding to today) like the dirty, deal-breaking, little back-stabbing crooks that we now are, we have also allowed Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve to renege on the international deal whereby every country gave up pegging their currencies to gold and, instead, pegged their currencies to the dollar, while we, (aka "Great White Father in Washington"), would promise to faithfully hold the dollar constant, in terms of buying power, thus achieving the stability of the gold standard without all those inconvenient gold-standard duties, not to mention the restrictions on government spending and bank revenue.
Although nobody literally said "We smoke-um peace pipe. Make mark on white man's treaty paper!", the result was exactly the same. And now they are angry, and simply want their money back. Or at least get the hell out of the system.
One result is how Jim Willie CB of GoldenJackass.com sums it up when he writes "World finance ministers have lost confidence in the US Dollar. The G7 Meeting communiqué, announcements by Japanese leaders, statements from European bankers, warnings out of Beijing, outcries from South Korea, criticisms from Russia, agreements in Asia, even statements by the IMF, they all add up to a global banker revolt. US imbalances are not being rectified. The Russian finance minister Kudrin openly questions the US Dollar as worthy, given substantial and chronically dangerous deficits."
Alert reader John P. is walking by and I shout out, "Hey! John! What's happening, dude?" and he says, laconically, "the world is sending loud signals that that support is about to end... and badly."
And what happens next? Mr. Willie says "Expect a rocky several months to contain turbulence, minor panics, and some derivative accidents (likely in bonds)."
And let's remember that derivatives are merely big, big, big bets used as, theoretically, insurance against movements in interest rates or currency exchange rates for contracts that contain fixed notional amounts of money. How big is this market? I thought you would never ask! Estimates put it somewhere around, oh, say $300 trillion to maybe $450 trillion dollars, which is ten times bigger, 1,000% bigger, than the entire global GDP of every person and every company in every country on the face of the planet added together!
Julian Phillips says that this Russian ruble thing is "the second most significant step in removing the U.S.$ from the throne of sole global reserve and trading currency! Should any more oil producers take this step, it will precede a U.S.$ crisis and create massive potential instability in the globe's foreign exchanges." He goes on to say that this is "important to gold."
I raise my hand to ask "Why is the ruble trading in the markets 'important to gold?' " Mr. Phillips immediately realizes that I am the "slow one" in the class, and wouldn’t understand the answer even if he explained it to me a dozen times. So he answers by merely repeating, "Needless to say, these moves are very, very positive for gold." And it worked! Now I am fixated on the use of the phrase "very, very" as a modifier to the subsequent phrase "positive for gold"! My Grubby Mogambo Greed Antenna (GMGA) actually tingled! OooOOOoooh!
Then he asks, I assume rhetorically, "If Putin keeps his word on the gold front, we should expect Russia to enter the gold market as a buyer soon, too?"
I almost broke an arm, waving it in the air, excitedly crying out "Yes, it does! It means exactly that! They had better be accumulating gold! And the reason that I think so is simplicity itself: Would YOU trust the Russians, or the Chinese, or anybody to maintain exchange stability, using a fiat currency, so that you could invest long-term with confidence? You would? Hahahaha! Why in the hell would you do that?"
I notice that my laughter rings hollow in the empty room. They have all gone. Nevertheless, I provide, as a coda, "You can ask all the experts you want, but not one of them can name one instance where, long-term, people who trusted governments came out ahead. Go ahead! Name just one! Hahaha! They can't! Hahahaha!"
-- Peter Schiff of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. writes "While bad news for savers and investors, higher inflation is actually the government's best friend and is the most politically expedient way to resolve America's economic imbalances and reduce the real burden of repaying its own debts."
Suddenly, my head was spinning because it just occurred to me that while this may be true of governments because they increase their tax revenue as inflation raises prices and incomes, but is it also true for the rest of us that we can REALLY inflate our way out of our debts?
I write "Hmm!" which is my clever way of indicating that I am thinking. After awhile, I answer with a definite "Yes and no." Here's how I figure it: If I create and sell a bond (take a loan) for a hundred dollars, and agree to pay my creditor five percent when inflation is five percent, this works out to me paying those crooked banker bastards $5 a year on the debt. Theoretically, the bank is breaking even on the deal, as the $5 in interest that I pay is exactly equal to inflation. But I notice that I am still the only one paying money to somebody.
Now, if inflation goes to 10% per year, that old bond is now worth $50 on the open market. So the idea is (and follow closely here, as this is the crux of the whole argument), to borrow another fifty dollars at 10% interest ($5 per year), when inflation is running at 10%, to pay off the old bond (loan) at fifty cents on the dollar. This is the place where the creditors, so they say, "get screwed," as they lose fifty bucks by closing out the asset at a loss.
But notice that they still have my new $50 loan on the books, and I am paying 10% interest, too. So I am still paying the bank $5 a year, the exact-o, same-o amount as the old debt, when measured in nominal dollars. The only difference is that these are inflation-adjusted, devalued dollars that don't buy much anymore. Big deal! We get general inflation in all prices instead! This is our big stupid "advantage"? Hahahaha!
And when inflation dies back down to 5% one day, as the cycle goes around, paying that $50 loan at 10% interest will be very onerous to me then, too, and the bond will be worth twice as much on the open market. Then I will have to borrow another $100 at 5% interest, to pay off my $50 loan at 10% interest, that I used to pay off the original $100 loan at 5%.
And notice that the bank makes money the whole time, and always at the gradually higher interest rates that they will charge as inflation gradually rises. So, for your essay question concerning today's Fascinating Mogambo Lesson In Economics (FMLIE), you will get an A+ if you can show how the creditor, in this case the bank, got "screwed" out of anything. As the bonus section of the test, deduce the identity of the guy who really got screwed in that whole stinking inflation thing.
Mr. Schiff goes on to say "When higher interest rates really start to take their toll on consumer spending and home prices, the Fed will either do an about face and start cutting rates in a desperate attempt to revive the economy, or it will continue to raise them, deliberately pushing the economy deeper into recession. Both scenarios are bearish for the dollar, and it is only a matter of time before the market figures this out."
When the market "figures this out", the handling of the horrible aftermath of the Alan Greenspan Era of Serial Bubbles will be the highlight of economic history, as the guy (Ben Bernanke) who is the chairman of the Federal Reserve is now a guy (Ben Bernanke) who proclaims himself (Ben Bernanke) to be an expert on the Great Depression, and he (Ben Bernanke) says he (Ben Bernanke) knows exactly how to prevent it from ever happening again, although both episodes were caused by excessive Federal Reserve creation of money and credit (and debt) that produced massive inflation in the prices of assets. In the '30s episode, assets subsequently collapsed, taking everything else down with them.
Ben Bernanke's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea is that the Fed gave up too easily in the 30's, and that he is now sure, since he is a self-styled expert, that administering more poison to a dying patient will, paradoxically, be the cure for poisoning. Therefore, look for lower interest rates regardless of inflation, and increasing Plunge Protection Team activities to gobble up stocks and bonds to keep their prices up.
-- Adam D., commenting, as did many others, that the phrase "neither a lender
nor a borrowers be" comes not from the Bible, but from Hamlet. "Specifically," he
says, "it's from Act 1, Scene 3, and it's part of the advice Polonius gives
to his departing son:
'Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.'"
In other words, The Mogambo will not be paying you back, and you will hate me for it, and now too late you realize that I will never learn how to manage my money if chumps like you keep lending it to me. Ugh
****Mogambo sez: If you are not buying gold, silver and oil stocks now, then you are either a) not as bright as you look, or b) already up to your eyebrows in gold and silver already. There are no other permissible excuses.