Fingers of Instability, Part II
Here are but a few more fingers of instability emerging as we speak, the result of a fiat currencies and credit economies worldwide. Inflationary and deflationary episodes fueling the crosscurrents that constitute the hallmarks of the fingers of instability I am writing about. And the foolishness of populous politicians in wealthy societies that forget or never learned the lessons of the past.
In This Issue
Corn based Ethanol, a domino of instability
Attack of the Locusts, destruction of the American and European economies
Complacency, low volatility, and the repricing of risk
Corn based Ethanol, a domino of instability
This is a catastrophe unfolding in slow motion right before our eyes. The tealeaves are in place and the consequences can be readily deduced. We all understand our dependence on fossil fuels and its suppliers require we do everything to ameliorate future problems before they emerge. But Corn based ethanol is not a solution, and because of the billions of dollars already expended (and in the pipeline) and the political constituency set to benefit from this government inspired solution, the price toll and misallocation of investment will not be stopped now, but will be allowed to mushroom into a far far larger problem. It is a short to intermediate term opportunity for investors, and the victims (what else when politicians are at the wheel) will be the public at large. Lets take a look.
As I mentioned, we all need to address the problems of greenhouse emissions, energy production, and its efficient use. I support this with all my heart and head. But Corn based ethanol produces no benefit for anyone but the politicians and their campaign committee supporters. The ethanol industry, the politicians and the "misinformed and mislead" in the public support it with all their hearts. It is a freight train of unintended consequences headed directly at you.
But it is not just the agricultural community that is affected, Live stock producers are reducing future herds because of high feed costs (protecting their current profit margins), rushing existing livestock to market pushing prices temporarily lower before they whipsaw much higher when the public demands their be beef, chicken and pork in the grocery stores. People will not stop eating meat and grain stuffs so we can save the country from its energy consumption problems.
This industry would never have been born if an honest cost and benefit analysis had been conducted. There is no net gain from the ethanol industry. NONE. It arguably uses more energy to produce then it creates to be consumed. That is the bottom line. For every gallon of ethanol produced you might and I say might get 1.1 unit of energy for 1 unit of energy used to produce it.
Dennis Gartman of the www.thegartmanletter.com sums it up quite nicely "Simply put, and rounding to the nearest numbers for the sake of simplicity, we note that in producing 10 gallons of ethanol we need to expend the rough equivalent of 7 gallons of gasoline. That on the surface would be a fine swap. The problem is that those same 10 gallons of ethanol produce 85,000 BTUs of energy, while the 7 gallons of gasoline produce 125,000 BTUs! Thus the 10 gallons of ethanol contain the same energy output/equivalent of 6.75 gallons of gasoline." OUCH.
On top of this every gallon produced in the US is subsidized by 50 cents on the gallon by the taxpayers and energy consuming public. The very people this industry was created to benefit. This is one of the very very bad consequences of this. The price of corn has doubled; as corn has become more scarce, live stock producers have switched to wheat. The price of wheat has skyrocketed. Wheat is in extremely short supply as production worldwide has declined for 6 years in a row and demand has continued to grow. There is no extra wheat in storage or in the fields to meet the extra demand as livestock producers switch to wheat. Soybeans supplies are ample, but livestock can't eat beans as a substitute for wheat or corn except on a very limited basis. And in order to price in the incentive for farmers to plant enough beans to avoiding creating a shortage in the future, the price of Soybeans have risen 50%, as we go to press the European Union is mandating biofuel use rise to 20% of energy consumption, setting the stage for the coming soybean shortages. And example of the inflation directly ahead was detailed by Keith Collins, chief economist of the US department of Agriculture, who told the 1800 attendees at the USDA annual conference that the net returns for each acre of corn (maize) would rise to $334 from last years return of $125. In response there was a sharp gasp of breath, followed by a celebratory cheers as farmers started to count their potential windfalls. This sets the stage for even more recklessness and poor decision-making. And anecdotal evidence/news reports that the reckless drive to cash in is rolling across the country. The amount of new corn acres looks set to rise far far further than predicted just a month ago.
Grain supplies worldwide are at 50 year lows in terms of inventory. In the big picture there is no corn or wheat to meet today's food demand, let alone the skyrocketing new demand by the ethanol plants. Do you realize how the prices of many items are going to be affected by this? The price distortions and inflationary effects that is rolling into the prices of other everyday items from cereal, bread, pasta, meat, just to name a few. You can't understand the tsunami echoing into supermarkets around the world by the shortages of corn and wheat, this uneconomic enterprise is creating. Think about the billions of dollars being invested in the Midwest to produce this product that costs more than it produces. Many of these enterprises are owned by the local farmers and once again they will temporarily benefit from the boom in agriculture prices, but when the economics turn against them they will be left holding the bag. Or the taxpayer will!! Probably both.
These plants will be bought out of bankruptcy when celulose/switchgrass technologies are developed that allow a profit to be made, and energy production and consumption are a net benefit. The economics, energy yields and environmental benefits of cellulose/switchgrass are outstanding and when the technology is perfected the economics of corn-based ethanol will absolutely collapse. Till then we will see an inflationary spiral with no benefit to anyone but small group of those in the industry who are being subsidized by the government and the farmers of the grains themselves. Corn based ethanol is not an economic, energy yielding or environmentally beneficial enterprise. When this new cellulose/switchgrass technology is available you will have a crash in the price of food and agricultural commodities. From overproduction! Destroying the people who misallocated capital to "Invest" in the advertised as booming and viable industry. The "little guy" and the "fools" that rushed in based on the headlines and promises of sugarplums by politicians trying to buy votes or repay industrial campaign supporters.
During the last 4 years of worldwide economic growth demand worldwide has skyrocketed for Grains and meats as the emerging and developed world alike increase their consumption. Worldwide demand for these things are at record levels while worldwide inventories are at historical lows.
What if there are Crop problems? Chinese sees the problems emerging and has stopped all new ethanol plants, as they have no extra corn in the bins. (Chinese politicians do not need to worry about reelection, they have their eyes firmly on orderly growth and sustainability, conversely US and European politicians devise political solutions to problem rather than practical solutions) Wheat production last year in Australia suffered a crop failure, as did the Ukraine, as did India, now all have export bans in place. Prices are skyrocketing for basic food stuffs (corn, wheat, meat, etc.) in these countries. You can read the reports daily in international business publications such as the financial times and Wall Street Journal. If the US even sneezes during the coming growing season international trade in grains will be at a standstill as governments scramble to secure food for their populations. There is no margin for error. NONE!
Add to this the huge numbers of new corn ethanol plants coming on line on a weekly and monthly basis in the United States and Europe, all on the buy side of corn, creating new demand that really can't be met. And as the prices rise the economics of their businesses get worse and worse. Every rise in the price of the corn punishing their slim to none profitability, creating additional demand for more and more taxpayer funded subsidies. So the public will pay three times, once at the checkout counter at the grocery store, once at the gas pump as the 50 cent subsidy is passed right through to them at the pump, and then at tax time when the money has to be collected to fund and subsidize this atrocity.
Now President Bush is in Brazil signing a joint initiative to expand the ethanol industry across the world, pitting these efficient, economically and environmentally viable sugar based ethanol producers against the disaster that is the current US corn ethanol industry. As Holman Jenkins posits in the today's WSJ; "How many of the 111 U.S. ethanol refineries already in operation depend on tax handouts, mandates and import tariffs to keep themselves profitable? Probably all of them. How many of the 78 on the drawing board would be uncompetitive at world prices? Probably most. And many of these are being built with federal or state grants, only enlarging the coalition for protectionism." Thanks Holman. Europe is busily building the same boondoggles modeled on US initiatives to what else? Benefit the powerful farming and alternative fuels industry there.
These issues are plainly seen, but US and European politicians are busily putting the pedal to the metal in expanding this industry and looming government created disaster, what are they thinking? Are they thinking at all? No. I saw an interview with Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, and he bemoaned the Brazilian ethanol industry and pooh poohed President Bush's initiative in South America saying we need to encourage more growth in our domestic ethanol industry. Lets see? Sugar based ethanol has all the hall marks of good business, energy yields are high, the environmental gains are good, and it is very profitable in all aspects, as opposed to the US ethanol industry which has no benefit to anyone but his small Midwest constituency. Who will be slaughtered on the altar of his hubris? Charles coincidentally sits on the tax committee, so much the better for a Senator who wish's to steal from the public at large and transfer the money to his own supporters. Charles presents himself as a thoughtful and intelligent person, but close inspection of his positions on taxes and agriculture know this man is either an amiable dunce or a very evil man.
If the United States or Europe have "any" crop problems this season it will create a "WORLDWIDE" panic. And a skyrocketing in all food prices directly or indirectly through out the world. As governments fight over the food required to feed themselves. As Americans we have had decades of low food prices, as America has been the breadbasket of the world. A source of cheap and abundant grains and meats (we are major exporters of meats), thereby driving food prices lower for everyone worldwide.
But now that has changed, we are going to be the cause of a calamity worldwide caused by this little US government inspired boondoggle (little in that the total amount of money generated is of the US ethanol industry is about 6 billion dollars in a 50 trillion dollar economy). There will be 10's if not 100's of billions of dollars in costs related to this stupidity. All to create no Benefit to any participant. But the people in the ethanol industry who bought off the politicians through campaign contributions and foolish farm state politicians who can't see past the next election cycle. MARK MY WORDS DOWN. It will ultimately be a headline disaster, both on the upside and the ensuing collapse. But if you are smart can make a lot of money during the trip...
Attack of the Locusts, the destruction of the American and European economies, political finger of instability
We all know what locusts mean to fields of grain, they come in and destroy months of production and abundance and strip them clean. Leaving them completely bare. As I said in the last Tedbits, politicians throughout the developed world are busy tearing up the roots of their previous economic successes. These populous politicians have not studied history, their own or the rises or falls of previous civilizations. They have not studied history and now we are all doomed to repeat it. They don't teach history anymore, just politically correct garbage designed to further the misinformation given to their political constituency. How can you make a good decision for the future if you don't remember past failures? There is no such thing as a conservative politician in the western world, politicians who have learned histories lessons and formulate policies that will sustain and build upon past successes. They are all either liberal spendthrifts or socialists now.
In the last 4 years we have just gone through one of the greatest periods of worldwide economic growth seen in the last century. Globalization (cheap and abundant global communications, low cost transportation, World Trade organization and the lowering of trade tariffs and barriers worldwide etc.), and fiat currency and credit growth has fueled a boom that has lifted hundreds of millions if not billions out of the grip of poverty. A very good thing in the long run. Corporate profits worldwide are at record levels (creating billions of new jobs both in the developing and emerging economies alike), emerging market economies are quadrupling in size and productivity. Worldwide trade is skyrocketing as production is now allocated globally to the lowest cost producer. This is a benefit to everyone who buys anything as it increases the purchasing power of whatever money you hold, by reducing the price of whatever you buy. . The benefits of capitalism written worldwide.
But this huge rise in wealth has produced a dilemma for Sovereign politicians caught unaware or asleep at the wheel. They are losing power over peoples lives, the power to control the money, levy taxes (worldwide tax collections are booming and at record levels, they are not declining as they would have you believe, their spending on buying future votes is the problem), impose their wills on the adversaries of their supporters, etc. Before the globalization of the economy every thing was local. Most of the goods and services were produced within the grasp of these local mandarins, who could dictate and seek rents to further control or punish adversaries.
But the policies and techniques they used in the past to exert their control over their local fiefdoms are now the seeds of their future demise in the global market place. They no longer can impose their wills on others through the legislative process, and foreign politicians will not let them extend their sovereignty beyond their borders. This is the seed of the coming protectionist backlash from US and central European politicians. They are passing law after law to try to stem the tide of globalization, but the tide just keeps on rolling in. The only solution is educating their workforces, lowering the taxes, regulatory burdens and mandates on their domestic businesses thereby creating a platform for them to successfully compete in the emerging Global market place. These politicians don't realize that the deckchairs of the world economy will be rearranged and some economies will gather in new and vibrant industries, and others will wither and die if they don't plant the seeds of the future and reinvent themselves to supply goods and services in the global marketplace. They will not create a prosperous future by living in a world and mindset of the past. They are desperately trying to claw back the past. They will fail.
And they have dug a deep whole for themselves and are digging it deeper every day, as the measures they use place a straightjacket on the future competitiveness of their domestic economies. A good life and a healthy, wealthy society is not something you get at birth, it is something you create through hard work, good thinking and competing. Mandated health and wage benefits are counter productive as they distort the nature of life. Life is a struggle, how can humans or politicians believe they are above the laws of nature? They aren't.
But these Sovereign politicians tell their populations that they can have something for nothing. That their problems have been caused by someone evil somewhere else. That they can use their powers as elected officials to pass a law and take it away from those bad guys. The reason you don't have free health care is because those "Rich"people or "greedy" corporations took it from you. You really have to be stupid to believe in the tooth fairy, and there are many stupid people everywhere as histories lessons are no longer available to today's generations. Except in an edited and sanitized edition.
I was incredulous at Hilary Clintons interview on CNBC this week talking in barely veiled threats of capital and currency controls. In another speech this week she spoke of how she and capital hill could better manage the profits of the oil industry. Unbelievable. How she could usher in a new era of alternative energy with this money, well if an example of this is the first Tedbit in today's letter, then run run for your lives. Exxon Mobil makes a margin of approximately 12% on their operations. They have grown their reserves at a 114% annual pace over the last 5 years. This is good management of capital and future growth needs. To put this in perspective Macdonalds restaurants have a higher Return on equity. Does Hilary think she can manage MacDonald's better as well? And who owns Exxon Mobil? She would have you believe it is evil and greedy rich people and corporate robber barons. NO. It is Middle America in their retirement accounts and investments. She is proposing robbing Middle America, because she is smarter than us all. Do you really believe that any politician republican, democrat, socialist, or conservative can run business better then the entrepreneurs of the world? NO Way. But they all believe they can. Can you believe the level of intelligence the audiences display as they roar in support of these unbelievably stupid statements? Ignorance at the wheel of the most powerful positions on the planet, as it reflects back and forth between supporters and elected officials.
As Ronald Reagan so clearly noted, the most frightening words you can ever hear from a person who walks through your door and says "Hi, I am from the government and I am here to help you". Destruction of Capital and capital formation is now the primary task and result of bureaucrats and developed world politicians. John Maudlin recently wrote about the changes in NASD rules that will snuff out capital formation in the private sector. Raising regulatory requirements to soliciting and generating capital investment, driving a stake through this vital activity for a capitalist economy. No cost benefit analysis of these destructive regulations is being done. None. Tens if not 100's of Billions in "costs" and "no benefits" is a real problem if you ask me. The anti money laundering rules put in place by the Department of homeland security in conjunction with the financial regulators is driving investment off shore from here. FAST. The EU commission is busily doing the same. All in the name of "protecting us", from terrorists, from unethical capitalist entrepreneurs and risk takers, from any risk they deem unacceptable for the stupid sheep they think the public is. And of course the broad public is stupid, as these politicians have purposely dumbed down the electorates using the public education systems. If these shortsighted politicians and bureaucrats choke off domestic capital formation and foreign direct investment (in the US and Europe), the seeds of future growth are never planted. I can't remember how many times I have talked to international investors who no longer consider investing in the United States. They don't trust the government in Washington DC to keep their words on any issue. Ditto Europe. How long will it be before they take the final step and dump their dollar holdings? London, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Rome, and all of Central Europe are in the same boat. Creating inflationary regulations and rising costs on doing business right into the teeth of the following Tedbit...
These politicians and bureaucrats are locusts destroying the seeds and fields of the next economic harvest. Here and in Europe. Who is going to save us from them?
Complacency, low volatility, and the repricing of risk, a fiat money and credit creation finger of instability
Last Spring the world suffered a dramatic pullback in asset markets worldwide, it doesn't matter which market you turned to, it was lower. There was no place to run. The world's central bankers got a glimpse of the face of god as the underpinnings of their asset-backed economy began to collapse. Deflation, financial system collapse and depression stood dead ahead. And they went to work pumping unbelievable amounts of liquidity into the global financial systems and we got what they wished for a global surge in asset valuations. It created a huge rally, one in breath and size seen very rarely in the last century. It was one for the record books, nothing pulled back but precious metals and basic commodities that lagged the rally in financial and real estate assets (except the deflating declining domestic US housing market bubble, which this liquidity was also meant as a cushion) everywhere.
Well during that time the bubbles they created by overdoing the stimulus has brought the little guy out of the woodwork, and guess what? They bought the highs. The weakest hands are in at the top; these weak hands are the last through the door and the first to be spit out. They are now being spit out in a violent manner. Just like housing bubble before it they just bought, bought, bought as everything was a sure bet. These people have now migrated to new opportunities thinking it was a sure thing. Now the Central banks have to redouble their efforts or see financial Armageddon. Markets are now pulling back and doing what all markets do after a formidable run higher, "backing and filling", correcting and consolidating previous gains, gains which were the product of a massive liquidity injection following the last episode of market weakness (2001 to 2006). But the sloshing of that and previous episodes of fiat money and credit injections over the last 50 years are imprecise; they are either going to far or not enough in money and credit creation. Now we are seeing the mother of all waves, with never before seen profits as a percentage of GDP, but it is now oscillating in the other direction. And...
We are in a wolf wave, and the amplification of each wave up or down are expanding. A chart of a wolf wave looks like a mega phone, small on one end amplifying out. Wolves attack and eat things and it is no different with economies and asset markets, they are eaten when a wolf appears. A good example of a wolf wave is from John Maudlin latest letter and by extension Crestmont Research, here he shows corporate profits since 1950. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
See the mega phone formation? It is called a wolf wave. We are at a fairly good level of profits now. But it projects a nuclear winter in corporate profits dead ahead (see chart below). From Record highs never seen in fifty years, to record lows also not seen in the same period, below the lows of 2001-2002. This chart is a testament to how fiat money and credit creation has made steady growth and economic stewardship become more and more unmanageable over a long period of time, it is clear that monetary policy is also following this wolf wave pattern, either too hot or too cold. Politicians (and their "something for nothing" constituents) in the western world see these enormous profits and are set to attack the creators and holders of this wealth, they want the money and will put in place new taxes and entitlement mandates to claw back this gusher of wealth, thereby accelerating the downside of this wave. We all want business cycles that cleanse past excesses but the up and downs are now out of control, there is no consistency. No orderly form to the business and economic cycles, everything now is either booming or busting.
This is as frightening a chart as I have seen since the one I used in "Sea Change. The wealth of the world is rotating (see Tedbits archives at www.traderview.com), Combine the message of the two charts and commentaries and it signals big trouble in the US, in Europe then the rest of the world. Now lets look at the micro picture of corporate profits;
Corporate profits are collapsing and accelerating to the downside as indicated by the macro look...
The financial and Central banks authorities must prevent this collapse in profits and stock asset values at all costs. You can clearly see what Greenspans last episode of liquidity created. Notice how the wolf wave really started to wildly amplify and get out of control when he took over at the helm of the Federal Reserve in the mid 1980's!! This is the Greenspan put at work. Now we will see the encore. As the financial leaders of the world try to save the stupidest money in the world from their poor decisions and malinvestments (from previous easy money episodes) to buy these inflated valuations in any asset you can imagine. It's called hot money and is chasing yields around the world! And of course these assets were bought with borrowed money, as easy "below market rate" credit is abundant and available to anyone with any qualifications (the subprime borrowers are the exception, but if asset prices fail to hold up it will move up the ladder). And since inflation is massively understated they are borrowing the money at below market rates even now.
They bought those assets with the belief that markets and asset prices never go down, and anybody who studies markets know it is a two way street. The reversion to the mean projects big time pain. The shake out will be enormous unless these financial leaders step in right now to flatten it out like the mid 1970s. This is the specter of the ghosts of Christmas past. This is a highly deflationary picture if the money printing and credit creation doesn't accelerate from here. It must be global in nature. And it is coming when it already is at record levels, as global currency reserves are approximately 18% higher year over year throughout the world. Can anybody say Weimar republic on a global scale? Argentina? Zimbabwe? LOL.
The US is in dire straights, and the politicians are set to add to the bonfire if they follow through with their current plans (see previous Tedbit), taxing, mandating wages and benefits, costly regulations and destroying future business creation. The attack on "foreign and domestic" capital currently building steam in Washington DC is reckless and potentially ruinous to the United States specifically, and the world economies in general. The stupidity spilling form the mouths of the Presidential contenders is unbelievable, these people that claim they are ready to guide us into the future. The ultimate ignoramuses (the US Congress) are at the wheel of the US economy and set to strike like a poisonous viper. And of course their only concern is the next US election, not doing the right thing for the long run. And as I have said before Europe has its own coterie of like-minded idiots. Serving only their ambitions for power by promising something for nothing to the least prepared of their constituents. These constituents also happen to hold the majority of votes over the educated parts of the electorates.
A recent missive from Steve Roach summed up Washington's coming attack in its four-section summary;
"It's a new game in Washington D.C. The pendulum of political power has swung in a decidedly pro-labor direction. It's a shift with potentially profound consequences for the US and global economy - to say nothing of financial markets still steeped in denial.
Conclusions: There are three legs to the stool of Congress's pro-labor agenda: (1) Proposals have been offered that would provide direct support to lower- and middle-income workers; these include a minimum wage hike, a boost to labor unionization, and relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax. (2) Bills have been introduced that focus on returns at the upper end of the income distribution; the targets here are executive compensation, hedge funds, and private equity. (3) Anti-China legislation is gaining momentum; several new bipartisan efforts have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that focus on the all-contentious currency issue. (4) There is broad bipartisan support for these actions, with possible veto-proof margins on anti-China trade initiatives.
Market implications: Our client polling suggests that financial markets remain largely in denial over the ramifications of Washington's pro-labor agenda. If such initiatives become law, markets would be hit hard; anti-China actions could take a big toll on the US dollar and longer-term US real interest rates.
Risks: The biggest risk comes when US joblessness starts to rise - an inevitable outcome at some point in the not-so-distant future. In that context, pro-labor Washington politics - especially anti-China proposals - will only gather deeper and broader bipartisan support". Thanks Steve.
The "something for nothing" crowd is firmly in control of the Halls of power in the US and Europe. Both politically and at the reigns of finance and Central Banking. We have had calm sailing in the markets since late 2002 (due to unbelievable amounts of stimulus from Alan Greenscam, er Greenspan and now Ben Bernanke, the father of no M3 reporting), now four years later confidence is at superman levels and the miscalculation that things go on forever is the only thing on investors minds. They have short memories, just like their leaders. There is big money here for the smartest among us, for all the rest of us it is disaster directly ahead.
In conclusion, in this edition of the "fingers of instability" series I have outlined tremendously inflationary and deflationary situations. The only thing that will allow us to muddle through is cubic money and credit creation to soften the blows of the ups and downs. The Authorities must keep piling Yuan on top of Yuan, Yen on top of yen, Dollar on top of dollar, British pound on top of British pound, Euro on top of Euro, Real on top of real, Ruble on top of Ruble, etc. The rest of the world's central bankers and finance officials are now doing to their own economies, what Greenspan started doing in 1987, thereby extending the cycle, as there is a new group in the choir. It must continue at always-increasing levels, forever until the ultimate endgame of a Kondratieff winter unfolds on a global scale. Stop it for a moment and we will all be toast. Burnt toast!!!
Bull and Bear markets market for now in rotating asset classes and things, when it is over there will be another bull market in paper as we have witnessed since 1982 ending in the 2002-2003 period. You need to learn to invest in "Rising and declining" (if you wish to learn about this call or contact me) markets worldwide: currencies, commodities, industrial and precious metals, financials, Real estate (during mini crashes) and stocks. If you are a one-way Charlie, i.e. long only get ready for some severe heartburn!!! Play it for all its worth and make money along the way. I don't believe the ultimate debacle is on the near horizon as there is too much money in the banking systems and credit is still plentiful for qualified borrowers. Employment and income growth is solid worldwide. If you wish to speculate and invest on what I speak about, then give me a call or contact me through the website www.TraderView.com . I work hard for my clients to put together portfolios using professionally managed futures, and forex to capture these episodes as they unfold in a targeted manner.
If you enjoyed this edition of Tedbits, send it to a friend; visit our archives for additional insights from previous editions, or sign up for a free subscription. Beginning next week Tedbits will come out weekly on Thursdays or Fridays before each weekend. Thank you for reading this edition of Tedbits, don't miss the next edition of Tedbits "fingers of instability" series it will be a barn burner of provocative thoughts and insights on global economics and finance...
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