Blog Archives

Is the Tech Bubble Bursting?

Is the decade-long tech bubble finally popping? Tech bulls are overlooking the fundamental reality that the drivers of Big tech’s phenomenal growth–financialization and expansion into mobile telephony– are both losing momentum.

A third dynamic–Big Tech monetizing privately owned assets such as vehicles and homes– has also reached saturation and is now facing regulatory barriers.

Let’s start with market saturation: of the 5.3 billion adults on earth over 15 years of age, 5 billion now have a mobile phone and 4 billion have a smartphone: The end of mobile (Benedict Evans). As for teens between 10 and 15, only the truly impoverished don’t have a mobile phone of some kind.

As I discuss below, the primary dynamic of the past decade has been the integration of web-based services into mobile telephony. By any measure, that cycle is now complete.

I recently explored technology’s ties to financialization and deflationary trends in prices and profits: Two Intertwined Dynamics Are Transforming the Economy: Technology and Financialization

Technology Is Not Just Disruptive, It’s Disastrously Deflationary

The basic idea here is that the tech bubble has been inflated by a unique set of circumstances:

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Technology Is Not Just Disruptive, It’s Disastrously Deflationary

While AI (artificial intelligence) garners the headlines, the next wave of disruptive technologies extend far beyond AI: as the chart of technologies rapidly being adopted shows, this wave includes new materials and processes as well as the “usual suspects” of machine learning, natural language processing, data mining and so on.

While many voices seek to assure us these technologies won’t displace human workers, the reality is cutting labor inputs is the core driver. What few pundits seem to understand (perhaps because they’ve never experienced a truly competitive market?) is that the rush to incorporate these technologies into existing enterprises is deflationary not just to prices but to profits.

Reducing labor inputs and improving productivity of capital and the remaining labor force is not going to generate profits if competitors can access the same tools and processes. The race isn’t to maximize profits, it’s to survive the inevitable deflationary spiral in prices as competitors are forced to pass along cost savings to customers to retain market share.

Pundits glorying in tech profits only consider monopolies or quasi-monopolies like Apple, Facebook and Google or monopolies / cartels enforced by government regulations and policies. Markets open to competition do not enable pricing power beyond a temporary advantage for one or two product cycles. (Please see Two Intertwined Dynamics Are Transforming the Economy: Technology and Financialization)

As the race to improve technologies speeds up, “good enough” open source software and cheap previous-generation hardware is good enough for most applications. (We can surmise that the Pareto Distribution is active: technology that is 20% of the cost of the newest product can do 80% of what the new product can do, and tech that costs a mere 4% of the latest tech can do 64% of what the latest product can do.)

Everyone counting on trillions in tech profits is overlooking the inconvenient reality of the S-Curve for cheap credit, cheap energy and cheap labor–the three drivers of global expansion. Once credit dries up or becomes more expensive, once cheap energy is only a memory (or future fantasy) and once employment sags under the pressure to reduce labor inputs, the ranks of those with the earnings or credit to buy, buy, buy will be thinned.

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Commoditization = Deflation

Apple’s slumping sales growth in China re-energized discussions on the commoditization of smart phones: the basic idea is that once devices, services, goods, platforms, etc. are interchangeable and can be produced/generated anywhere, they are effectively commodities and their value declines accordingly.

In the case of Apple’s iPhone, many observers see diminishing returns on the latest model’s features as the price point (around $1,000) now exceeds what many customers are willing to pay for the status of owning an Apple product and the declining differentiation of the iPhone when compared to other smart phones available at a fraction of the iPhone’s price.

Commoditization doesn’t just affect the top tier of the food chain; it affects the entire food chain. The commodity $400 smart phone has diminishing returns over the commodity $200 smart phone, and the $200 smart phone has diminishing returns over the commodity $100 smart phone.

Commoditization ravages price and profitability. Once the production facility is paid for by the first run, the cost basis of future production drops, enabling the producer to reap profits even as price plummets.

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Does the World End in Fire or Ice? Thoughts on Japan and the Inflation/Deflation Debate

Do we implode in a deflationary death spiral (ice) or in an inflationary death spiral (fire)? Debating the question has been a popular parlor game for years, with Eric Janszen’s 1999 Ka-Poom Deflation/Inflation Theory often anchoring the discussion.

I invite everyone interested in the debate to read Janszen’s reasoning and prediction of a deflationary spiral that then triggers a monstrous inflationary response from central banks/states desperate to prop up their faltering status quo.

Alternatively, economies can skip the deflationary spiral and move directly to the collapse of their currency via hyper-inflation. This chart of the Venezuelan currency (Bolivar) illustrates the “skip deflation, go straight to hyper-inflation” pathway:

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Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?

Fifteen years after embarking on its largely ineffective quantitative easing program, Japan appears poised to try the form recommended by Ben Bernanke in his notorious “helicopter money” speech in 2002. The Japanese test case could finally resolve a longstanding dispute between monetarists and money reformers over the economic effects of government-issued money.

When then-Fed Governor Ben Bernanke gave his famous helicopter money speech to the Japanese in 2002, he was talking about something quite different from the quantitative easing they actually got and other central banks later mimicked. Quoting Milton Friedman, he said the government could reverse a deflation simply by printing money and dropping it from helicopters. A gift of free money with no strings attached, it would find its way into the real economy and trigger the demand needed to power productivity and employment. (more…)

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I Sure Am Glad There’s No Inflation

We are constantly bombarded with two messages about inflation:

1. Inflation is near-zero

2. This worries the Federal Reserve terribly, because stable prices are deflationary and deflation is (for reasons that are never explained) like the financial Black Plague that will wipe out humanity if it isn’t vanquished by a healthy dose of inflation (i.e. getting less for your money).

Those of us outside the inner circles of power are glad there’s no inflation, because we’d rather get more for our money (deflation) rather than less for our money (inflation). You know what I mean: the package that once held 16 ounces now only holds 13 ounces. A medication that once cost $79 now costs $79,000. (This is a much slighter exaggeration than you might imagine.)

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ECB To Print Trillion Euros – Gold Could Surge 40% In 15 Minutes Against Euro, Other Currencies

ECB To Print Trillion Euros – Gold Could Surge 40% In 15 Minutes Against Euro, Other Currencies

Mario Draghi is preparing to unveil QE today as the ECB looks certain to announce it’s much anticipated quantitative easing (QE) programme. The move to print up to €1 trillion euros in the coming months appears to be a fait accompli although it will occur against a backdrop of strong German resistance and many concerns.

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Following leaks that mainstream news sources regard as credible, the ECB is expected to announce monthly purchases of €50 billion in government bonds of member states.  The scheme is expected to run from March until the end of 2016 – for some 21 months – bringing the total to around 1 trillion euros. The ECB’s balance sheet currently stands at about €2 trillion.

Proponents argue that the move should or will prevent deflation and help revitalise the ailing euro zone economy. (more…)

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Central Banks Have Failed Because They Can’t Push Wages Higher

You can print all the money you want, but it will never boost wages to keep up with prices.

Central banks have been pursuing two goals for the past six years: ignite inflation and an expansion of debt that will supposedly generate “growth.” Despite squandering trillions of dollars, yen, yuan and euros, central banks have failed to ignite sustainable inflation or growth.

There’s nothing mysterious about their failure: you can’t get “good” inflation or growth if wages are stagnant or declining.

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Central Banks Create Deflation, Not Inflation

Financial and risk bubbles don’t pop in a vacuum–all the phantom collateral constructed with mal-invested free money for financiers will also implode.

If there’s one absolute truism we hear again and again, it’s that central banks are desperately trying to create inflation. Perversely, their easy-money policies actually generate the exact opposite: deflation.

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Japan’s Monetary Pearl Harbor

Trying to “fix” a sclerotic, inefficient state-cartel economy by boosting inflation–the ultimate goal of Japan’s Monetary Pearl Harbor– is a self-liquidating path to destruction.

The Bank of Japan’s surprise expansion of financial stimulus strikes me as the monetary equivalent of Pearl Harbor –not in the sense of launching a pre-emptive war (though the move does raise the odds of a global currency war), but in the sense of a leadership pursuing a Grand Strategy to the point of self-destruction because they have no alternative within their intellectual and political framework.

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Why We’re Poorer: Inflation and Deflation Are Now Globalized

We’re being hit with a double-whammy: Wages are under deflationary pressure, and almost everything else is exposed to inflationary pressure.

As correspondent Mark G. observed in Globalization = Permanent Instability, it’s impossible to understand inflation and deflation now except in a global context.

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DAVID MORGAN ON THE DOLLAR’S END-GAME: DEFLATIONARY CRASH OR A HYPERINFLATIONARY MONETARY COLLAPSE?

The world’s leading silver expert David Morgan joins The Doc & Eric Dubin this week to discuss: 

  • The Fed tapers official QE another $10 billion- gold & silver whacked the day after the FOMC statement yet again
  • David breaks down gold and silver trading over the first half of 2014:  Gold & Silver still base building a Major Bottom
  • Is the next banking crisis beginning? Banco Espírito Santo’s share price halved on  Thursday
  • Be right and sit tight?  David explains why the PM markets will scare you out or wear you out
  • We ask David how he sees the end-game for the dollar playing out- will we see a deflationary crash, or a hyper-inflation monetary collapse,  and how will PMs protect wealth against both?
  • On the Brink?  Washington driving West towards direct conflict with Russia

Click here for the SD Weekly Metals & Markets With The Doc, Eric Dubin, and David Morgan:

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