Blog Archives

The Big Reversal: Inflation and Higher Interest Rates Are Coming Our Way

According to the conventional economic forecast, interest rates will stay near-zero essentially forever due to slow growth. And since growth is slow, inflation will also remain neutral.

This forecast is little more than an extension of the trends of the past 30+ years: a secular decline in interest rates and official inflation, which remains around 2% or less. (As many of us have pointed out for years, the real rate of inflation is much higher–in the neighborhood of 7% annually for those exposed to real-world costs.)

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Japan: A Future of Stagnation

One of our longtime friends in Japan just sold the family business. The writing was on the wall, and had been for the past decade: fewer customers, with less money, and no end of competition for the shrinking pool of customers and spending.

Our friend is planning to move to another more vibrant economy in Asia. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life struggling to keep the business afloat. She wanted to have a family and a business with a future. It was the right decision, not only for her but for her family: get out while there’s still some value in the business to sell.

I have written a number of entries on Japan’s economic downward-spiral and its largely hidden social depression over the past decade, most recently: Global Bellwether: Japan’s Social Depression (September 25, 2014)

Lessons from Japan: Decades of Decay, Unavoidable Collapse (April 26, 2016)

The Keynesian Fantasy is that encouraging people to borrow money to replace what they no longer earn is a policy designed to fail, and fail it has. Borrowing money incurs interest payments, which even at low rates of interest eventually crimps disposable earnings.

Banks must loan this money at a profit, so interest rates paid by borrowers can’t fall to zero. If they do, banks can’t earn enough to pay their operating costs, and they will close their doors.

If banks reach for higher income, that requires loaning money to poor credit risks and placing risky bets in financial markets. Once you load them up with enough debt, even businesses and wage earners who were initially good credit risks become poor credit risks.

Uncreditworthy borrowers default, costing the banks not just whatever was earned on the risky loans but the banks’ capital.

The banking system is designed to fail, and fail it does. Japan has played thepretend-and-extend game for decades by extending defaulting borrowers enough new debt to make minimal interest payments, so the non-performing loan can be listed in the “performing” category.

Central banks play the game by lowering interest rates so debtors can borrow more. This works like monetary cocaine for a while, boosting spending and giving the economy a false glow of health, but then the interest payments start sapping earnings, and once the borrowed money has been spent/squandered, what’s left is the interest payments stretching into the future.

Central banks played another game: buying assets to inflate asset bubbles, bubbles that were supposed to spark the wealth effect: once businesses and households see their net worth rise as assets bubble higher, they will be psychologically induced to borrow against that new wealth and spend, spend, spend.

The Bank of Japan has played this game to little effect. The BOJ now owns a significant chunk of Japan’s stock market, but the real economy continues its long descent into stagnation.

Demographics matter. As the populace ages, older people spend less and sell assets to raise cash for their non-earning retirement years. As young families have fewer children, consumption declines accordingly.

Take a declining population with declining rates of productivity growth and load it up with debt, and you get a triple-whammy recipe for permanent stagnation.There are Degrowth strategies that make sense because they’re designed to be sustainable, but first the systems that have been designed to fail–Keynesian stimulus policies and the banking system–must be allowed to fail.

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Four Ticking Global Time-Bombs Few Even Hear

The geopolitical and financial risks facing the global economy are well-known.Hot wars and currency meltdowns garner headlines around the world.

But few even hear, much less discuss, four ticking global time-bombs:

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The Echo Bubble in Housing Is About to Pop

The Federal Reserve-induced Echo Housing Bubble is finally starting to roll over, and the bubble’s pop won’t be pretty. Why is the bubble finally popping now?

All the factors that inflated the Echo Housing bubble are running dry. These include:

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How Healthcare Is Dooming the U.S. Economy

Three charts crystallize the healthcare dynamics that are dooming the U.S. economy. The first depicts the runaway growth of healthcare costs–a rapid expansion that is a permanent feature of U.S. healthcare, regardless of which party is in office or what reforms are instituted.

This expansion of costs has many drivers, most of which result from the system’s perverse incentives for fraud, overbilling, marginal treatments and defensive medicine.Technological and medical advances offer more options for treatment, and can push costs up–but advances can just as readily push costs down, too.

The primary drivers of rapidly increasing costs are:

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The Federal Reserve Has Declared the Winner in the Generational Financial War

The policy of safeguarding Boomer benefits with asset bubbles will lead to the destruction of the unprepared, the unwary and those who foolishly trusted our “leadership” and central bank to tell them the truth.

Though it is exceedingly politically incorrect to mention it publicly, a financial war between the generations is being fought in the U.S. and every other developed nation that has promised social welfare benefits to its burgeoning class of retirees.

The war is being fought on multiple fronts: political promises, interest rates, housing, central bank policies and official rates of inflation, to name a few of the top battlefields.

Though no one in power will state this publicly, the Federal Reserve has already declared the winner of the generational war: the Baby Boomers won and Gen-X and Gen-Y lost.

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Which Global Hegemon Is on Shifting Sands?

Given that all the leading candidates for Global Hegemon are hastening down paths of self-destruction, perhaps there will be no global hegemon dominating the 21st century.

Which nation with aspirations of global dominance (i.e. hegemony) has these attributes?

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