It is amazing how many things have NOT happened.
Probably most incredible is that the dollar has NOT collapsed. It has lost ground, and was trading at $1.43 per euro on Friday, but no one laughs at you when go to exchange dollars…or offer to pay in dollars rather than the local currency.
For the last 10 years, the money supply in the United States has expanded at roughly twice the rate of GDP growth. And the Fed doubled its balance sheet in just the last 18 months. This last bit of information is stunning. It took the central bank nearly 100 years to build a balance sheet of $1 trillion. Then, under the leadership of Ben Bernanke, it added another $1 trillion in just a few months.
What does that mean, exactly? It means they bought a lot of debt from US agencies and the financial sector. It means also that they “monetized” this debt…transforming it into cash by paying for it with money especially created for that purpose. It also means that the whole financial sector has a bigger financial base against which to lend. The Fed lends against its balance sheet to member banks. These banks then lend to other banks who lend to business and consumers. So the amount of potential credit – as well as the amount of actual cash – has gone up.
There is an iron law in economics. Quality and quantity vary inversely…which is another way of saying that when you add more of something…each unit is worth less than the unit that preceded it (assuming everything else remained unchanged.) Certainly, this is true of money. The more money in a financial system, the less each unit of it is worth. Add enough new money – as Zimbabwe proved recently – and each unit becomes worthless.
But so far, the dollar has not collapsed. It has fallen, but gently…
Meanwhile, the inflation rate has NOT gone up. Instead, it’s gone down. Go figure. You add that much monetary inflation and you’d expect to get a boost in the CPI. Nope. Not yet.
On the other hand, we’re already a year-and-a-half into a major recession/depression. You’d think you’d get deflation. That hasn’t happened either. Prices are down. But not as much as you’d expect, given the scale of the downturn.
Related to both the dollar and inflation is the bond market. Even more surprising is that the bond market has NOT fallen apart. Let’s see, a huge input of monetary inflation; that ought to kill the bond market. Then too, the biggest sales of Treasury bonds in history – needed to cover a $1.7 trillion deficit this year. That ought to kill the bond market too. And on top of it all is a projection from the White House telling us that the feds will add $9 trillion to US debt over the next 10 years. And that assumes a full recovery in the economy! Now, that ought to kill the bond market for sure.
Not at all! Bond yields have risen…but the 10-year T-note still only gives you 3.4%.
Of course, you say, it’s a depression. Bond yields always go down in a depression.
But if it’s a depression, how come commodities are up? And stocks are up? Above all, how come Chinese stocks are up? Everybody knows China earns its money selling products to Americans and other non-Chinese. If the rest of the world is in a depression, who is China going to sell to? How come China isn’t in a depression already? But there you are – there’s another thing that hasn’t happened. Chinese stocks haven’t collapsed.
And getting back to commodities, they’re all up. Commodity prices don’t go up in a depression; everybody knows that. They go down. But commodities are NOT in a bear market. Go figure.
And, of course, there’s gold. The metal gave up a dollar on Friday, but it’s still just $4 short of the $1,000 mark…and just a shadow below its all-time high. Gold is a commodity…but it’s also money in its purest, more reliable form. Commodities go down in a depression. Money goes up. But since gold is an alternative to paper money, it tends to go up only when paper money goes down. As explained above, the dollar has NOT collapsed. So why is gold going up? It should be going down, reflecting the effect of a recession…
There are two possible answers.
First, maybe the iron laws of economics have been repealed.
Or, second…maybe the iron laws just haven’t caught up to the market – yet.
Unemployment is at 9.7%. It will probably rise above 10% this month. The economy is supposed to be recovering. Now, The New York Times is talking about a “jobless recovery.”
You’ll remember the phrase. It came out in 2003. Then, the economy was allegedly recovering from a micro-recession. Economists were surprised that there were so few new jobs created.
What was really happening was that there was no genuine recovery. Consumers just decided to go deeper and deeper into debt – egged on by the feds. A regional governor of the Fed actually urged consumers to “go out and buy an SUV.” So Americans bought more products from the Chinese…on credit…and the Chinese enjoyed a boom.
And now the boom is over. Americans are paying down their debt. And unemployment is getting worse. This time the feds are pumping trillions into the system. This time, it’s not the consumer who is willing to go further into debt; it’s the government. And once again, few new jobs are being created.
Without jobs, the recovery is an impostor…a phony…a fraud. Without jobs, people have no extra spending power. So they can’t buy – except by going deeper into debt. They were willing to go further into debt in ’03-’07. But not this time. They’ve reached their limit on debt. Besides, with house prices falling, who would lend to them?
No new jobs = no new income. No new income = no new sales. No new sales = no new profits = no new jobs.
But what about the government? The feds are still willing to borrow. How come federal borrowing can’t create a new boom – even if it is a phony one – like the one in 2003-2007?
Federal borrowing, spending, bailouts and monetary inflation are not helping the real economy. But they are making a lot of money available for speculation. That’s why so many things are NOT happening. Investors are speculating on commodities, gold and Chinese stocks – for example. And US bonds.
But this is not a durable, reliable trend. And it’s not laying the foundation for a genuine recovery. Borrowing by the feds is different from borrowing by individuals. Private households can go broke. But they can’t take the dollar down with them. When the feds borrow, they pledge the full faith and credit of the United States – and its currency – as security. So, as they borrow more…the value of the US currency comes into doubt…then, into play…and then into jeopardy.
Investors eventually sell off dollars and US bonds…then, what should happen finally does.
Caution: what has to happen does eventually happen. But it doesn’t have to happen when you think it should. The big surprise might be how long it takes before these things happen. If we were Mr. Market, for example, we probably would not take gold much higher – not just yet. We’d let deflation take gold down for a while – long enough to separate the speculators from their money. Then, we’d let investors get used to falling prices – before bringing inflation back.
for The Daily Reckoning Australia