By Bill Bonner Of Bonner And Partners
Literally, Your ATM Won’t Work…
While we were thinking about what was really going on with today’s strange new money system, a startling thought occurred to us.
Our financial system could take a surprising and catastrophic twist that almost nobody imagines, let alone anticipates.
Do you remember when a lethal tsunami hit the beaches of Southeast Asia, killing thousands of people and causing billions of dollars of damage?
Well, just before the 80-foot wall of water slammed into the coast an odd thing happened: The water disappeared.
The tide went out farther than anyone had ever seen before. Local fishermen headed for high ground immediately. They knew what it meant. But the tourists went out onto the beach looking for shells!
The same thing could happen to the money supply…
There’s Not Enough Physical Money
Here’s how… and why:
It’s almost seems impossible. Hard to imagine. Difficult to understand. But if you look at M2 money supply – which measures coins and notes in circulation as well as bank deposits and money market accounts – America’s money stock amounted to $11.7 trillion as of last month.
But there was just $1.3 trillion of physical currency in circulation – about only half of which is in the US. (Nobody knows for sure.)
What we use as money today is mostly credit. It exists as zeros and ones in electronic bank accounts. We never see it. Touch it. Feel it. Count it out. Or lose it behind seat cushions.
Banks profit – handsomely – by creating this credit. And as long as banks have sufficient capital, they are happy to create as much credit as we are willing to pay for.
After all, it costs the banks almost nothing to create new credit. That’s why we have so much of it.
A monetary system like this has never before existed. And this one has existed only during a time when credit was undergoing an epic expansion.
So our monetary system has never been thoroughly tested. How will it hold up in a deep or prolonged credit contraction? Can it survive an extended bear market in bonds or stocks? What would happen if consumer prices were out of control?
Less Than Zero
Our current money system began in 1971.
It survived consumer price inflation of almost 14% a year in 1980. But Paul Volcker was already on the job, raising interest rates to bring inflation under control.
And it survived the “credit crunch” of 2008-09. Ben Bernanke dropped the price of credit to almost zero, by slashing short-term interest rates and buying trillions of dollars of government bonds.
But the next crisis could be very different…
Short-term interest rates are already close to zero in the U.S. (and less than zero in Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden). And according to a recent study by McKinsey, the world’s total debt (at least as officially recorded) now stands at $200 trillion – up $57 trillion since 2007. That’s 286% of global GDP… and far in excess of what the real economy can support.
At some point, a debt correction is inevitable. Debt expansions are always – always – followed by debt contractions. There is no other way. Debt cannot increase forever.
And when it happens, ZIRP and QE will not be enough to reverse the process, because they are already running at open throttle.
The value of debt drops sharply and fast. Creditors look to their borrowers… traders look at their counterparties… bankers look at each other…
…and suddenly, no one wants to part with a penny, for fear he may never see it again. Credit stops.
It’s not just that no one wants to lend; no one wants to borrow either – except for desperate people with no choice, usually those who have no hope of paying their debts.
Just as we saw after the 2008 crisis, we can expect a quick response from the feds.
The Fed will announce unlimited new borrowing facilities. But it won’t matter….
House prices will be crashing. (Who will lend against the value of a house?) Stock prices will be crashing. (Who will be able to borrow against his stocks?) Art, collectibles, and resources – all we be in free fall.
The NEXT Crisis
In the last crisis, every major bank and investment firm on Wall Street would have gone broke had the feds not intervened. Next time it may not be so easy to save them.
The next crisis is likely to be across ALL asset classes. And with $57 trillion more in global debt than in 2007, it is likely to be much harder to stop.
Are you with us so far?
Because here is where it gets interesting…
In a gold-backed monetary system prices fall. But the money is still there. Money becomes more valuable. It doesn’t disappear. It is more valuable because you can use it to buy more stuff.
Naturally, people hold on to it. Of course, the velocity of money – the frequency at which each unit of currency is used to buy something – falls. And this makes it appear that the supply of money is falling too.
But imagine what happens to credit money. The money doesn’t just stop circulating. It vanishes. As collateral goes bad, credit is destroyed.
A bank that had an “asset” (in the form of a loan to a customer) of $100,000 in June may have zilch by July. A corporation that splurged on share buybacks one week could find those shares cut in half two weeks later. A person with a $100,000 stock market portfolio one day could find his portfolio has no value at all a few days later.
All of this is standard fare for a credit crisis. The new wrinkle – a devastating one – is that people now do what they always do, but they are forced to do it in a radically different way.
They stop spending. They hoard cash. But what cash do you hoard when most transactions are done on credit? Do you hoard a line of credit? Do you put your credit card in your vault?
No. People will hoard the kind of cash they understand… something they can put their hands on… something that is gaining value – rapidly. They’ll want dollar bills.
Also, following a well-known pattern, these paper dollars will quickly disappear. People drain cash machines. They drain credit facilities. They ask for “cash back” when they use their credit cards. They want real money – old-fashioned money that they can put in their pockets and their home safes…
Let us stop here and remind readers that we’re talking about a short time frame – days… maybe weeks… a couple of months at most. That’s all. It’s the period after the credit crisis has sucked the cash out of the system… and before the government’s inflation tsunami has hit.
As Ben Bernanke put it, “a determined central bank can always create positive consumer price inflation.” But it takes time!
And during that interval, panic will set in. A dollar panic – with people desperate to put their hands on dollars… to pay for food… for fuel…and for everything else they need.
Credit may still be available. But it will be useless. No one will want it. ATMs and banks will run out of cash. Credit facilities will be drained of real cash. Banks will put up signs, first: “Cash withdrawals limited to $500.” And then: “No Cash Withdrawals.”
You will have a credit card with a $10,000 line of credit. You have $5,000 in your debit account. But all financial institutions are staggering. And in the news you will read that your bank has defaulted and been placed in receivership. What would you rather have? Your $10,000 line of credit or a stack of $50 bills?
You will go to buy gasoline. You will take out your credit card to pay.
“Cash Only,” the sign will say. Because the machinery of the credit economy will be breaking down. The gas station… its suppliers… and its financiers do not want to get stuck with a “credit” from your bankrupt lender!
Whose credit cards are still good? Whose lines of credit are still valuable? Whose bank is ready to fail? Who can pay his mortgage? Who will honor his credit card debt? In a crisis, those questions will be as common as “Who will win an Oscar?” today.
But no one will know the answers. Quickly, they will stop guessing… and turn to cash.
Our advice: Keep some on hand. You may need it.
June 5, 2015
Memo to the Fed: you are the enemy of the middle class, capitalism and the nation.
The Federal Reserve is appalled that we’re not spending enough to further inflate the value of its corporate and banking cronies. In the Fed’s eyes, your reason for being is to channel whatever income you have to the Fed’s private-sector cronies–banks and corporations.
If you’re being “stingy” and actually conserving some of your income for savings and investment, you are Public Enemy #1 to the Fed. Your financial security is nothing compared to the need of banks and corporations to earn even more obscene profits. According to the Fed, all our problems stem from not funneling enough money to the Fed’s private-sector cronies.
Fed media tool Jon Hilsenrath recently gave voice to the Fed’s obsessive concern for its cronies’ profits, and received a rebuke from the middle class he chastised as “stingy.” Hilsenrath Confused Midde-Class “Responded Strongly” To “Offensive” Question Why It Isn’t Spending.
Memo to the Fed and its media tool Hilsenrath: we’re not here to further enrich your already obscenely rich banker and corporate cronies by buying overpriced goods and services we don’t need. Our job is not to spend every cent we earn on interest to banks and mostly-garbage corporate goods and services. Our job is to limit the amount we squander on interest and needless spending. Our job is to build the financial security of our families by saving capital and prudently investing it in assets we control (as opposed to letting Wall Street control our assets parked in equity and bond funds).
Your zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) has gutted our ability to build capital safely. For that alone, you are an enemy of the middle class. Let’s say we wanted to buy a real asset that we control, for example, a rental house, rather than gamble our retirement funds on Wall Street’s Scam du Jour (stock buybacks funded by debt, to name the latest and greatest scam).
Thanks to your policies of ZIRP and unlimited liquidity for financiers, we’ve been outbid by the Wall Street/private-equity crowd–your cronies and pals. They pay almost nothing for their money and they don’t need a down payment, while we’re paying 4.5% on mortgages and need 30% down payment for a non-owner occupied home. Who wins that bidding process? Those with 100% financing at near-zero rates.
Here’s a short list of stuff we don’t need to buy:
1. New house: overpriced. Debt-serfdom for a wafer-board/sawdust-and-glue mansion? Pay your banker buddies $250,000 in interest to buy a $300,000 house? Hope the bursting of the real estate bubble doesn’t wipe out whatever equity we might have? No thanks.
2. New vehicle: overpriced. We can buy a good used car and a can of “new car smell” for half the price, or abandon car ownership entirely if we live in a city with peer-to-peer transport services. We can bicycle or ride a motorscooter.
3. Anything paid with credit cards.
4. Any processed food.
5. A subscription to the Wall Street Journal and other financial-media cheerleaders for you, your banker buddies and Corporate America.
How Wall Street Devoured Corporate America: Thirty years ago, the financial sector claimed around a tenth of U.S. corporate profits. Today, it’s almost 30 percent
Here’s how your cronies have fared since you started your low-interest rate/free money for financiers policies circa 2001: corporate profits have soared:
Now look at median household income adjusted for inflation: down 4%–inflation which we know is skewed to under-weight the big ticket items such as healthcare and college education that are skyrocketing in cost:
And here’s how the middle class has fared since the Federal Reserve made boosting Wall Street and the too big to fail banks its primary goal, circa 1982: the bottom 90% have treaded water for decades, the top 9% did well and the top 1% reaped fabulous gains as a result of your policies.
If you’re wondering why we’re not spending, look at our incomes (going nowhere), earnings on savings (essentially zero) and the future you’ve created: ever-widening income disparity, ever-greater financial insecurity, ever-higher risks for those forced to gamble in your rigged casino, and a political/financial system firmly in the hands of your ever-wealthier cronies.
Capital–which includes savings–is the foundation of capitalism. If you attack savings as the scourge limiting corporate profits, you are attacking capitalism and upward mobility. The Fed is not supporting capitalism; rather, the Fed’s raison d’etre is crony-capitalism, in which insiders and financiers get essentially free money from the Fed in unlimited quantities that they then use to buy up all the productive assets.
Everyone else–the bottom 99.5%–is relegated to consumer: you are not supposed to accumulate productive capital, you are supposed to spend every penny you earn on interest paid to banks and buying goods and services that further boost corporate profits.
This inversion of capitalism is not just destructive to the nation–it is evil. Funneling trillions of dollars in free money for financiers while chiding Americans for not going deeper into debt is evil.
Memo to the Fed: you are the enemy of capitalism, the middle class and the nation.
The big global banks have begun to warn clients that the blistering rally in oil and industrial commodities in recent weeks has run far ahead of economic reality, raising the risk of a fresh slump in prices over the summer.
Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank have all issued reports advising investors to tread carefully as energy and base metals fall prey to unstable speculative flows in the derivatives markets.
Oil has jumped 40pc since January even as the US, China and the world economy as a whole have been sputtering, falling far short of expectations.
“Watch out: this rally may not last. The risks for a reversal in recent commodity price trends are growing,” said analysts at Barclays.
“There is a huge disconnect between the price action in physical markets where differentials are signalling over-supply and the futures markets where all looks rosy.”
Miswin Mahesh, the bank’s oil strategist, said a glut of excess oil is emerging in the mid-Atlantic, with inventories rising at a rate of 1m barrels a day. Angola and Nigeria are sitting on 80m barrels of unsold crude and excess cargoes are building up in the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
Morgan Stanley echoed the concerns, warning that speculators and financial investors have taken out a record number of “long” positions on Brent crude on the futures markets even though the world economy keeps falling short of expectations. “We have growing concerns about crude fundamentals in the second half of 2015 and 2016,” it said.
Shale producers in the US are taking advantage of the artificial surge in prices to hedge a large part of their future output, more or less guaranteeing that the US will continue to pump 10m b/d and wage a war of attrition against high-cost producers in the rest of the world.
A comparable dynamic is playing out in the copper market, where net long positions have jumped 60pc since the start of the year and helped power the longest rally in copper prices since 2005, even as industrial output grinds to a halt in China.
The warnings come as a draft report from OPEC painted a gloomy picture of energy industry, predicting that oil wouldn’t touch $100 in the next 10 years.
The mini-boom in energy and metals has taken on huge significance since it is being taken as evidence that global recovery is under way and that the dangers of a deflationary spiral have abated. Barclays said that this in turn is a key factor driving up global bond yields, and therefore in repricing the cost of global credit.
If the commodity rally is being driven by investor exuberance in the derivatives markets – rather than a genuine recovery in the world economy – it is likely to short-circuit before long and could even lead to a relapse into deflation. It is extremely difficult for central banks to navigate these choppy waters, raising the risk of a policy mistake.
Fresh data suggest that the US economy may have contracted in the first quarter, and is currently growing at a rate of just 0.8pc, below the US Federal Reserve’s stall speed indicator.
Deutsche Bank has also warned that the energy rally is showing “signs of fatigue”, with near-record inventories in the US, and little likelihood of further stimulus from central banks at this stage to keep the game going. “We see fresh downside risks to crude oil prices heading into the summer,” it said.
Durable oil rallies are typically driven by OPEC cuts but this time the cartel has boosted supply by 500,000 b/d to 31m as Saudi Arabia tries to drive marginal drillers out of business across the world.
Contrary to expectations, America’s shale producers have yet to capitulate. The rig count has fallen by more than half but output has held up longer than expected. While a few drillers have gone bankrupt, others are already signalling plans to crank up production.
Houston-based EOG said it expects to boost output in the third quarter at the Eagle Ford basin in Texas, benefiting from dramatic gains in technology that are cutting shale costs at an astonishing speed. Devon Energy has raised its growth target to 25pc to 35pc this year, having cut its production costs by a fifth in the first quarter.
Tactical stockpiling of crude oil by China and other countries has masked the scale of oversupply but oil analysts say this effect may be fading. The deep economic slowdown in resource-hungry emerging markets has snuffed out the commodity supercycle. There is little sign yet of a durable rebound.
China is still slowing as President Xi Jinping deliberately engineers a deflation of the country’s investment bubble.
A series of cuts in the reserve requirement ratio and interest rates – including a 25pc reduction over the weekend – merely offsets “passive tightening” caused by capital outflows and rising real borrowing costs.
It is not yet a return to ‘”stimulus as usual”.
Not everybody is willing to throw in the towel on crude oil.
Michael Wittner, from Societe Generale, said US output will decline in the coming months as the delayed effects of lower investment start to bite, ultimately vindicating the Saudi’s shock strategy of flooding the market.
Crude stockpiles tend to build up from March to May. This is the “window of greatest vulnerability for a crude price correction”, Mr Wittner said. That window will be closing within weeks.
National Oilwell Varco (NOV) has acquired 97% of the shares in Seabox for an undisclosed amount from a group of shareholders led by HitecVision.
Seabox is a Norwegian subsea technology company founded around the patented SWIT technology (Subsea Water Intake & Treatment). The technology enables treatment of raw seawater on the seabed (as opposed to on a platform) for injection into oil & gas wells for pressure support and increased oil recovery.
The company was established in 2004, and has, through a series of Joint Industry Projects backed by the Norwegian Research Council and by potential end-users such as ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Total, Statoil, GDF Suez and others, developed the technology to a level where it is now ready for commercialization. Seabox has 12 employees.
Helge Lunde, CEO of Seabox comments: “We are very excited to team up with NOV’s global organization, which will significantly increase our reach and chances of succeeding in commercializing our technology. We are both proud and happy for their recognition of our efforts and technical solutions, and their commitment to backing us through the coming growth phase. We are convinced that our growth will be faster and stronger together with NOV.”
Michael Hjorth, President of Flexibles and Subsea Production Systems, comments: “NOV has a strong history and presence in Norway, where some of our key technologies for drilling, turret mooring and deck cranes have been developed, and to a large degree also manufactured. When it comes to subsea, which is an area where NOV wants to develop and expand, Norway is pretty much the “Silicon Valley” of the industry, so it is natural for us to search for new technologies and ideas here. In Seabox we have found what we deem to be innovative yet robust technical solutions, which offer more cost effective solutions but more importantly will offer the oil & gas companies greater flexibility in optimizing their reservoir drainage and field profitability. This is a huge market, with some 250 million barrels of seawater injected daily world-wide, which is almost three times the daily oil production. We are excited to explore these market opportunities together with Seabox.”
APRIL 14, 2015
ISIS is operating a camp just a few miles from El Paso, Texas, according to Judicial Watch sources that include a Mexican Army field grade officer and a Mexican Federal Police Inspector.
The exact location where the terrorist group has established its base is around eight miles from the U.S. border in an area known as “Anapra” situated just west of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Another ISIS cell to the west of Ciudad Juárez, in Puerto Palomas, targets the New Mexico towns of Columbus and Deming for easy access to the United States, the same knowledgeable sources confirm.
During the course of a joint operation last week, Mexican Army and federal law enforcement officials discovered documents in Arabic and Urdu, as well as “plans” of Fort Bliss – the sprawling military installation that houses the US Army’s 1st Armored Division. Muslim prayer rugs were recovered with the documents during the operation.
Law enforcement and intelligence sources report the area around Anapra is dominated by the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Cartel (“Juárez Cartel”), La Línea (the enforcement arm of the cartel) and the Barrio Azteca (a gang originally formed in the jails of El Paso). Cartel control of the Anapra area make it an extremely dangerous and hostile operating environment for Mexican Army and Federal Police operations.
According to these same sources, “coyotes” engaged in human smuggling – and working for Juárez Cartel – help move ISIS terrorists through the desert and across the border between Santa Teresa and Sunland Park, New Mexico. To the east of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, cartel-backed “coyotes” are also smuggling ISIS terrorists through the porous border between Acala and Fort Hancock, Texas. These specific areas were targeted for exploitation by ISIS because of their understaffed municipal and county police forces, and the relative safe-havens the areas provide for the unchecked large-scale drug smuggling that was already ongoing.
Mexican intelligence sources report that ISIS intends to exploit the railways and airport facilities in the vicinity of Santa Teresa, NM (a US port-of-entry). The sources also say that ISIS has “spotters” located in the East Potrillo Mountains of New Mexico (largely managed by the Bureau of Land Management) to assist with terrorist border crossing operations. ISIS is conducting reconnaissance of regional universities; the White Sands Missile Range; government facilities in Alamogordo, NM; Ft. Bliss; and the electrical power facilities near Anapra and Chaparral, NM.