Three disastrously false but enduring premises about gold

By GATA

gold1Commentary about gold suffers from a few disastrously false but enduring premises.

One, perpetrated famously two years ago by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, is that central banks hold gold not because it’s money but because it is just an “asset” and “tradition”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Dj9v9s9buk

Bernanke must dearly wish that it were so. But the Bank for International Settlements confirms otherwise, that gold is “a financial instrument”:

http://www.gata.org/node/11502

Another disastrously false premise is that gold doesn’t pay interest. But gold pays interest just as money does — when it is lent:

http://www.kitco.com/lease.chart.html

In commentary posted today at Resource Investor, the financial letter writer Przemyslaw Radomski repeats another disastrously false premise — that “gold cannot be printed or manufactured.”

In fact, of course, gold can be printed to infinity thanks to “paper gold,” the issuance of claims to gold that doesn’t exist, claims against bullion banks that are never exercised and probably cannot be honored without supportive dishoarding and leasing from central bank gold reserves:

http://www.gata.org/node/12016

Working from this false premise, Radomski proceeds to try to answer the question “Have gold and silver stopped responding to the dollar’s price action?” without ever considering the likely price-suppressive effect of “paper gold”:

http://www.resourceinvestor.com/2013/06/14/have-gold-and-silver-stopped-…?

Indeed, this is the longstanding disparagement about gold in recent years — that even with its great appreciation over the last decade, the gold price has not kept pace with inflation, even as other tangibles have kept pace and even as there has been no substantial increase in gold mine production.

But somehow Radomski has managed to write a long commentary about the prospects for gold, complete with charts, without ever mentioning the involvement of the gold market’s largest participants, central banks, and their agent, the Bank for International Settlements, which appears to be trading gold, gold options, and gold derivatives on their behalf every day –

http://www.gata.org/node/11622

– and which even advertises secret gold market interventions as being among its services to its members:

http://www.gata.org/node/11012

http://www.gata.org/node/11257

Given such surreptitious trading and intervention, if gold, as Radomski wonders, has stopped responding to variations in the value of the U.S. dollar, the explanation is not likely to be found in his or anyone’s price charts, which are mere holograms being projected onto what only used to be markets, interpreted by what only used to be financial journalists, writers whose first principle seems to have become: Never put a critical question to the primary source.

CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc.

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How to get the US economy going again

By Hugo Salinas Price

ProsperityI am reading a great deal of alarming information regarding impending economic collapse in the US.

I feel sure that most of the predictions I read are based on facts, and ought to scare the living daylights out of all readers.

What I fail to see is an explanation of the causes of this terrible, atrocious situation in which the US economy finds itself.

Let me cut through all the dire warnings and offer readers a solution. However difficult it may be to get a solution in place, it is absolutely necessary to understand that there is a solution; if you want it badly enough, it is there waiting to be implemented.

HOW TO GET THE US ECONOMY GOING AGAIN.

In order to re-invigorate the US economy the following policy must be put in place:

The United States will only accept just as much imports from foreign countries, as foreign countries are willing to purchase from the US. (But the US will not resort to high Tariffs to restrict imports and protect local production.)

Question: Then you are saying, Mr. Salinas, that the US should not just import what it wants from foreign countries, and pay in dollars for those imports?

Answer: That is just what I am saying. Because, you see, if you pay in dollars, there is no need for local industries in the US. They are not needed – and in fact they have disappeared – because imports can be paid with dollars. What do you want: lots of Asian imports available at Walmart, but no jobs, and what jobs there are – at tattoo parlors and restaurants – paying miserable wages? Or do you want industries which will employ workers, pay higher wages and pay taxes to your government as well?

You see, what happened to your country, the USA, is that since 1971 the US has no need to pay for imports with EXPORTS – and exports require local industries to feed the export trade. Since 1971, the US has been paying for everything under the Sun, with dollars. And the result has been that US industries just dried up. They were unnecessary. The jobs disappeared. Detroit shriveled up, and the whole US is shriveling up, without industries. All this has happened because US imports can be paid with dollars, and exports are not really necessary.

This was great for China and Asia in general. It was party-time there! They sold everything they could make, and received dollars in exchange. The US had a party – for a while; until the industries died out and unemployment took over. All because dollars can pay for imports. Exports – forget it! The exports which sustained the industrial base – and the employment base – of the US are not needed anymore. And so the heart of the US has been rotting away – bringing with it unemployment and 47 millions on food stamps.

That’s where you are today.

So how do you solve the problem?

Very simple! I won’t say it won’t be painful, at first. But it’s the only solution:

GOLD MUST RETURN TO THE MONETARY SYSTEM OF THE US.

The US must declare that as of now:

  1. The US will pay for all imports either with goods and services or with gold.
  2. The US will provisionally initiate the re-industrialization of the USA with a gold price of $10,000 an ounce of gold.
  3. Exporters to the US will have their choice:
    1. Take their payment in US-made goods and services, or
    2. Take their payment in gold at $10,000 dollars an ounce.
  4. The US will not attempt to reduce the flow of imports by means of Tariffs. Tariffs offer no solution; in fact, Tariffs derail the only solution.

The definitive price of gold will be determined this way:

  1. As long as gold continues to leave the country, instead of goods and services, then the gold price must be hiked further, until the outflow of gold is stemmed and no gold leaves the country (because foreigners find American products more attractive than high-priced gold).
  2. If gold pours into the country, then the price of gold in dollars is too high and American exports are too cheap. The price of gold will be trimmed down, until the movement of gold is practically nil, with exports paying for the mass of imports.

The result of this measure will be an immediate rebirth of manufacturing in the US, with a return to full employment and prosperity.

The only solution for the dire circumstances of the US is a return to gold as the international money on the part of the US.

Let me make it perfectly clear: This solution – which is the only solution – will absolutely wreck the whole financial system of the US, without a doubt.

What is more important:

The recovery of the US as a productive powerhouse, employing millions of Americans in reborn industries?

Or keeping alive a rotten, insolvent, bankrupt and corrupt financial system?

Do you want an America that is alive, working and prospering at work?

Or do you want to continue in the present situation of decay and eventual collapse, which is inevitable if the solution is not applied?

Yes, the financial system has to go down the tubes. The National Debt and its 16.8 Trillions will be cut to about 1/7 of its present weight.

In exchange, Americans get life and opportunity; a way out of this miserable situation, which will become impossible sooner or later anyway.

This is the meaning of gold at $10,000 dollars per ounce for the average American:

A reborn US, bursting with opportunity and jobs for everyone.

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How to Invest in a New Real Estate Market

by Leon Yang on BiggerPockets

CityStreetA friend of mine recently asked me about how he should start going about when finding a market to invest in. As I answered him on how to approach the market, I noticed his eyes started wandering when I continued to spew information out like a loose fire hydrant for the next fifteen minutes. My diplomatic friend suggested that I should write all my thoughts down instead. So here I am.

How Healthy is the City?

As I stressed in my podcast before, I’d look at where I invest based on how healthy the city is. I do not feel comfortable investing in a city with a declining population such as Detroit. A real estate investment can sometimes take as little as a year or as long as decades before you realize your profit. You never want to be investing in a city where you have no idea where it is going to go in the short to medium term.

Thus, when you pinpoint a market to invest in, make sure you drive around the entire city. Every city has its good neighborhoods and its bad ones. Even within the city there are areas where people are leaving and where people are clamoring for. One of the ways to look for a growing area is to see how the infrastructure is. Is there a Wholefoods? Are there parks? What about the library? Where is Target setting up shop? The more developed an area is, the more likely that the neighborhood will be staying for a long time. Obviously, do check out the houses as well. Good curb appeal typically means that the neighborhood has good homeownership pride. I tend to peek at what cars people are driving as well.

Know the Home Prices in Every Neighborhood

I would then go to Redfin or Trulia and start looking at the price ranges of the homes. For the most part, prices will be higher in premium neighborhoods. But having done the drive, you might start noticing certain neighborhoods which are good neighborhoods but prices haven’t caught up yet. Sometimes you can find bargains there. In any case, after all this you’d have a pretty good idea of whether the city would be worth investing and where you would want to invest in at.

Side note, certain investors enjoy chasing higher rental yields by investing in lower quality neighborhoods. This is a personal choice. I cannot say which one is better. Personally, I prefer to get a lower yield by investing in better neighborhoods. I do not have the time nor the patience to deal with lower quality tenants who tend to reside in those neighborhoods.  Time is valuable to me and I believe in investing in good neighborhoods to avoid headaches.

Find the Right People

Then I would visit several property managers and explain to them that I am planning to invest in the city and is potentially looking for someone to work with. Again, depending on where you are and what you do, you may not need a property manager. Nevertheless, they are a good source of information as to which neighborhoods tend to have better tenants. This process is just sort of reaffirming what you have discovered so far.

Lastly, I will now find a real estate agent. I’d want a real estate agent who is willing to hustle and has an investor mindset. An easy question to ask is whether he or she invests in real estate. A real estate agent who does not invest in real estate is not one that you would want to have. Obviously, this depends on the market. But if the market is good, why isn’t the real estate agent investing? Since you will be working with the agent most of the time, you have to test the agent to see if he or she knows as much as you. On the flip side, you have to show the agent that you are a serious investor. If the agent senses that you are just here to play around, the agent is not going to spend a lot of time on you. You, too, have to impress the agent with your knowledge of the market. But do not be afraid to try sending out a bad offer and see if the agent is there to look out for your interest. If you try to “overpay” for a property and your agent is not there to stop you, it is time to look for a new agent.

With that being said, good luck in investigating your next market!

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The Simplicity of Sound Money

By Patrick Barron via Mises.org

piggy bankUnderstanding today’s convoluted domestic and international fiat monetary system frankly requires a great deal of time and study. One must understand fractional reserve banking, and the way this system affects the money supply. One must understand the multi-step process by which banks create money out of thin air.

One must understand central bank open market operations. Internationally, one must try to understand floating exchange rates, how they are manipulated by central banks, and the resulting impact on national economies. For example, is it best for a country to drive down its exchange rate in relation to other currencies or do the opposite?

These issues are never understood by policymakers, who appear to be among the most illiterate in economic matters, so monetary policy swings to-and-fro according to which economic group has temporary control over the levers of the government, and particularly of central banks.

So Simple Even a Child Can Understand It

In a sound money environment, on the other hand, there is little confusion or controversy. Under sound money—in which money is a commodity (for discussion purposes let us assume it to be gold)—everyone, to some extent, understands monetary theory. Whether it be an individual, a family, a corporation, or a nation, either one has money or one does not. It really is as simple as that. Even children learn the nature of money. A child quickly learns that the things he wants cost money and either he has it or he does not. If he does not, he quickly grasps that there are ways to get it. He can ask his parents for an increase in his allowance. Or, he can earn the money he needs by doing chores around the house or for friends and neighbors. He might be able to borrow the money for large purchases, promising to pay back his parents either from his future allowance or from anticipated future earnings from doing extra chores. His parents can evaluate this loan request simply by considering the likelihood that his allowance and chore income are sufficient.

How is this any different when applied to adults, companies, or governments? In a sound money environment, they are the same. Individuals earn what they spend on the family and may borrow from the bank to buy a home or a new car. The lender will examine whether the person’s income is sufficient to pay back the loan. If the family hits hard times, they may ask for assistance from relatives or a charity. Companies have more means with which to fund their operations. Stockholders provide the company with its initial capital. Thereafter, when normal earnings are insufficient to fund desired expansion, the company can borrow against accounts receivables and inventories, both of which provide varying degrees of security for the lender.

So Simple Even a Politician Can Understand It

A national government’s finances, under a sound money system, are little different from either a household’s or a company’s. It needs to collect in taxes what it spends. If it suffers a budget deficit, it can cut back spending, attempt to raise taxes, or borrow in the open market. In a sound money environment, there is a limit to the amount of debt that even a government can incur, due to the need to pay back the loan from future tax revenue. If the market believes that this may not be forthcoming, the nation’s credit rating may suffer and its borrowing costs will rise, perhaps to the point that the nation is completely shut out of the credit market. But this is a good thing! The market instills practical discipline that even a politician can understand! Under sound money, one does not need a special education to understand the monetary system.

Taking the process one step further, anyone can understand international monetary theory in a sound money environment. The national currency is simply shorthand for a quantity of gold. A US dollar may be defined as one thirty-fifth of an ounce of gold, and a British pound defined as roughly one seventh of an ounce of gold. Exchange rates become mathematical ratios that do not vary. So an American purchasing English goods would exchange his dollars for pounds at a ratio of five dollars per British pound; i.e., one seventh of an ounce of gold (a pound) divided by one thirty-fifth of an ounce of gold (a dollar) equals five dollars to a pound. Through the banking system, the English exporter would demand gold from the issuer of dollars, whether it be from a central bank or private bank, at thirty-five dollars per ounce. When a currency is simply a substitute for gold, either the issuer has gold with which to redeem its currency or it does not.

Money Issuers Subject to Normal Commercial and Criminal Law

When a nation overspends internationally, its gold reserves start to dwindle. Money, which is backed one hundred percent by gold, becomes scarce domestically. Domestic prices fall, triggering a rise in foreign demand for the nation’s goods. The process of gold depletion is halted and then reversed. This is the classical “Currency School” of international monetary theory. Commercial banks present checks drawn on one another every day and the same process would exist for gold-backed currencies. If a bank issues more scrip than it can redeem for gold at the promised price, it is guilty of fraud. Its officers and directors can be sued in court for any loss incurred by those who accepted the bank’s scrip. Furthermore, the officers and director could be prosecuted for the crime of fraud. In other words, banking would be subject to normal commercial laws and bank officers and directors would be subject to normal criminal laws.

Good Money Drives Out Bad

The free market monetary system would drive bad money issuers out of the market. Plus, bad money issuers would suffer the loss of both their personal finances and, in the case of outright fraud, loss of their personal freedom. This would be a sobering incentive to deter criminals and attract only legitimate money issuers. Money would be a bailment; i.e., property held for the benefit of another, which must be surrendered upon demand for redemption. All around us exist analogous bailment examples of entrusting valuable goods to complete strangers. We leave our cars with valets at parking garages, our clothing at neighborhood cleaners, our overcoats at coat checks, our luggage to the airlines, valuable merchandise with shippers. In these cases, we fully expect that our property will be returned to us. And it almost always is! If it is not, public trust in the fraudulent outfits evaporates, and they quickly go out of business. Likewise, money issuers would thrive only when the public trusts their integrity, which would be enhanced by regular outside audits by respected firms of the existence of one-hundred-percent reserves to back the money issuer’s scrip. How different this would be from our present system in which the Fed will not allow an audit of its gold reserves even when held for the benefit of other central banks! It is clear that in a free market monetary system such a policy would drive Federal Reserve Notes out of the market through lack of demand. Even were the Fed to back its notes with its gold reserves, in a totally free market in which private banks could issue their own gold-backed scrip, the Fed would suffer from its past history of blatant money debasement and secrecy in its operations. The market would prefer the money issued by a well-respected private bank whose operations are transparent and subject to outside audit by respected accounting firms.

Conclusion

In a sound money environment everyone understands monetary theory. Money is like any other desired commodity, except it is not consumed. It is a medium of indirect exchange, which traders accept in order to exchange for something else at a later time. This is easily understood, whether the trader is a child, a parent, a company, or a nation. One either has money or one does not. The money can be a money substitute, a bailment, with which one can demand the redemption of the real money—gold. Money issuers must keep one-hundred-percent reserves against their money substitutes in order to abide by normal commercial and criminal law. No special agencies or monetary authorities are necessary to make the system work. The system emerges naturally and is regulated via the normal commercial and criminal legal system.

This is the system that government does not want us to have, because it provides no special favors for enhancing state power. Sound money shackles the government to the will of the people and not vice versa. As Ludwig von Mises stated in The Theory of Money and Credit:

“It is impossible to grasp the meaning of the idea of sound money if one does not realize that it was devised as an instrument for the protection of civil liberties against despotic inroads on the part of governments. Ideologically it belongs in the same class with political constitutions and bills of rights.”

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China Eclipsed the U.S. as the Biggest Trading Nation. Questions to ask from an Austrian Perspective

Great-Wall-of-ChinaLast month one of the Bloomberg’s headline news was titled “China Eclipses the U.S. as Biggest Trading Nation”. There seems to be of concern China’s 2012 reported trade of $3.87 trillion surpassing the U.S. report of $3.82 trillion.  For the full article click here.

The concern arises with the fact that…

China’s growing influence in global commerce threatens to disrupt regional trading blocs as it becomes the most important commercial partner for some countries. Germany may export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to France, estimated Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Jim O’Neill.

Why worry so much about an Olympic athlete that had worked hard for many years to win the gold medal?  The benefits of twenty and some years of manufacturing and producing real capital in the world are evident and well deserved.  As far as Germany increasing its exports to China there should be no big surprise. Germany, one of the few productive economies left in the EU, needs to find a strong trading partner with whom to exchange goods and services.  The key word is “strong”, financially strong.  Who else should Germany trade with?  France, Spain, Italy, Greece, countries which are literally economically insolvent?

O’Neill goes on saying that…

“For so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner.  At this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be         doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe.”

So, what’s wrong with that? If I owned a company and found that my best consumers for my product are on another continent, I would not hesitate.  In addition, knowing that my consumers are financially capable of buying my products gives me even more reasons to target that market.  Why settle for local consumers heavily in debt who can’t afford my products and/or would have to acquire more debt to afford it?  Competition and free markets are key components of growth and success. At this point, those European countries should pay serious attention and do whatever it takes to become competitive in the market.

Then, under the chapter U.S. Leadership, we’re finding out that…

When taking into account services, U.S. total trade amounted to $4.93 trillion in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.  The U.S. recorded a surplus in services of $195.3 billion  last year and a goods deficit of more than $700 billion, according to BEA figures released Feb. 8. China’s 2012 trade surplus, measured in goods, totaled $231.1 billion.

The U.S. economy is also double the size of China’s, according to the World Bank. In 2011, the U.S. gross domestic product reached $15 trillion while China’s totaled $7.3 trillion.  China’s National      Bureau of Statistics reported Jan. 18 that the country’s nominal gross domestic product in 2012 totaled 51.93 trillion yuan ($8.3 trillion).

“It is remarkable that an economy that is only a fraction of the size of the U.S. economy has a larger trading volume,” Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International         Economics in Washington, said in an e-mail.  The increase isn’t all the result of an undervalued yuan fueling an export boom, as Chinese imports have grown more rapidly than exports since 2007,  he said.

As far as services versus goods provided this is a clear sign that the U.S. does not provide enough goods. Goods are of two kinds. Consumer goods (those items we shop for such as cars, furniture, toys, clothing, jewelry, etc) and capital goods (which are the machinery and equipment with which consumer goods are being produced). Maybe the U.S.’s protectionist agenda, taxation, heavy unionism in conjunction with a national trend of favoring a socialist, if not fascist, economic system did not help after all.  Maybe the corporate bailouts and Quantitative Easing did not in the end help the private manufacturing sector.

If I were in a position of power I would wonder – and would want to find out – how come my country with a GDP of $15 trillion has a trade deficit higher than my competition, which has a GDP half of my country’s GDP. Could it be that too much of our GDP is comprised of 1. the growing of the federal government, and 2. military exposure all over the world?  Could it be that such a big economy has little to justify its big number considering its producing capacity is in a less than desirable stage?  Mr. Lardy addresses such a question but he seems surprised.  But the small businessman in America is hardly surprised.  Why?  Because it’s become very hard for the small business owner to compete with the government subsidized corporations when he has to jump government imposed barriers in form of rules and regulations, when he’s coerced with providing health insurance coverage to his employees, and when he’s faced with minimum wage restrictions.  Then Mr. Lardy brings up a good point. China’s imports are now replacing its exports.  The answer is: Think of the U.S. back during the 1980′s, when it was the largest manufacturer in the world and the largest creditor. There seems to be a role reversing going on.

The article goes on…

Biggest Exporter

The U.S. emerged as the preeminent trading power following World War II as it spearheaded the creation of the global trade and financial architecture. Protectionist policies in the 1930s had         exacerbated the global economic depression. At the same time the U.K., the leading trading nation of the 19th century, began to dismantle its colonial empire.

Wait a minute, did I read that right? It says that Protectionist policies in the 1930′s had exacerbated the Depression. Wasn’t Goldman Sachs concerned with Germany not trading locally within the E.U. territory? What Germany is doing is simply trading in a free market exchange. Why use protectionism to stifle it?

If the article referred to the U.K. as a colonial empire what makes today’s U.S.A. different than Great Britain during the beginning of the last century?

China began focusing on trade and foreign investment to boost its economy after decades of isolation under Chairman Mao Zedong, who died in 1976.  Economic growth averaged 9.9 percent a     year from 1978 through 2012.

After a long period of central planning and economic regression under the communist system China recognized that hard work and free markets are the answer to economic prosperity.

China became the world’s biggest exporter in 2009, while the U.S. remains the biggest importer, taking in $2.28 trillion in goods last year compared with China’s $1.82 trillion of imports. HSBC     Holdings Plc forecast last year that China would overtake the U.S. as the top trading nation by 2016.

This begs the question: Is the U.S. consuming too much and producing too little?

The article continues with claims from a few banking institutions that China’s export figures could be manipulated. Maybe or maybe not. What I know is that wherever I shop in the U.S. , whether Walmart or JC Penney, I can’t help noticing the “Made in China” tags.

Eswar Prasad, a former International Monetary Fund official who is now a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says…

“The U.S.’s bilateral trade deficit with China, which peaked in 2012, could remain a flashpoint of tension between the two countries.”

Why tension?  Is it mutual from both countries, or unilateral?  The question of who benefits the most out of the trading partnership at this time has not been addressed enough. What would happen to American people if Chinese goods imports would stop over night?  Has the American politician explained how the lifestyle of the average American would be impacted?  Has it been argued that an unemployed American may suffer drastic changes?  The typical comment out there is “let’s build American”. Sure, I am all for it but with what? There is no savings to produce the capital required to produce goods.  Or should we borrow more and increase our debt?  Should we allow unions to force manufacturers to keep wages up?  If we do, it means that we should also expect to pay double, if not triple for a product that otherwise would have cost us less if it were imported from China.

On the other side would China and its people be affected as much?  Do they need the U.S. to consume its products?  Maybe. But what if the Chinese renminbi is allowed to freely float? If that happens, the Chinese people’s purchasing power is increased.  If their currency goes up it means their people would be able to afford more.  With a population of more than 1.3 billion I would think there would be a large enough market to consume the locally manufactured products. Not to forget the rest of the countries in the region, some with affluent residents (such as Singapore) and some emerging countries with growing industries and growing wealth (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc).

Mr. Prasad continues…

“This trade imbalance is not representative of the amount of goods actually produced in China and exported to the U.S., but this perspective tends to get lost amidst the heated political rhetoric in the U.S.”

If it’s not indicative of the productive nature of China then what does it represent? The answer is just that. China: Large production and little consumption. U.S.A.: Little production and large consumption.

Goldman Sachs’, O’Neill, is concerned with…

“the trade figures underscore the need to draw China further into the global financial and trading architecture that the U.S. helped create.  One way or another we have to get China more                 involved in the global organizations of today and the future despite some of their own reluctance.  To not have China more symbolically and more importantly actually central to all these things is just increasingly silly.”

Why bring China to be part of the Wall Street game?  So that it becomes part of the Debt web and contributes further to the global economic instability?  No, it’s not silly to be sovereign.  No, it’s not silly to be self-sufficient.  And it’s not silly to be rewarded for hard work leading to production of real goods.  Better than Goldman Sachs’ paper derivatives.  Common sense, if applied, should lead us to think of this as an advance warning.  Maybe it’s time America starts producing real hard assets instead of Wall Street paper assets.

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Ben’s Balance Sheet Blues

By: Peter Schiff

Fed-stimulus-planDuring his testimony before Congress this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke made it a priority to dampen the growing concern that the unprecedented growth of the Fed’s balance sheet presents great risks to the economy. There has been a heightened sense even among normally complacent members of Congress that the Fed could spark a precipitous decline in the economy and the financial markets if and when it seeks to “withdraw liquidity” by selling even a minor portion of its bond portfolio (which is projected to swell to $4 trillion by year end). This is a valid concern that I have been discussing for years.

Gentle Ben soothed these fears by his novel assertion that the Fed doesn’t actually need to sell bonds to neutralize previously injected stimulus. Instead, the Fed could simply allow its bonds to mature, thereby achieving a more natural, and potentially less disruptive unwinding of its gargantuan portfolio. Although his explanation seemed to satisfy many of the Congressman (and the vast majority of the journalists who slavishly dote on Bernanke’s assurances), the idea is completely absurd.

As a result of its previous efforts during “Operation Twist” (which was conducted in order to push down long-term interest rates), the Fed has already swapped hundreds of billions of dollars of short-term securities for Treasury bonds with maturities of ten years or longer. Only a small portion of the Fed’s portfolio, then, becomes due at any given time. The average maturity of the entire portfolio is now over 10 years. There may well come a time when inflation or asset bubbles become so pronounced that aggressive withdrawal of stimulus is needed. Forceful action will only be possible through active selling, not simply by passive maturation.

However, either approach will be insufficient to tighten policy without a simultaneous cessation of buying of newly issued Treasury bonds. After all, to shrink the size of its balance sheet the Fed must stop adding to it…or at least add less than it is subtracting. Even if the Fed had the luxury of holding its bonds to maturity, such a stance would not prevent a collapse in the bond market. The Treasury does not have the cash needed to retire maturing bonds if the Fed stops rolling them over. As the government will have to sell the new bonds to other buyers, one way or another additional supply is going to hit the market.

The Federal government is projected to run trillion dollar deficits for years to come. To cover that gap, the Treasury will need to continuously sell new bonds. This need will persist regardless of the Fed’s policy priorities. For the last few years the Fed has been by far the biggest buyer of Treasuries, in recent times sucking up more than 60 percent of the total issuance. According to some reports, the Fed is expected to buy up to 90 percent of Treasuries in 2013. The only other significant buyers are foreign central banks (who buy for political reasons) and nimble hedge funds. Who does Bernanke expect will fill his shoes when he stops shopping?

To answer that question you must consider the economic environment that would compel the Fed to tighten in the first place. Presumably a period of accelerating economic growth, surging inflation, or rising interest rates would trigger asset sales. In such a situation, who in the world would want to buy low-yielding, long-term government paper while inflation is surging, the dollar is falling, and interest rates are rising? With the Fed on the sidelines, such an investment would be a guaranteed loser. Bernanke claims that the financial conditions will be soothed by an aggressive communications campaign that would let market participants know, in advance, precisely how the Fed intended to dispose of its assets. The cardinal rule in investing is that big players never telegraph their intentions. Fed “transparency” will simply mean that the hedge funds now making money by getting in front of the buying will be making even more money by getting in front of the selling!  There will be no cavalry of new buyers riding to the rescue.

This means that any attempt to tighten, no matter how passive, will result in a significant drop in the price of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Not only would this inflict massive losses to the value of the Fed’s balance sheet but it would exert enormous upward pressure on interest and mortgage rates that the Fed will be unable to control.

In addition to his absurd “let them mature” gambit, Bernanke also announced other novel policy tools that will supposedly help him orchestrate a successful exit strategy, most notably raising the rates paid on funds held at the Federal Reserve. Such a move is expected to deter banks from lending into a surging economy or to invest in risky assets by enticing them to park cash at the Fed. But how high must these rates go, and how much would it cost the Fed (in reality U.S. taxpayers) to do this effectively? Given how high I believe inflation will become, these payments could be truly staggering. The net result will be a substitution of large operating losses for large portfolio losses (which would have come from bond sales).

As I have said many times before, the Fed has no credible exit strategy. Its portfolio is far too large, and the economy, the housing market, the banks, and the government, are far too dependent on ultra-low interest rates to allow Bernanke any real options. In truth, his only exit strategy is to just talk about an exit strategy. Bernanke’s contention that the Fed need not sell any of its bonds is the closest thing yet to an official admission of this fact. Not too long ago Bernanke made the absurd claim that his intention to sell the bonds on the Fed’s balance sheet meant that he was not monetizing debt. How times have changed.

Bernanke is banking on the hope that his policies will jump start the economy which will then be able to motor along on its own.  However, the current era of cheap money and fiscal stimulus will never create an economy that is capable of standing on its own legs. Instead, it is propping up a parasitic economy that is completely dependent on the very supports the Fed believes it can one day remove. But if the Fed does not remove them on its own, the markets eventually will.

Bernanke also defended himself against some members of Congress, particularly economically savvy New Jersey representative Scott Garrett, who pointed out the hypocrisy of Bernanke’s claims that Fed policies are responsible for the recent rise in home prices (while simultaneously absolving the Fed of any responsibility for rising home prices during the real estate bubble). To justify this claim, Bernanke made the self-serving distinction that while the Fed is currently purchasing mortgage-backed securities (in order to lower mortgages rates and boost home prices), no such actions existed prior to the 2008 financial crisis. As a result, he claims the Fed could not have been responsible for the bubble.  On this point he is dead wrong.

Fed policy during the mid-years of the last decade had an enormous effect on mortgage rates and home prices. By holding short-term rates too low for too long, the Fed was responsible for the proliferation of Adjustable Rate Mortgages and the popularity of the ultra-low teaser rates without which the housing bubble never could have been inflated so large in the first place.

In other words, the Fed broke it then, but it sure can’t fix it now.

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Good news about private enterprise

walmartGood news about private enterprise. Despite fervent attempts to have it destroyed it will survive.  Not only that but it will win in the long run. Some may not see it now due to, what it may seem to be, incompetence and lack of efficiency at the public sector level. Some, whose views are still blurred, continue to be convinced the private enterprise brought the economy down to its knees. Nevertheless, private enterprise will triumph. It always did even under repressive systems whether known as the black market or the underground market.

I often shop at Walmart. I have always been satisfied with my local Walmart’s customer service. It’s not just the prices or convenience that draw me back there often but their recent addition of chic clothing lines, variety of cosmetics, and (so far) qualified electronics advise. I even bought a pair of cross-trainers for $19.99 which I found myself wearing just about everywhere not just at the gym. Yes, they are made in China, but what isn’t made in China nowadays? We ought to give big thanks to the national government and its policies of destroying manufacturing in our country but that’s another story.

Walmart has certainly come a long way. Once in a while I even use their money services such as a couple of weeks ago when I purchased a money order. As you may be aware many public entities don’t accept personal checks for payment of services so this was my case when dealing with a government office. My situation was simple. I made the money order payable to the wrong government office and it was sent back to me along with a rejection of the service I was in need of. Never mind I got the instructions directly from their website.

So I needed my problem solved. I needed to cancel the money order with the wrong name, get a credit for the dollar amount, and have a new money order issued. Never had to deal with anything like this before so I thought it would be a tough one to solve. I went back to Walmart for help. Sure, I had to wait in line about 15 minutes and I know that for someone who is in a hurry that may not be that convenient. However 15 minutes was worth the wait to accomplish my mission.

When I wait I usually have the habit to observe, whether it’s people or events. Donuts, soda pop, and processed foods in a shopping basket are not the emblem of healthy aging, for example. I see it as a direct ticket to the hospital. Store cleanliness invites me back to the store. Watching elderly couples gives me hope that wisdom has meaningful purpose in our world. I then proceeded to watch the employee who was going to help me. Blond, blue eyed, and young; about 27 years of age in my estimation. He helped four people who were ahead of me in line. He helped his manager who needed his help. He multi tasked. He kept his calm no matter how overwhelming his responsibilities were becoming. By the time my turn came I expected to see a sign of a break down. His face was like I was his first customer for the day, no sign of distress. I explained my concern with the money order. I did not have a receipt with me. If I did I would have made his life easier because he would have been able to track down the transaction faster. My mistake. But he did find a way to help me. It took longer time and most importantly knowledge how to do it. He went the extra mile, no commission, no bonus as incentive, he just did the right thing. He had all this and more yet how many people take the time today to recognize such values from a Walmart employee?

In my case the Walmart employee was better qualified to solve problems than the government office which had wrong information on their website. The government office employs people, just as Walmart does. What is then the difference between the two of them? Hiring qualification guidelines. To a private enterprise, an employer’s requirement is that an employee knows how to solve problems. For a private enterprise, the customer is always right.

Not so with a government entity. Their guidelines come from a higher level. Their positions are secure as long as there are tax payer money to “fund” them. Their positions are not based on productivity or efficiency. Bureaucrats punch in and punch out. Just as in the former centralized systems like the communist countries of the Eastern Block or China, we have seen that such a system is not sustainable and thus its lifespan is limited.

There is a battle between the public system and the private enterprise. The good news is that it is the people of private enterprise who will assure the victory. Whether it’s Walmart or any other business whose people are competent to solve your problem be sure to let him know you appreciate it. I did and he blushed with humility.

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