“With interest on deposits at next to nothing, or now slightly negative, the only reason for consumers to keep money in the bank is convenience. The more money you lose, … the more attractive your mattress becomes.”
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Realities and Revelations
, by Michael Pento
Despite all of the central bank manipulations over the past seven years, it is finally becoming clear economies will not be able to achieve escape velocity. The U.S. central bank has the longest track record of treading down the path of monetary manipulations. And has achieved anemic average annual growth of 2.2% since 2010. Therefore, to further demonstrate the failure of money printing to engender economic growth, the dismal Q1 GDP read of just 0.2 % displays the failure of this policy once again. Wall Street Shills have been quick to once again blame snow in the winter for the Q1 miss. However, it is becoming evident that Q2 will not produce any such anticipated rebound.
Markit’s Flash U.S. Services PMI (Purchaser Managers Index) for April indicated that business activity rose at a slower pace than expected. The April reading came in at 54.2, which was below the consensus of 56.2 and below March’s level of 55.3. Adding to the bad news was the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index that hit 95.2 in April. Economists polled by Reuters expected a reading of 102.5. And, the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index fell into the minus column for the second month in a row at -3 for the start of Q2.
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Things don’t look much better across the globe. The Euro zone Purchasing Managers’ Survey disappointed investors with the German PMI index falling to 54.2, from March’s eight-month high of 55.4. France’s PMI also showed a slower expansion than forecast in the services sector and a worse contraction in manufacturing than predicted. Manufacturing PMI in France decreased to 48.4 in April, from 48.8 in March.
Japanese manufacturing activity contracted in April for the first time in almost a year, as domestic orders and output fell. The Markit’s Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to a seasonally adjusted 49.7 in April, from a final 50.3 in March. The index fell below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the first time since May of last year.
We are in our seventh year of record-low interest rates and banks have been flooded with reserves. However, the developed world appears to be debt-disabled. That is, already saturated in debt, therefore unwilling and unable to service new debt due to a lack of real income growth.
So the problem for central banks and governments is how to get the money supply booming in an environment where consumers want to deleverage and save. Zero percent interest rates (ZIRP) are inflationary and negative real interest rates foment asset bubbles and encourage new debt accumulation. For decades central banks have used their control of the price of money to coerce boom cycles that eventually turn to bust. But for the past six years, their foray into ZIRP land hasn’t provided the boom cycle they were expecting. Sure, they have created massive bubbles in bonds and equities– but the economy has yet to enjoy the promised growth that is supposed to trickle down from creating these bubbles. They have set the markets up for a bust, yet the economy never enjoyed the boom.
This has left Keynesians scratching their respective heads and scheming new ways to encourage even more borrowing and spending. The Keynesians who rule the economy now control the price of money but are having difficulty controlling its supply and producing rapid inflation rates.
Bank deposits that pay nothing and ultra-low borrowing costs haven’t proved effective in boosting money supply and velocity growth. The growth rate of M3 has fallen from 9% in 2012, to under 4% today. And monetary velocity has steadily declined since the Great Recession began. Therefore, unfortunately, the next baneful government scheme is to push interest rates much further into negative territory in real terms; and also in nominal terms as well!
You would think this is absolutely absurd but it is already happening. The European Central Bank, has a deposit rate of minus 0.2 percent and the Swiss National Bank, has a deposit rate of minus 0.75 percent, as of May. On April 21st the cost for banks to borrow from each other in euros (the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor) tipped negative for the first time. And as of April 17th, bonds comprising 31% of the value of the Bloomberg Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index, were trading with negative yields.
Could Negative Interest Rates Arrive In America?
They already have. Beginning on May 1st, JP Morgan Chase has announced they will charge certain customers a “balance sheet utilization fee” of 1% a year on deposits in excess of the money they need for operations. That amounts to a negative interest rate on deposits. Banks formerly competed for your money– now they want to charge you to park it with them.
With interest on deposits at next to nothing, or now slightly negative, the only reason for consumers to keep money in the bank is convenience. The more money you lose, money on your deposits in the form of a “utilization fee,” the more attractive your mattress becomes. But, as long as paper money and your mattress are available, the Fed will not be able to fully implement its negative rate policy in its quest to create inflation. After all, there would be a global run on the banking system if rates were to fall into negative territory by more than just a few percentage points.
So how can central banks and governments ensure rapid money supply growth and velocity if consumers have the option to hoard cash? Some of the “best minds” in Keynesian thought, like Kenneth Rogoff, have a solution to this. They are floating the idea that paper money should be made illegal and the evidence shows governments are listening. If you outlaw hard cash, and make all money digital, there is no limit to how much borrowers can get paid to borrow and how much savers get charged to save. This would make it unprofitable to hoard cash, and compel people to consume and borrow electronic currency as fast as possible. Money in the bank would become the “hot potato”: as soon as it hits your bank account the race would be on to move it to the next person’s account. Whoever gets stuck with the money when the music ends pays a fee; that would be some increase in velocity! And vastly negative real interest rates would force the amount of leverage in the economy to explode.
This idea sounds fairly Orwellian-allowing central banks to control every aspect of monetary exchange and giving the Federal Government an electronic gateway to every financial transaction. But when you think about it, the idea of a fiat currency and the Federal Reserve were radical ideas before they became common place. Indeed, this is exactly why the authors of our constitution tried to ensure gold and silver would have the final and only say in the supply and value of money.
Just as gold once stood in the way of governments’ desire to expand the money supply, physical cash is now deemed as a fetter to the complete control of savings and wealth by the state. History is replete with examples of just how far governments will go to usurp control of people under the guise of the greater good. Sadly, the future will bring the collapse of cash through its illicit status, which will in turn assist in the collapse of the purchasing power of the middle class. Wise investors would take advantage of the opportunity to park their savings in real money (physical gold and silver) while they still have a chance.
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PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE BELOW FOR A FURTHER UNDERSTANDING OF ECONOMICS!
A specter, to paraphrase the opening line of The Communist Manifesto, is haunting America. That specter is the economics profession itself.
Economics has become immersed in arcane modeling. Modeling does not really work well, as even the cognoscenti sotto voce admit. Consider, for example, at the New York Fed’s excellent Liberty Street Economics: Choosing the Right Policy in Real Time (Why That’s Not Easy). This essay concludes, with refreshing integrity and candor:
In the end, we have shown that policy analysis in the very oversimplified world of DSGE [Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium] models is a pretty difficult business. Contrary to what it may sometimes appear from listening to talking heads, deciding which policy is best is very rarely a slam dunk.
Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models? Economics has come to resemble more the model-based pseudoscience of astrology more than the observation-based science of astronomy.
As Prof. Reuven Brenner in Asia Times:
Most people are unaware of the fact that rulers perceived astrology for almost a century as “science” – pretty much as some perceive “macro-economics” these days. Monarchs, such as Charles I, as well as the learned and the nobility relied on Councils of Astrological Advisers. Books, presenting complex geometrical calculations linked to positions of stars, legitimized analyses and forecasts.
Abruptly, after a century, in part due to Galileo’s telescope destroying the science of political lies and hierarchies built on them, the astrological edifice disappeared in a puff – or so it appeared.
Except that macro-economics is now its modern incarnation: Only instead of stars, macro-economists look at “aggregates” gathered religiously by governments’ statistical agencies – never mind if the country has a dictatorial regime, be it left, right or anything in between, or has large black markets, as Italy and Greece do, where tax evasion has long been the main national sport. So let us first forget about this “macro” stuff, whose beginnings are almost a century old, and offer a simple alternative for shedding light on the situation today and on possible solutions, hopefully demolish this modern pseudo-“science” once and for all.
The most popular book demystifying economics of the 20th century was Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. It sold a million copies.
Now, for the 21st century, comes John Tamny, Political Economy editor at Forbes, editor of RealClearMarkets.com (and a friend) again to muck out the Augean stables. Tamny has published a splendid new book: Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics. It reportedly already is going into its second printing. May it, like Hazlitt’s classic, sell a million copies!
If (admittedly a big If) even a single presidential aspirant reads it and takes it to heart Popular Economics could prove a significant factor in restoring what proto-Supply-Sider John F. Kennedy said at the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam: “A rising tide lifts all the boats….”
Big If, yet there’s hope. As I have argued here that great transformations in areas such economic growth policy almost always, in the modern era, have originated in the House of Representatives. I spend a great deal of time inside the Congress and am delighted to report that Tamny’s Popular Economics is written in the terms that Members of Congress speak and think. (Bonus points to Tamny for his many and extensive sports stories, the kind of stuff people actually talk about on Capitol Hill when the cameras are off.)
Tamny loves to be provocative. He’s good at it. He exalts income inequality. He celebrates (organic, rather than government-exacerbated) recessions. Tamny does an especially good job at stripping the bark off the fallacy that career civil servants somehow are smarter or nobler than entrepreneurs and executives in the private sector.
I myself spent several years as a career civil servant in the U.S. Department of Energy. From personal experience I admit to having become not a whit smarter once sworn to uphold the Constitution and issued the laminated badge. Nor were any of my colleagues made of the stuff of Plato’s philosopher-kings. Mere mortals all!
Some of Tamny’s jousts easily could be taken out of context and used, by Progressives and other dirigistes, to satirize his positions. Yet his points, to any fair reader, are clear:
Recessions are the cure for what’s wrong with an economy. They cleanse it of the bad businesses, bad investments, and labor mis-matches that got it in trouble in the first place. When the 1920-1921 recession hit, a wise political class sat back and did nothing, other than lower taxes slightly and slash spending. Unemployment dropped from 11.2 percent in 1921 to 1.7 percent by 1923, and the Roaring ‘20s took off.
Contrast that fast near-10% drop in unemployment with the record of the protracted Great Recession, and soggy recovery in which we are still mired, courtesy of the economic policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Tamny covers a lot of ground in this book, thoroughly covering the Big Four economic policies. Done right these support the achievement of equitable prosperity. Done wrong these mire us in stagnation and income immobility.
Tamny tackles taxes, regulation, trade, and money. He does so by reference to popular culture, making lucid that which, in the hands of less gifted writers, often is dull and dry. (Not for nothing did Carlyle call economics “the dismal science.”)
Here’s an example of how Tamny subtracts the dismal from the science:
Politicians may raise [by taxes] the cost of work for their citizens, but if the cost is too high, those citizens won’t stick around to be fleeced, especially when they’re well-to-do. … [Keith] Richards and the Rolling Stones did just that. (Quoting Richards:)
“The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with super-tax is that we’d say fine, we’ll leave. We’ll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn’t factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did. They didn’t believe we’d be able to continue as we were if we didn’t live in England. And in all honesty we were very doubtful too. We didn’t know if we would make it, but if we didn’t try, what would we do? Sit in England and they’d give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And we upped and went to France.”
Tamny especially impresses with the clarity around the matter of money, to which he devotes five full chapters. For example:
In The Wealth of Nations-the masterpiece that laid the groundwork for the rise of modern capitalism-Adam Smith observed that “the sole use of money is to circulate consumable goods.” That was a throwaway line, for no serious thinker had ever considered money as anything but a measure. Money came into existence because men needed a way to measure the value both of their production and of the consumable goods they sought in exchange for the fruits of their labor. Smith was stating the obvious.
Smith would laugh at all the commentary in the media today about the need for a “strong dollar” or a “weaker dollar to boost exports” or the importance of convincing the Chinese to “boost” the value of the yuan. To Smith, that would be the equivalent of saying “increase the length of the meter” or “shorten the minute” or, because Kim Jong-Un is bothered by his diminutive five-foot-six- inch stature, there is a need to “devalue the foot” so the North Korean dictator can stand ten feet tall. Just as the foot is never long or shot, money should be neither strong nor weak. The foot is a standardized tool to measure actual things, and money should have the same constancy.
Popular Economics has attracted great praise from many of the leading public intellectuals dedicated to economic growth (as well as from no less than George Will). Steve Forbes, in his excellent Foreword, says it best: “By breaking the mold of what modern economics has become and by explaining in an engaging way what economics truly is, Tamny has done humanity an inestimable service.”
Buy Popular Economics.
Originating at RealClearMarkets.com