Topic: gold, societal unrest, Davos, the credit cycle, macro reasoning
Summary: grab your gold and run for the hills when you see the Yellow Vests gathering
Reading time: 5 minutes? 10?
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When the Fed turned dovisher-er again last week, in order to stimulate the supposedly weak economy, expectations for economic growth in the US strengthened and the dollar consequently strengthened. A stronger dollar means cheaper imports and a lower trade deficit, and yet a stronger economy, reinforcing the stronger currency.
Alternatively, in the little longer run, the massive monetization of US deficits and debt leads to increasing inflationary pressures. More money chasing fewer goods in a stagnating economy, where the focus is turning toward finance instead of production, gradually leads to higher consumer prices and demand for higher wages.
It all comes to a head when the Yellow Vests of the world have had it with “the elite” leaving ordinary people behind.
Reasoning vs. the real world
Macro reasoning can take you in any direction you like. Financial market reasoning is even worse. There the logical jump from good is good to good is bad due to eventual overheating to good is good since the bad that comes from over-gooding will lead to policy measures that will turn all things good again is done in an instant.
The real world, however, doesn’t care about your reasoning, reflexivity be damned.
A Lööf in the eye of the storm
For now, we are enjoying a pause of sorts. We are in the eye of the storm, with more or less sensible political leaders like Trump, Macron and Löfvén-Lööf (the Swedish socialist leaning government that took five months of bickering to form) at the helm. Yes, sensible, moderate. Relatively speaking.
Just you wait and see what comes after if these boys and girls next door were to fail. Well, with “were to” I mean “when they will fail”. A deeper, more disturbing, nuance of populism is bound to color the political landscape in the wake of an increasing sense of injustice, where the crony-elite is perceived to be living off of the backs of ordinary citizens.
This is not a crisis of capitalism
There is nothing wrong with capitalism, nothing wrong with adults willingly agreeing to sell goods and services to each other, nothing wrong with the best producer, best satisfyer-of-wants, amassing huge wealth.
What is wrong, however, is when the banking elite is first allowed astronomical gains from risking other people’s money, and then after the inevitable crash are saved by the political elite in return for political funding in the next round. We are not experiencing a crisis of capitalism, what we’re seeing is a particularly nefarious brand of of socialism.
Crony central banking at the center
It may sound conspiratorical but it’s all the central bankers’ fault. Without their wanton manipulation of interest rates blowing bubbles in the economy and on the financial markets, and their setting the stage for subsequent crashes, politicians and central bankers wouldn’t be able to play the game they do.
Politicians want to win elections, so they promise more than they can keep. Central bankers willingly fund the difference between dreams and reality. The unrestricted money printing drives asset prices, which drives borrowing, which drives lending, which drives bank profits.
It doesn’t take many decades before the debts are too high to allow for a normal correction. Politicians and central bankers (as if they weren’t all politicians) then vow to do whatever it takes to salvage the situation they themselves created. And their solution is always the same: keep doing exactly what caused the problem — just at a bigger scale.
After longer time than a single human investor usually can or do care, the system re-sets. A new power, a new currency regime, new relative positions and prices. It’s not that the cycles are aeons, but half a human life is long enough to be forever on the financial markets.
You’re much too young boy
I personally know people who haven’t seen a single market crash and yet consider themselves market veterans. Imagine having only invested in stocks since 2009. You’d look upon ten years as a long time in the market, and twenty as looking back toward a completely and irrelevant era.
I first started talking about stocks sometime in 1985 when a friend told me about his investments. Around then I actually inherited a stock portfolio with some really old holdings: Aga, SKF, Asea, Sandvik and similar stocks. That’s 33 years ago. I have to look back an additional 33 years, to 1952, in order to feel what today’s newbies feel about the turn of the millennium.
Oz wizardry a case in point
Australia hasn’t seen a recession for 26 years. The continent has been riding the rising tide that is China, but that era might be coming to en end now. Imagine the unpreparedness of investors, banks and house buyers when a recession finally hits.
Try to imagine the repurcussions when one panicky domino hits another. Overleveraged consumers and house owners losing their jobs, banks failing, dividends being cut, pension funds falling underwater, selling begetting selling on the stock market, and cost cuts causing unemployment, in a vicious cycle not seen in more than a generation.
Try to imagine the policy response and the saving of the elite on unprecedented scales. Try to imagine the populism that ensues. That’s one more geographical win for the Yellow Vests.
The credit cycle is a cycle
Artificially low interest rates and money printing create a seemingly benign feedback loop over a handful of decades. But it’s just as misleading as the inflation leads to a stronger dollar narrative mentioned at the top of this article. Sooner or later the credit cycle shows why it’s called a cycle.
Healthy growth that was turned into a speculative boom and followed by stagnation and monetary magic morphs into deflation. Deflationary impulses are met with increasingly desperate fiscal and monetary policies that lead to a combination of populism and inflation. The latter wreak havoc with living standards and justice, not to mention financial markets, exchange rates and asset prices until a strong enough leader can set things “right” again.
Right meaning high enough interest rates to force fiscal prudency and a stop to rampant inflation.
At that point risk aversion peaks and liquidity (cash availability and willingness to lend and borrow) troughs.
At that point assets might be “cheap”, but only because you 1) truly can’t know how it will end, and 2) you don’t have any cash to buy assets for, and 3) banks won’t lend it to you. That’s the meaning of “it’s not your father’s market but your grandfather’s”. No matter, that‘s the starting point of another bull market, not the current multi-year topping process.
I hope. You never know. Perhaps buying stocks at 5x earnings won’t work. Perhaps social and political reasons force them to 3x before it’s over. Perhaps dividends will be illegal.
As Grant Williams pointed out in the latest Macro Voices podcast episode, what garners the most journalistic clicks these days are articles from Davos pointing out how much richer the elite has become since before the financial crash of 2008.
It’s all fun and games as long as the money illusion makes everybody feel rich. But when the wheels stop turning and you realize your increase was but a fraction of the increase in true prices, not to mention the multiples of that that befell the elite, then it’s pitchfork time.
The anti-elite clicks are accumulating. Populism is rising. You may not like what you see today, or support Trump, Macron and Lööf. But if they fail, Mordor and the winter of the seven kingdoms would be preferable outcomes to what’s in store.
The question is: will your holdings of physical gold (and mine) be a good or a bad thing in that environment?