Bush Trumps Reagan

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital.

By: 

Peter Schiff

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The optimism that has followed the election of Donald Trump has pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the threshold of 20,000, a level that will be both a nominal record and a symbolic milestone. Although this is not the way most observers had predicted that 2016 would play out, most on Wall Street have become extremely reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth…or to even look at him at all. The impulse is to jump on and ride, and only ask questions if it pulls up lame. But if this year has proven one thing, it is that predictions made by the consensus should not be trusted.
 
Back in the earlier part of 2016 the mood was decidedly darker. At that point most people believed that the Federal Reserve would be raising rates throughout the course of the year. While such hikes had been anticipated (and delayed) for years, most took comfort in the belief that the economy would be expanding nicely by the time the Fed actually pulled the trigger. But in late 2015, the already tepid GDP growth seen in the prior two years seemed to be decelerating. Investors also concluded that Hilary Clinton was a lock to win the election, thereby assuring that the anti-growth policies of the Obama years would continue. Many looked at these developments and concluded that the sins of the past decade, in which the Government and the Federal Reserve had used unprecedented levels of fiscal and monetary stimulus to prop up the economy and the stock market, had finally caught up with us. As a result, the Dow Jones shed more than seven per cent in the first two weeks of the year, its worst start on record.
 
But the year comes to an end amid a cloud of Trump-fueled bullishness. The markets fully embrace an unapologetic capitalist, and his team of billionaires, who promises to cut taxes, rewrite trade deals in America’s favor, take a machete to anti-growth regulations, repeal Obamacare, and return America to its former industrial might. Many are making parallels to the Reagan Revolution in which a maverick anti-establishment Republican took charge in Washington and ignited an economic boom, a stock market rally and a surge in the dollar. But to make this comparison, boosters must jump over a more telling comparison to the last Republican president elected, George W. Bush.
 
The parallels to W. are striking. Both lost the popular vote, and will have taken office following the tenure of a two-term Democrat who had presided over a furious stock market bubble and a surging dollar. In the 4 years prior to Bush's election, the Dow Jones had surged approximately 60% and the dollar index had risen approximately 19% (1/2/97 to 12/29/2000). For Trump, the numbers are 48% and 24% (1/2/13 to 12/21/16). Then, as now, the U.S. was seen by investors as the only game in town. Clinton's second term was rife with global crises that both created safe-haven flows into the dollar and caused the Fed to backstop U.S. financial markets with cheap money (at least cheap by the standard that existed at the time). Both will have come into office promising tax cuts and regulatory relief following eight years of Democratic reign. As a result, the market gains of the Clinton and Obama years were expected to continue under their Republican successors.
 
But the optimists did not anticipate that the big, fat, ugly bubble that inflated during Clinton’s second term, would burst early in Bush’s first term (although the air started coming out of that bubble while Clinton was still in office). Given the ensuing recession of 2001, it can be argued that the only reason Bush was reelected in 2004 was that the Fed was able to inflate an even bigger, fatter, and uglier bubble in housing that postponed the pain until the financial crisis of 2008. That is where the similarities will likely end, as Trump will likely not be that lucky.
 
One of the pillars of dollar strength under Clinton was eight straight years of deficit reductions, culminating with a massive $236 billion budget surplus in 2000 (Congressional Budget Office). While the surplus did require some accounting smoke and mirrors and a stock market bubble to create, it nonetheless marked a significant achievement. At that point, many economists had assumed that the U.S. debt problem had largely been solved and that the country would ride a wave of permanent surplus. The only problem most could envision was a shortage of Treasury bonds once the national debt was fully repaid. No one is to worried about that “problem” now.
 
Similarly, Trump is taking charge at a time when official budget deficits have fallen consistently since 2009 (albeit from astronomically high levels). But 2016 is projected to be the first year since 2009 in which the deficit will have risen, significantly, from the prior year. The Congressional Budget Office sees a return to perpetual $1 trillion plus annual deficits in the early part of the next decade (The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026 report, January 2016), even if we have no tax cuts, spending increases or recessions over that entire time. Under the Trump presidency, we are likely to get all three.
 
If a recession comes early in Trump’s presidency, it will be no more his fault than the 2001 recession can be blamed on Bush. A sharp pullback has been years in the making. Firstly, there is simply the issue of timing. On average, the U.S. has experienced a recession every 60 months or so since WW II (based on data from National Bureau of Economic Research and Bureau of Labor Statistics). The current expansion is already 90 months old, or 50% longer than average. Sooner, rather than later, it will have an end date. Recessions completely reshuffle the budgetary deck, causing government outlays to rise and revenues to fall simultaneously. The swings can be dramatic. The 1981-1982 recession resulted in a 61% increase in Federal red ink. The recession of 2001 turned a $236 billion surplus in 2000 into a $377 billion deficit in 2003 (then a record). The Great Recession of 2008-2009 caused the $458 billion deficit in 2008 to more than triple to $1.4 trillion in 2009. Rest assured, the next recession can cause a similar catastrophe to the government’s finances.
 
Trump’s election was predicated on his intention to buck traditional Republican policy of fiscal restraint. He has promised tax cuts for people and corporations and massive $1 trillion plus spending binges on infrastructure and the military. Of course the argument goes that these moves will stimulate growth thereby raising tax revenue to pay for both the cuts and the spending. The same arguments were made by George W. Bush in 2001 when he cut taxes, increased spending, and pushed through a temporary tax holiday to encourage corporations to repatriate money held overseas. Deficits soared anyway. The only real question is will the recession arrive before or after Trump’s fiscal policies kick in. If the events happen simultaneously, the budgetary implications will be hard to fathom.
 
Investors who are basking in the Trump victory should take a hard look at what happened to the markets during the Bush presidency. In mid-2008 (just a few months before the financial crisis sent stocks plummeting), the S&P 500 was just 17% above the level when Bush was elected nearly eight years earlier. The dollar, in particular, took a beating under Bush. In August 2008 (right before the dollar rallied temporarily as a result of the panic), the dollar index had fallen by 19% since his election. The opposite occurred in gold. In November of 2000, gold was at about $370 per ounce, close to a 20 plus year low. In August 2008, it was more than $920, down significantly from it's high of almost $1,100 hit earlier that year.
 
Also, for all the optimism about the U.S. stock market and pessimism abroad, it was foreign markets that delivered for investors. From Bush’s election to mid-2008, just before the global financial crisis sent stocks reeling around the globe, developed foreign markets were up 80% (priced in U.S. dollars) while emerging markets were up a staggering 300% (priced in U.S. dollars). Even if you include the huge losses in the back half of 2008, by the time Obama was sworn in, developed markets were down less than 3% from the time of Bush’s election, and emerging markets were still up about 80%. (In contrast, the S&P 500 was down almost 27%).
 
The 2001 Recession, which was triggered by the bursting of the dotcom bubble and the September 11 attacks, came very early in Bush’s first term. Fortunately for W., the Federal Reserve was able to support the economy by bringing rates down from more than 6% to just 1% (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis) (which helps explain the swift collapse of the dollar). As a result, the 2001 recession was the shortest and mildest on record. In doing so, however, the Fed blew up an even bigger bubble in real estate, the bursting of which created a far bigger recession in 2008, propelling Obama into the White House.
 
But can the Fed ride to the rescue this time around? Given that rates are practically zero and the Fed is choking on trillions of dollars of assets that are permanently held on its balance sheet, the answer is clearly no. All the Fed will be able to do is launch the mother of all QE programs, perhaps in the form of a massive helicopter drop. But the bad news for Trump fans is that the result will not be a housing bubble like the one that bailed out Bush, but a wave of stagflation that will make Trump a one-termer. The nightmare scenario is that once again tax cuts and deregulation take the blame, allowing Bernie Sanders or a socialist candidate to ride another populist wave, only this one headed far left, into the White House of 2020.
 
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Source: Commentaries By Peter Schiff

War on Cash Spreads to India

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.

By: 

John Browne

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Over the past year, central banks, commercial bankers and prominent economists have expressed the view that digital money and transfers should replace large denomination cash and cash transactions. This dramatic transition has been fostered under the guise of the public interest in an effort to curb terrorism, tax evasion and criminal activity. Many observers contemplate more sinister motives that involve increased government control of economic activity. The latest country to engage in this ‘war on cash’ is India.
 
In a TV announcement on November 8th, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Reserve Bank of India’s large denomination 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes, worth some $7.5 and $15 respectively, would lose their status as legal tender on midnight on December 31, 2016. That meant holders of those notes (which represent 86 per cent of the value of all outstanding rupee notes) had less than two months to exchange the notes for smaller new notes, or lose out completely. The government also mandated than any large exchanges had to be accompanied by tax returns in order to prove that the cash generated had already been taxed.
 
The shock waves from this announcement fueled fear and panic among the Indian population which is heavily cash-oriented. As few people have bank accounts and banks are thinly spread in rural areas, many Indians have been left holding paper currency redeemable only in banks which often are difficult to access. To make matters worse, banks soon ran out of small denomination notes. The result was chaos, rioting and trauma-induced deaths. Millions of poor Indians were unable to buy necessities or transact business. Many merchant shops had no alternative but to close.
 
The BBC’s website notes that India, the world’s seventh largest economy “…is overwhelmingly a cash economy, with 90% of all transactions taking place that way.” At a sudden single stroke a socialist Prime Minister has converted most of the nation’s private cash into bank deposits subject to direct governmental controls including spending and withdrawal limitations. Furthermore, the new bank deposits can be leveraged up as bank loans to government and to allow banks to purchase government bonds to finance social programs.
 
It remains to be seen how severely India will be hit and what effect it will have on the international economy. With much of the world focused on the U.S. Presidential election, this Indian currency event was little reported in the western media.
 
The Indian action was a largely unexpected escalation of the ‘demonetization’ movement that has been spreading through the U.S. and Europe. This past year, Larry Summers proposed the withdrawal of the $100 bill and the ECB announced an end to printing 500-euro notes. The idea has been supported widely. With the notable exception of The Wall Street Journal, major news media including The Economist, The New York Times and a recent Harvard paper have called for the elimination of high denomination currency.
 
It could hardly be coincidental that just this week Nicolas Maduro, the bumbling socialist dictator of Venezuela, surprised his nation with monetary changes that are nearly identical to those being pursued by India. The collapsing Venezuelan economy already had the highest inflation rate in the world, and its starving citizens have had to transact what little commerce they can with ever larger stacks of nearly worthless currency. But to add insult to injury, Madura just deactivated the 100 Bolivar note, the country’s largest note denomination, which until recently had a value of just 3 U.S. cents. Although the government predictably claimed that the move was aimed at speculators and foreign capitalists, it will be the poorest Venezuelans who will suffer most acutely.
 
As in India and Venezeula, the reasons given for the elimination of cash is to protect citizens from terrorism, tax evasion and crime. Of course, when all financial transactions have to flow through banks, they can be monitored easily. Undoubtedly this does hinder some aspects of terrorism, tax evasion and crime. But the real reasons for demonetization are given far less oxygen. The move is spurred by the need to protect the ever larger “too big to fail” banks and the ability of governments to control and even legally utilize the private wealth of citizens. Cash can be sheltered from government, bank deposits cannot.
 
The advent of zero and negative interest rates has reduced investment reward and resulted in a tax on savings. In a low, or negative, rate environment, those with cash have little if any financial incentive to hold money in banks. Cash hoarding is the logical alternative. In economic terms, hoarded cash becomes dead moneyOutside the system it contributes nothing to economic activity. Specifically, it deflates the velocity of monetary circulation, a vital element of economic growth. Perhaps more importantly to a technically insolvent banking system, deposits withdrawn from banks, especially when combined with a rising rate of non-performing loans, can result in potentially fatal capital shortages. In today’s over-leveraged and derivative-infused financial markets, a serious banking failure could escalate like lightning and threaten the entire international financial system.
 
In their 2015 rescue of Cypriot banks, the IMF, ECB and western politicians effectively devised the ‘bail-in’ as a new, less visible alternative to politically unpopular citizen bank bailouts. In a bail-in, it is the shareholders, bondholders and, ultimately, bank depositors who are called upon to fund an insolvent bank rather than injecting public funds. Despite the precedent of Cyprus, it remains surprising how many citizens remain blissfully unaware that when they open an account, they become creditors of the bank. Despite retaining rights to the funds, they no longer own the monies.
 
In addition, if excessive government borrowing results in a collapse of government bond markets and a potentially crippling rise in interest rates, legislation mandating that each citizen hold a certain percentage of their wealth in government bonds would not be unrealistic. With digital money, bank computers can execute such commands quickly and easily. The depositor has no recourse other than the ballot box.
 
While cash hoarding may offer added security to cash holders, as dead money it results in politically harmful damage to economic growth rates rendering banks more vulnerable. It follows that the increasingly ferocious and aggressive war on cash is a sign that central banks may see a dangerously deteriorating situation, one that has led to a feeling of desperation by governments and a strong wish to establish a legal means to control the wealth of citizens. They appear to be using political statements by banks, economists and the mass media to secure a meek surrender to a cashless society and the potential utilization of citizens’ accumulated cash wealth by legal means.
 
Cash is an efficient, free, and private means of payment for ordinary citizens, particularly those without the funds to pay ever-increasing bank charges. Following the January 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, the war on cash appeared to intensify. At that meeting, PayPal’s CEO, Dan Schulman, claimed that 85 percent of transactions, by volume rather than by value, are in cash. Regardless, at the same conference, Deutsche Bank co-CEO, John Cryan, described cash as “terribly inefficient.” He predicted that we would “probably” see no more cash within the next ten years.
 
Already, some major countries have limited cash transactions for law abiding citizens. In Italy, the legal limit for cash purchases is some $1340, in France the limit is 1,000 euros. Even in the UK, any cash transaction above some 15,000 pounds must be reported to the Inland Revenue. In the U.S., the mandated reporting figure to the Internal Revenue Service is $10,000.
 
Some notably highly leveraged banks including Deutsche and UBS have called for the elimination of cash, while Citibank has eliminated cash in some of its Australian branches. As early as 2015, JPMorgan Chase warned that it would no longer accept cash in its safe deposit boxes. Separately, Chase said it was restricting cash payments for credit cards, mortgages, equity lines and auto loans.
 
The Indian government’s capture and compulsory transfer into bank accounts of some 86 percent of its citizens’ cash was a shock to Indians and to informed people around the world. It will be studied for lessons learned by the western nations as they pursue their own wars on cash. Likely they will take a more gradual approach, supported by mass media and senior bankers’ statements to support their assaults on the cash of compliant citizens. Whereas recently impoverished Indians may turn to silver, those in the developed world may look increasingly to gold as a store of wealth.
 
The extent and speed of the exercise of governmental power to restrict the use or to control the accumulated wealth of citizens never should be ignored or underestimated.
 
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital.


Source: John Brownes Market Commentary

King of Debt Takes the Reins

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital.

By: 

Peter Schiff

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 provides the best recent precedent for the unexpected triumph of Donald Trump (in my opinion, the other post-war Republican takeovers of the White House –Ike in ’52, Nixon ’68, and W. in ’00 – did not constitute a real break from the status quo.) As many people expect great changes from Trump, it is worthwhile to look at what the Reagan Revolution actually wrought. 
 
Both Reagan and Trump were better known to many as entertainers rather than politicians, both came from outside the Republican mainstream, and both engineered hostile takeovers of the Party. During the 1970s, the Republican Party was dominated by “Rockefeller Republicans,” the Ivy League-educated liberal Eastern elites. Reagan was the Western heir apparent to Barry Goldwater, the deeply conservative standard-bearer who went down in flames in 1964. In 1976, the brash Reagan had the nerve to challenge incumbent Republican President Gerry Ford in the primary, thereby weakening him in the general election, which he ultimately lost to Jimmy Carter. While Reagan was simply too conservative for the Rockefeller wing, Trump’s various positions are similarly inconsistent with much of the mainstream neo-conservative orthodoxy. Both candidates also capitalized on a weak economy as a catalyst to encourage voters to cross traditional party lines. Many of the rust belt ”Reagan Democrats” came home to Trump.   
 
While books have been written about the cultural and political legacy of Reagan’s presidency, harder facts can be found in his budgetary record. Despite the economic revival that his tax-cutting and deregulation tendencies delivered, the national debt ballooned as it never had for any other peacetime President. Although the fiscal imbalances have gotten significantly worse since Reagan left office, the Gipper gave plenty of cover for future Republican presidents to run up red ink. President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “King of Debt”, now appears to be perfectly positioned to test the limit of how much debt the world’s largest economy can issue. 
 
Leading up to the election of 1980, Reagan and the conservative economists who supported him, warned that Federal debt, which had risen to approximately 26% of GDP, had grown too heavy to bear (data from Congressional Budget Office, July 2010) Reagan brought the spirit of Milton Friedman into the Oval Office, and his campaign was based on a clear intention to roll back the nearly 50 years of socialist government expansion that had occurred since Roosevelt’s New Deal.
 
But when Reagan came to Washington he was confronted by a strong Democratic majority in the House of Representative led by House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a skillful and forceful defender of big government. Reagan soon discovered that the political price was always very high when government expenditures are being restricted. And so, Reagan decided to move on the tax cuts (a perennial political winner) but never really got around to the spending cuts. As a result, the 26% debt to GDP ratio that he inherited when he came into office expanded to 41% by the time he left. (data from Congressional Budget Office, July 2010) This was not the complete conservative victory for which his backers had hoped.
 
Trump comes to office with similar expectations for significant changes. The good news for him is that he will face far fewer restrictions than Reagan had to face. Most importantly, both houses of Congress are now Republican. The Supreme Court is currently split along ideological lines but is likely to swing conservative after Trump’s appointment to the open Scalia seat.
 
On the taxation side, Trump has proposed cuts in personal and corporate tax rates that could likely sail through Congress. How much these moves will add to the deficit depends on how much growth they generate in the economy. Such predictions are very hard to make. But if the tax cuts are assured, the growth is not. However, there is no need to make algorithmic predictions on the budgetary implications of spending decisions. They are what they are, and their impact is immediate. Trump plans massive increases in Federal spending, initially in the form of a trillion dollar infrastructure spending over ten years, and billions to build his border wall and pay for his planned deportation force. On the spending side, Trump could likely get whatever he wants, and more. Had a smaller infrastructure spending plan been proposed by President Hillary Clinton, it would have likely been voted down by “fiscally hawkish” Congressional Republicans. Such scruples could fall by the wayside when the spending requests come from a Republican President.
 
Although the years of trillion dollar plus deficits we experienced during the first Obama term have been pared down to the $500 -$700 billion dollar range, the Congressional Budget Office’s Summary of The Budget and Economic Outlook, 1/19/16, currently predicts that we will officially return to trillion dollar levels by 2022. (In truth we are already there. Over the last 10 years the actual expansion of the debt has averaged $1.1 trillion per year, about $300 billion more than the average deficit of $790 billion over that time). (TreasuryDirect; usgovernmentspending.com) The CBO’s  projections are based on no unplanned spending increases between now and 2022, steady GDP growth in the 2% to 3% range, and no dip into a recession (even though the current expansion is already far longer than the typical postwar expansion). Given this very optimistic set of assumptions, and Trump’s announced plans on taxing and spending, we should absolutely expect a massive expansion of the Federal debt over the next four years. The more difficult question is how it will be financed. 
 
When making a comparison to Reagan, it is important to realize that he financed his debt expansion the old fashioned way: He sold long-term government debt to private investors. In the early 1980s, savings levels in the United States were much higher than they are today. The average American actually had money in the bank. And those with the means to invest were less inclined to dabble in stocks than they are today (there was no eTrade to make the process easy and transparent). The stock market had essentially made no gains between 1966 and 1980, (Dow Jones Industrial Average data) so investors could be forgiven for having given up faith. Bonds were a bigger part of the mix up and down the investment spectrum. And those investors who stepped up to the plate to buy those 30-year bonds in 1981 to finance the Reagan deficit ended up making some of the best portfolio decisions.
 
It seems impossible to believe in our current low interest world, but in 1982 the U.S government sold 30-year bonds with a 14% annual coupon. That’s right, a guaranteed, principal-protected, 14% annual return for 30 years. Investors today could only dream of something so magical. Of course inflation was higher back then (partly because the government hadn’t yet figured out how to recalibrate the Consumer Price Index), but even at its worst, inflation rose only to approximately eight percent. (InflationData.com) This means that buyers of those 30-year bonds were getting a real rate of six percent above inflation. But it just gets better from there.
 
Over the course of the Reagan presidency inflation and interest rates came down steadily. This meant that those investors who bought in 1982 would see their real rate of return increase every year. By 1988 inflation had come down to 4%, so those bonds offered a real yield of 10%. The falling inflation strengthened the value of the dollar itself. So in relative terms Americans holding those bonds were seeing a real increase in purchasing power of their principal relative to the falling prices of imported goods. Also, in an environment of falling interest rates investors holding 30-year 14% bonds could sell those bonds before maturity for more than they paid. That’s because even at a price above par the bonds would still offer higher yields to maturity than newly issued bonds. But despite the premium, investors were better just to hold them till maturity. Purchasing Treasury bonds in 1982 was an investment in America’s future, but it also happened to turn out to be the deal of the Century.
 
Think about how different it would be today for investors making a similar choice to finance the Trump deficits. 30-year bonds are currently being offered at a rate of just under 3%. If you believe the government inflation figures of just about 2%, this means that your effective yield is about 1% (pre-tax). If inflation is even slightly higher, the real yield could be negative. And in 30 years there is plenty of time for inflation to go, much, much higher. If it does, these bonds would be all but guaranteed to deliver less purchasing power than their original cost, even if held to maturity.
 
If interest rates were to rise from the current low levels, as almost every economist and investor assumes they must, the value of long-term bonds will surely fall. In another danger to bond prices, Bloomberg News reports that the new Trump economic team will likely put pressure on the Fed to reduce the amount of bonds on its balance sheet. To do so in any meaningful way will require that the Fed sell off portions of its $4.5 trillion bond stash of holdings into the open market. This could turn the biggest buyer of Treasuries into the biggest seller.
 
A sustained period of falling bond prices would mean that if current buyers wanted to cash out before maturity, they would likely have to sell for a loss, not the gain that their fathers would have seen with the 1982 bonds. If rates got as high as five or six percent (and I think they will go much higher) those losses could be substantial. As Jim Grant likes to say, today’s long maturity bonds represent return-free risk. Or as Warren Buffet likes to say, it’s like picking up pennies in front of a steamroller.
 
The risks become greater still when you consider how America's fiscal position is much worse today than it was in 1980. When Reagan took the oath of office America was the world’s largest creditor nation. Today it’s the largest debtor. Our debt was just 26% of GDP then, while today its 105% and projected to go much higher over the next generation…even without Trump's taxing and spending plans factored in. 
 
But arguing the investment merits of long-term government bonds is a bit pointless in the current age. Real investors gave up on bonds long ago. What little savings Americans still have either stays in the bank, or gets directed to stocks or real estate. The bond market has almost become the exclusive playground of central banks. In Japan and Europe, central banks are sucking up the vast majority of government debt. We did the same during our four years of quantitative easing, and the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet remains swollen.
 
If under President Trump annual deficits explode, whom should we expect to buy the trillions in debt we will have to issue to pay for it? In the recent past, the big buyers have been central banks in China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Should we expect those customers to return? We may be in an allout trade war with China, Japan is already pushing its own QE program to the limit (its central bank is currently buying large portions of the Japanese stock market) and the Saudis are struggling with $50 oil. We may need to find new buyers.
 
But don’t look to Mom and Pop USA. Those investors are tapped out. Don’t look to the pension funds. They can’t meet their numbers with 3% coupons. Don’t look to the hedge funds. They are losing money fast due to bad performance, and their investors expect more nuanced thinking than U.S. Treasuries. What’s more, (in contrast to 1982) the U.S. dollar is currently near generational highs. If the dollar should weaken, holders of dollar-denominated debt will be left holding the bag. When Reagan was elected, the dollar had been beaten down to all time record lows, having lost about 2/3 of its value against currencies like the Deutsche mark, Swiss franc, and Japanese yen. So high yielding, dollar-denominated Treasuries were attractive investments for foreign savers. But the dollar has already risen sharply over the last few years based on expectations the Fed would normalize interest rates. Investors should not be under any illusions that the dollar will experience another continued rally. With so many reasons arguing against buying long-term dollar Treasuries, the Fed may be the only game in town.
 
Given that, it’s impossible to imagine that the Fed will ever allow interest rates to rise by any significant amount. (Doing so would devastate the value of their bond holdings and raise debt service costs past the point where the government, or most private borrowers, could pay). Already more than $4.5 Trillion of Treasury bonds sit on the Fed’s balance sheet. Look for that number to balloon during the Trump years.
 
Debt monetization was the term that used to be used by economists to describe the undesirable outcome of a country’s central bank becoming the exclusive financier of its national debt. Inflation and currency devaluation were expected to be the results of this brash approach to fiscal policy. But this will likely be our future under Trump. Investors would be wise to recognize this and to diversify appropriately.
 
In 2009, when the first Quantitative Easing program allowed the Fed to buy large quantities of Treasury bonds, then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke pushed back against Congressional accusations of debt monetization by claiming that the purchases should be considered temporary, and that they would be unwound when the crisis passed. Since then the Fed has not sold a single Treasury and has used every penny of interest and principal repayments to buy more Treasuries. Should the Trump deficits force the Fed’s balance sheet into the stratosphere, it will be obvious to all what the Fed is doing.
 
America was able to survive Ronald Reagan's debt experiments because we started borrowing from a position of relative strength. But the debt took its toll, and we are now a shadow of our former selves. Yet rather than reversing course before it’s too late, Trump may just step on the gas, assuring we go over the cliff that much sooner.
 
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Subscribe to Euro Pacific's Weekly Digest: Receive all commentaries by Peter Schiff, John Browne, and other Euro Pacific commentators delivered to your inbox every Monday!
 


To order your copy of Peter Schiff's latest book, The Real Crash (Fully Revised and Updated): America's Coming Bankruptcy – How to Save Yourself and Your Country, click here.

For in-depth analysis of this and other investment topics, subscribe to Peter Schiff's Global Investor newsletter. CLICK HERE for your free subscription.


Source: Commentaries By Peter Schiff

Trump Triumphs as Brexit Faces a Serious Threat

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.

By: 

John Browne

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Brexit and the Donald Trump presidential victory should rightly be viewed as the most significant international developments of the last decade. Both events illustrate a breaking down of globalist order and they both threaten the entrenched elite that has so ruthlessly and painfully hurt the middle and working classes. But as Trump supporters revel in the largely unanticipated victory, Brexit faces a serious new challenge.
 
On November 3, 2016, The English High Court ruled that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would affect substantially the “rights of individuals within the UK.” As a result, the Court concluded that despite the referendum, and the “Crown prerogative” that grants the Government considerable leeway, particularly in matters of foreign affairs, the decision to leave the EU must be made by Parliament. Given that the government has made many decisions to increase the UK’s “ever-closer” integration into the EU over the years, which clearly affected the “rights of UK individuals,” it is curious that the Court would finally decide to step in when the government was moving in the other direction.
 
The May Government has announced that it will appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court. Some lawyers advise that should the Supreme Court overrule the High Court, the Claimants might appeal still to the European Court of Human Rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. Whether this Court would accept jurisdiction is unclear.
Regardless, the current Government and the Brexit camp are shocked and angry at the High Court’s ruling. They are joined by powerful sections of the UK’s mass media including the Daily Mail which has labeled the High Court as being “Enemies of The People” (James Slack, 11/3/16).
 
If the Supreme Court upholds the High Court decision, it is likely that Prime Minister May will have to consult Parliament. She is unlikely to find there a receptive audience. According to Business Insider some 73 percent of the 650 Members of the House of Commons, and probably a greater percentage of Peers in the House of Lords, were and probably are still in favor of remaining in the EU (Jim Edwards, 11/3/16). This means that the members of Parliament can easily rise up and vote to restore the order that they so clearly believe should be restored. But will they be prepared to defy the will of the people? This is a tall order for every politician.
They could argue that the public will has changed since the vote and that the win was not all that decisive to begin with. Such arguments will be politically perilous.
 
By 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent the British people voted for Brexit (BBC News). However, this seemingly small margin led to 61 percent of the UK’s Parliamentary constituencies to vote for Brexit, according to data from the University of East Anglia. It will take very brave Conservative Members of Parliament to vote their conscious to remain, thereby defying both their party whips, who control their promotions within the Party, and the expressed will of their constituents who control their continued membership in Parliament. Even Labour members who may desperately want to remain in the EU, may be reticent to oppose the clear wishes of their voters to leave. The fractured leadership of the Labour Party may not be able to bring much pressure on wavering members to cast a “remain” vote. The remain sentiment in the House of Lords appears even stronger than in Commons. But if Prime Minister May were to add the threat of enacting further reform of the House of Lords, it might bring enough peers into line.
 
The remain case has been further weakened by the lack of post-Brexit catastrophe forecast by Cameron and his allies before the vote. Recent headlines confirm the return of optimism: the Telegraph published, “UK jobs market ‘thriving’ after summer pause.” City AM reported “Retail sales up in best month since January.” Meanwhile, financial markets appear to have stabilized.
 
Based on all this, it is hard to imagine that UK parliamentarians will stage a quixotic last minute stand to resist the independence of the UK.
 
Regardless, the EU negotiators may insist that to retain access to EU markets the UK must open its boarders to EU immigrants, largely from the Middle East. If unacceptable to the UK government, likely it will result in a so-called “Hard Brexit” whereby the UK will be expelled. Should this occur, it will not be the first time England has been expelled from most of Europe. Should this occur, Britons should rejoice as history has shown that England does well when it does not yoke herself too closely to the Continent.
 
When King Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome, England was forced to trade worldwide. This put England into the exploration and colonization business, which proved to be quite fruitful. When Napoleon’s influence spread across the Continent in the early 19th Century, Britain shut down European ports and looked to trade elsewhere. This resulted in the largest accumulation of empire in England’s history, allowing the small island nation to garner wealth, political influence and military power on a global scale.
 
Under Brexit, I believe the UK will be free to trade worldwide on terms that suit the UK’s economy rather than that of the 28-nation EU, which has still no effective trade treaties with the U.S., China and Japan.
First Brexit and now Trump have exposed powerful popular feelings of deep resentment. An increasing number of voters feel ignored by what they perceive as self-serving, uncaring and unresponsive rulers who have created a political class that is cocooned away from the financial realities which plague normal citizens. It is not a political party but, as Trump describes, “it’s a movement.” Likely, it will threaten the unraveling of conventional party politics in the U.S., the UK and the EU.
 
Brexit and the U.S. election have clearly given momentum to the anti-globalist world view. Such forces are also gaining ascendency in Italy and France. However, the forces of globalization are extremely powerful and deeply entrenched. They will surely fight back. The first round will be in the UK Parliament. But no one knows where the fight will progress.
 
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital.


Source: John Brownes Market Commentary

Midnight in America

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital.

By: 

Peter Schiff

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stunned political analysts are missing the most plausible argument explaining Donald Trump's unexpected victory. The misreading of the American electorate stems from the political class’ acceptance of mistaken (and increasingly insane) economic dogma that has arisen over the past generation. Based on their flawed understanding of economics, the pundits could simply not understand why the electorate had become totally disillusioned.
 
According to the ideas favored by economists on Wall Street, in government, and in the Federal Reserve, Americans should be enjoying a marginally good economy. Unemployment is low, home values and the stock markets are high, credit is cheap and plentiful, prices are stable, auto sales are robust, healthcare is available to all, and GDP is growing, albeit at levels that are below optimal. These are conditions that would normally favor the incumbent party, and would discourage voters from taking a chance on an unknown who has promised to tear down the entire system. But that is precisely what happened. There can only be two explanations: Either Trump supporters were motivated by hatred strong enough to cause them to vote against their own economic interests, or they understood the economic reality better than the Ph.D.'s. I believe the people got it right.
 
In countless commentaries over the last few years, I have argued that the economy has been getting worse, not better, since the Great Recession of 2008. My points were simple. I suggested that the economic signals created by the Government’s deficit spending and the Federal Reserve’s eight year stimulus program were not creating growth but were actually hollowing out the real economy. I argued that prices were rising faster than Washington cared to admit and that inflation was an economic problem for ordinary Americans, not a magic elixir for growth. I argued that unemployment came down only because people either gave up looking for work (and then dropped out of the labor force), or took multiple low paying part-time jobs to compensate for the loss of good-paying full time jobs. I argued that increased workplace regulations, minimum wage increases, and Obamacare would create hostile conditions for small businesses and would stifle job creation. I argued that zero percent interest rates and quantitative easing were simply a benefit for the investor class and did nothing to generate real or sustainable growth (in fact those monetary policies guaranteed stagnation). I argued that these low rates would inflate debt bubbles in the auto and student loan sectors and would set up our economy for years of pain when those bubbles burst.
 
That is why my gut told me that Trump would win, despite the polls and the widely held belief that a Clinton victory was assured. I believed that voters (who live in reality, not the fantasy world concocted by the elites) would express their dissatisfaction the only way they could, by voting for Trump. Obama came into office eight years ago promising change but delivered more of the same. Clinton’s promise to continue that failed legacy was a loser from the start. The rank and file saw things the way I had, and reacted the way I believed they would.
 
But just because the electorate has finally noticed the emperor has no clothes does not mean that we are now on the path to recovery. Donald Trump has proven to be a master of identifying the hopes and fears of voters, but whether or not he has the wisdom and courage to do what is necessary to restore the country’s economic health is an open question. While it is true that Trump is less likely to continue with the status quo, no one really knows what path he will follow broadly. His election likely sounds the death knell for Obamacare and for a slew of environmental and workplace regulations imposed by Obama executive orders, but beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.
 
He has said that he wants to lower taxes and reduce regulations, which are needed goals, but he has said nothing about the hard work of reducing spending or reining in our country’s runaway national debt. Trump has openly admitted that his business successes have been based on his ability to go deep into debt, and then to emerge, Phoenix-like, on the back of good deal-making, marketing, and braggadocio. He probably thinks he can do the same on the national level. But there the rules are much different.
 
It is unlikely that he understands the chemicals he will be playing with, nor is it likely that he will rely on the opinions of those who do. It’s clear that his only solution is that we “grow our way out of debt.” This is a gambler’s mentality that is likely integral to his DNA. It didn’t work for him in Atlantic City, and it won’t work for him now.
 
Our best hope is that the real Trump is actually a lot cagier than his campaign persona. The wisest leader can do nothing if he can’t get elected (a phenomenon with which I have some experience). Trump managed to get himself elected to the most powerful position in the world. Perhaps he has a better understanding of the problems that face us than he let on during the campaign. Perhaps he knows how excessive debt will choke the economy, that entitlement spending will overwhelm us if we don’t enact Social Security and Medicare reform, that unending monetary stimulus will create a zombie bubble economy, and that trade wars will do more harm than good. Only time will tell.
 
Of particular concern is that Trump fails to understand how American living standards have been subsidized by our trade deficits. Yes, the hollowing out of our manufacturing sector has meant the loss of millions of good American jobs. But it is not the trade deals that are responsible for their loss, but rather the inability of American manufactures to compete in a high cost, high regulation world. And while we have lost jobs, we have nevertheless gained access to very low cost foreign goods and services, without having to expend the resources necessary to produce them. We have been able to consume these things despite the fact that we can’t pay for them in full. For now, the trade deficits are a problem for our creditors, not for us. Of course, they will become a big problem for us if our creditors decide to cut us off. Trade wars may not bring back good American jobs, but they will surely raise prices and reduce choices for American consumers.
   
For now we should celebrate that the election of 2016 shows that the American public knows that they have been misled, that they are mad as hell, and that they refuse to take it any longer. But as bleak as the picture Trump painted of the current state of the U.S. economy, it was not bleak enough.  Before things can actually get better, they must first be allowed to get much worse.  Decades of government promises to supply voters with benefits taxpayers can’t afford must be broken, starting with many of the promises Trump made himself to get elected.  Rising consumer prices and long-term interest rates can bring this decades-old party to a catastrophic end.
 
Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president who was swept into office promising great change. He made good on his “Morning in America” promises to cut taxes and regulations. But he failed in his promises to reduce spending. Trump has never even paid any lip service to spending cuts. And while Reagan’s failure to deliver on spending cuts was cushioned by the steady declines of interest rates during his presidency, Trump will not have that wind at his back. Plus the economy of 2016 has far deeper problems than the economy of 1980. Reagan’s morning now looks more like Trump’s midnight.
 
Trump did not make this mess, but he will likely be in office to clean it up.
 
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Source: Commentaries By Peter Schiff

Globalization Faces Challenges

Our weekly commentaries provide Euro Pacific Capital’s latest thinking on developments in the global marketplace. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.

By: 

John Browne

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For much of the second half of the 20th Century, and even into the new millennium, “Globalization” was the dominant theme used to describe the drift of the world economy. It was widely considered both natural and inevitable that the world economy would continue to integrate and that national boundaries would become less constraining to commerce and culture. And with the exception of the eternal “anti-globalization” protesters, who robotically appeared at large gatherings of world leaders, the benefits of globalization were widely lauded by politicians, corporate leaders and rank and file citizens alike. But a casual glance at the world headlines of 2016 suggests that the belief in globalization has crested, and is now in retreat. What are the consequences of this change?
 
International trade has existed for millennia. But few modern historians would characterize the trade caravans that crossed the Himalayas and the Sahara as sources of international conflict. Rather, they are widely seen as a useful means to bring goods that were plentiful from one region to other regions where they were scarce. Along the way, routes like the Silk Road in Asia created a great number of positive secondary benefits in culture and politics. But relatively modern developments such as ocean-going sailing ships, modern navigation, and steam and diesel power, have greatly increased the size and scope of trade. Globalism was also boosted rapidly by technological advances in communications, including intercontinental jet travel, fax machines, satellite telephones, the Internet, real time money transfers and massive investment flows to international and emerging markets.
 
Since the end of WWII, the establishment of international reserve currencies and the rise of supranational organizations, such as the United Nations, The World Bank, and International Monetary Fund, has saddled trade with more political baggage. The rise of bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade negotiations, which are often shadowy and bureaucratic affairs conducted behind closed doors, have further eroded support for trade. Oftentimes these efforts have resulted in deals that clearly favor politically connected players and have given rise to  justified accusations of cronyism. By opening larger markets and reducing costs, certain corporations have amassed shocking wealth. The benefits to workers are far more diffuse and difficult to quantify.
 
The Harvard Business Review of May 13, 2016 published an article by Branko Milanovic about the unequal distribution of wealth generated by globalism. Milanovic comments that, since the mid-1980s, globalism has resulted in the “greatest reshuffle of personal incomes since the Industrial Revolution. It’s also the first time that global inequality has declined in the past two hundred years.” Milanovic points to two main conclusions. First, he highlights the massive percentage gain in wages in Asia, particularly among the middle classes. In some cases, percentage wage gains in the Asian middle class have eclipsed the percentage gains experienced by the top one percent in the richer Western economies.
 
In stark contrast, the U.S. and Western lower and middle classes have enjoyed almost no percentage wage increases, while their top one percent was the only group to experience significant income gains, based on available household surveys from 1988 to 2008. A recent unpublished paper by John E. Roemer, a political scientist at Yale, suggests that the diminishing of global inequality made possible by trade is far less potent politically than the relative increases in national inequality. In other words, the benefits of globalism are obscured while the costs are highly visible.
 
The agricultural revolution that occurred in the United States in the early 20th century greatly diminished the need for farm workers. But the change spanned two generations and allowed time for migration and adaptation for factory jobs. The globalism that we have seen in the last 20-30 years has been even more rapid and transforming.
 
Enabled by their wealth and past successes, the developed nations have, over the past few generations, adopted labor policies that have made them less able to compete against lower cost manufacturers in the developing world. This has widened the divide between white collar and blue collar workers. Long-term unemployment among normally hard-working people can lead to the loss of a sense of worth, depression and to dangerous dependencies on drugs and alcohol, even to suicide. It poses risks to social and political stability. These concerns are now expressing themselves politically.
 
Nowhere has globalization been championed harder than in the European Union. Lingering devastation from two world wars led many to look to greater integration, both within Europe and without, as a means to achieve lasting peace. However, the creation of the EU super state has trampled the local autonomy of once proud nations, and has convinced voters there that globalization is fundamentally undemocratic. This erosion of trust in government elites, and the free trade they promote, has led to a backlash. The successful Brexit vote was the clearest manifestation of this trend. But it is likely not the last.
 
More recently, a high profile trade agreement negotiated by 27 governments over seven years (that would have theoretically benefited 500 million citizens of the EU and 35 million Canadians) was killed by the objections of 3.5 million Belgian Walloons (B. McKenna, The Globe and Mail, 10/25/16). Notably, the Belgians’ reluctance did not appear to stem from their desire to protect a specific domestic industry but from their general views about how globalization supposedly punishes workers. The New York Times had reported last Friday the Canadian International Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, as saying, “…the EU is not capable now to have an international deal, even with a nation with such European values like Canada.”
 
Much will depend upon how the EU adapts to the new political climate precipitated by Brexit. If it fails to do so adequately, its euro currency could become suspect. As the world’s second currency, this would have serious implications for the international monetary and investment communities.
 
A similar populist angst has evolved in the U.S. giving rise to the unanticipated voter appeal of Presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Ominously, anti-trade rhetoric is on the rise on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Even the Clintons, once the standard-bearers of the free trade center, have turned against the principles of Globalism. As a candidate, Hillary Clinton has turned against the Trans Pacific Partnership that she backed as Secretary of State, and has even fallen into criticism of NAFTA, one of the signature achievements of her husband’s presidency.
 
The recent episodes with Apple Computer and Deutsche Bank also offer potentially dark previews of how anti-globalization forces could impact corporations and economies. While they remain separate issues on paper, the government confrontations that currently embroil the two companies have led many to determine that they are linked.
 
In September, Apple Computer, perhaps the U.S.’ premiere technology and industrial company, was fined a staggering $14 billion by the European Union for having supposedly transferred taxable income, derived throughout the European Union, to the low tax jurisdiction of Ireland, thereby evading taxes that should have been paid to many other EU nations. Although the tax structures had been created by the Irish government (that fought hand in hand with Apple against the EU), Brussels nevertheless held Apple liable. The decision also invoked howls of condemnation from Washington, where many claimed Europe was capturing taxes that rightly should have been shipped back across the Atlantic.
 
Just two weeks after the broadside against Apple, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $14 billion fine leveled against Deutsche Bank, Germany’s premiere financial institution, stemming from “irregularities” in the bank’s mortgage finance business in the years leading up to the financial crash of 2008. While many U.S. banks were hit with similar fines for similar conduct, the size of the Deutsche Bank fine was much larger than had been anticipated. The Bank claimed that it did not have the resources to pay and the German government has voiced its own displeasure at the heavy-handed treatment from Washington. Many have suggested a quid pro quo related to Apple. If so, such disputes in the future could threaten global economic cooperation.
 
Pressures on politicians likely will rise dramatically to ensure more equitable sharing of new national wealth, and the protection of traditional domestic industries. This will inspire them to suggest popular sounding protectionist policies, further exacerbating the economic stagnation on display in the West, and perhaps increasing global instability and mistrust.
 
Those countries that embrace free and fair trade with new technologies stand to reap great rewards. Those who do not, and revert to trade protectionism, could experience economic recession and monetary adversity accompanied by serious social and financial upheaval. But like everything else in the world today, the trends do not look benign.
 
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital.


Source: John Brownes Market Commentary