Free Markets, Free People

Dale Franks

Dale Franks’ QandO posts

Worst-Case Scenario

Ever since the Fed began the first round of what is now called Quantitative easing, massively expanding the money supply, I’ve been worried about what would happen when demand began rising, and the Fed had to somehow try and draw all that extra cash out of the economy before it became inflationary—or even worse—hyperinflationary.

That’s still a worry for me, because I have, let us say, less than absolute confidence that Chairman Bernanke and his colleagues can pull that monetary sterilization off without a misstep.

Happily, that is becoming a secondary worry for me. Unhappily, that’s because it’s been replaced by a new worry, articulated by Paul Brodsky, bond market expert and co-founder of QB Asset Management. Mr. Brodsky maintains that the real inflationary danger lies elsewhere. I mean, it still lies at at the Fed and other Central Banks, but for a different reason.

The world has simply gotten itself into too much debt. There are creditors that expect to be paid, and debtors that are having an increasingly difficult time making their coupon payments. No amount of political or policy intervention is going to change that reality. (Unless a global "debt jubilee" transpires, which Paul thinks is unlikely).

Looking at the global monetary base, Paul sees it dwarfed by the staggering amount of debts that need to be repaid or serviced. The reckless use of leverage has resulted in a chasm between total credit and the money that can service it.

So how will this debt overhang be resolved?

Central bank money printing — and lots of it — thinks Paul.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, when faced with an economic depression brought on by the collapse of a debt bubble—mainly in mortgages—the preferred policy solution pushed by governments all over the world, has been to try and re-inflate the debt bubble via stimulus spending. That is to say, overcoming the collapse of the mortgage debt bubble by creating a new, even bigger, sovereign debt bubble.

We have a pretty good idea of how much money there is in the world. We also have an idea of how much debt there is, from the sovereign debt of the united states, to credit cardholders in Finland. And it appears that there is not enough of the former, to pay off all the debts contained in the latter. If so, then that means a lot of banks—perhaps most of them—are in trouble. And we can’t have that.

What policy makers do not want to see is bank asset deterioration. That would lead to all sorts of bad things. You would see banks fail. You would see bank systems fail. You would see debtors fail and it would just feed on itself in an accelerating fashion. And so monetary policy makers have no choice but to deleverage in the other way, which is to colloquially print money; to manufacture electronic credits and call them bank reserves.

And to the degree that that extends into the private sector where debtors begin to fail en masse, that would increase failures of the bank assets in turn. And it would end the mortgage bond securities market, for example, and the leveraged loan markets, and end the private sector shadow banking system. So it does not work for anybody to have credit deteriorate. The only way to deleverage an economy is as we are saying: to create new base money with which to do it.

In other words, if central banks want to prevent entire banking systems from failing due to the collapse of the debts they hold as assets, they have no choice but to ensure that there is enough money available for everyone to meet their debt payments. To do that, they have to start printing out long sheets of beautifully engraved C-Notes. This will, of course, lead to massive inflation that will allow everyone to pay off their mortgages for the cost of a nice hat, while, at the same time, destroying the value of the world’s life savings.

This will clean up everyone’s balance sheets, and allow the world to create a brand new monetary base—let’s call it New Dollars—which, central banks having learned their lessons, will be impossible to over-borrow or inflate.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Woohoohoohoohoo! Hehehehehehehehehe. Heh heh. Ahhh. Sometimes I kill myself.

I’m just kidding with you. Seriously, they’ll try to start a new fiat currency that they’ll borrow on and debase until it collapses on our grandchildren, and screws them, too.

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Dale Franks
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Media Appearance Today (Updated)

If you live on Florida’s Space Coast, I’ll be on AM 1300 WMEL around 3PM Eastern, to talk about the economy and stuff. If you’re not on the Space Coast, you can listen live, worldwide, here.

UPDATE: If you’d like to listen, here is the whole interview I did on WMEL today. I cut out all the commercial breaks and whatnot, but even so, it’s still 36:20 long, so consider it an extra podcast for the week.

I don’t consider myself a "renowned economist", however. Or even an economist at all. I mean, I got me the book learnin’ in it, and I know my ciphers and my figurin’ and whatnot, but my work in the field has been in economic journalism, rather than formal work as an economist.

But the WMEL guys were very nice to me, and I appreciate it.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 6 Jul 12

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The Monster Employment Index rose 6 points to 153, as online recruiting picked up in June.

The Employment Situation for June is dismal for the 3rd month in a row. Total non-farm payrolls increased by 80,000. The unemployment rate is unchanged at 8.2%. Hourly earnings increased by 0.3%, while Weekly hours increased by 0.1 hours to 34.5 hours. Private payrolls increased by 84,000. The U-6 unemployment rate, the broadest measure of unemployment/underemployment, rose 0.1% to 14.9%.  The labor force participation rate and the employment/population ratio are both unchanged at 63.8% and 58.6%, respectively. Both are the lowest since 1983.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 5 Jul 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Initial claims for unemployment fell 14,000 in the June 30 week to 374,000, much better than expected. The 4-week moving average fell slightly to 385,750. Continuing claims in rose 4,000 to 3.306 million with the 4-week average falling 3,000 to 3.304 million. The unemployment rate for insured workers is 2.6%, which is unchanged since March.

ADP’s private payroll count shows a better-than-expected rise of 176,000, hopefully pointing to strength for tomorrow’s employment situation.

Unlike the ISM manufacturing index, the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index stayed positive at 52.1, though that’s still slower than last month.

Chain Store Sales had a disappointing June, with many retailers lowering guidance, reporting lower rates of year-on-year growth than in May.

MBA Purchase Applications fell -6.7% last week, with purchases up 1.0%, but refinance applications down -8.0%.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report’s layoff count for June is 37,511, down from 61,887 in May and down from 41,432 in June last year.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index dropped from last week’s 2-month high to -37.5.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 3 Jul 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Auto sales will be released throughout the day today. First reports are from Chrysler, whose sales rose 20% to 144,811 vehicles. Nissan posted a 28% sales gain, to 92,237 new vehicles. More figures will be released later today.

In retail sales, ICSC-Goldman reports bad weather reduced same-store retail sales to a year-on-year 1.4% increase, though sales rose 0.2% on a weekly basis. Redbook reports weak 2.2% sales growth both on a weekly basis, as well as in the 4-week moving average. Both Redbook and ICSC-Goldman sales results are the worst in a year.

US factory orders rose a better-than-expected 0.7% in May. Ex-transportation, orders were up by 0.4%, reversing 2 months of decline.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 2 Jul 12

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The ISM manufacturing index shows a contacting manufacturing sector for the first time since July 2009, falling to 49.7 in June. New orders, at 47.8, show contraction for the first time since April 2009, and point to the possibility of a slower July, as well. Inventories and prices also fell.

Markit Economics’ PMI for the US slowed to 52.5 in May, vice 54 for April.

Construction spending rose a better-than-expected 0.9% in May, following a 0.6% rise in April. On a year-over-year basis, spending was up 7.0%.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 29 Jun 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

Personal income rose 0.2% in May, while personal spending was unchanged. The PCE price index fell -0.2% for the month, though the core rate rose 0.1%. On a year-over-year basis the index rose 1.5% overall, while the core rate rose 1.8%.

The consumer sentiment index fell to 73.2, which puts the index down to a new low for the year.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index rose slightly to 52.9, but the new orders component is the weakest since September 2009, pointing to slowing conditions this summer for Chocago businesses.

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Dale Franks
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Obamacare: A System Designed to Fail

OK, we now have Obamacare. Absent a November election of Mitt Romney and Republican congressional majorities, we’ll simply have to live with it. Except, of course, we won’t, because Obamacare simply will not work. Its design practically ensures that it will meet none of the goals its proponents claim it will meet. The end result will inevitably be more people uninsured, higher costs, greater government spending, and higher debt.

If you want to see how a policy will work, then ignore all the claims made by it’s proponents—and opponents.  All that is necessary is to look closely at the incentive structures the law creates. Those incentives will tell you how people will respond to the policy.

So, let’s take a brief look at just a few of the incentives Obamacare creates.

  • First, health plans are more highly regulated. They must cover a wide range of preventative procedures, like pediatric or maternity care. This means that stand-alone catastrophic coverage will essentially be a thing of the past. This increases the cost of premiums across the board, and eliminates an entire class of individual insurance coverage.
  • At the same time, insurers are forced to cover pre-existing conditions, with premiums limited to 2.5x that of the lower-risk groups. People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, generally incur costs far in advance of 2.5x that of healthy people—as I well know, being diabetic—and the care for the seriously ill, such as cancer patients, is far higher still. This will, again, raise the costs of premiums overall to recoup the extra costs of insuring the chronically or seriously ill.
  • Individuals who do not have have health coverage will be forced to pay what we learned this morning was a tax to the IRS instead. Rational people, then will choose not to buy insurance until their health costs + the penalty is greater than the cost of a health plan.
  • Lower income people, with a family income of less than 400% of the poverty level ($88,000 for a family of four) receive a subsidy of varying value, declining with income increases until the 400% of poverty level, at which point it drops to $5,000. At 401% of the poverty level, the subsidy ends. So at that $88,000 level, any increase of income results in the loss of $$5,000. At that point, it is uneconomic to accept any increase in income to less than $93,000, as it will result in a net loss of income, or the family will have to forego medical insurance. This will trap low-wage workers.
  • Companies with less than 50 employees that currently provide health coverage to their workers will face a broad range of new costs, mandates, regulations and coverage mandates. They will have to either require more costs to be paid by employees, or simply drop health coverage altogether and simply pay a nominal tax penalty. I suspect many companies will choose the latter, thereby forcing employees to pay for higher-cost individual plans, or forego coverage. Even worse, companies that employ fewer than 50 people have a huge incentive to ensure they never have more than 50 people on the payroll, lest they then be required to provide health insurance, and subject themselves to a much higher administrative burden.

These perverse incentives will result in higher health insurance costs, and an increase in the number of uninsured people. Additionally, the macroeconomic incentives will result in less income growth and lower employment. We will then be told that the "free market" has failed yet again, and be forced to submit to a fully government-run health care system.

Ultimately, Obamacare is nothing more than the latest in "a long train of abuses and usurpations" about which we have done nothing, and will do nothing. I mean, let’s face it, no one is going to call for a new constitutional convention, much less get together with a lusty, gusty group of fellows and head off into the hills with rifles.

But, there’s always a silver lining to every cloud. In this case, it’s that when we default on or monetize our debt and destroy the currency and economy, Obamacare will be irrelevant, as there will barely be enough money for food and shelter, much less expansive health coverage programs.

So, we got that going for us.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 28 Jun 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

The Commerce Department’s final estimate of first quarter GDP was unchanged at 1.9% annualized.

Initial claims for unemployment were a higher-than-expected 386,000. The 4-week moving average dropped 750 lower to 386,750.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to -36.1, the highest level in two months.

The Kansas City Fed manufacturing index rebounded 6 points to a reading of 9 in May.

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Dale Franks
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