The Great Recession Blog
by David Haggith
The developing Epocalypse will become the super-volcano of economic history, and this week revealed cracks in the surface that give hints of the eruption to come.
It was a week of crumbling throughout global stock markets that has challenged records. Thursday, Hong Kong stocks suffered their worst start of a Chinese New Year since 1994 in a day of monkey business for the year of the monkey. Traders fled falling stocks and took cover in safe-haven investments, bringing the Hang Seng index down 742 points (3.9%).
Concern is that China’s banking problems could break out into financial upheaval eight times more devastating than the economic crisis the US experienced in the Great Recession. Some are estimating Chinese bank failures are likely and could result in a further 30% drop in the value of the yuan against the US dollar.
Japanese stocks went into free fall for an entire week, cratering more than 900 points in one day, then falling another 760 shortly thereafter. What a testimony to the disastrous and immediate failure of negative interest rates, which kicked Japan’s market into a full-blown panic.
Nevertheless, central banks in their groupthink manner still believe negative rates will seal the globe’s economic cracks and stop the volcano from exploding, though I am certain they will make things far worse because the very concept is evil, stripping money away from people for giving banks the privilege of holding and investing their money.
Major bank stocks continued to crash into the caldera with Deutsche Bank’s breakaway looming larger because negative interest rates in Germany are creating fissures in already weak banks. If Deutsche Bank fails entirely, it will take many other banks out with it in a domino effect. We’re right back to too-big to fail, but this time the risks and likelihood are global in development.
Civilization seems to have no concept of the peril it has created for itself, but this past week gives us a glimpse of the forces that are brewing beneath the surface. Many people may think I make these statements for effect, but I believe that, in the end, they will not appear as overstatements at all. They will simply look factually correct wind up on the other side of these events in a completely different world.
Investors run for cover in safe havens
On Thursday, treasuries in the US hit their lowest yield since the end of 2012 when the Treasury’s money presses were heating up their bearings. Investors are now fleeing to treasuries, more than willing to accept lower yields. Megacorp Pimco stocked up, increasing its Total Return Fund from 22% investment in US debt to 26%.
US bonds attracted investors with 1.65% yields. However, Germany and Japan did much better, financing their debts at 0.2% and 0.02% respectively due to their push into negative interest rates.
Gold surged around the world on Thursday with lines around the block, pushing prices up 4% higher in London, easily breaking well above that $1,200/oz level that gold hasn’t seen in years (about $1,240/oz midday). With bullion rising 19% for the year, gold is entering bull market territory. The lowering yield on US treasuries made gold a more attractive safe haven. Other precious metals also rose this week.
Where China restricts outflow of capital from the nation, people are particularly buying gold as their vehicle for fleeing the crashing Chinese stock market. Chinese demand for gold grew 25% in the final quarter of last year (y on y). India is another place where people are most likely to move to gold jewelry when the economy is falling. (They can save their money, please their girlfriends or wives and enjoy wearing their saved wealth. So, more bangles, bobbles and golden beads.) So, gold purchases grew in India this week, too, as the financial crush is felt around the world.
Said JP Morgan on Thursday, “It’s hard to imagine an uglier morning.” Bankers hate to see gold rise because its the biggest threat to their own proprietary product on which they have national monopolies — money! Thus, an outstanding morning for gold was a hangover for JP.
Bank stocks took some of the worst hits this week due to pressures created by negative interest rates imposed on banks as a cost they have a hard time passing along. The cracking up of banks stocks made for Thursday morning’s humming heads, but there was no coffee and no aspirin for the banksters. (Banks stocks have fallen more than twice as fast as the S&P 500 this year, with Bank of America taking another 6.5% hit on Thursday.)
One can only imagine another central bank dump of gold is coming through a proxy somewhere soon to take the fire out from under the gold smelters. Why else do central banks own so much of the thing they claim is a poor investment, except to mitigate the threat of their product’s main competitor?
A bad day for banksters is a good day for me, though, regardless of its impact on the economy. Makes me want to sing my tribute to Bank of America.
Central banking crisis becomes evident
Markets did not seem much calmed by Chairwoman Yellen’s comments to congress this week that the Fed will remain accommodative if necessary in the face of global headwinds to the US economy but won’t be leaping to drop interest. As I said at the beginning of the present upheaval, there is no chance the Federal Reserve will act quickly to lower interest rates, having waited two years to try to find a window of opportunity to raise them and having finally found one barely wide enough to get their fingers through.
Yellen also said she saw no legal reason the Fed could not follow other central banks in imposing negative interest rates on the reserve accounts of national banks as a way to pressure banks to loan money, but she did say the Fed needed to further study the legality of a negative interest rate policy (NIRP) before taking such action. Trepidatious markets found her comments less soothing than what they were yearning for, as Yellen continues to ween them off Fed milk.
So far, nations with central banks that have imposed negative interest rates, have received little bang for the buck or pop for the pound or yelp for the euro or whatever. That makes such policy look ineffectual and extremely desperate right out of the gate. In part because of such interest rates, bank stocks in Europe fell 6% Thursday, making them the worst performing sector of the Stoxx. Losses, year-to-date have been 28% — the lowest they’ve been in years.
Germany’s Riksbank chose to step deeper into NIRP this week.
US Stocks in bondage
US bank stocks also took heavy hits again, falling by 3% on Thursday. Twitter slumped to an all-time low as it struggles to figure out what is supposed to be without alienating its twits. Twitter has crashed by 35% in the month and a half gone by this year. (Frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal, as I think the website’s sound bytes look hideous, being as full of tweety codes as they are.)
US media-company stocks also experienced their worst week since the flash crash of August. Subscribers are simply moving away to other alternatives, just as with Twitter and with retail stores.
The Dow ended down 10% for the year on Thursday and the S&P down 10.5%. The Dow recovered Thursday’s drop on Friday, but overall US stock investors have averaged a loss of $57 billion dollars each day of this year. That adds up to a $1.78 trillion loss in six weeks, equal to the entire GDP of Canada!
It seems more like contagion. What started off as, really, a healthy correction has turned into an oversold situation with some elements of panic.
That was Kristina Hooper, U.S. investment strategist at Allianz Global Investors, talking to CNBC.
I wouldn’t put that last spin on it of being oversold. I think the market has a lot of selling yet to go before it gets back in touch with reality. Earnings appear to be falling as quickly as stock prices, so the price-earnings ratio may not be improving as much as Hooper thinks, even as prices tumble into the caldron of the Epocalypse.
Dennis Gartman, I see, agrees:
I don’t think there’s too much selling at all…. Sovereign wealth funds are clearly in the process of liquidating…. This is very serious, and I think there’s going to be even more selling going on. I’m afraid it’s going to get even worse. I hate to say that. There’s not a good tenor to be found anywhere. The central banks I think at this point are as confused as is anyone else. I’m not sure anyone is going to look to central banks to be of great help right now. (CNBC)
For one thing, sovereign wealth funds have no choice in selling off their US stocks because they are struggling to keep their own economies going — Japan, China and Saudi Arabia especially. Gartman said that the kinds of moves he’s seeing in Japan right now are something he hasn’t seen since the tsunami. Others agree that the central banks finally look confused and helpless:
“The central banks have been taking extraordinary policy actions in the last several years…and now we’re seeing that it hasn’t been as effective as everyone had been assuming,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts. (Yahoo!)
Well, not “everyone” has been assuming that their efforts every were effective — at least not in accomplishing anything more than a mirage of salvation. A remnant of the global population has been sharp enough to see all along that any apparent accomplishments of the central banks extraordinary magic were just that — nothing but smoke-and-mirrors tricks with nothing more than entertainment value or, at best, artificial life support that would disappear as quickly as the stimulus measures were ended.
And, so, here we are.
“When you add in the fact that the European banking system is under serious threat right now, you could actually see a path to the kind of systemic crisis that we had in 2008.“
And, so, here we are. We ended the nightmare of the last seven years right back where we started prior to all the artificial life support. Given that banks and tech stocks are leading the crash, this looks like it could be the dot-com crash of 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008 rolled into one massive event. And that’s just the United States. This time what is happening in the US is already well underway in the rest of the world. Last time, it was just the US with the rest of the world falling into the United State’s crater in the years following the initial collapse.
Oil prices continued to fall on Thursday as US inventories hit new records. I raised a question in an earlier article about what happens to oil prices when all the storage tanks in the world spill over their rims — all tank farms, all ship tankers, all train tank cars, all truck tanks? What happens when the oversupply boils over because we are out of tanks?
Who will pay anything for immediate delivery of oil then when there is nowhere left to put it? You cannot stockpile it like you can with ore. Without a tank for containment, oil is just a huge liability. When that day comes — and it is not far off — the price of oil that will tank. I think it could even go below $20 for a short period. The most explosive event of the oil crash may be just ahead.
As we near this point of overflow, oil traded near a twelve-year low. At $26.13 for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate at one point this week, prices plunged to where they hadn’t been lower than that since May, 2003! That’s even lower than oil ever traded during the worst part of the Great Recession. The total volume traded was 88% higher than the hundred-day average. It’s understandable that there would be many buyers at Thursday’s price, but that also means there were plenty of people willing to sell at that price!
Then, Friday, oil prices blew up in their largest single-day gain (11.5%) since it started to rise out of the slump of the Great Recession in 2009. From a thirteen-year low in price to an eight-year record rise, this kind of volatility is nothing but explosive gas. The leap came because OPEC said (again) it was ready to talk.
The declaration of willingness to talk may have happened because Iran publicly announced its oil prices this week, setting a price in euros for heavy crude that is discounted to $1.25 per barrel less than the Saudi Arabian price for the same grade. That showed clearly Iran intends, as I said it would, to compete fiercely for market share and to do its best to knock the petrodollar off its pedestal.
That it set its price lower than it needed to do to be competitive indicates intent to hurt Saudi Arabia. Iran is essentially pegging its prices to Saudi Arabia’s price, less a discount. To underscore the point, Iran said others should make way for its re-entry into the oil market, indicating it intends to produce as much supply as it can.
Maybe that tough move and tough talk pressed the Saudis to start talking about real change. We’ll see. I wouldn’t count on it just yet. Saudi Arabia’s willingness to reduce oil production almost certainly depends on the willingness of other major competitors to do the same. Iran’s intent, however, is to jump back into the market with both feet, and that means pumping as much oil through its pipes as it possibly can in order grab back the customers that it lost while it was out of the game.
Anyone who thought Iran would enter the market and be nice or not try to inflict additional pain on Saudi Arabia didn’t understand how Iran operates (nor how business operates). That’s why I wrote recently that it was absolutely ludicrous when oil prices bounced recently and so many people seemed to talk as if oil prices were starting to recover, even as Iran was (at that time) about to enter the market. There was not a breath of realistic hope in the world that oil prices would get better when the country that was once the second-largest oil supplier in the world leaped back into the market, and there was not a chance they would be delicate about their re-entry. I’m inclined to think today’s ejection of high prices is a similar emotional spurt, and when markets run on amplified feelings, that desperation, not good sense. It’s usually followed by all-out panic.
Maybe six months to a year from now (leaning toward the year) prices will stabilize and start to rise — MAYBE — but by then the carnage will be widespread as the flaming oil spill of Kuwait were after the Persian Gulf War. The bankruptcy of oil companies has been rapidly accelerating. CNN reported that half a dozen oil companies filed for bankruptcy last week alone. As I pointed out last week, however, it’s not just the gyppo oil companies that are hurting. Several of the major players like BP reported losses for the last quarter. Standard & Poor’s said that half of all high-yield bonds in the oil industry are at risk of collapsing into the inferno of this heated price war.
US oil companies are now drowning in debt:
At least 67 U.S. oil and natural gas companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015, according to consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese. That represents a 379% spike from the previous year when oil prices were substantially higher. With oil prices crashing further in recent weeks, five more energy gas producers succumbed to bankruptcy in the first five weeks of this year, according to Houston law firm Haynes and Boone. “It looks pretty bad. We fully anticipate it’s only going to get worse,” said Buddy Clark, a partner at Haynes and Boone and 33-year veteran in the energy finance space. (CNN)
Think of what this means for banks. Think of what it means for jobs, given that most of the United State’s supposedly amazing job recovery under Obama happened because of the huge success of the new fracking industry, which had absolutely nothing to do with Obama. If Obama had any impact on that industry at all, it was to restrict it. Whether right or wrong from an environmental standpoint, he certainly did nothing that caused those jobs to happen, and now they are all going to seep away into the sand.
I’m for seeing the world as it is, not as one wishes it were. I’m all for trying to make the world what one wishes it were, but you have to first see it for exactly what it is, or you’ll get hurt. Those investors who get excited at the slightest hint of a lift in prices are dreaming.
When the price war is finally over and the number of competitors is reduced and the fracking oil fields are soaked with blood (or, at least, red ink), you can expect all prices that are oil related to burst to the skies because the industry will attempt to make up for deep losses in an environment where there is less competition.
The outcome will be much different this time than in 2008
An article in the UK’s Telegraph this week opined …
The world can’t afford another financial crash – it could destroy capitalism as we know it. A new economic crisis would trigger a political backlash in Britain, Europe and the United States which could drag us all down into poverty. They bounce back after terrorist attacks, pick themselves up after earthquakes and cope with pandemics such as Zika. They can even handle years of economic uncertainty, stagnant wages and sky-high unemployment. But no developed nation today could possibly tolerate another wholesale banking crisis and proper, blood and guts recession…. A fresh banking bailout by the taxpayer, would trigger a cataclysmic, uncontrollable backlash.
The resources of all nations and their central banks are just too depleted to handle such a massive rupture of the global economy as we saw in 2008. Yet, this one is appearing that it could be far greater because it is developing all over the world simultaneously. The capacity of nations and their banks is fully taken up by huge monstrous national debts and balance sheets that have swelled beyond anything anyone would have imagined a decade ago.
At the same time, the people of all nations are fatigued from years of hearing about recession. In nations like Greece this is true at a level that is already explosive. If a recession like the Great Recession happens now, it will deplete all hopes because of all the talk of recovery that proved false after the last recession. They will have scaled the mountain — or tried to — only to find themselves shaken to the bottom again. Who would have faith in the central bankers to save the economy this time when all their plans to save it from the last recessionary period blew up in their faces?
Anger, albeit late in coming, is showing itself in US elections this round in the form of a movement in both parties away from the establishment. Who believes, however, that newly elected officials could find a solution once the central banks are proven to have failed? In moving away from the establishment, Democrats are moving further left and Republicans further right. There is little likelihood of agreement on a solution, especially one profound enough to right the entire world.
The prime example is found in Greece where citizens rebelled against the establishment only to find themselves in worse pain than before their rebellious election that voted the establishment out. Greece has just moved officially back into recession. (Absolutely predictable based on what Europe did.) Now, the blowout of stocks and banks in Greece is happening all over again. (Absolutely predictable.) It was only last summer that I said Europe had not solved any of Greece’s problems. They only made sure that the problems would resurface just in time to complicate the next crisis.
The next crisis is here. Greece is erupting with migrants from Syria wanting into Europe. Europe is mad at Greece for not being the impregnable gate between East and West and stopping the migration; but Europe has left Greece nearly penniless, so how is it supposed to stop millions of migrants? Europeans appear to be strangling themselves with their own sphincters.
The chaos in Greece is, I think, about to blow up as the pressure from migrants jamming through the gates and the pressure on the other side from European leaders to have little Greece solve the problem for everyone when it has no money are becoming a squeeze so tight that I expect Greek eyeballs to pop from their sockets like bullets.
Greeks were foolish not to accept their pain much earlier by defaulting on every debt and getting out of the euro. In order to work through their pain and see real gain, there would have to be no more debt spending after that — just living with what they have, regardless of whether or not they like it. Accept reality, and live within your means. (A lesson the entire world clearly needs to learn.)
Britain is now debating leaving the European Union, making Brexit as big of a deal as Grexit. With the growing flood of immigrants through Europe, working its way to Brittain, the British exit is gaining support. More economic disintegration within the Eurozone will certainly strengthen the case for a little more separation from the European Union. By remaining, at least (in the European Union but outside of the Eurozone), Britain has faired far better than most of Europe to where an exit may look like the low-risk option to Brits … and then to others. So, Europe is its own volcano, ready to break apart on all sides.
Under such fracturing, does globalization break up everywhere with each nation straying off to solve its own problems in its own way with stiffer boundaries to protect itself from problems created by others, or do all nations circle the wagons and attempt to solidify global strength? Will the world give up on globalization, which isn’t even working in Europe, or double down?
The old plays just won’t work this time around. Nations are falling into recession together, even while bank interest is already subzero and even while inflation is already stuck near zero after unprecedented money creation. This time around, the entire world has exhausted everything the central bankers of every nation seem capable of thinking, and politicians everywhere have emerged with no clear answers.
Because people tend to reach for a bigger answer when the last answers all fall short, and because they also tend to avoid confronting deeper problems to avoid bitter medicine, I believe the world will try to band tighter together in a global solution that, under great time pressure, ignores the realities of their deeper political divides.
The same problem from the same kind of massive debt creation is cracking the earth open around everyone — every nation, everywhere. National leaders will be inclined to agree that the problem is their central planners don’t have enough control over people and that the world didn’t work together on a unified solution so that one nation’s rise in currency became another nation’s fall.
Desperation will make enemies sleep together to fight the common enemy of global economic collapse. But that doesn’t mean they suddenly will love each other or that old hatreds will be set aside or that bankers and brokers will start to regard more highly the interests of others. A much different world than we’ve ever known — bonded like an alloy of clay and iron — will emerge from the broken landscape.
But first, a worldwide eruption, which I call the Epocalypse, will shatter the landscape — is already shattering the landscape — and will create the desperate need for rushed unity. The bankers and brokers of this brave new world are not going to give up power or wealth, so their flawed, self-centered, wealth-aggregating thought processes will pervade the new design. But the people of the world are not going to trust their leaders after the present failure, so anarchy will also grow and with it the need for heavy-handed power to suppress it.
You might not like the prediction (I know I don’t), but it doesn’t matter if you like it (any more than it matters if I like it). I’m not looking to see what I want to see; I’m looking to see what is, and reality doesn’t care what I like. It doesn’t ask me what it should be. Those with eyes wide open will see the fissures that are opening up everywhere, and that will give them the outline of things to come. So, you can see what is coming, coming very soon to a planet near you.
- By that I mean you can plainly see that debts bigger than the gross product of each nation are too big to ever to be repaid, especially when economies did not supercharge to rise to the burden as they were supposed to have.
- You can see that the nations that were struggling with bankruptcy after the last recession are struggling even more with it now.
- You can see that banks that were too big to fail are much bigger than last time and are starting to show great signs of stress again.
- You can see that growing bankruptcies in the oil industry will increase in number as there most likely a lot more time for more bankruptcies to develop.
- You can see that zero interest didn’t solve the world’s economic problems, and the new negative interest is worsening the pressure on banks, while still not solving problems.
- You can see that the only way banks can rid themselves of that pressure is to pass it on to you and that this will require going cashless in order to be assured of your cooperation.
- You can see that quantitative easing didn’t solve the last crisis, so how will it solve a greater crisis when recession happens everywhere at once.
- You can see the Middle East is in greater conflict not less and that things are more heated between Russia and the West, not less.
- You can see that stock markets all over the world are crashing at the same time and that the US was the last of nations this time to start down that hole.
I can go on and on. There’s a lot that you can see that will show you the shape of things to come. You have only to be willing to see what you do not want to see.
We are building up all of these pressures under a mountain of debt we piled, and we keep trying to push the aggregate debt of the world forward. There is simply no stimulus that will push the debts of nations forward any further. If interest rises, there is no nation that can maintain the payments on its debt. Thus, the push to negative interest.
The only real answer is to write off all of the debts of everyone, every business, and every nation equally — cancel the whole enormous mess we’ve created by what we have taken on but also by the foolish credit we have offered — and start again with an economic system that is not founded on debt.
That, however, is not likely to be tried.
The banksters of this world do not let go of debt owed to them, nor the control of money. Neither do any of the rest of the top 10%. Greece is the microcosm in which we can see the problem of the whole world. Europe kept as much of the debt upon the smaller people as possible because the financiers of this world will not accept that they long ago issued credit where they never should have — even enticed such credit. People took on such debt as they never should have. The result is that people remain in bondage to their bankers.
Even the bankers lose in the end, however, because they are refusing to see the obvious, which is that no people will succeed in paying off as much debt as the bankers continue to leave in play. So, we are more likely to go the route of coerced globalization, sometimes forced against the countervailing forces of anarchy.
I’m not saying we should go that route. I think it will become an even greater evil, but it is unlikely the bankers will yield their grip or that politicians will force them to or that people will uprise with a clear enough vision, enough cohesion and in enough numbers to force that change upon the unwilling top 10%. The force is more likely to take the path of anarchy among smaller numbers, and that is its own kind of self-centered evil.
I see all of that in the fracture lines of this world, and it is those fissures that the Epocalypse will burst open. Humanity will be forced to face its flaws.