Why the Stock Market is so Good when the Economy is so Bad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2014

Economics 101

No One is going to get Rich by Buying and Selling only one Share of Stock

It takes money to make money.  I’m sure we all heard that before.  If you want to ‘flip’ a house you need money for a down payment to get a mortgage first.  If you want to start a business you need to save up some money first.  Or borrow it from a family member.  And if you want to get rich by playing the stock market you need money.  A lot of money.  Because you only make money by selling stocks.  And before you can sell them you have to buy them.

Stock prices may go up and down a lot.  But over a period of time the average stock price may only increase a little bit.  So if you bought one share of stock at, say, $35 and sold it later at, say, $37.50 that’s a gain of 7.14%.  Which is pretty impressive.  Just try to earn that with a savings account at a bank.  Of course, you only made a whopping $2.50.  So no one is going to get rich by buying and selling only one share of stock.

However, if you bought 10,000 shares of a stock at $35/share and then sold it later at $37.50 that’s a whole other story.  Your initial stock purchase will cost you $350,000.  And that stock will sell for $375,000 at $37.50/share.  Giving you a gain of $25,000.  Let’s say you make 6 buys and sells in a year like this with the same money.  You buy some stock, hold it a month or so and then sell it.  Then you use that money to buy some more stock, hold it for a month or so and then sell it.  Assuming you replicate the same 7.14% stock gain through all of these transactions the total gain will come to $150,000.  And if you used no more than your original investment of $350,000 during that year that $350,000 will have given you a return on investment of 42.9%.  This is why the rich get richer.  Because they have the money to make money.  Of course, if stock prices move the other way investors can have losses as big as these gains.

Rich Investors benefit most from the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that gives us Near-Zero Interest Rates

Rich investors can make an even higher return on investment by borrowing from a brokerage house.  He or she can open a margin account.  Deposit something of value in it (money, stocks, option, etc.) and use that value as collateral.  This isn’t exactly how it works but it will serve as an illustration.  In our example an investor could open a margin account with a value of $175,000.  So instead of spending $350,000 the investor can borrow $175,000 from the broker and add it to his or her $175,000.  Bringing the total stock investment to $350,000.  Earning that $25,000 by risking half of the previous amount.  Bringing the return on investment to 116.7%.  But these big returns come with even bigger risks.  For if your stock loses value it can make your losses as big as those gains.

Some investors borrow money entirely to make money.  Such as carry trades.  Where an investor will borrow a currency from a low-interest rate country to invest in the currency of a higher-interest rate country.  For example, they could borrow a foreign currency at a near zero interest rate (like the Japanese yen).  Convert that money into U.S. dollars.  And then use that money to buy an American treasury bond paying, say, 2%.  So they basically borrow money for free to invest.  Making a return on investment without using any of his or her money.  However, these carry trades can be very risky.  For if the yen gains value against the U.S. dollar the investor will have to pay back more yen than they borrowed.  Wiping out any gain they made.  Perhaps even turning that gain into a loss.  And a small swing in the exchange rate can create a huge loss.

So there is big money to make in the stock market.  Making money with money.  And investors can make even more money when they borrow money.  Making money with other people’s money.  Something rich investors like doing.  Something rich investors can do because they are rich.  For having money means you don’t have to use your money to make money.  Because having money gives you collateral.  The ability to use other people’s money.  At very attractive interest rates.  In fact, it’s these rich investors that benefit most from the Fed’s quantitative easing that is giving us near-zero interest rates.

People on Wall Street are having the Time of their Lives during the Obama Administration

We are in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Yet the stock market is doing very well.  Investors are making a lot of money.  At a time when businesses are not hiring.  The labor force participation rate has fallen to levels not seen since the Seventies.  People can’t find full-time jobs.  Some are working a part-time job because that’s all they can find.  Some are working 2 part-time jobs.  Or more.  Others have just given up trying to find a full-time job.  People the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) no longer counts when calculating the unemployment rate.

This is the only reason why the unemployment rate has fallen.  If you add the number of people who have left the labor force since President Obama took office to the number the BLS reports as unemployed it would bring the unemployment rate up to 13.7% ((10,459,000 + 10,854,000)/155,724,000) at the end of February.  So the economy is still horrible.  No secret to those struggling in it.  And the median family who has seen their income fall.  So why is the stock market doing so well when businesses are not?  When profitable businesses operations typically drive the stock market?  For when businesses do well they grow and hire more people.  But businesses aren’t growing and hiring more people.  So if it’s not profitable businesses operations raising stock prices what is?  Just how are the rich getting richer when the economy as a whole is stuck in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression?

Because of near zero interest rates.  The Fed has lowered interest rates to near zero to purportedly stimulate the economy.  Which it hasn’t.  When they could lower interest rates no more they started their quantitative easing.  Printing money to buy bonds on the open market.  Flooding the economy with cheap money.  But people aren’t borrowing it.  Because the employment picture is so poor that they just aren’t spending money.  Either because they don’t have a job.  Only have a part time job.  Or are terrified they may lose their job.  And if they do lose their job the last thing they want when unemployed is a lot of debt they can’t service.  And then there’s Obamacare.  Forcing people to buy costly insurance.  Leaving them less to spend on other things.  And increasing the cost of doing business.  Another reason not to hire people.

So the economy is going nowhere.  And because of the bad economy businesses have no intentions of spending or expanding.  So they don’t need any of that cheap money.  So where is it going?  Wall Street.  The only people who are borrowing and spending money.  They’re taking that super cheap money and they’re using it to buy and sell stocks.  They’re buying and selling like never before.  Making huge profits.  Thanks to other people’s money.  This is what is raising stock prices.  Not profitable businesses operations.  But investors bidding up stock prices with borrowed money.  The people on Wall Street are having the time of their lives during the Obama administration.  Because the Obama administration’s policies favor the rich on Wall Street.  Whose only worry these days is if the Fed stops printing money.  Which will raise interest rates.  And end the drunken orgy on Wall Street.  Which is why whenever it appears the Fed will taper (i.e., print less money each month) their quantitative easing because the economy is ‘showing signs of improvement’ investors panic and start selling.  In a rush to lock in their earnings before the stock prices they inflated come crashing down to reality.  For without that ‘free’ money from the Fed the orgy of buying will come to an end.  And no one wants to be the one holding on to those inflated stocks when the bubble bursts.  When there will be no more buyers.  At least, when there will be no more buyers willing to buy at those inflated stock prices.  Which is why investors today hate good economic news.  For there is nothing worse for an investor in the Obama economy than a good economy.

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Bretton Woods System, Quasi Gold Standard, Inflation, Savings, Nixon Shock and Monetizing the Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 4th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published 2/5/2013)

The Bretton Woods System was a quasi Gold Standard where the U.S. Dollar replaced Gold

Government grew in the Sixties.  LBJ’s Great Society increased government spending.  Adding it on top of spending for the Vietnam War.  The Apollo Moon Program.  As well as the Cold War.  The government was spending a lot of money.  More money than it had.  So they started increasing the money supply (i.e., printing money).  But when they did they unleashed inflation.  Which devalued the dollar.  And eroded savings.  Also, because the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard this also created a problem with their trade partners.

At the time the United States was still in the Bretton Woods System.  Along with her trade partners.  These nations adopted the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency to facilitate international trade.  Which kept trade fair.  By preventing anyone from devaluing their currency to give them an unfair trade advantage.  They would adjust their monetary policy to maintain a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.  While the U.S. coupled the U.S. dollar to gold at $35/ounce.  Which created a quasi gold standard.  Where the U.S. dollar replaced gold.

So the U.S. had a problem when they started printing money.  They were devaluing the dollar.  So those nations holding it as a reserve currency decided to hold gold instead.  And exchanged their dollars for gold at $35/ounce.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Giving the U.S. a choice.  Either become responsible and stop printing money.  Or decouple the dollar from gold.  And no longer exchange gold for dollars.  President Nixon chose the latter.  And on August 15, 1971, he surprised the world.  Without any warning he decoupled the dollar from gold.  It was a shock.  So much so they call it the Nixon Shock.

To earn a Real 2% Return the Interest Rate would have to be 2% plus the Loss due to Inflation

Once they removed gold from the equation there was nothing stopping them from printing money.  The already growing money supply (M2) grew at a greater rate after the Nixon Shock (see M2 Money Stock).  The rate of increase (i.e., the inflation rate) declined for a brief period around 1973.  Then resumed its sharp rate of growth around 1975.  Which you can see in the following chart.  Where the increasing graph represents the rising level of M2.

M2 versus Retirement Savings

Also plotted on this graph is the effect of this growth in the money supply on retirement savings.  In 1966 the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  So assume the money supply equaled the gold on deposit in 1966.  And as they increased the money supply over the years the amount of gold on deposit remained the same.  So if we divide M2 in 1966 by M2 in each year following 1966 we get a declining percentage.  M2 in 1966 was only 96% of M2 in 1967.  M2 in 1966 was only 88% of M2 in 1968.  And so on.  Now if we start off with a retirement savings of $750,000 in 1966 we can see the effect of inflation has by multiplying that declining percentage by $750,000.  When we do we get the declining graph in the above chart.  To offset this decline in the value of retirement savings due to inflation requires those savings to earn a very high interest rate.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation

This chart starts in 1967 as we’re looking at year-to-year growth in M2.  Inflation eroded 4.07% of savings between 1966 and 1967.   So to earn a real 2% return the interest rate would have to be 2% plus the loss due to inflation (4.07%).  Or a nominal interest rate of 6.07%.  The year-to-year loss in 1968 was 8.68%.  So the nominal interest rate for a 2% real return would be 10.68% (2% + 8.68%).  And so on as summarized in the above chart.  Because we’re discussing year-to-year changes on retirement savings we can consider these long-term nominal interest rates.

Just as Inflation can erode someone’s Retirement Savings it can erode the National Debt

To see how this drives interest rates we can overlay some average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs (see Historical CD Interest Rate).  Which are often a part of someone’s retirement nest egg.  The advantage of a CD is that they are short-term.  So as interest rates rise they can roll over these short-term instruments and enjoy the rising rates.  Of course that advantage is also a disadvantage.  For if rates fall they will roll over into a lower rate.  Short-term interest rates tend to be volatile.  Rising and falling in response to anything that affects the supply and demand of money.  Such as the rate of growth of the money supply.  As we can see in the following chart.

Interest Rate - Real plus Inflation and 6 Month CD

The average monthly interest rates for 6 Month CDs tracked the long-term nominal interest rates.  As the inflationary component of the nominal interest rate soared in 1968 and 1969 the short-term rate trended up.  When the long-term rate fell in 1970 the short-term rate peaked and fell in the following year.  After the Nixon Shock long-term rates increased in 1971.  And soared in 1972 and 1973.  The short-term rate trended up during these years.  And peaked when the long-term rate fell.  The short term rate trended down in 1974 and 1975 as the long-term rate fell.  It bottomed out in 1977 in the second year of soaring long-term rates.  Where it then trended up at a steeper rate all the way through 1980.  Sending short-term rates even higher than long-term rates.  As the risk on short-term savings can exceed that on long-term savings.  Due to the volatility of short-term interest rates and wild swings in the inflation rate.  Things that smooth out over longer periods of time.

Governments like inflationary monetary policies.  For it lets them spend more money.  But it also erodes savings.  Which they like, too.  Especially when those savings are invested in the sovereign debt of the government.  For just as inflation can erode someone’s retirement savings it can erode the national debt.  What we call monetizing the debt.  For as you expand the money supply you depreciate the dollar.  Making dollars worth less.  And when the national debt is made up of depreciated dollars it’s easier to pay it off.  But it’s a dangerous game to play.  For if they do monetize the debt it will be very difficult to sell new government debt.  For investors will demand interest rates with an even larger inflationary component to protect them from further irresponsible monetary policies.  Greatly increasing the interest payment on the debt.  Forcing spending cuts elsewhere in the budget as those interest payments consume an ever larger chunk of the total budget.  Which governments are incapable of doing.  Because they love spending too much.

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The Price of Gold falls as Responsible Monetary Policy appears Imminent

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

You can print paper dollars.  And create dollars electronically.  Which is why governments love fiat money.  Money that has no intrinsic value.  Just the government saying ‘let it have value’ gives it value.  Which is why they love it.  Because they can print it to spend when they have no further room to raise taxes.

But printing money creates inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  Which is why some like to buy gold.  Because you can’t print gold.  Or create it electronically.  So it holds its value.  Especially when the dollar doesn’t.  And the price of gold has been on the rise all during the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (i.e., ‘printing’ money).  The more the Fed ‘prints’ money the more they devalue the dollar.  And inflate the price of gold.  But once it looks like the Fed is going to taper back on their ‘printing of dollars’ gold investors stop buying gold (see Gold suffers biggest one-day loss since October by Myra P. Saefong and Sara Sjolin posted 12/12/2013 on Market Watch).

Gold futures took a hit on Thursday as concerns that the Federal Reserve could scale back its stimulus next week pulled prices down by more than $30 an ounce for their biggest one-day loss since October.

Investors stopped buying gold not because gold has lost value.  But because they think the dollar will stop losing its value.  For if the Fed stops their quantitative easing the devaluation of the dollar will halt.  As will the rise in the price of gold priced in dollars.  So it will no longer take more dollars to buy the same amount of gold that it once bought.  Like it did under the Fed’s quantitative easing.  And those who bet on a further irresponsible monetary policy that devalued the dollar want to unload some of their higher-priced gold before responsible monetary policy takes effect.

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The BLS Employment Situation Summary for November 2013

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2013

Economics 101

There was Much Spending in November where People Gathered to Celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday

The Bureau of Labor Statistics November’s Employment Situation Summary is out.  The government is trumpeting the 203,000 jobs created and the fall in the unemployment rate from 7.3% in October to 7.0%.  Proof they say that the economy is turning around.  And that their economic policies are working.  So everything is coming up roses.  If you stop reading the Employment Situation Summary there, that is.  For if you read further the economy is still horrible.

A big part of this improvement was the furloughed federal workers returning to work after the government shutdown.  And the Thanksgiving Holiday.  With retail hiring seasonal employees and stocking their shelves for the kick off of the Christmas shopping season.  This year starting on Thanksgiving Day for many retailers.  So you would expect a gain in employment connected to the Christmas shopping season.  Which there has been.  Retail trade employment added 22,000 jobs.  And leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places added 18,000 jobs.  And air transportation added 3,000 jobs.  Thanks to the biggest travel day of the year falling in November.

So there was much spending where people gathered with friends and family to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  And the mad rush to the stores to begin their Christmas shopping.  There was much traveling, shopping and dining in November.  As there always is.  Though some years are better than others.  There was also new hiring in the automobile and construction industries.  Probably more due to the near-zero interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Basically printing money to drive down interest rates.  To encourage people to buy big ticket items like cars and houses.  Even though they had no plans to do so.

It is only the Decline in the Number of People in the Labor Force that gives us an Improving Unemployment Rate

So new jobs in these areas don’t reflect on the overall economic climate.  Because once Christmas is over business will lay off those they hired for those seasonal jobs.  And once the Federal Reserve stops ‘printing money’ those interest rates will rise.  Perhaps compounded by runaway inflation from so much printing.  So these aren’t good indicators of the economy.  We can gain a better understanding by looking at the higher stages of production.  Where there are large capital outlays required to hire and expand business.  Industries that look at the long-term.  So if they’re not hiring they’re not optimistic about the long-term economic picture.

A lot of economic activity has to happen before a retail store can sell anything.  Raw material industries have to pull resources out of the environment.  Industrial processors have to transform these raw materials so manufacturers can use them.  And once manufacturers build things wholesalers buy them and resell them to retailers.  That’s a lot of costs these industries have to incur to produce things that may sell 6-9 months later.  Or longer.  And if the economy is looking anemic to them they are not going to incur these costs.  Which is what happened in November with some of these higher stages of production.  Mining, logging and wholesale trade showed little to no change.

The civilian labor force declined by 720,000 in October.  With the government shutdown blamed for a lot of these lost jobs.  So when the government opened for business again in November we should have seen a large increase in the civilian labor force.  But we didn’t.  The civilian labor force only increased by 455,000 in November.  Which means that if you factor out the government shutdown there was still a decline in the number of jobs.  And it is only this decline in the number of people in the labor force that gives us an improving unemployment rate.  For once people give up and quit looking for a job because the economy is so bad the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stops counting them.  Skewing the real unemployment rate.

The Current Economic Recovery is a False One created with the Smoke and Mirrors of Low Interest Rates

This gets to the crux of the Obama economic recovery.  Or, rather, the absence of any recovery.  The government trumpets the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month this year.  But they don’t tell us how many jobs we lost per month this year.  Which we can calculate.  In January of this year there were 89,009,000 people not in the labor force.  In November that number rose to 91,273,000.  A total loss of 2,265,000 jobs this year.  Or a loss of 205,909 each month.  So while they cheerfully report the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month we actually lost 205,909 jobs each month.  If you count those people who left the labor force the BLS doesn’t count when calculating the unemployment rate.  In fact, if you look at the trends this year you can see the trends are going in the wrong direction.

Those in Labor Force vs Unemployment Rate thru November 2013 R1

The most shocking thing about this chart is that there are over 91 million people not in the labor force.  The labor force is the sum of the employed and unemployed persons.  So these are people who could be in the labor force but aren’t.  Because they don’t have a job.  For whatever reason.  On welfare, collecting disability, early retirement, just can’t get a job because the economy is so bad, etc.  So there will always be people out of the labor force.  And a large number is bad.  Because these people aren’t helping to create economic activity.  Which is why the Obama recovery is so anemic.

What’s also shocking about this chart are the trends.  The official unemployment rate has been falling.  Good news, yes?  Well, as it turns out, no.  Because the number of people not in the labor force has been rising during the decline in the unemployment rate.  Making the unemployment numbers questionable at best.  For you can’t have less unemployment if people continue to leave the workforce because they can’t get a job.  And the employment picture isn’t getting better.  It’s getting worse.  And it’s going to keep getting worse until those higher stages of production start hiring.  Which they won’t do until they see a real economic recovery.  And not a false one created with the smoke and mirrors of low interest rates.

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Bretton Woods, Nixon Shock, OPEC, Yom Kippur War, Oil Embargo, Stagflation, Paul Volcker, Ronald Reagan and Morning in America

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 1st, 2013

History 101

(Originally published September 18th, 2012)

Under the Bretton Woods System the Americans promised to Exchange their Gold for Dollars at $35 per Ounce

Wars are expensive.  All kinds.  The military kind.  As well as the social kind.  And the Sixties gave us a couple of doozies.  The Vietnam War.  And the War on Poverty.  Spending in Vietnam started in the Fifties.  But spending, as well as troop deployment, surged in the Sixties.  First under JFK.  Then under LBJ.  They added this military spending onto the Cold War spending.  Then LBJ declared a war on poverty.  And all of this spending was on top of NASA trying to put a man on the moon.  Which was yet another part of the Cold War.  To beat the Soviets to the moon after they beat us in orbit.

This was a lot of spending.  And it carried over into the Seventies.  Giving President Nixon a big problem.  As he also had a balance of payments deficit.  And a trade deficit.  Long story short Nixon was running out of money.  So they started printing it.  Which caused another problem as the US was still part of the Bretton Woods system.  A quasi gold standard.  Where the US pegged the dollar to gold at $35 per ounce.  Which meant when they started printing dollars the money supply grew greater than their gold supply.  And depreciated the dollar.  Which was a problem because under Bretton Woods the Americans promised to exchange their gold for dollars at $35 per ounce.

When other nations saw the dollar depreciate so that it would take more and more of them to buy an ounce of gold they simply preferred having the gold instead.  Something the Americans couldn’t depreciate.  Nations exchanged their dollars for gold.  And began to leave the Bretton Woods system.    Nixon had a choice to stop this gold outflow.  He could strengthen the dollar by reducing the money supply (i.e., stop printing dollars) and cut spending.  Or he could ‘close the gold window’ and decouple the dollar from gold.  Which is what he did on August 15, 1971.  And shocked the international financial markets.  Hence the name the Nixon Shock.

When the US supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War the Arab Oil Producers responded with an Oil Embargo

Without the restraint of gold preventing the printing of money the Keynesians were in hog heaven.  As they hated the gold standard.  The suspension of the convertibility of gold ushered in the heyday of Keynesian economics.  Even Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  The US had crossed the Rubicon.  Inflationary Keynesian policies were now in charge of the economy.  And they expanded the money supply.  Without restraint.  For there was nothing to fear.  No consequences.  Just robust economic activity.  Of course OPEC didn’t see it that way.

Part of the Bretton Woods system was that other nations used the dollar as a reserve currency.  Because it was as good as gold.  As our trading partners could exchange $35 for an ounce of gold.  Which is why we priced international assets in dollars.  Like oil.  Which is why OPEC had a problem with the Nixon Shock.  The dollars they got for their oil were rapidly becoming worth less than they once were.  Which greatly reduced what they could buy with those dollars.  The oil exporters were losing money with the American devaluation of the dollar.  So they raised the price of oil.  A lot.  Basically pricing it at the current value of gold in US dollars.  Meaning the more they depreciated the dollar the higher the price of oil went.  As well as gas prices.

With the initial expansion of the money supply there was short-term economic gain.  The boom.  But shortly behind this inflationary gain came higher prices.  And a collapse in economic activity.  The bust.  This was the dark side of Keynesian economics.  Higher prices that pushed economies into recessions.  And to make matters worse Americans were putting more of their depreciated dollars into the gas tank.  And the Keynesians said, “No problem.  We can fix this with some inflation.”  Which they tried to by expanding the money supply further.  Meanwhile, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, kicking off the Yom Kippur War.  And when the US supported their ally Israel the Arab oil producers responded with an oil embargo.  Reducing the amount of oil entering America, further raising prices.  And causing gas lines as gas stations ran out of gas.  (In part due to Nixon’s price controls that did not reset demand via higher prices to the reduced supply.  And a ceiling on domestic oil prices discouraged any domestic production.)  The Yom Kippur War ended about 20 days later.  Without a major change in borders.  With an Israeli agreement to pull their forces back to the east side of the Suez Canal the Arab oil producers (all but Libya) ended their oil embargo in March of 1974.

It was Morning in America thanks to the Abandonment of Keynesian Inflationary Policies

So oil flowed into the US again.  But the economy was still suffering from high unemployment.  Which the Keynesians fixed with some more inflation.  With another burst of monetary expansion starting around 1975.  To their surprise, though, unemployment did not fall.  It just raised prices.  Including oil prices.  Which increased gas prices.  The US was suffering from high unemployment and high inflation.  Which wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics.  Even their Phillips Curve had no place on its graph for this phenomenon.  The Keynesians were dumfounded.  And the American people suffered through the malaise of stagflation.  And if things weren’t bad enough the Iranians revolted and the Shah of Iran (and US ally) stepped down and left the country.  Disrupting their oil industry.  And then President Carter put a halt to Iranian oil imports.  Bringing on the 1979 oil crisis.

This crisis was similar to the previous one.  But not quite as bad.  As it was only Iranian oil being boycotted.  But there was some panic buying.  And some gas lines again.  But Carter did something else.  He began to deregulate oil prices over a period of time.  It wouldn’t help matters in 1979 but it did allow the price of crude oil to rise in the US.  Drawing the oil rigs back to the US.  Especially in Alaska.  Also, the Big Three began to make smaller, more fuel efficient cars.  These two events would combine with another event to bring down the price of oil.  And the gasoline we made from that oil.

Actually, there was something else President Carter did that would also affect the price of oil.  He appointed Paul Volcker Chairman of the Federal Reserve in August of 1979.  He was the anti-Keynesian.  He raised interest rates to contract the money supply and threw the country into a steep recession.  Which brought prices down.  Wringing out the damage of a decade’s worth of inflation.  When Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidency he kept Volcker as Chairman.  And suffered through a horrible 2-year recession.  But when they emerged it was Morning in America.  They had brought inflation under control.  Unemployment fell.  The economy rebounded thanks to Reagan’s tax cuts.  And the price of oil plummeted.  Thanks to the abandonment of Keynesian inflationary policies.  And the abandonment of oil regulation.  As well as the reduction in demand (due to those smaller and more fuel efficient cars).  Which created a surge in oil exploration and production that resulted in an oil glut in the Eighties.  Bringing the price oil down to almost what it was before the two oil shocks.

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Counterfeiting in the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War and World War II

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 24th, 2013

History 101

Governments often turn to Printing Money to Pay for War

It takes money to wage war.  A lot of it.  War spending is always a country’s greatest expenditure.  Because fighting wars is costly.  And the longer they last the more costly they become.  Pushing countries that are waging war to the brink of financial collapse.  Opening the door for another means of waging war.  Counterfeiting.

How do you wage war with counterfeiting?  By pushing a country’s economy into a financial collapse.  If you can’t defeat your enemy with bullets and bombs you destroy their ability to make bullets and bombs.  And everything else.  Including food.  And you do this by devaluing a country’s currency by flooding the money supply with counterfeit bills.  Increasing the money supply causes inflation by having more dollars available to buy the same amount of goods.  Requiring more and more dollars to buy those same goods.  Thus raising prices.

As people struggle with rising prices they buy less.  Because they lose purchasing power.  Businesses see their sales revenue fall.  As people have less disposable income to buy their goods.  With falling sales they lay off workers.  All of this causes a dramatic fall in tax revenue.  Just when they need more to pay the costs of waging war.  As well as providing relief for those no longer able to afford food and housing because they lost their jobs.  Which is why governments print money during wars.  As it is the only choice they have to pay for the high costs of a nation at war.

By the End of the American Civil War about Half of all Money in Circulation was Counterfeit

One of the problems the British had during the American Revolutionary War was that it turned into a world war.  The British were also fighting the French and the Spanish.  Their entering the conflict stretched the British resources thin.  So they turned to counterfeiting.  The Americans were already suffering a terrible inflation as the Continental Congress had little choice but to turn to printing money to pay for the war.  They printed so many continental dollars that people began to refuse to accept it in payment.  Making the continental dollar more and more worthless.  Hence the expression ‘not worth a continental’.  The British tried to push the American economy into collapse by adding to that currency devaluation.  It was so destructive to the American cause that General Washington hanged counterfeiters.

During the early years of the American Civil War the North was running through her gold reserves.  So Congress passed the Legal Tender Act (2/24/1862).  Authorizing the printing of paper money to pay for war.  Just like they did during the Revolutionary War.  A new national currency was a counterfeiter’s dream.  Instead of different banks issuing different banknotes across the country there was now only one.  Counterfeits were easy to pass as few could tell a real one from a fake one.  And with the Confederate dollar worthless even the Confederates wanted these new dollars.  To buy things the Confederate dollar no longer could.  The new counterfeits were even easier to pass in the South as there was no official currency trading hands there.  Counterfeiting was so bad (by the end of the Civil War about half of all the money in circulation was counterfeit) that the Lincoln administration created the Secret Service to combat it.

The Nazis tried to bomb Britain into submission during World War II.  Or at least to weaken it enough for a cross-channel invasion.  The only problem with their plan was that the British had the Supermarine Spitfire.  One of the greatest fighter planes of the war.  And some of the finest pilots ever to fly.  Who had an able assist from the new radar.  Allowing these few to defeat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.  And made the cross-channel invasion impossible.  It’s these few Winston Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” refer to.

Counterfeiting is a very Effective Way to Wage War while being Cheaper and Less Risky than Conventional War

The Nazis took a beating in the Battle of Britain.  So Hitler turned his war machine eastward.  And invaded the Soviet Union instead.  But he did not give up on Britain.  For Britain was a great thorn in Hitler’s side.  They were in the Mediterranean and North Africa.  And they were producing oil in Iran.  They had the shipping lanes.  As well as the United States as an ally.  Who was feeding food and war material to Britain.  And using that island nation to base their bombers out of.  As well as building up an invasion force there that would one day open up a second front in the West.  Enter Operation Bernhard.

Operation Bernhard was a Nazi plan to flood the British economy with counterfeit money.  To destabilize the British economy.  And push it into collapse.  They set up operations in concentration camps.  And were printing about 1 million counterfeit banknotes a month.  The Nazis then laundered the money.  And used it to buy the war material they needed.  The counterfeits were so good that they were still turning up in Britain a decade after the war.  Forcing the British to withdraw all notes (larger than £5) from circulation and replacing them with a more counterfeit-proof money.

The Nazis turned to the American dollar in 1945.  They set up printing presses in February.  But they cancelled their plans.  The war ended later that year.  Allowing the Americans to escape the economic damage the British suffered at the hands of the Nazi counterfeiting program.  But the idea lives on.  We see ‘superdollars’ (counterfeits so good that their quality is higher than the original) all over the world.  The U.S. suspects the source of these counterfeits are criminal gangs in Iran, Russia, China or Syria.  While suspecting the government of North Korea producing a share of these superdollars.  We don’t know for certain who is creating this counterfeit money but there is a lot of it out there.  Some may be doing it for financial gain.  While others may be doing it to damage the United States economically.  Whatever the reason the result is the same.  Resulting in the scourge of paper money.  Higher inflation.  Currency devaluation.  Higher prices.  And less economic activity.  Possibly even sending the economy into a deep recession.  Everything an enemy of the United States wants to do to the United States.  Making counterfeiting a very effective way to wage war while being cheaper and less risky than conventional war.

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The Fed keeps Printing Money and People keep Leaving the Labor Force

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 22nd, 2013

Week in Review

The Federal Reserve has failed to bring down the unemployment rate.  So the Fed will continue to devalue the dollar.  In their fervent Keynesian hope that it will actually do good.  While it continues to do a whole lot of bad (see STOCKS EXPLODE, RATES COLLAPSE AFTER FED SHOCKER: Here’s What You Need To Know by Sam Ro posted 9/18/2013 on Business Insider).

No taper. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) shocked the markets by announcing that it would continue its monthly purchases of $85 billion worth of Treasury Securities and mortgage bonds. Most economists were looking for a reduction, or tapering, of around $5 to $10 billion dollars…

Markets went nuts. The Dow and S&P 500 surged to new all-time highs. Interest rates collapsed, the dollar tanked, and gold surged.

During the press conference, Bernanke said that the tightening of monetary policy (i.e. raising the Fed’s benchmark rate) may not begin until the unemployment rate is considerably below 6.5%. He also said that an inflation rate floor could be a sensible modification to its forward guidance policy.

The only thing lowering the unemployment rate is people leaving the labor force.  The labor force participation rate is at record lows.  Which means more and more people who can’t find work have just given up trying.  And because they have the labor department doesn’t count them anymore as unemployed.  Which brings down the unemployment rate.

So for the Obama economic policies to lower the unemployment rate below 6.5% will require bringing the labor force participation rate lower still.  Because the Obama economy is not growing.  Obama’s policies, especially Obamacare, are the greatest job killers to ever come down the pike.  If the unemployment rate drops below 6.5% in this jobless ‘recovery’ we’ll have Great Depression unemployment.  Tens of millions of real people out of a job despite what the official unemployment rate says.

And you know it’s bad when “interest rates collapsed, the dollar tanked, and gold surged.”  They’re printing so much money ($85 billion each month) that massive inflationary pressures are building up in the pipeline.  There’s so much money out there that there is more than people (other than Wall Street investors) want to borrow.  Hence the low interest rates.  Because they’re printing so much money each dollar is worth less and less.  Which is why the dollar tanked.  Because the Fed is going to continue to devalue it.  And when inflationary pressures are building and are just waiting to explode people want to protect their assets with gold.  So when inflation explodes and our money becomes worthless gold will hold its value.  Why?  Because you can’t print gold.  That’s why Keynesian economists hate it.  It forces governments to be responsible.  Something anathema to a Keynesian.

The economy under the Obama policies is now just a train wreck waiting to happen.  And when it does the fallout will be Great Depression bad.  Because of Keynesian economics.  The worst and most destructive theories ever to be implemented by government.  In fact, everything wrong in government finances today can be traced to Keynesian policies.  Expanding the money supply to stimulate the economy has only made recessions worse.  And increasing government spending (to replace private spending during recessions) has burdened governments so much that they are flirting with bankruptcy throughout the world.  Even a city in the United States.  The City of Detroit.  A harbinger of what is to come.

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China’s Continuing Credit Expansion is Starting to Worry the IMF

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

As the U.S. fiscal year draws to a close the Republicans and Democrats are digging in their heels over the upcoming debt ceiling debate.  The Republicans want to cut spending and taxes to rein in out-of-control spending.  So they don’t have to keep borrowing money.  Running up the national debt.  The Democrats, on the other hand, say, “Who cares about the debt?  We’ll be dead and buried when the nation collapses under the weight of this mammoth debt load.  As long as we get what we want why should we care about future generations?”  At least, that’s what their actions say.

A lot of leading economists on the left, Keynesians economists, see no problem in running up the debt.  Print that money, they say.  Keep that expansion growing.  What could possibly go wrong?  Especially when the federal government has the power to print money?  Just look at what the Japanese did in the Eighties.  And what the Chinese are doing now (see As the West Faltered, China’s Growth Was Fueled by Debt by Christina Larson posted 9/12/2013 on Bloomberg Businessweek).

As demand for Chinese exports diminished in the wake of the financial meltdown, the Chinese economy kept humming at more than 9 percent annual gross domestic product growth each year from 2008 to 2011. The trick? “A huge monetary expansion and lending boom,” says Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management and a former professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing. With bank lending restrictions loosened in late 2008, “Total debt accelerated from 148 percent to 205 percent of GDP over 2008-12,” according to a May 2013 report from research firm CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. When Beijing tried to rein in the banks beginning in late 2010, shadow banking—lending outside the formal sector—exploded. Today “China is addicted to debt to fuel growth,” according to the CLSA report, with the economy hampered by “high debt and huge excess capacity with only 60 percent utilization.”

The Beijing-based firm J. Capital Research dubbed 2012 the “Year of the (White) Elephant” in a report detailing some of China’s questionable infrastructure build-out. To take one example, 70 percent of the country’s airports lose money, yet more are being built in small and remote cities. At the shiny new Karamay Airport in far western Xinjiang province, there are four check-in counters serving two flights daily. Local governments have splurged on “new towns” and “special zones,” many of which have already fallen into disrepair. The $5 million Changchun Zhenzhuxi Park, intended as a scenic area, is now a large public garbage dump, as the local landscaping bureau never agreed to provide maintenance. Near the southern city of Hangzhou, a forlorn replica of the Eiffel Tower overlooks a faux Paris—the ersatz arrondissement attracted hardly any residents, and local media have dubbed it a ghost town.

“In China, you often hear people say they’re building for the future,” explains Chovanec. “But if you build something and it’s empty for 20 years, does that make any sense? By that point, it may already be falling apart.”

The classic Keynesian argument for economic stimulus is the one about paying people to dig a ditch.  Then paying them to fill in the ditch they just dug.  The ditch itself having no economic value.  But the people digging it and filling it in do.  For they will take their earnings and spend it in the economy.  But the fallacy of this argument is that money given to the ditch-diggers and the fillers-in could have been spent on something else that does have economic value.  Money that was pulled out of the private sector economy via taxation.  Or money that was borrowed adding to the national debt.  And increasing the interest expense of the nation.  Which negates any stimulus.

If that money was invested to expand a business that was struggling to keep up with demand that money would have created a return on investment.  That would last long after the people who built the expansion spent their wages.  This is why Keynesian stimulus doesn’t work.  It is at best temporary.  While the long-term costs are not.  It’s like getting a 30-year loan to by a new car.  If you finance $35,000 over 5 years at a 4.5% annual interest rate your car payment will be $652.51 and the total interest you’ll pay will be $4,018.95.  That’s $39,018.95 ($35,000 + 4,018.95) of other stuff you won’t be able to buy because of buying this car.  If you extend that loan to 30 years your car payment will fall to $177.34.  But you will be paying that for 30 years.  Perhaps 20-25 years longer than you will actually use that car.  Worse, the total interest expense will be $23,620.24 over those 30 years.  That’s $58,620.24 ($35,000 + 23,620.24) of stuff you won’t be able to buy because of buying this car.  Increasing the total cost of that car by 50.2%.

This is why Keynesian stimulus does not work.  Building stuff just to build stuff even when that stuff isn’t needed will have long-term costs beyond any stimulus it provides.  And when you have a “high debt and huge excess capacity with only 60 percent utilization” bad things will be coming (see IMF WARNS: China Is Taking Ever Greater Risks And Putting The Financial System In Danger by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph, posted 9/13/2013 on Business Insider).

The International Monetary Fund has warned that China is taking ever greater risks as surging credit endangers the financial system, and called for far-reaching reforms to wean the economy off excess investment…

The country has relied on loan growth to keep the economy firing on all cylinders but the law of diminishing returns has set in, with the each yuan of extra debt yielding just 0.20 yuan of economic growth, compared with 0.85 five years ago. Credit of all types has risen from $9 trillion to $23 trillion in five years, pushing the total to 200pc of GDP, much higher than in emerging market peers…

China’s investment rate is the world’s highest at almost 50pc of GDP, an effect largely caused by the structure of the state behemoths that gobble up credit. This has led to massive over-capacity and wastage.

“Existing distortions direct the flow of credit toward local governments and state-owned enterprises rather to households, perpetuating high investment, misallocation of resources, and low private consumption. A broad package of reforms is needed,” said the IMF.

Just like the miracle of Japan Inc. couldn’t last neither will China Inc. last.  Japan Inc. put Japan into a deflationary spiral in the Nineties that hasn’t quite yet ended.  Chances are that China’s deflationary spiral will be worse.  Which is what happens after every Keynesian credit expansion.  And the greater the credit expansion the more painful the contraction.  And with half of all Chinese spending being government spending financed by printing money the Chinese contraction promises to be a spectacular one.  And with them being a primary holder of US treasury debt their problems will ricochet through the world economy.  Hence the IMF warning.

Bad things are coming thanks to Keynesian economics.  Governments should have learned by now.  As Keynesian economics turned a recession into the Great Depression.  It gave us stagflation and misery in the Seventies.  It gave the Japanese their Lost Decade (though that decade actually was closer 2-3 decades).  It caused Greece’s economic collapse.  The Eurozone crisis.  And gave the U.S. record deficits and debt under President Obama.

The history is replete with examples of Keynesian failures.  But governments refuse to learn these lessons of history.  Why?  Because Keynesian economics empowers the growth of Big Government.  Something free market capitalism just won’t do.  Which is why communists (China), socialists (the European social democracies) and liberal Democrats (in the United States) all embrace Keynesian economics and relentlessly attack free market capitalism as corrupt and unfair.  Despite people enjoying the greatest liberty and economic prosperity under free market capitalism (Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.).  While suffering the most oppression and poverty under communism and socialism (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the communist countries behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the People’s Republic of China under Mao, North Korea, Cuba, etc.).

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FT185: “When it comes to foreign policy the Republicans do what is best for the country while Democrats do what is best for their party.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 30th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Wherever the Soviets pushed the Americans pushed back to Contain the Expansion of Communism

Once upon a time Democrats were practically warmongers.  Woodrow Wilson got us into World War I.  FDR got us into World War II.  Harry Truman got us into the Korean War.  And LBJ got us into the Vietnam War.  While Republicans were nearly pacifists.  Dwight Eisenhower got us out of the Korean War.  And Richard Nixon got us out of the Vietnam War.

Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.  Saw the carnage of war up close.  And was glad when it was over.  Unlike General Patton.  Who wanted to invade the Soviet Union.  Because he knew we would have to fight them sooner or later.  And rather do it then when they had the most awesome military force in the world still in Europe.  General Patton lost command of Third Army because of talk like that.  And later would die from injuries he got in a freak car accident.

It didn’t take long following the end of World War II for the Soviets to become the new big bad in town.  Just like General Patton foresaw.  Truman stood up to them in Berlin.  Greece.  Turkey.  Iran.  And Korea.  Wherever they pushed the Americans tried to hold the line.  To contain the expansion of communism.  It was the Cold War.  And it first got hot in Korea.  But the UN forces held the line in Korea.  After three years of war.  About as long as America spent fighting in Europe during World War II.

JFK’s refusal to commit American Military Power during the Bay of Pigs Invasion led to the Cuban Missile Crisis

Communism was a thorn in the side of democracy.  The democratic West believed in peace through strength.  With the occasional war breaking the peace.  While the communist East believed in a perpetual state of war with the occasional peace breaking that war.  The communists sought to expand through violent revolution.  If you contained it early (like in the Berlin Airlift) you could avoid a shooting war.  And keep it cold.  But if they got a foothold you could find yourself mired in a hot and prolonged war.  Like in Korea.

When Fidel Castro turned Cuba communist it was not a good thing for the United States.  For all their efforts to contain communism throughout the world here they were.  On Cuba.  Within missile range of the United States.  And Castro was cozying up to the Soviets.  Which is why President Eisenhower gave the green light for the CIA to remove Castro from power.  To remove a threat so close to the United States.  The plan was the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Which proceeded under the following administration.  JFK’s.

The invasion, though, did not go well.  And unlike in the Guatemalan coup d’état, JFK did not commit American military power to help the invaders (unlike Eisenhower did in the Guatemalan coup).  Who were soon pushed back.  And defeated.  Which breathed new life in Cuba’s communist revolution.  Brought them more into the Soviet sphere.  And encouraged the Soviets to test this young president.  Which they did.  By sending nuclear missiles to Cuba.  Leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  And near nuclear war (Castro’s right hand man, Che Guevara, was angry with the Soviets because they refused to nuke the United States during the crisis).  While the Cuban people suffered under their communist oppressors.  And still do.

Today Iran—and Radical Islam—is the Thorn in the Side of Democracy that Communism once Was

Truman was the last Democrat warrior president.  LBJ got us into Vietnam.  But he also gave us the Great Society.  Turning the nation towards a welfare state.  A very costly welfare state.  Which the great costs of the Vietnam War threatened.  The government, much like they did during the Revolutionary War, began printing money to pay for all of this spending.  Devaluing a dollar pegged to gold.  With nations concerned with this devaluation they traded their dollars for gold.  Which is what is supposed to happen under a gold standard.  So nations don’t devalue their currencies.  But printing money is easier than cutting spending.  So President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  So they could really print it.  Giving us the inflationary Seventies.

Since then Democrat presidents have done two things.  Expanded the welfare state.  And demonized their political opponents.  Which extended to their foreign policy.  President Carter cut back on defense spending.  And tried to make friends with our archenemy.  The Soviet Union.  A president the Soviets had little respect for.  Even considering a nuclear first-strike policy as they didn’t think Carter would ever launch his nuclear weapons.  And then President Carter criticized American ally, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, for his human rights violation.  There was revolutionary fervor in the air.  The Shah implored for help from their long-time friend and ally.  The United States.  Who assured the Shah that the Americans would intervene militarily on his behalf.  But didn’t.  The Iranian Revolution followed.  And Iran became America’s new archenemy.

Iranian oil won World War II.  It fed the Red Army.  Iran served as a portal into the Soviet Union.  War material as well as oil flowed through Iran and into the Soviet Union.  After the war the Soviets didn’t want to leave Iran.  Give up that oil.  Or a warm-weather port on the Indian Ocean.  But the British and the Americans helped the Iranians keep the Soviets at bay.  Their actions included a coup.  And some human rights violations.  To keep what happened in Eastern Europe following World War II from happening in Iran.  Iran prospered.  And Westernized.  It was becoming everything the American left loved.  Secular.  It was becoming more like America.  Where men and women enjoyed doing things they could enjoy in New York City.  Which angered the Islamists.

Today Iran—and radical Islam—is the thorn in the side of democracy that communism once was.  And unlike their Cold War warrior forefathers, today’s Democrats choose party over country.  Basing their foreign policy on expanding the welfare state.  Or demonizing their political opponents.  President Clinton treated al Qaeda’s increasing acts of hostility against Western/American interests as a legal issue.  Which grew bolder until they culminated in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Clinton did this so he wouldn’t waste money on defense by risking war to protect America.  Or anger his liberal base.  After 9/11, George W. Bush fought back.

The Democrats have demonized George W. Bush as a rich oil man who traded blood for oil.  While at the same time they said he was purposely causing oil shortages to raise the price of oil.  When an opportunity came to overthrow America’s new archenemy, Iran, President Obama did nothing to support the Green Revolution in Iran following questionable election results that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.  An intervention that would have been in the best interests of both America and the Iranian people.  But when the Arab Spring blew through Egypt he was quick to tell our friend and ally, Hosni Mubarak, that he had to go.  Turning Egypt over to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.  But when civil war came to Syria he chose to do nothing.  Until now (to save face from his ‘red line’ comment about chemical weapons?).  When the opposition has most probably been infiltrated by al Qaeda.

What is the constant in these Democrat foreign policy decisions?  They are the opposite of what the Republicans would have done.  So they couldn’t have done them.  For it would have vindicated George W. Bush.  Angered their liberal base.  And made the world a safer place.

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Currencies, Exchange Rates and the Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2013

Economics 101

Money is a Temporary Storage of Value that has no Intrinsic Value

Giant container ships ply the world’s oceans bringing us a lot of neat stuff.  Big televisions.  Smartphones.  Laptop computers.  Tablet computers.  The hardware for our cable and satellite TVs.  Toasters.  Toaster ovens.  Mixers and blenders.  And everything else we have in our homes and in our lives.  Things that make our lives better.  And make it more enjoyable.  These things have value.  We give them value.  Some have more value to one than another.  But these are things that have value to us.  And because they have value to us they have value to the people that made them.  Who used their human capital to create things that other people wanted.  And would trade for them.

When we first started trading we bartered with others.  Trading things for other things.  But as the economy grew more complex it took a lot of time to find someone who had what you wanted AND you had what they wanted.  So we developed money.  A temporary storage of value.  So we could trade the valuable things we created for money.  That money held the value of what we created temporarily while we looked for something that we wanted.  Then we exchanged the money we got earlier for something someone had.  It was just like trading our thing for someone else’s thing.  Only instead of spending weeks, months even years meeting hundreds of thousands of people trying to find that perfect match we only needed to meet two people.  One that exchanges money for the thing we have that they want.  And another who has what we want that they will exchange for our money.  Then that person would do the same with the money they got from us.  As did everyone else who brought things to market.  And those who came to market with money to buy what others brought.

Money is a temporary storage of value.  Money itself doesn’t have any intrinsic value.  Consider that container ship full of those wonderful items.  Now, which would you rather have as permanent fixtures in your house?  Those wonderful things?  Or boxes of money that just sit in your house?  You’d want the wonderful things.  And if you had a box of money you would exchange it (i.e., go out shopping) for those wonderful things.  Because boxes of money aren’t any fun.  It’s what you can exchange that money for that can be a lot of fun.

Devaluing your Currency boosts Exports by making those Goods less Expensive to the Outside World

So there is a lot of value on one of those container ships.  Let’s take all of that value out of the ship and place it on a balancing scale.  Figuratively, of course.  Now the owner of that stuff wants to trade it for other stuff.  But how much value does this stuff really have?  Well, let’s assume the owner is willing to exchange it all for one metric ton of gold.  Because gold is pretty valuable, too.  People will trade other things for gold.  So if we put 1 metric ton of gold on the other side of the balancing scale (figuratively, of course) the scale will balance.  Because to the owner all of that stuff and one metric ton has the same value.  Of course moving a metric ton of gold is not easy.  And it’s very risky.  So, instead of gold what else can we put on that scale?  Well, we can move dollars electronically via computer networks.  That would be a lot easier than moving gold.  So let’s put dollars on the other side of that scale.  Figuratively, of course.  How many will we need?  Well, today gold is worth approximately $1,380/troy ounce.  So after some dimensional analysis we can convert that metric ton into 32,150 troy ounces.  And at $1,380/troy ounce that metric ton of gold comes to approximately $44.4 million.  So that container ship full of wonderful stuff will balance on a scale with $44.4 million on the other side.  Or 1 metric ton of gold.  In the eyes of the owner they all have the same value.

Moving money electronically is the easiest and quickest manner of exchanging money for ships full of goods.  These ships go to many countries.  And not all of them use American dollars.  But we can calculate what amounts of foreign currency will balance the value of that ship.  Or one metric ton of gold.  By using foreign exchange rates.  Which tell us the value of one currency in another currency.  Something that comes in pretty handy.  For when, say, an American manufacturer sells their goods they want American dollars.  Not British pounds.  Danish kroner.  Or Russian rubles.  For American manufacturers are in the United States of America.  They buy their materials in American dollars.  They pay their employees in American dollars.  Who pay their bills in American dollars.  Go shopping with American dollars.  Etc.  For everyday American transactions the British pound, for example, would be un-useable.  What these American manufacturers want, then, are American dollars.  So before a foreigner can buy these American exports they must first exchange their foreign currencies for American dollars.  We can get an idea of this by considering that container ship full of valuable stuff.  By showing what it would cost other nations.  The following table shows a sampling of foreign exchange rates and the exchanged foreign currency for that $44.4 million.

foreign currencies and exchange rates

If we take the US dollars and the Exchanged Currency for each row and place them on either side of a balancing scale the scale will balance.  Figuratively, of course.  Meaning these currencies have the same value.  And we can exchange either side of that scale for that container ship full of valuable stuff.  Or for that metric ton of gold.  Why are there such large differences in some of these exchange rates?  Primarily because of a nation’s monetary policy.  Many nations manipulate their currency for various reasons.  Some nations give their people a lot of government benefits they pay for by printing money.  Which devalues their currency.  Some nations purposely devalue their currency to boost their export sector.  As the more currency you get in exchange for your currency the more of these exports you can buy.  Most of China’s great economic growth came from their export sector.  Which they helped along by devaluing their currency.  This boosted exports by making those goods less expensive to the outside world.  But the weakened yuan made domestic goods more expensive.  Because it took more of them to buy the same things they once did.  Raising the cost of living for the ordinary Chinese.

The Gold Standard made Free Trade Fair Trade

Some economists, Keynesians, approve of printing a lot of money to lower interest rates.  And for the government to spend.  They think this will increase economic activity.  Well, keeping interest rates artificially low will encourage more people to buy homes.  But because they are devaluing the currency to keep those interest rates artificially low housing prices rise.  Because when you devalue your currency you cause price inflation.  But it’s just not house prices that rise.  Prices throughout the economy rise.  The greater the inflation rate (i.e., the rate at which you increase the money supply) the higher prices rise.  And the less your money will buy.  While the currencies at the top of this table will have exchange rates that don’t vary much those at the bottom of the table may.  Especially countries that like to print money.  Like Argentina.  Where the inflation is so bad at times that Argentineans try to exchange their currency for foreign currencies that hold their value longer.  Or try to spend their Argentine pesos as quickly as possible.  Buying things that will hold their value longer than the Argentine peso.

Because printing fiat money is easy a lot of nations print it.  A lot of it.  People living in these countries are stuck with a rapidly depreciating currency.  But international traders aren’t.  If a country prints so much money that their exchange rate changes every few minutes international traders aren’t going to want their currency.  Because a country can’t do much with a foreign currency other than buy exports with it from that country.  A sum of highly depreciated foreign currency won’t buy as much this hour as it did last hour.  Which forces an international trader to quickly spend this money before it loses too much of its value.  (Some nations will basically barter.  They will exchange their exports for another country’s exports based on the current exchange rate.  So that they don’t hold onto the devalued foreign currency at all.)  But if the currency is just too volatile they may demand another currency instead.  Like the British pound, the euro or the American dollar.  Because these stronger currencies will hold their value longer.  So they’ll buy this hour what they bought last hour.  Or yesterday.  Or last week.  There is less risk holding on to these stronger currencies because Britain, the European Central Bank and the United States aren’t printing as much of their money as these nations with highly devalued currencies are printing of theirs.

This is the advantage of gold.  Countries can’t print gold.  It takes an enormous expense to bring new gold to the world’s gold supply.  It’s not easy.  So the value of the gold is very stable.  While some nations may devalue their currencies they can’t devalue gold.  A nation printing too much money may suffer from hyperinflation.  Reducing their exchange rate close to zero.  And when you divide by a number approaching zero the resulting amount of currency required for the exchange approaches infinity.  Weimar Germany suffered hyperinflation.  It was so bad that it took so much money to buy firewood that it was easier and less expensive to burn the currency instead.  This is the danger of a government having the ability to print money at will.  But if that same country can come up with a metric ton of gold that person with the container ship full of wonderful stuff would gladly trade it for that gold.  Even though that person will not trade it for that country’s currency.  This was the basis of the gold standard in international trade.  When nations backed their currencies with gold.  And kept them exchangeable for gold.  Forcing nations to maintain stable currencies.  By maintaining an official exchange rate between their currency and gold.  If that nation devalued its currency the market exchange rate will start to move away from the official exchange rate.  For example, say the official rate was $40/troy ounce.  But because they printed so much of their currency they devalued it to where it took $80 to buy a troy ounce on the open market.  So a nation could take $80 dollars of that devalued currency and exchange it for 2 troy ounces of gold from that nation.  The official exchange rate forcing the nation to give away 2 troy ounces of gold for $80 when the real market exchange rate would only have given them 1 troy ounce.  So devaluing your currency would cause gold to flow out of your country.  And the only way to stop it would be to decrease the size of your money supply.  Undoing the previous inflation.  To bring the market exchange rate back to the official exchange rate.  Which is why the gold standard worked so well for international trade.  Nations could not manipulate their currency to get a trade advantage over another nation.  Making free trade fair trade.  Something few say today.  Thanks to currency manipulators like China.

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