Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Bond Trap

The American financial establishment has an incredible ability to celebrate the inconsequential while ignoring the vital. Last week, while the Wall Street Journal pondered how the Fed may set interest rates three to four years in the future (an exercise that David Stockman rightly compared to debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin), the media almost completely ignored one of the most chilling pieces of financial news that I have ever seen. According to a small story in the Financial Times, some Fed officials would like to require retail owners of bond mutual funds to pay an "exit fee" to liquidate their positions. Come again? That such a policy would even be considered tells us much about the current fragility of our bond market and the collective insanity of layers of unnecessary regulation.
Recently Federal Reserve Governor Jeremy Stein commented on what has become obvious to many investors: the bond market has become too large and too illiquid, exposing the market to crisis and seizure if a large portion of investors decide to sell at the same time. Such an event occurred back in 2008 when the money market funds briefly fell below par and "broke the buck." To prevent such a possibility in the larger bond market, the Fed wants to slow any potential panic selling by constructing a barrier to exit. Since it would be outrageous and unconstitutional to pass a law banning sales (although in this day and age anything may be possible) an exit fee could provide the brakes the Fed is looking for. Fortunately, the rules governing securities transactions are not imposed by the Fed, but are the prerogative of the SEC. (But if you are like me, that fact offers little in the way of relief.) How did it come to this?

For the past six years it has been the policy of the Federal Reserve to push down interest rates to record low levels. In has done so effectively on the "short end of the curve" by setting the Fed Funds rate at zero since 2008. The resulting lack of yield in short term debt has encouraged more investors to buy riskier long-term debt. This has created a bull market in long bonds. The Fed's QE purchases have extended the run beyond what even most bond bulls had anticipated, making "risk-free" long-term debt far too attractive for far too long. As a result, mutual fund holdings of long term government and corporate debt have swelled to more $7 trillion as of the end of 2013, a whopping 109% increase from 2008 levels.

Compounding the problem is that many of these funds are leveraged, meaning they have borrowed on the short-end to buy on the long end. This has artificially goosed yields in an otherwise low-rate environment. But that means when liquidations occur, leveraged funds will have to sell even more long-term bonds to raise cash than the dollar amount of the liquidations being requested.

But now that Fed policies have herded investors out on the long end of the curve, they want to take steps to make sure they don't come scurrying back to safety. They hope to construct the bond equivalent of a roach motel, where investors check in but they don't check out. How high the exit fee would need to be is open to speculation. But clearly, it would have to be high enough to be effective, and would have to increase with the desire of the owners to sell. If everyone panicked at once, it's possible that the fee would have to be utterly prohibitive.

As we reach the point where the Fed is supposed to wind down its monthly bond purchases and begin trimming the size of its balance sheet, the talk of an exit fee is an admission that the market could turn very ugly if the Fed were to no longer provide limitless liquidity. (See my prior commentaries on this, including May 2014's Too Big To Pop)

Irrespective of the rule's callous disregard for property rights and contracts (investors did not agree to an exit fee when they bought the bond funds), the implementation of the rule would illustrate how bad government regulation can build on itself to create a pile of counterproductive incentives leading to possible market chaos.

In this case, the problems started back in the 1930s when the Roosevelt Administration created the FDIC to provide federal insurance to bank deposits. Prior to this, consumers had to pay attention to a bank's reputation, and decide for themselves if an institution was worthy of their money. The free market system worked surprisingly well in banking, and could even work better today based on the power of the internet to spread information. But the FDIC insurance has transferred the risk of bank deposits from bank customers to taxpayers. The vast majority of bank depositors now have little regard for what banks actually do with their money. This moral hazard partially set the stage for the financial catastrophe of 2008 and led to the current era of "too big to fail."

In an attempt to reduce the risks that the banking system imposed on taxpayers, the Dodd/Frank legislation passed in the aftermath of the crisis made it much more difficult for banks and other large institutions to trade bonds actively for their own accounts. This is a big reason why the bond market is much less liquid now than it had been in the past. But the lack of liquidity exposes the swollen market to seizure and failure when things get rough. This has led to calls for a third level of regulation (exit fees) to correct the distortions created by the first two. The cycle is likely to continue.

The most disappointing thing is not that the Fed would be in favor of such an exit fee, but that the financial media and the investing public would be so sanguine about it. If the authorities consider an exit fee on bond funds, why not equity funds, or even individual equities? Once that Rubicon is crossed, there is really no turning back. I believe it to be very revealing that when asked about the exit fees at her press conference last week, Janet Yellen offered no comment other than a professed unawareness that the policy had been discussed at the Fed, and that such matters were the purview of the SEC. The answer seemed to be too canned to offer much comfort. A forceful rejection would have been appreciated.

But the Fed's policy appears to be to pump up asset prices and to keep them high no matter what. This does little for the actual economy but it makes their co-conspirators on Wall Street very happy. After all, what motel owner would oppose rules that prevent guests from leaving? The sad fact is that if investors hold a bond long enough to be exposed to a potential exit fee, then the fee may prove to be the least of their problems.

- Source, Peter Schiff

Monday, August 18, 2014

Freedom Fest 2014 "The Real Crash"


Peter Schiff talks about his book, "The Real Crash," in which he argues that the U.S. is heading for an economic collapse that will dwarf what happened in 2008. Mr. Schiff spoke at FreedomFest, held at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Draghi Hits Savers To Salvage Faux Recovery

On June 5th, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), announced a package of measures, including a policy of negative interest rates, aimed at encouraging or even forcing Eurozone banks to increase their lending to businesses.Although previously imposed by Swiss banks on their depositors, this will be the first time that a central bank has charged negative interest rates. The package also contained a reduction in Base Rate, a further major new Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO), a reaffirmation of 'Forward Guidance' to indicate low interest rates for the foreseeable future, and hints that the ECB might in future engage in Bernanke-style Quantitative Easing (QE).

Taken together, the total package is manna from heaven, or money for nothing, for the neo-Keynesians now holding power in most Eurozone governments. However, to Austrian School economists, it amounts to a political acceptance by Germany of a further postponement of the price of economic reality. It raises the eventual price to be paid in future for the illusion of economic growth today. In the meantime, the package likely will discourage savings, while perhaps encouraging imprudent lending, mal-investment, an asset price boom and currency distortions due to a carry trade based on low cost euros.

Stock markets rose strongly on Draghi's news. Amazingly, the 2.58 percent yield on 10-year Spanish government bonds fell below that of 10-year U.S. Treasuries. Given the continued structural problems that plague the Spanish economy, this fact indicates persistent delusions in markets.

It is hoped that charging a negative interest rate of 0.10 percent on bank deposits with the ECB will encourage banks to lend their excess deposits to other banks (in the interbank market) or to lend to corporate or retail borrowers. It is a desperate measure to force banks to take more risks. One of the unforeseen results may be the further development of the so-called "carry trade."

Given the relatively low cost of borrowing euros vis-à-vis other currencies, many investors could be tempted to borrow euros to purchase higher yielding currency (either for an interest rate spread or to use the newly raised funds to invest in the host country). For example, an investor may borrow euros, exchange them for British Pounds and invest the proceeds in the London property market, inflating further what the Bank of England has warned is a dangerous property bubble. In addition, upwards pressure is exerted on Sterling rendering British exports less price competitive. Of course, this suits Eurozone members such as Germany.

Although Draghi's decision to drop the interest rates on the ECB's massive 400 billion euros Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO)has received less publicity, its impact may be just as great. The lower LTRO rate may encourage further risky lending and dubious investment. In the short-term such lending will conceal current bad loans, boost speculation and financial markets. The future costs of default likely will be socialized. But, by then, it is to be hoped that those bankers and politicians responsible will have been promoted or moved on!

In addition, the continuation of ultra low interest rates, under QE, will erode savings further and even discourage the ethos of saving in favor of current spending. The discouragement of saving in favor of current synthetic growth appears to be politically deceptive and deeply destructive of a healthy economy.

Furthermore, some would argue that, with bond markets at record highs, most banks are at far greater risk than appears at first sight. Already, Eurozone banks are far more highly leveraged than their American counterparts. As such, they are especially vulnerable to a dramatic rise in interest rates and a collapse in government bond prices.

Mario Draghi is acknowledged widely for his PR ability. However, more prudent observers see him more as a conjuror. While his policies have not attracted as many headlines as the Federal Reserve's Quantitative Easing program, the full roster of the ECB's liquidity injectors is perhaps more injurious to economic growth. Draghi has joined and even exceeded the central bank 'monopoly money' policies of the United States, Great Britain and Japan.

It's a shame. The ECB could have been a beacon of sanity in an otherwise insane world.

- Source, Peter Schiff

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The More US Spies on the World the Quicker the Dollar Loses Power


Germany is again having to deal with revelations that the US has been spying on it. A German intelligence agent was allegedly sending hundreds of top secret documents straight to Washington. Peter Schiff, President of investment group Euro Pacific Capital, joins RT to discuss this issue.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Irwin Schiff's motion to the Supreme Court

My father makes a powerful case that the IRS has been collecting the income tax in violation of law, multiple Supreme Court decisions, and the U.S. Constitution. At the very least his efforts provide compelling evidence of the sincerity with which he holds his beliefs and that his conduct was in no way criminal. My father is 86, practically blind, in failing health, yet is still fighting for a cause he wholeheartedly believes in. He is proceeding without a lawyer and despite his physical limitations and the limited computer access provided in federal prisons, he still managed to put this comprehensive motion together. Read it yourself and share it with as many people as you can. My father would appreciate your assistance in making sure that his message is heard. Even if the courts ignore it, let's try and make sure that the American people do not. Thanks for your help.

- Source, Peter Schiff

Friday, August 8, 2014

Is This What A Bursting Bubble Looks Like?


Peter Schiff discusses what's next for stocks and the bubble that has formed in the general stock market. Is it a Boom or a Bubble?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Debt is No Salvation

Thus far 2014 has been a fertile year for really stupid economic ideas. But of all the half-baked doozies that have come down the pike (the perils of "lowflation," Thomas Piketty's claims about capitalism creating poverty, and President Obama's "pay as you earn" solution to student debt), an idea hatched last week by CNBC's reliably ridiculous Steve Liesman may in fact take the cake. In diagnosing the causes of the continued malaise in the U.S. economy he explained, "the problem is that consumers are not taking on enough debt." And that "historically the U.S. economy has been built on consumer credit." His conclusion: Consumers must be encouraged to borrow more money and spend it. Given that Liesman is CNBC's senior economic reporter, I would hate to see the ideas the junior people come up with.

Before I get into the historical amnesia needed to make such a statement, we first have to confront the question of causation. Just as most economists believe that falling prices cause recession, rather than the other way around, Liesman believes that economic growth is created when people tap into society's savings in order to buy consumer goods that they could not otherwise afford. But consumption does not create growth. Increasing productive output allows for greater consumption. Something needs to be produced before it can be consumed.

But even allowing for this misunderstanding, consumer credit does little to increase consumption. All it accomplishes is to pull forward future consumption into the present (while generating a fee for the banker). This is like giving yourself a blood transfusion from your left arm to your right. Nothing is accomplished, except the possibility of spilling blood on the floor. But it's not even that benign.
If, for instance, a consumer borrows to take a vacation, the debt will have to be repaid, with interest, from future earnings. This just means that rather than saving now (under-consuming) to pay in cash (which under normal circumstances would earn interest and defray the cost) for a vacation in the future, the consumer borrows to vacation now and pays for it in the future. But shifting consumption forward can only create the illusion of growth.

Unlike business credit that can be self-liquidating (businesses borrow to invest, thereby expanding capacity, increasing revenue, and gaining a better ability to repay the loan out of increased earnings), consumer credit does nothing to help borrowers repay. Why would a consumer expect it to be easier to pay for a vacation in the future that he can't afford in the present? Especially when he is using credit to pay, which will add interest costs to the final bill. As a result, consumer loans diminish future consumption more than current consumption is increased.

In fact, borrowing to consume is the worst use of society's limited store of savings. As explained in my book, How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes, savings leads to capital formation and investment, which grows productive capacity. When production grows, goods and services become more plentiful and affordable, thereby raising living standards. Consumer credit interferes with this process. Funds borrowed for consumption are not available for more productive uses. Since consumer credit reduces investment, it also reduces future production, which must also reduce future consumption.

Liesman is also mistaken that consumer credit has been the historic foundation of growth in the United States. It may surprise him to know that consumer credit was largely unknown until the second half of the 20th Century. Before that, people simply did not, or could not, buy things on credit. They tended to pay in cash (even for cars) or with the now quaint system of lay-a-way (which is essentially the opposite of consumer credit). Credit cards did not become ubiquitous until the 1970s. It was also much more common for Americans to save money for an uncertain future, the "rainy day," that we were always being warned about. But savings rates now are only a fraction of where they had been for most of our history. Consumers now expect to borrow their way out of any crisis. Yet the American economy enjoyed some of its best years before consumer credit ever became an option.

What Liesman is really advocating is that consumers borrow money to buy things they cannot afford. What kind of economic advice is that? Especially now that one third of Americans have less than $1,000 saved for retirement; a statistic so shocking that even CNBC recently cited it as a cause for concern. Does he really think that these savings-short Americans should take on even more consumer debt? Does creating a nation of bankrupt seniors who are too broke to retire ever create a more prosperous society?

Contrary to Liesman's asinine contention, it's not consumer credit that built the U.S. economy but its opposite - savings! Under-consumption not excess-consumption is what made America great. By saving instead of spending, consumers provided society with the means to increase investment and production that led to rising living standards for all. Unfortunately, it's consumer credit that is helping to destroy what savings once built.

- Source, Peter Schiff

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Peter Schiff New Hampshire Liberty Forum Full Presentation


Unfortunately just like 1976, a true economic recovery is not just around the corner. More likely we are in the eye of an economic storm that will blow much.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Casey Research interviews Peter Schiff


Casey Research chairman Doug Casey interviews financial pundit and author Peter Schiff. Their conversation covers a range of issues: gold, the validity of th.

For the latest Peter Schiff, go to - Peter Schiff interviewed an Anarchist on his show, Stefan Molyneux. In this interview, Peter .

The Bubble is a feature length documentary that ask those who predicted the greatest recession since the Great Depression.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mark Dow vs. Peter Schiff on Gold, Inflation, Fed


Peter Schiff is questioned on CNBC about his stance in regards to the FED. Peter Schiff still believes that the FED can't end QE. He believes that the FED's assessment of the US economy is completely wrong.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peter Schiff on US Economy & Lacy Hunt on Ineffectiveness of Monetary Policy


As the World Cup begins, the Brazilian economy is in need of a boost. Growth has been decelerating for a couple of years now. While the economy was growing at 7.5 percent in 2010, growth was down to a meager 2.3 percent last year. Edward takes a look at how the Cup might affect the Brazilian economy.

Then, we bring you part two of our interview with Peter Schiff who discusses the current state of the US economy. Schiff talks about debt, inflation, and Federal Reserve policy. After the break, Erin brings you her conversation with Dr. Lacy Hunt who believes that monetary policy is not effective with such high levels of debt in our economy.

For today's Big Deal, Edward Harrison sits down with Breaking the Set producer Manny Rapalo to talk about the World Cup, Brazil, and international soccer.

- Source, Russia Today

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How Clueless Can People Be? Now We Know!


Peter Schiff talks about the dumbing down of Americans and how kids going to college these days is a waste of money. He breaks down how government is making student loans more expensive.

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