Consumers

Size Is Not Always Everything…Economically Speaking

The UK is one giant PONZI scheme….STERLING WILL RE-TEST £/$ 1.08….ITS HISTORIC LOW.

I have been considering this post for a long while. I have written on many occasions how the political leaders of this once great nation have systematically, over the last 40 years, dismantled our strong financial position. Making short term decisions which resonated with the electorate have caused the very fibre of society to be diminished. I will attempt to keep this as short as possible but as you can imagine, calling the destruction of the once biggest manufacturing nation in the world cannot be just a few lines.

First up, consistency. I am not like all those highly paid economists in the City. I have a long term interpretation of economics and stick to it. In January 2015 I wrote “Sterling Crisis Looms” …The post examined the history of our trade relationship with the world. It is easy to see that even with a strong economy and a positive trading balance  it was still possible to have a currency weakening against another. In 1948 we had a trade surplus of 10% of GDP. This was no match for the soon to be biggest economy in the world. The management of our finances over the last 20 years has been nothing short of a disaster (see second chart)…this coupled with our ever growing trade deficit in goods and you get the picture as to why I still believe that Sterling is heading down. Overseas investors have been happy to buy UK assets to park money in a supposedly safe haven. Chinese, Russian, Greek…you name it they have all been desperate to get money out of their own countries.

As you can see. The trajectory of our debt profile has taken on an ugly look. Admittedly, very high inflation following the Middle East Oil shock of the 1970s did not help. Nevertheless, the picture is grim…what’s more, where the chart below finished in 2010/11…..

This one picks up the pace somewhat. You can see that austerity is just a figment of George Osborne’s imagination. The annual deficit for fiscal 2015/16 will come in around £75-80bn. That’s quite a staggering sum in itself despite Mr Osborne claiming he has done much to get it down from the staggering deficits post the financial crash. A more sobering thought might be to consider that the TOTAL DEBT ACCUMALATED by this country from the birth of the Bank of England (1694) to the turn of the 21st century was around £350bn..not bad…In 15 years the UK has borrowed, during a low inflation period, around 350% of the previous 306 years…ok, inflation has greatly exaggerated the maths but you need to be shocked to understand.

 

The UK debt growth does not stand out as particularly different to many developed nations. Indeed, the USA has similar profile of state debt to GDP from the 1960s. Its what has been done to both undermine our countries underlying value and to quantify its quality of service now. Lets break those three things down. First, our underlying value as a nation. Think of the UK as a company balance sheet. Our assets, from the Thatcher era onwards have been stripped and continue to be stripped. Once publicly owned assets such as Energy Retail (Gas/Elec.), Post Office (incl. BT), Water, Banks/Savings, Housing (Social), Energy Wholesale, Transport (Rail/Busses), Land…the list is endless both here in the UK but also overseas (assets). These would normally be found on the assets page of our balance sheet. Not any more. The selling of assets is continuing with this government. Basically, if its not nailed down, its got to be considered. Now look back at the second chart and ask why has debt ballooned so much whilst our governments have been harvesting billions from the sale of public assets. THATS not even the finish of it…no, there is one more important fact that we must not overlook. Since North Sea Oil started flowing in the early 1970s governments have enjoyed a bounty of riches, both direct (tax) and indirect (jobs, investment) of around £ 1 TRILLION…that’s my estimate. Now that the oil is rapidly running out and our kitty of assets to sell easily is wearing thin. How can any government continue to run our economy without a serious change in our overall spending.

Economists will say that the important thing is to look at overall debt to GDP and the governments spending as a % of GDP. Yes, they are right…to a degree. But, what if that GDP number were not a true reflection of a nations long term output potential? I will explain why that is exactly the case later.

If you listen to any socialist, they will tell you that Mrs Thatcher killed manufacturing in the UK. OK, maybe she did allow many basket case, poorly run, investment starved big companies go to the wall but you can see from the chart above things got worse after Blair 1997. The Labour government saw manufacturing jobs of around 1.5 million disappear whilst adding roughly that number to our public services. This reminds me of a fantastic TV interview by Sir Kenneth Cork (world renown insolvency accountant who formed Cork Gully…now Coopers and Lybrand) with Harold Macmillan. I remember it to this day. I was only a young man but both men were so full of wisdom the memory is fresh with me. Macmillan was asked to explain the success and subsequent fall of the British economy. He put up his ten fingers on the grainy black and white TV. He said that in a strong economy, seven people must have a productive influence whilst it leaves the remaining three to service the country. He went on to explain that the balance had shifted whereby the percentage of the population involved in servicing the needs of our people had risen far to high and our trade balance and hence wealth, were starting to deteriorate. Since then it has been easier for politicians to spend found money (Oil or Assets) to keep the country moving rather than concerning themselves with Macmillan’s simple but honest explanation. manufacturing accounts for 11% of our economy today vs 25% in 1980.

The chart above shows how the trade picture is not improving globally but interestingly, the EU is the main problem. This is because Germany HIDES IN THE WEAK CURRENCY in order to be the worlds greatest exporter. It knew that re-unification (with East Germany) was going to be painful. Not least with a strong Deutsche Mark. So being in a currency with a basket of economically corrupt countries suits them just fine. The chart below highlights just how important the UK is to industrial production in the EU. The recent Deutsche Bank report stating that Europe would suffer badly if the UK pulled out, is spot on. To further exacerbate my concern, our deficit in Oil trade has remained remarkably stable at around £750m per month. I worry that the high cost of production in the north sea will see that deficit begin to increase if oil prices remain below $40. The chart below highlights our ten biggest trade partners performance (Deficit/Surplus) in the 3 months to November 2015.

None of that explains completely why I believe the UK is a Ponzi or why I expect £/$ to re-test its all time low of 1.08. The real explanation is quality of quantity. I refer to the economy. Yes, growth during the Osborne years has been good. Unemployment has shocked many commentators with its significant decline. Despite all that, I still believe our economy is based on unsound foundations. Just like the Gordon Brown, Mr Osborne continually looks for ways of bringing forward taxes or cash flows whilst delaying costs. The PFI debacle is just one example. I will not elaborate as it is a well documented disaster. Changes to pension laws is one way of bringing forward consumption (taxes). Allowing people over the age of 55 to release pensions… was sold as giving people more flexibility. Total hogwash. It was so the government could continue with the consumer economy. By inflating the housing market, just as previous chancellors, the ball continues to roll. Only, we are now getting close to a point where the whole basis of our economy is so overpriced that it will become out of reach for an entire generation, as the chart below shows.

 

regional-house-prices-ratio

 

But this does not reflect the whole story. For it is not the ratio of prices to earnings which is the primary importance. It is the level of disposable income. Whilst the ratio of the governments tax take to GDP has not exploded, the demands of households has materialised in other ways. I f we were to take a ratio of disposable earnings to house prices, things would look a far lot worse.

Whilst the tax take ratios have not been pushed too high. You need to look at the fact that the government is doing less and less, for free, than it did in the past, hence, far more services are requiring a fee. The quality of the services they do provide has deteriorated beyond all recognition. For instance, the elderly. The state had significant institutions to house our elderly. They would receive round the clock supervision and care. The problem is, the local authorities could not afford the £32 per hour cost of staffing our the upkeep of the buildings. Once again, we saw a harvest of assets by selling off the building to developers whilst farming our elderly out to the private sector. The problem is, the authorities are only prepared to pay around £16 per hour and hence the private companies are increasingly relying on cheap overseas labour. This is a total dis-service to our elderly but reduces the cost to the state. This has happened in all public services. Police/Fire stations have been closed wholesale. Hospitals and care facilities (mental health etc) have reduced significantly. One only needs to look at the size of our Navy to recognise that, yes, we are still taxng our people but they are getting less and less for that money. So many previously free services are now subject to fees. Additionally, councils are encouraged to raise money by any means which has seen regressive cuts to disposable incomes such as parking costs. The list is endless. This government is aware more than any about the importance of the LAFFER CURVE. That is why, rather than tax at a higher ratio of GDP, they just keep reducing what they give in return for taxation and make you pay out of your disposable or post tax monies.

The economy has grown since the turn of the century but the quality of that growth is very negative for the future. Our ability to supply our own industrial and economic needs has deteriorated. Instead, rising housing prices driven by mass immigration has maintained a level of wealth for most families. As I have suggested, the elasticity of that mirage must be close to breaking point. With official immigration around 350,000 per annum (500,000 unofficially) and personal and public debt expanding sharply, how can an economy not grow. The problem is, sustainability. Within those official population statistics is the sorry tale of professional people eg GPs, leaving in their droves. The really worrying element of Osbornes claim of austerity is central government staff costs. These have grown from £94bn when he first took office but are now £105bn…

If our budget deficit is to be brought under control, surplus, it is the spending side of the equation that needs seriously addressing. Looking at the revenue it is clear the intention to bring in more from indirect tax as early as the radical changes of 1979. VAT was doubled to 15% in order to reduce direct income tax rates, both basic and top end. The problem is, whilst indirect taxes have kept coming, VAT now 20% Air Travel and Insurance Premiums 1994, Landfill 1996, Climate 2001, Aggregates 2002 etc the real position of Income tax has become more onerous. Whereas in 1979 only 2.6% of workers were paying higher taxation, 16% now pay it. Not because salaries have grown excessively but because of fiscal drag. A measure whereby chancellors do not increase the tax bands as salaries/inflation moves higher. The problem of hiding our taxation by stealth is it is very regressive and affects those that can least afford it. Because we have allowed our Manufacturing/Engineering/Scientific ability to decay, employment is centred around service related sector.  Average take home pay has not kept pace with either house prices or the cost of living in general. To allow this to continue, whilst still harvest taxation, it has been important for the government to give expensive, in work related, tax benefits whilst encouraging the public to join the government in piling on yet more debt. It cannot and will not last. Yes, changes in the form of UNIVERSAL CREDIT are coming but with 5 million people claiming housing benefit, at a cost of around £23bn, it will have repercussions.

The ring-fenced spending by the government will ultimately be where the strain of austerity will fall. Our overseas aid is maintained at 0.7 of GDP whilst our spending on Scientific Research (which is known to repay with economic benefits at around 6 to 1) is nearer 0.4%. The major nations of the world have  overseas aid around 0.4% and Scientific Research close to 0.9%. Spending on the EU has cost us far more than just the annual contributions. Interestingly, we recently had to pay an extra £2.4bn because the calculation by which the EU gauges the size of your economy, VAT receipts, showed we were far stronger than our counterparts. I have a real problem with this primarily as it is well known that the black economy of some countries, especially Mediterranean, can be as high as 50%.

To sum up..our tax revenue is far too focused on the house price/Debt timebomb…Fuel Duty at the pump £27bn….Housing Stamp Duty £11bn…VAT £130bn…Whilst our spending on services is being cut to the bone. The chancellor has been the primary beneficiary of low interest rates with our national debt costing less (£45bn in interest) now at £1.5trn  than it did when it was £1trn. Of course, offsetting that is the savings of the thrifty who now get next to nothing but more importantly, the pension industry. The current deficit of the public sector pension scheme is estimated to be around £1.6trn. We pay out around £10bn in pensions each year more than we receive in contributions.

If you add our recognised government debt and then add all the other liabilities eg PFI, Pensions etc…our economy has been living on borrowed time and money for far too long. The Oil is nearly gone (x fracking) the low hanging fruit of assets have been sold…our services are crumbling…THE FUTURE IS VERY BLEAK…Brexit!

 

 

 

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Monday, February 1st, 2016 Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, GDP, National Debt, Oil, Predictions, USD No Comments

Lucky Lord Jim O`Neill..Baron of Gately

Yes, I am back…sadly, not by popular demand…So, lucky Lord Jim gets a knighthood for being totally wrong…what do I get for being totally right?

I know I have been away for a long time but I am busy trying to help my constituents in what is the most deprived ward of my London Borough. I do get the time to tweet and quite frankly, if I do say myself, there is some interesting twitshit going down. I will start again at some point when my workload calms down. TO FOLLOW GO #financereaper…

Anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have had a downer on Lucky Lord Jim`s BRICs for about two years. I identified the fault with his reasoning and started warning of the BRICs impending doom. Today, Goldman Sachs have affectively closed their once famous BRIC fund. It has lost 88% of its value since 2010. In the last two years, I have warned that all the main winners in the BRIC argument would eventually fall from grace. BHP Billiton, one of my regular posts (bear ideas) of the past, has hit a seven year low. Steel companies are in the depths of despair. Coal was a big subject matter and I even wrote about the history of a little town in the USA called Jim Thorpe. Well, the Coal industry continues to slump and now Chinese mining company Longmay mining is laying off 100,000 employees. In fact, as many as are employed in the entire US coal industry…of course, US employees with their modern machinery investment and methods are 20 times more productive…oh, and they don’t live on a bowl of rice a week…Iron Ore will not rally as many expect. Oil will not rally as many expect. In fact, we could see new lows. Machinery manufacturers have also come into my spot light and I have continually warned of the fragility of their earnings…just look at companies like Joy Global, mentioned here many times…I have been totally right and I will continue to be so. QE is the primary reason. Central Banks have not used this tool wisely. Instead of extracting hard and fast commitments from politicians to cut spending and put in place debt reduction plans, they have worked hand in hand to raise still further the levels of debt to GDP ratios. Since the crash, global government indebtedness has risen 30%…

QE has led to over capacity. Yes, hundreds of millions of Chinese have come from the paddy fields to industrial towns and cities but it was all too quick. The cheap money has allowed huge capital spending of productive industries but at a cost to employment in developed nations. As one million extremely poorly paid manufacturing workers in China start work, jobs of very high equivalent salary workers are lost. The net result is a loss of demand. Whilst the infrastructure explosion, which took over ten years, was in full swing, all well and good…that is now past its peak, the Chinese economy has to focus more on exports than ever before. If it was to keep those hundreds of millions poor people working…they needed to export or die…that is exactly what they are doing. The 2015 trade surplus is up 75% to date. The real worry for the west is that in reality profitability is of little consideration compared to keeping people working . Therefore, the response of other developed and even developing nation’s is fairly limited.

Smoot-Hawley…lets not hope that the only way out it is trade barriers, however, currently there are 30 trade sanctions being drawn up against Chinese Steel dumping. Their are many other areas where dumping is evident. This will not end well.

 

 

 

 

is of little interest.

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Monday, November 9th, 2015 BRICs, China, Consumer Debt, Debt, GDP, Japan, National Debt, QE, Steel No Comments

Geman Engineering.

I have been asked to explain why I believe Germany should leave the Euro…A quick note ahead of the ECB QE announcement.

It all started with the re-unification of East and West Germany…at the time, many were flabbergasted at the very generous offer by West Germany of currency conversion terms. The Ost Mark was converted at parity with the Deutsch Mark for the first 4000 marks and at 2:1 for other legitimate savings. This was seen at the time, as a very, very, generous offer and one that seemed economic suicide by the rest of the world. So, Germany was now lumbered with a country full of globally uncompetitive industries in the East. It needed to expand its output and export potential very quickly if this seemingly stupid offer was to succeed. Lets have a currency union with the basket cases of Europe who had traditionally relied on currency devaluation to allow them to continue their imprudent economic models. Of course, these poor economic models had always led to high structural interest rates which had been an impediment to consumer and in most cases government debt. Along comes the Euro. Suddenly, Germany is in bed with these lou lous and the currency falls dramatically. From its launch in 1999, the Euro lost 25% during the first three year’s. Great for Germany trying to re-capitalise an entire country. Around this time, mega investment was taking shape in the Mediterranean Counties. Low interest rates were spurring massive consumption and the big gainer in all this economic activity was construction. For instance, prior to the crash, Spain was the second biggest influence in global growth behind China. Of course, who was the biggest beneficiary of all this debt fuelled consumption and investment…come on you can guess….YES! Well done…Germany. Now, with the Eurozone credit cards maxed out, what does the worlds most prolific exporter need to do…Correct again. Encourage a weak Euro so as to sell its exports under the veil of a tin pot currency. All the prevarication since the crisis began has done little to install confidence in the Eurozone.

So, if Germany were outside the Euro, two things would happen. Firstly, a German currency would be in great demand. I believe vs the Dollar it would be 25% higher than the Euro today. Remember, Germany is in rude economic health. Like Switzerland, only possibly more so, it would have significantly negative interest rates. Secondly, the Euro without Germany would be 25% lower vs the Dollar than it is now. This would allow the strict austerity measures, strongly encouraged by the Germans, to be adhered to whilst giving a dramatic to boost to the industrial potential. It would reverse the deflationary pressures currently exhibited. Yes, interest rates would rise but investment would flow providing this ejection of Germany was linked to not only a continuation of strict austerity but also a complete overhaul of restrictive work practises as seen in places like France. OK, bond holders would get burnt but surely the people of Europe have suffered enough whilst bankers and financiers have grown fat on the spoils of a ridiculous situation.

 

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Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 Consumer Debt, Debt, Euro, National Debt, Predictions, USD No Comments

Sterling Crisis Looms.

 

WALL STREET JOURNAL April 1975…….Headline was ‘Goodbye, Great Britain `

I have been bearish on Sterling for quite a while now. My latest recommendation to trade was in the late June blog UK OK? I Think Not… where I recommended buying Sterling/Dollar (Cable) put options. Luckily, Sterling peaked a week later around £/$ 1.72. I have on several occasions expressed my concern that Cable could retest its all time low of £/$ 1.085. My reasoning has been outlined in many blogs on the subject but the significant fall in Oil is just the catalyst to push on what I believe is an open door. The UK is not likely to reduce its annual budget deficit, which is running around £100bn, anytime soon. The Oil price will, if anything, reduce tax take significantly. With the production cost of North Sea around $55 it is possible that the £8bn direct profits tax take will be eliminated. The significantly lower price at the pumps will reduce the excise duties which as a percentage of price account for a significant slug of the final forecourt retail price. Yes, consumption of other VAT items may see increased demand but this is unlikely to offset fully. Salaries in the energy sector are already being cut this month. With nearly 500,000 workers exposed to this sector, the positives for consumption will be offset. So the budget deficit will continue at vastly elevated levels. On the trade front, the governments focus on reflating the economy by encouraging consumption, is a complete folly which only serves overseas suppliers with a boost to demand. Our previous currency calamities have been focused around poor trade performance. In 1948 a deficit (albeit only 2%) was too much for the government finance and Sterling fell dramatically from £/$ 4.20 to £/$ 2.80….this lead to a revival of manufacturing to its zenith. In the sixties (1967), the Labour government devalued the £ from £/$ 2.80 to £/$ 2.40 due to the drop in exports from a protracted dock strike coupled with middle east tensions. In 1964 when the trade deficit rose unexpectedly the Labour government went cap in hand to the G10 for a loan. Had they acted quicker to rebalance the economy the crisis to follow may have been averted.  In the seventies, the balance of payments were sent into shock by the Oil crisis. Eventually the UK would have to go cap in hand to the IMF for a loan. Prior to the loan £/$ dropped from 2.40 to 1.60. During the eighties, Thatchers battle with the unions lead to a significant fall in industrial activity and economic turmoil. In 1985 the currency hit its all time low of £/$ 1.085. Eventually, her economic formula worked and the economy recovered. It was however, the start of a long terminal decline in our manufacturing capabilities. No government since has taken this sector seriously, instead they have preferred to encourage consumer debt which in turn boosted house prices significantly which in turn drove consumption even higher. Gordon Brown took this to the all time high encouraging consumption as the mainstay of his economic miracle. From around 7.5 million people in the 1930`s, manufacturing is now a small part player in the make up of our total output. Since Thatcher, the UK has sold off a large portion of its assets. Whether it be utility companies or real estate, its been a huge sell off. Couple that with around £1 trillion of Oil taxation (both direct and indirect) and you can see the consumption bloom was finance by various short term cash injections. To make things worse, the financing of long term investments like schools and hospitals were financed off balance sheet via PFI (£240bn) only to cost a fortune over the next 30 years. University reforms have kicked massive liabilities into the future and the public sector pension scheme is in a perilous position with all liabilities also kicked into the future.

In short, the UK has lived off its income from past wealth. It has deferred costs and has mortgaged the future. Below is a chart from my blog in November 2012. We cannot continue to live like this. Employment is not growing in productive industries. The driver of lower unemployment is consumption based service sector. Eventually questions will be asked of our economic performance and the coalition will be found wanting.

This official measure of debt does not include all the off balance sheet funding liabilities which have grown substantially this millennium.

In 1997 Gordon Brown began his consumer lead socialist economy…we have to reverse this decline in our trade balance

 

If Cable breaks the 1.40 support line, the next stop is 1.085…Inflation will become a problem offsetting the strong global deflation winds blowing around.

Click to enlarge…

Post war Cable. Following the 1948 devaluation, exports bloomed and we reached a surplus around 10% of GDP. Since then, the rest of the world has beaten us at the production game. Instead of using design, research and investment  to continue strong manufacturing (like Germany) we have rested on our laurels. This is going to cost us dear as a nation.

Politicians have taken the easier short term gains and to hell with the future. Our children will inherit a very sad state of affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday, January 2nd, 2015 Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, National Debt, Predictions, USD 1 Comment

UKIP or Marie Antoinette (Madame Déficit as she was known)

HOW ON EARTH CAN IT BE RIGHT FOR US TO ORDER CAVIAR OR FOIE GRAS AND HAND THE BILL TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT YET BEEN BORN?  OH YES, I KNOW, LET THEM EAT CAKE.

It will take a bit of reading to get at the headline above but stay with it.

 Commodities News…  Smaller less profitable (higher production cost) Iron Ore miners in Australia are cutting management jobs/ wages and are applying to the government for a reduction in state royalty payments. Large exporters of Coal eg Indonesia and Columbia have announced higher 2015 production /export production targets to make up the governments revenue shortfall from weaker prices. These are two examples I have been expecting and helps prove why this is an economic turning point see BRICs..The Future Looks Cabbage Like.. and others including Chinese Deflation Cancer Spreads. Oil is mentioned later.
Social Unrest… Worldwide anti-government protests, which I foretold in Global Dissatisfaction with Governments Can Only Spread…are on the increase but for some reason the BBC ( and the wider media) seem reluctant to publicise.  As I talked about in Profound inequality in America…Time To Act!… the depth of disparity between haves and have nots is now  close to breaking point. The reasons for disruption differ but the catalyst is truly born out of a sense of injustice. The political landscape, like commodities, is getting closer to a once in a lifetime earth quake. UKIP along with anti conformist EU parties are well and truly on the march. France, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Spain are all experiencing the movement. Globally, protests  in many countries are aimed at bringing down failing and corrupt governments. Others are based on religious grounds. The significant loss of revenue commodity rich economies will experience in 2015 will not allow corrupt governments  continuity in bribing the electorate. Whilst, as mentioned earlier, they will attempt to expand export volumes, the overall economic reality is they will cut spending or in some cases huge energy subsidies thus exposing the core failure of the global economy. It is built on wasteful unsustainable  government spending.  This is either financed by over valued commodities, due to excessive QE (numerous blogs on the subject starting with Quantitative Easing …April 2013)… Or mammoth government spending/debt which is only allowed to exist because of??… Yes you guess it excessive non debt reduction linked    QE.
This story does not end well. Be afraid, be very afraid. I only hope my allegance to UKIP is not misplaced and they remain an un-whipped political party where their elected officials are allowed to vote with their conscience and in line with the wishes of their respective  electorates.

Due to the weakness of commodity revenue, Australia is cutting overseas aid, civil servants and departments…tomorrow they will announce the extent to which the commodity crash has raised its budget deficit. The current deterioration in its global trade position is the biggest since records began in 1959. It is interesting the measures this realistic government is taking in view of the deficit escalation it faces, as opposed to those by the Coalition in the UK.  This sensible approach, whilst short term negative for all concerned is better in the long term. Unlike of course, the UK and for that matter many other nations in huge debt, who have chosen to spend and borrow even more to plaster over the cracks on their watch. This gives them immediate credibility eg George Osbrown (Osborne/Brown)  but just lumbers future generations with the liability. HOW ON EARTH CAN IT BE RIGHT FOR US TO ORDER CAVIAR or FOISGRAS AND HAND THE BILL TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT YET BEEN BORN. OH YES, I KNOW, LET THEM EAT CAKE!…see we got there in the end. Remember, this was the start of the French Revoloution…Hopefully, Farrage, I and my colleagues will do like wise but in the whole of Europe.

EU… So, we are being asked to pay more into the budget pot whilst France gets the lions share of our additional contribution. This is justified due to their weaker economic performance… well bear this in mind.

A 2013 global study of working hours revealed the French worked the fewest hours of any country in the world. The report by Swiss bank UBS found the French graft for just 1,480 hours a year, with 27 days annual holiday.Britons work 1,782 hours a year – 301 more than the French – and have 20 days holiday a year… still happy to work your socks off to stay in Europe?… I could go on and tell you about the extent of black market activities in many EU countries which lowers their official GDP thus reducing the amount they pay…but I wont.

OIL   A quick update on a topical issue. Below is an extract from a recent press article (Daily Telegraph)

The world’s leading oil and gas companies are taking on debt and selling assets on an unprecedented scale to cover a shortfall in cash, calling into question the long-term viability of large parts of the industry.The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said a review of 127 companies across the globe found that they had increased net debt by $106bn in the year to March, in order to cover the surging costs of machinery and exploration, while still paying generous dividends at the same time. They also sold off a net $73bn of assets.This is a major departure from historical trends. Such a shortfall typically happens only in or just after recessions. For it to occur five years into an economic expansion points to a deep structural malaise.The EIA said revenues from oil and gas sales have reached a plateau since 2011, stagnating at $568bn over the last year as oil hovers near $100 a barrel. Yet costs have continued to rise relentlessly. Companies have exhausted the low-hanging fruit and are being forced to explore fields in ever more difficult regions.The EIA said the shortfall between cash earnings from operations and expenditure — mostly CAPEX and dividends — has widened from $18bn in 2010 to $110bn during the past three years. Companies appear to have been borrowing heavily both to keep dividends steady and to buy back their own shares, spending an average of $39bn on repurchases since 2011.

When analysts talk of the big boon to consumption from lower Oil prices, bear in mind four things. Global Annual Investment in fossil fuels is $1 trillion most currently based on $80 brake even. Companies have been encouraged by Investment Banks to buy back large swathes of share capital (Very good in expansion…possibly fatal in contraction) Governments are spending revenues which at current $60 price, do not exist. Consumers (and Governments) are burdened  with huge debts.

Sadly, todays article front page of the business section Telegraph` £55bn of Oil projects face axe (North Sea)` fails in the most important issue. Namely that the UK Treasury takes around a third of the profits made by companies in the UK Continental Shelf. I suggest they read my last blog Sterling…Beware The Reaper!!!  Lets not forget the GREENS. Last year 62% of all money invested in UK Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) were made in Renewable Energy…MY GUESS…They all need Oil above $100 to be viable…All this leads me to my favourite Warren Buffett saying…

“When the tide goes out you can see who is swimming without trunks” Ladies, be prepared to avert your gaze!

Issues for future blogs

Is Globalisation or EU causing depopulation of rural areas eg Spain has one area twice the land mass of Belgium that is almost deserted. French villages shrinking (FT Weekend)…Deflation tsunami on the way?..Summer 2015 very bad for European and North African holiday resorts as Russian holidaymakers disappear…Why is UK  paying more into EU pot than countries that spend far more as a percentage of income on pensioners?

 

 

 

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Sunday, December 14th, 2014 Consumer Debt, Debt, GDP, Japan, National Debt, Oil, Predictions, QE No Comments

Chinese Deflation Cancer Spreads

OK here I go. This blog has been building in my head for a long while. It will tie in with my record of forecast since I started a few years ago. The economic world is close to a catastrophic collapse. Yes, I know, I have been concerned about the world since I started. I am firmly of the belief that QE has not only just delayed the inevitable collapse of the global economy, it has made the impending scenario much worse. In fact, it has taken it from a situation that was manageable, with old fashioned crash, burn and re-build, to a situation where the fallout will make the 1930`s look like a walk in the park. The central pillar of my argument is the significant positive impact QE has had on asset prices is mirrored by the equally significant negative impact on inequality in the developed world. This is mainly due to the tsunami of cheap finance which has swept the developing world and spawned huge production potential.

Yes, bond and equity prices have risen significantly. And why shouldn’t they. With QE pumping so much money into the hands of the people who created the 2007 crash, what else would they do with it. As I have written before, lower bond yields have helped governments continue priming economies through direct state spending (debt) or policies which have encouraged significant new consumer debt. The problem is, whilst the central banks of the G7 were sleeping, China changed. It is no longer the worlds growth engine due to internal demand. It is a cancer on the supply demand curve.

Let me expand on my theory of why China will be the catalyst that sparks this almighty upheaval. BRICs have been a constant theme in the history of this blog. Iron Ore is the prime reason. They all have it. The growth in China over the last 20 years was centred around Housing, Railways and Heavy Industry. The problem is, as I explained in China and its Export Claim, the supply curve within all these aspects of growth had become overstretched. In normal developed economies, this would have sparked a flight to quality as earnings concerns came to the fore. Of course, as I have pointed out many times, return on capital is not a primary concern of state industry dominated China. Employment of the masses is the ONLY concern. I have a back of the fag packet calculation. For every 20 million Chinese workers employed, 5 million employed people in the developed world become superfluous in the current demand cycle. Now, I am not saying these people will be unemployed, just that there well paid manufacturing jobs will be replaced by low paid service jobs. That is why, over the last thirty years, inequality has been taking a hold. I explained this in Profound Inequality in America.

So how is China accelerating this process in the current environment? An example is Steel (So many blogs on the subject I cant note them all). This one vital element has been the growth engine which has sustained this process of converting rural peasant into semi-skilled townies. To produce steel, you need two primary elements, Iron Ore and Energy. In Chinas case, energy has been via Coal. Together, these three elements are all required in huge bulk, so we must include transportation into the mix

As inventory of housing has built to an unsustainable level, prices are starting to drop. Sales in the first half of 2014 are down sharply on last year. This still does not explain my theory. If China cannot consume all it produces, what can it do? Export. To this end it has done several things outside its recent state induced currency weakness. Firstly, export the raw material. Globally, these are running 30% higher than 2013.  South American countries have seen (China imports) rises of around 90%. Of course, the ire of western producers have raised the spectre of further import duties. So, this leads to the second point. Cheap exports to fellow Asian economies eg Sth. Korea, forces them to export themselves. Couple this with import restrictions on Taiwan’s exports to China and it becomes evident this is a way round tariffs from Europe and America. Thirdly, and a little more opportunistic. Export of ships, Rigs etc. Since the financial crash, shipbuilding finance from dominant European banks became scarce. This lead China to flex its mussels. It has lent, via state banks, billions of dollars to mainly Greek ship owners (I have many blogs on the subject) in exchange for the orders to be placed with Chinese yards. This has allowed China to wrestle the mantle of dominant player from Sth. Korea and Japan. The problem is, this cheap finance is creating a bubble in supply of vessels. All this at a time when the Baltic Freight Index is once aging flagging concern. Of course, the Bulk Carriers which are supplying the low cost Iron Ore from the likes of Australia and Brazil are benefiting.

Many economic forecasters are pinning their hope on China becoming a consumer society in order to create growth globally. This is a faint hope at best. For now they are flooding the world with low cost products which is leading to one main import from the developed world, Jobs. This leads me to the main crux of my argument. Demand.

I have written about a demand shortfall verses the supply boom and its resulting Deflation before. I have stated that wage growth will decline and turn negative. I am writing now as this is all becoming a reality. Wages in the UK and Australia have already registered there first ever declines. Elsewhere the downward pressure is building. Since 2008, American wages for the bottom 20% of earners has declined. The web site below gives a good view of how growth has  been distorted towards shale gas and not industrial important manufacturing:

The Geography of Employment: Mapping the Recovery [INFOGRAPHIC]

With employment in poorly paid service jobs being the illusion that has driven low unemployment in the USA and UK, income tax receipts are not dampening the budget deficits. Yes, the USA has a smaller perceived deficit but strip out income from the Federal Reserve (QE gains) and things are not so rosy. Both have adopted policies which have driven property prices to pre-recession peaks. The problem is, the China affect on wages has just made the valuation to income ratio stretched beyond affordability. Now that the boom in speculative demand is turning to net sellers, the future is not so promising.

Outcomes of my theory:

CHINA…Will try and maintain the illusion of 7.5% economic growth via internal demand acceleration. This is an illusion. Just yesterday they announced significant cuts to pay of higher paid state employees. With Iron Ore production costs double of Australia, they will probably reduce the tax disadvantage to protect this mass employer. The coal industry is losing demand and will have to make big cuts. Housing will continue to slow and eventually lead to huge bond default. Steel production will collapse and with it Iron Ore demand. Hence Coal and Oil price decline. Recent trade figures confirmed export growth and import contraction

Australia (BRICs)…The significant decline in Iron Ore price in 2014 has slowed investment but a second leg down in price (around $50-60) will put a big downer on the economy. The currency will retreat still further. Once again, housing demand will implode. High paid jobs in mining will be a big loser. Wage deflation will halt demand.

Japan…Sadly, they are likely to be the hardest hit from this China export drive. The economy will continue to struggle until eventually the currency has to give. They will have to return to nuclear power to reduce the huge energy import costs. This will slam the builders and operators of natural gas ships. Demand is going to contract still further as the Yen has its second currency decline to around Y125, the 2007 low. This will spread the deflation spores even more aggressively. I know most people take flight to the Yen during periods of uncertainty so my prediction seems odd to most. Over the last 5 years, significant moves, up and down, have been followed by stable periods of between 6-8 months before going again. Given the last significant decline bottomed in January, the next big move is just round the corner. First stop Y110 then on to 125. If you have to own equities, currency hedged Japanese are the ones.

UK…The chancellor has completely ruined the UK. I thought no one could have topped the incompetence of Gordon Braffoon. But George Osborne has done just that. Many recent posts will explain my reasoning, but put simply, he has borrowed and wasted more money than people who should know better are prepared to acknowledge. Its a bit like the Kings Clothes…George is parading naked as a Jaybird but no one has the balls to state the obvious. Let me give you a microcosm of a looming disaster. The Local Authority I have the honour to represent, has a pension shortfall of four times the income from rates. Every 0.5% move in bond yields makes a shift of around £70m. If I am right, and deflation takes hold, government bond yields could go to zero. Couple this with a decline in the underlying portfolio, which currently stands at £500m, and the shortfall could double. If you take this a fairly typical local authority, the time bomb is ticking loud and clear. Sadly, I am the only one who can hear it. I still think Sterling will test its all time dollar low of $1.08.

Sweden (Finland)…As I have stated in previous blogs, I love the Sweeds, sadly however, the writing is firmly on the wall. The primary reason is the importance of the mining sector on its industrial heritage. My scenario would see exports implode as mining companies cut still further the budget for new investment. The usual housing boom appears here and will come to an abrupt end. The currency will decline still further and the globally important companies will be snapped up by American players. Or, as I have stated in the past, a Swedish solution is forthcoming and many internal mergers take place.

USA…Here, more than any country, inequality abounds. As per my post of December last year. This will lead to significant social unrest.

EQUITIES…..I have said in the past that they cannot go down significantly at the moment as demand from Central Banks and Company buy backs is reducing supply. I have explained the role QE plays in this before. Considering the global unrest, markets during my city career of 28 years, would be significantly lower than they are now. This just highlights the influence these QE induced buyers have on prices. But what about the future? Quite frankly, I am unsure. What is clear, if prices continue to defy gravity, volume will continue to decline. Not wanting to short markets during these difficult times, because bears have been massacred since 2008, means individual stock prices will only move when poor results are released. Then the declines will be eye watering. Shrinking capital bases (due to buybacks) will make these moves more aggressive. For now, equities are an unknown beast for those of us who were brought up in a world of boom, bust, re-build economics. Not the QE induced ether they are fuelled by currently.

Bonds…I do not want to bore you all too much so that’s the end for now. Plus, my wife is giving me grief as I have chores to do. Mainly, putting a new Cedar shingle roof on our summer house…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Global Dissatisifaction With Governments Can Only Spread

Hi all. I am back with my first blog of 2014. No charts in this one as it is just a thought provoking piece.

The recent turmoil in global asset markets could be just the beginning of a more significant shift in the way the world is run. If a fairer, more just and balanced society is to endure, the immediate road ahead is likely to be bumpy.The unrest in Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela (TTUABV) are all linked to corruption and inequality. People are no longer prepared to stand by and watch the ruling elite grow ever richer and more powerful whilst the majority get little by way of a better life.The peasants have always revolted before so why should this not be just another short term blip? The answer could be debt—

Over the past 50 years governments have been allowed to raise the level of overall debt to astonishing levels. This debt has been used to prop up the world economy, whilst just enough of this money went to the masses ( to quell their rage) the bulk went to the small minority at the top. Well, I feel the show is nearly over and the accumulated debt level is at a stage where it can be raised no more.The USA, Japan, UK and France are a few of the developed economies who have plans to curtail spending further in the coming years. This is the complete opposite to the profligate abuse of public funds previously. This will not be the catalyst for change only another link in the chain of events.

Since 2012 I have written extensively on the subject of China and the other BRIC economies. My concerns about this group of countries which have been the primary drivers of the world economy in the 21st century, have been well founded. I have said it before and I will say it again `China is a cancer on the world economy`. Just ask yourself why we trust a country that tells you what its GDP will be in advance. It then uses one of two means (or a combination) to achieve that goal. Firstly it uses statistics which are doctored to tell investors what they want to hear. Secondly, to make sure growth is achieved they will build a few extra thousand miles of railway or build a few million additional houses. These investments would not be a problem if they were driven by demand and paid homage to a return on investment. Sadly that is not the case. Both railways and housing are so overdeveloped that empty trains and platforms abound and tens of millions of homes are unsold or just uninhabited. As finance becomes less abundant, driven by tapering of QE and concerns on Chinese debt quality, this oversupply will cripple construction, steel, Iron Ore and transportation etc etc. Despite all this, China and the BRICs are once again just further links in the chain. My real concerns for 2014 surround my old favourite Japan and a new one for me, the Middle Eastern Oil producers.

We are on the cusp of Japans big fiscal tightening. Consumer taxes will increase in April from 5% to 8% in the first step towards 10% in 2015. This might not seem too onerous but in an economy that has only seen deflation over the past two decades (coupled with negative wage growth) believe me, this will stifle consumption… I have highlighted a myriad of interesting facts on Japanese debt and society over the past two years. Go to the categories filter to read.

Finally we get to the catalyst of what I believe will bring about the end of borrow and binge politics. Demand…Global demand or consumption and its growth/decline is how governments and central banks keep the world turning. Every economic crisis in the last 50 years has ultimately been resolved with debt and or cheaper borrowing costs. So, back to the unrest in the TTUABV bloc. The resulting currency declines by all will lead to a contraction of overseas demand due to import price inflation. In many cases government finances will have to be re-balanced so past demand becomes future austerity. Taken solely as a group the world economy would only hiccup. But, add in further austerity by developed nations and world demand looks very fragile. China can no longer come to the rescue as it did in 2009 (with a massive investment programme) as it now has debt problems of its own.

So demand could fall globally. What then? Russia and the Middle Eastern Oil producers become the final catalyst. Lower demand will weaken commodity prices and unlike previous economic declines this is where it all unravels. Because commodity rich countries have grown so rapidly on the strength of the commodity revenues their production costs have grown sharply. The production costs are not just the extraction element but the debt and annual deficits required to run  infrastructure, social spending and corruption wastage. Saudi Arabia, I am led to believe, needs $100 per barrel to maintain its budget. A far cry from previous economic crises where producers would simply cut supply and wait for prices to stabilise (maybe spending a little less in the casino’s of London etc). Not any more. This time round they too would be caught up in the financial meltdown and have to cut spending aggressively. This in turn will lead to yet more government dissatisfaction. Iron Ore will fall below all but the cheapest producers causing further pain to the BRIC and other suppliers who have ramped up production and with it costs.Whilst all this sounds dire. It could lead to (further) widespread buying of equities by Central Banks… see Gold and Equities April 2013 and Olympic legacy for the Finance-reaper August 2013 for comments previously…and maybe one last ditch effort by the elite of the banking world which would help the politicians carry on spending for another few years. It would be a simple plan. Just write off the government debt held by central banks. Of course. this would lead a move by every country (other than the EU which has no mandate) to print money buy their own bonds and spend spend spend. Inflation would rocket and unrest would ensue…

HAPPY 2014!!!!!!!!!!

PS I have been pestering Nigel Farage (via his office) to meet me for lunch and discuss a new political approach for the UK. Sadly he is far too busy. I will continue as I would love to change the way politics are done, not only in the UK but globally.

 

 

 

 

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Osborne Good Fortune Financed by Pensioners and Savers.

Osborne Good Fortune Financed by Pensioners and Savers.

Lets look at the UK. Average Weekly Earnings for September 2013 are £ 474 which compares to £473 in September 2012. With Inflation running around 3% (far higher for pensioners and low paid) it must beg the question as to how Retail Sales have grown and house prices are up 4%. Are we really to believe the grinning Chancellor who talks of a turnaround in the economic fortunes and a lower Budget Deficit.

Lets look at some facts;

  • Provident Financial (Largest Doorstep Lender 130 yrs Old) Claims that more families are taking out short term loans (26%) and they are seeing an increase in late payments.
  • Foodbank usage up 300% on last year. 350,000 people fed by the Trussell Trust in the six months to September 2013.
  • Red Cross to distribute aid for the first time since WW2
  • Pawnbrokers… 650 in 2007 with 2250 today. Gold scrapped in 2006 10.7 tonnes but 70 tonnes in 2012 or $3.25bn.
  • Industrial Production is 1.5% lower than 2012.
  • UK Current A/C in Deficit for 30 yrs despite Sterling devaluation.
  • Gross Fixed Capital Formation (Gauge of investment vs consumption) at 14% by far the lowest in the OECD.
  • Industrial Output per hour worked lower vs 2012 and 2011.
  • Part Time working highest ever recorded.
  • Manufacturing only 11% of economy vs 25% in 1980
  • Car Sales booming but finance to buy is around 80% of sales vs norm of 54% with PPI pay-outs acting as deposits.
  • Government spending has increased throughout Osborne`s tenure.
  • UK Birth rate growth highest since 1972 whilst Germany has the lowest ever recorded and only 50% of 1964.
  • The UK Govt is spending £120bn a year more than it receives in tax. If that figure were zero, I believe the economy would contract by around 15%

So we have economic growth but we also have growing poverty. see Quantitative Easing. This is just as I forecast back at the beginning of 2012. Job creation but no deep rooted wealth creation. The jobs being created are (on the whole) very poor quality. Earnings growth is negligible so consumption has to be financed by a mixture of savings drawdown, debt and asset disposal. Asset disposal can be a mixture of Gold sales, Equity Release or Pension withdrawal. We need quality of economic output not quantity. Immigration has for some years helped to keep the quantity of growth from falling. With around 0.7% population growth each year you would expect some positive demand growth. This Government has not done what it promised which was to rebalance the economy away from consumption and back to manufacturing based output. Instead, it has used the QE benefits of lower interest rates to encourage further consumption. This will keep our Balance of Payments in deficit with imports continuing to flourish.  The large export orientated nations are not encouraging consumption, if anything they are doing the opposite. When will we learn that a continued imbalance between imports and exports will not help the quality of the economy.

So what of the UK Budget Deficit improvement. Lets not get carried away with a billion pounds here or there. The plain truth is that government is getting bigger. Bigger tax receipts and bigger spending. Tax receipts from consumption have increased driven by government polices on housing. Can the increase in house prices really be a positive to young families? How can they, with disposable incomes continuing to fall. Osborne is looking increasingly like Gordon Brown. Take what you can in the short term and let the long term implications be someone else’s problem.

If it were not for QE the deficit would not be falling at all. With the UK debt growing by £120bn a year ( chart 1) you would expect the interest payable to be growing. Not so. The lower interest rate environment resulting from QE has saved the chancellor a fortune. The average rate applicable to the debt (chart 2) has dropped significantly. If you assumed that the rate (chart 3) is at least 1.5% lower than it should be (given the appalling state of fiancés and the current rate of inflation) then the chancellor is saving around £15bn a year. This would imply that the deficit is still growing. So the chancellor has saved all this money thanks to the Bank of England (and the Fed) but someone has to be loosing. Yes, my dear old pensioner, it is you! That to my mind is just another tax.

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

An update of a previous chart. This highlights the income via bonus payments held back prior to the reduction in top rate tax in April. The income tax data also includes Capital Gains which have no doubt been positively influenced by the FTSE 100. Yet more tax income for the government due to global QE. I have to conclude that Central Bankers are totally in cahoots with politicians. As I have stated before, QE should be linked to fiscal prudence guarantees from the various governments.

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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 Consumer Debt, Debt, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, QE, UK 1 Comment

Quantitative Easing (QE)

What is QE?

Printing or creating vast quantities of paper or electronic money by supposedly intelligent people (Central Bankers) on behalf of the population of a country to

Allow Compliment Condone Encourage supposedly intelligent people (Politicians) to borrow and spend vast sums of money on behalf of the population of a country.

Q: What has been done with the QE proceeds?

A: Buy Assets

Q: What Assets?

A: Firstly Government Bonds, then lesser quality bonds and fixed income securities…and now Equities.

Q: What is the impact on these assets?

A: Given they all have, to varying degrees, a finite supply, they have all gained substantially in value, driving interest rates and future returns on investment much lower.

Q: Who has benefited from QE?

A: Generally the wealthiest 10% of society who tend to have savings ex pension in these assets

Q: Who suffers?

A: Generally speaking, the poor and the majority of pensioners who have little more than the basic defined contribution pensions.

Q:Why them?

A: The excess of cheap money is primarily channeled into balance sheet repair for banks and low cost speculation investment in commodities etc which has kept inflation stubbornly high whilst annuity rates have imploded with lower bond yields.

Q: Why has demand not rocketed with the record low interest rates that have resulted in QE?

A: Since the 1960`s politicians have used the magic wand of increased debt to buy their way out of economic downturns (see Economic Seismic Shift)  but debt, both private and public in most major economies is past being able to grow as before. Additionally, commodity inflation has lead to a fall in disposable incomes.

The long term implications are as yet unknown but a quick reflection on what forms an asset valuation. When assets are exchanged in a trade, an assumption is made by both parties about the current and future value of those assets. For instance, when the Native Indians sold Manhattan in 1626 to the Dutch both parties were happy with the trade. Of course the shiny trinkets given to the Indians indicate just how badly valuations of assets can be perceived in the future. History might be as equally harsh when it looks back on QE. Asset valuation is based on two important factors. Supply and Demand. Look at the difference in valuation of a Van Gogh masterpiece and a Zimbabwe 100 trillion dollar note. Whilst masterpieces of this quality have a very finite supply, awful political and economic policy of the Zimbabwe government lead to a supply of untold magnitude. Sound familiar?

Currently, the levels of debt being amassed by some (most) developed economies are approaching a point of no return. Of course some lesser countries have already cir cum to reality. The debt has been grown in the compost of progress and society. It was thought to have been used to build a better life for today and tomorrow. Whilst it has to be said life for many has been greatly improved that cant be said for all. Whats more, it has only improved life for the yesterday and today. The tomorrow has been totally forgotten. Sadly, vast political and government empires have flourished.

I am firmly in the camp that believes we must face our demons and cut government spending drastically. Yes this will cause significant economic hardship, but it will be a hardship more even than QE. Commodity prices will get crushed and allow us to rebuild a fairer society in the future. Of course, the wealthy will be screaming from the rooftops 1930`s style. It has come to pass that I must quote Churchill in his first speech to the House of Commons after being made Prime Minister during the first and worst year of WW11.

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” He knew that when faced with adversity a country has to dig deep together in order to move forward. QE is just delaying the inevitable at the expense of all in society who will be made to pick up the bill whilst in the meantime, only a small proportion enjoy the riches it bestowes.

Other very apt Churchill quotes:

  • There is no such thing as a good tax.
  • If you are going to go through hell, keep going.
  • We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
  • Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon
  • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.

Next blog topics….I am watching the hefty falls in the Shanghai Container Index with interest. …Japan consumption will implode over the next 12 months as food prices jump 10-15% in Q1 and the 2014 consumption tax arrives….BRICs are still a target of mine and going to suffer…Gold, I forecast in January that it will hit $1,000 before $2,000. Looking good.

 

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Saturday, April 27th, 2013 BRICs, Consumer Debt, Debt, National Debt, Predictions, QE 4 Comments

Cyprus vs Rhode Island, New England.

Arthur (aka the late great Dudley Moore) said `Rhode Island could beat the crap out of it in a fight and it is so small they recently had the whole Island carpeted`

Now of course he was not talking about Cyprus but he could well of. In economic terms, Cyprus is a pimple on the arse of the world.

However, it speaks volumes about how Europe is run. Politicians and unelected officials revelling in spending the electorates money on ever grander, wilder uneconomic schemes. Building up debts for future generations without concern whilst drawing magnificent rewards for them and their families. If you want to look at some of these projects, look no further than the new airports in Spain which have never been used. Or, the Harbour in Madeira ( Marina do Lugar de Baixo) which was built on the most exposed Atlantic coast which has now been abandoned, after three attempts to repair it,  having been crushed by the huge waves so popular with local surfers. In fact Madeira is a far better example of the EU crazy wasteful system. It has a population of 250,000 but with encouragement from the EU and its Portuguese parent, they now have EU 6,000,000,000 DEBT. yes EU6bn for just 250,000 people. Not bad for an Island of only 309 square miles.

Lets look at the wider issue. The real anger of UKIP voting people in the UK is why we should be paying so much into this corrupt financial and economic  system (EU). Vast amounts of money have been spent giving villages lavish civic buildings and grand sports facilities whilst employing vast swathes of the local population from the public purse. This was not spending along the German lines, which is focused on expanding the export potential of the country. A lesson we in the UK need to emulate.

Rhode Island, which some believe was named after the Greek island, has a similar population (1.1m ish) to Cyprus but has only one third of the land mass (1,214 sqr miles vs 3,572 sqr miles). On that smaller land mass they generate double the GDP of Cyprus and has managed on a debt to GDP of slightly less than 50%. The debt of Cyprus is of course, when banks bad debt taken into account,  completely out of sync with economic reality.

The EU has not had its accounts signed off by accountants for as long as I can recall. All because the level of fraud and corruption is too big to quantify. Why then should we allow these thieves to pick our pockets day in and day out. We give around £45 million per day to the EU. On top of that we gave Ireland £8bn to help its bailout. The sad truth of the matter is, we need revolution. People need to revolt and who is more revolting that the French. Sadly, they are taking soo much money out of our pockets with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) they are reluctant to do what they are famous for.

I would love to stand for UKIP at the next election. I did stand as an Independent in the 2010 General Election. I believe they will win as people have had enough of the main political parties.

On another issue. The Central Banks which have employed QE so aggressively, to help governments carry on running large annual budget deficits, should now demand far more fiscal prudence from those governments before any further monetary stimulus is applied. At the moment they are just helping them add to what is already a frightening level of state debt. Japan, USA and Europe are all in that boat. Yes, the adjustment will be painful, but how painful will it be when this mad experiment with excessive QE finally unravels.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I still think the only way out of this mess is GERPEL see Kurzarbeit achieved where Blitzkrieg failed!

 

 

 

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Monday, March 18th, 2013 Debt, Euro, National Debt, Predictions, UK No Comments

GDP Decline vs Employment Growth

Journalist Conundrum.

I am at a loss as to what all the Financial Journalists do all day. I have read so many articles recently perplexing over the disconnect between employment growth and GDP weakness. Perhaps if they looked at the data they could start to understand what is going on. Admittedly, I am applying my own reasoning to come up with my conclusion but it is still better than just scratching your head as these hacks are doing. Almost to a man they are all saying that GDP must be understated. I of course have my own idea.

Between September 2012 and September 2011 542,000 employees have joined the nations payroll which now totals 31.946m. As you can see from the chart below Income Tax paid to the revenue over the last year has barely changed. Adjusted for wage growth, it has not changed since 2010. Interestingly despite record numbers in work and total hours close to record, national output has barely changed since 2010.

 

I believe two things are at play. One, many of those joining employment from the unemployed register, were already working. Secondly, and as I first warned of in February 2012, the quality of jobs being created is very poor. As you can see form the comparison from September last year, employment has been primarily in the service sector. Wholesale/Retail jobs have blossomed but Coffee shops an economy do not make. I am aware that many large retailers are favouring employing workers on 20 hour weeks. This gives the employee far less rights and in most cases keeps the employees salary below the tax threshold. So, two poor quality jobs (c £7.50 per hour) are created for every position, neither of them pay tax but will still be needing social support. The rise in transport/storage probably relates to the growth in Internet shopping.

The primary reason for me being very negative about the UK Budget Deficit and my three month warning to George Osborne (blog 23 December 2012) is clearly identified in the data box at the foot of the page. Since 1997 there has been a structural change to the UK economy. We have an additional 1.7m Public Servants (Health 1.1m Education 0.65m) but Manufacturing has 1.674m less employees. The gain in Admin/Support worries me that Red tape has created many of these posts. All in all, the Blair/Brown years were really a massive shift in the dynamism of the UK economy. Public Servants now account for 26% of the workforce as opposed to 17% in 1997. The reality is that this figure when compared to points in history is much higher. Over the last 20 years Central and Local Government have been outsourcing many tasks. The growth in Admin/Support and Professional advisers is no doubt influenced by this process. With that in mind, I guess the Public Sector activities account for over 30% of the economy. Go back even further prior to the Privatisation of Utilities, Telecoms etc and the the comparisons are even worse. If you throw in all those working on Government Infrastructure projects, it is possible to say that over half the working population are paid from the Public purse. Whilst the Property/Debt boom were in full swing, tax revenues were growing rapidly. Now that bubble has burst, the only way this Public Sector involvement is achieved, given our low level of real private sector output, is to borrow more money. This cannot go on forever. Spending has to be cut drastically.

George Osborne pledged to get the economy back on a more balanced footing. Sadly, he has wasted the first two (and most important) years in office. Last year Public Servants only declined by 0.61% (51,000). Meanwhile, very highly paid jobs in the Finance sector (which helped finance this crazy shift in employment) have been dropping sharply for 12 months. With bonus payments being slashed or deferred via a greater proportion of share payout, the January tax hump may be very disappointing.The Budget Deficit has grown in fiscal 2012/13 (to date) and sadly is getting no help from the employment figures.

The UK Office for National Statistics breaks down employment into two categories. Services and Productive.  It is then broken down into 19 sub sections which includes three for public services which I have combined. To try and get a handle on why Income Tax paid to the Treasury is not keeping pace with employment and earnings growth we have to look at the data in detail. The latest data available is to September 2012. Below is the change in percentage terms and actual numbers since September 2011

Productive (6 sub sections  As a group, this category is down 10,000 employees. …Agriculture/Fisheries -9.21% -39.000. Mining/Quarrying +19.67% +12,000.  Manufacturing +2.98% +75,000. Electric/Gas Supply -5.75%  -8,000. Water/Sewerage +7.98% +15,000. Construction -3.21% -66,000.

Services (11 sub sections)..As a group, this category is up 532,000 employees Wholesale/Retail +1.40% +67,000. Transport/Storage +4.30% +63,000. Hotels/Catering +6.48% +130,000. Information/Comms +4.90% +60,000. Finance/Insurance +0.27% +3,000. Real Estate +7.71% +32,000.  Prof/Tech/Scientific +5.38% +131,000. Admin/Support Services +5.92 +145,000. Arts/ Entertainment n/c. Other Service -4.17% -38,000. Public Services -0.61% -51,000.

Employment in the biggest sectors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 Debt, GBP, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, UK No Comments

Sterling Looks over its own Cliff

Sterling/ Dollar.

Regular readers will know that I believe Sterling will follow the fortunes of the UK`s financial position which is down. In my blog `Be prepared for a Wedgefest` I highlighted the charts of Sterling and Yen. Following the recent December budget deficit and today’s GDP data, the bottom trend line, which is in its fifth year of obedience, is getting awfully close. A close below $1.57 will see it on its way down. I have said before that I can see it testing its all time low of $1.08 at some point in the distant future. In the mean time, lets all focus on the inflationary affect any downward move has. Today newspapers are warning of a 4p per litre rise in fuel costs. With salaries entering a fourth year of below inflation increase, consumer activity will be challenged further see UK Retail Revolution as the latest blog (of many) on the subject. If Sterling does not break down just yet, the final nail will come following the publication of the January budget data in February see The Mayans might be Wrong but for George Osborne… Time is Up

The FTSE which is over populated with global Dollar earning companies will not reflect the severity of the situation. Not yet at least.

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Friday, January 25th, 2013 GBP, Predictions, UK No Comments

UK Retail Revoloution

UK The clock is ticking!

In my blog of 23rd December I gave George Osborne 3 moths before the proverbial hits the fan. Today’s release of the December Retail Sales data gives me comfort that my prediction is on track. I have broken down the various components of retail activity giving the year on year growth /decline and in some case, commentary. I have been firmly of the opinion for a long time that conversion (into residential) of the wasteland that is vacant retail space will be the catalyst for a much weaker pricing of the residential property market. The process of conversion has taken hold in Germany but as yet is only talked about on the fringes of UK politics. To give you an idea of the glut in UK retail space,  a recent study highlighted that the UK has 0.36 sq. mtrs. of (retail) floor space per head of population vs 0.21 in Italy and 0.14 in West Germany. Of course, the UK has (had) a more aggressive consumer culture which, as I have talked about in previous blogs, was as a result of the excessive growth in (privately owned) property prices which lead to an approx. 20% uplift in disposable income over 15 years prior to 2008. However, having recently surveyed my local high street I am beginning to think another potential outcome may be possible. The fifty or so outlets are all owned by our local London council. The vacancy rate has increased by another six outlets over the last six months. This puts the vacancy rate at around 20%. These six most recent closures resulted in a loss of income (for the Council) of around £150,000 per annum. I guess this picture is being played out up and down the country. Add this revenue shortfall to the governments cut in payments (to councils) from the central tax pool and one of the biggest employers in the country will have a strong negative affect on 2013 GDP.

So what is the revolution? As we are all aware, the large out of town retail parks have been the catalyst for the high street downturn. However, it is the decline in retail volume growth see The Mayans might be wrong but for George Osborne..time is up and the Internet revolution that has been the executioner. Given that no conversion to residential is forthcoming, we are getting close to the point where the level of vacancies will trigger a significant downward re-rating of high street rents. This adjustment could be in the magnitude of 25-35% for busier environments and 50-60% for the all too familiar ghost areas. This revolution will deal a big blow to the large supermarkets and owners of shopping malls. As you will see below, fuel consumption is falling so any regeneration of the high street (within walking distance) will be greeted with open arms.

December Retail Sales Data Year on year (+0.3) volume grew at the weakest since 1998 excluding the horrendous winter storm ravaged Dec 2010. Over the last six years, volume has grown 4% which given the huge immigration influx, just matches population growth. The figures below are December year on year comparisons for some of the interesting sectors.

Tobacco,Alcohol and other beverages  -37.2% (The volume has fallen every year this millennium and is down 60% in ten years. Supermarkets have taken the trade!)…Floor Coverings + 25% (I presumed it was flooding that helped and indeed in this historically wet year 2012 as a total (+22.3%) reverses the 50% decline in volume over the previous 4 years…Mail Order +13.8% (Credit!)…Textiles (x clothing) -11.6%Cosmetics +9.5% (Clearly just a seasonal favourite as 2012 as a whole is only + 2.3%)…Music, Videos recordings and equipment -7.3% (HMV AND Blockbuster)… Books, Periodicals and Newspapers – 7.3%Flowers, Plants, Seeds, Ferts and pet food +7% ( Strange one, probably warm weather and seasonal) …Furniture +6% (Possibly flooding related as only + 2.7% in 2012 as a whole)…Computers and Telco equip +4%Watches/Jewelry -1.5% (Volume fell every single month (vs 2011) in 2012 and overall were down 7.8%. Our local jeweler is taking in more gold for melting down than he is selling new or second hand. I have been a bear of Gold all year and believe it will touch $1000 long before $2000)…DIY -0.5% (Seeing xmas more seasonal activity at the likes of B &Q but 2012 overall was down 7.1% and is down 26% over 5 years (property market). With the revolution, it may be that small hardware shops with knowledgeable craftsman will make a comeback)

In 2012 the 500 biggest and busiest retail locations saw 2000 (net) outlets fall vacant. A recent survey puts that at 4000 for 2013. Remember these are the busy areas where volume is polarising. Think what will happen in the vast majority of smaller locations. VIVA LA REVOLUTION!

Next blog…CHINA IS LYING!  is on hold awaiting the release of some December data which I believe will confirm my view. It relates to the recent December trade figures.

ps Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

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Friday, January 18th, 2013 China, Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, UK 1 Comment

RIP George Osborne

The UK Chancellor has failed to implement austerity deep enough to make a difference to the overall debt momentum and now risks a total collapse in confidence. He has squandered the Countries and the Conservatives future.

When this government came to power in 2010 they had a chance of changing the UK debt profile whilst all the blame would have fallen on the out going administration. Sadly that chance was missed so I believe the next two years will be very painful to watch as George Osborne pays the price of trying to keep his coalition partners happy whilst believing in his own rosy economic outlook. Recently, George made much of his backing for gay marriage, a subject in which he has shown very little interest in the past. Is he trying to deflect future economic commentary?

The UK budget deficit is growing, not contracting, as is claimed. Two one off gains (Post Office £28bn BofE £2.3bn) were given to the government in April of this year totalling £30.3bn. These are accounting entries and should not cloud the overall problem so I wont let it. The real deficit in this fiscal is £5bn higher than 2011/12 putting it in line with 2010/11. If my concerns below are correct, then the deficit, net of the chancellors windfalls from the post office and the proposed BofE QE payment, could be as high as the 2009/10 deficit.

Lets look at the government receipts year to date (April-Sept) of £255.5bn. These are up £2bn on last year equivalent period. Within that gain is an increase of £2bn in VAT and an increase of £2bn in Nat. Ins. Contributions (NIC). However, taxes on Income and Wealth were down £2.4bn. Breaking down the Income and Wealth, Income tax is down £0.6bn in the six month period but more importantly £2.4bn in 2012 thus far versus the 2011 period. Many economists have been confused at the positive unemployment data whilst GDP is so weak. As I stated in several blogs on the UK earlier this year (See UK blogs) employment creation is of poor quality whilst job losses are of many high earners. This is clearly borne out in the NIC receipts vs Income tax receipts. This tells me that disposable incomes are falling much faster than is currently implied by inflation rate (c 3%) minus  wage growth (c 2%). The only way consumption is holding on to current levels (apart from lower mortgage rates) is the creative ways consumers are raising money. Equity Release, Pawn Brokers, Jewelry Sales, Payday Loans etc. With net Income falling and the government needing to raise more taxes, this bodes very badly for the high street and commercial property prices, as I have mentioned before. The biggest hit to the tax take will come in the January harvest which is the biggest single month for tax payment. This year will be a disaster. High income earners in the city have shrunk in number with a majority of those left seeing a further 20-40% reduction in total compensation. I expect this will contribute to a reduction in the tax take by £3-4bn in January alone. Windfall taxes (from Banking) experienced by the outgoing Labour government may never be repeated. Consumption will be focused into a shrinking band of strong retailers with the pound shops also seeing positive growth.

Lets look at the government expenditure year to date (Apr-Sept) of £313bn. These are up £6.5bn on last year equivalent period. A couple of items stick out. An increase of £5bn in benefit payments hardly indicates employment is strong. It just makes me believe even more that the jobs being created are little better than minimum wage hence still in the social benefit net but not earning sufficient to generate much tax. Interest payments on the accumulated debt are actually lower than last year which indicates just how much QE is helping the government. This debt servicing benefit comes at a price. The elderly who rely on savings or annuity rates to generate an income are blown away. So I class QE as just another hidden tax. Of course, if Sterling collapses as I expect, interest rates may well rise pushing the debt servicing bill much higher.

One million interest only mortgages expire by 2020 which will put a burden on many who have no credible repayment plan. Changes to the Income Drawing Pensions of 400,000 pensioners will greatly reduce their disposable income over the next year or so as 10,000 a month face a re-calculation of payouts. Tax increases both planned and proposed will drain the consumption potential of the populous still further. Can you honestly think that toying with austerity is going to work. The option of spending more to reflate as proposed by the stupid Mr Balls, will not work either. As I have explained in recent blogs, spending on infrastructure, benefits mainly the overseas manufacturers of machinery and immigrant workers who will work for far less than the indigenous population can afford to take.

The only way forward is to put our hands up and say we fluffed it. The Gilts held by the BofE (approx 30% of debt) should be cancelled. As this would quite rightly horrify the markets, a few provisos need to be applied with the intention of shrinking government significantly. So much discretionary spending exists that radical changes be forced on government to cut all but essential spending. This will make the first few years of adjustment very painful. It is imperative to point out that during the massive build up of government debt, the only group of society to have made gains are the wealthy who have seen a massive increase in net worth. The poor have by and large remained poor. The middle class have just been saddled with an almighty level of debt. A degree of balance is required in the fortunes of the UK population.

1)  Government debt must never go above the new lower Debt to GDP ratio (following the 30% write off)

2) Budget deficits are never to be above 2% of GDP  whilst ensuring the above is adhered to (excluding War of course)

Several aggressive changes need to be made to fiscal policy. I have a complete array of ideas but below are just a few.

1) Public sector wages to be cut 30%. No bonuses ever to be paid in Public Sector.

2 )Tax free earnings threshold doubled to £16,000

3) A 90% Tax on earnings/compensation above 30x the average earnings in a company. This tax is waived if 51% of shareholders vote in favour of an employee receiving such a payout. Owners of private companies should have no problems being majority shareholders.

4) No benefits of any kind paid to families with £40,000 income (combined or otherwise)

5) Corporation tax cut to 12%.

I have many social ideas which I proposed in my manifesto for the 2010 General Election including school class sizes based upon the surrounding density of population (with a maximum of 15 for the densest inner city areas) in order to give teachers a chance. A unique Foreign Aid package based on the Ark Royal painted in the Union Jack staffed with x-service personnel and furnished with all the equipment to build schools, hospitals etc which of course would be supplied by UK companies. It would sail the world doing great things and loved wherever it goes with a fleet of UK built support ships. If you would like to see a full read of my policies on Government, Europe, Immigration, Health, Transport, Banking/Savings, Economy and Defence please contact me via this site and I will forward a copy.

 

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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, National Debt, Predictions, UK 2 Comments

Economic Seismic Shift.

I am becoming more concerned that economic activity throughout the world is slowing so rapidly that a global meltdown could be around the corner. My worry for equity markets is that the last seismic shift that occurred between 1958 and 1960 is about to be reversed. In 1958, equity dividend yields were around 7.1% and the Price Earnings Ratio (PE) was 5.6. During the next two years the market rose 122% and the first reverse yield gap appeared (Aug 1959 when equity yields @ 4.76%  dropped below gilts,2 1/2% Consols @4.77%) and it stayed with us until 2008 when central banks initiated QE. The inspiration for this seismic shift was a reassessment of the belief that equities were not safe investments for pension funds and should not make up a large part of any portfolio. A speech by George Ross Goobey in 1956 put the cat amongst the pigeons but it was not until the Manchester Corporation lead the charge (into Equities) did the earthquake really hit. It is interesting to note that for the first time since that shift, UK Pension funds have raised the Bond holdings in their porfolios (43%) above that of Equities (38%).

Why has this obsession with Equities been so compelling for the last 60+ years? My answer is very simple. Governments have become increasingly short term in their outlook. Politicians, along with Central Bank Governors, have been increasingly happy to borrow out of trouble, a policy which up until a few tears ago worked remarkably well for them. The problem is at some point the music has to stop. If you take a look at Charts 5 and 6, you will see the rise of the US and UK debt pile. Whilst these charts do not take into account inflation, they do illustrate very graphically, how the stakes have got ever bigger. Chart 7 just shows how each of the most recent US Presidents have raised borrowing. Mr Obama made many pledges when he first came to office. If he had said that he was going to spend $4 Trillion more than tax receipts trying to implement them, he would have been hounded out of town. Chart 8 shows just how sad this whole process has become. It is the simple cost of servicing (interest) the near 230% of Debt to GDP that Japan has accumulated. It indicates that the lion share of tax revenue is being spent on paying for all that previous spending. I have written several blogs on the imminent demise of that country.

If the global planned austerity measures for 2013/14 are implemented, tax take by governments will rise dramatically. Disposable income will be the main looser,NO! Sorry, the main loser will be company profits. One of the most commonly used reasons to buy Equities is that they are cheap according to the current multiple or PE vs the average of the past twenty years or so. What if the economic conditions that lead to the market being cheap in 1958 are no longer applicable to the future. Governments must reduce the level of debt or the cost of servicing will engulf tax revenues and disaster will ensue. Indeed, we may already be close to that point. It is not a fiscal cliff the world faces but a fiscal earthquake. As disposable incomes decline, company earnings will become far more unpredictable. This should demand a far lower PE (higher yield) than the previous 20 or 30 years. Whilst a return to 1958 levels is a bit outrageous, a rebasing to around 8 or 9 appears more apt. This would imply equities 30% lower. Commodity markets will feel the full force of this consumption decline thus putting the BRICs squarely back into lesser developed catergory. Gold will not be the place to put your money but more of that in my next blog

 

Economics in pictures.

I have updated some data which will be familiar to regular readers. First up, the Suez Canal transit data. This shows monthly cargo volumes passing through the canal. I have written about why I feel this is an important gauge on several occasions. Primarily, it is the fact that 90% of goods that you purchase have, or have components that have, travelled by sea. Pinch points like the canal act as a pulse reading. As you can see from the first chart, growth is going nowhere. In fact the total number of ships passing through has fallen each month since March vs 2011 (yes, new ships are bigger). Another note of interest, is the explosive growth  of  Crude transiting southbound. I guess the Arab Spring and the Iranian embargo will have some distorting affect but I am more inclined to believe it is the build up of Chinese strategic reserve. This volume is likely to slow dramatically in 2013 as storage facilities are at capacity. LNG has slowed significantly which is why the gap between the two sets of data has not grown more.

Click on charts to expand

Next up is the direction of traffic through the canal. No prizes for this one. As you can see, Northbound (90% Europe and 8% USA) is contracting. The January 2012 spike (southbound) was caused by an enormous inventory build ahead of the Chinese new year. Products such as Cereal and Coal jumped significantly but it was Iron Ore which had a big impact. I wrote several times in the spring regarding inventory levels and predicted correctly a large fall in the Ore price. The seasonal build will occur as usual prior to the next new year but I fear it will be more reserved than 2012. This will have a distorting negative impact on the year on year data.

Within the traffic data is a breakdown of particular ship cargoes. Containers are always interesting as they drown out the noise of the volatile commodities which transit in huge volume. More finished goods and components travel this way so it can be a good handle on consumer demand or at least confidence in the inventory level of consumer products. The chart starts just after the Chinese injected $586bn to reflate the economy alongside the first US QE (see above chart for full impact of these two measures). As expected, it balloooooned. Of course, this year the authorities have been more concerned with inflation and a housing bubble. Thus, the rate of growth has slowed and in fact turned negative last month. When the new leaders are announced this week, it will be interesting to see if they start with a big bang of reflationary policies. The outgoing regime have recently raised road, rail, sewer and port infrastructure spending, so little scope exists for a big whammy.

USA. I have updated this regular feature. It shows the traffic flows on Warren Buffet`s BNSF railroad. The Total Freight annual growth rate peaked eight weeks ago and has declined each week since. This somewhat confirms the recent picture being painted by corporate America during the current earnings season. As you can see the Housing materials appear to be in fine shape but the rest are starting to slow. In fact the star of the year has been containers which have been up around 7% all year, last week however, the weekly number was negative for the first time in 2012. The lower diesel price may have had an influence as it helps trucking with competitiveness. I will eat my hat if housing continues its uplift in 2013.

Chart 5

Chart 6 

 

 

Borrowing by governments is the drug that fuels Equity performance.

 

Chart 7

Chart 8

My next blog will be an attack on George Osbourne`s inability to make a real difference. The UK is damned by his torpor!

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John `Bernanke` Wayne Rides to the Rescue. Too Late??

Hazard Warning Lights for Volvo, Scania and MAN (April 2012)… I wrote (back then and since) about my serious concern for the heavy truck industry at a time when the industry was talking of great things ahead in terms of sales. Just this week Paccar announced it expects third quarter (3Q) production to be 15-20% lower than the 2Q which is double the decline previously expected. August heavy truck sales in North America continued to indicate demand below total production. This leads me to a concern I raised back in March that at some point US inventory build would become a problem. The most recent data on Wholesale inventories confirms just that. The Inventory to Sales ratio is beginning to increase and of course with the fiscal cliff approaching this is not an ideal situation to be in. Overall industrial inventory data for last month is due soon. I believe this is becoming a global problem as consumption continues to struggle. Car dealers in China now have over 2 months of inventory on the forecourts vs half that last year. Hitachi Construction Machinery (Worlds 3rd biggest) announced that it will idle production at its China plant due to excessive inventory. This follows production cuts by  Caterpillar and Komatsu in the region. Everywhere you look in the heavy industry world, production is above demand. This is leading to the cancelling of upstream investment programmes as seen by the mining companies. Inventory of finished steel products at Chinese manufacturers is up to 12 days or +35% on 2011. This is on top of wholesale and final sale inventory outlets. The use of pre-registration cars to shift production is leading to a build up of nearly new cars in Europe too. With sales falling dramatically in the region as a whole, further production cuts will be forthcoming on top of Opel in Germany and the French manufacturers. The tonnage of ships being laid up is growing by the day and the Baltic Freight Index is now lower than the depths of 2008 and getting close to the all time low set in 1986.

In May I wrote Is Global Trade Growing? with the now familiar chart of trade flow via the Suez Canal. Below is an update which although on the face of it looks slightly more positive for Southbound (China) traffic, it is worth bearing in mind that total volume has fallen in the last quarter vs the corresponding year for the first time since late 2009.  The port of Shanghai handled 8% fewer Containers month on month in August which was down 7% year on year. Total cargo handled was down 15%. The southbound traffic data were influenced by a 100% uptick in fuel/energy products which masked a 50% month on month decline in the growth rate of containers, to only 2% (lowest growth rate since April)

 click on charts to expand

UK Commercial Property. I have been negative on this sector for the whole year. It was interesting to read the recent sector update by Savills highlighting the sector weakness in August. This is the forth month in a row of contracting activity and was the biggest monthly decline (-14.8%) since December 2011.

Japan. I am still short the Yen but my resolve was surely tested last night when it traded at 77.13 after the FED QE3 announcement. If it trades below 77.00 I am out and feeling considerably poorer and mighty stupid. I am still strongly of the opinion that it will suffer a fiscal cliff of its own. See my many previous blogs on the subject. The chart below gives the short term prospective but for a 40 year chart showing the Yen at 360 to the dollar in the 1970s, see my blog  January 25th  this year. I believe this could be the start of a 25% decline in the Yens fortune. Today the Finace Minister warned of headwinds for the economy and that the strong Yen was doing harm. You are not kidding!

Sterling. I still believe it is only a matter of time before the markets realise that the UK is a busted flush. Once the Olympic dust has settled, unemployment will rise once again putting yet more upward pressure on the budget deficit. The UK Government must realise this softly softly approach to deficit reduction will not work in an environment of global austerity. Urgent action is needed to cut government spending circa 30% and reduce the corporate tax and red tape burden. If the narrowing band, which has been in place since 2009, should break 1.64. I will have egg on my face. Should it break 1.54 on the downside, I will be on the right path.

 

 US Car Sales. I have been sceptical about the significant growth of sales which has been somewhat at odds with the lacklustre employment data. Having read a blog by James Quinn (senior Director of planning at a major University, he claims) some light has been shed on the matter. Sadly, his explanation is all rather familiar, sub-prime lending is now accountable for 45% of all car loans. As 77% of all new cars are financed it shows the quality of the customer. Loan duration is being extended ( beyond 5 years) and loan to value is rising reaching 110% on new cars and 127% on used. Not only that but 10% of all loans are categorized as `Deep Sub-Prime` eg a credit score requirement akin to that of Yogi Bear..OK BOO BOO faster than the average bear! Worryingly, consumer credit is back (net of the banking write offs) to an all time high. Has the FED really learnt no lessons. Pumping cheap money into banks who lend with no real concern. All this on top of the US Governments deficit which yesterday showed an $191bn August shortfall taking the 11 months of 2012 to $1.16 Trillion not far short of last year and around 7.2% of GDP. Some social spending was brought forward from next month so September should not be such a big surprise. Of course, when the government brings forward social spending it is just helping the retail data for that month to the detriment of the next. The cliff is getting nearer. Can you hear the waves yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Consumption vs Transportation.

Where is the global economy going?

I refer to previous blogs which were negative on Truck Makers, Shipping and Commercial Property

Today’s release by Markit Economics on August Eurozone retail activity helps paint a picture of global activity. A statement from the research company sums up Europe ` The current ten months of declines in Eurozone sales (to August) is the second longest in the surveys history behind that of the 2008/9 crisis`. I urge you to think of the world as a whole and gauge where total demand is heading. Lets start with Europe, retail activity is falling for now but where is it heading? Well, it is not difficult to understand that the austerity measures having and due to be implemented, will drain demand still further. Sadly, inflation is not helping anyone. It is constantly just above the anemic wage growth leading to a contraction in disposable income. Interest rates are at rock bottom so no matter how they try, central bankers cant get money into consumers pockets. Banks are all but defunct with untold losses in real estate and shipping, to name but a few areas. Now the second biggest global economy, China. Who knows where consumption is heading but yesterdays article in the Telegraph of business collapse and bad debts really only starts to open the can of worms of bad debts. With real estate (and other asset) profits having driven a tsunami of consumer growth over the last ten years, it is difficult to see how they can repeat the massive boost to the world economy they achieved in 2009. With house price to wages (ratio) the highest in the world can they really afford to re-ignite that inflationary spiral. They will continue to ease monetary policy at a pace which suits them not the rest of the world as in 2009. Now the third biggest economy Japan. Having written several blogs on their impending doom, today’s weak retail sales data were no surprise to me and  I feel herald a consumption contraction which will last for many years. The 230% of debt to GDP the government carries will make it very difficult to stimulate growth. The shift in the workforce over the last ten years tells me thay have the western disease. Manufacturing jobs have declined by around 1,500,000 to the lowest percentage of the workforce since 1953 whilst their has been an explosion of around 2,000,000 people in social services and healthcare. This is not a recipe for long term growth as these new jobs carry a greater likely hood of lower earning potential. Now the big daddy, USA. Ask yourself a question `Do you trust politicians?`OK thats was a resounding answer. In which case the fiscal cliff is a real danger. With an annual budget deficit of over $1 Trillion for the whole of the  Obama presidency, it is little wonder that the economy has managed some growth. Of course it needed extra help from the Federal Reserve. All that has to stop and at the end of 2012 the Bush/Obama tax cuts are due to expire. Where do you think consumption will be when they finally bite the bullet?

So that’s the biggest economies of the world taken care of. I think we should look at the BRICs. I have written many blogs on the subject mainly due to my concerns (dating back to January) for Iron Ore. The dynamic growth of these countries was centred around the explosive growth in commodity prices and hence the unbelievable investment that followed. Just bear in mind, Iron Ore, started the millenium below $20 per tonne and reached $200 two years ago. I believe they have a chill wind of reality blowing there way which will see a dramatic reversal in inward investment resulting in lower consumption.

Can you imagine what it is like living with me? A bundle of fun for Mrs H!

ps The landscaping business is very poor so would love to hear from anyone who wants to employ a crazy bear with 28 years experience in the City.

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Thursday, August 30th, 2012 BRICs, China, Debt, GDP, Japan, Shipping, UK, US Economy No Comments

BRICs Steel and the UK (update)

UK Money Supply…As I mentioned in my earlier blog Where is all this money coming from?  P=MV or Nominal GDP=Money Supply x Velocity. I know the old fashioned M4 data (see below) is no longer favoured by the Bank of England, as it includes too many financial transactions, never the less it has a story to tell. If you innocently take the direction and depth of contraction in Money Supply and couple that with an expression of Velocity, you come to a conclusion where GDP is heading. So the big question is, What is the Velocity of money doing? I have a rather simplistic idea of Velocity. If shop vacancy rates are rising, which they are, it polarises demand into the bigger high street names but is a negative for Velocity. If disposable incomes are falling, which they are, and inflation remains stubbornly high, which it is, then that is a negative for Velocity. If Taxation is rising, which it is, that is a negative. Asset prices are also an important factor. Forget about stock markets as they have gone sideways for the whole of this millennium. The biggest positive influence on Velocity has been Real-Estate (Housing). In my simple world I believe that the increase in house prices (to the owner occupier UK citizen) between the mid 1990`s and 2007, gave him/her an addition 20% annual uplift of disposable spending power during that time. If I am right in thinking house prices will decline by 5% this year, that uplift is reversed and only compounds the contraction to disposable spending mentioned earlier. So, to sum up, Money Supply (old fashioned) is contracting and the influences on Velocity are negative. If I wanted to be outrageous, I would say that this implies a contraction in the UK economy of 3-5% over the next 18 months.  Below is the annual % growth/contraction of M4.

In the words of the late prime minister Harold Macmillan

`A successful economy must be based on the production of wealth and marketable goods, We must transfer away from an over-reliance on services, back to production. We cannot go on borrowing for ever` Economageddon..The end is near

 

BRICs and Steel…I have raised the importance of heavy industries to the world economy many times, generally, with references to the shipping industry (around 90% of goods have had a sea journey).  My concerns have centered on the level of capacity and supply in the worlds biggest market. Recent developments in the Shanghai Steel market  have given me reason to update. Whilst daily steel output is at a record 2 million tonnes per day, consumption is failing to keep up. Spot prices have now fallen back to early March lows. Inventory paydown has been a driving factor. Over the last 5 years, inventory has fallen by 20% during the busy spring period (nine weeks). This year, inventory (which was not low to start with) has only fallen by 10%. This has also lead to a slight decline in Iron Ore prices. We are nearing a very important point in the global economy!!! If China does nothing to ease monetary policy by the end of May, things will turn ugly. Steel companies in China had a disastrous Q1 losing around $1bn. If demand is not stimulated by the state, prices will fall. This is not only a negative for the vastly over supplied steel market but more importantly the BRICs and Australia who have built a large part of their success on the export of Iron Ore. Of course, this scenario would be the straw that broke the camels back for the Shipping Industry. Keep a weather eye on the Baltic Index as it may be an early indicator of weaker demand. I have written extensively on these subjects and just this scenario earlier in the year BRICs and Steel  Iron Ore The Perfect Storm  The Plimsoll line is clearly visible!

 

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Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 BRICs, China, GDP, Shipping, Steel, UK No Comments

America breaks records…Swinter in USA

You cant trust the economic stats for Q1 2012. Watch the Weekly Unemployment Claims.

The list of data below is taken from the Minneapolis “Star Tribune” . Whilst this was not a record day, it does show the divergence from the norm is quite stark.

70 F. high in the Twin Cities on Thursday, just one degree away from the record of 71, set in 1945.

44 F. average high for March 22.

39 F. high temperature a year ago, on March 22, 2011.

4.5″ snow. A year ago the Twin Cities was enjoying/enduring a “plowable” snowfall. 4″ fell on March 22, another 4.1″ on March 23, 2011.

22.3″ snow so far this winter season, least since 1986-87, when 17.4″ fell at KMSP.

10th least winter snowfall since 1884 in the Twin Cities.

+16 F. March temperatures, to date, are 16 degrees warmer than average in the metro area.

16 new daily warm-weather record for the Twin Cities since March 10.

Throughout the Swinter of 2012 records have been tumbling both for record highs and the prolonged period of those highs. As another indication of the level of divergence, Bangor, Maine, saw a high of 83f last week verses the previous record of just 64f. The net effect on employment during this freak (at least the ski resorts hope its freak with the likes of Colorado down 7% on 2011) weather must not be underestimated. The weekly unemployment claims will be the first to show if the trend to higher employment is sustainable or on the whole, also just a freak of nature. Retail sales must have been very positively influenced. It will only become clear in the April/May period just how much purchasing has been brought forward. When you look at data from Master Card, it must make you wonder just how strong this period of strong growth is. Gasoline consumption during the spring break was down 5.6% on 2011. The 4 week moving average has fallen for 52 straight weeks and stands 6.6% lower than 2011. If employment was as strong as has been indicated and the jobs created were of high tax paying calibre (as I have questioned in previous blogs) the sharp rise in fuel prices would have been absorbed and demand at worst maintained.

The very positive affects of the corporate tax incentives (mentioned many times here) coupled with the Swinter of 2012, might have created the perfect storm. As the deadline for the automatic government spending cuts gets closer this may just have provided investors with an opportunity to sell while stocks last. By January 1st next year, US$ 1.2 TRILLION of spending cuts will be imposed on who ever is in power. Obama`s payroll tax cut and unemployment extension will expire. Geo. Bush`s crazy tax cuts will finally (hopefully) breathe a final breath. On top of all that, the afore mentioned corporate tax incentive which gave 100% relief on capital investments in 2011 and 50% in 2012, dies. It appears that the `Perfect Storm` has created conditions which allow investors an opportunity to sell and sit on the sidelines whilst analyst try to justify why they have so many BUY recommendations on stocks.

Europe will continue to drag the world down. As I have stated before Economageddon Dec 2011, countries like Spain have been lying about their fiscal position for a long time. Only now, and last weeks budget is the last nail in its coffin, will the Mediterranean economies return to what they know best, tourism.

Ireland… Never was a Silk Purse! will return to an Agricultural economy and the GDP in the Eurozone will fall much further than estimated. The austerity measures around the world to date, do not cut debt, merely slow its accumulation. Until we get to a point where politicians stop playing 5 a side soccer (for you Americans) with tin cans, the end cannot be reached.

 

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 Consumer Debt, Debt, USD 1 Comment

There`s Commies under the LVMH Futon

China talks the talk on equality.

Comments made by Bo Xilai  (Politburo member and Communist Party Secretary for the Chongquing Municiplaity) at a National Peoples congress in Shanghai, have tied in nicely with the press release last week by ten government agencies that I commented on in my blog Quiet in Class.

He stated that the wealth gap has exceeded the point where social unrest becomes more likely.The Gini coefficient has exceeded 0.46. A reading above 0.40 is the level where the authorities become twitchy. His main worry is that the narrow focus of wealth is creating a slide into capitalism and if this were to happen it would be a wrong path to follow.

 In a separate speech but very much in a similar vane, Wu Banngguo, head of the NPC, said “China in the next year would adjust the income tax system to give a bigger role to taxation in adjusting income distribution”. 
Given the growing unrest within the country it might just be possible that they are prepared not to just talk the talk but to walk the walk as well. If this leads to higher taxes in an effort to create a fledgling social welfare system, then we may well see a re-balancing of the economy. This may significantly reduce the sales growth of luxury goods companies, a sector which I have had doubts about in previous blogs.

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Friday, March 9th, 2012 China No Comments
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