Defeat

Interesting things going on in the world of gloom, doom, and despair recently.

The FT is running an article where the US secretary of agriculture basically warns that there is food crunch ahead:

The US agriculture secretary has warned that unless countries take immediate steps to sharply boost agricultural productivity and food output and reduce hunger, the world risks fresh social instability.

“This is not just about food security, this is about national security, it is about environmental security,” he said on the sidelines of the first meeting of the Group of Eight ministers of agriculture.

Charming.

Lots of talk about the US Treasury ‘stress tests’ for the banks. The worst case scenario that they are using is predicated on the headline unemployment number hitting 10.4% by the end of next year (it’s currently 8.5%, and rising fast… it’ll probably hit 10% in a couple of month, maximum) and a decline in house prices of 29% from the start of this year, and over a similar period… they are currently down 22%, and, you guessed it, falling rapidly.

The other issue is that while stress tests might have seemed like a good idea at the time, now that the results have to be released, there are all sorts of dilemmas. If all the banks pass with flying colours were the tests rigged? If some of the banks fail, and are sent off to secure new capital over the next six months, what is going to happen to their shares? Will it provoke runs on the failing banks? Perhaps the results could be kept secret.. that always inspires confidence.

This is looking like a slightly different take on the old, ‘good bank / bad bank’ discussion. The outcome doesn’t stand much chance of being much different… the people will end up assuming the position (all of the risk) while the banks try to hide their losses. What a mess.

This piece by Cynicus Economicus is really worth reading (as are the comments). He makes a pretty good case for believing that the anglo-saxon system of capitalism has run it’s course, and that we are now going to live through a very different (and declining) part of the cycle. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that societies develop in cycles, going from youthful exuberance, middle aged stability, to staid old age. There seem to be many examples of this… and i’m sure a lot has been written about it. I’m already reading too much.

The other aspect of that piece, that is far more worrying, is the idea that the Chinese have twigged to the idea that Fed printing money <cough> embarking on quantitative easing, is a de facto act of default on the debt. There is evidence out there that China is positioning itself to survive this figurative middle finger to the developing world. 

Graphs like that (from here) make it clear that the Chinese are very aware of the “dollar trap” and, if the reports of them moving to buying up natural resources, precious metals, etc. are to be believed, actively working to insulate themselves from the US attempting to inflate themselves out of debt.

It’s a disturbing prospect on many levels. Defaulting on debts denominated in the worlds reserve currency… seems like a road to terrible instability, economic warfare, and eventually, outright conflict. It’s always said that war is only way out of depression, and it’s easy to see why. Personally, i’m not convinced that it’s inevitable… an odd moment of optimism?

On another positive note, the sheer size of China’s dollar denominated reserves mean that they aren’t going to unduly rock the boat. They’ll be trying to beat an orderly retreat, reallocating into other currencies, and assets. This movement is going to take time. Meaning that those of us with exposure to the dollar might see a period of relative stability until the endgame (a new world reserve currency, that greatly reduces America’s influence) becomes obvious / inevitable.

It’s looks to me that China has their eyes on the prize and is very much playing to win… will be interesting to see if Japan choses to go ‘down with the ship’ or makes like a rat. There is a lot of historic baggage to be lugged around, but surely pragmatism will force Japan to reconsider it’s current position as the outsider in Asia.

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Bear Entrails

Can you tell i’m catching up with my reading?

four-bears-large

Over on dshort.com there are updates of the Four Bad Bears, and Mega-bear Quartet. The first of those links to some pretty interesting looking datasets / discussions. In essence this is now the 2nd worst S&P / DOW market in a hundred years… I’m guessing the Great Depression record is going to be hard to beat. Despite all my cynicism, it does appear that some lessons have been learned in the preceding years.

That being said, the Swiss have started trying to devalue of the swissy, that doesn’t bode well.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the S&P tracks the 30s collapse. My feeling is that we’ll see a similar pattern of long decline, punctuated by ‘Sucker Rallies’. The peaks and troughs in those graphs are really maps of human nature, and despite what history tells them, people just want to believe!

Hope. Hope has bought us this far – far enough to shred our hearts to pieces.

Decline and Fall

There was a big climate change meeting in Copenhagen last week:

Don’t be misled by the recent cold winter in Europe and north America – or by this week’s conference of vocal climate change sceptics in New York. Pay attention instead to the larger gathering in Copenhagen, where mainstream scientists have issued a series of dire warnings that global warming is proceeding far faster than the scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change two years ago.

Many politicians who believe in global warming have taken some comfort from the IPCC consensus opinion that average temperatures will rise by about 2°C this century, an increase to which the world could just about adapt. Unfortunately that view is out of date, according to recent evidence presented in Copenhagen and elsewhere – ranging from the rapid thinning of Arctic ice to the unexpected vulnerability of the Amazon rainforests to drought and heat.

Rather sobering to think that that quote is taken from the Financial Times…

I’ve not really been paying enough attention to such things for the last couple of months, there has been another ‘meltdown’ going on that demanded attention and understanding. While that situation is obviously far from over (as previously noted, i think it’ll drag on for at least a decade) the general outcome doesn’t appear to be in much doubt.

We are going to see a decline and fall of anglo-saxon capitalism, and with it an overall subsidence in the wealth of the world. Trillions of dollars of wealth has already been eradicated since mid 2007, and as the basis of so much of that wealth (property) is still falling in value, there isn’t much reason to assume that the leveraged decent is going to ease up.

Along with that, there has been a huge decline in world trade, the sentiment has turned against consumption. Fear and frugality are the order of the day. The longer the descent continues, the more people are swindled out of their savings / pensions / “investments” (come on, they were bets!), the longer it’s going to take to get back to what we considered normal. Of course, that ignores the idea that we’re living in normal times, and that all we were doing was pissing away our inheritance…

Where does this leave of beleaguered environment? On one hand the collapse of economic activity will probably end up buying the next generation some time (remember, we are only just starting to pay for the sins of our fathers). The reduction in world trade, transportation, tourism, industrial activity means that more coal / oil will stay in the ground… for longer.

However, on the other hand, it seems very unlikely that America, China, India, and Europe are going to pushing through the kind of radical investment programs that are needed to de-carbonise their economies. In times of economic hardship, the environment suffers, a luxury that cannot be afforded, and a hardship that can be spread thinly enough to never really be an issue… especially if you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from! More than that – there is a good chance that some of the G20 nations are actually bankrupt, and unable to take on any more debt.

Nick, The Modern Mystic, over on YouTube makes a good case for believing that we are now at a point where the governments of the world will have to admit failure, and overturn 500+ years of contract law, or tough it out through societal collapse / civil unrest, with un-payable debts. The later seems unpalatable, while the former seems merely impossible…