Archive for April, 2013

When it comes to the real measure of a nation’s economic output, one can rely on “flexible”, constantly changing definitions of what constitutes the creation of “goods and services” as well as transactions thereof, goalseeked to meet the propaganda of constant growth no matter what (and which it appears will now, arbitrarily, include intangibles such as iTunes), or one can go to the very core of “growth” (just ask the anti-Austerians for whom debt and growth are interchangeable) which is and has always been a reflection of the increase (or decrease) in broad and narrow liquidity or money supply, which in turn means how much money is created through loans, either via commercial banks or the central monetary authority, also known as the Federal Reserve.

This is best shown by the following chart which shows the near unity (on the same axis) between US GDP and total liabilities in the US commercial banking system (traditionally the primary source of loan creation) as reported quarterly by the Fed’s Flow of Funds statement (combining statements L.110, L.111 and L.112)

The chart above implies one simple thing: if there is loan creation, and thus injection of liquidity in the system, there is growth. If there is no liquidity injection, there is no growth, at least growth as defined by GDP-tracking economists.

And here we run into the problem.

A quick look at just loan and lease creation in the US commercial bank system reveals something very troubling: at $7.290 trillion as of the week of April 17 (a decline of $12 billion from the week before) there has been exactly zero loan creation in the US commercial bank sector, conventionally the primary locus where money demand translates into new loans as the Fed itself defines it in Modern Money Mechanics: A Workbook on Bank Reserves and Deposit Expansion, since the failure of Lehman brothers. Specifically, in October 2009 total loans and leases outstanding in the US were $7.323 trillion. This means that loans, historically the biggest asset on bank balance sheets by far and whose matched liability is deposits, have been responsible for negative $30 billion in GDP growth in the past five years (source).

And yet, as the first chart above shows, total US bank liabilities have grown by $1.6 trillion since the failure of Lehman (from $13.6 trilion at December 2008 to $15.3 trillion as of the end of 2012) which means bank assets have also grown by a comparable amount, resulting in a matched GDP growth of roughly $2 trillion. How is this possible if commercial bank loan creation has been dormant at best, and in reality – negative, and no incremental matched liabilities could have possibly been created?

Simple: Presenting “Exhibit A” – the Federal Reserve, which has created $1.8 trillion in incremental reserves since the failure of Lehman, bringing its total balance sheet to $3.3 trillion.

The chart above shows that far more than merely goosing the market to record levels based on nothing but hot potato chasing by Primary Dealers loaded to the gills with record liquidity, and momentum-escalating High Frequency Trading algorithms, the Fed’s “out of thin air” created excess reserves (a liability for the Fed) have come home to roost on the balance sheets of banks in the US (including foreign banks operating in the US) as positive carry (at the IOER rate) assets.

It also means that the Fed’s excess liquidity, at least from an accounting identity standpoint, has manifested itself purely in the form of consumer and corporate deposits held at US banks ($9.351 trillion as of April 17), which as the chart below shows, used to track loans on a one to one basis, until QE started, and have since then surpassed total loans by just about the amount that the Fed has injected into the system.

Of course, the sad reality of what happens to the economy when the Fed pushes not only reserves into banks, but forces “deposits” into the hands of consumers and corporations, is precisely the one we have witnessed for the past four years: no real growth apart from the propaganda, with occasional spurts of growth driven by confusing the surge in the stock market (which is more than happy to absorb the record liquidity and where JPM and other banks use the excess deposits over loans to buy stocks and other risk assets) with a push higher in the economy. In the meantime, the middle class evisceration continues, the real unemployment is 11.6% or unchanged since 2009, US households on foodstamps are at a new record high every month, core CapEx spending is imploding to a pace not seen since 2008,  corporate earnings and revenues are stagnant at best, while companies continue to get stigmatized for daring to keep excess cash on their books instead of investing it (that the rate of return on such “investments” would be negative according to the corporate executives themselves is apparently entirely lost on the propaganda media and political talking point pundits).

But at least the S&P is at record highs, and corporate and sovereign yields are at record lows.

Sadly, since there never is a free lunch, what the above data tells us is that due to the persistent refusal of banks to take over from the Fed as lender (and money creator) of main resort over four years into the “recovery”, that $2 trillion of the $16 trillion in US GDP is now held hostage by the Fed. In other words, if it wasn’t for the Fed’s “narrow liquidity“, “low power money“, whatever one wants to call it, creation, US GDP would be 12% lower, or at June 2007 levels. It also means that virtually every incremental dollar of US GDP “growth” comes solely courtesy of Ben Bernanke’s narrow money spigot.

And since the US has to “grow”, since US GDP has to be spoonfed to the masses as increasing at a ~1.5% annualized rate every quarter, and since US banks continue to not lend (and in fact their eagerness to not lend is further cemented by the far easier returns they can generate courtesy of the Fed in chasing stocks, and not take on NPL risk in exchange for meager 4-5% annual returns, which means a feedback loop is created where more QE means less bank lending means more QE means less bank lending), can all trivial and absolutely meaningless discussion over whether the Fed will halt QE (now or ever) finally end? It absolutely never will, until everything one day comes crashing down.

A lot of Americans know that the US government is out of control. Anyone who has cared enough to study the US Constitution even a little knows this. Still, very few of these people are taking any significant action, and largely because of one error: They are waiting for “the good guys” to show up and fix things.

Some think that certain groups of politicians will pull it together and fix things, or that one magnificent politician will ride in to fix things. Others think that certain members of the military will step in and slap the politicians back into line. And, I’m sure there are other variations.

There are several problems with this. I’ll start with the small issues:

  1. It doesn’t happen. A lot of good people have latched on to one grand possibility after another, waiting for a good guy to save the day, and it just doesn’t happen. Thousands of hours of reading, writing and waiting are burned with each new “great light” who comes along with a promise to run the system in the “right” way, and give us liberty and truth. (Or whatever.) Lots of decent folks grab on to one pleasant dream after another, only to end up right back where they started… but poorer in time, energy and finances.
  2. Hope is a scam. It’s a dream of someday, somehow, getting something for nothing. People who hope do not act – they wait for other people to act. Hope is a tool to neuter a natural opposition: they sit and hope, and never act against you. Even the biblical meaning of hope is something more like expectation (or sometimes waiting) than the modern use of hope.
  3. Petitioning an abuser for compassion. The “good guys” are considered to be a few people inside the abusive government. But if the good guys were really good, wouldn’t they have dissociated themselves with an abuser some time ago? By pleading for the good guys to rise up, people are asking one sub-group of the abusers to save them from the rest of the abusers. However, they all work for the same operation; they all get paid out of the same offices; according to the same rulebook. And if the good guys are so willing to turn against their employers, why would they have waited until now?
  4. Movies. We all grew up in the company of movie heroes who rode in at the last minute to save the noble victims. From John Wayne to Star Trek to Bruce Willis, the story line differs little. These are pleasant stories, of course, but cinema is not reality, and hoping for it to become reality is something that we should get over prior to adulthood.

But, as I say, those are the smaller issues. Let’s move on to the serious ones.

The Magic System

A lot of Americans believe that the American “Founders” created a system that automatically fixes itself. They talk about the “balance of powers,” and think that it will always save them from a tyrant. The balanced powers of the US Constitution, however, were trashed within fifteen years and doubly-trashed just a century ago.

In the Constitution, the states balanced the power of the national government (the one now in Washington, DC.) Not only did the states control half of the legislature, but they decided if and how they would implement the edicts of the national government. And that included deciding whether a law was constitutional or not.

This changed in 1803 with the Marbury v. Madison ruling. This ruling – taught as a work of genius in American schools – was a fraud against the US Constitution. In it, the Supreme Court held that they understood the Constitution better than James Madison, the man who wrote it!

But worse than even this, they held – with absolutely no basis – that it was they who would decide what was constitutional or not. The states were tossed aside. Even the sitting President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, called it “a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

Marbury’s Judicial review (the Supremes ruling on constitutionality) merely involves one branch of the national government providing a check on the other branches of the national government. After Marbury, no one could check the national government.

Washington DC was unleashed with Marbury v. Madison. What made it almighty was the 17th Amendment of 1913, which took the powers of the states and transferred them to Washington, by mandating the popular election of senators.

With senators being elected directly by the populace, the states were cut-out of the equation. In their place, political parties gained massive power, and nearly all power was consolidated in the city of Washington.

And so it is today. Washington is an unfettered beast. The system will NOT fix itself; the mechanisms to do that were lost a long time ago.

The Easy Way Out

Standing up against a beast like Washington DC is scary, to be sure. Understandably, not many people want to do such a thing. But if the beast is abusing you, what other choice do you have? You can certainly avoid or evade the beast, but we all know that the beast hurts people it catches avoiding it, so the risk of doing this isn’t zero either.

So, what’s a person to do? They hate their abuse, but outright disobedience would be scary. Unfortunately, many people have come up with a third option: Get someone else to do it for you.

Lots of writers have done this, for example: Write flamboyantly about the abuses people face and stir them to “rise up against the power.” Fairly seldom does the writer take big risks himself – he just stirs up others to do the scary stuff.

Something very similar happens to basically moral people who don’t want to risk pain and suffering: they imagine good guys riding in to save them.

But, as I say, these are genuinely decent people, and they are willing to take smaller risks to help the good guys: They will spend time and money promoting them, and they will even accept name-calling in many cases. They just don’t want to become full-blown rebels and outcasts.

The result of this is predictable: abuse by the political class. If the politicians show them a viable possibility every election cycle, they’ll keep voting their way forever… and the hero never really has to show up.

The Sad Truth

Let’s just say it:

No one is going to ride in and save you.

If you want things to get better, then YOU will have to make them better. YOU will have to stand up and take the arrows, yourself. Liberty, at this stage of human development, requires risk and pain.

I trust that you will remember the end of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount: That it is not those who call upon his name who will be saved, but only those who DO the things he said.

Likewise in this situation, our only hope of salvation lies in DOING.