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EJ
08-10-06, 12:46 PM
Negative "Positive Feedback Loop" of Employment and Housing

Quick Comment - August 10, 2006

by Eric Janszen

I start my comment today with the following story:
Region feels ripples from home building slowdown (http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060809/BUSINESS/608090337)
August 10, 2006 (Miami Herald Tribune)
Slowdown in building is rocking small contractors as they scramble for jobs

Southwest Florida's cooling housing market is starting to pinch people whose livelihoods are tied to housing.

Many workers like cabinet-maker Jorge Ayo face the difficult choice of leaving the region for greener pastures, doubling up on contracts or moving to other job sectors to find stable work.

Three months ago, Ayo says he earned $2,000 a week with one customer, Timberlake Cabinets. Now, even with two more accounts, he makes only half his previous income.

"Three months ago, I worked every day. Now the big houses are gone," he said. "I have a condo here and a town home there, and I get a few remodels here and there. And sometimes, I have no work."
Going back to January 2005, my piece on the seven step Housing Bubble Correction (http://www.itulip.com/housingbubblecorrection.htm) noted the high correlation of employment to housing prices.


http://www.itulip.com/BLShousingpricesvsemployment.jpg


Housing-related employment accounted for about 23 percent of the 4.9 million jobs created since the nation's job market began to grow in late 2003, according to Moody's, fueled by Fed policies designed to blunt the impact of the collapsing stock market bubble. A year earlier, in January 2004, I hypothesized that the housing market, when it starts its descent, will first "sieze up (http://www.itulip.com/housingnotlikeequities.htm)," for a period followed by falling prices and declining housing related employment -- in everything from mortgage lending, to construction, to agency services -- and that this decline in housing related employment will feed back into the real estate market as falling real estate prices. In electronics, this is called a "positive feedback loop," although there's nothing "positive" about it in an economic sense. I was certain of the process, the only questions were when would it begin and how rapid the decline might be.

The housing bubble peaked in mid 2005, about six months after my Housing Bubble Correction piece appeared on AlwaysOn-Network. The seven step model predicted that housing prices were not due to get hit by housing related unemployment until five years after the correction began. That means 2010. In retrospect, that prediction now looks very optimistic. Here we are one year into the decline and incomes and employment are falling fast in some areas. It's hard to imagine how even with a year or two of lag time, housing related unemployment will not begin to hit housing prices by, say, mid 2007 at the latest. That's three years ahead of schedule, per my original model.

iTulip.com has a rep as bearish but has been consistently optimistic in its predictions. In 1998, the site predicted an 87% decline in a basket of popular dot com stocks (http://www.itulip.com/compare.htm). If we remove the survivor bias -- leave in the companies that went out of business and therefor were deleted from the index but instead leave them in and account for them as zero value -- the decline was well over 90%. Also predicted in 1999, the NASDAQ was due to decline from 5000 to around 1500 and then rebound to 2500 and stay there for a decade. This, too, appears optimistic. It's traded sideways around 2000 for the past six years.

What does this mean for my housing correction prediction and the US economy?

Less than 25% of US households held a significant portion of their assets in stocks in 1999, so managing a crashing stock market bubble was relatively speaking a piece of cake for the Fed. But a housing bubble collapse can wreck an economy where 70% of household wealth is tied up in homes. I'm still wondering what the Fed has in its anti-deflation monetary repair plan to rescue us from the collapse of this latest asset bubble. It'd better be better than what Bernanke's hinted at so far.

Bernanke, in remarks before the New York Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics (http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2002/20021015/default.htm), New York, New York October 15, 2002, stated:
"My talk today will address a contentious issue, summarized by the following pair of questions: Can the Federal Reserve (or any central bank) reliably identify "bubbles" in the prices of some classes of assets, such as equities and real estate? And, if it can, what if anything should it do about them?"
He concludes:
"Understandably, as a society, we would like to find ways to mitigate the potential instabilities associated with asset-price booms and busts. Monetary policy is not a useful tool for achieving this objective, however. Even putting aside the great difficulty of identifying bubbles in asset prices, monetary policy cannot be directed finely enough to guide asset prices without risking severe collateral damage to the economy.

"A far better approach, I believe, is to use micro-level policies to reduce the incidence of bubbles and to protect the financial system against their effects. I have already mentioned a variety of possible measures, including supervisory action to ensure capital adequacy in the banking system, stress-testing of portfolios, increased transparency in accounting and disclosure practices, improved financial literacy, greater care in the process of financial liberalization, and a willingness to play the role of lender of last resort when needed. Although eliminating volatility from the economy and the financial markets will never be possible, we should be able to moderate it without sacrificing the enormous strengths of our free-market system."
Nice speech, but it's too late to use any of these prescriptions for the housing bubble, except for one.

We had a housing bubble from 2002 until mid 2005. Whether by intent or not, Fed rate hikes since 2004 collapsed it. As What (Really) Happened in 1995 (http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthread.php?t=292) points out, capital adequacy in the banking system is doubtful, although the Fed can likely fix that by throwing the discount window wide open, assuming the exposure that the banks have to hedge funds don't hit them at the same time. While the banks may have effectively stress-tested their portfolios and have adequate transparency in accounting and disclosure practices, many of the hedge funds that have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars (http://www.newstatesman.com/200607310033) from them have not. Financial literacy in the US is poor, and anyway during the get-rich-quick frenzy of an asset bubble, common sense about finance goes out the window, even among experts, never mind Joe and Jane Sixpack. All that leaves us with from Ben's prescription kit is, "a willingness to play the role of lender of last resort when needed."

"We will not have a deflationary depression, dammit!" is the message from Bernanke in another speech in 2002 (http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2004/200403022/default.htm).

New guy, but the same old "we can't do nutthin' about no asset bubbles" Fed. The Fed sees its role as that of a clean-up crew standing by to watch a train take the curve at 100MPH that was designed to be taken at 30MPH. They wait with fire hoses, the jaws of life, food, bottled water and body bags.

How will the Fed counter the massive deflationary impulse that the collapsing real estate bubble will unleash on the economy? Everything and anything to prevent the onset of a deflationary spiral. As Ben happily notes in the remarks quoted, unconstrained by the gold standard, the Fed can clearly re-liquify the system now in a way it could not in the 1930s. The Fed can print money and buy real estate directly. Maybe this period is what Bill Gross is referring to in his The End of History and the Last Bond Bull Market (http://www.pimco.com/LeftNav/Late+Breaking+Commentary/IO/2006/IO+August+2006.htm). Perhaps this is why Greenspan mysteriously recommended ARMs on February 23, 2004, when he spoke to the Credit Union National Association 2004 (http://realtytimes.com/rtcpages/20040315_greenspan.htm) Governmental Affairs Conference, even though a 30 year fixed rate mortgage was then available at 5.5 percent with no points, at 40 year lows.

The "Ka" in Ka-Poom (http://www.itulip.com/retrospective2006.htm) is coming. Gross believes it. Greenspan implied it. How do we play it? We know what's going to happen to real estate. What will happen to stocks, bonds, commodities and the dollar?

If previous episodes are any value as a guide, bond yields will fall and prices will rise and stocks will decline. The wild card is commodities and the dollar. They may decline as well, at least initially, but if dollar depreciation is used early and strongly enough as a measure to limit deflation, the downside on commodity prices, at least priced in dollars, may be limited and short lived.

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MLM
08-10-06, 04:25 PM
Eric, you are simply a bundle of joy. And so is Bill Gross -- he sounds like a guy who's planning on retiring about the time the "Poom" hits the fan.

While commodities may do well in dollar terms during a major/hyper inflation, the rest of of the world will be a mess, looking for someone else to buy the stuff they're manufacturing out of those commodities today. Foreign currency denominated bonds would seem to be a logical choice in that environment.

jk
08-10-06, 04:39 PM
"supervisory action to ensure capital adequacy in the banking system" might mean a little something, someday. greenspan wouldn't hike margin requirements in 1996, which might have done some good. there have been some noises lately about cracking down on exotic mortgage products - unfortunately it's a little late on that barn door, too, but at least there was a gesture in the right direction.

you wrote: "Perhaps this is why Greenspan mysteriously recommended ARMs on February 23, 2004, when he spoke to the Credit Union National Association 2004 (http://realtytimes.com/rtcpages/20040315_greenspan.htm) Governmental Affairs Conference, even though a 30 year fixed rate mortgage was then available at 5.5 percent with no points, at 40 year lows. The "Ka" in Ka-Poom (http://www.itulip.com/forums/../retrospective2006.htm) is coming. Gross believes it. Greenspan implied it."
i think you give greenspan too much credit. [hah!] he later said that anyone who was still exposed to higher rates was clearly intent on losing money.

i am very much in agreement on your main line scenario, but am struggling about the short to intermediate fate of the dollar. look at the bounce in the dollar today! is that a flight to safety after the london airplane terrorist scare? if there is enough turmoil i could imagine the dollar benefitting for a while, because old habits die hard. that would fit with a bond rally, too. another contribution to dollar strength would be all the dollar shorts covering their positions to try to reduce their volatility.

so the dollar could strengthen throughout the ka phase as part of a short term deflation scare. i don't see how "dollar depreciation is used early and strongly enough as a measure to limit deflation," unless you mean concerted central bank interventions to drop the dollar. that seems unlikely. isn't dollar strength more likely during ka?

if so, then zero coupon treasuries NOW for ka, then foreign currency bonds LATER for poom. frankly, i don't know if i can pull off the timing.

Spartacus
08-10-06, 04:59 PM
What do you make of Prechter's contention that in the great depression the only reason Gold and Silver held their price levels was because of government intervention?

Initially both Gold and Silver prices fell, until the US Federal Government put price floors on them.

EJ
08-10-06, 05:22 PM
he (big Al) later said that anyone who was still exposed to higher rates was clearly intent on losing money.

i am very much in agreement on your main line scenario, but am struggling about the short to intermediate fate of the dollar. look at the bounce in the dollar today! is that a flight to safety after the london airplane terrorist scare? if there is enough turmoil i could imagine the dollar benefitting for a while, because old habits die hard. that would fit with a bond rally, too. another contribution to dollar strength would be all the dollar shorts covering their positions to try to reduce their volatility.

so the dollar could strengthen throughout the ka phase as part of a short term deflation scare. i don't see how "dollar depreciation is used early and strongly enough as a measure to limit deflation," unless you mean concerted central bank interventions to drop the dollar. that seems unlikely. isn't dollar strength more likely during ka?

if so, then zero coupon treasuries NOW for ka, then foreign currency bonds LATER for poom. frankly, i don't know if i can pull off the timing.

Great points.

"He (big Al) later said that anyone who was still exposed to higher rates was clearly intent on losing money."

At the time, Big Al was talking about short rates and to the boys in the yen carry trade.

"i am very much in agreement on your main line scenario, but am struggling about the short to intermediate fate of the dollar. look at the bounce in the dollar today! is that a flight to safety after the london airplane terrorist scare? if there is enough turmoil i could imagine the dollar benefitting for a while, because old habits die hard. that would fit with a bond rally, too. another contribution to dollar strength would be all the dollar shorts covering their positions to try to reduce their volatility."

Yes, the behavior is interesting. Stocks and the dollar up. How to correlate with the terror threat? Hmmm. We caught 'em, so relief? Gold dropped, but not much. What if they'd succeeded? No doubt stock market investors would have not been in a buying mood. But maybe the dollar would have rallied even more?

"So the dollar could strengthen throughout the ka phase as part of a short term deflation scare. i don't see how "dollar depreciation is used early and strongly enough as a measure to limit deflation," unless you mean concerted central bank interventions to drop the dollar. that seems unlikely. isn't dollar strength more likely during ka?"

Generally speaking, the "Ka" phase is the most dangerous time to hold leveraged assets and short the dollar. Keep in mind, the housing bubble is a global phenomenon. Initially, after the stock market bubble popped, and remember it too was a global bubble, we hit bottom in deflation and PM prices in 2001. Every major central bank was pumping away at the same time, with PMs all rising steadily, even after they stopped in 2004. It's never the same twice, but elements of this mini-Ka-Poom will happen in an exaggerated version in this cycle.

"If so, then zero coupon treasuries NOW for ka, then foreign currency bonds LATER for poom. frankly, i don't know if i can pull off the timing."

Sounds like a reasonable approach. But the problem this time around is not only the timing of the end of Ka and the start of Poom but guessing at the range of steps central banks may be willing to take to address the problems. How about, "Thanks for buying those two year t-bonds. Presto! They're 10 year bonds now!" It's been done before. Also, one has to ask how much coordination there will be among central banks. If things get bad enough ecnomically they'll get bad politically. I can imagine global central banks taking a less international and more nationalist approach. That's always been the USA's game. You think Volcker's rate hikes were tough on the US economy? Mexico's was still recovering over a decade later.

EJ
08-10-06, 05:48 PM
What do you make of Prechter's contention that in the great depression the only reason Gold and Silver held their price levels was because of government intervention?

Initially both Gold and Silver prices fell, until the US Federal Government put price floors on them.
Gold bugs hate it when I say this, but gold was only ever "money" because central banks said it was. Cigarettes are "money" if you're in prison, candy bars if you're in a war zone. Money is anything which in its time and place is agreed upon by those who exchange goods and services with each other as 1) a means of exchange and 2) a store of value.

Gold is still "money" in the monetary sense, by proxy, because central banks aren't confident enough in their global fiat money sytem to sell off their gold reserves. If it has no monetary value, why not just sell it? They've had 30 years to do so. What is each central bank worried about? An event that causes them to need to act unilaterally and nationalistically, just as the US always has in the past. Except the world is not as US centric as it used to be.

I believe that Ben's the wrong guy for the job because he's too right about the limitations in the global monetary system in the 1930s. He really believes that if the Fed were not shackled by the gold standard, the Great Depression could have been avoided, never mind the extent of the abuses of the banking and credit system that preceeded it during the bubble period. All the Fed and other central banks would have needed to do is what they did in 2000 - 2004, print their way back to inflation.

Ben will apply his money cure once again, but he may get a lot more than he bargained for, because if the pain is born disproportionately by non US central banks that have other options, they will take them. Then confidence in the dollar as both 1) a means of exchange and 2) a store of value may quite suddenly decline, as the pound sterling did in the 1930s.

To hedge this risk, for insurance (not to get rich), I do the same thing the central banks do: own some gold, and also silver and platinum for diversification.

jk
08-10-06, 05:50 PM
Great points.

"He (big Al) later said that anyone who was still exposed to higher rates was clearly intent on losing money."

At the time, Big Al was talking about short rates and to the boys in the yen carry trade.

the arms adjust to short rates [not the shortest, but short]. so the boys in the yen trade get warnings and joe sixpack is told to finance with an arm?




But the problem this time around is not only the timing of the end of Ka and the start of Poom but guessing at the range of steps central banks may be willing to take to address the problems. How about, "Thanks for buying those two year t-bonds. Presto! They're 10 year bonds now!" It's been done before. Also, one has to ask how much coordination there will be among central banks. If things get bad enough ecnomically they'll get bad politically. I can imagine global central banks taking a less international and more nationalist approach. That's always been the USA's game. You think Volcker's rate hikes were tough on the US economy? Mexico's was still recovering over a decade later.

i have heard of forced conversions of short bonds into longer ones. but i wonder if that could happen today without making things even worse. we have huge edifices of hedges built on the price of the tbond - i don't see how they pull that kind of move in bonds without nationalizing fannie, freddie and just about every big investment and commercial bank. otherwise all those institutions go broke when the bond price discontinuously and drastically resets. doesn't seem likely.

jk
08-10-06, 06:00 PM
What is each central bank worried about? An event that causes them to need to act unilaterally and nationalistically, just as the US always has in the past. Except the world is not as US centric as it used to be....

Then confidence in the dollar as both 1) a means of exchange and 2) a store of value may quite suddenly decline, as the pound sterling did in the 1930s.

To hedge this risk, for insurance (not to get rich), I do the same thing the central banks do: own some gold, and also silver and platinum for diversification.

i can see foreign cb's "diversifying" away from the dollar over time. it's hard for me to imagine them engaging in some more precipitate action. yes, the world is not as u.s. centric as it used to be, but the dollar is embedded in transactions and asset values and savings around the world. i think the consequences of rapid action might be worse than the cure. what do you picture the foreign cb's doing? none of them want a strong currency. isn't it going to turn into a race for the bottom, at least until foreign [especially chinese] domestic markets grow and mature?

EJ
08-10-06, 06:06 PM
the arms adjust to short rates [not the shortest, but short]. so the boys in the yen trade get warnings and joe sixpack is told to finance with an arm?

yep


i have heard of forced conversions of short bonds into longer ones. but i wonder if that could happen today without making things even worse. we have huge edifices of hedges built on the price of the tbond - i don't see how they pull that kind of move in bonds without nationalizing fannie, freddie and just about every big investment and commercial bank. otherwise all those institutions go broke when the bond price discontinuously and drastically resets. doesn't seem likely.

Takes a certain amount of imagination to guess at what they're likely to do, but not too much imagination.

I honestly don't know, and neither does anyone else. All we can do is list possibilties, assign probabilities, place our bets and pray. As usual, proper diversification and a willingness to move quickly out of one position and into another when a trend change is in the offing are key. As long as we keep the quality of dialogue we have going on here at iTulip through this period, I don't see why we have much to worry about. We'll know.

jk
08-10-06, 06:25 PM
i have to agree and congratulate you, eric, on the quality of the dialogue here. i've been impressed again and again, with the new and knowledgable people contributing.

Charles Mackay
08-11-06, 09:36 AM
What do you make of Prechter's contention that in the great depression the only reason Gold and Silver held their price levels was because of government intervention?

Initially both Gold and Silver prices fell, until the US Federal Government put price floors on them.

Prechter also said that after the initial deflation (NOW) that gold will be the ONLY asset to own. I'm not a Prechter fan but I've looked around and don't see anything else. Remember that a great percentage of stocks will go to zero, many if not most bonds, munis, mortgage backed securites, money market funds, etc. go to zero, banks fail and your checking account goes to zero. Who ya gonna call? Gold. It's hard to transport a million dollars in corn or soybeans when you're flleeing to Canada or Australia.

Charles Mackay
08-11-06, 09:42 AM
Quote:
<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=6 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=alt2 style="BORDER-RIGHT: 1px inset; BORDER-TOP: 1px inset; BORDER-LEFT: 1px inset; BORDER-BOTTOM: 1px inset">Originally Posted by Spartacus
What do you make of Prechter's contention that in the great depression the only reason Gold and Silver held their price levels was because of government intervention?

Initially both Gold and Silver prices fell, until the US Federal Government put price floors on them.

</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>

Prechter also said that after the initial deflation (NOW) that gold will be the ONLY asset to own. I'm not a Prechter fan but I've looked around and don't see anything else. Remember that a great percentage of stocks will go to zero, many if not most bonds, munis, mortgage backed securites, money market funds, etc. go to zero, banks fail and your checking account goes to zero. Who ya gonna call? Gold. It's hard to transport a million dollars in corn or soybeans when you're flleeing to Canada or Australia.

jk
08-11-06, 10:10 AM
Prechter also said that after the initial deflation (NOW)
ka



that gold will be the ONLY asset to own.

poom

hayfield
08-11-06, 11:25 AM
ka
Does that make PM a buy now, because they do the least worst in a deflationary environment?


poom
Or after the ka, because deflated dollars buy more at the turning point? And in the mean time load up on T-Notes while interest rates plummet?

Seems an impossible feat to get the timing right.

jk
08-11-06, 11:39 AM
i think there are too many variable to be able to choose a "best" investment, and that the best we can do is to choose investments compatible with what we think are the several most likely scenarios. in a truly deflationary environment your best investment is long-dated zero coupon tbonds. but as ej has pointed out, the government could in theory play with maturities of already issued securities and thus severely impact that investment. maybe gold holds its value even in the face of deflation because so many of us expect the reflex reaction to produce inflation. maybe gold and bonds both tank and we want to hold cash. does the dollar rise in a flight to traditional safety, so we hold our cash in dollars? or does the dollar tank in anticipation of the inflation to come, and our cash should be in other currencies? in long bonds in other currencies?

so, for myself anyway, i have a variety of investments that will perform well in a variety of environments, and i have my fingers crossed that i've structured them in a way that my gains will outweigh my losses, come what may. we'll see.

akrowne
08-11-06, 12:40 PM
It does not seem to me that the Fed can "liquify" the system any more than it has. This won't work on the down side of a financial sector bubble. What good will more broad-money bucks do me if there are no rising asset classes to place them into?

The only conceivable alternative to prop up the financial economy is, as you suggested, to print money to buy the assets directly (plunge protection); but this is obviously real-inflationary. Hyper-inflationary, I'd bet.

They've really gotten themselves into a mess. If they'd have stopped after the initial stock market deflation and enacted fundamental capital/banking reform, we could have truly had a soft landing. But now, as you point out, the inflated assets are more widely-held, and there is extensive cross-over into the real economy. Now they can't just deflate the financial economy: they have to inflate the real one.

akrowne
08-11-06, 02:41 PM
Gold bugs hate it when I say this, but gold was only ever "money" because central banks said it was. Cigarettes are "money" if you're in prison, candy bars if you're in a war zone. Money is anything which in its time and place is agreed upon by those who exchange goods and services with each other as 1) a means of exchange and 2) a store of value.

Gold is still "money" in the monetary sense, by proxy, because central banks aren't confident enough in their global fiat money sytem to sell off their gold reserves. If it has no monetary value, why not just sell it? They've had 30 years to do so. What is each central bank worried about? An event that causes them to need to act unilaterally and nationalistically, just as the US always has in the past. Except the world is not as US centric as it used to be.


I agree with pretty much every thing else you said, but I have to pick at the gold analysis =)

I think history clearly shows that gold had a monetary status prior to central banks. Gold has always been rare, non-perishable, and desireable for its decorative qualities. Central banks did not supply any of these properties.

Gold was used as a currency before banks. It continued during the rise of modern banks because private, competitive banks had a limited ability to create "funny money". Command regimes that minted their own coin, by contrast, have had a sorry history of debasing precious-metal currency in opposition to popular sentiment--not the reverse (propping up its value).

Modern central banks have been a different beast from private, competitive banking, and in fact are just a throwback to the command monetary regimes of old. This is because the factor of competition for the robustness and solvency of the monetary base has been removed. Gold in a fractional reserve system is a de facto debased currency; this is an effective dilution and distortion of the popular support for gold's value--just like in the empires of old.

Even worse, in the US during the depression, there was no domestic free market for gold (it was confiscated), so one cannot really argue that the Fed was saying much of anything about its value. There was no convertability of reserve notes to gold, except in a tiny, rigged market between nations.

In this sense, yes, the value of something as "universal" as gold can be commanded up or down by modern central banks, but this doesn't appear to be either a permanent or robust intervention. Really this is just like any other intervention in a market which is driven by supply and demand fundamentals that are disliked by the regime in power; effective for a while but futile and destructive in the long run.

As for what happens in a Ka-Poom style event, the temporary and abrupt scarcity of money which can be used to buy gold in the 'Ka' phase will certainly lower its price, all other things equal. But in the 'Poom' phase, assuming a free market, the opposite should occur, quite dramatically. We never had this free market after the depression--at least not until after the mid-70s, and we saw what happened then (nor did we have a 'Poom' right after the depression).

What is interesting to me about the current 'Ka-Poom' is that gold is much more of a financial economy animal now, due to futures and ETFs and other financial instruments. This means it is more vulnerable to the 'Ka' deflation and deleveraging; which explains its "collapse" from the highs of May. But it has held out surprisingly, suggesting to me that strong 'Poom' fundamentals remain beneath the surface; central banks or not.

EJ
08-11-06, 04:23 PM
It does not seem to me that the Fed can "liquify" the system any more than it has. This won't work on the down side of a financial sector bubble. What good will more broad-money bucks do me if there are no rising asset classes to place them into?

The only conceivable alternative to prop up the financial economy is, as you suggested, to print money to buy the assets directly (plunge protection); but this is obviously real-inflationary. Hyper-inflationary, I'd bet.

They've really gotten themselves into a mess. If they'd have stopped after the initial stock market deflation and enacted fundamental capital/banking reform, we could have truly had a soft landing. But now, as you point out, the inflated assets are more widely-held, and there is extensive cross-over into the real economy. Now they can't just deflate the financial economy: they have to inflate the real one.
Ben's talked about "buying across the yield curve" and other neat tricks that he believes are wonderous tools available to the modern central banker in the crisis the he appears to expect, else why keep making speeches about it? The central banker doth protest too much?

Anyway, Arthur Burns also had these tools available to him. But before he had a chance to use them, my Dad went out and bought a bunch of these Mexican 50 Peso coins. I saved three that I inherited in the early 1990s.


http://www.itulip.com/images/CheapMex50Pesos.png


He bought the coins in early 1973. Note the price on the package: $79 ($361 in 2006 dollars). By coincidence, just looked at the buy price today: $779 ($170 in 1973 dollars).


http://www.kitco.com/LFgif/au968-999.gif


Now if he'd sold at the monthly average price of around $700 ($3,200 in 2006 dollars) in 1980, that'd be a 10x return in seven years. But he didn't. He wasn't expecting Paul Volcker to come along and put the hammer down, followed by Greenspan's faux-gold standard (http://www.smartmoney.com/aheadofthecurve/index.cfm?story=20060203).

Morals of the story:
1) Yes, Ben, the printing press works! Will it work this well again?
2) Gold is still cheap, trading at about 20% of its previous peak price.
3) After the next gold bubble pops, don't forget to sell!

EJ

Spartacus
08-11-06, 04:38 PM
Just spitballing an idea --

How about some kind of debt amnesty structured to not hurt the banks? Maybe forgive mortgages, and give each bank an electronic deposit so the bank loses nothing to bad loans.

This would leave housing prices at a "permanently high plateau".

It has not been done in recent history but has been done.


What good will more broad-money bucks do me if there are no rising asset classes to place them into?


How about all assets, not just targeted industries? (this has been happened to some extent already, with bonds, stocks, commodities, real estate ALL rising in tandem for several years.


The only conceivable alternative to prop up the financial economy is, as you suggested, to print money to buy the assets directly (plunge protection); but this is obviously real-inflationary. Hyper-inflationary, I'd bet.

With a debt amnesty neither the FED nor the government buy anything, but it would be definitely be inflationary.



They've really gotten themselves into a mess. If they'd have stopped after the initial stock market deflation and enacted fundamental capital/banking reform, we could have truly had a soft landing. But now, as you point out, the inflated assets are more widely-held, and there is extensive cross-over into the real economy. Now they can't just deflate the financial economy: they have to inflate the real one.

EJ
08-11-06, 04:58 PM
I agree with pretty much every thing else you said, but I have to pick at the gold analysis =)

I think history clearly shows that gold had a monetary status prior to central banks. Gold has always been rare, non-perishable, and desireable for its decorative qualities. Central banks did not supply any of these properties.

Gold was used as a currency before banks. It continued during the rise of modern banks because private, competitive banks had a limited ability to create "funny money". Command regimes that minted their own coin, by contrast, have had a sorry history of debasing precious-metal currency in opposition to popular sentiment--not the reverse (propping up its value).

Modern central banks have been a different beast from private, competitive banking, and in fact are just a throwback to the command monetary regimes of old. This is because the factor of competition for the robustness and solvency of the monetary base has been removed. Gold in a fractional reserve system is a de facto debased currency; this is an effective dilution and distortion of the popular support for gold's value--just like in the empires of old.

Even worse, in the US during the depression, there was no domestic free market for gold (it was confiscated), so one cannot really argue that the Fed was saying much of anything about its value. There was no convertability of reserve notes to gold, except in a tiny, rigged market between nations.

In this sense, yes, the value of something as "universal" as gold can be commanded up or down by modern central banks, but this doesn't appear to be either a permanent or robust intervention. Really this is just like any other intervention in a market which is driven by supply and demand fundamentals that are disliked by the regime in power; effective for a while but futile and destructive in the long run.

As for what happens in a Ka-Poom style event, the temporary and abrupt scarcity of money which can be used to buy gold in the 'Ka' phase will certainly lower its price, all other things equal. But in the 'Poom' phase, assuming a free market, the opposite should occur, quite dramatically. We never had this free market after the depression--at least not until after the mid-70s, and we saw what happened then (nor did we have a 'Poom' right after the depression).

What is interesting to me about the current 'Ka-Poom' is that gold is much more of a financial economy animal now, due to futures and ETFs and other financial instruments. This means it is more vulnerable to the 'Ka' deflation and deleveraging; which explains its "collapse" from the highs of May. But it has held out surprisingly, suggesting to me that strong 'Poom' fundamentals remain beneath the surface; central banks or not.
I agree with all of your points. Gold was certainly money before central banks took it up, and that's in fact why they did. My point is that by using it to back currency, central banks in a way usurped its value as money. They may do so again, if the poop hits the fan Poom-wise. Alan Greenspan alluded to this when he told Congress in 1999: "Gold still represents the ultimate form of payment in the world. Fiat money, in extremis, is accepted by nobody. Gold is always accepted."

My observation is that the most important things Greenspan says are these seemingly oddball, throw-away comments. He said something similar in 1999 to not fret about a collapsing stock market bubble, 70% of US household wealth is tied up in housing. A fairly big clue, if one was paying attention, as to what the Fed had in mind in the rescue plan.

I'll add that ETFs make gold and silver, and perhaps some day platinum (although the stuff is so scarce that the market may not be liquid enough), make these metals more marketable to Joe and Jane Sixpack and their brokerage account. No buying metals off the web or going to coin stores.

There are probably a few million people holding gold today who are dying to know if they're going to have to ride out a crash in gold prices in the wake of the collapse of the various bubbles we're seeing today (real estate, private equity, etc.) as we experienced in the 2001 deflationary Ka bottom of the downdraft following the collapse of the stock market bubble in 2000, before the printing press, tax cuts and dollar depreciation kicked in and gold headed into a steep rise.

I can't call it any more than an intuition, and no one knows, but my expectation is of a much more chaotic period than after the collapse of the stock market bubble in 2000. I expect an environment more similar to the one that happened after the collapse of the US stock market in 1929. Bernanke's written a lot about it, but I think he's missing a key lesson. Only with the benefit of hindsight does it appear obvious what the Fed did wrong in the 1930s. But Ben and a lot of observers forget that the Fed was doing the best it could with the data, tools and understanding of their system at the time.

I've read a lot about it over the years and conclude that at the time they were looking at the wrong data, interpreting it the wrong way, and doing the wrong things based on their understanding of what the data meant. Plus the data were coming at them too fast; they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that didn't seem to make any sense.

That's what I expect will happen. The Fed will be ready with their "buying across the yield curve" and all the other well planned defenses, but the data will be confusing, contradictory and rushing at them in torrents. They will look at the wrong data, interpret it the wrong way, and do the wrong things, for that time, although the right things for an earlier time.

In that kind of environment there may be periods where the pricing of many securities and currencies may be unknowable. If that happens it will instill the kind of fear that will tend to drive money into safe havens like gold. But! They will sort it out, and the time to sell gold will be when the chaos is at its peak and no one seems to know what they are doing.

Again, just a carefully developed hunch.

jk
08-11-06, 07:04 PM
the time to sell gold will be when the chaos is at its peak and no one seems to know what they are doing.

it is going to be very hard, emotionally, to sell gold when chaos is at its peak. and it is going to be very hard, intellectually, to know where to put the proceeds.

metalman
08-12-06, 10:53 AM
it is going to be very hard, emotionally, to sell gold when chaos is at its peak. and it is going to be very hard, intellectually, to know where to put the proceeds.

amen on both. my guess is we're gonna be doing lots talking through it here if and when it happens. given his experience (w/his dad buying at just thr right time last time bbut not selling) i'll tend to go with EJ. gonna take some big yabbles to sell when everyone is running around screaming and lining up to buy. and then what? go to cash, or aaron's New Dollars?