Gold and the impact of Beijing on Fed monetary policy

The prospect of higher interest rates is fast approaching, but 10-Year Treasury yields retreated below 2.0%, warning of another test of the December low at 1.40%.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The weight of foreign purchases, for reasons other than yield (dollar peg/currency manipulation), may be overwhelming the market response. This has happened before, in 2004/2005, when the Fed was alarmed to find that long-term yields failed to respond to monetary tightening. The graphs below are from a 2012 report by DO Beltran (and others) at the Fed. The Fed Funds Rate was steadily increased between mid-2004 and the end of 2005, but 10-year yields declined slightly over the same period.

Fed Funds Rate and 10-Year Treasury Yields

The reason was fairly obvious: a massive surge in foreign purchases (mainly from China) had left the long-term market awash with liquidity. US monetary policy was effectively being controlled from Beijing.

Foreign Treasury Purchases

I cannot understand why this abuse has been tolerated.

The Dollar

The Dollar Index has been consolidating for the last 5 weeks, but the narrow range is a bullish sign and the Dollar is likely to strengthen further. Breakout would offer a medium-term target of 100*.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 90 + ( 90 – 80 ) = 100

Gold

Spot Gold is testing support at $1200/ounce. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero warns of another decline. A trough below the zero line would strengthen the bear signal.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

The strong Dollar, low inflation and higher interest rates all point to another decline, but so far support has held firm. Completion of another trough at this level would strengthen the argument that gold is forming a long-term bottom. Possibly with help from Beijing.

China’s infrastructure boom is over

China has been on a record-breaking infrastructure binge over the last decade, but that era is coming to an end. Fall of the Baltic Dry Index below its 2008 low illustrates the decline of bulk commodity imports like iron ore and coking and thermal coal, important inputs in the construction of new infrastructure and housing.

Baltic Dry Index

High-end commodities like copper held up far better since 2008, but they too are now on the decline.

Copper

With the end of the infrastructure boom, China’s economy may well prove to be a one-trick pony. Transition from a state-directed infrastructure ‘miracle’ to a broad-based consumer society will be a lot more difficult.

Gold and the bull-trend in bonds

10-Year Treasury Yields found support above the December low of 1.40%, recovering above medium-term resistance at 2.00%. The outlook is hardening around a Fed increase in short-term rates by mid-year. A higher trough would suggest that the long-term down-trend in yields, shown below on an annual chart, is coming to a close. But only breakout above resistance at 3.00% would confirm that the secular bull-trend in bonds has ended.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Dollar is strengthening on the back of low inflation and expectations of higher rates — bearish signs for gold.

Dollar Index

Spot Gold remains in a bear trend, testing support at $1200/ounce.

Spot Gold

Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero warns of another decline. A weekly close below $1180 would strengthen the bear signal.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

Grantham: Lower oil price is new normal | Macrobusiness

By Houses & Holes
Reproduced with kind permission from Macrobusiness.com.au

From Jeremy Grantham:

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The simplest argument for the oil price decline is for once correct. A wave of new U.S. fracking oil could be seen to be overtaking the modestly growing global oil demand.

It became clear that OPEC, mainly Saudi Arabia, must cut back production if the price were to stay around $100 a barrel, which many, including me, believe is necessary to justify continued heavy spending to find traditional oil.

The Saudis declined to pull back their production and the oil market entered into glut mode, in which storage is full and production continues above demand.

Under glut conditions, oil (and natural gas) is uniquely sensitive to declines toward marginal cost (ignoring sunk costs), which can approach a few dollars a barrel – the cost of just pumping the oil.

Oil demand is notoriously insensitive to price in the short term but cumulatively and substantially sensitive as a few years pass.

The Saudis are obviously expecting that these low prices will turn off U.S. fracking, and I’m sure they are right. Almost no new drilling programs will be initiated at current prices except by the financially desperate and the irrationally impatient, and in three years over 80% of all production from current wells will be gone!

Thus, in a few months (six to nine?) I believe oil supply is likely to drop to a new equilibrium, probably in the $30 to $50 per barrel range.

For the following few years, U.S. fracking costs will determine the global oil balance. At each level, as prices rise more, fracking production will gear up. U.S. fracking is unique in oil industry history in the speed with which it can turn on and off.

In five to eight years, depending on global GDP growth and how quickly prices recover, U.S. fracking production will start to peak out and the full cost of an incremental barrel of traditional oil will become, once again, the main input into price. This is believed to be about $80 today and rising. In five to eight years it is likely to be $100 to $150 in my opinion.

U.S. fracking reserves that are available up to $120 a barrel are probably only equal to about one year of current global demand. This is absolutely not another Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has probably made the wrong decision for two reasons:

First, unintended consequences: a price decline of this magnitude has generated a real increase in global risk. For example, an oil producing country under extreme financial pressure may make some rash move. Oil company bankruptcy might also destabilize the financial world. Perversely, the Saudis particularly value stability.

Second, the Saudis could probably have absorbed all U.S. fracking increases in output (from today’s four million barrels a day to seven or eight) and never have been worse off than producing half of their current production for twice the current price … not a bad deal.

Only if U.S. fracking reserves are cheaper to produce and much larger than generally thought would the Saudis be right. It is a possibility, but I believe it is not probable.

The arguments that this is a demand-driven bust do not seem to tally with the data, although longer term the lack of cheap oil will be a real threat if we have not pushed ahead with renewables.

Most likely though, beyond 10 years electric cars and alternative energy will begin to eat into potential oil demand, threatening longer-term oil prices.

Exactly right, though in my view the equilibrium price will be more like $50 than $30 for the next half decade.

Don’t miss the full report.

1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Berlinetta

Why don’t they make cars like this any more?

Alfa Romeo 6C Sport Berlinetta

Alfa Romeo 6-Cylinder 2500 Sport Berlinetta by Touring, gifted by Mussolini to his mistress Clara Petacci.

More photos at eXtravaganzi

Putin Will Never Back Down | Institutional Investor’s Alpha

Excellent analysis of the situation in Eastern Europe by Bill Browder, founder of London-based Hermitage Capital Management:

I’m afraid that, based on the reasons behind Putin’s motivations for invading Ukraine in the first place, there is no chance that he will back down. To understand this, all it takes is a simple analysis of how this crisis unfolded.

First, Putin didn’t start this war because of NATO enlargement or historical ties to Crimea, as many analysts have stated. Putin started this war out of fear of being overthrown like Ukrainian president Yanukovych in February 2014. Yanukovych had been stealing billions from the state over many years, and the Ukrainian people finally snapped and overthrew him. Compared with Putin, Yanukovych was a junior varsity player in the field of kleptocracy. For every dollar Yanukovych stole, Putin and his cronies probably stole 50. Putin understands that if he loses power in Russia, he and his underlings will lose all the money they stole; he will lose his freedom and possibly even his life.

I believe that Bill is right. Putin was not reacting to EU or NATO encroachment (they were never a threat), but to Maidan. Especially when we read Michael McFaul’s (former ambassador to Russia) summation of Putin: “He is obsessed with the CIA…..With respect Ukraine he believes the US led the coup in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians had nothing to do with it. It was all the CIA.”

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul

….. Putin has never dealt with economic chaos before. Though some may argue that this will bring him to the table to negotiate with the West, in my opinion any negotiation would be seen as a sign of weakness and is therefore the last thing Putin would want to do.

Putin’s only likely response is to escalate in Ukraine and possibly open up new fronts in other countries where there are “Russians to protect.” But doing so will only harden the sanctions, leading to further economic pain in Russia — and further military adventures to distract Russia’s people from that pain.

I cannot imagine a scenario in which there is any compromise, because for Putin compromise means being overthrown. Judging from all of his actions to date, he is ready to destroy his country for his own self-preservation.

We should start preparing ourselves for a war in Europe that may spread well beyond the borders of Ukraine. The only Western response to this has to be containment. This all may sound alarmist, but I’ve spent the past eight years in my own war with Putin, and I have a few insights about him that are worth knowing.

In Putin’s mind, he is fighting for survival. The US/EU/Nato and Ukraine are just a convenient scapegoat. His real enemy is the Russian people. This 1945 image of Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and three others hanging outside a petrol station in Milan must haunt his dreams.
Bodies of Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and three others hanging outside a petrol station in Milan

When they realize they have been duped, the anger of the Russian people will be palpable.

Read the full article at Unhedged Commentary: Putin Will Never Back Down | Institutional Investor's Alpha.

Here’s How to Achieve Full Employment

Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel provides the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce with a shopping list of measures he believes are necessary to achieve full employment. Some are right on the mark while others seem to have missed the basic rules of Supply and Demand taught in Econ 101. My comments are in bold.

The goals that economic policy must focus on are, thus, creating jobs and reaching robust full employment, generating broad-based wage growth, and improving the quality of jobs.

Jobs

Policies that help to achieve full employment are the following:

1. The Federal Reserve Board needs to target a full employment with wage growth matching productivity.

The most important economic policy decisions being made about job growth in the next few years are those of the Federal Reserve Board as it determines the scale and pace at which it raises interest rates. Let’s be clear that the decision to raise interest rates is a decision to slow the economy and weaken job and wage growth. There are many false concerns about accelerating wage growth and exploding inflation based on the mistaken sense that we are at or near full employment. Policymakers should not seek to slow the economy until wage growth is comfortably running at the 3.5 to 4.0 percent rate, the wage growth consistent with a 2 percent inflation target (since trend productivity is 1.5 to 2.0 percent, wage growth 2 percent faster than this yields rising unit labor costs, and therefore inflation, of 2 percent). The key danger is slowing the economy too soon rather than too late.

Fed monetary policy should not target one sector of the economy (i.e. wages) but the whole economy (i.e. nominal GDP).

2. Targeted employment programs

Even at 4 percent unemployment, there will be many communities that will still be suffering substantial unemployment, especially low-wage workers and many black and Hispanic workers. To obtain full employment for all, we will need to undertake policies that can direct jobs to areas of high unemployment……

Government programs don’t create jobs, they merely redistribute income from the taxed to the subsidised.

3. Public investment and infrastructure

There is widespread agreement that we face a substantial shortfall of public investment in transportation, broadband, R&D, and education. Undertaking a sustained (for at least a decade) program of public investment can create jobs and raise our productivity and growth…..

Agree. But we must invest in productive assets that generate income that can be used to repay the debt. Else we are left with a pile of debt and no means to repay it.

Policies that do not help us reach full employment include:

1. Corporate tax reform

There are many false claims that corporate tax reform is needed to make us competitive and bring us growth. First off, the evidence is that the corporate tax rates U.S. firms actually pay (their “effective rates”) are not higher than those of other advanced countries. Second, the tax reform that is being discussed is “revenue neutral,” necessarily meaning that tax rates on average are actually not being reduced; for every firm or sector that will see a lower tax rate, another will see a higher tax rate. It is hard to see how such tax reform sparks growth.

Zero-sum thinking. If we want to increase employment, we need to increase investment. Tax rates and allowances should encourage domestic investment rather than offshore expansion.

2. Cutting taxes

There will surely be many efforts in this Congress to cut corporate taxes and reduce taxes on capital income (e.g., capital gains, dividends) and individual marginal tax rates, especially on those with the highest incomes. It’s easy to see how those strategies will not work….

Same as above. We need to encourage investment by private corporations.

3. Raising interest rates

There are those worried about inflation who are calling on the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates soon and steadily thereafter. Their fears are, in my analysis, unfounded. But we should be clear that those seeking higher interest rates are asking our monetary policymakers to slow economic growth and job creation and reflect a far-too-pessimistic assumption of how far we can lower unemployment, seemingly aiming for unemployment at current levels or between 5.0 and 5.5 percent….

Agreed. Raising interest rates too soon is as dangerous as raising too late.

Wage growth

It is a welcome development that policymakers and presidential candidates in both parties have now acknowledged that stagnant wages are a critical economic challenge…… Over the 40 years since 1973, there has been productivity growth of 74 percent, yet the compensation (wages and benefits) of a typical worker grew far less, just 9 percent (again, mostly in the latter 1990s)……

Wage stagnation is conventionally described as being about globalization and technological change, explanations offered in the spirit of saying it is caused by trends we neither can nor want to restrain. In fact, technological change has had very little to do with wage stagnation. Such an explanation is grounded in the notion that workers have insufficient skills so employers are paying them less, while those with higher wages and skills (say, college graduates) are highly demanded so that employers are bidding up their wages…….

Misses the point. Technology has enabled employers in manufacturing, finance and service industries to cut the number of employees to a fraction of their former size.

Globalization has, in fact, served to suppress wage growth for non-college-educated workers (roughly two-thirds of the workforce). However, such trends as import competition from low-wage countries did not naturally develop; they were pushed by trade agreements and the tolerance of misaligned and manipulated exchange rates that undercut U.S. producers.

This small paragraph hits on the key reason for wage stagnation in the US. Workers are not only competing in a global labor market, but against countries who have manipulated their exchange rate to gain a competitive advantage.

There are two sets of policies that have greatly contributed to wage stagnation that receive far too little attention. One set is aggregate factors, which include factors that lead to excessive unemployment and others that have driven the financialization of the economy and excessive executive pay growth (which fueled the doubling of the top 1 percent’s wage and income growth). The other set of factors are the business practices, eroded labor standards, and weakened labor market institutions that have suppressed wage growth. I will examine these in turn.

Aggregate factors

1. Excessive unemployment

Unemployment has remained substantially above full employment for much of the last 40 years, especially relative to the post-war period before then. Since high unemployment depresses wages more for low-wage than middle-wage workers and more for middle-wage than high-wage workers, these slack conditions generate wage inequality. ……

The excessive unemployment in recent decades reflects a monetary policy overly concerned about inflation relative to unemployment and hostile to any signs of wage growth……

2. Unleashing the top 1 percent: finance and executive pay

The major forces behind the extraordinary income growth and the doubling of the top 1 percent’s income share since 1979 were the expansion of the finance sector (and escalating pay in that sector) and the remarkable growth of executive pay …… restraining the growth of such income will not adversely affect the size of our economy. Moreover, the failure to restrain these incomes leaves less income available to the vast majority……

Zero-sum thinking.

Labor standards, labor market institutions, and business practices

There are a variety of policies within the direct purview of this committee that can greatly help to lift wage growth:
1. Raising the minimum wage

The main reason wages at the lowest levels lag those at the middle has been the erosion of the value of the minimum wage, a policy undertaken in the 1980s that has never fully been reversed. The inflation-adjusted minimum wage is now about 25 percent below its 1968 level……

Will reduce demand for domestic labor and increase demand for offshoring jobs.

2. Updating overtime rules

The share of salaried workers eligible for overtime has fallen from 65 percent in 1975 to just 11 percent today……

This will continue for as long as the manufacturing sector is white-anted by offshoring jobs.

3. Strengthening rights to collective bargaining

The single largest factor suppressing wage growth for middle-wage workers over the last few decades has been the erosion of collective bargaining (which can explain one-third of the rise of wage inequality among men, and one-fifth among women)……

How will this improve Supply and Demand?

4. Regularizing undocumented workers

Regularizing undocumented workers will not only lift their wages but will also lift wages of those working in the same fields of work…..

How will this improve Supply and Demand?

5. Ending forced arbitration

One way for employees to challenge discriminatory or unfair personnel practices and wages is to go to court or a government agency that oversees such discrimination. However, a majority of large firms force their workers to give up their access to court and government agency remedies and agree to settle such disputes over wages and discrimination only in arbitration systems set up and overseen by the employers themselves…..

How will this improve Supply and Demand?

6. Modernizing labor standards: sick leave, paid family leave

We have not only seen the erosion of protections in the labor standards set up in the New Deal, we have also seen the United States fail to adopt new labor standards that respond to emerging needs……

No issue with this. But how will it improve Supply and Demand?

7. Closing race and gender inequities

Generating broader-based wage growth must also include efforts to close race and gender inequities that have been ever present in our labor markets…….

No issue with this. But how will it improve Supply and Demand?

8. Fair contracting
These new contracting rules can help reduce wage theft, obtain greater racial and gender equity and generally support wage growth……

No issue with this. But how will it improve Supply and Demand?

9. Tackling misclassification, wage theft, prevailing wages

There are a variety of other policies that can support wage growth. Too many workers are deemed independent contractors by their employers when they are really employees……

No issue with this. But how will it improve Supply and Demand?

Policies that will not facilitate broad-based wage growth

1. Tax cuts: individual or corporate

The failure of wages to grow cannot be cured through tax cuts. Such policies are sometimes offered as propelling long-run job gains and economic growth (though they are not aimed at securing a stronger recovery from a recession, as the conservatives who offer tax cuts do not believe in counter-cyclical fiscal policy). These policies are not effective tools to promote growth, but even if they did create growth, it is clear that growth by itself will not lift wages of the typical worker…….

Zero-sum thinking. Compare economic growth in high-tax countries to growth in low tax countries and you will find this a highly effective policy tool.

2. Increasing college or community college completion

……advancing education completion is not an effective overall policy to generate higher wages……. What is needed are policies that lift wages of high school graduates, community college graduates, and college graduates, not simply a policy that changes the number of workers in each category.

Better available skills-base leads to increased competitiveness in global labor market and more investment opportunities in the domestic market.

3. Deregulation

There is no solid basis for believing that deregulation will lead to greater productivity growth or that doing so will lead to wage growth. Deregulation of finance certainly was a major factor in the financial crisis and relaxing Dodd–Frank rules will only make our economy more susceptible to crisis.

What we need is (simple) well-regulated markets rather than (complex) over-regulation.

4. Policies to promote long-term growth

Policies that can substantially help reduce unemployment in the next two years are welcomed and can serve to raise wage growth. Policies aimed at raising longer-term growth prospects may be beneficial but will not help wages soon or necessarily lead to wage growth in future years. This can be seen in the decoupling of wage growth from productivity over the last 40 years. Simply increasing investments and productivity will not necessarily improve the wages of a typical worker. What is missing are mechanisms that relink productivity and wage growth. Without such policies, an agenda of “growth” is playing “pretend” when it comes to wages.

Long-term investment is the only way forward. To dismiss this in favor of short-term band-aid solutions is nuts!

My proposal is a lot simpler, consisting of only five steps:

  1. Invest in productive infrastructure.
  2. A simplified tax regime with low rates and few deductions apart from incentives to increase domestic investment.
  3. Restrict capital inflows through trade agreements and maintain a fair exchange rate.
  4. Fed monetary policy supportive in the short-term but with long-term target of neutral debt growth — in line with GDP (nominal).
  5. Move education up the priority list for government spending. Improve the education standards and training of teachers — they are the lifeblood of the system — rather than increasing numbers.

Oil prices: Where to now?

The latest newsletter from Absolute Return Partners suggests that the fall in oil prices is temporary and oil will soon recover to around $100/barrel:

“All I know is that the price of oil won’t stay below the production cost for a long period of time (as in years). Hence I think we will see the oil price at $100 again, and it won’t take many years, but it could be an extraordinarily bumpy ride.”

The chart below depicts crude oil prices (WTI) from 1987 to 2014, adjusted to current (November 2014) prices.

Nymex WTI Crude adjusted to November 2014 prices

What it shows is that, prior to 2004, crude oil prices seldom exceeded $40/barrel. If, for most of the 17-year period, prices were below $40/barrel and supply continued unabated, then production costs must be even lower. Some of the more accessible oil fields may be nearing the end of their life, but production costs for major producers such as the Saudis could not have changed much (in real terms) over the last 10 years. That means true production costs are a lot lower than ARP’s estimate.

I tend to side with Anatole Kaletsky who views $50/barrel as the likely ceiling for crude oil prices — and not the floor.

Goldman describes Australia’s lost decade | Macrobusiness

Posted by Houses and Holes. Reproduced with kind permission from Macrobusiness.

Goldman’s Tim Toohey has quantified the unwinding commodity super-cycle for ‘Straya':

Lower commodity prices risk $0.5trn in forgone earnings
The outlook for revenues from Australian LNG and bulk commodities shipments – which account for almost half of total export earnings – has deteriorated significantly. To be clear, overall revenues are still forecast to increase substantially over the coming years – underpinned by a broadly unchanged strong outlook for physical shipments (particularly for LNG). However, in a nominal sense, the outlook is far less positive than before. This owes to a structurally weaker price environment, with GS downgrades of 18% to 25% to key long term price forecasts for LNG and bulk commodities suggesting that cumulative earnings over the years to 2025 are on track to be ~$0.5trn lower than previously forecast.

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… and will erode Australia’s trade/fiscal positions
The deterioration in the earnings environment naturally has direct implications for Australia’s international trade and fiscal positions. On the former, a return to surplus by CY18 no longer looks feasible, and we now expect a deficit of ~$15bn. On the latter, relative to the 2014 Commonwealth Budget, we estimate that weaker commodity prices will cause a ~$40bn shortfall in tax revenues over the next four years. Given our expectation that Australia’s LNG sector will deliver no additional PRRT revenues over the coming decade, and the ~$18bn downgrade to commodity-related tax in the December MYEFO, we therefore see a risk of further material revenue downgrades at May’s 2015 Budget.

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Resulting in changed GDP, RBA cash rate and FX forecasts
Although the commodity export changes mainly manifest through the nominal economy, there are significant impacts back through to the real economy. Lower export earnings result in lower profits, lower tax receipts, lower investment and lower employment. We continue to expect just 2.0% GDP growth in 2015 but have lowered our 2016 to 2018 real GDP forecasts by an average of 50ppts in each calendar year. As a consequence, we have moved forward the timing of the next RBA rate cut to May 2015, where we see the cash rate remaining at 2.0% until Q416, where we expect a 25bp hike. We now expect just 75bps of hikes in 2017 to 3.0% and rates on hold  in 2018. Despite the recent move in the A$ towards our 75c 12 month target, the reassessment of the medium term forecast outlook argues for a new lower target 12 month target of 72c.

OK, that’s quite a piece of work and congratulations to Tim Toohey for getting so far ahead of pack. I have just two points to add.

The LNG forecasts look good but as gloomy as his iron ore outlook is, it is not gloomy enough. $40 is a more reasonable price projection for 2016-18 and we’ll only climb out of that very slowly. That makes the dollar and interest rate forecasts far too bullish and hawkish.

Second, even after these downgrades, Mr Toohey still has growth of 3.25% GDP penned in for 2016 and 3.5% for 2017. We’ll have strong net exports and is about it. With the capex unwind running right through both years, housing construction to stop adding to growth by next year, the car industry wind-down at the same time, political strife destroying the public infrastructure pipeline, the terms of trade crashing throughout and households battered half to death by all of it, those targets are of the stretch variety, to say the least.

The analysis is exceptional, The conclusions, sadly, overly optimistic.

An Unconventional Truth by Nouriel Roubini – Project Syndicate

Nouriel Roubini argues for increased infrastructure investment to accompany monetary easing, else the benefits of the latter will not last:

Simply put, we live in a world in which there is too much supply and too little demand. The result is persistent disinflationary, if not deflationary, pressure, despite aggressive monetary easing.

The inability of unconventional monetary policies to prevent outright deflation partly reflects the fact that such policies seek to weaken the currency, thereby improving net exports and increasing inflation. This, however, is a zero-sum game that merely exports deflation and recession to other economies.

Perhaps more important has been a profound mismatch with fiscal policy. To be effective, monetary stimulus needs to be accompanied by temporary fiscal stimulus, which is now lacking in all major economies. Indeed, the eurozone, the UK, the US, and Japan are all pursuing varying degrees of fiscal austerity and consolidation.

Even the International Monetary Fund has correctly pointed out that part of the solution for a world with too much supply and too little demand needs to be public investment in infrastructure, which is lacking – or crumbling – in most advanced economies and emerging markets (with the exception of China). With long-term interest rates close to zero in most advanced economies (and in some cases even negative), the case for infrastructure spending is indeed compelling. But a variety of political constraints – particularly the fact that fiscally strapped economies slash capital spending before cutting public-sector wages, subsidies, and other current spending – are holding back the needed infrastructure boom.

All of this adds up to a recipe for continued slow growth, secular stagnation, disinflation, and even deflation. That is why, in the absence of appropriate fiscal policies to address insufficient aggregate demand, unconventional monetary policies will remain a central feature of the macroeconomic landscape.

Again, I add the warning that infrastructure investment must be in productive assets, that generate market related returns. Otherwise we are merely swapping one set of problems (a shortfall in aggregate demand) for another: high public debt without the revenue to service or repay it.

Read more at An Unconventional Truth by Nouriel Roubini – Project Syndicate.

Will the global economy follow Japan?| Michael Pettis’ CHINA FINANCIAL MARKETS

More from Michael Pettis on “Japanification” of the global economy. How abundant capital and investment in unproductive works may lead to long-term stagnation:

“Panics do not destroy capital,” John Mill proposed in his 1868 paper to the Manchester Statistical Society. “They merely reveal the extent to which it has been previously destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works.” Our ability to postpone the recognition of the full extent of these unproductive works depends in part on our ability to expand the supply of credible money. If we are constrained in our ability to expand the money supply, one impact of the crisis is a contraction in money (velocity collapses) that forces lenders to write down debt. If money can expand without constraints, however, debt does not have to be written down nearly as quickly.

With the main central banks of the world having banded together to issue unprecedented amounts of credible currency, in other words, we may have changed the dynamics of great global rebalancing crises. We may no longer have to forcibly write down “hopelessly unproductive works”, during which process the seemingly endless capital of the globalization phase is wiped out, and we enter into a phase in which capital is scarcer and must be allocated much more carefully and productively.

Instead, the historically unprecedented fact of our unlimited ability to issue a credible fiat currency allows us to postpone a quick and painful resolution of the debt burdens we have built up. It is too early to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it may be that postponing a rapid resolution protects us from the most damaging consequences of a crisis, when slower growth and a rising debt burden reinforce each other, while giving us time to rebalance less painfully — the Great depression in the US showed us how damaging the process can be. On the other hand the failure to write down the debt quickly and forcefully may lock the world into decades of excess debt and “Japanification”. We may have traded, in other words, short, brutal adjustments for long periods of economic stagnation.

Investment in infrastructure is essential to rescue an economy from a contraction of aggregate demand following a financial crisis. The unpalatable alternative is a deflationary spiral and significant contraction in GDP. But we need to ensure that investment is made in productive assets — that generate market-related returns — rather than investments in social infrastructure that cannot generate sufficient revenue to service, nor be be sold to repay, debt funding.

Read more at Can monetary policy turn Argentina into Japan? | Michael Pettis' CHINA FINANCIAL MARKETS.

Infrastructure opportunity | Michael Pettis’ CHINA FINANCIAL MARKETS

Interesting view from Michael Pettis:

Excess liquidity and risk appetite makes it easy to lock in cheap, long-term funding for investment projects. Countries that have weak infrastructure, or whose infrastructure is in serious need of improvement, have today an historical opportunity to build or replenish the value of their infrastructure with very cheap capital. This is truly the time for governments to identify their optimal infrastructure needs and to lock in the financing.

Read more at Can monetary policy turn Argentina into Japan? | Michael Pettis' CHINA FINANCIAL MARKETS.

India: Sensex advance

India will also benefit from lower oil prices. The BSE Sensex broke resistance at 29000, signaling a primary advance to 31000*. Rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow troughs above zero signal strong, long-term buying pressure. Retracement to test the new support level at 29000 is a possibility, but breach of support is unlikely.

Sensex

* Target calculation: 29000 + ( 29000 – 27000 ) = 31000

Gold resurgent despite stronger Dollar

The Fed has signaled a “patient approach” to raising interest rates, causing long-term yields to fall. Ten-year Treasury Note yields broke primary support at 2.00%, signaling another test of the 2012 low at 1.40%. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero confirms continuation of the down-trend. Recovery above 2.00% is unlikely, but would warn that the down-trend of the last 12 months is ending.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Dollar Index is headed for a test of long-term resistance at 100. Rising 13-week Twiggs Momentum signals a strong (primary) up-trend. Retracement to test support at 90 remains a possibility, but the likelihood of reversal below this level is remote.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 90 + ( 90 – 80 ) = 100

Gold

Despite the rising Dollar, Gold continues to test resistance at $1300/ounce. Breakout would signal a rally to $1400/ounce, but trend reversal is unlikely. Retreat below $1200 would confirm a long-term target of $1000*.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

The Gold Bugs Index, representing un-hedged gold stocks, displays a similar picture. Breakout above 200 would signal a rally to test the declining trendline around 250, but reversal of the primary down-trend is unlikely.

Gold Bugs Index

Crude still has further to fall

West Texas Crude has been falling since breaking support at $75/barrel, following through below $50/barrel. A test of 2009 lows at $30/barrel is likely unless there is major disruption to supply.

WTI Crude Monthly

When we adjust crude prices for inflation, they remain high by historical standards. Prior to the China boom of the early 2000s, the ratio of WTI Crude to CPI had seldom ventured above $20/barrel when measured in 1982-1984 dollars (shown as 0.2 on the chart below). After the dramatic fall of the last 3 months, the adjusted price at the end of December 2014 (in 1982-1984 dollars) is still $25.20/barrel (0.252 on the chart) — well above the former high.

WTI Crude adjusted for inflation

Russia terror alert | Kyiv Post

Kyiv Post quotes Markian Lubkivskyi, an adviser to SBU head Valentyn Nailyvaichenko on the rise of terrorism outside of Eastern Ukraine:

“(Terrorists) are aiming to undermine Ukraine from within,” Lubkivskyi told the Kyiv Post, adding that terrorism is one of Russia’s tools in the war against Ukraine. “This is definitely a planned set of linked actions carried out to demoralize people, scare them, spread chaos and create protest moods.”

One of the latest incidents occurred on Jan. 20, when a bridge near the village of Kuznetsivka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast collapsed under a cargo train that was carrying iron ore to Volnovakha in Donetsk Oblast. As a result, 10 cars derailed.

This was the fourth railway explosion over the last two months.

In January, three fuel tanks on a freight train were set on fire at the Shebelynka station in Kharkiv Oblast, and a bomb blew up a freight tank with petrochemicals at the Odesa-Peresyp railway station. On Dec. 24, explosives hidden under the railways hit a train at the Zastava 1 railway station, also based in Odesa.

Odesa has become the main target of attacks in the last two months.

The word terrorism is widely misused. What we are dealing with is state-sponsored terrorism or war by proxy. Without state sponsorship — in the form of training, weapons, logistics and financial support — most terrorist organizations would shrivel up and die. The level of proxy warfare increased hugely since World War II, when direct confrontation between major powers became dangerous because of the advent of nuclear weapons. Instead of direct confrontation these powers resorted to deniable aggression, by proxy, in order to weaken their enemies. The former Soviet Union was a major sponsor of proxy wars, from Korea and Vietnam to support for guerrilla wars elsewhere in Asia, Africa and South America. It appears that Vladimir Putin has adopted a similar strategy and is expanding its use into Eastern Europe.

It is difficult to win a guerrilla war where there are few conventional battles. The lesson from Vietnam is that you can win every battle, but still lose the war. Far better to identify and attack the sponsor through unconventional (asymmetric) means such as sanctions. Make sure that the cost outweighs the benefits of proxy warfare.

When we read the word “terrorism” in popular media, our first question should be: who is the sponsor and how can we make them desist?

Read more at Russia terror alert.