Straight Talk

Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Wednesday, October 27, 2010, 12:16 AM

Today marks the launch of our new and (hopefully) regularly recurring "Straight Talk" series, featuring thinking from notable minds the PeakProsperity.com audience has indicated it wants to learn more about. Readers submit the questions they want addressed and our guests take their best crack at answering. Our hopes are high you'll enjoy the expert insights and alternative perspectives this new series brings. 

Our inaugural Straight Talk contributor is Mike Shedlock, author of Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis, one of the most visited and respected economic blogs on the Web. Mish is an outspoken deflationist and outlines his rationale for being so in his answers to our questions. He is also a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. 


1. You’ve gone from mainframe computer programming analyst (in 2005) to being one of the most widely-read econobloggers in the world today. To what extent do you attribute your competitive advantage to holding a non-traditional background vs. the more ‘classically’ trained analysts and commentators?

Mish: It certainly helps not having a background in economics as taught by academia today. Nearly everyone in academia is a Keynesian or Monetarist.

It is safe to say that Krugman is the high priest of the Keynesians. In current academia, Greg Mankiw is arguably the high priest of the Monetarists. If we include the Fed, then the Monetarist high priest is without a doubt Ben Bernanke, whose background just happens to be academia, as opposed to any real world experience.

I find it amusing to see the battles between the two camps when they are both wrong about their proposed solutions. The only thing they are ever right about is when they attack each other.

In contrast, I had some very good teachers with non-academic backgrounds in self-taught Austrian economics. One of them is a friend for going on 10 years. I refer to him on my blog by his initials "HB". He has done a couple guest blogs on my site under the name "Trotsky".

Those posts are Misconceptions about Gold and Why does fiat money seemingly work?

"HB" now has his own blog under yet another pen name, Pater Tenebrarum. The Blog is called Acting Man, with a perspective of Austrian economics.

I also need to thank Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture Blog for early on promoting my work, Todd Harrison at Minyanville, and of course Calculated Risk who actually created the first template for my blog.

Interestingly, Barry, CR, and I have been 1-2-3 (in various orders) in terms of page counts according to Traffic Rankings for individual, non-corporate sponsored blogs.

Marc Faber has influenced me a lot and I consider his book Tomorrow's Gold to be required reading. Marc is also a friend even though we disagree on the inflation/deflation debate.

There are two other must-read books and the electronic versions come at the great deflationary price of zero.

Both of those are by Murray Rothbard, with thanks also to the Mises Institute for making them available at no cost.

In addition, I have certainly learned a lot from John Hussman who writes a great column every week, and more recently from David Rosenberg who writes a great column nearly every day.

Certainly Bloomberg is a great source of information and to pick a single Bloomberg author it would be Caroline Baum. Baum's mentor happens to be economist Paul Kasriel who also has taught me a lot. So has Australian economist Steve Keen.

Thanks go to an Austrian-minded friend who simply prefers to be known as "BC".

I also need to thank Krugman and others I violently disagree with. It helps clarify my thinking debating those I disagree with, even if they never respond.

Finally, I get a lot of interesting stories and commentary from my readers. Those readers are real people, doctors, business owners, scientists, and technology wizards, most of whom operate in the real world, and thus have more street smarts and common sense than anyone on the Fed.

Looking at my answer now that I have typed it out, my competitive edge is to do one hell of a lot of reading, thinking, and typing, day in and day out, even weekends. I entertain all points of view, even if it seems like I don't in my finished posts.  

2. Many of our readers have subscribed to Chris' position that the economy must be increasingly interpreted through two other lenses; energy and other environmental resources. Can you comment on the Three E's?

Mish: I am a firm believer in peak oil. I don't know how anyone can deny it.

Given peak oil, and given the demand from China for oil and other commodities, the world is on a crash course of demand that cannot be filled.

China is growing at 8-10% a year (assuming you believe the stats). Can China keep growing at that rate forever? For even 10 more years? What about India? Brazil?

Either we get some serious energy breakthroughs, China slows, or the standard of living drops in the US, UK, and Europe. Well China does not want to slow, and the US and Europe are fighting hard to maintain a standard of living that is not sustainable.

Historically these situations end up with war. That is an observation, not a prediction.

Something has to give, perhaps many things, but all of the people who think China will soon be the number one economy in the world and that China's growth is sustainable, better start thinking about the implications of what I just typed above. 

3. You’re a vocal deflationist. What do you see as the most convincing data points (the top 1-3) for your position and why?

Mish: Before we can discuss inflation and deflation it is imperative to define the terms. Not everyone will agree with my definitions, not even those who claim to be followers of Austrian economic theory. Yet my definitions have a solid theoretical and practical foundation.

Inflation and Deflation Definitions

Inflation is an expansion of money and credit, with credit marked to market. Deflation is a contraction of money supply and credit with credit marked to market.

The "marked to market" bit is my own addition. I use it because it explains a lot of things that are happening. Indeed, the entire definition is predictive of things that will happen. For example, if credit contracts and there is demand to hold money, treasury rates are going to drop.

Contrast that with a definition that says rising prices constitute inflation. What will treasury rates do?

It was easy to see the housing bubble would collapse and in turn credit would plunge and writeoffs would soar. That was the basis for my prediction that interest rates across the entire yield curve would make all-time lows.

When I made that call, oil was near $140, and nearly everyone thought I was nuts. But it happened. Recently we made new lows in 2- and 5-year treasuries and credit continues to contract.

Bernanke and various Fed members talk about preventing deflation, but that talk is always in terms of the CPI.

However, it is impossible to measure prices of consumer goods accurately enough, housing prices are not in the CPI (I think they should be), but most importantly, we are in a fiat credit-based economy.

In a credit-based system, where credit dwarfs money supply, it is foolish to look at inflation through the myopic eyes of either prices or monetary inflation alone. Sure, the Fed can print, but if there is no demand for credit, what does $1T or even $10T of excess reserves do? The answer is nothing other than to make the Fed's exit problem down the road a nightmare.

Money Multiplier Theory is Wrong

It is important to understand that widely believed money multiplier theory (the Fed prints and the money makes its way into the economy 10 times over) is wrong.

The reality is credit expansion comes first, reserves come second. I discussed this at length, using some charts from Steve Keen, in Fiat World Mathematical Model

Yet, talk is all the rage "just wait till all those reserves come pouring into the economy, it will cause hyperinflation". I have to laugh because the thinking is ass backwards.

What Really Happened?

  1. Greenspan lowered interest rates fueling housing speculation and a credit bubble.
  2. The housing/credit bubble burst.
  3. Credit plunged as did credit marked to market.
  4. In the wake of plunging credit the Fed stepped in to provide reserves for banks.
  5. Consumer psychology changed and there is no demand for credit so it sits there as so called "excess reserves", earning slight interest for banks to help them cover losses still to come from foreclosures, credit card losses, and commercial real estate losses.

Looked at in this fashion there are not really excess reserves at all.

Please see Fictional Reserve Lending And The Myth Of Excess Reserves for further rebuttal to the notion that monetary printing will soon have the inflation genie flying out of the bottle.

2009 Recovery

Credit continued to contract in 2009 but the stock market soared. This happened because the corporate bond market freed up, which in turn gave a new lease on life to hundreds of corporation otherwise headed for bankruptcy.

In response, value of debt "marked to market" on the balance sheets of banks went from pennies on the dollar to full value. Credit did not expand but credit marked-to-market sure did, even if it is impossible to say precisely how much.

Thus my model suggests 2007 to February 2009 were periods of deflation, March 2009 to May 2010 were periods of inflation, and now we are likely back in deflation but it is hard to say given institutions do not mark assets to market. Extend and pretend is massive.

Looking ahead, my model suggests we go in and out of deflation for a number of years, just as Japan did, without the economy ever picking up any steam. 

4. Your position has called for a deflation first but then a probable transition over to inflation at some point. We won’t hold you to this, but what triggers do you see for this shift and, again with great latitude, when might this happen?

Mish: With fiat currencies, the probability of inflation approaches 100% given a long enough timeframe. However, we need to fix numerous structural issues, write off enough bad debts, and get to the bottom in housing before there is a serious chance of sustained inflation.

I am not calling for consumer prices to collapse (except in unneeded junk), but that could conceivably happen. By the way, because energy and food prices have been sticky compared to housing, we hear the statement all the time, "we have inflation in things we need and deflation in things we want."

No we don't. The statement is inaccurate because it defines inflation in terms of prices. With a proper definition one does not have inflation and deflation at the same time.

Critical Player is Congress, Not the Fed

The longer the Fed and Congress fight deflation, the longer it will take to play out. It could take 2 years or 10. The attitude of the next Congress, and the Congress and President after that will be crucial.

I believe the next congress will throw around fewer stimuli than the current one. I could be wrong. But 2 years will not seal the fate. There will be a presidential election in another two years.

Will we get a Chris Christie or another Obama? That is an undecided factor very much in play.

The critical point of this discussion is everyone's misguided focus on the Fed. The Fed arguably has a role, but Congress is a far bigger player than the Fed in determining the length of the path we take.

Interestingly, Bernanke, a Monetarist, recently chastised Congress over budget issues. This likely has Krugman going bananas.

5. In your own or in others’ forecasts of how the future will play out, do you think that the difficult-to-predict Human Crowd Psychology factor is underrepresented? If so, what could be done to better incorporate it?

Mish: Few understand the deflationary impacts of the entire gamut of trends that is playing out, or the stress those trends place on families.

I discussed this recently in Inflation Targeting Proposal an Exercise in Blazing Stupidity; Fed Fools Itself

Demographic Pendulum in Motion

It is futile to fight changing social trends, but that has not stopped the Fed with reckless proposals on top of reckless proposals. Please see Inflation Targeting Proposal an Exercise in Blazing Stupidity; Fed Fools Itself for more details.

As I stated in June of 2008, we are now on the back side of peak consumption and Peak Credit. Regardless of what Bernanke of the Fed does, the demographic pendulum is in motion. There is no going back.

That the Fed cannot change attitudes is at the very heart of the deflation argument. Japan certainly tried and failed, Bernanke will fail as well.

The Fed can provide liquidity but it cannot not determine where it goes, or if it goes anywhere at all.

The important point here is the pendulum has just barely moved from peak risk taking to risk aversions. With that in mind, and given the Fed and Congressional propensity to fight a battle that cannot be won, it will be years before the pendulum gets to the other side.

Asymmetric Pendulum

I have not mentioned this before but the pendulum is actually asymmetric, at least in terms of time, not necessarily price or attitude.

We spend far more time in inflation and risk taking than deflation and risk avoidance. Moreover the cycle swing takes so long time wise from one end to the other, that by the time we get to peak risk taking, most do not even think deflation is possible.

Everyone thinks deflation is impossible, much the same way everyone thought housing prices would rise forever. There were wrong about housing and they are wrong about deflation.

6. How the heck do you find the time to write so much? Our members are amazed by the output on your blog and by the fact that they’ve received personal answers to questions they’ve emailed you.

Mish: I certainly love what I am doing. I also believe I am helping people. I have stacks of emails to prove that point, mainly in regards to getting people out of housing, out of the stock market on time, into gold, and not betting against treasuries.

To be sure, I get some hate mail, mostly in regards to my stance on public unions, but that volume is small compared to everything else. I can get as many as 300 emails a day, and I try to answer any pleas for help. I have spent as long as 2 hours answering calls for help, even when I cannot possibly get anything out of it.

If someone sends me a link to an article I use, they may only get a one word response of "thanks". If I get a question, I try to answer. I certainly appreciate when some thoughtful people send me a link or a comment and say "no response needed".

Many days I am reading and writing for 15 hours. I can spend 3 hours just answering emails from readers and clients. On weekends, in the summer, I can spend as little as 2-4 hours, but 3 minimum is more like it.

I am often laughing my head off over things I write. So I am having fun.

Bear in mind my role at Sitka Pacific is advisory, client services, and general manager type functions. Those are part of the 15 hours mentioned. I do not trade. Fortunately I have a fantastic partner who shares the same risk management and customer first attitudes. We have grown from about $15 million assets under management to about $75 million under management in the last few years.

That is small by Wall Street standards, but I expect to double or triple that in a few years, the right way, by putting client interests first. 

7. Which assets do you see as being the being the ‘most hated by the most people’? Which are ‘most beloved’? In your opinion, are these perceptions well-deserved and if not, what opportunities do they represent?

Mish: Certainly US treasuries are universally despised. People were shorting 10 year notes at 4%. Yikes!

However, after this rally it is hard to be super-bullish on them now. Bullish yes, super-bullish, no. I would advise not shorting them.

I do not think the gold story is fully understood yet. It may not be hated, but it is not loved like technology or housing was. Thus I think more will come from gold but it will not necessarily be from here. We can easily have a sharp correction first.

The one thing not despised but universally ignored is Japanese equities. For a long-term hold perspective, I like Japan. Apathy is a great setup. Otherwise, there is precious little to like about anything.

This market, including corporate bonds, is way over-loved. Sentiment is extreme, and earnings expectations will not happen. The market can keep going up, but the risk-reward setup is horrendous. 

8. If you knew that the purchasing power of your existing assets and income would disappear one year from today, what would you invest in during the coming year to prepare?

Mish: The question left out a critical aspect of "how" assets would "disappear". For example, equity and housing assets might crash because of deflation, or theoretically the dollar could fall to zero in hyperinflation. How one would best profit would be quite different.

In regards to hyperinflation, the odds are minuscule. First we need to define the term.

Hyperinflation is a complete loss of faith in currency. Some think this will happen out of the blue, others think the Fed will print and print and print. Let's look at a few examples.

Zimbabwe Hyperinflation

In the case of Zimbabwe, a loss of faith in currency occurred before the printing occurred. The Weimar Republic is a different story.

In Zimbabwe, the Mugabe government initiated a "land reform" program intended to correct the inequitable land distribution created by colonial rule. Ultimately, Mugabe's attempt to bail out the poor at the expense of the wealthy is what triggered capital flight and loss of faith of the currency.

His reforms not only caused a flight of capital and human capital (the wealthy), they also led to sanctions by the US and Europe. In response, Mugabe turned on the printing presses but the loss of faith in the currency had already occurred.

Weimar Hyperinflation

In Weimar Germany, printing for war reparations kicked off hyperinflation.

War reparations were a political event. So was the invasion of Germany to enforce payment of those reparations.

Argentina Hyperinflation

Argentina based its currency on the US dollar, a political mistake. When Argentina could no longer hold the peg, its currency collapsed.

Hyperinflation is a Political Event

The commonality between Zimbabwe, Weimar, and Argentina is they are both political events. In Zimbabwe a political event triggered capital flight, in Weimar a political event started massive printing, and in Argentina everything collapsed when a foolish peg could not be sustained.

In each case, a collapse of faith in currency (hyperinflation) led governments to massive printing campaigns, not the other way around.

US Comparison

The US compares to Zimbabwe how?
The US compares to Argentina how?
Is anyone going to force the US into war reparations?

The idea that we are going to wake up one day and suddenly out of the blue face hyperinflation may be theoretically possible but it is extremely unlikely in practice.

Moreover, and it is important to keep coming back to this point, we are in credit-based system. The Fed is not going to cause hyperinflation by printing.

Besides, the Fed cannot give money away. And as I have pointed out, Bernanke is even chastising Congress about fiscal spending. The Fed would not give away money even if it could!

Sure, the Fed can provide liquidity, but it cannot force businesses or consumers to borrow. Yet people tell me the Fed will cause hyperinflation. It does not add up.

Congress can give money away, but the next Congress will look a lot different than this Congress. I discussed the political and some economic consequences of that reality in Obamacare Career Ending Votes; Republican Chance to Win Senate; Expect House Blowout; Stimulus Appetite Greatly Diminished

Here is one more point about hyperinflation. If the US dollar goes, every fiat currency on the planet will follow. The idea that hyperinflation will hit the US alone is preposterous. The Euro, the Yen, the Pound would all go up in flames at the same time.

The way to protect against that situation is to have gold. Holding gold also works against the other extreme, deflation, on the basis that gold is money.

Gold does not do well in all circumstances, however. Gold did very poorly from 1980 to 2000, a period of ordinary inflation. There is no guaranteed play anywhere. 

9. What's the question we should have asked, but didn't? What's your answer?

Mish: I guess it would be: "Does your crystal ball have a forecast for the stock market? For Gold? The US Dollar?"

Let's start with gold. I see articles everyday by some prominent people saying things like "I know gold is going to ... whatever".

The thing is, they don't know and neither do I. Only a charlatan or a fool can make such a claim. Of course the fools and charlatans may be right, but it is not because they "know" anything.

One thing I do know is that I don't know things of that nature. That puts me ahead of all those who claim to know the unknowable.

Probabilities

I prefer to look at things in terms of probabilities. It is highly likely the Fed embarks on Quantitative Easing. That should be good for gold, but short term that QE may easily be priced in.

Moreover, the Fed may go slower than what the market thinks.

Thus, there could be a huge "sell the news" event in both gold and the stock market on the QE announcement, no matter what that announcement is.

Should that happen, given that gold is in a long-term bull market, and given that Bernanke will likely go back to the QE well, I expect buying the next big dip in gold would be a higher probability event than buying a 10% correction in the stock market.

There is a lot going for gold, but it is by no means a "sure thing".

Is the Equities Bottom In?

Many people claim the "Bottom is In"?

Is it? How can they know? I am not even sure if the bottom is likely in. Look at the half-dozen 50% or greater rallies in the Nikkei over the course of two decades, all taken back and then some.

How many "knew" that would not happen. How many in the US "knew" that housing prices could not possibly collapse.

I am quite sure that stocks are richly priced, but that sure does not mean stocks cannot rally further from here.

We are in a credit bust scenario with enormous deflationary pressures, even if outright deflation is not sustained. As such, the risk in equities is a lot higher than most think.

Faith Bubble

There is a lot of confidence in the Fed's ability to produce inflation. Indeed, I think there is a bubble of confidence in the Fed's ability to produce inflation.

Should that bubble burst, equities can collapse far faster than most think possible.

Risk Management

Hyperinflation is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely in practice for reasons stated above. But what if Prechter is right? Actually I think the grand-supercycle collapse he is calling for is also highly unlikely, although it too is certainly possible.

Is worry over such extremes or attempts to profit from such extremes at this stage a waste of energy? I think so.

Unless you are a day-trader, it is important to be aware of such possibilities, while focusing on the more likely probabilities.

The bottom may be in, but a test of 850 or even the 700-800 area of the S&P sure seems likely enough. How many are prepared for that?

Anti-dollar sentiment is once again extreme. It is quite similar to the extreme anti-Euro sentiment a few months back. Look at what happened. Are we setup for another reversal?

How many are prepared for the market to go sideways for 5 years or longer, as earnings catch up with valuations. This happened in the 70's and there is absolutely no reason it cannot happen again.

Sadly, most aren't prepared for those scenarios, just as they were unprepared for the collapse we saw in housing and the collapse we saw in global equities.

Some questions to ponder are: Do you really want to be long after this runup? How long? What are appropriate hedges? What happens if the dollar rises? Is it possible, if not likely to get a reasonably strong move up in the US dollar here?

The important point is not whether or not you agree with my probabilities; the key point is to be thinking about risk management and opportunities. It is far easier to make up for lost opportunities than lost cash. 


If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:

CM.com readers can submit their preferences for future Straight Talk participants, as well as questions to ask them, in our new Straight Talk forum.

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27 Comments

JAG's picture
JAG
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 26 2008
Posts: 2490
Awesome Read!

Congrats to Adam for coming up with this idea. I found it a highly effective format for understanding what Mish is all about. I look forward to any ensuing debate between Mish and Dr. M regarding the content of this Q&A.

Thank you Mish for taking the time to respond to our questions.

Thanks again to Adam for acting on your idea.

Best....Jeff

Farmer Brown's picture
Farmer Brown
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 23 2008
Posts: 1501
Re: Awesome Read!

JAG wrote:

Congrats to Adam for coming up with this idea. I found it a highly effective format for understanding what Mish is all about. I look forward to any ensuing debate between Mish and Dr. M regarding the content of this Q&A.

Thank you Mish for taking the time to respond to our questions.

Thanks again to Adam for acting on your idea.

Best....Jeff

Ditto that, excellent!  Thanks Mish and Adam and the CM team.  Looking forward to more Straight Talk.

plato1965's picture
plato1965
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2009
Posts: 615
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Mish: Kudos!!  Fascinating big picture overview of the monetary side...

People like schiff ( who I admire) , have a gold standard, hard-money, euclidean approach to a lobachevskiesque

tricky credit-based system....

If you want to get fundamental.. consider energy.. not gold... if you want to get humane.. understand trust, credit, politics, love,. contracts...

both are vital... and they *will* harmonise....... eventually.

Your perspective + stoneleigh's + CM's + oftwominds' .. leads to a set of personal actions that encourage ownership and self reliance over the necessities.

and if excess.. maybe selective investment in metals.......

Ah.. so many (90+) to choose from..... *grin*

nickbert's picture
nickbert
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Posts: 1122
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

A most excellent beginning to this series!

Just FYI, I couldn't help but notice the date of this Straight Talk entry is October 22 2008, and that it doesn't show up on the main PeakProsperity.com page.  I'm guessing the site and main page is set up to show the most recent dated Blog posting, so maybe correcting the date to 2010 will bring it up on the main page? (though I'm forced to use an older browser at work so maybe it's just me?)

- Nickbert

Mario Galante's picture
Mario Galante
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Posts: 13
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

This is indeed an outstanding article (and a brilliant idea altogether), and it's unfortunate that its 2008 date probably prevents it from appearing on the front page. As a result, we seem to have missed it completely.

Denny Johnson's picture
Denny Johnson
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 13 2008
Posts: 324
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

nickbert wrote:

Just FYI, I couldn't help but notice the date of this Straight Talk entry is October 22 2008, and that it doesn't show up on the main PeakProsperity.com page.  I'm guessing the site and main page is set up to show the most recent dated Blog posting, so maybe correcting the date to 2010 will bring it up on the main page? (though I'm forced to use an older browser at work so maybe it's just me?

Same for me.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1830
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Date has been updated and the post is now promoted on the front page (was using the old date to hide this from view until we were ready to unveil it to the world, but you guys sleuthed it out! Will need to come up with better tricks going forward...)

Glad to hear such positive reaction to this series. Many thanks to Mish for putting in such obvious thought to our maiden version.

Now, back to work on lining up our next ST participants....

cheers,
Adam 

ckessel's picture
ckessel
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
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Posts: 422
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

I really enjoyed the article. Thank you Mish and the CM team and to Adam for getting it up and running!

Coop

SingleSpeak's picture
SingleSpeak
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 1 2008
Posts: 430
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

It is far easier to make up for lost opportunities than lost cash.

       Great article! Many points to digest. This last sentence really put the icing on the cake.

       Thanks to Mish, Adam, and the Questionaires

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 1573
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Great article; Mish; thanks!  Great series, Adam and CM.com!  Getting this kind of insight into the way big thinkers like Mish see the world and economy is true value-added!

Doug's picture
Doug
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Posts: 2745
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Wow, if this interview is any indication, the series will be very educational.  I couldn't ask for more.

Doug

VeganD's picture
VeganD
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Posts: 599
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Thank you Adam and Mish

I am impressed by the depth and breadth of the article and appreciate your candor on the uncertainty ahead. This is a great launch for the Straight Talk column. 

Denise

bluebird's picture
bluebird
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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Adam,

Could you line up Stoneleigh (Nicole Foss), over at The Automatic Earth.

Thank you!

JAG's picture
JAG
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Posts: 2490
Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

I saw this posted on ZH.

Is the community over there drunk 24/7? I couldn't believe some of the ignorant responses posted in the comment section. If I was an inflationist, I would be really worried about having so many obvious morons (Viva Davos!) on my side. Dr. M and Machinehead are the only respectable pro-inflation bloggers out there IMO.  Do you guys share the same physiology?Laughing

BTW, MH would be a great interview for this series as well.

Farmer Brown's picture
Farmer Brown
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 23 2008
Posts: 1501
Bill Gross

I can't believe Bill Gross said the following, but because of it, he now qualifies for a Straight Talk interview, in my opinion.  As one ZH poster put it, it looks like Billy Boy just had a "Jerry Maguire" moment:!  Full text here.

The Fed’s second round of QE, therefore, more closely resembles an attempted hypodermic straight to the economy’s heart than its mood elevator counterpart of 2009. If QEII cannot reflate capital markets, if it can’t produce 2% inflation and an assumed reduction of unemployment rates back towards historical levels, then it will be a long, painful slog back to prosperity. Perhaps, as a vocal contingent suggests, our paper-based foundation of wealth deserves to be buried, making a fresh start from admittedly lower levels. The Fed, on Wednesday, however, will decide that it is better to keep the patient on life support with an adrenaline injection and a following morphine drip than to risk its demise and ultimate rebirth in another form.

We at PIMCO join with Ben Bernanke in this diagnosis, but we will tell you, as perhaps he cannot, that the outcome is by no means certain. We are, as even some Fed Governors now publically admit, in a “liquidity trap,” where interest rates or trillions in QEII asset purchases may not stimulate borrowing or lending because consumer demand is just not there. Escaping from a liquidity trap may be impossible, much like light trapped in a black hole. Just ask Japan. Ben Bernanke, however, will try – it is, to be honest, all he can do. He can’t raise or lower taxes, he can’t direct a fiscal thrust of infrastructure spending, he can’t change our educational system, he can’t force the Chinese to revalue their currency – it is all he can do, and as he proceeds, the dual questions of “will it work” and “will it create a bond market bubble” will be answered. We at PIMCO are not sure.

Still, while next Wednesday’s announcement will carry our qualified endorsement, I must admit it may be similar to a Turkey looking forward to a Thanksgiving Day celebration. Bondholders, while immediate beneficiaries, will likely eventually be delivered on a platter to more fortunate celebrants, be they financial asset classes more adaptable to inflation such as stocks or commodities, or perhaps the average American on Main Street who might benefit from a hoped-for rise in job growth or simply a boost in nominal wages, however deceptive the illusion. Check writing in the trillions is not a bondholder’s friend; it is in fact inflationary, and, if truth be told, somewhat of a Ponzi scheme. Public debt, actually, has always had a Ponzi-like characteristic. Granted, the U.S. has, at times, paid down its national debt, but there was always the assumption that as long as creditors could be found to roll over existing loans – and buy new ones – the game could keep going forever. Sovereign countries have always implicitly acknowledged that the existing debt would never be paid off because they would “grow” their way out of the apparent predicament, allowing future’s prosperity to continually pay for today’s finance.

Now, however, with growth in doubt, it seems that the Fed has taken Charles Ponzi one step further. Instead of simply paying for maturing debt with receipts from financial sector creditors – banks, insurance companies, surplus reserve nations and investment managers, to name the most significant – the Fed has joined the party itself. Rather than orchestrating the game from on high, it has jumped into the pond with the other swimmers. One and one-half trillion in checks were written in 2009, and trillions more lie ahead. The Fed, in effect, is telling the markets not to worry about our fiscal deficits, it will be the buyer of first and perhaps last resort. There is no need – as with Charles Ponzi – to find an increasing amount of future gullibles, they will just write the check themselves. I ask you: Has there ever been a Ponzi scheme so brazen? There has not. This one is so unique that it requires a new name. I call it a Sammy scheme, in honor of Uncle Sam and the politicians (as well as its citizens) who have brought us to this critical moment in time. It is not a Bernanke scheme, because this is his only alternative and he shares no responsibility for its origin. It is a Sammy scheme – you and I, and the politicians that we elect every two years – deserve all the blame.

Still, as I’ve indicated, a Sammy scheme is temporarily, but not ultimately, a bondholder’s friend. It raises bond prices to create the illusion of high annual returns, but ultimately it reaches a dead-end where those prices can no longer go up. Having arrived at its destination, the market then offers near 0% returns and a picking of the creditor’s pocket via inflation and negative real interest rates. A similar fate, by the way, awaits stockholders, although their ability to adjust somewhat to rising inflation prevents such a startling conclusion. Last month I outlined the case for low asset returns in almost all categories, in part due to the end of the 30-year bull market in interest rates, a trend accentuated by QEII in which 2- and 3-year Treasury yields approach the 0% bound. Anyone for 1.10% 5-year Treasuries? Well, the Fed will buy them, but then what, and how will PIMCO tell the 500 billion investor dollars in the Total Return strategy and our equally valued 750 billion dollars of other assets that the Thanksgiving Day axe has finally arrived?

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

JAG wrote:

BTW, MH would be a great interview for this series as well.

Machinehead would be terrific for an interview.

Thanks for the new series.  This was a good launch. 

Travlin 

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Great interview and great idea. Now if all this conflicting economy stuff didn't tend to confuse me. I'm still wondering what inflation really is. Is it credit expansion or increasing prices or some of both? Where is the chicken and egg in this?

Definition of an intelligent person: Someone who can hold totally conflicting views in mind at the same time and stay sane 

Just musing.

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Re: Bill Gross

Farmer Brown wrote:

I can't believe Bill Gross said the following, but because of it, he now qualifies for a Straight Talk interview, in my opinion.  As one ZH poster put it, it looks like Billy Boy just had a "Jerry Maguire" moment:!  Full text here.

Thanks for the link.  Gross's honesty is mindblowing.

Travlin

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

JAG wrote:

I saw this posted on ZH.

Is the community over there drunk 24/7? I couldn't believe some of the ignorant responses posted in the comment section.

It does have somewhat of a Jerry Springer atmosphere there, doesn't it?  There's often valuable commentary to be found in the comments, but there's plenty of inane and crude stuff you have to sift through to get there.  Sometimes entertaining if you can find the time to sift through it.  

Then of course there's always the zerohedge drinking game... everybody drinks when you see the comment "Gold (or Dollars/Silver/Equities/Oil/etc) Bi***ez!"  Laughing

Anyway, it's nice to see the Straight Talk series get initial wide exposure.  Zerohedge, for all its rough edges, is certainly good for that.

- Nickbert

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Mish rebuts Bill Gross's stance as "Grossly Arrogant"  Meanwhile, all the Fed bashing (first by Gross, then by some hedge manager from Kansas on Bloomberg) apparently has taken some wind out of the sails of QE2 expectations, with uncle buck rallying.  Maybe QE2 will just remain that famous ocean-liner if Benwabwe's printing press turns out to have a bond-vigilante induced paper jam.

I'm definitely going out for popcorn after work.  Things are getting vewy vewy intewesting.

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Sure enough, Zero Hedge is right on top of things.  The Kansas hedge fund manager I saw was Grantham.  And apparently Peter Orszag has joined in the bond-vigilante "cheque" call on King Benwapress:

The president's own former advisor, and now very much outspoken critic, Peter Orszag has joined the cool kids by releasing the following scathing oped in the NYT, whose topic is, drumroll, QE2: "by perpetuating an artificially low 10-year government bond rate, the Fed may be delaying the very fiscal policy action that the nation most needs, while doing little to boost an economy whose principal problem is not high long-term interest rates." The message, for anyone having read the prior two essays, or Zero Hedge, is nothing new. What is, is the massive onslaught by virtually everyone of any political and financial stature on this pretty much inevitable policy decision by Bernanke. The question we have is did Goldman's estimate that QE2 needs to be up to $4 trillion blow the party? Are expectations for future monetary easing so high (and unattainable) now that the market had to be artificially be pushed lower so there is some upside on November 3? Because for all those who b...

LINK

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

I love all the great comments and votes of support for Adam's brainchild which is this series.   To be crystal clear, the questions came from you, the audience, and this was not the result of me interviewing Mish as this article has been portrayed elsewhere on the net.

And I am deeply grateful to Mish for taking the time to share his brain with us.  It's clear he put some time into composing his thoughts and I always appreciate when such care has been taken because there's a much better chance that a good discussion that can change minds and shift perceptions will result.

The key issue here is not to get hung up on definitions of inflation or deflation, which are slippery at best (e.g. if deflation is a decrease in available money, what do we include as 'money' in our definition?), but to answer the burning question, "how do I preserve my wealth in the future?"

As I have regularly maintained in my deflation/inflation outlook it's never a question of either/or.  It's entirely possible to have both at the same time, or to have elements of either as subcomponents of a larger trend that is headed in the other direction.  For example, it's possible to have food costs going up even as general deflation is gripping the land.

My views on this have also been pretty clear - I expect the US authorities (fiscal and monetary) to favor the relative ease of printing over the immediate pain of austerity.  So far, they have not disappointed me.

While we can debate whether the Fed can print enough to stave off deflation until the cows come home, there are two things I try and keep firmly in view:

  1. So far, their efforts at printing have worked.  Armageddon has been held off, there have been no systemic failures, losses have been hidden, prices for most things have not fallen off a cliff.  We are now two years into the crisis and so far we have to (somewhat grudgingly) admit that the printing efforts have more or less worked.
  2. Peak oil is now closer than at the start of the crisis.  

I don't know exactly when peak oil will arrive on the international stage as something that is suddenly self-evident, but my analysis leads me to the range of 2013 to 2015.  But even if it comes much later the basic story is this: More and more printing (staving off the inevitable) will someday run smack-dab into peak oil.  

When it does?  All bets are off regarding the "prices of things."  Some will drop horrendously, some will rise stratospherically.  We can only guess intelligently, place our bets, hedge them somewhat, and try and remind ourselves to be ready for anything.

I love what Mish had to say about probabilities and risk management.  There is much wisdom there.  

Beware certainty in these times.  That's the most important lesson I've learned to date.  

Now let me undercut my own advice by telling you that I am utterly certain of one thing; whatever happens next, I will be surprised.

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

JAG wrote:

I saw this posted on ZH.

Is the community over there drunk 24/7? I couldn't believe some of the ignorant responses posted in the comment section. 

There's lots of great info/muckracking going on over at 0H, but the comments section gets a bit "fraternity house" IMO.  

Second the thought that MH would make a good Straight Talk subject...

Viva -- Sager

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Thanks to Mish, Adam, and the Questionaires

+1    Wow this has been GREAT! I really enjoyed the deflation-inflation explanation.

So far, their efforts at printing have worked.  Armageddon has been held off, there have been no systemic failures, losses have been hidden, prices for most things have not fallen off a cliff.  We are now two years into the crisis and so far we have to (somewhat grudgingly) admit that the printing efforts have more or less worked.

This does seem to be the case at the moment but will QEII keep the ship on course or sink it in the end? So is Ben smarter than we know?

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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Hi Chris,

I wanted to share this with you..it IS going mainstream..right to the top! I don't know if you have ever heard or checked out TED - but this is a very good place for these ideas to be heard..

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_jackson_s_economic_reality_check.html

Best,

Margarida

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guardia
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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

(Oops, I posted this message originally in the wrong section...)

Great read! Made me think about many things I had not given much thought.

I would have one comment though. Congress may be averse to sending personal checks to every family in the country or something, but it does not look like it will stop spending more and more for defense. Could that not cause hyperinflation? Going nuclear on "defense" (say a war on Iran), at the expense of education, health care, pension?

Samuel

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idoctor
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Re: Straight Talk with Mike Shedlock (aka "Mish")

Old but good...

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