Gregor Macdonald


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When Every Country Wants to Sell, Who Buys?

The world is trapped in a quest for 'Demand'
Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 12:14 PM

Understandably for the US, which sustained a consumption supercycle for several decades, the post-financial crisis period has kicked off a new trend: Americans want to consume less, and make more.

Americans want to own less stuff, use less energy, and produce their own goods. In short, Americans want to sell» Read more



Why Demand Will Become Even More Scarce

Prospects for disinflation in 2014
Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 12:14 PM

Executive Summary

  • Anemic employment & wages growth depresses the odds of near-term interest rate hikes
  • Why energy costs increases are experiencing a lull, keeping inflation lower than many expected
  • The demographic arguments for deflation
  • Why the US is becoming more vulnerable to a repricing of natural gas -- vs oil -- in the coming decade

If you have not yet read Part I: When Every Country Wants to Sell, Who Buys?, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

The most recent US jobs report was once again a disappointment, despite the headline number of 192,000 jobs created. Over the past two years, the economy has reliably created about 150,000 jobs per month. This has been just enough to keep up with population growth, but alas, not enough to put the long-term unemployed back to work. The concerning data in the report came in the details of the jobs created: as usual--and this has been a trend for several years now--mostly in the lower wage sectors. A few wrap-up tweets from Dan Alpert of Westwood Capital summed up the facts rather nicely:

Other notable observations from recent trends in US jobs reports include the fact that job creation in 2013 was no higher than in 2012. Not exactly an encouraging trend for those who would be looking for inflation risk, or strong growth in 2014.

But perhaps worst of all has been the number of workers leaving the workforce. Part of this can be explained, of course, by demographic retirements. It's no secret that the US has an aging population, and there's a bulge of retiring workers that will admittedly create some gaps in the labor market over the next decade. But the large numbers of workers exiting the workforce is also explained by discouraged workers, and that unemployment benefits for many have started running out.

What many in the public do not understand, is that workers taking unemployment checks are counted as active seekers of employment. They are added to the composition of the workforce, and when they continue to take unemployment checks but do not find work, they serve to keep the unemployment rate elevated. But when unemployment benefits expire, and workers leave the workforce, the unemployment rate may... » Read more



Off the Cuff: Look Locally for Reasons to Hope

That's where productive change is happening
Thursday, November 28, 2013, 2:22 PM

In this week's Off the Cuff podcast, Chris and Gregor discuss:

  • Unjust Wealth Inequality
    • Growing by money printing vs productive output
  • The Evils of Reflationary Policy
    • Stealing from the many to reward the few
  • Our Low-Growth Future
    • Less to go around
  • Local Solutions
    • Where hope lies


What Happened to the Future?

Hopes dim as global net energy per capita declines
Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 1:15 PM

Improbably, the global economy has returned to growth over the past four years despite the ravages of a deflationary debt collapse, a punishing oil shock, ongoing constraint from debt and deleveraging, and stagnant global wages. The proof of this growth comes from the best indicator of all: the growth of global energy consumption. » Read more


Why Social & Environmental Imbalances Are Becoming the Biggest Risks

As the story becomes more desperate
Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 1:14 PM

Executive Summary

  • The growing risk of disinflation
  • Why instability in the U.S. is accelerating
  • The danger of social rifts emerging in the near future between economic classes
  • Why environmental constraints and social instability may trump energy issues going forward

If you have not yet read What Happened to the Future?, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

If this is the case, it echoes the realization now dawning on economists in the U.S. that an acceleration in the economy, which many expected, is simply not going to arrive. As was discussed in previous essays, OECD GDP growth appears to be converging once again at a level below 2.00%. The U.S. is on track to achieve only 1.6% GDP growth this year. This is a primary reason why inflation, again outside of natural resources has still not broken out, or even appeared. Moreover, the U.S. and the OECD could once again be on the verge of disinflation.

One notable and important piece of the disinflation puzzle is the continued growth in inequality. As income growth narrows to a tiny vanishing point among workers, it’s become increasingly difficult to mount economic growth across many industries. Demand for goods from the 1% is robust. Demand from the rest of the populace continues to dwindle. It may be hard to believe, but policy makers, politicians, and gasp! even economists and financiers used to be deeply concerned about wealth inequality. Today, it’s as if enough time has passed for an entire generation to forget the destructive structural damage that long-term inequality can wreak on an economy.

For those of you who remember, one of the more severe cases of wealth inequality for many decades was the country of Brazil. Tellingly, it was not until Brazil elected a reformer, Lula, that the country left behind its days of boom-and-bust, debt crises, inflation, and general instability and embarked on its current path as a more balanced, sustainable economy. Coincidence? Not likely.

But what’s really scary is... » Read more


We're All Turning Japanese

Japan is the proxy for our future
Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 12:40 PM

Executive Summary

  • As goes Japan's efforts to rescue it's economy, so will go the U.S. and E.U.
  • Japan's options:
    • Outsource its manufacturing base
    • Replace as much human labor with automation as it can
    • Rush to trade its depreciating currency for hard assets around the world
  • What Japan is telling us about the Keynesian endpoint

If you have not yet read Part I: Abenomics' Dismal Anniversary, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

Japan Is Reflecting the Future of Western Economies

While many observers continue to follow Europe as the proxy for post-growth dynamics in the OECD, it's actually Japan that merits the closest analysis.

Much farther along in its post-growth phase, bloated with government debt and having tried a number of big-bang initiatives over the decades, Japan not the U.S. or Europe is leading the way. The country has never really recovered from the gigantic property and stock bubble over twenty years ago.

As proof, just consider the biggest trading story of the past 12 months. Was it the Federal Reserve's intention to taper? How about the chaos in emerging market currencies in countries like India and Indonesia? Or perhaps the continued economic depression in peripheral Europe, as countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece re-run the 1930s, with mass unemployment and people burning wood from forests to say warm? No, not even such dramatic suffering in Europe was enough to move markets or the EUR currency much this past year.

Instead, it was Abenomics and the front-running (and then chasing) of wildly huge moves in both the Nikkei and JPY that helped drive liquidity and speculative juices across all markets. It is not a coincidence that the peak of this frenzy in May heralded the peak in many markets.

But Japan has more than a financial problem. Despite the hand-wringing about Japan's debt, the world has ignored for some time now Japan's debt-to-GDP, GDP on an absolute basis, and Japan's low cost of capital. Japan borrows. Japan prints. Japan devalues. But the world doesn't care.

An issue the world may finally begin to care about, however, is that Japan has failed to launch itself out of deflation and is making very little progress in its struggle now. Indeed, Japan has a demographics problem and a resources problem that far outweigh its financial problems. To this point, instead of launching into recovery, Japan is running with the resources Red Queen, as every step of its currency devaluation is met with rising costs to import the raw materials Japan uses to make its goods... » Read more


Abenomics' Dismal Anniversary

Why we need to care about Japan's continued decline
Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 12:39 PM

Abenomics, the radical set of reflationary policies designed to (air)lift Japan out of its multi-decade slump, is approaching its first anniversary. Don't expect a joyful celebration. » Read more


The Dead Weight of Sluggish Global Growth

Weighing heavier each year
Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:04 PM

Global Slowdown

The U.S. economy weakened appreciably in the first quarter of 2013. But what if this weakness persists into the second quarter just completed, and worsens still in the second half of this year? Q1 GDP, as reported on June 26th, was revised lower to just 1.8%. And various indications suggest that Q2 could come in slightly lower still, at 1.6%. Might the U.S. economy be guiding to a long-term GDP of 1.5%? That’s the rate identified by such observers as Jeremy Grantham the rate at which we combine aging demographics, lower fertility rates, high resource costs, and the burdensome legacy of debt. Well, after a four-year reflationary rally in just about everything, and now with an interest-rate shock, the second half of 2013 appears to have more downside rather than upside risk. Have global stock markets started to discount this possibility? » Read more


How to Break Out of Stagnation

Start "printing" future energy now
Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:04 PM

Executive Summary

  • The world's ongoing net energy recession will continue to drag GDP downwards unless a technology mircale occurs (unlikely)
  • Reversing our net energy decline will be key to breaking out of this stagnation
  • Solar capacity build-out is an important growing trend, as it offers "free" streams of future energy after its up-front costs
  • Solar GW capacity is now growing at a classic exponential rate. The countries that invest the most here will have a long-term advantage over those that don't
  • Stimulative programs that invest in renewable energy infrastructure are looking increasingly attractive to our current fiscal ones that are clearly failing to return us to previous levels of growth

If you have not yet read Part I: The Dead Weight of Sluggish Global Growth available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

With OECD countries in an ongoing energy recession, and given that just about all major economies, both in the OECD and Non-OECD, depend on exports, the risk is that global trade and global GDP also start to slow down. In 2013, we see that is exactly what's starting to happen, as noted by the Economist:

According to The Economist's calculations, world GDP grew by just 2.1% during the first quarter of 2013 compared with a year earlier. Just 12 months ago, output was growing at a reasonable clip of 3.1%. The European Union, the world's second-largest economy, which welcomes its 28th member on July 1st, is back in recession. Meanwhile there are concerns about stumbling blocks as China seeks to rebalance toward a more consumption-oriented economy and more moderate growth rates. Long the mainstay of the world's fortunes, China alone has been responsible for nearly half of all world economic growth since the end of 2009 when the world began growing again.

While commodities from copper to oil have retained the majority of their price gains achieved over the past ten years, the fact remains that year-over-year inflation has settled in at a low, tepid level. Meanwhile, global wage deflation, a secular trend over the past decade, continues. Overall, this means that labor still has very little pricing power. Indeed, with structural unemployment now embedded in much of the OECD, the question remains: How will Western economies put enough people back to work to erase the idle labor pool? » Read more


Why This Recovery Is Coming to an End

Where the markets are most likely headed from here
Monday, May 6, 2013, 10:34 AM

Executive Summary

  • Fertility rates are experiencing a "natural decrease" at record levels across the U.S.
  • Poverty rates are rising across the country, despite the "recovering" economy
  • What exactly is "powering" U.S. economic growth? Perhaps much less than realized.
  • Why we are likely in the calm before the storm when corporate profits peak right before an economic downturn
  • The 3 most likely scenarios for the stock market from here

If you have not yet read Part I: Marking the 4-Year Reflationary Rally: How Much Better Off Are We Really?, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

One of the challenges the U.S. stock market will increasingly face in the years ahead is continued growth in the Dependency Ratio. The U.S. Census Bureau alerted us to this trend back in 2010. For keen observers of demographics, this couldn’t have been a surprise). The rate at which the Dependency Ratio is growing, and is set to grow further, is accelerating:

The U.S. Census Bureau reported today that the dependency ratio, or the number of people 65 and older to every 100 people of traditional working ages, is projected to climb rapidly from 22 in 2010 to 35 in 2030. This time period coincides with the time when baby boomers are moving into the 65 and older age category...The expected steep rise in the dependency ratio over the next two decades reflects the projected proportion of people 65 and older climbing from 13 percent to 19 percent of the total population over the period, with the percentage in the 20 to 64 age range falling from 60 percent to 55 percent...“This rapid growth of the older population may present challenges in the next two decades,” said Victoria Velkoff, assistant chief for estimates and projections for the Census Bureau's Population Division. “It's also noteworthy that those 85 and older — who often require additional caregiving and support — would increase from about 14 percent of the older population today to 21 percent in 2050.”

This is precisely one of the key, ongoing headwinds that faced Japan's stock market for 20 years. When Japan's economy moved steadily into its low-growth phase, unable to generate sufficient jobs, fertility rates and household formation declined rapidly. As I explained in The Arrival of Japan's Sunset, these will not be cured by the current devaluation of the yen, despite naïve cheerleading. And neither will they be solved here in the U.S.

But in contrast to Japan, the United States is only just embarking on its slow growth phase. Its demographically challenged culture and economy will reinforce each other as we move ahead in time. And, it's not just the retiring class of workers that will massively increase the Dependency Ratio in the U.S. in years ahead... » Read more