- The central banks are the key players at this stage. When they fail, the system will fail.
- How today’s Frankenmarkets are poised to collapse
- Where we see the most convincing signs that the global economy is now falling into recession
- Why we should expect bad times to lead to even worse decisions
I find myself looping through another round of emotional responses to the state of the world. As I’ve often written, releasing old belief systems is an emotional process.
The Six Stages of Awareness links my own emotional responses belief-changing material to those described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her seminal Five Stages of Grief work.
At times I am angry, despondent, and infuriated. At other times I am also calm, reflective and full of gratitude. The difference between the two is often defined by how much time I spend reading what the great social controllers are feeding to the world.
Twitter, Facebook and Google are as much legitimate business concerns as they are instruments of social engineering. Don’t believe me? Then maybe you could believe a former Facebook executive that no longer allows his own children near his former employer’s product:
We are all being programmed and those doing the programming are both brazen and sophisticated. Sometimes they just brazenly make stuff up and repeat it until it becomes truth, and sometimes they are using the most sophisticated of techniques to precisely elicit deep emotional responses that all but assure adoption of their preferred messaging.
Which is why I find myself alternately infuriated and amused. “How the F can people fall for this garbage?!? [chuckles] It’s kind of funny to watch…”
The reason I still get angry and frustrated from time to time is because we’re just wasting very important time and resources that really ought to be dedicated to other pursuits. As I watch the US electorate lurch from one emotional outrage to another, with the sum of them all being a trip without a direction, I truly wonder if this is really just the emergent outcome of how events spread virally or if it’s not something more intentional and sinister like a program designed to keep people revved up but pointed in the wrong directions.
So if you find yourself increasingly of the impression that things are really off track, that’s probably because you’ve also been paying close attention to the news. Whether by design or default, it doesn’t speak well to our ability to rally effectively to face the many predicaments.
As the Facebook executive said, “No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth; you are being programmed.”
That closely matches what I am seeing in the on-line world and it’s really unfortunate because the stakes are high, and we really need to begin preparing for a very different future. That’s hard, if not impossible, to do in a fractured and polarized world such as the one that’s been emerging over the past few years.
Central Banks At the Center Of It All
The central banks are at the very center of it all. The financial markets have taken on a new significance in the world and are now one of the prime, if not the prime, signaling mechanisms used by central planners to communicate with the world.
Their message is “rising stock prices and stable bond markets mean all is well.”
There are many reasons that I would cheer on a return to the financial markets of old, the ones that weren’t day-traded by the central banks and whipped around by endless rumors of renewed trade talks with China and other such inane trivia, and chief among them would be so that people would finally get the message that all is not well.
As I’ve been chronicling the ecosphere is screaming its warning signs and I worry that another decade of central bank misdirection will be too long of a time to continue diddling around pretending as if stock values were really the most important things in the world.
Having a stable financial system is only in the common good if that stability is used for a good purpose like building out the next energy infrastructure or studying insect losses and/or figuring out how we’re going to feed everyone in 30 years.
Instead, even the very minor downturn in December 2017 (aka “the dreaded volatility”) quickly caused the global central banks to immediately reverse course and engineer a huge easing of financial conditions (as if they weren’t already easy enough!).
If you look closely, you can see that the emergency response was as steep as in the depths of the 2009 crisis. Maybe even a tiny bit more extreme.
This was largely the “work” of the Chinese central bank but it also included the ECB which was supposed to begin unwinding its balance sheet by the end of 2018 but has not done so and has even advanced it a good bit in 2019:
As well the news feeds have been positively alive with the Bank of Japan also announcing it stands ready to provide more easing, the US Fed is trotting out various officials daily and sometimes 6x per day all to announce they too stand ready to ease more and try new things if necessary.
But necessary for what, exactly?
What is it that they fear so strongly?
The obvious answer is that they fear any sort of a downturn in the financial markets and are now beholden to defending and protecting them at every turn. The markets have become Frankenmarkets, a monstrous central bank creation that they no longer control but are, in fact, controlled by.
Danielle DiMartino-Booth put it this way recently:
Where the markets used to be dependent on the economy, now that’s been inverted, at least in the minds of the central bankers. So they pushed the markets to all-time highs, killed volatility and therefore perverted risk-reward ratios, and now are desperately afraid of any pull-backs.
The problem with all of that?
Very simply, recessions happen anyways. Markets cannot be the economy. Thus when the recession comes along everything the central banks have done will be unwound in a rather dramatic fashion. The longer they keep this up, the worse the eventual correction.
This may happen sooner as a result of financial markets falling into disarray, or a bit later as a result of ecological disaster as the insane drive for more economic growth finally nicks a load-bearing strand in the web of life.
In the meantime, as the equity markets march ever higher with the central bank whips at the rear, the global economy continues to stumble towards recession.
Here are a few key indicators to watch.
First, inventories of new vehicles in the US are very rapidly mounting:
“As of the 24th of the month, new-vehicle retail inventory has increased by 4.25% on a year-over-year basis in the month of January. Keep in mind that retail sales declined by 1.84% in 2018 and most of those declines came in H2. In other words, we are starting the year with more inventory than the prior year and are currently trending lower in retail sales.”
Autos are a big part of the US economy and falling sales and mounting inventory means a slowdown, and it looks pretty strong. You know what else has rising inventory and falling sales in the US?
These are pretty pronounced drop offs in US housing activity and they are matched by the data in new home sales. When US consumers begin to pull back on autos and homes, that’s pretty strong recession indicators.
Another leading indicator to watch is “employed part time for economic reasons.” As Dave Fairtex recently wrote in a comment at Peak Prosperity:
For some reason, I forgot to check my favorite pre-recession indicator after the January Nonfarm Payrolls number was reported last Friday: “Working part time/economic reasons.”
See the chart below. It’s a “quarterly” chart, so the moves stand out a bit more, but Q1 is not looking very good at all right now. At the moment, it totally agrees with the “impending recession” prediction, and/or that we’re already in one. This one is really pretty reliable over the years – as a slightly predictive and/or coincident indicator.
When people get squeezed, as they do when things get tight, they pick up any work they can, often part-time work, and then they tell the BLS folks they did it for “economic reasons” those reasons being “I really need the money right now.”
One other leading indicator is restaurant sales, which are really doing very poorly right now for *cough* some reason *cough*
Meanwhile Europe continues to slip below the zero economic mark with Germany, Italy, the UK and France all reporting a variety of negative economic indicators.
Asia is going no better with Korea, China and Japan all sporting very negative trade numbers with each other:
Japan’s exports fall 8.4 pct in Jan, hit by China slowdown
Feb 19, 2019
TOKYO — Japan’s exports fell 8.4 percent in January from a year earlier while imports also edged lower, according to customs data released Wednesday, suggesting a deepening impact from China’s economic slowdown.
Exports to all of Asia dropped 13 percent year-on-year, largely due to a 17 percent decline in shipments to China, where growth recently has fallen to its slowest pace in three decades.
South Korea’s tumbling exports point to more trade pain
Feb 21, 2019
Tokyo/Seoul | South Korean exports tumbled in early February as shipments of semiconductors plummeted, the latest evidence that the slump in global trade has further to run.
Exports fell 12 per cent during the first 20 days of the month, while those to China fell 14 per cent, according to data released by Korea Customs Service. Total shipments of semiconductors, a key driver of growth in Korea’s economy, dropped by 27 per cent.
South Korea’s exports have always been a reliable indicator of global economic growth. They’ve never falling this far and this fast without a global slump in the works.
Maybe this time is different? Just kidding, it’s never different.
If there’s a cautionary tale to be told it’s found in the rapidly dissolving Australian housing bubble. I’ve recently gone into that, so I won’t go too much further into the base details of housing sales and prices both slipping very rapidly.
What’s interesting is that the banking sector in Australia is very deeply exposed here and could easily encounter a systemic failure that would require a massive bail-out. The political appetite for such a bail-out might be coming at a bad time, but when is it ever a good time to have to tell your taxpayers that the massively profitable banking sector gets to keep all of its prior “earnings” but also now needs a boatload of your tax dollars?
A massive housing bubble bursting is a big headache, but you know what could make it worse? One of your main exports being blocked by your largest trading partner:
Australia seeks clarification on China coal import ‘block’
Feb 22, 2019
The Australian government says it is seeking an “urgent” clarification from Beijing over reports that a major Chinese port has halted imports of Australian coal.
Australia is a top supplier of coal to China, its biggest export market.
Beijing has not confirmed the reported halt in the port of Dalian, but called changes in such arrangements “normal”.
Canberra sought to play down speculation on Friday that the matter may be linked to bilateral tensions.
“I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. The Australia-China trading relationship is exceptionally strong,” Treasurer Josh Fr When asked about the reported halt, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang offered general comments that authorities sought “to safeguard the rights and interests of Chinese importers and protect the environment”.ydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Some security analysts in Australia have suggested it could be a tit-for-tat move by China, after Australia blocked tech giant Huawei from providing 5G technology.
However others, including the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia, have suggested that China’s concerns about its own coal industry may be behind any such halts.
China is playing coy here, saying that there’s no block but that shipments of coal from Australia are being carefully examined for safety and cleanliness. Heh. They do have a sense of humor. Checking for cleanliness? This is coal we’re talking about. Of course it’s dirty. It’s coal!
While there could be an element of tit-for-tat over the Huawei block by Australia (playing along with its US ally) it could also be true that China is already recording a sharp economic slowdown internally and was looking for coal imports to reduce. Australia happily stepped forward and volunteered itself by mindlessly blocking Huawei from the 5G market there.
Problem meet solution. At least for the Chinese.
Facing the Future
So what does one do with all this information? How can we move forward when every official channel is intent on blocking any recognition of the main problems, and is doubly intent on jamming the “markets” ever higher because they have no other options?
We begin by accepting the fact that there’s no mount of wishful thinking that’s going to fix anything. Time has been bought at the expense of the future. Believe me, future generations are going to be p.i.s.s.e.d. at the wanton waste of the last remaining shale oil reserves. “You used it for what?!? Lighting the night sky in North Dakota and to sell a last few F-150’s?”
Further, the complete abdication of financial sanity is going to bite very hard at some point. Already the not-so-great state of Illinois is exploring selling off its remaining public assets to make up a tiny bit of the shortfall in public pensions:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration considering selling state buildings and land to pay for pensions
Feb 14, 2019
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration issued a plan Thursday to deal with Illinois’ chronically underfunded public pensions that called for injecting more cash from a proposed graduated income tax, spreading payments out over a longer period, adding $2 billion in debt and selling state assets that could include the Illinois Tollway.
Pritzker has promised that he won’t cut state worker and teacher retirement benefits to tackle the state’s nearly $134 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, leaving his administration to look for more money to fill the hole.
Asset stripping the public balance sheet to cover the liabilities. What a completely terrible idea.
There are a few lessons in here; (1) don’t be among those counting on receiving a livable pension from Illinois, and (2) move the heck out of Illinois if you happen to live there.
Across the country, but especially from the high tax Democratic strongholds (CA, CT, NY, IL, MA, etc.) there’s a pronounced migration as formerly content state residents vote with the feet and move to lower tax locales.
What was once a trickle is turning into a flood and the more that flood continues the worse the problems get for places like Illinois. Tax more, lose more people, receive less in taxes, so begin back at step 1.
I offer the Illinois example as a means of helping you get your mind around the sorts of futures we face. No, Illinois won’t suddenly go broke and descend into squalor one dark day, but the process is all but guaranteed to run unabated until it finds some sort of bottom.
There’s no good reason for this except that the institutional and political mindset of Illinois is too firmly set in its ways to change in time, no different than France. No different than a thousand other places.
If people cannot manage to get their own linear, and relatively simple financial arrangements in order, what chance do you think there will be to notice that soil degradation is slipping past some irretrievable mark?
Or to rally around the idea of spending massively less on sickcare, the military and other sacred economic and political cows in order to build out New Green Deal? Unless I miss the mark, citizens of the US will want “all of the above” and that will eventually lead the entire nation to become Illinois.
Promises that weren’t grounded in reality and which cannot be kept, won’t be kept. It’s not rocket science.
I can only offer you this; we are in the early stages of the collapse event.
I know it seems as slow as molasses but all the signs are there. Anxious people, political tensions, a final looting spree by the elites, mysteriously low economic growth, and increasingly strident attempts to distract people from the real news.
The hard part for me is being that broken record that just keeps pointing out this one obvious thing; infinite economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. It’s also a bad idea and becomes self-destructive after a point.
We are well past that point.
I know I am speaking to a very select audience, and I truly cannot thank you enough for supporting Adam and myself by subscribing as we work to bring these messages to a wider audience.
For now the clamped down financial markets is a headwind that prevents us from reaching more people. It’s also true that our message is not one that is willingly amplified by the social media platforms and we have to really fight these days to expand our reach.
If we were attractive young females helping to sell distraction and music we’d find the paths to wider audiences profoundly easier. But the social media money-harvesting algorithms apparently don’t find our messages to sell much stuff so we’re largely ignored. Oh well, better than outright banned as is increasingly the case for those with ‘the wrong’ political views which is perhaps yet another good reason to studiously avoid politics.
My advice is to stay focused and to keep working towards building your own personal resilience.
If you are at all flexible on where you live, then please pick a place where the community is strong, your friendships aligned and nourishing, and where the local government is not hell-bent on running a broken system into the dirt.
So let’s end on some good news.
Whether you believe in global climate change or your believe that fossil fuels are limited in supply, you will agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels as intelligently and, given the scale of the task, as rapidly as we can.
To that end, this news out of the EU this week, precipitated by the fearless truth-telling of Greta Thornberg, is a very large step in the right direction:
‘Kicking Ass for Her Generation’: Applause for 16-Year-Old Greta Thunberg as EU Chief Pledges $1 Trillion to Curb Climate Threat
Feb 21, 2019
Sixteen-year-old climate action leader Greta Thunberg stood alongside European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker Thursday in Brussels as he indicated—after weeks of climate strikes around the world inspired by the Swedish teenager—that the European Union has heard the demands of young people and pledged more than $1 trillion over the next seven years to address the crisis of a rapidly heating planet.
In the financial period beginning in 2021, Juncker said, the EU will devote a quarter of its budget to solving the crisis.
“Every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change,” Juncker said. The plan will amount to about €1 trillion (or $1.13 trillion) spent over seven years, according to Reuters.
Juncker’s comments came at the Civil Society for rEUnaissance event in Brussels, where Thunberg doubled down on her consistent message that politicians must take serious strides to stop the climate crisis and protect the Earth for future generations—and that the EU must double its target of cutting greenhouse gases by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
“This target is not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today. If the EU is to make its fair contribution to stay within the carbon budget for the 2C limit then it needs a minimum of 80 percent reduction by 2030, and that includes aviation and shipping,” Thunberg told political and business leaders. “There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge.”
I’m completely agnostic for why someone does something, as long as it is done. If the EU can somehow find a way to move 80% away from fossil fuels then they are headed in the right direction.
A trillion euros is an ambitious target, hopefully it materializes and is spent wisely.
I’ll gladly support any and all young people that are willing to say “the Emperor has no clothes!” and any and all efforts to upend the business-as-usual apple cart.
Go young people!