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Guest Contribution: “Foreign official demand for US debt and US interest rates: Accounting for global common factors”

Today we are fortunate to be able to present a guest contribution written by Rashad Ahmed (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, US Treasury). The…

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This article was originally published by EconBrowser

Today we are fortunate to be able to present a guest contribution written by Rashad Ahmed (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, US Treasury). The views presented are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the US Treasury, or any other organizations the author is affiliated with.

As of December 2020, foreign holdings of US Treasury debt (UST) reached over $7 trillion of which $4.1 trillion was held by foreign official institutions — mostly in the form of Treasury notes and bonds (Figure 1). The growth and concentration of USTs held abroad stimulated an active body of research aimed at understanding the potential impact of foreign demand for USTs on US long term interest rates (See for example, Warnock and Warnock, 2009, Beltran et al., 2013).

Figure 1: Foreign Official Ownership of US Treasury Notes and Bonds

Source: Ahmed (2021). Note: Excludes T-bills and includes notes and bonds held by the Federal Reserve (about $2.1 trillion in 2018). Left panel: Total U.S. Treasury notes and bonds (held by the public), along with Treasury notes and bonds held by foreign official institutions. Right panel: Foreign official ownership of notes and bonds as a percentage of total notes and bonds (held by the public).

However, most studies estimating the impact of foreign official demand for USTs on US yields assume that US yields evolve to reflect domestic conditions, such as Fed’s monetary policy stance, risk premia, and expectations over future domestic GDP growth and inflation, etc. But in an increasingly interconnected world, US yields are likely to reflect global economic conditions too. Moreover, foreign official demand for USTs is shaped by these same global economic conditions because the motives behind central bank accumulation of international reserves tend to be globally cyclical.

In a recent paper (Ahmed, 2021), I revisit the issue of estimating the impact of foreign official demand for USTs on US long term yields, specifically considering the presence of global common factors. Across a variety of econometric specifications measuring long-run and short-run effects, a common theme appears – ignoring the presence of global common factors leads to a substantial understatement of the impact of foreign official demand for USTs on US yields. When global factors are omitted, estimates can be understated by 50% or more. After accounting for global common factors alongside domestic factors, the impact of foreign official UST purchases/sales of $100 billion on 10-year Treasury yields:

  • Increases from 19 basis points to 60.5 basis points (long-run flow effect)
  • Increases from 13.2 basis points to 27.5 basis points (short-run flow effect)
  • Increases from 3 basis points to 5.8 basis points (long-run stock effect)

And most of this impact operates through affecting the term premium.

The underlying reasoning is intuitive: foreign official purchases and sales of USTs are cyclical. Foreign officials tend to accumulate USTs when others are selling safe assets (amid global expansions) and they tend to sell USTs when others are buying safe assets (amid contractions and crises). As a result, downward pressure exerted on US yields by foreign central bank buying of USTs tends to occur when yields are otherwise rising globally, and vice versa. Therefore, its crucial to condition on the level of global yields, reflecting global economic conditions, along with domestic factors.

Figure 2: US and Global (non-US) Interest Rates

Source: Ahmed (2021). Note: Solid lines are the U.S. 10-year (left panel) and 3-month (right panel) yields and dashed lines are the global 10-year (left panel) and 3-month (right panel) yield factors. Global yields are constructed as GDP-weighted averages of 19 advanced economy non-U.S. yields

To measure global factors that capture both current and expected fundamentals, I use short-term (3-month) and long-term (10-year) yields from 19 non-US advanced economy sovereign bonds. I then recover short-term and long-term global yield factors, respectively, by computing an GDP-weighted average world yield that excludes the US. Figure 2 shows that both the long-term and short-term global yield factors covary quite tightly with US yields. The secular decline in US 10-year yields over the past two decades is also observed in global yields.

Figure 3: The Global non-U.S. Yield Curve with Foreign Official UST Demand (left) and the U.S. Yield Curve (right)

Source: Ahmed (2021). Note: The thick line is the global 10-year less 3-month yield spread. Global yields are constructed as GDP-weighted averages of non-U.S. yields. Left panel overlays the global yield curve with TIC-reported foreign official UST flows data, and both series are de-meaned. Right panel overlays the global yield curve with the 10-year less 3-month U.S. yield curve, and series are not de-meaned. Foreign official UST flows are calculated as a 12-month rolling sum.

Figure 3 shows that both foreign official demand for USTs (left-panel) and US yields (right-panel) tend to follow global cyclical forces. Specifically, the global yield curve, reflecting the global economic cycle, is measured as the difference between the 10-year and 3-month global yield factors. As the global yield curve steepens amid global expansions, foreign officials tend to accumulate more USTs. At the same time, the U.S. yield curve tends to steepen when the global yield curve steepens.

Figure 4: Foreign Official Net UST Purchases and US-Global 10-Year Yield Differentials

Source: Ahmed (2021). Note: X-axes are monthly purchases/sales of UST by foreign officials scaled by 12-month lagged U.S. marketable debt. Y-axes are 10-year U.S. – global yield differentials, where global yields are constructed as GDP-weighted averages of non-U.S. yields. Left panel uses TIC-reported flows data (January 1999 to February 2021) on the x-axis and right panel uses adjusted benchmark-consistent flows on the x-axis following Bertaut and Tryon (2007) and Bertaut and Judson (2014) (January 1999 to December 2018).

While foreign official UST flows and US yield levels are positively correlated (a reflection of endogeneity driven by global factors), Figure 4 shows that the correlation between foreign official UST flows and the US-global 10-year yield differential is negative. This holds when using either raw Treasury International Capital (TIC) flows data (left-panel) or the benchmark-consistent flows data (right-panel). The yield differential is a simple yet perhaps crude way to partial out the component of U.S. yields driven by global factors like world economic conditions and neutral rates. Doing so reveals a theoretically consistent negative relationship between foreign official UST purchases and U.S. yields. The significant negative correlation suggests that foreign official UST purchases (sales) put downward (upward) pressure on U.S. 10Y yields relative to rest-of-the-world 10Y yields.

 

Figure 5: Impulse Response of US Yields over the Federal Funds Rate to a Foreign Official UST Sale (1% of Debt)

Source: Ahmed (2021). Note: Impulse responses from a VAR(4) using benchmark-consistent foreign official flows following Bertaut and Tyrion (2007) and Bertaut and Judson (2014) scaled by U.S. marketable debt lagged 12 months. Shaded region refers to 90% bootstrapped confidence interval based on 1,000 bootstrapped samples. Dashed line reflects impulse response from VAR(4) that excludes global yield factors from the set of contemporaneous controls. Foreign official UST flows are ordered first in identifying structural shocks.

To explore the short-run impact of a sudden sale of USTs by foreign officials, I estimate a structural VAR of the US yield curve augmented with both global and domestic factors as conditioning variables. Figure 5 traces the impulse response of US yields across different maturities to a foreign official sale of USTs the size of 1% of marketable Treasury debt outstanding. Short-term yields are insensitive to foreign official UST demand, but longer-term yields respond significantly within several months following the UST sale. 10-year yields increase by 50 basis points, which can be translated to a 27.5 basis point impact per $100 billion foreign official purchase/sale.

For comparison, the dashed red line in Figure 5 represents the same impulse response from a VAR that does not condition on global factors and only conditions on domestic factors. The estimated impact is substantially smaller (13.2 basis points per $100 billion) when global factors are omitted. In addition, the counter-intuitive negative initial dip in yields following a UST sale is further exaggerated when excluding global factors. This points toward omitted variable bias which the global factors partially correct for, as US yields tend to fall during global economic downturns, precisely when foreign officials tend to sell USTs.

A key implication of these findings is that prevailing estimates of impact of foreign official UST demand on US interest rates may be substantially understated since they do not account for global confounding factors. As such, relying on previous estimates may underestimate the financial stability risks associated with large, unexpected, and acyclical foreign purchases or liquidations of US Treasuries of the black-swan type. In Ahmed (2021), these issues are explored further, presenting long-run and short-run estimates from various econometric specifications. I explicitly deal with the simultaneity between foreign UST flows and US yields and the presence of global common factors jointly, and I also find that US yields are particularly sensitive to foreign official demand linked to China’s exchange rate policies.

 

References

Ahmed, Rashad (2021). Foreign Official Demand for U.S. Debt and U.S. Interest Rates: Accounting for Global Common Factors. Available at SSRNhttps://ssrn.com/abstract=3906199.

Beltran, D. O., M. Kretchmer, J. Marquez, and C. P. Thomas (2013). Foreign holdings of U.S. treasuries and U.S. treasury yields. Journal of International Money and Finance 32, 1120–1143.

Bertaut, C. C. and R. Judson (2014). Estimating U.S. cross-border securities positions: New data and new methods. FRB International Finance Discussion Paper (1113).

Bertaut, C. C. and R. W. Tryon (2007). Monthly estimates of U.S. cross-border securities positions. FRB International Finance Discussion Paper (910).

Warnock, F. E. and V. C. Warnock (2009). International capital flows and U.S. interest rates. Journal of International Money and Finance 28, 903–919.

 


This post written by Rashad Ahmed.









Author: Menzie Chinn

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Economics

This Year’s Thanksgiving Dinner Will Be The Most Expensive In History

This Year’s Thanksgiving Dinner Will Be The Most Expensive In History

Thanksgiving Day, an annual national holiday in the US, began as a way…

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This Year’s Thanksgiving Dinner Will Be The Most Expensive In History

Thanksgiving Day, an annual national holiday in the US, began as a way to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year. Nowadays people celebrate the holiday with massive feasts and watch football. But one thing consumers won’t be giving thanks to this year is soaring food inflation that could make Thanksgiving 2021 one of the most expensive on record.

“When you go to the grocery store and it feels more expensive, that’s because it is,” Veronica Nigh, senior economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told CBS News. She said food prices in 2021 jumped 3.7% versus a 20-year average of 2.4%. Turkeys and all the trimmings will cost 4% to 5% more this year than a year ago.

Rising food prices have been an ongoing issue since the beginning of the pandemic, as disrupted supply chains and adverse weather conditions around the world have made supplies of crops dwindle. Global food prices are at fresh decade highs and have begun to hit the wallets of consumers. 

September’s Consumer Price Index for food was up 4.6% from a year ago. Prices for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs were up the most, soaring more than 10%. The rise in food prices has spooked the Biden administration. 

Several factors contribute to food inflation, including supply chain snarls, higher transportation costs, and labor shortages. Next year, food inflation may rise further as fertilizer prices jump

“Agriculture is like everybody else — it’s impacted by the supply restraints we’ve seen,” Nigh said. She said 10% of food costs only come from farming, while the rest (90%) are trucking, wages, distribution, and warehousing. 

Besides soaring food costs, consumers may experience widespread supply chain challenges that could make certain food items critical for Turkey Day harder or impossible to find because of shortages. Dr. Krishnakumar S. Davey, president of IRI Client Engagement, published a note explaining IRI’s basket of availability, demand, price, and promotion for Thanksgiving is “recording significant out-of-stock rates on several Thanksgiving-related grocery categories at this time.”

According to Consumer Reports, there is some good news: “turkeys in all sizes will be in abundance.” 

But there’s a dark side to Thanksgiving this year, that is, an income-inequality story which means the top 10% of Americans will be spending more while the working-poor might skip the holiday entirely due to affordability issues. 

Tyler Durden
Tue, 10/26/2021 – 22:30

Author: Tyler Durden

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The True Feasibility Of Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

The True Feasibility Of Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

Authored by Gail Tverberg via Our Finite World blog,

One of the great misconceptions…

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The True Feasibility Of Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

Authored by Gail Tverberg via Our Finite World blog,

One of the great misconceptions of our time is the belief that we can move away from fossil fuels if we make suitable choices on fuels. In one view, we can make the transition to a low-energy economy powered by wind, water, and solar. In other versions, we might include some other energy sources, such as biofuels or nuclear, but the story is not very different.

The problem is the same regardless of what lower bound a person chooses: our economy is way too dependent on consuming an amount of energy that grows with each added human participant in the economy. This added energy is necessary because each person needs food, transportation, housing, and clothing, all of which are dependent upon energy consumption. The economy operates under the laws of physics, and history shows disturbing outcomes if energy consumption per capita declines.

There are a number of issues:

  • The impact of alternative energy sources is smaller than commonly believed.

  • When countries have reduced their energy consumption per capita by significant amounts, the results have been very unsatisfactory.

  • Energy consumption plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us imagine.

  • It seems likely that fossil fuels will leave us before we can leave them.

  • The timing of when fossil fuels will leave us seems to depend on when central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy through lower interest rates.

  • If fossil fuels leave us, the result could be the collapse of financial systems and governments.

[1] Wind, water and solar provide only a small share of energy consumption today; any transition to the use of renewables alone would have huge repercussions.

According to BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data, wind, water and solar only accounted for 9.4% 0f total energy consumption in 2017.

Figure 1. Wind, Water and Solar as a percentage of total energy consumption, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Even if we make the assumption that these types of energy consumption will continue to achieve the same percentage increases as they have achieved in the last 10 years, it will still take 20 more years for wind, water, and solar to reach 20% of total energy consumption.

Thus, even in 20 years, the world would need to reduce energy consumption by 80% in order to operate the economy on wind, water and solar alone. To get down to today’s level of energy production provided by wind, water and solar, we would need to reduce energy consumption by 90%.

[2] Venezuela’s example (Figure 1, above) illustrates that even if a country has an above average contribution of renewables, plus significant oil reserves, it can still have major problems.

One point people miss is that having a large share of renewables doesn’t necessarily mean that the lights will stay on. A major issue is the need for long distance transmission lines to transport the renewable electricity from where it is generated to where it is to be used. These lines must constantly be maintained. Maintenance of electrical transmission lines has been an issue in both Venezuela’s electrical outages and in California’s recent fires attributed to the utility PG&E.

There is also the issue of variability of wind, water and solar energy. (Note the year-to-year variability indicated in the Venezuela line in Figure 1.) A country cannot really depend on its full amount of wind, water, and solar unless it has a truly huge amount of electrical storage: enough to last from season-to-season and year-to-year. Alternatively, an extraordinarily large quantity of long-distance transmission lines, plus the ability to maintain these lines for the long term, would seem to be required.

[3] When individual countries have experienced cutbacks in their energy consumption per capita, the effects have generally been extremely disruptive, even with cutbacks far more modest than the target level of 80% to 90% that we would need to get off fossil fuels. 

Notice that in these analyses, we are looking at “energy consumption per capita.” This calculation takes the total consumption of all kinds of energy (including oil, coal, natural gas, biofuels, nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewables) and divides it by the population.

Energy consumption per capita depends to a significant extent on what citizens within a given economy can afford. It also depends on the extent of industrialization of an economy. If a major portion of industrial jobs are sent to China and India and only service jobs are retained, energy consumption per capita can be expected to fall. This happens partly because local companies no longer need to use as many energy products. Additionally, workers find mostly service jobs available; these jobs pay enough less that workers must cut back on buying goods such as homes and cars, reducing their energy consumption.

Example 1. Spain and Greece Between 2007-2014

Figure 2. Greece and Spain energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

The period between 2007 and 2014 was a period when oil prices tended to be very high. Both Greece and Spain are very dependent on oil because of their sizable tourist industries. Higher oil prices made the tourism services these countries sold more expensive for their consumers. In both countries, energy consumption per capita started falling in 2008 and continued to fall until 2014, when oil prices began falling. Spain’s energy consumption per capita fell by 18% between 2007 and 2014; Greece’s fell by 24% over the same period.

Both Greece and Spain experienced high unemployment rates, and both have needed debt bailouts to keep their financial systems operating. Austerity measures were forced on Greece. The effects on the economies of these countries were severe. Regarding Spain, Wikipedia has a section called, “2008 to 2014 Spanish financial crisis,” suggesting that the loss of energy consumption per capita was highly correlated with the country’s financial crisis.

Example 2: France and the UK, 2004 – 2017

Both France and the UK have experienced falling energy consumption per capita since 2004, as oil production dropped (UK) and as industrialization was shifted to countries with a cheaper total cost of labor and fuel. Immigrant labor was added, as well, to better compete with the cost structures of the countries that France and the UK were competing against. With the new mix of workers and jobs, the quantity of goods and services that these workers could afford (per capita) has been falling.

Figure 3. France and UK energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

Comparing 2017 to 2004, energy consumption per capita is down 16% for France and 25% in the UK. Many UK citizens have been very unhappy, wanting to leave the European Union.

France recently has been experiencing “Yellow Vest” protests, at least partly related to an increase in carbon taxes. Higher carbon taxes would make energy-based goods and services less affordable. This would likely reduce France’s energy consumption per capita even further. French citizens with their protests are clearly not happy about how they are being affected by these changes.

Example 3: Syria (2006-2016) and Yemen (2009-2016)

Both Syria and Yemen are examples of formerly oil-exporting countries that are far past their peak production. Declining energy consumption per capita has been forced on both countries because, with their oil exports falling, the countries can no longer afford to use as much energy as they did in the past for previous uses, such as irrigation. If less irrigation is used, food production and jobs are lost. (Syria and Yemen)

Figure 4. Syria and Yemen energy consumption per capita. Energy consumption data from US Energy Information Administration; population estimates are UN 2017 estimates.

Between Yemen’s peak year in energy consumption per capita (2009) and the last year shown (2016), its energy consumption per capita dropped by 66%. Yemen has been named by the United Nations as the country with the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Yemen cannot provide adequate food and water for its citizens. Yemen is involved in a civil war that others have entered into as well. I would describe the war as being at least partly a resource war.

The situation with Syria is similar. Syria’s energy consumption per capita declined 55% between its peak year (2006) and the last year available (2016). Syria is also involved in a civil war that has been entered into by others. Here again, the issue seems to be inadequate resources per capita; war participants are to some extent fighting over the limited resources that are available.

Example 4: Venezuela (2008-2017)

Figure 5. Energy consumption per capita for Venezuela, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

Between 2008 and 2017, energy consumption per capita in Venezuela declined by 23%. This is a little less than the decreases experienced by the UK and Greece during their periods of decline.

Even with this level of decline, Venezuela has been having difficulty providing adequate services to its citizens. There have been reports of empty supermarket shelves. Venezuela has not been able to maintain its electrical system properly, leading to many outages.

[4] Most people are surprised to learn that energy is required for every part of the economy. When adequate energy is not available, an economy is likely to first shrink back in recession; eventually, it may collapse entirely.

Physics tells us that energy consumption in a thermodynamically open system enables all kinds of “complexity.” Energy consumption enables specialization and hierarchical organizations. For example, growing energy consumption enables the organizations and supply lines needed to manufacture computers and other high-tech goods. Of course, energy consumption also enables what we think of as typical energy uses: the transportation of goods, the smelting of metals, the heating and air-conditioning of buildings, and the construction of roads. Energy is even required to allow pixels to appear on a computer screen.

Pre-humans learned to control fire over one million years ago. The burning of biomass was a tool that could be used for many purposes, including keeping warm in colder climates, frightening away predators, and creating better tools. Perhaps its most important use was to permit food to be cooked, because cooking increases food’s nutritional availability. Cooked food seems to have been important in allowing the brains of humans to grow bigger at the same time that teeth, jaws and guts could shrink compared to those of ancestors. Humans today need to be able to continue to cook part of their food to have a reasonable chance of survival.

Any kind of governmental organization requires energy. Having a single leader takes the least energy, especially if the leader can continue to perform his non-leadership duties. Any kind of added governmental service (such as roads or schools) requires energy. Having elected leaders who vote on decisions takes more energy than having a king with a few high-level aides. Having multiple layers of government takes energy. Each new intergovernmental organization requires energy to fly its officials around and implement its programs.

International trade clearly requires energy consumption. In fact, pretty much every activity of businesses requires energy consumption.

Needless to say, the study of science or of medicine requires energy consumption, because without significant energy consumption to leverage human energy, nearly every person must be a subsistence level farmer, with little time to study or to take time off from farming to write (or even read) books. Of course, manufacturing medicines and test tubes requires energy, as does creating sterile environments.

We think of the many parts of the economy as requiring money, but it is really the physical goods and services that money can buy, and the energy that makes these goods and services possible, that are important. These goods and services depend to a very large extent on the supply of energy being consumed at a given point in time–for example, the amount of electricity being delivered to customers and the amount of gasoline and diesel being sold. Supply chains are very dependent on each part of the system being available when needed. If one part is missing, long delays and eventually collapse can occur.

[5] If the supply of energy to an economy is reduced for any reason, the result tends to be very disruptive, as shown in the examples given in Section [3], above.

When an economy doesn’t have enough energy, its self-organizing feature starts eliminating pieces of the economic system that it cannot support. The financial system tends to be very vulnerable because without adequate economic growth, it becomes very difficult for borrowers to repay debt with interest. This was part of the problem that Greece and Spain had in the period when their energy consumption per capita declined. A person wonders what would have happened to these countries without bailouts from the European Union and others.

Another part that is very vulnerable is governmental organizations, especially the higher layers of government that were added last. In 1991, the Soviet Union’s central government was lost, leaving the governments of the 15 republics that were part of the Soviet Union. As energy consumption per capita declines, the European Union would seem to be very vulnerable. Other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, would seem to be vulnerable, as well.

The electrical system is very complex. It seems to be easily disrupted if there is a material decrease in energy consumption per capita because maintenance of the system becomes difficult.

If energy consumption per capita falls dramatically, many changes that don’t seem directly energy-related can be expected. For example, the roles of men and women are likely to change. Without modern medical care, women will likely need to become the mothers of several children in order that an average of two can survive long enough to raise their own children. Men will be valued for the heavy manual labor that they can perform. Today’s view of the equality of the sexes is likely to disappear because sex differences will become much more important in a low-energy world.

Needless to say, other aspects of a low-energy economy might be very different as well. For example, one very low-energy type of economic system is a “gift economy.” In such an economy, the status of each individual is determined by the amount that that person can give away. Anything a person obtains must automatically be shared with the local group or the individual will be expelled from the group. In an economy with very low complexity, this kind of economy seems to work. A gift economy doesn’t require money or debt!

[6] Most people assume that moving away from fossil fuels is something we can choose to do with whatever timing we would like. I would argue that we are not in charge of the process. Instead, fossil fuels will leave us when we lose the ability to reduce interest rates sufficiently to keep oil and other fossil fuel prices high enough for energy producers.

Something that may seem strange to those who do not follow the issue is the fact that oil (and other energy prices) seem to be very much influenced by interest rates and the level of debt. In general, the lower the interest rate, the more affordable high-priced goods such as factories, homes, and automobiles become, and the higher commodity prices of all kinds can be. “Demand” increases with falling interest rates, causing energy prices of all types to rise.

 

Figure 6.

 

The cost of extracting oil is less important in determining oil prices than a person might expect. Instead, prices seem to be determined by what end products consumers (in the aggregate) can afford. In general, the more debt that individual citizens, businesses and governments can obtain, the higher that oil and other energy prices can rise. Of course, if interest rates start rising (instead of falling), there is a significant chance of a debt bubble popping, as defaults rise and asset prices decline.

Interest rates have been generally falling since 1981 (Figure 7). This is the direction needed to support ever-higher energy prices.

Figure 7. Chart of 3-month and 10-year interest rates, prepared by the FRED, using data through March 27, 2019.

The danger now is that interest rates are approaching the lowest level that they can possibly reach. We need lower interest rates to support the higher prices that oil producers require, as their costs rise because of depletion. In fact, if we compare Figures 7 and 8, the Federal Reserve has been supporting higher oil and other energy prices with falling interest rates practically the whole time since oil prices rose above the inflation adjusted level of $20 per barrel!

Figure 8. Historical inflation adjusted prices oil, based on data from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, with the low price period for oil highlighted.

Once the Federal Reserve and other central banks lose their ability to cut interest rates further to support the need for ever-rising oil prices, the danger is that oil and other commodity prices will fall too low for producers. The situation is likely to look like the second half of 2008 in Figure 6. The difference, as we reach limits on how low interest rates can fall, is that it will no longer be possible to stimulate the economy to get energy and other commodity prices back up to an acceptable level for producers.

[7] Once we hit the “no more stimulus impasse,” fossil fuels will begin leaving us because prices will fall too low for companies extracting these fuels. They will be forced to leave because they cannot make an adequate profit.

One example of an oil producer whose production was affected by an extended period of low prices is the Soviet Union (or USSR).

Figure 9. Oil production of the former Soviet Union together with oil prices in 2017 US$. All amounts from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The US substantially raised interest rates in 1980-1981 (Figure 7). This led to a sharp reduction in oil prices, as the higher interest rates cut back investment of many kinds, around the world. Given the low price of oil, the Soviet Union reduced new investment in new fields. This slowdown in investment first reduced the rate of growth in oil production, and eventually led to a decline in production in 1988 (Figure 9). When oil prices rose again, production did also.

Figure 10. Energy consumption per capita for the former Soviet Union, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

The Soviet Union’s energy consumption per capita reached its highest level in 1988 and began declining in 1989. The central government of the Soviet Union did not collapse until late 1991, as the economy was increasingly affected by falling oil export revenue.

Some of the changes that occurred as the economy simplified itself were the loss of the central government, the loss of a large share of industry, and a great deal of job loss. Energy consumption per capita dropped by 36% between 1988 and 1998. It has never regained its former level.

Venezuela is another example of an oil exporter that, in theory, could export more oil, if oil prices were higher. It is interesting to note that Venezuela’s highest energy consumption per capita occurred in 2008, when oil prices were high.

We are now getting a chance to observe what the collapse in Venezuela looks like on a day- by-day basis. Figure 5, above, shows Venezuela’s energy consumption per capita pattern through 2017. Low oil prices since 2014 have particularly adversely affected the country.

[8] Conclusion: We can’t know exactly what is ahead, but it is clear that moving away from fossil fuels will be far more destructive of our current economy than nearly everyone expects. 

It is very easy to make optimistic forecasts about the future if a person doesn’t carefully examine what the data and the science seem to be telling us. Most researchers come from narrow academic backgrounds that do not seek out insights from other fields, so they tend not to understand the background story.

A second issue is the desire for a “happy ever after” ending to our current energy predicament. If a researcher is creating an economic model without understanding the underlying principles, why not offer an outcome that citizens will like? Such a solution can help politicians get re-elected and can help researchers get grants for more research.

We should be examining the situation more closely than most people have considered. The fact that interest rates cannot drop much further is particularly concerning.

Tyler Durden
Tue, 10/26/2021 – 22:10







Author: Tyler Durden

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China’s Central Bank Condition Has Consistently Told You Everything About Global (not) Inflation

For several years now, we’ve been harping constantly and consistently about what’s on the PBOC’s balance sheet; or, really, what conspicuously isn’t…

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For several years now, we’ve been harping constantly and consistently about what’s on the PBOC’s balance sheet; or, really, what conspicuously isn’t in very specific line-item numbers. Briefly, simply, if dollars are being extended into China, as has been claimed over the years, particularly the last few, they’re going to show up on the Chinese central bank’s balance sheet.

Specifically, foreign assets. More specifically, foreign reserves.

There’s a difference between those two which historically has meant quite a bit (we’ll get to that in a moment). Going back to 2017 and 2018, the level of foreign assets (which includes reserves) has been beyond stable, constant to the point of clear manipulation. As I wrote last year:

According to the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the balance of foreign assets reported on its balance sheet for the month of June 2020 was RMB 21,833.26 billion. At the end of the prior month, May, the balance was, get this, RMB 21,833.33 billion.

Rampaging global pandemic, dollar crashing, dollar smashing, global recession questions, massive, complex economic forces to go along with huge changes in financial conditions, as well as questions about those conditions, and the Chinese system pretty much in the middle of everything. The second largest economy in the world, one which is made (and broken) by incoming (or outgoing) monetary flows of which the central bank has involved itself heavily right from the very start of modern China.

And foreign reserves on the central bank balance sheet, the fundamental basis by which Chinese money exists, this moved by the tiniest RMB 70 million? In case you are wondering, it works out to a monthly change of -0.0003%. Nuh uh. No way. That’s a number which was quite obviously engineered.

Just about sums the whole thing up; as does this chart:


What should grab your attention is the slight, though somewhat more noticeable increase in reported foreign assets during this year. We’re being asked to believe this is Jay Powell’s flood of “too much” money finally making its way into the right places; and this general data from China seems to be at least some level of consistent with the idea.

Once you get into the details, though, what’s going on over at the PBOC actually adds to the evidence of its opposite. Dollar problems, scarcity, maybe even growing and outright global money shortage.

Before we get to that, however, we have to back up and review those details. To do that, we’ll begin all the way back in the pre-crisis period when “too much” eurodollar money was a legitimate, provable condition worldwide.

Dollars between 1995 and 2007 were in such worldwide overabundance even the monetary illiterate like Ben Bernanke couldn’t help but notice them – though, captured by his rigid and rigidly incoherent ideology, the Federal Reserve’s Chairman could only muster some nonsense about a global savings glut.

His Chinese counterparts suffered no such illusions, being forced by the monetary onrush to alter both banking and monetary policies for this “hot money” excess. Up until August 2007, that is. No, this is not a coincidence.

Start with the rising blue mass above which is the PBOC’s definition for all its various foreign assets. I’ve then added the dashed black line to begin breaking out the precise pieces within the category. This line represents that vast majority – but not all – of foreign assets, labeled by China’s central bank as “foreign exchange.”

The remainder is left to two other classes. The first is official gold holdings, which for our purposes we’ll ignore (as much as it pains me, the real world ignores it, too). What’s left is what’s always left over in these things: other foreign assets.

It’s in this “other” where both the fun and monetary literacy begin.

The implications are pretty obvious, as are their connection to the burgeoning Global Financial Crisis in a way that pegs said crisis as the only thing it could have ever been: a global dollar shortage. Not subprime mortgages, a systemic rupture in the bank-centered eurodollar system so bad it forced even invulnerable China into some visible countermeasures.

And here (above) you can see one of those: other foreign assets. What is other? Your guess is as good as mine (OK, maybe I might have a slightly better idea having spent enough time poking around, but even then not so much better because this stuff is left opaque by Communist design). For right now, “what” doesn’t matter.

It does matter that whatever it might be that is in “other”, this shows up at the exact moment the global dollar rupture hits in August 2007. Immediately, two things pop out on the PBOC’s balance sheet: fewer foreign exchange assets but more of other. Eurodollar shortage, fewer dollars organically register as foreign exchange. 

In lieu of market-based dollars, though, look what happens to the growth of total foreign assets which is maintained at a nearly constant growth rate by the addition of other foreign assets. It is a workaround, a fill-in to keep up the flow at the margins. A rescue, of  sorts, to buy some time for the eurodollar world to normalize.

For the first few months of 2008, there seemed to be some hope the Federal Reserve’s (how naïve everyone was) “rescues” could work (TAF, overseas dollar swaps “somehow” being overbid by US banks with mostly German names). Foreign exchange pops back up for the PBOC – but only until March 2008.

Bear Stearns.

Taking a guess as to “contingent liabilities” within “other”, Bear was the final straw for China as most of the rest of the world. Too expensive to maintain, Chinese authorities realized they’d instead have to ride out the growing (not past tense) storm; they’d have to switch to other even more opaque tactics unreported anywhere.

After trying to offset the first phase of the GFC1 dollar shortage with “other”, the Chinese then moved to a completely stealth CNY peg (stealth because the back half of whatever transactions don’t show up anywhere). You can see this two-step above; first the jump in “other” while CNY still rises, then total CNY peg as foreign exchange assets stop growing at the same fast pre-crisis rate.

Unlike “new normal” America and Europe, the Chinese emerged from the ensuing Great “Recession” believing their situation/potential hadn’t been altered. A big enough chunk of the eurodollar system seemed to agree – for a time.

Chinese monetary authorities spent 2010 and most of 2011 letting these “other” foreign assets roll off the balance sheet; if actually contingent liabilities, then repaying, terminating and getting out with CNY rising likely making the repayments and retirements economical (and worth whatever cost, so long as nothing really changed for China’s long run).

But, as you can see (two above), a second eurodollar problem erupts in 2011 while the PBOC is still unwinding whatever it had done from late 2007/early 2008. While this meant another stoppage in inbound eurodollar flows, China’s economy appeared able to weather the breakdown (which was focused more on Europe) and with CNY still rising no emergency monetary measures appeared necessary (there was a fiscal “stimulus” package).

At least none of the same outward type which might end up in “other” foreign assets; something else was being done, from September 2011 forward, monetary officials clearly began pegging the aggregate foreign exchange balance on the PBOC’s balance sheet.

The Chinese weren’t so lucky by 2014. Although dollar inflows were restored in 2013 (Reflation #2), there was a serious break during that summer (Summer of SHIBOR) which was consistent with a then emerging emerging market currency crisis (dollar shortage) wrongly blamed on the “taper tantrum.”

Right from the start of the following year, dollars began to disappear again (falling foreign exchange). Already having introduced another batch of “other” intervention right in January 2013, officials instead went back to stealth CNY manipulation (ticking clocks).

It didn’t work, either, as China suffered massive dollar destruction which then caused internal RMB destruction (bank reserves and currency). The freight train of Euro$ #3 hit the system by August 2015, causing CNY to plummet all-at-once, even triggering a flash crash across global stock markets within two weeks from yuan’s crash.

Perhaps understanding what was coming, the PBOC simply got the hell out of its way rather than risk being further sucked into the rising negative money vortex:

A demonstration how even other foreign assets are more like a last resort kind of thing.

The central bank would stay out of the eurodollar’s way until early 2016, coming back in because of the immensely costly damage done to CNY, the RMB system, as well as China’s and the global economy as a whole. The start of ’16 one of those situations that really did demand another last resort.

When confronted by the next one, Euro$ #4, again a clear reluctance to appeal to “other” foreign assets. There had already been a lack of dollars coming back, very few, anyway, during Reflation #3 (2017’s absurdly weak “globally synchronized growth”) leaving China dollar exposed to begin 2018.


Through the middle of 2018, once again the PBOC relied on this other peg to its aggregate foreign exchange balance in the same way it had back in 2012. Only this time, CNY was dropping like a stone, with officials apparently content to accept that outcome.

By October 2018, however, the situation must’ve been judged untenable, at least substantially more serious and dangerous, such that “other” foreign assets began to rise slightly but clearly to somewhat offset foreign exchange assets then declining.

The stealth peg to PBOC’s foreign exchange must’ve been overwhelmed by Euro$ #4’s late 2018 landmine. In its aftermath, CNY would eventually decline more in 2019 despite the offset in China’s “other” foreign assets, as this globally synchronized deflation wore down economies and markets (repo) all over the world.

What does all this mean?

Quite a lot of things we don’t have time or space to get into here, some different things, but among the commonalities is how “other” foreign assets continuously represent a last ditch kind of rescue or at least attempted offset to what therefore has to be among the more serious of already serious dollar shortages. There is no question how these results all fit together.

And, as I began at the outset, it is intuitive. If dollars are actually coming in, in reality rather than Jay Powell’s lying mouth, they show up at the PBOC as foreign exchange.

If they aren’t coming in, China’s balance sheet begins to break down in these specific ways, including, at key times, some sort of increase in other foreign assets.

This brings us back, and up to speed, with the first chart I presented. There has been an increase the PBOC’s reported holdings of total foreign assets which at first might appear on the surface as at least some trickle from the “too much” money we’ve heard all year about. It’s not.

What is it? Other foreign assets. Near entirely:

Foreign exchange assets gained the tiniest sliver, but since June (when CNY went sideways) nothing.

Instead, other foreign assets have picked up going all the way back to January. Yes, the same January.

This January:

There are obviously screwy things going on with the PBOC’s balance sheet, already on top of already screwy things (why a straight line for foreign exchange) that aren’t as obvious. And we know that screwy stuff corresponds religiously to monetary shortages, another eurodollar problem rather than whatever it is Jay Powell is telling the media to report to the public.

Odd developments which long predate delta COVID, aren’t trade wars or subprime mortgages. It’s the same thing repeating since all the way back in August 2007. Again, no coincidence “other” foreign assets showed up at exactly the same moment the eurodollar system broke.

The mainstream theme or narrative for 2021 has all year been inflation, inflation, inflation. In actual monetary terms, which is what inflation must be, shockingly it’s actually been the whole opposite: deflation, deflation, deflation.

You don’t have to take my word for it. The evidence if everywhere (just start with bonds).


Whereas the TIC data is pretty unambiguous about this situation, the PBOC confirms the same from its own figures which are, once you orient them properly, only slightly less explicit even if we have no specific idea the exact transactions the Chinese are being forced into. Yet again.

Whatever those are, China sure isn’t being compelled to undertake them because there’s too much money in what remains the eurodollar’s world.










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