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The economic dangers of a new inflationary era

Interest rates will rise dramatically to compensate financial institutions with effects lasting for years It’s not entirely clear whether the Canadian…

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This article was originally published by Canadian Investor

Interest rates will rise dramatically to compensate financial institutions with effects lasting for years

It’s not entirely clear whether the Canadian and the global economies are heading for a new inflationary era. It may turn out that inflation is not only elevated from recent negligible levels, but escalates, steadily at first, and then dramatically, as it did in the 1960s until the early 1980s.

If it does, the havoc and misery inflation wrought on ordinary people will be mirrored in the financial markets, and the costs could linger for decades, just as they did when inflation dropped after 1981.

From a theoretical economics standpoint, there are several notional elements to the inflation premium portion of prevailing interest rates (i.e., the extra part that’s not directly related to investors’ time and risk preferences without regard to inflation).

One element of this inflation risk premium is simple compensation for the recent, prevailing or expected inflation rate, all of which have been about the same – approximately two per cent per annum, until this year. However, there are other components that, while usually much smaller and with a sort of abstract aspect to them, can grow.

At least two such components are not exactly the same thing but are typically combined. First is the potential for the escalation of inflation and the uncertainty of the variability of inflation. It’s possible that inflation is not just at a new, higher level, but that it could escalate, either slowly or dramatically. Inflation began slowly in the mid-1960s but, erratically, year after year, grew larger and larger, and faster and faster in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s.

The second component is the premium investors may come to require for the unpredictability of inflation. Once inflation escalates, consumers, businesses and investors may assume that it will grow and get even higher.

However, unless hyperinflation takes hold, this may not occur; there could be some minor pauses or reversals, especially if the inflation, higher interest rates and central bank actions cause a recession. Then, inflation could subside, at least temporarily, and businesses or investors who made contracts or investments assuming one track of inflation, perhaps committing to payment at a certain price, could lose money.

They would then be extra-cautious, seeking only returns that would compensate them for the added risk created because they hadn’t forecast inflation that would be sufficient to cover their costs. The real estate developer or landlord who doesn’t charge enough for new housing units sold or rented would be one example. Or a lender who offers too high an interest rate to depositors and other fund providers at fixed or sticky rates, while not being able to lend at rates they expected to be able to charge.

Gyrating interest rates, commodity prices, asset prices and volatile inflation in general during the 1964-to-1981 period made it increasingly hard for corporate and government budget planners and financial players to allocate funds and set contracts, all of which increased uncertainty and yields more than the level of current inflation over the notional risk-free rate.

So indexing interest rates to inflation became a more difficult and highly unsatisfactory solution to the exploding chaos. At various times in that period, the real rates – inflation-adjusted – were relatively high in historical terms, as inflation sometimes fell. But often it was negative, as the nominal interest rate – that charged by lenders, or expected or experienced by investors – failed to match the actual rate of inflation.

Interest rates rose until the inflation trend was broken in 1981 and they expanded to offer a higher inflation premium than before. This premium persisted for several years; rates stayed relatively high until this century, despite inflation dropping to the one-to-three per cent range for nearly the entire time.

Hence the willingness of today’s central bankers, who control the money supply and thus inflation, to allow inflation to escalate to previously intolerable levels of four, five or even higher percentages.

This could cause interest rates to rise dramatically to compensate financial institutions and investors, with effects that could last for many years.

Elevated interest rates and expected or demanded returns will depress investment, hiring, and economic and productivity growth.

The temptation to boost current economic growth beyond the productive capacity of the economy may end up hurting long-term growth and prosperity more than is fully appreciated by government officials.

By Ian Madsen
Research associate
Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Ian Madsen is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


Courtesy of Troy Media


All Eyes On Inventory

You’ve heard of the virtuous circle in the economy. Risk taking leads to spending/investment/hiring, which then leads to more spending/investment/hiring….

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You’ve heard of the virtuous circle in the economy. Risk taking leads to spending/investment/hiring, which then leads to more spending/investment/hiring. Recovery, in other words.

In the old days of the 20th century, quite a lot of the circle was rounded out by the inventory cycle. Both recession and recovery would depend upon how much additional product floated up and down the supply chain. Deflation, too.

On the contraction side, demand might fall off a bit for whatever reason(s), retailers getting stuck with a small inventory overhang. If they think it more than temporary, or don’t have the internal cash to finance it, the retail level scales back pushing inventory to wholesalers who then cut orders from producers.

Serious enough, producers begin to cut back their own activities, maybe to the point of forgoing new hires, perhaps laying off some workers already employed. Whatever necessary to equalize reduced order flow with cost structure and input utility.

When those layoffs hit, almost certainly it cuts further into demand (unemployed workers are far more careful and constrained consumers), more inventory stuck at retailers and wholesalers, then even fewer orders for producers who must sharpen their payroll axe all over again. This vicious cycle is what used to make up the balance of any recession.

But what if inventory first accumulates for other reasons?

It may be a different look to the cycle, though not necessarily an entirely different outcome. Suppose retailers (outside of automobiles) grow concerned about supply availability or shipping times. They might naturally react by boosting their current order flow if only to increase their chances some product makes it through the clogged shipping channels.

As that increased order flow unrelated to demand continues to move back through the supply chain, it probably would only make the transportation issues that much worse. It’s already a mess, and because it’s already a mess the entire supply chain tries to stuff more goods through it rather than less, rather than giving the system some time and space to work out enough kinks.

This, of course, would probably convince retailers to do it all over again, ordering even more they don’t need now or in the near future, now more desperate to try and raise their chances of receiving anything. More trouble for the shippers and so on.

Having intentionally over-ordered, and then over-ordered again (and again?), this time what happens when the logistics get more sorted out and then deliveries rather than trickle through come pouring out? This is the cyclical question for early 2022, not the unemployment rate.

Some companies have said they are ready, and have confidently declared how they will be able to manage holding such excessive levels of product. Maybe they can. But what happens to orders down at the lower reaches? Having received all this extra inventory, retailers and wholesalers aren’t going to keep double and triple ordering.

Before even getting to demand considerations, the orders are going to drop and producers are going to become less busy. The inventory glut having been forwarded up to the retail level, maybe wholesale, it will have to be worked down over time.

This is where demand comes into it. If demand stays as robust as some might currently assume, it might not take that much time to normalize inventory, then get past the whole issue and imbalance with nothing much lost.

And if demand isn’t as good, then we’re right back into the 20th century again.

The way the supply bottlenecks of 2021 have worked out, there is going to be an inventory overhang at some point. When it does come about and how bad it will be, that’s really the demand question. There seems to be quite a bit of optimism about it, to the point of complacency while corporate CEO’s bark in the media instead about all the massive inflation they plan on throwing your way.

Inflation today (therefore not inflation) but potentially too many goods tomorrow. However the inventory cycle manifests, the one thing each would have in common is its trough – disinflationary at the least.

Manufacturing PMI’s, for what it’s worth, remain elevated as if the upward segment of that unusual cycle remains relatively intact (note: ISM for September won’t be released for another week). With ships still stacking up on the US West Coast, this makes sense. Regardless of current levels of demand, these supply problems would only feed the imbalance for another month.

IHS Markit’s manufacturing index retreated again for the flash September 2021 estimate, but it remains above 60 therefore still in the post-2008 stratosphere. At 60.5 in the latest update, it is down, though, for the second month in a row since hitting the high of 63.4 back in July. And the index was 62.6 back in May, meaning it’s been four months treading.

It is the services side which has materially declined, leading many to assume it must be due to delta COVID if goods flow is largely uninterrupted at the same time. Markit’s services PMI dropped to 54.4 in September from 55.1 in August, while its employment component fell back to just 50.

This meant the composite, accounting for both manufacturing and services, declined to a very similar 54.5. Using this measure as a guide for possible GDP in Q3, that’s working down to a very disappointing 3% or less which might otherwise raise suspicions when it comes to the sustainability of demand.

If this more serious setback really is pandemic-related, then thinking it a temporary one might keep up the order flow as well as the logistical nightmare. Then the artificial inventory cycle gets even more artificial.

It could very well be that manufacturing remains high because of inventory and not because current potential weakness is only about delta.

Should it turn out to be unrelated, or only somewhat attributable to renewed disease measures, then inventory stops being a pesky annoyance of shipping bottlenecks and potentially starts being more like its old self. While that wouldn’t necessarily mean recession in early 2022, even a substantial downturn (chances would have it globally synchronized) having yet fully recovered from the last two would be enough trouble.


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This Has To Be A Mistake

This Has To Be A Mistake

While we were digging through the data for today’s household net worth report we stumbled upon something that seem…

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This Has To Be A Mistake

While we were digging through the data for today's household net worth report we stumbled upon something that seem beyond ridiculous: the ratio of Household Net Worth to Disposable Net Income. At 786% in the latest quarter, the chart at first appears to be a mistake but we triple checked it, and... well, here it is.

The latest, all-time high print is an increase from 698% in Q1 and also represents the biggest quarterly increase in history!

This number is so ridiculous, it is almost 50% higher than the long-term average of 540%. More importantly, it means that the total net worth number we reported earlier today, which in Q2 hit a record high of $142 trillion, is massively inflated on the back of what is obviously the biggest asset bubble on record.

It also means that if one were to strip away the asset bubble, and net worth was purely a reasonable function of disposable income, then total net worth worth be haircut by 31%, or some $43 trillion, which incidentally, is equivalent to the net worth of the top 1% of US society...

... and which as we showed earlier today is a record 32% of total household net worth.

As an aside, the fact that the top 1% have gained $10 trillion in wealth since the covid pandemic outbreak, is probably just a coincidence, and yet...

As for the chart which clearly has to be a mistake, we are sad to report that it isn't, and as politicians of both the Democrat and Republican party pretend to fight for the common man, all they are doing is enabling and accelerating the greatest wealth transfer in the world but not for nothing: they too want to be in the top 1%.

Tyler Durden Thu, 09/23/2021 - 22:00
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“Culture As An Asset”

#CKStrong Stunning. Hedge funds hoovering up trading cards as an “alternative to equities” with the same passion Brooks Robinson hoovered up ground…

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Stunning. Hedge funds hoovering up trading cards as an “alternative to equities” with the same passion Brooks Robinson hoovered up ground balls.

This is usually a sign of the endgame for markets, i.e,, the precursor to a bear market. Think the “Great Beanie Baby Bubble” of 1999.

In general, there are two types of assets,

  1. They can be rare—gold bars, diamonds, houses on Victoria Peak, bottles of 1982 Pétrus, Van Gogh paintings, stamps, beanie babies, or baseball cards or
  2. They can generate cash flows over time  – GaveKal

Creating An Illusion Of Scarcity

Scarcity relative to the money stock is what its all about now, folks. 

It probably won’t be long before the Fed has to bailout the baseball card market, no?

Full disclosure,  I do own a Mike Trout rookie card

Given the extreme valuations of all most all asset classes, coupled with the massive amount of money in the global financial system, markets are now really stretching, looking for, and actually attempting to create scarcity as a useful delusion to justify, rationalize, and drive speculation. 

Maybe I will start collecting poop as an “anthropological asset,” put it the blockchain and super charge the price ramp by snapping a few pictures of each sample, converting them to NFTs to load up to the internet.

Then again, maybe all this is signaling the start of a big, big inflation cycle and the markets are looking to get out of cash and protect their purchasing power.   But that’s too rational.  

Can you believe what markets have become, folks?   It is hard to see clearly when everybody is making money. 



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