Bulgaria’s GDP is about $52.4 billion (2016), so it is quite a shock that the Bulgarian Government is sitting on an approximate $3 billion worth of Bitcoins seized in an anti-corruption operation back in May. Putting this into a little more glaring context, Bulgaria is holding 18% of the national debt in bitcoins… Fun fact: today's bitcoin prices have been interesting enough that there was a significant difference in how much Bulgaria had in USD between me writing this story and my editor editing it. — Nikhilesh De (@nikhileshde) December 7, 2017
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 9, 2017.
After supposedly chomping on the bit for years to pass meaningful tax reform, Republicans are now set to blow an historic opportunity. Whatever version of the Bill that emerges from the House and Senate Conference Committee (which will be signed by President Trump faster than he can down a Filet o’Fish), will be far less than the Republicans envisioned when they finally captured the White House and both Congressional Chambers in 2016. But from what I have seen of the particulars, the revisions to the tax code will offer a marginal, although temporary, win for low income individuals, a major slap for moderately successful wage earners and home owners, (especially in the high tax Blue States) and a huge victory for the extremely wealthy and certain categories of business owners. While it is certain that the plan will add to the growing deficit, its immediate economic and political impact is hard to predict. For generations, taxpayers and politicians alike lambasted our overly complex tax code for its myriad of economic distorting loopholes that seemed to produce nothing except employment for legions of accountants and tax lawyers adept at gaming the system. As a result, talk about tax reform has always included proposals to make the system simpler, fairer, and more transparent. But on that front, the Republican proposals fail miserably. Trump and Congress will hail this achievement as being a major victory for the American people. But the true winner will be the swamp that Trump promised to drain. Unlike Ronald Reagan, who passed tax reform in 1986 by striking a deal with Democrat House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Trump and Congressional Republicans faced no particular need to compromise. If Reagan had the benefits enjoyed by Trump, Ryan and McConnell, his tax cuts would have been paired with significant spending cuts and perhaps a balanced budget. But to get O’Neill (and his whopping 71 seat House majority) to go along, Reagan’s ideals of fiscal prudence and smaller government had to be set aside. But Trump is no Reagan, and today’s Republican Party has about as much commitment to shrinking the size of government as did the Democrats in the 1980s.
This post was published at Euro Pac on Thursday, December 7, 2017.
Last week, Pres. Donald Trump nominated Marvin Goodfriend to fill a vacancy on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. When we reported the news, we called him ‘another swamp creature’ – a member of the Washington D. C./Wall Street clan Trump promised to drain away. We’re not alone in our thinking. In an article on the Mises Wire, Tho Bishop called Goodfriend’s nomination ‘a dangerous act of outright betrayal to Trump’s core constituency of working-class voters.’ It’s true Goodfriend’s views on monetary policy don’t fit in with the current Fed status quo. But that’s not a good thing. Goodfriend isn’t a fan of the conventional radical policy of quantitative easing. He’s actually a proponent of an even more radical policy. Following is Bishop’s analysis in its entirety. Donald Trump nominated Marvin Goodfriend to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, one of the numerous vacancies that have emerged over the course of the past year. While his prior nominations of Jay Powell as Chairman and Randal Quarles as Vice Chair represented a disappointing commitment to the status quo, his selection of Goodfriend is a dangerous act of outright betrayal to Trump’s core constituency of working class voters. The timing of the decision is ironic. After all, while Trump is busy lobbying Senate Republicans to support his desired tax cuts, he has decided to nominate a would-be central banker who wants to effectively tax the bank accounts of American citizens.
This post was published at Schiffgold on DECEMBER 5, 2017.
The GOP has become so politically desperate that they might as well enact a two-word statute and be done with it. It would simply read: Tax Bill! Actually, that’s not far from where they are in the great scheme of things. The Senate Finance Committee’s bill is a dog’s breakfast of K-Street/Wall Street pleasing tax cuts, narrowly focused revenue raisers that will be subject to withering attack on the Senate floor, nonsensical vote-driven compromises and outrageous fiscal gimmicks—-the most blatant of which is the sun-setting of every single individual tax provision after 2025. This latter trick is designed to shoe-horn the revenue loss into the $1.5 trillion 10-year allowance in the budget reconciliation instruction and also comply with the Senate’s “Byrd Rule” which allows a point of order to strike down a reconciliation bill that increases the deficit after year 10. Save for these gimmicks, the actual 10-year cost of the Senate bill would be $2.2 trillion including interest on the added deficits.
Yesterday we noted the massive market cap inflation and then stupendous collapse of the Delirious Dozen of 2000. The latter included Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, Intel, GE, Yahoo, AIG and Juniper Networks—plus four others which didn’t survive (Lucent, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Nortel). Together they represented a classic blow-off top in the context of a central bank corrupted stock market. When the bubble neared its asymptote in early 2000, the $3.8 trillion of market cap represented by these 12 names was capturing most of the oxygen left in the casino. That is, the buying frenzy had narrowed to a smaller and smaller group of momo names. That severe concentration pattern was starkly evident during the 40 months between Greenspan’s December 1996 “irrational exuberance” speech and April 2000 (when he told the Senate no bubble was detectable). In that interval, the group’s combined market cap soared from $600 billion to $3.8 trillion. That represented, in turn, a virtually impossible 75% per annum growth rate for what were already mega-cap stocks. As it happened, in fact, $2.7 trillion or 71% of the group’s bubble peak market cap vanished during the next two years.
You could almost understand the irrational exuberance of 1999-2000. That’s because everything was seemingly coming up roses, meaning that cap rates arguably had rational room to rise. But eventually the mania lost all touch with reality; it succumbed to an upwelling of madness that at length made even Alan Greenspan look like a complete fool, as we document below. So doing, the great tech bubble and crash of 2000 marked a crucial turning point in modern financial history: It reflected the fact that the normal mechanisms of honest price discovery in the stock market had been disabled by heavy-handed central bankers and that the natural balancing and disciplining mechanisms of two-way markets had been destroyed. Accordingly, the stock market had become a ward of the central bank and a casino-like gambling house, which could no longer self-correct. Now it would relentlessly rise on pure speculative momentum—- until it reached an asymptotic top, and would then collapse in a fiery crash on its own weight.
Insanity, like criminality, usually starts small and expands with time. In the Fed’s case, the process began in the 1990s with a series of (in retrospect) relatively minor problems running from Mexico’s currency crisis thorough Russia’s bond default, the Asian Contagion financial crisis, the Long Term Capital Management collapse and finally the Y2K computer bug. With the exception of Y2K – which turned out to be a total non-event – these mini-crises were threats primarily to the big banks that had unwisely lent money to entities that then flushed it away. But instead of recognizing that this kind of non-fatal failure is crucial to the proper functioning of a market economy, providing as it does a set of object lessons for everyone else on what not to do, the Fed chose to protect the big banks from the consequences of their mistakes. It cut interest rates dramatically and/or acquiesced in federal bailouts that converted well-deserved big-bank losses into major profits. The banks concluded from this that any level of risk is okay because they’ll keep the proceeds without having to worry about the associated risks. At this point – let’s say late 1999 – the Fed is corrupt rather than crazy. But the world created by its corruption was about to push it into full-on delusion. The amount of credit flowing into the system in the late 1990s converted the tech stock bull market of 1996 into the dot-com bubble of 1999, which burst spectacularly in 2000, causing a deep, chaotic recession.
The stock market rejoices the House passage of the tax ‘reform’ Bill as the Dow shot up 187 points and the S&P 500 spiked up 21. The Nasdaq soared 1.3%, retracing its 3-day decline in one day. The tax bill is nothing more than a massive redirect of money flow from the Treasury Department to Corporate America and billionaires. The middle class will not receive any tax relief from the Bill but it will shoulder the burden of the several trillion dollars extra in Treasury debt that will be required to finance the tax cuts for the wealthy. The tax ‘reform’ will have, at best, no effect on GDP. It will likely be detrimental to real economic output. The Big Money Grab is ‘on’ at the highest levels of of Wall St., DC, Corporate America, the Judiciary and State/local Govt. These people are grabbing from a dying carcass as fast and greedily as possible. The elitists are operating free from any fear of the Rule of Law. That particular nuisance does not apply to ‘them’ – only to ‘us.’ They don’t even try to hide their grand scale theft anymore because the protocol in place to prevent them from doing this is now on their side. This is the section in Atlas Shrugged leading up to the big implosion. ‘When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed.’ – Atlas Shrugged
As we keep insisting, monetary central planning systematically falsifies asset prices and corrupts the flow of financial information. That’s why bubbles seemingly inflate endlessly and egregiously, and also why financial crashes and economic corrections appear to come out of the blue without warning. Back in the winter of 1999-2000, for example, we were allegedly in the midst of a “new age economy”. The revolution in technology then underway, it was claimed, meant all historic valuation benchmarks–like PE multiples, cash flow and book values—– were irrelevant to stock prices. Likewise, in the fall of 2007 there was nary a cloud in the economic skies. That’s because the Great Moderation superintended by the geniuses at the Fed had purportedly engendered a “goldilocks” economy destined to expand indefinitely. Within months of the dotcom epiphanies, however, the highflying NASDAQ 100 crashed—eventually hitting bottom 83% below its new age apogee; and 15 months after the S&P 500 reached its goldilocks peak of 1570 in October 2007 it staggered around in smoldering ruins at 670—down 57% from its housing bubble high.
The likelihood that either party will ever drain the fetid swamp of corruption that is our tax code is zero, because it’s far too profitable for politicos to operate their auction for tax favors. To understand the U. S. tax code and the endless charade of tax reform, we have to start with four distasteful realities: 1. Ours is not a representational democracy, it’s a political auction in which wealth casts the votes that count. Those seeking political influence over issues such as taxation place their bids in the political auction via campaign contributions and lobbying. The winner of the political auction gets favorable treatment, and everyone else ends up subsidizing the gains of the winner. 2. The wealthy pay the vast majority of federal income taxes (as oposed to payroll taxes, i.e. Social Security and Medicare), so tax cuts end up benefiting the wealthy. High-income Americans pay most income taxes, but enough to be ‘fair’? (Pew Research Center) In 2014, people with adjusted gross income, or AGI, above $250,000 paid just over half (51.6%) of all individual income taxes, though they accounted for only 2.7% of all returns filed. By contrast, people with incomes of less than $50,000 accounted for 62.3% of all individual returns filed, but they paid just 5.7% of total taxes.
The federal government is now 20.4 trillion dollars in debt, and most Americans don’t seem to care that the economic prosperity that we are enjoying today could be completely destroyed by our exploding national debt. Over the past decade, the national debt has been growing at a rate of more than 100 million dollars an hour, and this is a debt that all of us owe. When you break it down, each American citizen’s share of the debt is more than $60,000, and so if you have a family of five your share is more than $300,000. And when you throw in more than 6 trillion dollars of corporate debt and nearly 13 trillion dollars of consumer debt, it is not inaccurate to say that we are facing a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Debt cannot grow much faster than GDP indefinitely. At some point the bubble bursts, and when it does the pain that the middle class is going to experience is going to be off the charts. Back in 2015, the middle class in the U. S. became a minority of the population for the first time ever. Never before in our history has the middle class accounted for less than 50 percent of the population, and all over the country formerly middle class families are under a great deal of stress as they attempt to make ends meet. The following comes from an absolutely outstanding piece that was just put out by Charles Hugh Smith… If you talk to young people struggling to make ends meet and raise children, or read articles about retirees who can’t afford to retire, you can’t help but detect the fading scent of prosperity. It has steadily been lost to stagnation, under-reported inflation and soaring inequality, a substitution of illusion for reality bolstered by the systemic corruption of authentic measures of prosperity and well-being. In other words, the American-Dream idea that life should get easier and more prosperous as the natural course of progress is still embedded in our collective memory, even though the collective reality has changed. The reality that most of us are facing today is a reality where many are working two or three jobs just to make it from month to month. The reality that most of us are facing today is a reality where debts never seem to get repaid and credit card balances just continue to grow. The reality that most of us are facing today is a reality where we work day after day just to pay the bills, and yet we never seem to get anywhere financially. The truth is that most people out there are deeply struggling. The Washington Post says that the ‘middle class’ encompasses anyone that makes between $35,000 and $122,500 a year, but very few of us are near the top end of that scale…
Opponents of Abe-economics – a policy whose defining characteristic these days is ever more radical monetary experimentation and a creeping but serious deterioration in the public finances – are in despair. Yet again, as in March 2015, the Japanese PM Abe has called a snap election (one year short of a full term with a campaign limited to 3 weeks), this time with the intention of crushing a potential leadership challenge within his party (the LDP) which incidentally could have brought a change in economic policy direction. PM Abe took a gamble. The established opposition party to the LDP, the DPJ, is weak and indeed in meltdown. But the Party of Hope formed just in the last few weeks by popular governor Koike (the nationalist ex LDP defense minister, previously a television news anchor) could galvanize a protest vote. Opinion polls suggest now that the Abe’s LDP will obtain indeed a large majority in the Diet following the October 22 election. Governor Koike has gained from the corruption scandals beleaguering the PM but she articulates no alternative to Abe-economics. In fact her party’s program supports continuation of the mega-money printing program This time, like the last, the ostensible justification which PM Abe has advanced for a snap election is to win voter approval for his decision to over-ride already legislated fiscal discipline. In 2015 the election was called to postpone a looming increase in the consumption tax; this time it is to match that delayed tax increase (scheduled now for 2019) with a boost to social spending. The fact that such a rolling back of fiscal tightening is indeed saleable to a doubting public fully aware of the weak public finances is due to long-term interest rate markets having ceased to exert any constraint. They have become dysfunctional in consequence of monetary radicalism – now extending to the Bank of Japan (since September 2016) pegging long term interest rates at zero.
President Trump and the congressional Republican leadership recently unveiled a tax reform ‘framework.’ The framework has a number of provisions that will lower taxes on middle-class Americans. For example, the framework doubles the standard deduction and increases the child care tax credit. It also eliminates the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Created in the 1960s, the AMT was designed to ensure the ‘wealthy’ did not use ‘loopholes’ to ‘get out of’ paying taxes. Today the AMT is mostly a means to increase taxes on the middle class. The framework eliminates the ‘death tax,’ thus enabling family-owned small businesses and farms to remain family owned. It also helps the economy by lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, reducing taxes on small businesses. The framework also adopts a territorial tax system, which means US companies would only pay tax on profits earned in the United States. However, the framework is far from a total victory for liberty. Concerns have been raised that, depending on what income levels are assigned to what tax brackets, the plan could increase taxes on many middle- and lower-income Americans! This is largely due to the framework’s elimination of most tax deductions. The framework also contains a stealth tax increase imposed via the chained consumer price index (chained CPI). Supporters of chained CPI clam the government is currently overstating inflation. The truth is exactly the opposite: government statistics are manipulated to understate inflation.
Markets are blowing off this uncertainty for now. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Randal Quarles, President Trump’s first Fed nominee, as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. During his confirmation hearing, Quarles said it was time to roll back some of the regulations that were imposed on banks after they’d imploded and threatened to take down the global financial system. He will become the chief bank regulator at the Fed, filling the slot that Daniel Tarullo left behind when he resigned unexpectedly in April. Quarles is founder of private investment firm, The Cynosure Group. Fed Governor Jerome Powell is also a Cynosure alumnus. Quarles had been a partner at private equity firm The Carlyle Group and served as undersecretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush. WHIRRRR makes the revolving door. One down, four more to go. The Fed’s Board of Governors has seven slots, currently chaired by Janet Yellen. After Quarles’ appointment, potentially four more will need to be filled over the next few months. The seven board members are part of the policy-setting 12-member Federal Open Markets Committee. The other five members of the FOMC are the president of the New York Fed and on a one-year rotating basis four presidents of the remaining 11 regional Federal Reserve Banks.
Barack Obama is funding the anti-Trump movement through a series of backdoor deals and policies. Wall Street may be surprised to learn that it is also helping bankroll the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ whether they wanted to or not. Wall Street is fighting policies which would heavily favor it, including corporate tax cuts and the repeal of Obama-era banking and health-care regulations. We have the Obama administration to thank for the harsh anti-Trump movement by far left groups, according to an article by the New York Post. The Obama administration’s massive shakedown of Big Banks over the mortgage crisis included unprecedented back-door funding for dozens of Democratic activist groups who were not even victims of the crisis. At least three liberal nonprofit organizations the Justice Department approved to receive funds from multibillion-dollar mortgage settlements were instrumental in killing the ObamaCare repeal bill and are now lobbying against GOP tax reform, as well as efforts to rein in illegal immigration. An estimated $640 million has been diverted into what critics say is an improper, if not unconstitutional, ‘slush fund’ fed from government settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Co., Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., according to congressional sources. The payola is potentially earmarked for third-party interest groups approved by the Justice Department and HUD without requiring any proof of how the funds will be spent. Many of the recipients so far are radical leftist organizations who solicited the settlement cash from the administration even though they were not parties to the lawsuits, records show. ‘During the Obama administration, groups committed to ‘revolutionary social change’ sent proposals and met with high-level HUD and Justice Department officials to try to get their pieces of the settlement pie,’ Cause of Action Institute vice president Julie Smith told The Post. -New York Post
This post was published at shtfplan on September 25th, 2017.
This is the begging-for-the-overthrow-of-a-corrupt-status-quo economy we have thanks to the Federal Reserve giving the J. P. Morgans and Jamie Dimons of the world the means to skim and scam the bottom 95%. Dear Jamie Dimon: quick quiz: which words/phrases are associated with you and your employer, J. P. Morgan? Looting, pillage, rapacious, exploitive, only saved from collapse by massive intervention by the Federal Reserve, the source of rising wealth inequality, crony capitalism, privatized profits-socialized losses, low interest rates = gift from savers to banks, bloviating overpaid C. E. O., propaganda favoring the financial elite, tool of the top .01%, destroyer of democracy, financial fraud goes unpunished, free money for financiers, debt-serfdom, produces nothing of value to society or the bottom 99.5%. Jamie, if you answered “all of them,” you’re correct. The only reason you have a soapbox from which you can bloviate is the central bank (Federal Reserve) saved you and your neofeudal looting machine (bank) from well-deserved oblivion in 2008-09, and the unprecedented, co-ordinated campaign by global central banks to buy trillions of dollars of bonds and stocks.
Answers emerge. Including offshore private accounts. Mexico’s public debt-to-GDP of 50% may seem modest by today’s inflated standards, but when it comes to debt, everything is relative, especially if you don’t enjoy the benefits that come from having a reserve-currency-denominated printing press, and if you borrow in a foreign currency that you don’t control. As the debt load grows, more and more of the States’ financial resources must be used to service it. As El Financiero reports, the cost of servicing Mexico’s debt, despite super-low interest rates globally, has almost doubled in the last five years, and is now higher than it has been at any time since 1990. In fact, according to the Government’s own figures, more state funds will be spent this year on servicing the debt than on all public infrastructure projects put together. Yet as the government scrimps and scrapes in areas that might actually help to boost economic growth, it’s more than happy to dig deep to fill its own pockets. A joint investigation by the news website Animal Politico and the NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity has revealed that, amidst all the budget cuts, the Pea Nieto Government has been using a complex web of shell companies to make hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds, originally intended for public causes such as combating poverty or financing public education, completely vanish.
This post was published at Wolf Street on Sep 11, 2017.
Debt is serfdom, capital in all its forms is freedom. If we accept that our financial system is nothing but a wealth-transfer mechanism from the productive elements of our economy to parasitic, neofeudal rentier-cartels and self-serving state fiefdoms, that raises a question: what do we do about it? The typical answer seems to be: deny it, ignore it, get distracted by carefully choreographed culture wars or shrug fatalistically and put one’s shoulder to the debt-serf grindstone. There is another response, one that very few pursue: fanatic frugality in service of financial-political independence. Debt-serfs and dependents of the state have no effective political power, as noted yesterday in It Isn’t What You Earn and Owe, It’s What You Own That Generates Income. There are only three ways to accumulate productive capital/assets: marry someone with money, inherit money or accumulate capital/savings and invest it in productive assets. (We’ll leave out lobbying the Federal government for a fat contract or tax break, selling derivatives designed to default and the rest of the criminal financial skims and scams used so effectively by the New Nobility financial elites.)
In February 2000, the FOMC quietly switched from the CPI to the PCE Deflator as its standard for inflation measurement. There were various technical reasons for doing so, including the CPI’s employment of a geometric mean basis (which was in 2015 finally altered to a Constant Elasticity of Substitution formula). But it was one phrase that in hindsight did the Fed no favors, as it explicitly cited the expected fruits of the PCE Deflator’s methodology which would ‘avoid some of the upward bias associated with the fixed-weight nature of the CPI.’ I am not a conspiracist by any means, but there are times when you have to shake your head as these economists lack even a modicum of self-awareness. The central bank has been given a legal mandate for price stability, so the average American might wonder why that central bank is allowed to choose the measure most inherently stable (and low). At the very least, it seems like a conflict of interest, one among so many. In that regard, the last five years have been almost fitting. The PCE Deflator has, as expected, avoided the higher beta tendencies of the CPI and in both directions. For that, it has remained stable, alright, but stable below target no matter what the Fed does with its own balance sheet. I hope the irony is not lost on them, especially as it was oil prices that ‘achieved’ what they could not despite considerable expenditure on their part.
Paycheck to Paycheck GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – The Dow was down 118 points on Wednesday. It should have been down a lot more. Of course, markets know more than we do. And maybe this market knows something that makes sense of these high prices. What we see are reasons to sell, not reasons to buy. Nearly half of all American families live ‘paycheck to paycheck,’ say researchers. Without borrowing, 46% couldn’t raise $400 to cover an emergency. This is at least part of the reason why retail sales dropped for the second month in a row in March. Despite seven years of economic ‘recovery,’ millions of Americans don’t have much money. According to Census Bureau figures, 110 million Americans receive benefits from means-tested federal programs – food stamps, disability, and the like. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 125 million Americans have full-time work (with another roughly 112 million without jobs). That means there are only 125 million people in full-time jobs supporting the whole kit and caboodle of the U. S. economy, with a total population of 323 million. At that rate, each full-time worker supports about 2.6 people… including almost one person receiving money from the feds. They are also supporting a government debt of $20 trillion and private debt of another $40 trillion or so. That puts the debt-to-full-time-worker ratio at $480,000. The average salary for a full-time worker is just $48,000. At a modest 5% interest, his share of the debt cost would set him back $24,000 each year. He’d have only the remaining $24,000 to support (1) his own family… and (2) all the malingerers, cronies, and zombies who are drawing government benefits. Obviously, those numbers don’t work. But they explain much of the weakness in the U. S. economy. The feds’ cheap credit keeps moving money (mostly in the form of asset price increases) to the wealthiest ZIP codes… while the average person’s budget gets tighter and tighter.
This post was published at Acting-Man on April 21, 2017.