Thursday, February 24, 2011
The Ponzi scheme is coming to an end...
Public debt has become a problem worldwide. What is becoming more and more evident is that it is unsustainable and simply unpayable. It could be compared to a giant Ponzi scheme. We see no meaningful debt reductions thus, government will have to raise taxes, which will further suppress the economy, or people and companies will be forced to buy such bonds, or perhaps pension and retirement funds will be seized to continue the game for a while longer.
The whole concept of government debt in the US, whether it’s federal, state, municipal, corporate or personal stands on very shaky ground. Debt is serviced with revenues and income and when both are falling it is difficult to service. We have begun to enter a period of slowly rising interest rates. In the US the Fed has managed interest rates to be as low as possible to both aid in a recovery and to keep the financial edifice from collapsing. Over the past six months the bench mark 10-year Treasury note yield has risen from a yield of 2.20% to 2.74% and presently stands at about 3.60%. That 1.4% rise in rates has been offset by GDP growth of 3%. The problem is that such GDP growth has been maintained by growth in debt. The two sources of debt are the Fed and government. The Fed has been buying the government debt by creating money out of thin air. That is called monetization and it causes inflation. The government demand comes from revenues that have fallen and continue to fall, and as a result government issues more debt. The lenders, the bond buyers, sell dilution in the value of debt and in the dollar and as a result demand a higher yield. At this stage you can see how important QE1 and 2 and fiscal stimulus have been over the past 2-1/2 years. Had they not been implemented the economic and financial system would have collapsed. The next question to be asked is will we have to have quantitative easing and stimulus indefinitely? The answer is yes, but unfortunately if that path is followed lenders will demand ever-higher interest rates and the dollar will continue to fall in value versus gold and silver and other currencies. We estimate GDP growth to be 2% to 2-1/4% in 2010, down from 3%, all of which were aided by quantitative easing, the creation of money and credit and fiscal stimulus the result of debt. Without these props there would have been little or no growth, and fairly quickly the economy would have faltered. That would have brought about a classical purge accompanied by a deflationary depression. There will soon come a time the creation of money and credit and fiscal stimulus will no longer work and the system will finally fail. That is inevitable. That will begin to happen when interest rates are rising faster than growth rates. Once that condition exists there is no further hope of servicing debt or creating more debt, because there will be no natural buyers and inflation will be raging if not hyperinflation. The US is not the only country staring into this abyss; most countries around the world have the same problem.
As you probably have already figured out such fiscal and monetary policies of many countries cannot continue. The issuance of new debt has to be curtailed, as well as the growth of future liabilities. On its present course the US is headed toward a deficit in excess of 100% of GDP in just 1-1/2 years.
These countries have experienced and most still do, profligate government spending, little fiscal restraint and outright criminal behavior. Such action in time cause markets to put pressure on governments to mend their ways. That is where the higher yields come into play and as we pointed out we are already witnessing that. In 1 to 1-1/2 years the cost of carrying debt will begin to reduce GDP, because government debt demands will crowd out private investment. Except for AAA corporations we have already seen that over the past two years, as lenders retain cash and generally refuse to lend to medium and small companies and individuals as well.
A product of these conditions is a perpetuation of unemployment, which we believe is 22.6% presently, for years into the future. In addition, we have had 20 years of free trade, globalization, offshoring and outsourcing that has lost America 8.5 million good paying jobs and the loss of 42,400 businesses. We have extended unemployment, but every month millions fall off leaving them on their own and food stamps. These transfer payments make up 20% of household income, which is also unsustainable. Our guess is that the current extended benefits will be extended further in spite of a projected $1.6 trillion deficit. Political types prefer an extension to revolution, but the cost is more debt, a falling dollar and rising gold and silver prices. In addition, an end to extended benefits will sap consumption that must be maintained at 70% of GDP in order to keep the economy from failure. Do not forget the US is not the only country with debt problems. In the same league are Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Italy, England and above all Japan, which is more than 200% and growing exponentially. None of these countries are capable of growing out of their debt problems and thus, eventually we see a multilateral default of debt, which will probably entail a 2/3’s write off of debt. A jubilee of sorts.