Friday, February 7, 2020

Alasdair Macleod With QE Infinity, Is Deflation Possible

Alasdair Macleod of James Turks Goldmoney explains why mild deflation is no longer possible but instead we face prospects of rising consumer inflation as well as continued asset inflation.

- Source, Jay Taylor Media

Sunday, January 26, 2020

How to Return to Sound Money

There has been very little commentary in recent years about the benefits of sound money, being limited almost entirely to followers of the Austrian school of economics. Even less has been written about how to back out of inflation-ism, end unsound money and return to a monetary arrangement which cannot be corrupted by governments and the banking system.

The most notable attempt was by Ludwig von Mises who appended a chapter on the subject in his updated 1952 version of The Theory of Money and Credit[i] The circumstances were very different from that of today. At that time, the US had corrupted its gold exchange standard to progressively exclude the ability of individuals to demand gold for paper dollars. And both Keynesianism and socialism, in the West at least, were in their earlier days. Today, we face more of an end game where considerable damage has been done since to the status of circulating money, and we face the prospect not of reform but of a collapse of the entire fiat money system.

It is a situation which, if nothing had been done in the 1950s, von Mises predicted in his writings would eventually happen. We are now witnessing not just the failure of state currencies, but also the economic damage wrought. That the root of the problem is a combination of progressive inflationism fuelling a credit crisis is gradually becoming obvious to a small but growing number of critics.

Recent events, which are germane to all our economic prospects in 2020 and beyond, are now unmasking a deterioration in demand for manufactured output and declining credit quality consistent with the ending of the expansionary phase of the credit cycle. The increase of American trade protectionism at this point in the credit cycle has worrying echoes of 1929, when the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Hoover in 1930.

The opening months of 2020 should see yet more statistical confirmation that the world’s production is declining, only concealed by renewed monetary inflation. Recession and its consequences are the central banks’ worse fear and they are already in accelerated printing mode in yet another attempt to forestall it.

The immediate future of fiat currencies is centred on the dollar’s prospects as the reserve currency. Dollar-centric markets remain in denial, believing the dollar will always be supported by a flight to safety if things cut up rough. In the short-term, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But after an initial Pavlovian reflex, the dollar’s future measured in other state currencies depends on the relative needs of economic actors on a national basis and the actual ownership position.

Here, the dollar fares badly, with dollar assets and cash in foreign hands totalling about $24 trillion, and US ownership of non-dollar assets less than half that at $11.297 trillion (end-2018). US ownership of foreign short-term debt securities was $502bn at that date, of which only $92bn was in foreign currencies the rest being in dollars, according to TIC data from the US Treasury. Other than foreign listed securities, which are small in total compared with foreign ownership of US securities, that $92bn is all the foreign currency American residents have to sell in a financial meltdown.

Of their $24 trillion total, foreigners owned $19.4 trillion of dollar assets, of which more than $8 trillion is in equities, and includes short-term debt securities of $980bn. Additionally, dollar deposits held through correspondent banks totalled $3.6 trillion last October. Dollar liquidity in foreign hands is therefore nearly $13 trillion, before one considers foreign investment in US Treasuries, which is mostly held by foreign governments and official organisations. Clearly, when foreign balances adjust to a world of contracting trade, dollars will be sold heavily, destroying its value and disrupting US capital markets with very little in the way of flows the other way to offset it.

In these circumstances it will be impossible for the US Government to fund its budget deficits through capital inflows as it is wont to do. And given the absence of domestic savings accumulation, which would detract from final consumption and therefore undermine the GDP statistic anyway, trillion-plus deficits will have to be financed almost entirely by monetary and bank credit inflation.

Sooner or later this is bound to lead to a severe crisis for the dollar and therefore all the fiat currencies that regard it as King Rat. The crisis will be further fueled by a mixture of escalating government debt, falling purchasing power for the dollar, and increasing interest rates, the last being driven by the market response to a declining currency in terms of its purchasing power. It is a debt trap which will be reflected at the very least in a substantial decline of the full faith and credit in the US Government.

Eventually, possibly in a matter of only a few years, the dollar could become worthless. The few commentators aware of this danger have for some time been arguing for a currency reset without much idea how it can be implemented. It is almost certain that central banks will convene to cook up a new monetary plan as the dangers to the current system increase. But given the statist culture behind the problem, the basis of any state-initiated plan will surely include an attempt to secure the state’s monetary role and to extend its powers over markets. With the same underlying characteristics, any new currency arrangement based on a modification of the state-issued currency system is guaranteed to fail. History tells us that when the fiat route is pursued a second time, the public is already aware of government trickery and the second failure is swift (cf. France 1789-97 – assignats followed by mandates territoriaux which hardly lasted six months).

From an economic standpoint, the introduction of sound money will yield immediate benefits for the population compared with a failing currency regime. The problems obstructing it are a lack of understanding of catalytic theory by professorial economists and the establishment’s relentless grip on bureaucratic and political power.

To illustrate the required scale of the whole socio-economic and monetary reform involved, a solution which works must be proposed. Such a proposal must have sound incorruptible money at its heart, because no other arrangement will survive over time. It requires the termination of the central banking model. That central banks will be required to make their policy roles redundant virtually guarantees that the destruction of the fiat currency system, and its immediate replacement on a reset, are bound to occur before a sound money system of money and credit can be contemplated.

We should proceed with this assumption. Our sound money will be a phoenix rising from the ashes of monetary and economic destruction.

This article provides a template for how a new monetary system based on sound incorruptible money can be implemented. It addresses the following topics: the reintroduction of gold as circulating money handing all monetary power to its users, dealing with existing government debt, reforming the banking system, and resetting economic theory to where it was before Keynes worked up fallacious roles for the state. Properly addressed and planned, its implementation should be less difficult than it at first appears, and any nation following the courses of action in this article is likely to see substantial economic benefits in less than a year.

Sound money – it can only be physical gold

For the avoidance of doubt, a gold substitute is a currency in all its forms fully backed by and convertible into gold on demand by all of its users. A gold exchange standard permits the expansion of unbacked bank credit and does not prevent governments inflating total money supply.

Before critics jump to the conclusion that I am promoting a role for gold, it should be clear that my primary interest is sound money, which happens to be gold. So, yes, I am promoting gold but only as sound money; the order is sound money first, gold second. This is why I (and my colleagues at Goldmoney) insist the proper role of physical gold is as money, and it is not to be regarded as an investment, though related media, such as ETFs, derivatives and mining shares are properly classified as gold-related investments.

There should be no need to reiterate why gold emerged as the money of people’s choice, ever since the division of labour progressed beyond the exchange of goods through barter. But it is worth making the point that the difference between today’s money of the state and gold is that the state uses the debasement of its currency as a means of wealth transfer from the people to itself and those in its favour. It is an instrument of funding additional to taxation.

With sound money monetary debasement is strictly limited. The quantity of gold required as money in the global economy is only part of above-ground stocks and its quantity and distribution is decided by economic actors, not the state. The obvious source of global supply is mining, which runs at about 2% of above-ground stocks, in line with long-term population growth. The other source of deployment is scrap, recycling gold to and from other uses. This is why prices measured in gold are inherently stable.

As a common form of trusted money, gold also facilitates trade across borders, and when trade is settled in gold or gold substitutes which a government or bank cannot magically create out of thin air, there are no trade imbalances other than temporary shifts in the ratio of gold to goods that align price levels across jurisdictions.

Clearly, the reintroduction of sound money requires a radical change of socio-political and economic culture. Constrained by a sound money regime, the inability of a government to run continual deficits will remove considerable power from the state. Sound money also forces governments to abandon socialising legislation and makes ordinary people more responsible for their own actions.

Since the abandonment of the Bretton Woods agreement, the degree of monetary inflation has been substantial. The rise in the price of gold from the pre-war peg of $35 has to an unknown degree corrected earlier monetary inflation when the dollar was first put on a gold exchange standard, following the Gold Standard Act of 1900. It has continued to reflect monetary inflation thereafter, particularly following the suspension of all convertibility in 1971. The adjustment to date has not compensated for all of the increase in the quantity of fiat dollars in existence, but that matters less than a conversion price which can be maintained for all time, because if it is to succeed the new dollar must be a proper gold substitute.

The setting of the conversion price is the most important decision to be exercised by the issuer of new dollars. But as we have seen, an arm of the government is always ill-equipped to take monetary decisions, so the sensible policy would be to announce the decision to return to gold as the primary form of money and allow the market a period of time to approximately settle the pricing of gold relative to that of the new state currency. At the same time, consolidation terms for exchanging old dollars for the new should be announced, which will stop the old currency sliding into worthlessness, if it hasn’t already, and ensure the new currency is widely distributed at the outset.

During the period between announcing the scheme and its implementation, the central bank or Treasury department (in the case of the US) should cause an independent metal audit of its gold stocks to be conducted, having established an oversight committee drawn from neutral observers to oversee the process.

It is vital to ensure markets trust the existence of gold reserves from the outset. In the case of the US Treasury, with a stated 8,134 tonnes in possession a proper metal audit may take too long. A metal audit has to confirm the existence, identity, weight and purity of every bar and coin held in or allocated to the reserve backing the currency. In any event, there may be more gold in the Treasury’s possession than needed to back the new currency at the outset.

As soon as sufficient progress in the metal audit has been made for the auditor to indicate the degree of discrepancies (if any) then the approximate rate will have been set by markets in the knowledge there is sufficient gold to allow the new currency to circulate as a substitute. The remaining gold stocks (if any) can be held in abeyance.

Once the ratio between the new currency and a weight of gold is fixed, decisions can then be taken over matters such as the form of coinage. A dollar/gold rate would have been defined. For example one gram of gold might be represented by 10 new dollars. A new dollar therefore would be ten centigrams of gold. And every new dollar issued electronically, in paper or coinage form would only exist if it is 100% backed by gold held at the central bank.

All restrictions on gold ownership must cease. In order to ensure the state does not surreptitiously elide from a currency substitute system towards a gold exchange standard, it is vital to have gold circulating alongside its substitutes. This is easily facilitated by issuing high-value gold coins, the basis of the British sovereign, which ties a face value to a weight of fine gold. Depositors withdrawing funds from a bank must have the facility to withdraw them either in gold coin or paper substitutes.

Coins for small amounts would circulate as token money, instead of gold itself. This would permit the monetary authorities to issue practical, hard-wearing alloy coins for circulation, being fully backed by gold. The issuance of these tokens will also replace small-denomination banknotes to downplay the role of bank notes generally, thereby enhancing the role of gold as the true circulating medium. With the elimination of unbacked bank credit (see below) cheques and electronic transfers will also be fully backed by gold and be recognized as gold substitutes...

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Why is Bank Credit so Destructive?

At the outset it should be understood that a cycle of bank credit leads to alternate booms and slumps and much debate has occurred over the years as to how to deal with it. This topic is becoming important again, since there are growing signs that the expansion of bank credit is faltering, a tendency for it to contract will follow and a business recession, or even worse, is now increasingly certain.

For many neo-Keynesians, the issue comes down to unpredictable private sector bank credit behaviour compared with more certain central banking control over base money. Some, such as the supporters of the 1935 Chicago plan, have argued that the way to deal with it is to introduce 100% reserve banking and to hand a monopoly of monetary creation to the central banks, targeting price stability, or simply managing a steady growth rate for money supply.

The Chicago plan was cooked up during the great depression, which was blamed by the inflationists on the gold standard. In the context of the controversy in the nineteenth century between the currency and banking schools the Chicago Plan was something of a hybrid, leaning towards the currency school but without the discipline of gold upon which the currency school based its proposition. Anyway, banking interests ensured the plan lay dead in the water.

It was also na├»ve, assuming that the relationship between the quantity of money and the general level of prices was simply mathematical, when we should know through empirical evidence and reasoned economic theory that it is not. There is enormous subjectivity in the general level of prices, reflected in relative preferences between the public’s desire for consumption relative to holding money. Furthermore, following the great depression, in debating these issues there was, and still remains, an unquestioned assumption that leaving any form of money at the mercy of free markets is dangerous and that it should be under the control of the state.

Aide-memoire: How bank credit is created

When a bank takes deposits onto its own balance sheet, it acquires possession of them and owes a debt to its depositors. Its balance sheet liabilities consist of the bank’s capital and what is owed to depositors and other creditors. Matching these liabilities are the bank’s total assets. The ratio between the bank’s own capital and its depositor liabilities is easily varied by the bank’s management. Technically, this can be done in one of two ways. Either a loan account with a matching deposit are created for a customer, so that the loan is offset by the deposit. Alternatively, a loan facility is made available, creating deposits as it is drawn down. Any imbalances at an individual bank are made up by deposits drawn from payments by other banks, or by borrowing from other banks through wholesale money markets.

Therefore, a bank can use possession of customer deposits to extend credit of its own creation. By expanding its balance sheet in this way, the gross income arising from the difference between loan charges and interest paid on deposits increases the ratio of earnings to the bank’s capital.

Equally, borrowers and depositors can cause the bank’s balance sheet to contract by the simple expedient of paying down their obligations, reducing their deposits. If a bank is to maintain an expanded balance sheet, it must repetitively find new business. Consequently, there is an inbuilt bias in favour of continual expansion of bank balance sheets and therefore of bank credit. But the expansion of credit distorts the price structure in the economy, lowering the cost of borrowing and discouraging savers from saving by reducing the time preference value of money.

Over time, an economy driven by bank credit expansion will move from being savings-driven, where investment capital for the wider economy is funded out of past profits and earnings retained as savings, to being driven by the creation of debt and matching deposits.

Putting aside the wishful thinking that bank credit can continue to expand on an even course in perpetuity, we should note that once an expansionary course is under way demand for bank credit starts off being less than the banks are prepared to finance. Spurred on by increasing banker confidence and growing bank competition for loan business, rates are then reduced to below where they would otherwise be in a savings-driven economy. This leads to an artificial boom that eventually generates more demand for credit than the banks are willing to provide, or are restricted from doing so by bank regulation.

When the banks call a halt to further credit expansion, borrowers can no longer fund their incomplete plans, and banks will want to protect themselves from the fallout by reducing loans and deposits to protect their own capital. The urgency of this change of course is due to the catastrophic impact on a bank’s own capital of an oversized balance sheet when bank credit expansion slows, stops and threatens to contract.

The consequence is a repetitive cycle of boom and sudden bust. (See here for a video further explaining the phenomenon).

The only way this can be prevented is to disallow the creation of bank credit in the first place, a solution so alien to today’s bankers and inflationist economists alike, that it is readily dismissed. The progression of successive cycles in Britain since the Napoleonic Wars, adopted increasingly by other jurisdictions has, for modern times, led to an end point in bank credit creation, where consumers have little or no savings left and the majority live on tick between salary payments. Having abandoned all forms of sound money in favour of fiat currency inflation, the creation of base money is now being accelerated in a final attempt by central banks to buy off the consequences of not just the current cycle of bank credit inflation, but all those leading up to it.

Nothing goes on for ever, so sooner or later the system that has flourished on the possession of depositors’ bank balances will end. A new system of banking will then be devised, and its success will require a return to sound money, money that cannot be created out of thin air on the whim of a commercial or central banker.

In the wider context of history, the current debate about the role and behaviour of banks has occurred in a moral and legal vacuum, ignoring issues which have been debated since ancient history. And it was the Romans who resolved it in the third century AD, differently from our modern assumptions...

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney, read more here

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Money Bubble Will Pop, Gold is Real Money

One of the biggest names in the precious metals industry is here with us to discuss many gold related topics including the sound money history, ETF Scam and today's silver shortage. Of course we drill him down to get the most important aspects of how gold & silver will affect us today.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Alasdair Macleod: What drives credit cycles and why the next credit crisis may be imminent

In this speech, given in Brussels to the Ludwig von Mises Institute Europe on 18 November, Alasdair Macleod, Goldmoney’s Head of Research, explains how the expansion of bank credit evolved following the 1844 Bank Charter Act in English law. 

Alasdair explains why bank credit expansion always leads to a crisis, and why the cycle of boom and bust has been repeated ever since. Special emphasis is given to the combination of bank credit expansion between 1922-29, when the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act was then passed by Congress on 30 October 1929. That month saw the Wall Street Crash, and by mid-1932 Wall Street had fallen by 89%. 

Today, there are striking similarities with that period. We have had a greater level of bank credit expansion since the Lehman Crisis, and a tariff war has erupted between the world’s two largest economies. 

Alasdair goes on to suggest the recent Repo failure in New York may turn out to be an important signal of impending systemic failure, echoing the events in October 1929, when capital markets suddenly realized the party was over and greed turned rapidly to fear.

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Plans for a Global Dystopia

There appear to be policy areas being driven by statist responses to events, encouraging global institutions to take on a coordinating role. It means deeper levels of centralised planning by unaccountable bureaucrats. Assuming their plans continue to gain credence, we could end up with a dystopian world where supranational bodies direct individual governments to conform. We are already on this road to perdition. The OECD has coordinated attempts by governments to restrict the freedom of their citizens to avoid taxes by forcing over a hundred jurisdictions to automatically supply information on the financial affairs of every citizen, irrespective of nationality and where they reside.

By doing so, it has removed the necessity for governments to moderate their tax demands for fear that individuals will move their money out of reach. Information on private affairs are now exchanged automatically by banks, lawyers, financial advisors and accountants, without the individual’s knowledge. As a result of the introduction of the OECD’s common reporting standard, the organisation claims that over $85bn of additional tax revenue has been raised. The intention is to raise more, much more.

This has been the OECD’s mission for some time, leading the way for other supranational organisations to carve out roles for themselves. Ones that come to mind are the IMF, which with a green agenda intends to prioritise investment funding for alternatives to fossil fuels both directly and indirectly through the World Bank and the regional development banks. Subsidiary roles are likely to be played by other UN divisions, useful for binding emerging market nations to the plans.

Central banks acting in concert could have a new role of coordinating a monetary reset, which as we can deduce from Mark Carney’s speech at Jackson Hole in August is already being discussed. We shall start by looking at the state of current monetary policies, their failure, and the drive to replace them with something else, before addressing the energy question.
The monetary problem

There are two categories of folk who think everything to do with economics and money are not much to worry about; the disinterested public and the investment management community. Their livelihoods depend upon it. Another category, libertarians, Austrian economists, bitcoin fans, gold bugs and readers of and contributors to agglomerating sites such as ZeroHedge have views ranging from sceptical to downright catastrophic. Not known to many is another, the most important category, which is very worried indeed, and that is governments and their central banks.

These are the people quietly talking about a big-picture reset, those that know the post-Breton Woods fiat dollar system is no longer fit for purpose. They see escalating debt, interest rates failing to stimulate, and economic stagnation. They see a mismatch between international trade and the use of the dollar as a global settlement medium. They don’t talk about it much, to do so would frighten us, the lowly ruminants.

I was ruminating on this recently after Max Keiser, of the Keiser Report on RT, asked me what I thought of Mark Carney’s speech at Jackson Hole in August about a global monetary system to replace the dollar. I replied something about Carney about to retire, and presumably feeling slightly freer to express the concerns which he must share with his friends at the Bank for International Settlements, and various other monetary panjandrums who have observed the obvious: their cosy world of money-printing doesn’t work, is unlikely to ever work, and must be reformed to give them more control.

Since then my thoughts have turned to the reset problem in a broader sense. The assumption must be that time is available for such an event to be planned, or at least pre-planned as an insurance policy against monetary failure. In either event, it is putting the cart before the horse, because when a credit crisis hits it invariably takes the authorities by surprise, and it looks increasingly close in time. The priority will not then be monetary evolution but economic and financial rescue.

That point having been made, from the central bankers’ point of view, what is to be done? The obvious answer is to rig the game by changing the rules. As Keynes said, when the facts change, he changed. That way, they think they might dispose of the failing system and replace it with an updated one that suits their policy purposes better. With a bit of luck, declining confidence in the old will be replaced by a new paradigm, something that will allow them all, politicians and central bankers, to claim success for saving the Western world from a potential monetary crisis.

The problem is they don’t know how to do it, and they don’t yet know what the new paradigm will be. There is no unity on the matter, because for the Fed and the US Government it involves an unacceptable loss of monetary and political power. The Chinese, in partnership with the Russians, want to do away with the dollar, while the Europeans are leading themselves to a socialist dystopia at odds with Trump’s America, while being frightened of the Russian bear in the east.

This is why influencers like Carney can only hypothesize about a new monetary set-up involving a reduced role for the dollar. Central banks are exploring cryptocurrencies. It is reported that seven out of ten of them are researching the possibilities. That won’t save fiat currencies, but it might give central banks greater control over how their fiat currencies are used. Perhaps they think a state issued cryptocurrency can replace unadorned fiat. But then that raises two issues: if the existing fiat is failing it is likely a new state-sponsored cryptocurrency risks having a credibility problem from the outset and even if the public does accept it, its future issue will have to be strictly limited and the cycle of bank credit properly addressed.

But get it right and markets could be tamed, the logic goes. And somehow, a global cryptocurrency-based monetary system for international trade could replace the failing post-Bretton Woods monetary system reserved on the US dollar. For policy makers, it is becoming an urgent question, as a reading of Carney’s Jackson Hole speech makes clear.[i]

Specifically, in his speech Carney identified the existence of a global liquidity trap nullifying interest rate policy with three elements: a global savings glut tied up in dollars, a reduction in the scale of sustainable cross border flows and “fattening of the left-hand tail and increasing the downside skew of likely economic outcomes”.[ii] This last element of gobbledegook appears to translate into an acknowledgement of the failure of current interest rate policy to stimulate economic recovery, which cannot be admitted in plain English.

Carney’s problem, besides the veiled admission of policy failure, is he ignores the fact that America needs increasing quantities of foreign dollar ownership to fund its escalating budget deficit, without which the dollar fails, and term interest rates will soar. If he and his cohort push policies intended to redeploy funds that are otherwise destined for the dollar and US Treasuries, they will face strong opposition from the US Treasury and being based on the dollar, the likely collapse of the whole fiat edifice.

As for a reduction in cross border flows, that is a function of falling cross-border trade, not money. The reason cross-border trade has collapsed is because of the US-Chinese trade spat and its knock-on effects. Even if we pass on the gobbledegook of his third point, it is difficult for an independent observer not to take Carney’s speech as indicative of desperation, ivory-tower economic error or both.

Being based on Keynesian macroeconomic beliefs, we can take the evidence of economic error for granted, particularly since these beliefs have consistently failed to deliver any credible solution. It is the element of desperation we must explore further. If Carney feels a sense of desperation (and his speech reeks of it) then his fellow central bankers will as well. But instead of just abandoning failed policies, a bridge is required towards a new set of policies, a monetary reset. And it will almost certainly involve a greater suppression of the role of markets and an increase in state control over money and how it is used.

For central bankers, there is a fear that the emergence of a competing private sector crypto-payments system, even linked to a basket of fiat currencies, will challenge national currencies. They would have to be pretty dopey not to see that Bitcoin in particular is educating the masses about the moral fraud behind the expansion of fiat money. The challenge will be to come up with a credible alternative, completely under the control of a few major central banks. But first, the purpose of a state-backed cryptocurrency must be settled.

For every nation other than America, evolution from the failing post-Breton Woods monetary system is about reducing the role of the dollar in trade settlement and freeing up capital needlessly tied up in dollars. Before the invention of cryptocurrencies, this would presumably have been achieved through a combination of an evolutionary process and increasing use of currency swaps to enhance liquidity, particularly in euros and renminbi, to replace the dominance of dollars in reserve balances.

The facilitation of foreign trade appears to be the role most likely to be destined for a state-issued cryptocurrency. Initial swap lines of state-sponsored cryptocurrencies would be proportionate to the trade between existing currency blocks. It could then be deployed for trade settlement, which would require it to be made available to commercial banks. We then have two currency versions: an existing fiat currency which circulates domestically and a separate blockchain based currency reserved for international use. With an onshore and offshore version, there can be two interest rates suitably set for their applications, so long as arbitrage routes are severely restricted, with the offshore version trading at a premium.

Old hands in Britain will be familiar with the basic concept, before Margaret Thatcher removed exchange controls. To monetary planners, there are several perceived benefits from such a scheme, particularly for the Eurozone. By separating trade settlement from domestic currency circulation, de facto currency controls are introduced, permitting access to the state crypto currency to non-domestic trading entities and banks, while denying its use in the domestic economy. Importantly, the expansion of bank credit would be retained for the domestic currency only, managed through a two-tier interest rate policy.

Any investment in foreign currencies would require the payment of the premium that applies on the crypto version of the currency. The prospects of an international run against a currency such as the euro would recede, as the existing liquidity for international trade is replaced by a centralised, highly managed, trade-related cryptocurrency.

For policy makers at the ECB it must be a tempting solution if it can be made to work. It would give them greater monetary control overall, and they could attempt to stimulate the Eurozone economy by deploying deeper negative rates without the fear of a failing exchange rate.

From America’s point of view these moves or anything like them will almost certainly be strongly resisted. They need foreigners to buy dollars to fund the budget deficit. And they are now experiencing the flaws of US isolationism and Trumpian trade policies, which are already leading to a contraction and potential reversal of foreign flows into US Treasuries.

China would be an interested observer of these developments. She has been planning to issue a cryptocurrency of her own, which could allow her to internationalise a crypto version of the renminbi more rapidly than it has managed with its existing renminbi. Russia has already ditched the dollar for geopolitical reasons and is trying to gain control over the energy market from a moribund OPEC.

To summarise, discontent with the post Bretton Woods monetary system and the disproportionate role of the dollar are likely to be the reasons why so many central banks are looking at cryptocurrency solutions. But as stated at earlier in this article, it assumes pre-planning, those best-laid schemes of mice and men, are not overtaken by events...

- Source, James Turks Goldmoney, read more here

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Rise and History of Central Banking

Following the Barings crisis in 1890 the concept of a lender of last resort was widely seen to be a solution to the extremes of free markets. Initially, this meant that the bank nominated by the government to represent it in financial markets and to oversee the supply of bank notes took on a role of coordinating the rescue of a bank in difficulty, in order to stop it becoming a full-blown financial crisis. When the gold standard applied, this was the practical limitation of a central bank’s role.

This was the general situation before the First World War. In fact, even under the gold standard there was significant inflation of base money in the background. Between 1850 and 1914 above ground gold stocks increased from about 5,000 tonnes to nearly 24,000 tonnes. Not all of it went into monetary gold, but the amount that did was decided by the economic actors that used money, not the monetary planners as is the case today.

It was against this background that the US Federal Reserve Bank was founded in December 1913. Following WW1, it became a powerful institution under the leadership of Benjamin Strong. Those early post-war years were turbulent times: due to war time inflationary financing, wholesale prices had doubled in the US between 1914-1920, while the UK’s had trebled. This was followed by a post-war slump and by mid-1921 unemployment in the UK soared to 25%. In the US, the Fordney-McCumber tariffs of 1922 restricted European debtors from trading with America, necessary to pay down their dollar debts. A number of countries descended into hyperinflation, and the Dawes plan designed to bail out the Europeans followed in 1924.

While America remained on a gold standard, Britain had suspended it, only going back on to it in 1925. While the politicians decided overall policy, it was left to central bankers such as Strong at the Fed and Montague Norman at the Bank of England to manage the fallout. Their relationship was the most tangible evidence of central banks beginning to cooperate with each other in the interests of mutual financial stability.

With the backing of ample gold reserves, Strong was an advocate of price targeting through the management of money supply, particularly following the 1920-21 slump. His inflationary policies assisted the management of the dollar-sterling exchange rate, supporting sterling which at that time was not backed by gold. Strong also made attempts to develop a discount market in the US, which inflated credit markets further. One way and another, with the Fed following expansionary money policies and commercial bankers becoming more confident of lending prospects, monetary inflation fuelled what came to be known as the roaring twenties.

That came to a sharp halt in October 1929 when the credit cycle turned, and the stock market crashed. Top to bottom, that month saw the Dow fall 35%. The trigger was Congress agreeing to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on 30 October, widely recognised at the time as a suicide note for the economy and markets, by raising trade tariffs to an average of 60% from the Fordney-McCumber average of 38%. President Hoover signed it into law the following June and by mid-1932 Wall Street had fallen 89%.

With such a clear signal to the bankers it is not surprising they drew in their horns, contracting credit, indiscriminatingly bankrupting their customers. All the expansion of bank credit since 1920 was reversed by 1934. Small banks went bankrupt in their thousands, overwhelmed by bad debts, particularly in the agricultural sector, as well as through loss of confidence among their depositors.

The depression of the 1930s overshadowed politics in the capitalist economies for the next forty years. Instead of learning the lessons of the destruction wrought through cycles of bank credit, economists doubled down arguing more monetary and credit inflation was the solution. To help economic sentiment recover, Keynes favoured deficit spending by governments to take up the slack. He recommended a move away from savers being the suppliers of capital for investment, with the state taking a more active role in managing the economy through deficit spending and monetary inflation.

The printing of money, particularly dollars, continued under the guise of gold convertibility during the post-war Bretton Woods system. America had enormous gold reserves; by 1957 they were over 20,000 tonnes – one third of estimated above-ground gold stocks at that time. It felt secure in financing first the Korean then the Vietnam wars by printing dollars for export. Unsurprisingly, this led to the failure of the London gold pool in the late 1960s and President Nixon suspending the fig-leaf of dollar convertibility into gold in August 1971.

Once the dollar was freed from the discipline of gold, the repeating cycle of bank credit was augmented by the unfettered inflation of base money, a process that has continued to this day...

- Source, James Turks Goldmoney

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

150 years of bank credit expansion is near its end

So that we can understand the financial and banking challenges ahead of us, this article provides an historical and technical background. But we must first get an important definition right, and that is the cause of the periodic cycle of boom and bust. The cycle of economic activity is not a trade or business cycle, but a credit cycle. It is caused by fractional reserve banking and by banks loaning money into existence. The effect on business is then observed but is not the underlying cause.

Modern banking has its roots in England’s Bank Charter Act of 1844, which led to the practice of loaning money into existence, commonly described as fractional reserve banking. Fractional reserve banking is defined as making loans and taking in customer deposits in quantities that are multiples of the bank’s own capital. Case law in the wake of the 1844 Act, having more regard to the status quo as established precedent than the fundamentals of property law, ruled that irregular deposits (deposits for safekeeping) were no different from a loan. Judge Lord Cottenham’s judgment in Foley v. Hill (1848) 2 HLC 28 is a judicial decision relating to the fundamental nature of a bank which held in effect that:

“The money placed in the custody of the banker is to all intents and purposes, the money of the banker, to do with it as he pleases. He is guilty of no breach of trust in employing it. He is not answerable to the principal if he puts it into jeopardy, if he engages in haphazardous speculation….”

This was undoubtedly the most important ruling of the last two centuries over money. Today, we know of nothing else other than legally confirmed fractional reserve banking. However, sound or honest banking with banks acting as custodians had existed in the centuries before the 1844 Act and any corruption of the custody status was regarded as fraudulent.

This decision has shaped global banking to this day. It created a fundamental flaw in the gold-backed sound money system, whereby the Bank of England, as a prototype central bank, could only issue extra sterling backed entirely by gold. Meanwhile, a commercial bank could loan money into existence, the drawdown of which created deposit balances. The creation of these deposits on a system-wide basis meant that any excesses and deficiencies between banks were easily reconciled through interbank lending.
Bankers’ groupthink and the credit cycle

While an individual bank could expand its balance sheet, the implications of all banks doing the same may have escaped the early banking pioneers operating under the 1844 act. Thus, when their balance sheets expanded to a multiple of the bank’s own capital, there was little cause for concern. After all, so long as a bank paid attention to its reputation it would always have access to the informal interbank market. And so long as it can call in its loans at short notice, the duration mismatch between funding by cash deposits and its loan book would be minimised.

Since the Bank Charter Act, experience has shown the expansion of bank credit leads to a cycle of credit expansion, over-expansion, and then sudden contraction. The scale of bank lending was determined by its management, with lenders tending to be as much influenced by their own crowd psychology as by a holistic view of risk. Of course, the expansion of bank credit inflates economic activity, spreading a warm feeling of improving economic prospects and feeding back into increasing the bankers’ confidence even further. It then appears safe and reasonable to take on yet more lending business without increasing the bank’s capital.

With profits rapidly increasing due to lending being a multiple of the bank’s own capital, confident bankers begin to think strategically. They reduce their lending margins to attract business they believe to be important to their bank’s long-term future, knowing they can expand credit further against a background of improving economic conditions to compensate for lower margins. They begin to protect margins by borrowing short from depositors and offering businesses term loans, reaping the benefits of a rising slope in the yield curve.

The availability of cheap finance encourages businesses in turn to enhance their profits by increasing the ratio of debt to equity in their businesses and by funding business expansion through debt. By now, a bank is likely to be raking in net interest on loan business amounting to eight or ten times its own capital. This means that an interest margin of a net two per cent is a 20% return to the bank’s shareholders.

There is nothing like profitable success to boost confidence, and the line between it and overconfidence is naturally fuzzed by hubris. The crowd psychology fuelled by a successful banking business leads to an availability of credit too great for decent borrowers to avail for themselves, so inevitably credit expansion becomes a financing opportunity for poorly thought out loan propositions.

Having oversupplied the market with credit, banks begin to expand their interests in other directions. They finance businesses abroad, oblivious to the fact that they have less control over collateral and legal redress generally. They expand by entering other lines of banking-related business, assuming their skills as bankers can be extended into those other business lines profitably. A near-contemporary example was Deutsche Bank’s failed expansion into global investment banking and principal trading in foreign securities and commodities. And who can forget Royal Bank of Scotland’s bid for ABN-Amro, just as the credit cycle peaked before the last credit crisis.

At the time when their balance sheets have expanded to many multiples of their own capital, the banking crowd then finds itself with lending margins too low to compensate for risk. Bad debts arising from their more aggressive lending decisions begin to materialise. One bank beginning to draw in its horns, as it perceives it is out on a limb, can probably be weathered by the system. But other bankers will stop and think about their own risks, bearing in mind operational gearing works two ways.

It may be marked by an unexpected event, or just an apparent loss of bullish momentum. With bad debts beginning to have an impact, groupthink quickly takes bankers from being greedy for more business to fearful of it. Initially, banks stop offering circulating credit, the overdraft facility that lubricates business activity. But former lending decisions begin to be exposed as bad when the credit tap is turned off and investments in foreign lands begin to reflect their true risks. Lending in the interbank market dries up for the banks with poor or marginal reputations, and banks begin to report losses. Greed turns rapidly to fear.

The cycle of bank credit expansion then descends into a lending crisis with increasing numbers of banks exposed as having taken on bad loans and becoming insolvent. A slump in business activity ensues. With frightening rapidity, all the hope and hype created by monetary expansion is destroyed by its contraction.

Before central banking evolved into acting as the representative and regulator for licensed banks, the credit cycle described above threw up some classic examples. Overend Gurney was the largest discount house in the world, trading in bills of exchange before it made long-term investments and became illiquid. When the railway boom faltered in 1866 it collapsed. Bank rate rose to 10% and there were widespread failures. Then there was the Baring crisis in 1890. Poor investments in Argentina led to the bank’s near bankruptcy. The Argentine economy slumped, as did the Brazilian which had its own credit bubble. This time, a consortium of other banks rescued Barings. Nathan Rothschild remarked that if Barings hadn’t been rescued the entire banking system in London would have collapsed.

Out of Barings came the action of a central bank acting as lender of last resort, famously foreseen and promoted by Walter Bagehot.

In the nineteenth century it became clear that crowd psychology in the banks, the balance of greed and fear over lending, drove a repeating cycle of credit boom and slump. With the passage of time bankers recovering their poise from the previous slump forgot its lessons and rhymed the same mistakes all over again. Analysts promoting theories of stock market cycles and cycles of economic activity need look no further for the underlying cause.

In the absence of credit expansion, businesses would come and go in random fashion. The coordinated expansion of credit changed that, with businesses being bunched into being created at the same time, and then all failing at the same time. The process of creative destruction went from unnoticed market evolution to becoming a periodic violent event. Monetary institutions still ignore the benefits of events being random. Instead they double down, coordinating their interventions on a global scale with the inevitable consequence of making the credit cycle even more pronounced.

It is a huge mistake to call this repeating cycle a business cycle. It implies it is down to the failure of free markets, of capitalism, when in fact it is entirely due to monetary and credit inflation licensed and promoted by governments and central banks...

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney, read more here

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Monetary Failure is Becoming Inevitable

Alasdair Macleod, with a background as a stockbroker, banker and economist, discuss the magnitude of a collapse of the dollar system and why it appears inevitable.

- Source, Jay Taylor Media

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Building Empires Out of Gold

James Turk is widely respected as one of the true legends of the gold market, with over 40 years in the business. In conversation with Grant Williams, James looks back on his career, which is entwined with the modern history of gold, examining the potential for the next break to the upside and what comes next when empires of money end.