Tuesday, 25 March 2008

In the US "cash is trash" - £ to follow?

You may have noticed last week that the US Federal Reserve is dropping interest rates like crazy to try and avert a real recession.

This may or may not be successful, time will tell.

However, one huge effect of this has been the huge fall in the value of the dollar. This has many effects, the most pernicious being encouraging inflation - but this seems to be what Ben Bernanke, Fed Chairman is looking for to fight the depression.

On the other hand, it has led to a strange set of domestic circumstances in the US. The inflation rate (which is as skewed as the UK's, see Ed's comments in the post preceding this) is at 3% and climbing. Interest rates are at 2.25%. This means putting your money in a bank is likely reduce your wealth. For example, HSBC US is offering one of the best rates - 3.05% pa.

Yikes - this means you have to either spend your money or invest it in something that is going to at least hold its value - no easy thing in the current markets. Certainly holding any savings in cash is a bad idea.

The UK is likely to follow the US in this respect in the near future.The Bank of England is likely to cut rates and inflation is rising - so although we probably won't go into negative territory like the US things will get close. This will make for some risky investment decisions having to be taken by investors - including fund managers who will be forced to reduce their cash pools to generate acceptable returns.

The pound in your pocket is heavily affected by this - perhaps we should all convert our spare cash to Euro's or Renminbi to maintain its value....at least these are safer havens in these interesting times!


Old BE said...

My weekend in France was noticeably harder to bear than previous trips because of the already huge falls in the £ - will we see parity with the Euro before long?

My personal guess is that we already have negative interest rates - inflation is well above 5%

Newmania said...

I thought we could not cut interest rates because of borrowing or something...from what I recall about economics if you cut interest rates you increase demand but if your supply side is screwed (it is I assume ) you just get more inflation and a big BOP defacit. No-one talks about the balance of payments anymore do they, why is that ?

Sackerson said...

Why IS the pound kind of shadowing the dollar? Do you think this will continue?

And should our government now sell its enormous T-bill stake in the USA?

Mark Wadsworth said...

As Ed says, interest rates are negative - but they have been for a long time once you knock off 20% or 40% income tax. But I'd rather lose 2% a year by investing in NS&I than lose 10% a year by investing in property.

Anonymous said...

"No-one talks about the balance of payments anymore do they, why is that ?"

Because we have been running an enormous trade deficit ever since Labour took power, so Labour and its acolytes would rather keep us in the dark about that!

It is, of course, unsustainable, and liable to lead to a correction in the value of the pound sometime in the near future.

Anonymous said...

"You may have noticed last week that the US Federal Reserve is dropping interest rates like crazy to try and avert a real recession."

I sadi sometime ago that the Fed will aim to get rates down to 1% as quickly as they can. I don't think the idea is to prevent a recession as such. It is more about keeping people in their homes so that those with jobs can carry on paying their mortgage. US rates were down at the 1% level when US citizens went crazy with house buying. Unfortunately it now seems that the 1% interest rate is locked in - that is, those that are not debt averse have taken out so much debt that they can't live with higher rates. And not just "sub-primes" either - 40% of US mortgage defaulters are prime. So the US is already maxed out on debt and can't take rates higher than 1%, just like in Japan. Maybe we will see a dollar carry-trade starting up....

Interstingly, Bath Building Society has close to new mortgage business. It seems they have been unable to cope with demand for their mortgage products. This means that people have turned to this small lender because they can't get money elsewhere. Yes, the big banks may have interest rates published on the net - but are they actually lending money? Obviously not, and this is forcing individuals to look to other lenders, who quickly find their own funds exhausted. When all avenues for new lending have been exhausted, that is when the recession proper will start in the UK.

We are in the end-game of the debt based economy. CU laughed at the Independent story re. the same, but in fact it was spot on. We now have so much debt in the financial system it vastly outweighs the amounts of cash. That means the debt can never be repaid even if the banks took ALL our property away from us. Always remember that the debt is created out of thin air. Bear Stearns created $32 of debt for every $1 of real cash on its books. Citicorp, the worlds largest bank, has created $42 of debt for every $1 of real cash.

Now you might begin to understand why the rich have stayed rich for generations and why usary is a sin in some religions. Debt is created out of thin air to move real wealth from the world's citizens to the banks without us even raising an eyebrow. We think they are doing us a favour, allowing us to buy the land our ancestors have lived on for centuries, fought and died for, land we have paid for many times over. Problem is, with leverage at unbelievably high levels, the super rich have broken the entire system. But they don't much care. They will take all the real wealth and leave the ordinary person with nothing, just as they have been doing for centuries. If only our memories were longer.....

I don't believe in Communism - ownership of the means of production by the state. I don't believe in Capitalism - ownership of the means of production by private individuals. Both these systems impoverish the people that do all the real work and create the wealth. They are a false dichotomy with Socialism being presented as a kind of middle ground. I believe in mutualisation - ownership of the means of production by the people, and the land on which they build their homes.

hatfield girl said...

What is the cash to be spent on? I set off for London with plastic burning and SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS to spend some cash there, but there wasn't a great deal to buy. And puritanism cut in too in the form of 'I'm not spending that much, I could get a such and such for that money'.

In the end I went into the bank and transferred the money into euroland, which was a good thing as the pound has continued to slide.

Obviously these are small amounts, but not insignificant; there is another problem in England - nothing English to buy and what is for sale is imported and expensive.

Sackerson said...

Real Schadenfreude: what a far-reaching, spirited and heartfelt comment, if I may say so. Will you not open up your own blog?

Anonymous said...

I moved into some currencies that I feel are highly correlated with commodities in January--AUD and CAD. More recently, I bought the Swedish Krona. I'm looking for some entry points in a few Asian equity markets, but still not ready to make big commitments. I have a small position in Singapore (nervous with all of the financial exposure and their lack of big write-downs, so far). Commodities had a FAST pullback and I'm ready to push more of my majority cash position into commodities, in general.

Real Schadenfreude: I think you have your economic systems mixed up. The "mutualisation" that you describe IS communism. Private property rights are ideal. Don't use America as an example of capitalism. There are no central bank "puts" in capitalism. That's what is broken with American capitalism (and the Anglo-Saxon model globally). It wasn't like this in America until the 20th century.

This is crony capitalism (to borrow a phrase from Bill Fleckenstein) and I wrote a big discursive rant about it today (hopefully somewhat coherent).

Anonymous said...

"The "mutualisation" that you describe IS communism":

Building Societies are part of a communist conspiracy? Surely not.

Mutual companies are owned by their customers. They are the counterpart of co-operatives, which are run by their employees. Neither have anything at all to do with communism. Mutualisation has been around for far longer than communism.

Communism is defined as: "A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members."

Notice that the ownership of all property is lumped together in a communist system, and this is done ostensibly for the benefit of the employees. Since the property is lumped together, it follows that the state must regulate the manner in which the property is used leading to centralised state planning. As the state is an unthinking unfeeling entity which has a life of its own, it cannot set goals for the productive use of either capital or labour and therefore fails to meet demand with supply, particularly as the economic environment changes. Since this is done for the benefit of the employees and not the users of the system, the employees will aim for maximum income for minimum effort, leading to inefficiency.

You can see that mutualisation does not lead to the same problems as communism. Mutualisation does not lump all property together into one collective (i.e. state) ownership. Multiple mutuals can co-exist (just as we can have multiple Building Societies) and therefore there is free market competition. Entrepreneurs can set up new mutuals to meet new market demands (just as new Building Societies and Insurance companies were originally set up to meet new and different demands). Competition and entrepreneurship ensure good pricing for customers, and best of all the ownership cannot fall into the hands of a few individuals to create capitalism, the evils of which I will describe next.

Capitalism is not really a system at all. It is an unwanted an inevitable side effect of the operation of a free market. Let us consider a simple example of a free market consisting of 5 pig farmers that do not know each other, meeting only when they bring their pigs to auction. We will assume that the 5 pig farmers
are initially all equal. They bring their pigs to market where they are sold at auction. This auction determines a fair value for the pigs, pushing prices down as the farmers are obliged to compete. (We might note in passing that the auction itself is a regulatory framework within which the free market can operate). Now, let us assume that one pig farmer gains an advantage over the others. For sheer devilment, I will assume he inherits another farm so now he produces twice as many pigs as before. At this point he could sit back and enjoy the extra income. But he is a capitalist, so he has other plans. Instead he uses the extra income to discount his pigs in the market place. He doesn't discount by 50% - no need. He discounts by just 10%. All the other farmers are forced to follow suit, to compete. They do not know that the supply of competing pigs is actually limited. A new price in set in the market. The weakest player is driven out. Who can purchase the weakest player's farm? Only our capitalist is in a position to do that. He buys the weakest farm and becomes yet stronger. Having in effect three times as many pigs as the other farmers he is in a stronger position to negotiate feed prices with his suppliers (a volume pricing agreement) and he also continues to set prices in the market place. Note that he does not drive prices down as low as they could go to benefit the consumer - only as low as is required to drive the competition out of business. Already he has an "effective monopoly", and over time he will drive all his competitors out of business to achieve a complete monopoly. Once he has achieved a complete monopoly (if permitted to do so) he will push prices up as high as the consumer can take, of course.

You will notice that if three farmers try to take on our capitalist by nading together (conslidation) they will still fail to compete since although their productivity is trebled, so are their costs. A farmer that goes to a bank to buy a farm three times as big as our capitalist might succesfully compete - but he must attempt to drive our capitalist out of business if at all possible since otherwise the burden of debt repayment with interest will drag him down.

You can see that in this example our capitalist is "nothing special". He has merely had the good fortune to inherit the means of extra production, and turned it to his advantage. Once he has formed an effective monopoly his position is virtualy unassailable. He can also leave the means of production to his children ensuring that they can also enjoy the benefits of an effective monopoly. This is the fundamental reason why, in a capitalist society the wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, and then stays there across many generations. It has nothing to do with fairness or ability. I see very little to commend it. The purpose of capitalism is to destroy the free market, limit choice and push up prices. Only the capitalist benefits from this. Both suppliers and consumer suffer, and since they do not own the means of pig production in this case, they gain no benefit from its relative success.

If you like, I could give you a "real world" example based on companies I have worked for.

Anonymous said...

I have been having a lot of fun telling credit card companies and loans people that I am unemployed and can't repay their cash... they go bananas but they can't do anything, other than CCJ you,which is meaningless. This does damage your credit rating - well it obliterates it - but that doesn't matter as even a delay in paying does much the same - and my credit rating is zilch anyway...

I think there is a huge amount of unsecured lending in the UK economy which will never be recovered...

Bill Quango MP said...

Sorry to hear the unemployed bit mutley.. Has anyone tried bailiffs yet?

Anonymous said...

"I think there is a huge amount of unsecured lending in the UK economy which will never be recovered"

I think this is an interesting point which links in nicely with some of the things I said before in this thread.

I have a friend that was just starting up his own business and he couldn't understand why it was that when asking for £200,000 start-up loan from his bank he needed to offer his house as security. When he was at AT&T he could get £100million loans on the basis of a handshake over lunch.

The issue is that the bank doesn't give out real money. It gives out debt that is actually created from thin air. So up to a point at least it doesn't matter if it doesn't get repaid. The only problem is that the final recipient of the "debt" thinks it's real money and might want to convert it to ££££. If everyone wanted to do that at the same time the bank would be in trouble (which is why banks make such things rather awkward, claiming it is to do with fraud prevention).

If you want a small loan then its a loan seller's market. If you want a huge loan then it is a debtors market. The thing is that the bank gives out what we think of as real money but of course they don't turn up with a briefcase full of cash. Its just digits on a sheet of paper. Anybody could do that (but only banks are allowed to...). Thing is, we have to pay for this funny money with REAL money, with interest on top. And if we fail to pay up - we have to hand over our REAL houses! So naturally, if the banks have created more debt than real wealth in the system, then they send the bailiffs around to everybody, take all our property and right-off the remainder of the debt (which was funny money anyway). So the banks end up owning everything (or more accurately, the bank's owners own everything). Unless of course, you repay you debt to one bank with debt taken out with another bank. Then things start to get interesting....

So in the end the banks don't care that much if many of us don't pay up. They know that what they have given us is worthless, and what we will give them in return is all the real wealth. So the system is rigged in their favour whatever the outcome. Even if they really screw up like Northern Rock/Bear Stearns they get the taxpayer to bail them out. And who benefits most from that? Other banks that extended the finance to Northern Rock in the first place, who now find that their funny money is being paid back in real wealth whilst guaranteed by the real wealth of the British taxpayer. One might have hoped for something different from the Labour party until you realise that socialism was invented and paid for by capitalists to keep communists from taking over and siezing their assets. But that's a whole other story....

Unknown said...

Real Schadenfreude, can I echo Sackerson's comments and encourage you to start your own blog.

I always enjoy your posts when I see them because they make me think.

Sackerson said...

Real Schadenfreude:

Great pig-farmer illustration. I think many are now asking themselves whether the choice really has to be between socialism/communism and capitalism, and your arguments open up the debate. Ron Paul also has said interesting things about competing currencies, and as Matt has observed earlier in this thread, the idealised model of capitalism is, as Mrs Thatcher sloganised, competition 'n' choice.

Your points are made so clearly that, unless you begin to publish your own page, I am mightily tempted to use Google to find all your comments, combine them and put them somewhere on my own (credited to you, of course).

Is it too contemptibly old-fashioned to suggest that it's your duty to serve?

CityUnslicker said...

great thread - I have been too busy trying to keep my own job this week to do much posting. must try harder...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the positive remarks guys.

Sackerson: You are right - capitalism is often promoted as offering competition and choice. It actually tries to avoid such things. I regularly see commentators conflate the concepts of "free market" with "capitalism". They are not the same thing at all. They are almost opposites. In fact if you look at the history of JD Rockefeller, the railroads in the US and the US anti-trust laws, you will really understand the difference between "free market" and "capitalism"! I work in a position with marketing where we use "capitalism" to try and devour the "free market"!

On blogging: I am thinking about starting a blog. The only real problems are:-

1] You need to write often to keep people interested. I think CU and ND should be commended for managing to do that whilst handling other commitments.

2] I am a little worried about writing something with a logical flaw that turns out to be complete BS and then undermines my credibility totally!

3] You need to be pretty rigourous to write a blog. Get the spelling and grammar right. Put in links to items that back up what you are saying. You also need to be sure that what you say has some value. Not much point in merely repeating something that came straight out of the MSM. Often I write comments on other people's blogs simply because I want to get them out of my head! Writing them down clarifies everything and then draws a line under those thoughts. Its a kind of therapy, I suppose... But if you write a blog it really ought to have value for the readers, or they won't read it.

4] I am not sure what I want to write about. Stick to business and economy? Or also throw in something about MMGW and philosophy? Child raising? Relationships? Sex? I'm not sure... Should I have the odd rant - or leave that to Devil's Kitchen?

3] Because of a fortuitous set of circumstances, I know a lot about how big business and the economy works. All the really useful bits, anyway, I think. But I don't really know the most important bit. The bit I really want to get to grips with and write about. The bit that really matters. WHO THE HELL IS REALLY RUNNING THIS COUNTRY???? I don't believe in secret conspiracies, I don't believe you could get away with it forever. But more and more the evidence suggests that IT REALLY IS A SECRET CONSPIRACY! But I wouldn't want to write that without proof - it makes me sound like a nut. My father says he believes that the country is run by a group of people set apart that consider themselves as "elite", but do not actually conspire to run the country, but are of like mind and sometimes work together to manipulate towards certain outcomes. Adam Smith said something that suggested as much. The Guardian may be the physical embodiment of group - nobody reads it but it still has huge influence. Why?

But is it something stronger than that? Margaret Thatcher won a second term in office as a fait accompli because Labour put no-hoper Michael Foot as leader. David Cameron will win the next election because Labour have put no-hoper Gordon Brown in charge when Tony Blair would have put up far more of a challenge. Why did Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher both go a bit potty? Wasn't Blair lucky that John Smith died of a heart-attack? Do we really have democracy in Britain? Or only the appearance of democracy?

This is the question I really want to answer. Do I want to start a blog before I know the answer? I'm not sure.

Anyway, if you have any insights for me that might get me to think again on these points then I might be more tempted to start a blog.

Sackerson said...


The system just lost my long comment for you, dammit. Lesson: copy before submitting. Second lesson: remember previous lesson - this isn't the first time it's happened to me. Obviously, I'm stupider than a lab rat.


Bloggers have a use, which is why the MSM (including Private Eye) try to put us down. Private Eye began as a sort of paper-based blog in the Sixties.

We are part of the ferment of debate you get when great things are happening, or about to happen. Look at the pamphleteers in the Reformation, the Diggers and Levellers in the English Civil War, the 18th C writers who urged American independence, the rights of man, of women, of slaves. I think that we've moved on from biographical logs (i.e. blogs, electric diaries) because we're a sign of the times. They'll never promote us to judge, general, or manager for this.

As to your concerns:

1. Say what you have to say, then stop. But you're bringing a point of view, which means that news, to you, is the chance to repeat your thesis with topical reference. Peter Hitchens and others have done it for years. You won't run out of material.

2. We all run that risk. Correction on fact and logic helps develop your argument; and you may often be able to rebut, anyway.

3. Sp & Gr not all-important - look at all the rich guys in America who write blogs that would be red-penned by an English teacher. You can always edit afterwards, if you think it's necessary. And comments on others' blogs are very much appreciated.

4 & 5. Start with your main interest and expertise. We all need more about the real world as other people know it. I don't usually believe in smoke-filled room conspiracy, I think the groupthink tendency of like-minded people is bad enough. And much of the breakdown of the current system will be attributable to greed and the self-delusion that "your bit doesn't matter".

But if you need space for an unrelated subject, Blogger allows you to start a new blog in 2 minutes flat.

Go for it, and good luck.

Anonymous said...

"The pound in your pocket is heavily affected by this - perhaps we should all convert our spare cash to Euro's or Renminbi to maintain its value"

How about swiss francs - I read somewhere (I don't know the veracity of the source) that it is partly backed by gold and there is a legal requirement stopping the swiss ovt printing money willy nilly - it sounds almost too good to be true ...

Anonymous said...

I am glad to have set you off on this Mr Schadenfreude and your comments are extremely interesting. From my own personal point of view - I own nothing of any value - so bailiffs would be pointless. The reality is that so many millions of people are not paying now that there is not enough bailiffs in the world to enforce this debt. I would suggest that they do have one problem in that the banks had predicted all this un made payments as there profits... so profit forecasts are likely to be wrong...

Nick Drew said...

commentators conflate the concepts of "free market" with "capitalism". They are not the same thing at all. They are almost opposites

You bet. I never met an entrepreneur who doesn't quietly dream of a monopoly ((that's certainly a guiding principle of mine, *coughs*)), and it's usually only the egregious ones that get nailed.

I have just finished reading a magnificent book - Sex, Science and Profits which I must review here, and certainly recommend strongly. It contains a brilliant description of capitalism encouraging the occupation and exploitation of niches, with strong parallels to the Darwinian account of natural selection.

And we are Capitalists around here ! (but we believe in adroit market regulation, too, for we are consumers as well !)

Anonymous said...

Thanks once again for your comments:

Sackerson: Your comments set me thinking over the weekend and I realised that the points I most want to get across don't need a conspiracy theory for their explanation. It relates to something I only recently understood about Orwell's 1984/Animal Farm - that he was writing about how the system already WAS and how it might continue to develop. What I want to write about is not the betrayal of some mythical sociaist revolution (because socialism is itself a fraud, as I will reveal in my blog), but the fact that we are living in a "machine" that has developed its own mentality. "Deus Ex Machina" in its literal, rather than literary sense. We have, at some point in our history, created a machine with its own goals and thinking, from which we continually strive to escape but which we fail to escape - because we don't have sufficient understanding. This "machine" of modern society was created largely by accident, but has grown ever more complex. It acts over centuries to entrap us, but our memories only last decades, so we are destined to make the same mistakes that prevent us from dismantling it. No single individual is powerful enough or aware enough to destroy this "Deus Ex Machina", so ALL of us become victims of it. The people of Easter Island lived in a system that ensured their destruction by the ritual deforestation of their land. We live in a system set up to ensure our own enslavement. I don't think this is deliberate. Many have already challenged their own enslavement. But I don't think anyone has ever understood the mechanism by which it operates. I think I have got a good grasp of it now, and that is what I want to blog about. I'm sorting out the technicalities for now, first posting will probably be later this week.

Schadenfreude said...

OK, I've started THE BLOG. If you think it all sounds a bit pompous..... well, perhaps I wouldn't entirely disagree with you.

Well, we'll see how it goes. If you don't like it, remember - I didn't jump I WAS PUSHED!

Since I now have a gooooogle account I have returned to being just plain Schadenfreude. But I'm still the Real Schadenfreude - beware of imposters....

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