The market end is nigh!
by Richard Cluver
Yet another bull market is drawing to a close. Market analysts everywhere are in agreement that share prices everywhere are looking very expensive while corporate growth has slowed significantly. This implies that dividend gains are unlikely to match investor’s recent growth expectations which sets the market up for, at the very least, a longish sideways trend. But by far the greater probability is a phase of falling share prices. So it is clear that the end is near.
My graphs below show ShareFinder’s latest projections which suggest that the downward break will begin in a little over a fortnight with Wall Street slated to peak on April 15 followed by Johannesburg on the 18th and London on the 21st:
Now I must hasten to add that ShareFinder has been making these projections since the middle of 2013 which led me to put out a warning to my readers of the Prospects newsletter that October last year would see the beginning of a sharp decline. It began on schedule and the incident that provoked it was the shut-down of the US Government for a fortnight.
ShareFinder again predicted a drop beginning early January this year and it came in response to the onset of the US Federal Reserve “Taper” when the Fed started cutting back on its drip feed of money into the world economy.
Now it is slated to begin again! I never know what event will trigger the next “correction” but ShareFinder is unerring in accurately foretelling weeks ahead that another down-turn is coming…..and we find out why when we get there. Maybe this time it will be the Ukraine! Please let it not be China!
“China is like an elephant riding a bicycle. If it slows down, it could fall off, and then the earth might quake.” – James Kynge, China Shakes the World
So far each market reversal has run out of steam and a recovery has followed with the markets then running on to even greater highs. So I am not going to suggest that the April decline will be the final one. But do consider this. Each of these market shocks needs to be likened to the tremors that precede a major earthquake. And of course it is only a matter of time before one of them will NOT followed by a recovery. Sometime in the not too distant future, the market will not recover. It will continue downwards in a heart-stopping avalanche that promises to strip the average investor of close to half of his wealth.
If you wish to preserve your wealth you need to rid yourself of ALL doubtful investments. Readers of my Prospects newsletters know which ones will survive and which will crash through the floor.
What you need to take to heart is that only the bluest of blue chip shares will stand immune to the carnage. Contrary to the outlook for the world’s major market indices, consider the ShareFinder Blue Chip Index graphed below. Only the shares that make up the constituents of this list are likely to be worth more at the end of 2104 than they are worth now. Please consider yourselves duly warned!
Regarding the up-coming election, I thought municipal ratepayers might like to know where their money is going. In Durban, for example, every month eThekwini municipality spends R3.2 million on bodyguards for 23 councillors. 19 councillors are from the ANC, three are from the NFP. Each councillor has a bodyguard at R71 000 per month, a rented car at R22 000 per month and a driver at R35 000 per month. Some councillors bodyguards are even more expensive at R106 000 per month. This expense is essentially being driven by the inability of the ANC to maintain order among their membership.
A Guide To South Africa’s Economic Bubble And Coming Crisis
As Africa’s wealthiest major economy, South Africa has played a key symbolic role in the emerging markets boom that has transformed the global economy in the past decade. Unfortunately, like most other emerging economies now, South Africa is experiencing an economic bubble that shares many similarities to the bubbles that caused the downfall of Western economies in 2008. Though South Africa has received a significant amount of attention after its currency fell sharply in the past year, there is still very little awareness and understanding of the country’s economic bubble itself and its implications.
The emerging markets bubble began in 2009 after China embarked on an ambitious credit-driven, infrastructure-based growth plan to boost its economy during the Global Financial Crisis. China’s economy immediately rebounded due to the surge of construction activity, which drove a global raw materials boom that benefited commodities exporting countries such as Australia and emerging markets. Emerging markets’ improving fortunes attracted the attention of international investors who were looking to diversify away from the heavily-indebted Western economies that were at the heart of the financial crisis.
Record low interest rates in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, along with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s multi-trillion dollar quantitative easing programs, caused $4 trillion of speculative “hot money” to flow into emerging market investments over the last several years. A global carry trade arose in which investors borrowed cheaply from the U.S. and Japan, invested the funds in high-yielding emerging market assets, and earned the interest rate differential or spread. Soaring demand for emerging market investments led to a bond bubble and ultra-low borrowing costs, which resulted in government-driven infrastructure booms, dangerously rapid credit growth, and property bubbles in countless developing nations across the globe.
The emerging markets bond bubble helped to push South Africa’s 10-year government bond yield down to a record low of 5.77 percent after the global financial crisis:
South Africa’s short-term interest rates were cut to all-time lows after the financial crisis as well, as the charts of the country’s benchmark interest rate, interbank interest rate, and bank lending (or prime overdraft) interest rate show:
Low interest rate environments are known for inflating credit and asset bubbles, which is what has occurred in South Africa in the past decade. South Africa has experienced two low interest rate periods in the last ten years: the 2004 to 2006 period and the post-Crisis period, both of which led to rapid credit growth that exceeded the rate of economic growth.
Though South Africa’s real GDP grew by 38 percent in the past decade, private sector loans surged by approximately 225 percent. Since 2008, South Africa’s real GDP grew by 12.7 percent, while private sector loans have increased by nearly 45 percent:
South Africa’s M3 money supply – a broad measure of total money and credit in the economy – paints a similar picture, with a 400 percent increase since 2004, and a 50 percent increase since 2008:
(Of course, GDP growth to credit growth comparisons understate the severity of credit bubbles because credit is a primary driver of growth during economic bubbles.)
South Africa’s total outstanding external debt, or debt owed to foreign creditors, increased by 250 percent in the past ten years, and nearly 87 percent since 2008:
South Africa’s external debt now totals $136.6 billion or 38.2 percent of the country’s GDP – the highest level since the mid-1980s – due in large part to the emerging markets bond bubble that boosted foreign demand for the country’s bonds. South Africa’s external debt-to-GDP ratio was 25.1 percent just five years ago. $60.6 billion of South Africa’s external debt is denominated in foreign currencies, which exposes borrowers to the risk of rising debt burdens if the South African rand currency depreciates significantly, such as the currency’s 15 percent decline against the U.S. dollar in the past year. To make matters worse, over 150 percent worth of South Africa’s foreign exchange reserves are required to roll over its external debt that matures in 2014.
Unsecured loans, or consumer and small business loans that are not backed by assets, are the fastest growing segment of South Africa’s credit market and are essentially the country’s own version of subprime loans. Unsecured loans have grown at a 30 percent annual compounded rate since their introduction in 2007, when the National Credit Act was signed into law. Unsecured lending has become popular with banks because they are able to charge up to 31 annual interest rates, making these riskier loans far more profitable than mortgage and car loans in the low interest rate environment of the past half-decade. The unsecured credit bubble is estimated to have boosted South Africa’s GDP by 219 billion rand or U.S. $20.45 billion from 2009 to mid-2013.
Like U.S. subprime lenders from 2002 to 2006, South Africa’s unsecured lenders target working class borrowers who have limited financial literacy, which has contributed to the country’s growing household and personal debt problem. A 2012/2013 report from the National Credit Regulator showed that South Africa’s 20 million citizens carried an alarming 1.44 trillion rand or U.S. $140 billion worth of personal debt – equivalent to 36.4 percent of the GDP. In addition, household debt now accounts for three-quarters of South Africans’ disposable incomes.
South Africa’s poorest borrowers have little choice but to rely on local loan sharks known as mashonisas (a Zulu word for ‘one who buries you under’), who commonly charge 30-60 percent annual interest rates. Rising indebtedness among South Africa’s poorest citizens was one of the primary reasons for the demands for better pay and strikes that led to the Marikana mine massacre in August 2012, when police officers killed 34 protesting miners.
South Africa’s two low interest rate periods of the past decade, 2004-2006 and 2009-present, have led to sharp housing price gains as well as a longer-term property bubble. Housing prices rose at a 15 percent annual rate from 2000 to 2002 and began to dramatically accelerate starting in 2003 after interest rates were aggressively lowered. Housing prices proceeded to rise by 21 percent in 2003, 32 percent in 2004, 22 percent in 2005 and approximately 15 percent in 2006 and in 2007. The combination of rising interest rates and the Global Financial Crisis caused South Africa’s housing prices to dip slightly in 2008 and 2009, until interest rates were dropped to record lows, which has fueled another housing price boom since then.
The next article, though addressed to American readers, deserves your spending the time to take it to heart for it challenges the thinking of the majority of South Africa’s political class, emphasizing why it is impossible to redistribute wealth since true wealth lies in the ideas and actions of entrepreneurs!
The problem with Keynesianism
by John Mauldin
“The belief that wealth subsists not in ideas, attitudes, moral codes, and mental disciplines but in identifiable and static things that can be seized and redistributed is the materialist superstition. It stultified the works of Marx and other prophets of violence and envy. It frustrates every socialist revolutionary who imagines that by seizing the so-called means of production he can capture the crucial capital of an economy. It is the undoing of nearly every conglomerateur who believes he can safely enter new industries by buying rather than by learning them. It confounds every bureaucrat who imagines he can buy the fruits of research and development.
“The cost of capturing technology is mastery of the knowledge embodied in the underlying science. The means of entrepreneurs’ production are not land, labour, or capital but minds and hearts….
“Whatever the inequality of incomes, it is dwarfed by the inequality of contributions to human advancement. As the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote, ‘Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances that permit this norm to be exceeded – here and there, now and then – are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of society, the people slip back into abject poverty. This is known as bad luck.’
“President Obama unconsciously confirmed Heinlein’s sardonic view of human nature in a campaign speech in Iowa: ‘We had reversed the recession, avoided depression, got the economy moving again, but over the last six months we’ve had a run of bad luck.’ All progress comes from the creative minority. Even government-financed research and development, outside the results-oriented military, is mostly wasted. Only the contributions of mind, will, and morality are enduring. The most important question for the future of America is how we treat our entrepreneurs. If our government continues to smear, harass, overtax, and oppressively regulate them, we will be dismayed by how swiftly the engines of American prosperity deteriorate. We will be amazed at how quickly American wealth flees to other countries….
“Those most acutely threatened by the abuse of American entrepreneurs are the poor. If the rich are stultified by socialism and crony capitalism, the lower economic classes will suffer the most as the horizons of opportunity close. High tax rates and oppressive regulations do not keep anyone from being rich. They prevent poor people from becoming rich. High tax rates do not redistribute incomes or wealth; they redistribute taxpayers – out of productive investment into overseas tax havens and out of offices and factories into beach resorts and municipal bonds. But if the 1 percent and the 0.1 percent are respected and allowed to risk their wealth – and new rebels are allowed to rise up and challenge them – America will continue to be the land where the last regularly become the first by serving others.”
– George Gilder, Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
– John Maynard Keynes
“Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview – nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.”
– Stephen Jay Gould
I think Lord Keynes himself would appreciate the irony that he has become the defunct economist under whose influence the academic and bureaucratic classes now toil, slaves to what has become as much a religious belief system as it is an economic theory. Men and women who display an appropriate amount of scepticism on all manner of other topics indiscriminately funnel a wide assortment of facts and data through the filter of Keynesianism without ever questioning its basic assumptions. And then some of them go on to prescribe government policies that have profound effects upon the citizens of their nations.
And when those policies create the conditions that engender the income inequality they so righteously oppose, they prescribe more of the same bad medicine. Like 18th-century physicians applying leeches to their patients, they take comfort in the fact that all right-minded and economic scientists and philosophers concur with their recommended treatments.
This week, let’s look at the problems with Keynesianism and examine its impact on income inequality.
Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. What spurred me to undertake this series was a recent paper from two economists (one from the St. Louis Federal Reserve) who are utterly remarkable in their ability to combine more bad economic ideas and research techniques into one paper than anyone else in recent memory.
Their even more remarkable conclusion is that income inequality was the cause of the Great Recession and subsequent lacklustre growth. “Redistributive tax policy” is suggested approvingly. If direct redistribution is not politically possible, then other methods should be tried, the authors say. I’m sure that, given more time and data, the researchers could have used their methodology to ascribe the rise in teenage acne to income inequality as well.
So what is this notorious document? It’s “Inequality, the Great Recession, and Slow Recovery,” by Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari. One could ask whether this is not just one more bad economic paper among many. If so, why should we waste our time on it?
That income inequality stifles growth is not simply the idea of two economists in St. Louis. It is a widely held view that pervades almost the entire academic economics establishment. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been pushing such an idea for some time (along with Paul Krugman, et al.); and a recent IMF paper suggests that slow growth is a direct result of income inequality, simply dismissing any so-called “right-wing” ideas that call into question the authors’ logic or methodology.
The challenge is that the subject of income inequality has now permeated the national dialogue not just in the United States but throughout the developed world. It will shape the coming political contests in the United States. How we describe income inequality and determine its proximate causes will define the boundaries of future economic and social policy. In discussing multiple problems with the Cynamon-Fazzari paper, we have the opportunity to think about how we should actually address income inequality. And hopefully we’ll steer away from simplistic answers that conveniently mesh with our political biases.
Why Is Economic Theory Important?
Some readers may say, this is all well and good, but it’s just economic theory. How does that matter to our investment portfolios? The direct answer is that economic theory drives the policies of central banks and determines the price of money, and the price of money is fundamental to the prices of all our assets. What central banks do can be either helpful or harmful. Their actions can dampen volatility in the short term while intensifying pressures that distort prices, forming bubbles – which always end in significant reversals, often quite precipitously. (Note that it is not always high asset values that tumble. It is just as possible for central banks to repress the value of some assets to such low levels that they become a coiled spring.)
Central banks have a very limited set of policy tools with which to address crises. While the tools have all sorts of unlikely names, they are essentially limited to manipulating interest rates (the price of money) and flooding the market with liquidity. (Yes, I know that they can impose changes in a few secondary regulatory issues like margins, reserves, etc., but these are not their primary functions.)
The central banks of the US and England are beginning to wind down their extraordinary monetary policies. But whenever the next recession or crisis hits in the US, England, or Europe, their reaction to the problem – and subsequent monetary policy – are going to be based on Keynesian theory. The central bankers will give us more of the same, but it will be in an environment of already low rates and more than adequate liquidity. You need to understand how the theory they’re working from will express itself in the economy and affect your investment portfolio.
I should point out, however, that central banks are not the primary cause of distorted economic policy. They are reacting to the fiscal policies and political realities of their various countries. Japan’s government ran up the largest government debt-to-equity ratio in modern times; and now, as a result, the Japanese Central Bank is forced to monetize that debt.
Leverage and the distorted price of money have been at the root of almost every bubble in the post-war world. It is tempting to veer off into a soliloquy on the history of the problems leverage creates, but let’s forbear for now and deal with Keynesian thinking about income inequality.
The Problem with Keynesianism
Let’s start with a classic definition of Keynesianism from Wikipedia, so that we can all be comfortable that I’m not colouring the definition with my own bias (and, yes, I admit I have a bias). (Emphasis mine.)
Keynesian economics (or Keynesianism) is the view that in the short run, especially during recessions, economic output is strongly influenced by aggregate demand (total spending in the economy). In the Keynesian view, aggregate demand does not necessarily equal the productive capacity of the economy; instead, it is influenced by a host of factors and sometimes behaves erratically, affecting production, employment, and inflation.
The theories forming the basis of Keynesian economics were first presented by the British economist John Maynard Keynes in his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, during the Great Depression. Keynes contrasted his approach to the aggregate supply-focused “classical” economics that preceded his book. The interpretations of Keynes that followed are contentious, and several schools of economic thought claim his legacy.
Keynesian economists often argue that private sector decisions sometimes lead to inefficient macroeconomic outcomes which require active policy responses by the public sector, in particular, monetary policy actions by the central bank and fiscal policy actions by the government, in order to stabilize output over the business cycle. Keynesian economics advocates a mixed economy – predominantly private sector, but with a role for government intervention during recessions.
(Before I launch into a critique of Keynesianism, let me point out that I find much to admire in the thinking of John Maynard Keynes. He was a great economist and taught us a great deal. Further, and this is important, my critique is simplistic. A proper examination of the problems with Keynesianism would require a lengthy paper or a book. We are just skimming along the surface and don’t have time for a deep dive.)
Central banks around the world and much of academia have been totally captured by Keynesian thinking. In the current avant-garde world of neo-Keynesianism, consumer demand –consumption – is everything. Federal Reserve monetary policy is clearly driven by the desire to stimulate demand through lower interest rates and easy money.
And Keynesian economists (of all stripes) want fiscal policy (essentially, the budgets of governments) to increase consumer demand. If the consumer can’t do it, the reasoning goes, then the government should step in and fill the breach. This of course requires deficit spending and the borrowing of money (including from your local central bank).
Essentially, when a central bank lowers interest rates, it is trying to make it easier for banks to lend money to businesses and for consumers to borrow money to spend. Economists like to see the government commit to fiscal stimulus at the same time, as well. They point to the numerous recessions that have ended after fiscal stimulus and lower rates were applied. They see the ending of recessions as proof that Keynesian doctrine works.
There are several problems with this line of thinking. First, using leverage (borrowed money) to stimulate spending today must by definition lower consumption in the future. Debt is future consumption denied or future consumption brought forward. Keynesian economists would argue that if you bring just enough future consumption into the present to stimulate positive growth, then that present “good” is worth the future drag on consumption, as long as there is still positive growth. Leverage just evens out the ups and downs. There is a certain logic to this, of course, which is why it is such a widespread belief.
Keynes argued, however, that money borrowed to alleviate recession should be repaid when growth resumes. My reading of Keynes does not suggest that he believed in the continual fiscal stimulus encouraged by his disciples and by the cohort that are called neo-Keynesians.
Secondly, as has been well documented by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, there comes a point at which too much leverage on both private and government debt becomes destructive. There is no exact number or way of knowing when that point will be reached. It arrives when lenders, typically in the private sector, decide that the borrowers (whether private or government) might have some difficulty in paying back the debt and therefore begin to ask for more interest to compensate them for their risks. An overleveraged economy can’t afford the increase in interest rates, and economic contraction ensues. Sometimes the contraction is severe, and sometimes it can be absorbed. When it is accompanied by the popping of an economic bubble, it is particularly disastrous and can take a decade or longer to work itself out, as the developed world is finding out now.
Every major “economic miracle” since the end of World War II has been a result of leverage. Often this leverage has been accompanied by stimulative fiscal and monetary policies. Every single “miracle” has ended in tears, with the exception of the current recent runaway expansion in China, which is now being called into question. (And this is why so many eyes in the investment world are laser-focused on China. Forget about a hard landing or a recession, a simple slowdown in China has profound effects on the rest of the world.)
I would argue (along, I think, with the “Austrian” economist Hayek and other economic schools) that recessions are not brought on by insufficient consumption but rather by insufficient income. Fiscal and monetary policy should aim to grow incomes over the entire range of the economy, and that is accomplished by increasing production and making it easier for entrepreneurs and businesspeople to provide goods and services. When businesses increase production, they hire more workers and incomes go up.
Without income there are no tax revenues to redistribute. Without income and production, nothing of any economic significance happens. Keynes was correct when he observed that recessions are periods of reduced consumption, but that is a result and not a cause.
Entrepreneurs must be willing to create a product or offer a service in the hope that there will be sufficient demand for their work. There are no guarantees, and they risk economic peril with their ventures, whether we’re talking about the local bakery or hairdressing shop or Elon Musk trying to compete with the world’s largest automakers. If they are hampered in their efforts by government or central bank policies, then the economy stagnates.
Keynesianism is favoured by politicians and academics because it offers a theory by which government actions can become the decisive factor in the economy. It offers a framework whereby governments and central banks can meddle in the economy and feel justified. It allows 12 people sitting in a board room in Washington DC to feel that they are in charge of setting the price of money (interest rates) in a free marketplace and that they know more than the entrepreneurs and businesspeople do who are actually in the market risking their own capital every day.
This is essentially the Platonic philosopher king conceit: the hubristic notion that there is a small group of wise elites that is capable of directing the economic actions of a country, no matter how educated or successful the populace has been on its own. And never mind that the world has multiple clear examples of how central controls eventually slow growth and make things worse over time. It is only when free people are allowed to set their own prices as both buyers and sellers of goods and services and, yes, even interest rates and the price of money, that valid market-clearing prices can be determined. Trying to control those prices results in one group being favoured over another.
In today’s world, the favoured group is almost always bankers and the wealthy class. Savers and entrepreneurs are left to eat the crumbs that fall from the plates of the well-connected crony capitalists and to live off the income from repressed interest rates. The irony of using “cheap money” to try to drive consumer demand is that retirees and savers get less money to spend, and that clearly drives down their consumption. Why is the consumption produced by ballooning debt better than the consumption produced by hard work and savings? This is trickle-down monetary policy, which ironically favours the very large banks and institutions. If you ask Keynesian central bankers if they want to be seen as helping the rich and connected, they will stand back and forcefully tell you “NO!” But that is what happens when you start down the road of financial repression. Someone benefits. So far it has not been Main Street.
And, as we will see as we examine the problems of the economic paper that launched this essay, Keynesianism has given rise to a philosophical framework that justifies the seizure of money from one group of people to give to another group of people. This is a particularly pernicious doctrine, as George Gilder noted in our opening quote:
Those most acutely threatened by the abuse of American entrepreneurs are the poor. If the rich are stultified by socialism and crony capitalism, the lower economic classes will suffer the most as the horizons of opportunity close. High tax rates and oppressive regulations do not keep anyone from being rich. They prevent poor people from becoming rich. High tax rates do not redistribute incomes or wealth; they redistribute taxpayers – out of productive investment into overseas tax havens and out of offices and factories into beach resorts and municipal bonds.
Surprise: You Can’t Spend More Than You Make
First off, let me acknowledge that not everything in the Cynamon-Fazzari paper is wrong. As they analyse the data, they make a number of correct observations. They use a great deal of sophisticated math (seriously) to prove the rather unsurprising conclusion that you can’t spend more than you make. While everyone else in the world had already pretty much assumed that was the case, economists themselves can now rest easy in the knowledge that it’s a mathematical certainty.
The authors demonstrate that there is a disparity in the growth of incomes between the top 5% and the “bottom” 95%. There is not as big a difference as their data suggests, since they don’t take into account the growing percentage of employment benefits and ignore government support programs; but that’s another story, maybe for next week. Nor do they acknowledge that the percentage of people making over $100,000 (in constant dollars) has essentially doubled in the last 30 years. So yes, there are more people who are better off than before. Far more people have somehow slipped into a very comfortable lifestyle despite the fact that those who are even wealthier are making even higher incomes.
But let’s look at some of the authors’ actual wording and conclusions. First off, this gem:
A thread of macroeconomic thinking, going back at least to Michal Kalecki, identifies a basic challenge arising from growing inequality. This approach begins with the assumption that high-income households (usually associated with profit recipients) spend a lower share of their income than others (typically wage earners). In this case, rising inequality creates a drag on demand that can lead to unemployment and even secular stagnation if demand is not generated from other sources.
Read that paragraph again. And then a third time. I acknowledge that this is a well-established strain of economic thinking, but so is Marxism. Both are wrong. The authors of this paper basically start with the proposition that because those dastardly entrepreneurs and businesspeople (whom they call “profit recipients,” as if profit were a dirty word) actually dare to save some of their money rather than spend it, they are harming the economy. How heartless and thoughtless of them. Don’t they know the economy needs their spending?
It is very difficult for me to believe that this passes as acceptable economic thought in any but socialist circles. For those of you who were forced to endure Economics 101, you may remember that Savings = Investment. In any real-world economic system, you have to have savings in order to have investment in order for the economy to grow. Further, it is blatantly flawed logic to assume that savings don’t become investments, through banks or other intermediaries. Generally, savings are actually leveraged to produce more investments (and thus eventual production and consumption) than if the “profit recipients” had simply spent the money themselves.
At the heart of the Keynesian conceit we see the conclusion that consumption is better than savings. Yes, I know, I’ve written many a time about Keynes’s Paradox of Thrift: “It is a good thing for individuals to save, but if everybody saves then there is less consumption.” That seems true on the surface and makes for one of those great sound bites that Keynesians are so good at delivering, but it has an inherent flaw. It assumes that savings don’t become investments that increase productivity, which in turn leads to the production of more goods and services, which ultimately creates income, which then creates more demand.
Without savings, nothing happens. Nothing. There has to be capital of some kind from somewhere in order for economic activity to happen. In the last three years productivity has simply fallen off the charts, down by almost 60% from the average of the previous 60 years. This is a continuation of a trend that began with a decrease in savings. Productivity growth is ultimately a product of savings, and it is productivity growth that will generate an increase in income for the country as a whole. While the topic deserves an entire letter of its own, it may be enough to state here that there are consequences to the fact that savings are close to an all-time low.
A static economy does not produce an increase in either overall income or wealth. It is only an economy that is growing as a result of a healthy level of savings and investment that can produce the results that Keynesian economists want: increased incomes for everyone. (And yes, I acknowledge, as I have in previous letters, that income distribution has been increasingly uneven in recent decades; but I contend that this is the fault of government policy, not the market.)
Your typical Keynesian economist is not willing to wait a reasonable period of time for savings to become investment. Such people, and the politicians they serve, want results today. And the only way to get results today is to get people to spend today, while the process of saving and investing takes time. Neo-Keynesian economists are ultimately teenage children who want the pleasure of spending and consuming today rather than thinking about the future. And I won’t even go into the burden we are placing on future generations by borrowing money to goose our current economy and expecting them to pay that money back so that we can have our party today. We are building toward a future intergenerational war that is going to be very intense once our children learn how we have misspent their future. But that’s yet another letter. Back to our current topic.
Cynamon and Fazzari note that a rising debt-to-income ratio is accompanied by rising asset prices (home values, for instance). According to them,
This evidence shows that the financial choices of the bottom 95 percent in response to the rise in inequality that began in the early 1980s were unsustainable. Balance sheets cannot deteriorate indefinitely; the “Minsky Moment” that marked the end of rising balance sheet fragility occurred on the eve of the Great Recession. Lending was cut off to the bottom 95 percent, home price growth stalled and then declined. The crisis had begun.… This result provides empirical support for the widely held view that, other things equal, rising inequality will create a drag on consumption spending.
Really? On page 6 they state that “U.S. aggregate demand growth was not excessive before the recession,” yet they clearly understand that the spending of the “bottom” 95% was fuelled by increasing debt borrowed against rising home values. Still, they decry the fact that “Lending was cut off to the bottom 95 percent, home price growth stalled and then declined.”
Actually, I think the sequence was: home price growth began to falter; it became evident that the mortgage industry was rife with corruption and fraud (from top to bottom with the complicity of the regulators and, even worse, the rating agencies); and then lending was cut off. If memory serves correctly, it was cut off to damn near everyone. There was a reason that significant assets were selling for dimes on the dollar.
Rising inequality did not create a drag on consumer spending. Too much debt and leverage created a bubble in spending that was unsustainable. It was easy-money policies, low interest rates, and regulatory failure that created the problem. The “drag on consumer spending” was the result of too much borrowing and a bubble and not the result of an inability to borrow.
How can one state with a straight face that aggregate demand growth was not excessive before the recession? In what alternative universe were the authors living? It was clearly a bubble and unsustainable. There were numerous authorities – with the exception of economists and the Federal Reserve, of course – who said so. Even someone as generally clueless as your humble analyst (at least that’s my kids’ opinion) said so least a few dozen times in the years preceding the crisis.
The second in a new series in The Investor
by Richard Cluver
It is time to take my readers on a new journey, one that is intended to make you proficient in the rapidly-growing science of share market technical analysis. The latter is the accepted term used by share market analysts to describe the graphic study of price movements of traded securities, shares, gilts, commodities and futures and, wherever possible, the volumes in which they are traded. Collectively these two pieces of information can provide investors with a startlingly accurate means of foretelling the future direction of individual securities and of markets as a whole.
Once dismissed by serious analysts as something closely akin to witch-doctory with results that were on average not very reliable, technical analysis has grown into one of the most favoured doctrines of the modern analyst.
Part of its once unfavourable reputation had a lot to do with the time-consuming requirements of calculating the data and creating charts, a fact that obviously deterred all but a determined few. Not until the advent, of increasingly powerful personal computers and a plethora of software to drive them, was it really possible to achieve accurate and reliable predictions.
Without the ability of computers to systematically work their way through enormous quantities of data in a sequence of extremely complex calculations, it would not have been practical, for example, to create the three indicators which occur by default within my own ShareFinder 6 suite of software and which are responsible for its record-breaking predictive accuracy: Fourier Transforms, the Mass Indicator of price-volume analysis and the Velocity Indicator which measures price movement.
Looking a week ahead, one can now with reasonable confidence assume that a comprehensive technical analysis of both markets and individual security movements can yield accuracy rates of close to 90 per cent.
Inevitably there is a quite rapid fall off in the accuracy rate the further one attempts to project such forecasts into the future. Nevertheless it is quite possible to make forecasts of a generalised nature of up to two years and sometimes more and to be able to place probabilities of better than 50 per cent upon the accuracy of the outcome.
The result must consequently represent one of the most astonishingly profitable situations available to modern man. Obviously, as the statistics I have mentioned must heavily underscore, an element of risk does remain. Provided, however, investors take the precaution of spreading their investments across a spectrum of top quality securities and, furthermore, use futures techniques to hedge their bets, they can today virtually guarantee themselves substantial capital profits.
The Main analysis categories
Broadly speaking, technical analysis falls into eleven main categories:
1) Moving Average Analysis is a system that averages data in order to eliminate day to day statistical noise. It is more a stop-loss process than a predictive indicator for it alerts the user to the fact that a short-term trend is becoming entrenched. Used properly then, the many different variations upon this theme collectively provide a very valuable tool to alert an investor to the need to sell out before a bear market really gets going and to buy in at the start of a new bull market.
2) Smoothing is a process that really should be seen as a twin brother of moving average analysis for it is usually used to highlight a change of market trend and is broadly interpreted in the same way as are moving averages. One of its chief advantages is that it can often be more reactive than the process of averaging. This latter fact can, however, also create as many drawbacks as it offers advantages.
3) Relative Strength Analysis is used more as a system to sort out the latest winners and losers than as a predictive tool. Nevertheless it can also be used to alert investors to changing trends.
4) Trend Analysis recognises that notwithstanding frequently-recurring up and down price movements, there is generally an underlying medium or long-term trend that can be relied upon to continue for months, years and sometimes even decades.
5) Cyclical Analysis attempts to identify regularly-recurring cycles during which the prices of shares, stocks and commodities move from a price peak to a low and back again.
6) Wave Analysis is closely related to cyclical analysis. Until the advent of computers it could not be practically applied for it takes the view that the actual wave patterns of the marketplace tend, with harmonic variations, to regularly recur. If, in other words, you can teach a computer to hum the myriad sounds that make up the great symphony that is the world’s marketplaces collectively at work, it can similarly be made to hum that tune some time into the future.
7) Momentum Analysis studies the velocity of price movement, taking the logical view that even though a price might be rising, if the rate of that rise is slowing down it will eventually run out of steam. One can thus with reasonable accuracy predict the point at which a price rise will end; at which in the absence of any new stimulus it is probable that a downward cycle will assert itself.
8) Volume-Related Analysis brings an interesting aspect of market~place psychology to bear upon future prediction, enabling the user to identify signs of both accumulative-buying that often anticipates a sudden price rise and, the converse, systematic dispersal-selling which just as frequently anticipates a sharp fall in price.
9) Cocktails are my own term for a whole host of indicator composites that have been developed in recent years to combine the best attributes of the indicators and processes I have already mentioned to yield highly specialised indicators. Some of the best are truly outstanding and, in my opinion, this is clearly where a considerable portion of the future development of share market analysis will lie.
10) Point and Figure charting is a system which eliminates time as a linear factor from the graph process, relying instead upon price directional changes to create identifiable graphic
11) Candlesticks are an interesting variation upon the point and figure concept which provides a means of displaying both the extent of daily price movement, opening and closing prices and the total volume traded all in one graph
National income accounts: Challenges – and some helpful responses
By Brian Kantor
The SA national income accounts – updated to 2013 – indicate the challenges facing the economy and helpful responses being made by some of the important economic actors.
The better, if not exactly comforting, news from the SA Reserve Bank’s March 2014 Quarterly Bulletin, about the economy in 2013, is that export revenues (in current rands) picked up and are now growing a little faster than imports, having lagged well behind imports in recent years.
This smaller difference between imports and exports in Q4 2013 added significantly to GDP, which was 3.8% larger in Q4 than a year ago.
Dragging down expenditure and GDP growth in Q4 2013 was an extraordinary run down in inventories that were estimated to have declined by as much as R22.3bn in constant prices. The improved trade balance added 7.8% to Q4 growth, while the decline in inventories reduced Q4 growth by 5.2%.
The decreased level of inventories, with high import content, would have helped improve the balance of foreign trade. But the reduced demand for goods held on the shelves and in the warehouses may well reflect less confidence by the business sector in the growth outlook. Such a lack of confidence would also reveal itself in an increase in the dividends paid out to shareholders of SA companies, including to the increased proportion of foreign owners on the share registers of SA companies. Dividends paid to foreign shareholders went up sharply in 2013 while dividends received by SA shareholders in offshore companies declined as sharply, adding to the current account deficit.
The current account deficit, seasonally adjusted, nevertheless declined sharply from an annual rate of R215.8bn in Q3 2013
to R178.9bn in Q4, while the trade deficit declined from an annual rate of R114bn in Q3 to R62.6bn in Q4. The estimated actual current account deficit in Q4 was R36bn, down from R61bn in Q3, 2013.
Slow growth may well mean a surplus on trade and a smaller current account deficit and thus less dependence on foreign capital. Such trends should not be regarded as good economic news, although perhaps it is welcome to foreign investors concerned about the dependence of the economy on foreign capital, given that foreign capital has become more risk averse in recent months.
Between 1995 and 2003, when the economy grew slowly, the current account was balanced and the economy accordingly attracted very little foreign capital. The same pattern held more recently after the economy slowed down in 2009. The economy grew much faster between 2003 and 2008 because it could attract foreign capital and the current account deficit could widen. Surely faster growth made possible by foreign capital is to be preferred to slow growth arising out of fear that foreign capital may be withdrawn or become more expensive.
There is a virtuous economic circle for the SA economy. Demonstrate faster growth, promise higher returns to investors, and capital from both domestic and foreign sources will be made readily available to any business enterprise. The faster the rate of growth, the better the case businesses have to add to the productive stock of real capital, plant and equipment, to hire more workers and managers and with company investments in training, to help the work force to become more skilled and efficient and so capable of earning more. Growth leads and capital follows.
The major challenge faced by the SA economy is that the growth rates have slowed down recently, mostly for reasons of our own making. SA has a structural growth problem, not a structural balance of payments problem. Grow faster and the balance of payments will sort itself out.
But the growth issues facing the economy have been exacerbated because foreign capital has become more expensive since May 2013 for reasons largely beyond SA’s influence. This has led to a weaker exchange rate and upward pressure on prices further depressing already slow growth in real consumption spending. These price trends in turn raise the danger that interest rates will be set higher, again further depressing domestic spending and reducing prospective growth rates and the business case for adding to capacity. These expectations of weaker growth discourage capital inflows and may lead to a still weaker rand, which is anything but a virtuous economic circle.
The scope for an economic revival in SA, led by households, is limited, given the recessionary state of the formal labour market and so the income constrained limits to the growth in household credit. It would seem realistic to predict that faster growth in SA over the next few years could only be led by a surge in exports. A stronger global economy and higher prices for the metals and minerals we produce and export is a necessary condition for an export led recovery. Continuous production by the mines and factories is also necessary for greater export revenues and volumes. These were not possible in 2012 and 2013, given the pervasive strikes that reduced output from the mines and factories.
Hopefully the business sector could “come to the party” as the Minister of Finance invited business to do in his recent Budget speech. In this regard the good news suggested by the updated National Income Accounts is that the business sector (represented by the National Income Accounts for non-financial corporations, including the publically owned corporations, Eskom and Transnet) have indeed dressed up their performance. SA corporations increased their capital expenditures in 2013 and proved willing to fund their larger capital budgets by raising additional debt finance on a significant scale, despite deteriorating cash flows, represented in the figure below by Gross Corporate Savings.
But the same statistics indicate one of the structural weaknesses of the SA economy – a low domestic savings rate compared to a higher rate of capital formation. Hence a funding gap that can only be overcome by use of foreign savings. (See the figure below that indicates gross savings and capital formation rates in SA).
The figure also indicates that almost all the savings made in SA are made by the corporate sector in the form of retained cash. The government and household sector contribute little to the savings pool.
That the rate of capital formation is greater than the savings rate is surely a positive indicator for the economy. With economic growth the primary objective of economic policy, a slower pace of capital formation in SA would surely not be recommended. Such advice would be equivalent to advocating a structurally smaller current account deficit, since the difference between capital formation and gross savings is by definition the current account deficit and also the net foreign capital flows. Such advice is often loosely given without proper regard for its implications for economic growth.
Attempts to encourage a higher rate of domestic savings might make good economic sense. Significantly increased savings are however unlikely to be forthcoming from SA households. Achieving a higher gross savings rate would for all practical purposes require a willingness to tax corporate earnings at a lower effective rate so that they could save and invest more.
Lower taxes on corporate income would have to be accompanied by higher taxes on personal incomes and household spending. This is a change in the tax structure that does not appear politically possible, given also a presumed unchanged government propensity to spend. In the absence of any higher propensity to save, the path forward for the SA economy remains as it has been. Grow faster to attract savings from global capital markets and do what it takes to encourage business to grow faster so that they can attract more capital from abroad.
SARB Quarterly Bulletin update: Evidence of continued deterioration in the financial health of South African households builds ahead of the March MPC meeting
By Annabel Bishop, Investec Group’s chief economist
With the first quarter of 2014 drawing to a close, the SA Reserve Bank published key Q4.13 data yesterday relating to the current account deficit, fixed investment and household consumption expenditure, debt and disposable incomes.
The Quarterly Bulletin shows that the current account deficit narrowed to 5.1%, from a revised 6.4% of GDP in Q3.13, while fixed investment real growth decelerated in Q4.13 driven by slower capex spend in the private sector and real growth in household consumption expenditure slowed further. The outcome is indicative of a continued slowdown in underlying real economic domestic demand.
Household finances continue to undergo consolidation in an environment of slowing growth in real disposable incomes. This underpinned the slowdown in household consumption expenditure growth to 2.0% qqsaa from 2.1% qqsaa and household debt as a % of disposable income dropped to 74.3% in Q4.13 from a revised 75% in Q3.13. Indeed, for 2013 as a whole, real growth in disposable income of households has fallen substantially, from 3.9% y/y to 2.5% y/y, underlining the increasing vulnerability of consumers’ financial health.
The interest rate hike of January 2014 has clearly not yet had an impact, but will contribute to further frailty in consumer finances over 2014, along with the expected further 50bp tightening later in the year. Tighter lending conditions in 2013 and a higher cost of living saw household spending on durable and semi-durable goods (which includes household appliances and clothing and footwear) slow meaningfully. The acceleration in the growth of spend on services is concomitant with the high rate (8.7% y/y average for 2013) of state administered prices such as electricity and water tariffs and property rates and taxes.
The rand has not strengthened in reaction to the recorded improvement in SA’s Q4.13 current account, weakening instead in line with other emerging markets as Ukraine/Russian tensions were perceived to escalate, causing a switch to risk-off investment behaviour globally. The rand is highly liquid, with a net turnover (excluding interbank trading) of US$22bn a day as South Africa’s financial markets are deep and liquid, and this has seen the rand weaken as it is often used as a proxy for emerging market currency trades.
The marked improvement in the current account balance in the fourth quarter of 2013 was mainly due to a substantial decrease in the value of merchandise imports. The value of imported goods receded by R37bn. The lower import value of merchandise goods was mainly due to a drop in the value of manufactured imports, as pronounced decreases were registered in especially the categories for machinery and electrical equipment, and vehicles and transport equipment – the value of machinery and electrical equipment had surged in the preceding quarter.
Import contracts are set months in advance and the strike action in the automotive sector in Q3.13 will have reduced import demand for automotive components in Q4.13, thereby reducing both the trade and current account deficits in Q4.13. The cessation of strikes saw exports improve in Q4.13, with the production of these exports utilizing previously imported inputs and running down inventories. Q1.14 is likely to see a marked widening of the current account and trade deficits as imports of automotive components for assem