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  • The Dismal Science Really Is

    There's a reason economics is called the dismal science, and weeks like this just give it further meaning. In economics, there is what you see and what you don't see. This week we are going to look at the headline data we see and take a look at what most observers do not see. Then we will try and think about what it really means. With employment, housing and the ISM numbers, there is a lot to cover. And this letter will print out longer than usual as there are a lot of charts. Warning: remove sharp objects from the vicinity and pour yourself your favorite adult beverage. This does not make for fun reading.

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  • The Case for a Fed Rate Hike

    Everywhere there are arguments that we are in a 'V'-shaped recovery. And there are signs that in fact that is the case. Today we will look at some of those, and then take up the topic of when the Fed will raise rates. We open the case and look at the evidence. Is there enough to come to a real conviction? I think there is. (And at the end of the letter I mention two conferences I am speaking at in the next few months, in Vancouver and San Francisco.)

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  • Elements of Deflation, Part 2

    Just as water is formed by the basic elements hydrogen and oxygen, deflation has its own fundamental components. Last week we started exploring those elements, and this week we continue. I feel that the most fundamental of decisions we face in building investment portfolios is correctly deciding whether we are faced with inflation or deflation in our future. (And I tell you later on when to worry about inflation.) Most investments behave quite differently depending on whether we are in a deflationary or inflationary environment. Get this answer wrong and it could rise up to bite you.

    The problem is that there is not an easy answer. In fact, the answer is that it could be both. Today I got another letter from Peter Schiff, who seems to be ubiquitous. He says the rise in gold is because of rising inflation expectations among investors. Gold is predicting inflation. Maybe, but the correlation between gold and inflation for the last 25-plus years has been zero. I rather think that gold is rising in terms of value against most major fiat (paper) currencies because it is seen as a neutral currency. The Fed and the Obama administration seem to be pursuing policies that are dollar-negative, and they give no hint of letting up. The rise in gold above $1,000 does not really tell us anything about the future of inflation.

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  • The Velocity Factor

    A severe global recession will lead to deflationary pressures. Falling demand will lead to lower inflation as companies cut prices to reduce excess inventory. Slack in labour markets from rising unemployment will control labor costs and wage growth. Further slack in commodity markets as prices fall will lead to sharply lower inflation. Thus inflation in advanced economies will fall towards the 1 per cent level that leads to concerns about deflation. Deflation is dangerous as it leads to a liquidity trap, a deflation trap and a debt deflation trap: nominal policy rates cannot fall below zero and thus monetary policy becomes ineffective. We are already in this liquidity trap since the Fed funds target rate is still 1 per cent but the effective one is close to zero as the Federal Reserve has flooded the financial system with liquidity; and by early 2009 the target Fed funds rate will formally hit 0 per cent. Also, in deflation the fall in prices means the real cost of capital is high - despite policy rates close to zero - leading to further falls in consumption and investment....
  • The Velocity Of Money

    The late and great Milton Friedman told us that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. But there is an asterisk to his equation that we need to examine, namely, the velocity of money. Sometimes a fast-growing money supply is not as inflationary as you might think. Then we will take quick looks at why the banking sector is in for more and larger rounds of write-offs, as well as note that the housing industry is in a hole but is gamely digging itself deeper....
  • The Last Bear Standing

    Introduction This week we look at the growing disconnect between the US economy and the stock markets. One is slowing and the other is exploding to the upside. One of my mentors once said that it is the duty of the markets to prove the most-possible people...