Saturday, March 18, 2017

Fed manipulation vs. economic stagflation: who will win the future over gold and stocks

Going back to at least 2008, if not further back into the 1990's and the Dot Com bubble, markets have no longer run on fundamentals and technicals, but rather on central bank and sovereign manipulations.  And all one has to do is look at the fact that despite corporate earnings declining for seven straight quarters, and most like an eighth here in 2017 Q1, the Dow has not only surpassed 20,000, but its acceleration to 21,000 was the fastest in history.

And now this breaking of market fundamentals by the central banks through their keeping interest rates down to near zero for 10+ years and infusing Wall Street with tens of trillions of dollars in credit has reached a crisis point, and a place where the Fed no longer has control over economic forces.  For the inflation they strove so hard to create in asset prices has now broken through into every facet of the economy, and has returned a monster from the that required extraordinary means to defeat.

Stagflation.

Image result for stagflation monster

In the late 1970's the economy reacted to the U.S. removing the monetary system from the Gold Standard and instituting a new Oil Standard (Petrodollar) by opening the door to massive inflation thanks in part to Henry Kissinger's agreement with OPEC that allowed for the price of oil to be raised.  And this then also allowed the U.S. monetary base to expand by that same amount and more to supply the world with dollars to be able to purchase energy.

This huge increase in the monetary base coupled with the economic slowdown of the middle to late 70's created the then unknown environment that would be labeled as Stagflation.  Stagflation of course is where you have slowing growth coupled with rising inflation.

To defeat this economic dragon, Federal Reserve President and later Chairman Paul Volker had to raise interest rates first from 9% in 1978, to its final top of around 20% in 1981.  And it was only from this that Stagflation was able to be crushed.

But unfortunately today the Fed has no possibility of doing a repeat of this since they and the U.S. government have pushed themselves into a corner by accumulating extraordinary debt.  In 1981 the national debt was around $500 billion, and the Fed's balance sheet was nary a blip on the radar.  However today the U.S. debt is now just under $20 trillion, and the Fed has debt based holdings of over $4.8 trillion making it impossible for them to raise interest rates of any substance since the interest alone on those obligations would bankrupt the country when they are rolled over at higher borrowing costs.

So what does this mean for the economy, for stock markets, for inflation projections, and perhaps the one asset we have yet to mention in this mirror world of 40 years ago?

When stagflation hit the economy beginning in the middle 1970's the one asset that excelled during that time was gold.  Gold went from $106.43 in 1973 (the year of the Petrodollar agreement) to over $850 at its peak in 1980.  This was a rise of 800% in just seven years.

1980
$594.90
29.61%
1979
$459.00
120.57%
1978
$208.10
29.17%
1977
$161.10
20.43%
1976
$133.77
-3.96%
1975
$139.29
-24.20%
1974
$183.77
72.59%
1973
$106.48
66.79%

Looking back in hindsight, Chairman Volker later lamented that the one thing he wished he done differently during the central bank's battle to fight stagflation was to manipulate the rising price in gold, which had acted as a barometer against the dollar, and was a much better safe haven than investors trusting in U.S. Treasuries.  And it was this lesson that Ben Bernanke, and now under Janet Yellen, that the Fed would not forego during their implementation of monetary policies that would inevitably lead us back into the straits we are in today.

Thus we are now at a crossroads since Stagflation has returned with a vengeance and the Fed has little if any ammunition to counter it.  And it is for this reason alone that the real asset winner going forward will be gold over stocks, and we may have seen this start last Wednesday when the Fed's latest rate hike resulted in not even a pothole that slowed down either inflation, or the strong rise in the gold price.

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