Coronavirus Slams Chinese Economy

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How bad is the coronavirus pandemic in China? It’s worse than the Chinese government knows and worse than the world believes.

Here are the official statistics on the coronavirus (technically COVID-19) as of today: There are 75,685 confirmed infections worldwide, with 98% of that total in China alone. Of those cases, 82.5% are in the single province of Hubei, mostly centered in the city of Wuhan, with 11 million residents.

Of the over 75,000 worldwide cases, there have been 2,236 deaths; that’s a mortality rate of roughly 2.5%. If a 2.5% mortality rate sounds low, it’s not. That’s roughly comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919–20 that killed 50 million people by some estimates.

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Coronavirus has reached pandemic proportions in China. Over 60 million people are locked down, which means they cannot leave their homes except once every three days to buy groceries. Streets are empty, stores are closed, trains and planes are not operating. The Chinese economy is slowly grinding to a halt.

While the disease has been predominately centered in China, and Wuhan in particular, there have been significant outbreaks in Singapore (58 cases), Hong Kong (56 cases), Thailand (33 cases) and Japan (29 cases including one fatality). Approximately 218 cases have been identified among those trapped on cruise ships where all passengers are under quarantine. Fifteen cases have been identified in the United States.

These statistics barely scratch the surface of what is happening with coronavirus in China. There is good reason to believe that the actual incidence of the virus may be five–10 times the official numbers.

Tencent (a popular internet search and social media platform in China) reported on Feb. 1, 2020, that actual infections were 154,000 and deaths from the disease were 24,589. (A screenshot of the Tencent release is shown below; source: Taiwan News).

The infection figure was approximately 10 times what the official figure was on the same date.

The death toll was more than 300 times the official figure. Applying this death toll to total infections gives a fatality rate of 16%, which is over seven times the official fatality rate.

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There is no reason for a high-profile platform such as Tencent either to fabricate data or incite panic. It is reasonable to conclude that these figures are close to actual data. The Tencent posting was suppressed by the Chinese government within minutes of what may have been an accidental release of accurate data.

The preeminent U.K. medical journal The Lancet also published an article on Jan. 31, 2020, using hard data (city populations, incidence of travel, estimated transmissibility, etc.) and a reliable SEIR model (susceptible, exposed, infected, resistant).

That article estimated total infections of 75,815 in Wuhan as of Jan. 25. That figure is 17 times the official figure of 4,400 available on Jan. 27. The multiple of the estimate by The Lancet to the official figure is roughly in line with the multiple of the Tencent release to official data five days later.

Using either The Lancet or Tencent as a baseline suggests that the official infection and death rates are grossly understated.

Anecdotal evidence is consistent with the view that official data are materially understated.

Many bodies have been picked up off the streets and sent for cremation without blood samples or autopsies. It is highly likely that these victims died from coronavirus but are not included in official counts because no tests were performed.

Authorities are running out of body bags and refrigerated trucks, so bodies are simply being wrapped in plastic sheets and hauled away in ordinary vans.

A shortage of face masks, latex gloves and testing kits has also emerged. This means that doctors and medical personnel are highly susceptible to infection. It also means that patients who complain of fever and difficulty breathing are sent away because officials have no way to test them for coronavirus.

These developments simultaneously inflate the number of infected and deflate the official count.

The story gets worse. Wuhan, the city that is ground zero for coronavirus infections, is also the location of the sole bioweapons laboratory for the Chinese military and Chinese Communist Party.

One of the scientists at the laboratory is Zhengli Shi, a virologist. Shi formerly worked at a laboratory at the University of North Carolina, where he engineered a hypervirulent bat-based coronavirus that bears a striking resemblance to the COVID-19 coronavirus, including gene sequences not found in nature.

These linkages at least suggest that the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan may be linked to an accidental release of the virus from the biological weapons laboratory located there.

If this thesis is correct, the coronavirus may be difficult to contain with vaccines or drug therapies since it would have been engineered to be highly resistant to such treatments.

What impact will the coronavirus pandemic have on the Chinese economy and global supply chains, especially in the technology sector?

Right now my models are telling me that the impact of coronavirus on the Chinese economy is orders of magnitude greater than most analysts estimate. In fact, the Chinese economy, second largest in the world, may be grinding to a halt.

The following excerpt from an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph on Feb. 12, 2020, tells the tale:

Property sales in 30 big cities released every day… have collapsed to zero and have yet to show a flicker of life.

Property is a slow-burn issue compared to ruptured manufacturing supply chains, but by March it will start to bite for developers with dollar debts on Hong Kong’s funding market. Companies deemed “stressed” (borrowing costs above 15%) have to repay $2.1 billion of offshore dollar notes next month. Standard & Poor’s says they rely on a constant flow of sales to cover past debts.

Some 25 provinces and municipalities were supposed to go back to work this week but this clashed head on with virus control measures. Companies may not reopen plants unless they can track the exact movements and medical data of each worker and comply with a 14-day quarantine period where necessary (we now learn the incubation may in fact be 24 days). Officials dare not be lenient after Xi Jinping’s latest tirade.

The Guangzhou authorities have ordered plants to remain closed until early March in large parts of the city with warnings of ferocious penalties. Apple supplier Foxconn has yet to restart its core iPhone plants in Zhengzhou and Shenzhen. Just 10% of its workers have turned up. Caixin reports that Foxconn may wait until March before restarting.

Meanwhile the near complete shutdown of Shanghai’s manufacturing hub in Songjiang belied early claims that 70% of plants were going back to work.

This article contains valuable vignettes of what is happening in China, but they barely scratch the surface. An even bigger story is the extent to which the disruption in China from coronavirus is not only slowing the Chinese economy but is also disrupting global supply chains and slowing output around the world.

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This chart prepared by the Johns Hopkins University based on official data provided by China and other nations shows the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection as of Feb. 14, 2020 (orange line). Wall Street was encouraged by a prior update that showed 44,700 confirmed cases. Then cases increased by over 15,000 in a single update. The resulting near-vertical slope of the graph blew up Wall Street wishful thinking and triggered a downdraft in stock markets worldwide. As of Feb. 15, confirmed cases had increased to 64,447. The pandemic is far from under control and spreading quickly.

Production shutdowns in China are reducing exports of high-tech inputs from South Korea, Japan and Germany. Likewise, the extreme reductions in exports from China (due to plant closures) are hurting sales by European and U.S. distributors and retail outlets.

Independent of production and sales bottlenecks, there are massive transportation bottlenecks as vessels and crews are quarantined or refuse to enter Chinese ports at all.

The tech sector may be the hardest hit of all. In addition to coronavirus disruption, the U.S. Department of Justice last week indicted China’s largest telecommunications device and network provider, Huawei, on racketeering charges.

The Pentagon also reversed a prior determination and agreed that the Commerce Department can put Huawei on an export control list, which prohibits sales of processors and other high-tech components to Huawei by U.S. firms.

These measures are certain to invite retaliation by China against U.S. firms in the tech supply chain.

This story isn’t going away anytime soon.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Not Over by a Long Shot

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Are you tired of hearing about the coronavirus? Well, you shouldn’t be because it’s a serious situation with global consequences.

Markets have been following the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) closely for good reason.

The Chinese economy, second largest in the world, is shutting down in stages. In affected areas, streets are empty, stores are closed, planes and trains are not running.

Over 60 million people are “locked down,” which means they are confined to their homes and can only leave once every three days to buy groceries (if they can find any due to hoarding).

The effects go far beyond China because of global supply chains. If Chinese factories are closed, they are not buying components from South Korea, Japan and Germany. Likewise, if Chinese factories are closed, they cannot supply finished goods to U.S. buyers.

The result is that factories and sales are also slowing in developed economies.

Still, markets are taking a measured view. Some epidemic models showed the disease would peak in April 2020 and tail off quickly from there.

The other assumption was that any dip in the Chinese economy would be made up later in the year so that the total impact would be minimal when viewed on an annual basis.

All of those assumptions were blown-up in a matter of minutes in the late evening of Wednesday, Feb. 12.

In a single update, 14,840 new infections were reported, moving the total from 45,000 to about 60,000 cases.

This did not mean that 14,840 people were infected in one day.

It meant that China suddenly became more transparent and decided to include existing cases using more valid diagnostic criteria.

But the change did move the official statistics closer to the amount shown in a leak on Tencent (that showed about 150,000 infections) and a Lancet (a preeminent medical journal) model-based input that also estimated about 150,000 cases.

Officially, China has reported 118 new deaths, bringing the number of (official) deaths nationwide to at 2,236.

China has also reported 1,109 new confirmed cases, dramatically up from 349 cases the previous day.

And now, for the third time in eight days and the second time in 24 hours, Chinese officials made changes to how they count coronavirus cases.

When asked if he thought the virus will be contained, World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The window of opportunity is narrowing, so we need to act quickly before it closes completely.”

The bottom line is that the disease is worse than Wall Street believed, the economic damage is greater and it will take longer to get the disease under control. Stock prices fell after the news was reported.

As more bad news dribbles out, that stock price adjustment has further to fall.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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2020 Forecast for Markets & Elections

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Just because impeachment is almost over and it’s an election year does not mean that Congress won’t be the scene of anti-Trump activity. Congress is set to keep up the pressure on Trump on a daily basis, and the attacks will continue.

Investors should not be shocked if the House impeaches Trump a second time.

There’s no legal limit on the number of times a president can be impeached or the number of articles of impeachment that can move forward. The House impeached Trump in 2019 on bogus claims that aren’t even crimes. If they did it once, they can do it again.

Some of the new charges being floated include whether it was legal for Trump to order the killing of mastermind terrorist Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The killing was clearly legal since Soleimani had officially been declared a “terrorist” under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act (AUMF) and Iran had been declared a state sponsor of terrorism.

Both designations allowed the U.S. legally to kill a terrorist on foreign soil who was planning terrorist acts against the U.S. Obama had used the same legal rationale to kill hundreds of terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Still, Democrats are claiming that this was an “assassination,” which is illegal under U.S. law. You can expect congressional hearings and possible impeachment charges along these lines this spring.

Another potential impeachable offensive consists of violations of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution alleging that Trump profits when foreign diplomats stay in his hotels. He doesn’t; Trump returns any revenues to the U.S. Treasury.

The House of Representatives can also be expected to hold hearings on alleged Trump “money laundering” in connection with property development in Russia. There’s no evidence of this, but that won’t stop Democrats from making the allegation.

Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank and its financing of his hotels and other properties including the identities of third-party investors will also come under scrutiny.

Other anti-Trump efforts will include hearings to get testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo related to the Soleimani killing and testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton related to the Ukrainian military aid that triggered the first impeachment.

New matters related to Ukraine are also emerging in connection with reported Russian hacking of Burisma, the Ukrainian company that paid Hunter Biden (Joe Biden’s son) millions of dollars for a no-show job for which he was unqualified.

Somehow Democrat critics of Trump can’t get enough of the Russian collusion allegations, even though the Mueller investigation showed no connection at all between Russia and Trump.

All of these matters (Soleimani, property finance, Ukraine and War Powers in Iran) may form the basis for new articles of impeachment against Trump.

This could play out over the course of the spring and summer just as the campaign season is heating up. This may be designed to stir up the Democrat base, but it will probably have the opposite effect of increasing turnout of Trump supporters.

With or without new articles of impeachment, the congressional hearings, bogus claims and anti-Trump rhetoric will continue without relief. Trump will stay on track, but markets may weary of the uncertainty and be worn down by the hyperbolic rhetoric.

Alongside the drama of impeachment and the scandals yet to be revealed, we still have the economy and stock market for investors to focus on. And right now they’re looking good for Trump.

There is almost zero risk of a recession in the next three months and less than a 20% chance of a recession before November. That’s good news for Trump because a recession (or lack of one) is the single strongest indicator of whether an incumbent president will be reelected.

The probability of Trump’s reelection is roughly the inverse of the probability of a recession before the election. If recession odds are 20%, then Trump’s reelection odds are roughly 80% (with adjustment for various factors).

Each month that goes by reduces the odds of a preelection recession even further, which means that Trump’s reelection odds go up. Trump should have a 90% chance of winning by Election Day absent extreme and unexpected economic shocks in the next nine months.

Trump’s chances are also helped by the weakness of his opponents. Americans have shown no appetite for the kind of socialism being touted by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg lacks African-American support, which is indispensable for a Democrat. Joe Biden lacks energy and is exhibiting some cognitive problems that will raise serious doubts among voters and hurt his debate performance.

What about the Fed?

The Fed will cut interest rates at least once before the election. This rate cut will not happen at the March or April FOMC meetings because that’s too soon after the Fed told markets it was hitting the “pause” button last December.

The rate cut will not happen in the July or September FOMC meetings because that’s too close to the election and the Fed does not want to appear to be tipping the scales in favor of one party or the other. The Fed will be on hold from July until after the election.

Through a simple process of elimination, the Fed will cut rates in June.

The Fed’s reasons for the rate cut (which markets do not expect) will not be explicitly to help Trump’s reelection (although that will be one consequence). The reason will be to provide an insurance policy against disinflation and recession. The Fed knows its hands will be tied until December, so it will provide a rate cut just to be on the safe side.

A June rate cut will give another boost to stocks, which should continue to perform well. As the election approaches and Trump’s victory becomes more apparent, stocks will gather momentum in expectation of four more years of lower taxes, less regulation and a pro-business environment.

Gold will also get a boost from another rate cut. This comes on top of continued strong buying from Russia, China and Iran and flat output by miners. Geopolitics play a big role in gold prices as a “flight to quality” trend emerges during each overseas crisis. The coronavirus has been a major factor that has taken gold past $1,600 an ounce. The next crisis will send gold even further.

But how might this November’s election affect the political balance in Congress?

As things stand today, not only will Trump be reelected but Republicans should hang onto control of the Senate and possibly retake the House of Representatives. Control of the White House and the Senate alone gives Republicans control of judicial appointments (including one or two more Supreme Court Justice seats) and control of treaties.

Retaking the House will be more difficult but not at all impossible. Presidents typically lose seats in the House in their first midterm election after winning the White House. Trump’s losses in 2018 were actually fewer than Clinton’s in 1994 (when Newt Gingrich led Republicans to the majority for the first time since 1955) and Obama’s in 2010 (when the tea party arose to reject Obama’s policies).

There were 31 Democrats elected in 2018 in districts that Trump had won by five or more points in 2016. All but two of those Democrats voted in favor of impeachment. One of those two has since switched to the Republican Party.

Today, the Republican Party holds 197 seats in the House. Control of the House requires 218 seats. The Republicans need a net gain of 21 seats to take control of the House. With 30 highly vulnerable Democrats (because of impeachment) and demonstrated coattails on the part of President Trump, picking up 21 of those 30 seats (while holding all existing seats) seems well within reach.

A Republican clean sweep of the White House, the Senate and the House with ongoing control of the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments is the most likely outcome for November 2020.

But, there will be a lot of land mines exploding between now and then. Call it another year of living dangerously.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Are They Going to Impeach Trump Again?

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The Democratic candidates held another debate last night. Michael Bloomberg took a lot of heat from the others, and he did not handle it well. He showed real weakness for the first time.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, put in a strong performance last night. We’ll have to see if he can generate any momentum from it. After Iowa and New Hampshire, his campaign is in serious trouble.

Speaking of Iowa, they still haven’t resolved that mess…

The Iowa caucus was officially over on Feb. 3. But it’s not over yet and may never be over.

The conduct of the caucus was one of the biggest fiascos in modern political history and the repercussions are still being felt. You probably know the story by now.

A caucus is not a primary election. It’s a physical gathering of voters at about 1,600 precinct locations such as school gyms and similar venues around the state.

That’s a limiting factor right away because many voters don’t have the flexibility to show up at an appointed time and place. Voters organize in groups backing a certain candidate.

An initial count of support for each candidate is taken. Candidates’ groups who have less than 15% of the total are then told they can either go home or switch sides (with less than 15% support you get zero delegates).

Voters then reorganize — for example, a Biden supporter can switch to Liz Warren — and a second count is taken.

That second count is then used in a mathematical formula to assign delegates for the Democratic convention.

The number of delegates for each candidate is not proportional to votes in the second count because some precincts are overweighted. Got it?

Don’t worry; neither does anyone else. That system is nuts. But it gets worse…

A new mobile phone app was created to send in results. The app had never been used in actual voting and it crashed.

Precinct organizers were told to phone in results. The phone lines were jammed and organizers couldn’t get through. That didn’t matter because party officials in the central locations were told to leave their mobile phones outside.

Others could not get online. Some did not know how to use spreadsheets. TV network anchor desks were on the air with nothing to report.

Candidates were robbed of bragging rights, both on caucus night and in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11. Iowa results dribbled out over days in a way that seemed intentionally designed to hurt Bernie Sanders.

Finally, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party resigned in disgrace.

As of now, it is reported that Bernie Sanders won the most votes in the first and second alignments, but Pete Buttigieg got the most delegates because of the quirky math formula.

But even that reported result is not final because a “re-canvass” recount is underway.

The biggest loser was not among the candidates. The biggest loser was the Democratic Party itself.

Commentators were quick to ask how Democrats can run the economy if they can’t even count votes in Iowa. Good question.

But could they be so dumb as to actually try to impeach Trump again?

If the Democrat effort to impeach Trump was grounded in political hatred rather than constitutional law, why would the Democrats not do it again?

The answer is that the impeachment efforts are not stopping.

House Democrats are already planning hearings on Trump’s reassignment of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his firing of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, both of whom provided anti-Trump (but incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial) testimony during Adam Schiff’s unconstitutional impeachment show trial.

Trump also reassigned Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, for subversive activities in the National Security Council.

Other avenues of anti-Trump inquiry include an expected appeals court ruling that may require testimony from former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn, further inquiry into Russian collusion allegations (the hoax that won’t die), possible violations of the Emoluments Clause (despite court rulings dismissing partisan lawsuits against Trump) and pursuit of testimony from John Bolton that was not part of the Senate trial.

In short, there is no shortage of fake allegations on which to base a new impeachment.

We can’t be certain there will be another impeachment this year, but it cannot be ruled out. Impeachment hearings could begin again this spring ahead of a new impeachment vote this summer and a trial in August just in time for the Republican convention.

Another possibility is Trump wins a second term (likely, in my view) and the Democrats keep control of the House, in which case another impeachment in 2021 is a high probability.

This is bad for the country and is actually bad for Democrats, as shown in the polls. Yet the Democrats seem to be the last to know.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

P.S. It’s the Democrats’ worst nightmare.

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“Mandate of Heaven” in Jeopardy

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The U.S. markets are closed today for Presidents Day. If you have the day off, I hope you’re enjoying your long weekend.

But one event is taking center stage in the world that affects not only basic survival for millions of people, but the health of the global economy overall.

Of course, I’m talking about the coronavirus outbreak currently playing out before our eyes in China.

China’s economy was slowing substantially before the outbreak of the highly contagious and deadly virus last fall. This slowing was the predictable result of excessive debt levels, Trump’s retaliation in the trade wars, and China’s encounter with what development economists call the “middle-income trap.”

Developing economies can grow at double-digit rates as they move from low-income (about $3,000 annual per capita income) to middle-income (about $10,000 annual per capita income).

The main requirements are limits on corruption, a large pool of available labor, and an attractive legal environment for foreign direct investment. Once investment is used for infrastructure and labor is mobilized, large-scale basic manufacturing can commence.

This powers growth and the accumulation of hard currency reserves from export earnings.

The difficulty begins when an economy tries to move from middle-income to high-income (about $18,000 annual per capita income). That move requires more than cheap labor and infrastructure investment. It requires applied technology to produce high-value added products.

Only Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore have made this transition, (excluding Japan after World War II, and oil-exporting nations).

This explains why China has been so focused on stealing U.S. intellectual property.

Trump has been closing that avenue. China cannot generate the needed technology through its own R&D. China is stuck in the middle-income trap and a slowdown in growth is the inevitable result.

The story gets worse for China.

As of Friday, the total reported number of people infected by the coronavirus was 64,435. And the death toll was up to 1,383, including three people outside of China.

Those figures are official statistics released by China and other countries around the world where the virus has spread.

However, there is substantial medical, anecdotal, and model-based evidence that the actual infection rate and death rate may be ten to twenty times higher than those official statistics.

Over 60 million Chinese in several major cities are under “lock-down” where individuals are confined to their homes and may only leave once every three days to buy groceries.

Streets are empty, stores are closed, trains and planes are not moving, and factories are shut. The Chinese economy is slowly grinding to a halt.

This not only affects China’s economy as a whole, but the contagion filters down into individual companies that are dependent on China both for supply chain inputs and final sales.

And it will have a rippling effect on the U.S. economy also. This story has a long way to run.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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Democrats in Disarray

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President Trump delivered his State of the Union speech last night. He talked a lot about the booming economy and stock market, which are his main strengths heading into this year’s election.

The visuals said it all, as Republicans were on their feet cheering much of the night, while Democrats remained seated in obvious disgust.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi provided the most dramatic theater of the night, ripping up her copy of the president’s speech in front of the nation.

The president didn’t mention impeachment. But he was acquitted in the Senate on both the abuse of power and the obstruction of Congress charges late this afternoon. The vote on the abuse of power charge was 52-48, with Mitt Romney being the only Republican to vote for conviction. The obstruction charge broke down 53-47.

The outcome was never in doubt, and is just another blow for Democrats. Trump has all the momentum right now.

Meanwhile, chaos in Monday’s Iowa caucus has further compounded the difficulties Democrats face in their efforts to defeat Trump in November. Much of the trouble in Iowa surrounded glitches with an app that was used to report the caucus results.

Many who downloaded the app to their smartphones received error messages or experienced difficulties in following its instructions. The party’s backup phone system  also reportedly failed, adding to the problems.

Widespread reporting issues resulted in mass confusion, leaving the ultimate winner still undecided.

In an early vote count, Bernie Sanders held a slight lead in the popular vote, with Pete Buttigieg leading in state delegates. As of early today, 71% of precincts have reported in. They show Buttigieg with 26.8% of state delegates, followed by Sanders, with 25.2%. Elizabeth Warren has 18.4%, with Joe Biden trailing at 15.4%.

The results are a big red flag for Biden, who fell short of the critical 15% threshold in some precincts. It was a clear failure. Now he has to go to New Hampshire with no momentum whatsoever. It’s not over yet, but it’s not looking good for Biden at this point.

Many have suggested the Democratic Party establishment intentionally skewed the results to obfuscate Sanders’ good showing and to avoid embarrassing establishment favorite Joe Biden.

Democrat Party officials naturally deny the charge, arguing that the glitches with the app were just that — glitches, and that there’s nothing else to it. But I’m not convinced.

I believe Bernie Sanders probably won Iowa, then Iowa’s Democratic establishment ginned up a “systems failure” to deny him his big moment and stop his momentum going into New Hampshire. Get used to this. Democrats are out to stop Bernie.

The surge of Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary polls have mainstream Democrats in a panic. Bernie is vibrant and authentic, but he’s also a hard core socialist who took his honeymoon in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Election outcomes are always uncertain, but Sanders looks like a sure loser to Donald Trump in critical heartland swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

What about Elizabeth Warren?

She is no better with her equally socialist outlook and support for open borders, nationalized medicine and the Green New Deal. Meanwhile, Buttigieg is only 38 years old and was the mayor of a small city with no other political experience.

And the other Democrats are doing poorly in the polls. Tulsi Gabbard is as much disliked by Democrats as she is opposed by Republicans. The party has nowhere to turn among the frontrunners.

It’s true that Biden is ahead (barely) in national polls. The Real Clear Politics poll-of-polls (one of the most accurate available) shows Biden with 27% nationally and Sanders with 21.8%. But that’s almost inside the margin of error and Sanders has been surging lately. Besides, national polls don’t matter because we don’t have national elections; we go state-by-state. When you get to important state polls, Sanders is dominating.

He beat Biden solidly in Iowa, and is ahead 25.6% to Biden’s 17.6% in New Hampshire. No candidate has ever won Iowa and New Hampshire without becoming their party’s nominee. With the Iowa caucus results still not final, it’s possible Sanders could still win both states. The Democratic establishment is having fainting spells as a result.

If Sanders continues to surge and Biden continues to fade, expect mainstream Democrats to coalesce around Michael Bloomberg as the moderate alternative to Sanders. But there’s only one problem with Bloomberg — he’s not really a moderate.

Bloomberg supports late-term abortions and has called for gun confiscation. Those positions may be OK with Democrats, but they get no support among Republicans and moderate independents from the Midwest.

In addition, Bloomberg wants to impose a surtax of 5% on high-income individuals. The problem with taxes like that is the money is usually wasted and the tax itself can slow investment in the economy. Also, taxes of this kind always start out aimed at the “wealthy” but sooner or later trickle down to affect the middle class by amendments or inflation in tax brackets.

Bloomberg may appear moderate to Democrats frightened by Bernie Sanders, but he appears extreme to everyday Americans. That’s one more reason why Trump is on a path to victory in November regardless of what Democrats do in the meantime.

The only factor that can realistically derail Trump, barring the unforeseen, is a recession between now and November. That’s unlikely. While the economy is sluggish, my models aren’t telling me that a recession is likely before the election. So Trump is on track for reelection. Even some of Trump’s harshest critics agree he stands an excellent shot this fall…

Mara Liasson, for example, is an NPR reporter and well-known Trump-basher. If you support Trump or just want to get a read on the electoral landscape, your first reaction might be to skip an article by a Democrat partisan. But that would be a mistake. In a recent article, Liasson exhibits her usual Trump attacks, but she does so in a context that takes the Democrats to task for such weak opposition.

She points out that Trump has a “locked-in base” (which is true). That gives Trump considerable leeway to expand his support since he does not have to worry about his base. Importantly, she recognizes that presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College, not by a majority of the popular vote.

This means Trump could lose the popular vote by as much as 5 million votes (in 2016 he lost to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes) and still win reelection by the Electoral College. This is because Democrat votes are heavily concentrated in New York and California. Those states are certain to vote Democratic, but millions of extra votes over a simple majority are wasted because they provide no additional electoral votes.

Meanwhile, Trump’s support is spread more evenly among important states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania that collectively give him an Electoral College edge.

Finally, Liasson points out that turnout is critical. It doesn’t matter if you have fewer supporters as long as you have higher turnout. That’s another Trump advantage that does not show up in opinion polls. Liasson may be a Trump-basher, but she has practically written the playbook for how Trump will win.

And right now, he’s on course to.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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China’s Collapse Has Only Begun

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The market bounced back today after Friday’s 600-point plunge in the Dow. But we haven’t heard the last of the coronavirus…

We’re still in a period of great uncertainty when it comes to the human and economic cost of the pandemic and the extent of the pandemic itself.

As I write, there are over 17,000 reported cases. Of those, 362 deaths have resulted and 487 people have recovered. The remaining roughly 16,200 cases are in various stages of treatment with uncertain outcomes.

Still, the 2% fatality exhibited so far is comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919–20, which ultimately killed an estimated 50 million victims.

Almost 99% of the reported cases are in China, with 62.5% of those Chinese cases in the vicinity of Wuhan, a major city of over 11 million people.

But the disease has spread (mostly through air travel from China or contact with Chinese travelers). There are 20 cases in Japan, 19 cases in Thailand and 18 cases in Singapore. The U.S. has 11 reported cases as of this morning.

It often takes laboratories six months or more to discover an effective cure or treatment for a virus of this type.

In the meantime, quarantine is the most effective approach. But how do you quarantine a city of 11 million, let alone a country of 1.3 billion people?

It’s very difficult to project growth rates. But if the virus stays on its current growth trajectory, more than 100 million people could be infected by the end of this month alone.

Many countries have banned arrivals from China and leading airlines have discontinued flights to China. That helps, but the virus continues to spread.

This all comes at a time that should be a period of great joy in China — the Lunar New Year. If you can imagine a two-week Christmas celebration, that’s about the magnitude of it.

While the long-term medical outcome is uncertain, the short-term economic damage is not. And China cannot afford a sustained economic setback.

China’s economy is already suffering extreme damage.

Their consumer economy has stalled as people stay home and avoid public transportation, stores and restaurants. The epicenter of the virus, Wuhan, is the capital of China’s Hubei province, a critical manufacturing center that represents 4% of Chinese GDP.

It now looks like a ghost town.

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Many other major Chinese cities have been shut down, with no citizens allowed to leave and transportation systems closed.

Tourism is dead and many businesses are requiring that executives cancel trips to China until further notice.

This comes at a time when the Chinese economy was slowing anyway. And some economists project that China’s growth rate could drop two full percentage points this quarter. That would translate to roughly $62 billion in lost growth.

Meanwhile, Chinese stocks promptly crashed over 8% in a matter of minutes this morning, after being closed for a number of days.

Stimulus measures in the form of monetary ease are being tried. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) says it will buy 1.2 trillion yuan ($173 billion) in short-term bonds to add liquidity to the financial system.

But the net amount of liquidity that will make it into the system is actually much lower.

According to PBOC data, over 1 trillion yuan ($22 billion) worth of other short-term bonds matured today. So the net amount of liquidity entering the system is actually significantly less than the raw number indicates.

And the stimulus is unlikely to work because of China’s sky-high debt levels. China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, for example, is about 310%, which is astonishing.

Research by economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart persuasively demonstrates that once debt surpasses 90% of GDP, it is impossible to grow our way out of the debt. Again, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio is much, much higher.

Let’s hope the coronavirus is contained soon. Unfortunately, the damage to China’s economy is already happening and will persist even if the virus is soon under control.

And given China’s impact on the global economy, the rest of the world will suffer as a result.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post China’s Collapse Has Only Begun appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Elites Have Destroyed a Possible U.S. – Russia Alliance to Contain China

This post Elites Have Destroyed a Possible U.S. – Russia Alliance to Contain China appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

There’s no need to rehash the sordid politics of the U.S.-Russia relationship since 2014. That relationship became collateral damage to gross corruption in Ukraine.

The U.S. and its allies, especially the UK under globalists like David Cameron, wanted to peel off Ukraine from the Russian orbit and make it part of the EU and eventually NATO.

From Russia’s perspective, this was unacceptable. It may be true that most Americans cannot find Ukraine on a map, but a simple glance at a map reveals that much of Ukraine lies East of Moscow.

Putting Ukraine in a Western alliance such as NATO would create a crescent stretching from Luhansk in the South through Poland in the West and back around to Estonia in the North. There are almost no natural obstacles between that arc and Moscow; it’s mostly open steppe.

Completion of this “NATO Crescent” would leave Moscow open to invasion in ways that Napoleon and Hitler could only dream. Of course, this situation was and is unacceptable to Moscow.

Ukraine itself is culturally divided along geographic lines. The Eastern and Southern provinces (Luhansk, Donetsk, Crimea and Dnipro) are ethnically Russian, follow the Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of Moscow, and welcome commercial relations with Russia.

The Western provinces (Kiev, Lviv) are Slavic, adhere to the Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome, and look to the EU and U.S. for investment and aid.

Prior to 2014, an uneasy truce existed between Washington and Moscow that allowed a pro-Russian President while at the same time permitting increasing contact with the EU. Then the U.S. and UK overreached by allowing the CIA and MI6 to foment a “color revolution” in Kiev called the “Euromaidan Revolution.”

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych resigned and fled to Moscow. Pro-EU protestors took over the government and signed an EU Association Agreement.

In response, Putin annexed Crimea and declared it part of Russia. He also infiltrated Donetsk and Luhansk and helped establish de facto pro-Russian regional governments. The U.S. and EU responded with harsh economic sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine has been in turmoil (with increasing corruption) ever since. U.S.-Russia relations have been ice-cold, exactly as the globalists intended.

The U.S- induced fiasco in Ukraine not only upset U.S.-Russia relations, it derailed a cozy money laundering operation involving Ukrainian oligarchs and Democratic politicians. The Obama administration flooded Ukraine with non-lethal financial assistance.

This aid was amplified by a four-year, $17.5 billion loan program to Ukraine from the IMF, approved in March 2015. Interestingly, this loan program was pushed by Obama at a time when Ukraine did not meet the IMF’s usual borrowing criteria.

Some of this money was used for intended purposes, some was skimmed by the oligarchs, and the rest was recycled to Democratic politicians in the form of consulting contracts, advisory fees, director’s fees, contributions to foundations and NGOs and other channels.

Hunter Biden and the Clinton Foundations were major recipients of this corrupt recycling. Other beneficiaries included George Soros-backed “open society” organizations, which further directed the money to progressive left-wing groups in the U.S.

This cozy wheel-of-fortune was threatened when Donald Trump became president. Trump genuinely desired improved relations with Russia and was not on the receiving end of laundered aid to Ukraine.

Hillary Clinton was supposed to continue the Obama policies, but she failed in the general election. Trump was a threat to everything the globalists, Democrats and pro-NATO elites had constructed in the 2010s.

The globalists wanted China and the U.S. to team up against Russia. Trump understood correctly that China was the main enemy and therefore a closer union between the U.S. and Russia was essential.

The elites’ efforts to derail Trump gave rise to the “Russia collusion” hoax. While no one disputes that Russia sought to sow confusion in the U.S. election in 2016, that’s something the Russians and their Soviet predecessors had been doing since 1917. By itself, little harm was done.

Yet, the elites seized on this to concoct a story of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The real collusion was among Democrats, Ukrainians and Russians to discredit Trump.

It took the Robert Mueller investigation two years finally to conclude there was no collusion between Trump and the Russians. By then, the damage was done. It was politically toxic for Trump to reach out to the Russians. That would be spun by the media as more evidence of “collusion.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) has recently named a new Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin (r.). This is part of a complex government reorganization designed to extend Putin’s rule beyond existing term limits. This is a setback for democracy, but may be a plus for the economy because it adds stability and continuity to Putin’s programs.

This whirl of false charges, cover-ups, and deep state sabotage finally led to Trump’s impeachment on December 18, 2019. Fortunately, the Senate impeachment trial may soon be behind us with Trump’s exoneration in hand (although new impeachment charges and false accusations cannot be ruled out).

Is the stage finally set for improved U.S.-Russia relations, relief from U.S. sanctions, and a significant increase in U.S. direct foreign investment in Russia?

Right now, my models are telling us that Russia is one of the most attractive targets for foreign investment in the world. Just because U.S. policymakers missed the boat does not mean that investors must do the same.

Russia is often denigrated by Wall Street analysts and mainstream economists who know little about the country. Russia is the world’s largest country by area and has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons of any country in the world.

It has the world’s 11th largest economy at over $1.6 trillion in annual GDP, ahead of South Korea, Spain and Australia and not far behind Canada, Brazil and Italy.

It also is the world’s third largest producer of oil and related liquids, with output of 11.4 million barrels per day, about 11% of the world’s total. The U.S. (17.8 million b/d), Saudi Arabia (12.4 million b/d) and Russia combine to provide 41% of the world’s liquid fuels. The latter two countries effectively control the world’s oil price by agreeing on output quotas.

Russia has almost no external dollar-denominated debt and has a debt-to-GDP ratio of only 13.50% (the comparable ratio for the United States is 106%).

In short, Russia is too big and too powerful to ignore despite the derogatory and uninformed claims of globalists. Importantly, Russia is emerging from the oil price shock of 2014-2016 and is in a solid recovery.

The stage is now set for significant economic expansion as illustrated in the chart below from Moody’s Analytics:

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This graphic analysis from Moody’s Analytics divides major economies into categories of Recovery, Expansion, Slowdown and Recession. Economies revolve clockwise through these four phases. The U.S. is in a Slowdown phase with some risk of Recession. Russia is in the Recovery phase heading toward Expansion. The Russian situation is the most attractive for investors because it offers cheap entry points with high returns as the Expansion phase begins.

Russia has also gone to great lengths to insulate itself from U.S. economic sanctions. Their reserves have recovered to the $500 billion level that existed before the 2014 oil price collapse with one important difference. The dollar component of reserves has shrunk substantially while the gold component has increased to over 20%.

With the recent surge in gold prices, Russia’s reserves get a significant boost (when expressed in dollars) because of the higher dollar value of the gold reserves. Gold cannot be hacked, frozen or seized, as is the case with digital dollar assets.

Russia’s fortunes have been improving not only because of low debt and higher gold prices but also because of higher oil prices. The country is poised for a strong expansion, even if U.S. hostility caused by the Democrats continues.

If Trump regains his footing after impeachment and wins a second term (which I expect), investors can expect warmer relations with Russia and an even more powerful Russian economic expansion than the one already underway.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post Elites Have Destroyed a Possible U.S. – Russia Alliance to Contain China appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Russia: The Lost Opportunity

This post Russia: The Lost Opportunity appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The biggest story out of China right now is the coronavirus that I addressed in yesterday’s reckoning.

But while it’s important, the bigger story is the geopolitical dynamic between the U.S., China and Russia.

Today I’m going to address that dynamic and show you how Washington has squandered a major opportunity to turn it in America’s favor.

When future historians look back on the 2010s, they will be baffled by the lost opportunity for the U.S. to mend fences with Russia, develop economic relations and create a win-win relationship between the world’s greatest technology innovator and the world’s greatest natural resources provider.

It will seem a great loss for the world. Here’s the reality:

Russia, China and the U.S. are the only true superpowers and the only three countries that ultimately matter in geopolitics. That’s not a slight against any other power.

But all others are secondary powers (the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, Israel, etc.) or tertiary powers (Iran, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

This means that the ideal posture for the U.S. is to ally with Russia (to marginalize China) or ally with China (to marginalize Russia), depending on overall geopolitical conditions.

The U.S. conducted this kind of triangulation successfully from the 1970s until the early 2000s.

One of the keys to U.S. foreign policy in the last 50 or 60 years has been to make sure that Russia and China never form an alliance. Keeping them separated was key.

In 1972, Nixon pivoted to China to put pressure on Russia. In 1991, the U.S. pivoted to Russia to put pressure on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has lost sight of this basic rule of international relations. It is now Russia and China that have formed a strong alliance, to the disadvantage of the United States.

China and Russia have forged stronger ties through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, for example — a military and economic treaty — and the BRICS institutions. Part of it is an anti-dollar campaign.

One leg of the China-Russia relationship is their joint desire to see the U.S. dollar lose its status as the world’s dominant reserve currency. They chafe against the ways in which the U.S. uses the dollar as a financial weapon.

But ultimately, this two-against-one strategic alignment of China and Russia against the U.S. is a strategic blunder by the U.S.

Russia is the nation that the U.S. should have tried to court and should still be courting. That’s because China is the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. because of its economic and technological advances and its ambition to push the U.S. out of the Western Pacific sphere of influence.

Russia may be a threat to some of its neighbors, but it is far less of a threat to U.S. strategic interests.

Therefore, a logical balance of power in the world would be for the U.S. and Russia to find common ground in the containment of China and to jointly pursue the reduction of Chinese power.

Of course, that hasn’t happened. And we could be paying the price for years to come.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post Russia: The Lost Opportunity appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Contagion!

This post Contagion! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The world is confronting the effects of the “coronavirus.” It likely originated in Wuhan, China, where it jumped from animals to humans at a local food market. It has since spread to other parts of China and beyond.

So far, there are 2,886 confirmed total cases of the coronavirus. All but 61 of them are in mainland China. The death toll so far is 81.

But cases have also been found in France, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. That list includes the world’s three largest economies (the U.S., China and Japan).

For many, it recalls the SARS outbreak of 2003, which also originated in China. It ultimately killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 in different parts of the world.

Not surprisingly, global markets are on edge over fears of the “coronavirus” contagion spreading. And the U.S. stock market sold off today.

The Dow lost 454 points. The S&P and Nasdaq also had awful days. But gold has a good day, up over $10 to $1,582, as investors looked for safety.

But let’s discuss the word “contagion,” because it applies to both human populations and financial markets — and in more ways than you may expect.

There’s a reason why financial experts and risk managers use the word “contagion” to describe a financial panic.

Obviously, the word contagion refers to an epidemic or pandemic. In the public health field, a disease can be transmitted from human to human through coughing, shared needles, shared food or contact involving bodily fluids.

An initial carrier of a disease (“patient zero”) may have many contacts before the disease even appears.

Some diseases have a latency period of weeks or longer, which means patient zero can infect hundreds before health professionals are even aware of the disease. Then those hundreds can infect thousands or even millions before they are identified as carriers.

In extreme cases, such as the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918–20 involving the H1N1 influenza virus, the number infected can reach 500 million and the death toll can run over 100 million.

A similar dynamic applies in financial panics.

It can begin with one bank or broker going bankrupt as the result of a market collapse (a “financial patient zero.”)

But the financial distress quickly spreads to banks that did business with the failed entity and then to stockholders and depositors of those other banks and so on until the entire world is in the grip of a financial panic as happened in 2008.

Still, the comparison between medical pandemics and financial panics is more than a metaphor.

Disease contagion and financial contagion both work the same way. The nonlinear mathematics and system dynamics are identical in the two cases even though the “virus” is financial distress rather than a biological virus.

But what happens when these two dynamic functions interact? What happens when a biological virus turns into a financial virus?

We’re seeing it happen in China.

It’s the time of the Lunar New Year holiday in China, China’s most important public holiday. It’s traditionally a time of widespread celebration.

But, for many Chinese cities, not this year.

Many major Chinese cities have been shut down, with no citizens allowed to leave, and their transportation systems have been closed.

Retails sales are also suffering as consumers remain home instead of risking contagion with trips to the store.

The disease is causing financial panic in China at a time when it can least afford it. GDP growth has hit a wall and investors have curtailed new investment.

Could it unleash a global financial panic that ultimately results in a lockdown of the banking system?

It’s possible, but it’s far too soon to say. This is the type of catalyst that could take a year to build.

But it definitely bears watching.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The post Contagion! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.