Democrats in Disarray

This post Democrats in Disarray appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

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

The post Democrats in Disarray appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Trump!!!

This post Trump!!! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The president appeared before the American people last evening… and assessed the state of the American Union.

In his telling the union is in a swell and exalted state, marvelous beyond compare.

And he is eager to accept credit…

A grand fellow, by all the gods, the president has fanned a mighty cyclone of American prosperity.

The result is record-low unemployment for Americans of every model and make…

For African-Americans. For Hispanic-Americans. For Asian-Americans. For women. For veterans, the disabled, the undegreed, the young.

And Mr. Trump let us know that America’s record stock market is the world’s envy.

We can only look on in awe, eyes apop and jaw adrop. As we have written before…

We confess a sincere admiration for any man so certain of his stars, so certain of whom the angels are for… and whom they are against.

No modesty hangs about him. No self-doubt gnaws at him. No scruple enchains him.

In Trump we have the popinjay pure and perfect, the supreme chest-thumper, the peacock of peacocks.

The fellow is simply… sui generis.

We concede he may be no deeper than the skin that encases him. But intellectual depth is vastly overrated in a president.

Overrated? It is often a menace…

It is the “deep thinkers” who think the republic into its deepest fixes.

They are drunk on their thoughts… as other men are drunk on alcohol.

The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, certainly hooked onto something when he wrote:

“We suffer most when the White House bursts with ideas.”

Woodrow Wilson — for example — was the only doctor of philosophy to ever seize the White House.

He presided over Princeton University before he presided over the United States.

And the nation is still afflicted with his lovely ideas…

Who signed the Federal Reserve Act into law?

The answer is Mr. Wilson.

Who signed the federal income tax into law?

The answer is Mr. Wilson.

The same Mr. Wilson ordered the doughboys “over there.” 116,000 of them will remain forever over there.

And the Versailles Treaty that closed the “war to end all wars” spawned the “peace to end all peace.”

WWI was “the Great War” until an even greater war imposed a Roman numeration upon it.

In contrast to the intellectual president, we find Wilson’s successor once removed — Calvin Coolidge.

In Mencken’s telling, Coolidge…

Slept more than any other president, whether by day or by night… There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.

Take due note of the phrasing — it was not “He had no ideas, but he was not a nuisance.” It was rather:

“He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”

Loftier praise for any president is scarcely imaginable: He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance.

Being a nuisance, alas, is how presidents nudge their way onto the history pages.

Whom do historians slobber and swoon over — a Calvin Coolidge or a Franklin Roosevelt?

A Grover Cleveland — or a Theodore Roosevelt?

Both Roosevelts were colossal nuisances.

Our central criticism of Trump is not that he is a nuisance… but that he has not been nuisance enough.

Trump was elected, in fact, to be a nuisance.

Not a statesman, that is — but a demolition man.

Mr. Trump pledged to “drain the swamp.”

He would end the forever wars… and disentangle the United States from entangling alliances.

And did he not pledge to retire the debt?

Yet the United States remains entangled as ever… and more indebted than ever.

The swamp, meantime, remains as deep, as thick, as gaseous as ever.

But it is not our purpose to bring the president into contempt or ridicule. We have no heat against the fellow whatsoever.

His presidency vastly entertains us, in fact — as a circus entertains us, as a professional wrestling bout entertains us, as the sight of a man with his shirt on backward entertains us.

And his campaign rallies are the highest comedy. Nothing comes within 100 miles of it.

Besides, we never believed that Mr. Trump stood the slightest chance of emptying the swamp.

Nearly the entire governmental apparatus is against him — including much of his party.

He is simply a man out of his depth.

But a George Washington would be out of his depth today.

Even “Old Hickory” Andy Jackson would be under the presidential desk the first day on the job, sinking a bottle of Tennessee’s hardest whiskey and sobbing for his mother.

No, the national rot is too deeply advanced for any one man to turn back.

The termites have eaten too deeply into the floorboards beneath… and the rafters above.

And they are after whatever solid timber that remains…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor The Daily Reckoning

The post Trump!!! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Trump!!!

This post Trump!!! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The president appeared before the American people last evening… and assessed the state of the American Union.

In his telling the union is in a swell and exalted state, marvelous beyond compare.

And he is eager to accept credit…

A grand fellow, by all the gods, the president has fanned a mighty cyclone of American prosperity.

The result is record-low unemployment for Americans of every model and make…

For African-Americans. For Hispanic-Americans. For Asian-Americans. For women. For veterans, the disabled, the undegreed, the young.

And Mr. Trump let us know that America’s record stock market is the world’s envy.

We can only look on in awe, eyes apop and jaw adrop. As we have written before…

We confess a sincere admiration for any man so certain of his stars, so certain of whom the angels are for… and whom they are against.

No modesty hangs about him. No self-doubt gnaws at him. No scruple enchains him.

In Trump we have the popinjay pure and perfect, the supreme chest-thumper, the peacock of peacocks.

The fellow is simply… sui generis.

We concede he may be no deeper than the skin that encases him. But intellectual depth is vastly overrated in a president.

Overrated? It is often a menace…

It is the “deep thinkers” who think the republic into its deepest fixes.

They are drunk on their thoughts… as other men are drunk on alcohol.

The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, certainly hooked onto something when he wrote:

“We suffer most when the White House bursts with ideas.”

Woodrow Wilson — for example — was the only doctor of philosophy to ever seize the White House.

He presided over Princeton University before he presided over the United States.

And the nation is still afflicted with his lovely ideas…

Who signed the Federal Reserve Act into law?

The answer is Mr. Wilson.

Who signed the federal income tax into law?

The answer is Mr. Wilson.

The same Mr. Wilson ordered the doughboys “over there.” 116,000 of them will remain forever over there.

And the Versailles Treaty that closed the “war to end all wars” spawned the “peace to end all peace.”

WWI was “the Great War” until an even greater war imposed a Roman numeration upon it.

In contrast to the intellectual president, we find Wilson’s successor once removed — Calvin Coolidge.

In Mencken’s telling, Coolidge…

Slept more than any other president, whether by day or by night… There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.

Take due note of the phrasing — it was not “He had no ideas, but he was not a nuisance.” It was rather:

“He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”

Loftier praise for any president is scarcely imaginable: He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance.

Being a nuisance, alas, is how presidents nudge their way onto the history pages.

Whom do historians slobber and swoon over — a Calvin Coolidge or a Franklin Roosevelt?

A Grover Cleveland — or a Theodore Roosevelt?

Both Roosevelts were colossal nuisances.

Our central criticism of Trump is not that he is a nuisance… but that he has not been nuisance enough.

Trump was elected, in fact, to be a nuisance.

Not a statesman, that is — but a demolition man.

Mr. Trump pledged to “drain the swamp.”

He would end the forever wars… and disentangle the United States from entangling alliances.

And did he not pledge to retire the debt?

Yet the United States remains entangled as ever… and more indebted than ever.

The swamp, meantime, remains as deep, as thick, as gaseous as ever.

But it is not our purpose to bring the president into contempt or ridicule. We have no heat against the fellow whatsoever.

His presidency vastly entertains us, in fact — as a circus entertains us, as a professional wrestling bout entertains us, as the sight of a man with his shirt on backward entertains us.

And his campaign rallies are the highest comedy. Nothing comes within 100 miles of it.

Besides, we never believed that Mr. Trump stood the slightest chance of emptying the swamp.

Nearly the entire governmental apparatus is against him — including much of his party.

He is simply a man out of his depth.

But a George Washington would be out of his depth today.

Even “Old Hickory” Andy Jackson would be under the presidential desk the first day on the job, sinking a bottle of Tennessee’s hardest whiskey and sobbing for his mother.

No, the national rot is too deeply advanced for any one man to turn back.

The termites have eaten too deeply into the floorboards beneath… and the rafters above.

And they are after whatever solid timber that remains…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor The Daily Reckoning

The post Trump!!! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Now What?

This post Now What? appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Stocks were up and away this morning, aloft on happy wings. And as stocks went up… records came down.

Both the Dow Jones and S&P established fresh highs today.

Today is — after all — when the United States and China stowed their differences… and came formally to terms.

President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed their names to a “phase one” trade accord late this morning.

What precisely did they pledge? AP draws the overall sketch:

Under the Phase 1 agreement, which the two sides reached in mid-December, the administration dropped plans to impose tariffs on an additional $160 billion in Chinese imports. And it halved, to 7.5%, existing tariffs on $110 billion of goods from China.

For its part, Beijing agreed to significantly increase its purchases of U.S. products. According to the Trump administration, China is to buy $40 billion a year in U.S. farm products — an ambitious goal for a country that has never imported more than $26 billion a year in U.S. agricultural products.

Once the handshakes were over, the president seized a microphone and gushed:

Today we take a momentous step, one that has never been taken before with China, toward a future of fair and reciprocal trade with China. Together we are righting the wrongs of the past.

And so there is more joy in heaven this day. But will there be more joy on Earth the next?

We are not half so convinced. The wrongs of the past — if they be wrongs at all — may well remain wrong.

The warring parties have signed a truce, it is true. But truce is not peace.

Truce may be no more than a mere respite from arms, a temporary cessation of fire, a brief clearing of battlefield smoke.

Consider the terms of this truce…

It cuts in half tariffs on certain Chinese wares from 15% to 7.5%. Yet tariffs on some $360 billion of Chinese exports stand in place.

Perhaps two-thirds of Chinese goods remain under penalty. As do more than half of all United States shipments to China.

Today’s signing scarcely budges them.

Meantime, this phase one armistice leaves unaddressed China’s war aims, its peace terms, its strategic objectives.

Continues the AP wire:

The so-called Phase 1 pact does little to force China to make the major economic reforms — such as reducing unfair subsidies for its own companies — that the Trump administration sought when it started the trade war by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in July 2018…

Most analysts say any meaningful resolution of the key U.S. allegation — that Beijing uses predatory tactics in its drive to supplant America’s technological supremacy — could require years of contentious talks. And skeptics say a satisfactory resolution may be next to impossible given China’s ambitions to become the global leader in such advanced technologies as driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

Adds The New York Times:

The deal also does not address cybersecurity or China’s tight controls over how companies handle data and cloud computing. China rejected American demands to include promises to refrain from hacking American firms in the text, insisting it was not a trade issue.

Affirms Eswar Prasad, who formerly directed the International Monetary Fund’s China desk:

“[The deal] hardly addresses in any substantive way the fundamental sources of trade and economic tensions between the two sides, which will continue to fester.”

And so the generals remain huddled over their charts… the cannons are still loaded… and the troops are ready to answer the bugle.

They only await orders from the commander in chief.

Ultimate peace — lasting peace — will therefore require a “phase two” treaty…

The president has vowed to tackle China’s multiple trade atrocities in phase two of negotiations.

That is why he has held most existing tariffs in place. These represent the stick end of the “carrot and stick” polarity.

He will wield them as clubs, forcing Chinese concessions in this crucial second phase.

But phase two must wait. The president has suggested — strongly — that negotiations may not proceed until this year’s election is decided.

Assume they do proceed…

Will Mr. Trump club China into submission? Will China throw down its arms… and come marching into camp?

Not if it means losing “face,” argues Jim Rickards:

Culturally, saving face may be more important to the Chinese. The Chinese are all about saving face and gaining face. That means they can walk away from a trade deal even if it damages them economically.

Meantime, the truce, the uneasy truce, enters force.

The Lord only knows if it holds…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post Now What? appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Now What?

This post Now What? appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Stocks were up and away this morning, aloft on happy wings. And as stocks went up… records came down.

Both the Dow Jones and S&P established fresh highs today.

Today is — after all — when the United States and China stowed their differences… and came formally to terms.

President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed their names to a “phase one” trade accord late this morning.

What precisely did they pledge? AP draws the overall sketch:

Under the Phase 1 agreement, which the two sides reached in mid-December, the administration dropped plans to impose tariffs on an additional $160 billion in Chinese imports. And it halved, to 7.5%, existing tariffs on $110 billion of goods from China.

For its part, Beijing agreed to significantly increase its purchases of U.S. products. According to the Trump administration, China is to buy $40 billion a year in U.S. farm products — an ambitious goal for a country that has never imported more than $26 billion a year in U.S. agricultural products.

Once the handshakes were over, the president seized a microphone and gushed:

Today we take a momentous step, one that has never been taken before with China, toward a future of fair and reciprocal trade with China. Together we are righting the wrongs of the past.

And so there is more joy in heaven this day. But will there be more joy on Earth the next?

We are not half so convinced. The wrongs of the past — if they be wrongs at all — may well remain wrong.

The warring parties have signed a truce, it is true. But truce is not peace.

Truce may be no more than a mere respite from arms, a temporary cessation of fire, a brief clearing of battlefield smoke.

Consider the terms of this truce…

It cuts in half tariffs on certain Chinese wares from 15% to 7.5%. Yet tariffs on some $360 billion of Chinese exports stand in place.

Perhaps two-thirds of Chinese goods remain under penalty. As do more than half of all United States shipments to China.

Today’s signing scarcely budges them.

Meantime, this phase one armistice leaves unaddressed China’s war aims, its peace terms, its strategic objectives.

Continues the AP wire:

The so-called Phase 1 pact does little to force China to make the major economic reforms — such as reducing unfair subsidies for its own companies — that the Trump administration sought when it started the trade war by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in July 2018…

Most analysts say any meaningful resolution of the key U.S. allegation — that Beijing uses predatory tactics in its drive to supplant America’s technological supremacy — could require years of contentious talks. And skeptics say a satisfactory resolution may be next to impossible given China’s ambitions to become the global leader in such advanced technologies as driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

Adds The New York Times:

The deal also does not address cybersecurity or China’s tight controls over how companies handle data and cloud computing. China rejected American demands to include promises to refrain from hacking American firms in the text, insisting it was not a trade issue.

Affirms Eswar Prasad, who formerly directed the International Monetary Fund’s China desk:

“[The deal] hardly addresses in any substantive way the fundamental sources of trade and economic tensions between the two sides, which will continue to fester.”

And so the generals remain huddled over their charts… the cannons are still loaded… and the troops are ready to answer the bugle.

They only await orders from the commander in chief.

Ultimate peace — lasting peace — will therefore require a “phase two” treaty…

The president has vowed to tackle China’s multiple trade atrocities in phase two of negotiations.

That is why he has held most existing tariffs in place. These represent the stick end of the “carrot and stick” polarity.

He will wield them as clubs, forcing Chinese concessions in this crucial second phase.

But phase two must wait. The president has suggested — strongly — that negotiations may not proceed until this year’s election is decided.

Assume they do proceed…

Will Mr. Trump club China into submission? Will China throw down its arms… and come marching into camp?

Not if it means losing “face,” argues Jim Rickards:

Culturally, saving face may be more important to the Chinese. The Chinese are all about saving face and gaining face. That means they can walk away from a trade deal even if it damages them economically.

Meantime, the truce, the uneasy truce, enters force.

The Lord only knows if it holds…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post Now What? appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The Fed Is Toying With Fire

This post The Fed Is Toying With Fire appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Deutsche Bank maintains a strict dossier on all the world’s asset classes.

Stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities — 38 assets, A through Z — Deutsche Bank has them under ruthless and unshakable surveillance.

Last December’s spywork revealed this arresting conclusion:

93% of all the world’s assets traded negative in 2018.

Not even in the fathomless depths of the Great Depression did so many global assets wallow in red.

But last year is last year. Scroll the calendar one year forward… to today.

What do we find?

We find a full 180-degree turning around.

Each and every asset Deutsche Bank tracks — all 38 — trade positive this year.

Affirms Deutsche Bank’s Craig Nicol:

All 38 assets in its tracking universe have posted positive year-to-date (YTD) returns in both local currency and dollar terms.

To what earthly energy can we ascribe this complete and dramatic reversal?

The answer — the truly shocking answer — in one moment.

We first consider a more immediate reversal…

Trump Sends Stocks Reeling

The Dow Jones went badly backwards this morning, down 400 points. It came back a bit in the afternoon, losing only 280 points by closing whistle.

The S&P and Nasdaq followed parallel routes.

The S&P lost 20 points on the day. The Nasdaq lost 47.

The negative catalyst came issuing out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. this morning…

Mr. Trump announced that a trade accord can wait. Wait until when?

Until after the 2020 election is concluded:

In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal, but they want to make a deal now and we will see whether or not the deal is going to be right… I have no deadline… In some ways, I think it is better to wait until after the election if you want to know the truth.

Wall Street’s trading algorithms plucked the news off the wires… and began to sweat.

Trade-sensitive stocks such as Apple and Caterpillar endured the greatest trouncings today, unsurprisingly.

Equally unsurprisingly, safe haven gold jumped $14 on the day.

And so the merry-go-round takes another spin. Which direction tomorrow takes it… who can say?

But to return to our central question:

Why are all 38 assets Deutsche Bank tracks positive on the year — when 93% of these same assets were negative last year?

Too Obvious for Words

We claimed above that the answer was “truly shocking.” But we merely perpetrated a con to hold your attention.

The answer is obvious to anyone with eyes willing and able to see…

The Federal Reserve was increasing interest rates and trimming its balance sheet in 2018. Last December Jerome Powell announced the business would proceed uninterrupted.

That was when the stock market fell into open and general revolt.

By Christmas Eve… it was a whisker away from “correction.”

And so Jerome Powell dropped his weapons, hoisted his surrender flag… and came out hands in the air.

Wall Street had him.

Safely under lock, safely under key… Powell proceeded to lower rates three instances this year.

What is more, he called a premature halt to the quantitative tightening he had previously declared on “autopilot.”

Who can then be surprised that the Dow Jones industrial average has advanced 4,000 points this year?

Or that the other major indexes have marched with it?

But our tale does not conclude here. Instead, it takes a meandering twist down a side road…

A November to Remember

Rate cuts only partially explain this year’s asset extravaganza. The termination of quantitative tightening only partially explains this year’s asset extravaganza.

Can we credit a general optimism on trade (despite this morning’s blood and thunder)?

Perhaps partially — but only partially.

Whatever trade gives, trade takes back.

The promised trade deal has proved an endless frustration, a pretty plum dangled always beyond reach, a Christmas morning put off again, again and again.

For a full and complete explanation of the year in assets… we must peer deep within Deutsche Bank’s report.

There we will find this chestnut sandwiched within:

November posted some of the year’s loveliest asset gains. November, that is, hoisted all boats on its rising tide.

Why November?

For the answer we must first revisit September… and the “repo” market.

Just Don’t Call It QE4

Overnight lending rates leapt to 10% as liquidity ran dry — a high multiple of the federal funds rate then prevailing.

The Federal Reserve instantly hosed in emergency liquids to suppress the insurrection.

Mr. Powell declared the operation “temporary.” But on and on it went — into October, into November (and into December).

By November Mr. Powell and his minions at the New York Federal Reserve emptied in some $280 billion of liquidy credit.

They shrieked, howled and fumed that these “open market operations” were in no way quantitative easing.

Yet these activities inflated the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet… precisely as if they were quantitative easing itself.

From its maximum $4.5 trillion enormity, the quantitative tightening of 2018–19 siphoned down the balance sheet to $3.8 trillion.

But along came September… and its temporary open market operations.

By mid-November they reinflated the balance sheet to $4.04 trillion. Let us reintroduce the evidence we initially entered into record Nov. 15:

IMG 1

Smoking-gun Evidence

In all, the Federal Reserve has inflated the balance sheet $293 billion in under three months.

When was the last occasion the Federal Reserve carried on with such frantic fanaticism?

October 2008 — in the wildest psychosis of the financial crisis.

If you seek a thorough explanation for November’s asset surge, here you are.

But perhaps you demand further evidence. Then further evidence you shall have.

Here is the pistol, smoke oozing from its barrel…

The S&P turned in only one negative week these past two months. That was the same week — and the only week — that the balance sheet contracted.

Mainstream displays of lucidity and insight are rare and shocking. But here you have one, by way of CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla.

Dated Nov. 18:

Whether it should be considered QE4 or not, in the eyes of the market it’s just semantics. Markets view any increase in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet as QE and the $250 billion increase in just two months is no doubt helping to lift stock prices.

And the cup runneth over…

Hence November’s outsized influence on assets in general.

Hence we find all 38 asset classes Deutsche Bank tracks positive on the year.

But here is the danger:

The Federal Reserve’s liquidity may be kerosene that ultimately fans a conflagration…

A Potential Inferno

In Bank of America’s telling, Fed support of repo markets raises systemic financial risk.

That is because it allows excess leverage to pile up. If it comes tumbling down, if the system deleverages… it may strike the match on one royal blaze.

Bank of America’s Ralph Axel:

… there may be a situation in which banks want to deleverage quickly, for example during a money run or a liquidation in some market caused by a sudden reassessment of value as in 2008… the Fed’s abundant-reserve regime may carry a new set of risks by supporting… overly easy policy (expanding balance sheet during an economic expansion) to maintain funding conditions that may short-circuit the market’s ability to accurately price the supply and demand for leverage as asset prices rise.

Meantime, the Federal Reserve pours forth an average $5 billion of flammable liquid each day.

And someone, somewhere, is holding a match…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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Time to Reduce Exposure to the Stock Market

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The major stock market indices will move sideways through the remainder of the month (and year) to end the year about where they are now. That said, if markets move outside a narrow range, there is more downside potential than upside.

This is a good time to lighten up on equity exposure and reallocate to bonds, cash and gold.

Stock markets haven’t gained much over the past two years. That may come as a shock to investors who feel like they’ve been on a roller coaster ride since early 2018. Yet, the fact is that the Dow Jones Industrial Index was 26,616 on January 26, 2018 and about 27,850 as of today.

That’s about a 1,200-point gain, or 600 points a year. 600 points is one good day for the market. Is that the best it can do over two years? Even adding an average 2% annual dividend yield, the annualized return is about 3%. That’s far less than an investor could have made in super-safe U.S. Treasury bonds.

If you’re a day trader, you might have made money buying dips and selling near the top in rallies. More likely, non-professional traders lost money chasing the rallies and bailing out during the drawdowns. If you’re the typical buy-and-hold investor watching your 401(k) statements, you’ve gone almost nowhere despite the fireworks. You’re right back where you started.

The question is, why?

The drivers of the sideways movement in stocks are slow economic growth and weak earnings growth in individual companies.The drivers of the short-term volatility along the way are good news/bad news on trade wars, and utter confusion at the Fed.

The bottom line is stocks are moving sideways on a sea of uncertainty. Let’s back up a minute to see how we got here…

After the Trump tax cuts passed in late 2017, the White House was predicting growth would return to the long-term trend (post-1980) of 3.2% or higher. That hasn’t happened.

The second quarter of 2018 did show annualized growth of 3.5%, but that was a one-time effect from employee bonuses and consumer confidence due to higher stock prices resulting from the Trump tax cuts.

That euphoria quickly faded.

Growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 was only 1.1%. For all of 2018, U.S. GDP grew by 2.9%, higher than the average growth since the end of the last recession in June 2009, but far less than the White House projected.

Since then growth has slowed even more as the effect of the 2017 tax cuts has faded. On an annualized based, the first quarter of 2019 showed 3.1% growth, the second quarter was 2.0% and original readings of third-quarter growth came in at 1.9%. It was upgraded to 2.1%, but that’s nothing to write home about.

This puts annualized growth year-to-date at 2.4%, almost exactly where it has been for the past ten years. In short, the Trump growth miracle is a mirage. We’re in the same 2.3% rut we’ve been in since 2009.

The cumulative impact of trade wars, currency wars and geopolitical tension is also reflected in a slowdown in global growth. The following summary comes from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook press conference on October 15, 2019 as presented by Gita Gopinath, Director of the IMF’s Research Department:

As for the global economy, the global economy is in a synchronized slowdown. And we are, once again, downgrading growth for 2019 to 3 percent, its slowest pace since the global financial crisis. Growth continues to be weakened by rising trade barriers and growing geopolitical tensions. We estimate that the U.S.‑China trade tensions will cumulatively reduce the level of global GDP by 0.8 percent by 2020. Growth is also being weighed down by country‑specific factors in several emerging market and developing economies and also by structural forces, such as low productivity growth and ageing demographics in advanced economies. … The weakness in growth is driven by a sharp deterioration in manufacturing and global trade, with higher tariffs and prolonged trade policy uncertainty damaging investment and demand for capital goods… Overall, trade volume growth in the first half of 2019 has fallen to 1 percent, the weakest level since 2012.

The good news/bad news volatility is also easy to explain. Stock markets are no longer traded by humans with different perspectives. Stocks are traded by robots, and robots are dumb.

Many investors still have the belief that their buy or sell stock orders are matched against other orders by humans with different views. The orders are matched by computers and the result is an orderly market with efficient price discovery. That scenario is not true.

Today, over 95% of New York Stock Exchange trades are generated by robots using algorithms to decide when to buy and sell. These are not matching systems (which have been around since the 1990s). These are trading robots that decide what to do without human intervention.

Trading is no longer man v. man or woman v. woman. It’s robot v. robot with a small number of trades in the form of man or woman v. robot. You’re not trying to outwit another human. You’re trying to outwit a robot.

The good news is that robots are easy to figure out. They act automatically based on source code and algorithms developed by coders and applied mathematicians who don’t necessarily know much about the psychology of markets. Robots buy or sell based on headlines or key words.

They also buy “high” (as defined) and sell “low” (also as defined) based on boundaries set by the developers.

This dynamic explains both the short-term volatility and the longer-term range bound trading. On the one hand, robots will scramble (in microseconds) to dump stocks if there’s a negative report in the trade wars.

They likewise buy stocks if there’s a positive report in the trade wars. At the same, robots will sell when stocks approach Dow 27,000 (or similar benchmarks on the S&P 500) and buy when stocks approach Dow 25,000.

Unfortunately, neither the robots nor their human developers were ready for the Age of Trump.

President Trump will call President Xi of China his “best friend” on Monday and denounce Chinese “theft” on a Wednesday. Robots are good at reading headlines, but they’re no good at understanding nuance, body language or Trump’s Art of the Deal style.

The same is true of the robots’ ability to understand the Fed.

Jay Powell was a hawk in December 2018 (when he raised rates), a dove in January 2019 (when he promised not to raise rates), a super-dove in the spring of 2019 when he decided to cut rates and end Fed balance sheet reductions, and utterly confused in September 2019 when he said he might not cut rates soon, but would expand the balance sheet. Then Powell cut rates again in October.

How is a robot supposed to understand a highly conflicted human? It can’t. But, it can issue automated buy and sell orders on every new headline.

The bottom line is that growth is weakening, the Fed is cutting rates, the trade wars are not over (despite happy talk) and political tensions are rising.

That’s a mix of support for stocks (Fed rate cuts and good trade war news) and headwinds for stocks (bad trade war news, weak growth and politics). These forces will tend to offset each other and leave stocks in early 2020 about where they are now.

That’s a reason to reduce equity exposure and consider some of the stronger plays in bonds and gold.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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To the Brink

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The cannons are readied, bayonets are fixed… the bugle is ready to blow.

Diplomacy has failed.

The trade war will resume this Friday — should 11th-hour negotiations fail.

The 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese wares becomes 25%.

And President Trump threatens to order 25% imposts on an additional $325 billion “soon.”

Existing tariffs are “partially responsible for our great economic results,” he justifies.

Meantime, Chinese negotiators have dallied, dithered and dawdled.

The president, Sunday:

For 10 months, China has been paying Tariffs to the USA of 25% on 50 Billion Dollars of High Tech, and 10% on 200 Billion Dollars of other goods. These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results. The 10% will go up to 25% on Friday. 325 Billions Dollars… of additional goods sent to us by China remain untaxed, but will be shortly, at a rate of 25%. The Tariffs paid to the USA have had little impact on product cost, mostly borne by China. The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!

So Mr. Trump drops the carrot… and seizes the stick.

He undoubtedly hopes to pummel China into last-minute concessions.

Then he can thump his chest about a “wonderful” trade deal… wrested only in the nick of time.

Export-driven China needs the United States more than the United States needs China, he believes.

Following Sunday broadside, China threatened to back away from scheduled talks this week.

But it has since come around… and discussions will evidently proceed on the timetable agreed.

Goldman Sachs believes the feuding parties will come to terms before Friday. Sixty percent odds, they give, for a peaceful resolution.

But a dangerous game is underweigh…

China takes its honor very heavily. Will it be publicly shoved around?

Trump’s country hardball, explains Rabobank analyst Michael Every:

Puts [China’s]chief negotiator Liu He in a very awkward position. While it may be Trump’s style to be impulsive in the final stages of a deal, the Chinese government will lose face if they cave in to his demands following a public threat on Twitter. It could be perceived as a breach of trust and the Chinese may conclude that the U.S. has been negotiating in bad faith after all. 

What if China walks away from the negotiating table? Does Trump go chasing after it, sobbing for peace?

Or does he let them slip away — knowing retaliation ensues?

But only when they decide to walk away and announce their retaliation will we truly know Trump’s intentions. Is he really willing to cancel trade talks and to put the recent rally of his beloved stock market at risk? And this with just 18 months left before the U.S. elections? Or will he somehow regain control over his emotional intelligence and still find a way around this strong May 10 deadline?

These are the questions that rise before us. For the moment, no answers are issuing.

But Jasper Lawler — who heads research at London Capital Group — fears the Great Negotiator may be overplaying the cards in his hand:

“We know from experience that this could be one of Trump’s infamous negotiating tactics, but there is a good chance that this time it will backfire.”

We shall see… soon.

But what about the all-important stock market? How did markets take yesterday’s news?

Dow futures plunged 500 points Sunday evening. And the major indexes opened the day deeply in red.

But by mysterious coincidence, eager buyers soon fell upon Wall Street in throngs.

Stocks clawed their way back… and the Dow Jones regained some 300 points by midmorning.

Who came rushing in at the fatal moment?

We have no specific answer at this time.

But the wags at Zero Hedge pointed a jeering finger at the Plunge Protection Team.

By the closing bell the Dow Jones closed to within 66 points of even.

But should diplomacy fail, Friday’s tariffs will represent the largest increase since hostilities commenced last year — some $30 billion.

And the American consumer would bear the blast this time…

Previous tariffs centered largely on capital or intermediate economic goods. But perhaps 25% of Friday’s tariffs target consumer goods.

Can the consumer absorb the blow?

Renegade economist John Williams of ShadowStats believes the economy is already sunk in recession — damn the official statistics.

We have a recession in place. It’s just a matter of playing out in some of these other funny numbers… The economy is tanking, and I’ll contend it already has, although we have not seen it in the GDP reporting. 

And the sting in the tail:

“The underlying weakness is with the consumer.”

That is, the very consumer likely to absorb the worst of the tariffs… should they proceed Friday.

The clock ticks.

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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The Fight For 2020 Has Begun

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The focus of the anti-Trump forces has shifted. Trump was not removed from office as his opponents had hoped. And the long-awaited Mueller report on “collusion” by Trump with Russia has turned out to be an anticlimax showing no collusion. In fact, Trump is on track to complete a mainly successful first term.

Instead, the “resistance,” aided by the deep state and the media, have turned their attention to the 2020 election. Efforts to harass and distract Trump are now mainly for the purpose of weakening Trump’s reelection prospects and promoting the election of an opponent from among a field of Democratic candidates.

The greatest question facing President Trump over the next 18 months is whether or not he can avoid a recession. If he can, he stands an excellent chance of reelection. If he doesn’t, then a Democrat will likely win.

Trump supporters will be the first to tell you that the stock market has rallied from 18,529 on the Dow Jones industrial average index the day before Trump was elected to about 26,680 as of today. That’s nearly a 45% gain in 29 months.

Unemployment is near 50-year lows. African-American and Hispanic unemployment is at an all-time low. Labor force participation is steady after falling during the Obama years. Food stamp usage is down. Housing prices are up. Inflation is under control.

Growth in 2018 was above the 10-year trend since the end of the last recession and 2018 was the best full-year growth of that entire period. Real wages have shown their best gains in over 10 years.

While the economy is not booming by historical standards, it is producing its best performance since the global financial crisis. The U.S. economy looks particularly strong when compared with major trading partners such as the U.K., France, Italy, Japan and Germany. Even China is slowing dramatically as the U.S. continues to perform as a reliable engine of world growth.

The foregoing economic track record is repeated by Trump supporters and their (few) media allies on a daily basis. Most of the media simply ignore these data and continue the Trump bashing about the Mueller report and Trump’s business practices. These dueling narratives are by now business as usual when it comes to Trump.

But behind the media spin curtain, there is some reason to be concerned about the economy.

Manufacturing output is declining, both on a month-over-month and year-over-year basis. U.S. capacity utilization is showing a recent slight decline. Certain indexes of new orders and shipments are also showing declines. Imports and trade deficits have both increased sharply. The yield curve is slightly inverted in the 2–5-year sector.

None of these indicators is declining to extreme levels and there are other indicators showing positive results. None is pointing to a recession in the short run, but all should be worrisome to Trump.

His supporters continually recite the claim that this is “the best economy ever.” It’s not.

The Fed continues to tighten (through balance sheet normalization if not rate hikes) despite signs of a slowing economy. The problem is that monetary policy acts with a lag of 12–18 months. The economy is slowing now, not because of the December 2018 rate hike, but because of rate hikes in December 2017 and March 2018. The Fed’s later rate hikes in 2018 have yet to take hold.

They will soon and the economy will slow further. This dynamic can be seen clearly in Chart 1 below:

Chart 1

When the trend is not your friend. While GDP got a bump in the second quarter of 2018 as a result of the Trump tax cuts (4.2% annual growth), it appears that growth is declining rapidly toward the 2.24% average annual growth since the end of the last recession in June 2009. Obama also achieved several quarters of over 4% growth, but those strong quarters quickly reverted to the 2% level or lower. 

Trump boosters pointed to the 4.2% annual growth in the second quarter of 2018 as “proof” that the president’s economic policies were returning the U.S. to sustainable above-trend growth. My view at the time was that Q2 growth was a temporary pop from the late–2017 tax cuts (effective Jan. 1, 2018), but we needed more data before drawing conclusions.

Now the data are in. Growth dropped from 4.2% to 3.4% in the third quarter and dropped again to 2.6% in the fourth quarter. Estimates for the first quarter of 2019 by the Atlanta Fed call for annual growth of only 2.8%. In short, the “Trump bump” is over and U.S. growth is trending towards the post-2009 trend of 2.24% (well below the post-1980 long-term trend of 3.23%).

None of these trends (tight money, inverted yield curve, slower growth, etc.) is a sure predictor of recession, but all give some cause for concern. The current expansion (118 months long) is just a few months short of being the longest expansion in U.S. history. However, it is also the weakest expansion in U.S. history. The current expansion shows none of the inflation, labor shortages or capacity shortages that historically cause the Fed to raise rates and trigger a recession.

The Fed is conducting a balancing act between higher rates (to get ready for the next recession) and rate hike “pauses” (to avoid causing a recession now). So far, this finesse has worked, but it’s a delicate balance that could easily tip into recession. In addition, there are other factors (trade wars, global slowdown, financial panic) that are beyond the Fed’s control and could also lead to a recession.

Essentially, the difference between no recession and a recession over the next 18 months is also the difference between Trump’s re-election and the election of a Democrat in 2020.

But recession is the hardest to forecast with great accuracy and is therefore the biggest wild card. Trump was elected in large part, despite his off-putting demeanor, because he promised a better economy. He has delivered in part, but has to keep delivering.

In effect, Trump’s probability of victory is simply the inverse of the probability of a recession in the next 18 months. If recession odds are 40%, then Trump’s chance of losing is also 40%. The inverse is a 60% chance of winning. As goes the economy, so goes Trump.

If the economy goes into a recession, that could translate into a voter search for a new economic solution and that could lead straight to the Democratic promise of “free everything.”

Will the present odds change? You bet. As investors, the key is to stay nimble and stay alert to updates. As a Daily Reckoning  reader, you’ll be the first to know.

The impact of this election cycle on markets will be profound and the stakes for investors have never been higher. The time for investors to prepare is today.

That means you’ll want to be ready with a portfolio of gold, silver, fine art, land, cash, intermediate-term Treasury notes, and private equity.

And buckle in. It could be a very bumpy ride ahead.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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A Dangerous Predator Is Loose!

This post A Dangerous Predator Is Loose! appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

A rare, predatory and invasive species is on the loose…

This fi-fo-fum presently besieges a small village high in the Alps of Switzerland.

But it has designs on the world.

It is a Rolexed, Gucci-ed homunculus anthropologists call Homo Davos — Davos Man.

Each year he descends upon the Swiss resort. There he lives a gorgeous week in the company of his fellows.

Why Davos?

No coincidence, we hazard, that Davos is the penthouse of Europe, the highest city on the continent.

What can be more symbolic?

From his lofty perch he denounces the rest of us hellcats for our narrow and sinful ways.

Populism, inequality, climate change, xenophobia, sexism, Donald Trump — these top his list of goblins.

And from Davos he blackjacks national governments into embracing enlightened “global” perspectives.

The nation-state cannot cure taoday’s headaches, Davos Man informs us.

His solution?

Global “governance.”

Global institutions must preside over the world’s nations… as the United States government presides over Kansas or Oregon or Texas or Maine.

That is, this year’s solution is last year’s solution.

As it will be next year’s solution. And the year following, world without end.

Klaus Schwab is Davos Man himself — founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum that hosts the show.

Here he reads from the one-worlder’s prayer book:

With more and more voters demanding to “take back control” from “global forces,” the challenge is to restore sovereignty in a world that requires cooperation. Rather than closing off economies through protectionism and nationalist politics, we must forge a new social compact between citizens and their leaders, so that everyone feels secure enough at home to remain open to the world at large. Failing that, the ongoing disintegration of our social fabric could ultimately lead to the collapse of democracy.

Herr Schwab sobs over democracy. He is not alone…

The world must emulate Europe insists the European Commission, in grand self-regard.

At Davos it declared Europe has “become the standard-bearer for global cooperation, multilateralism and democracy.”

But it is a strange democracy the European Union has going…

Whenever the peoples of Europe vote democratically to retain their national sovereignty, the European Union empties their votes into the wastebasket.

Into its bag of parliamentary tricks it reaches… and employs every device of subterfuge to undermine them.

Consider:

In 2005 French voters were presented this referendum on a European Constitution:

“Do you approve the bill authorizing the ratification of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe?”

55% of French voters said the European Constitution can go hang.

Days later, the demon Dutch rejected their own referendum on the European Constitution.

Did the EU accept the results — results arrived at in the open democratic air and the light of day?

It did not.

They instead went around the voter… as a skillful burglar goes around security.

The EU changed the wrapping and jammed the thing into what became the Treaty of Lisbon, ratified in 2009.

And so the votes of millions were canceled at a stroke.

Here you have the European Union’s “democracy.”

It is the democracy of Henry Ford:

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

Mr. George Orwell might have something to say here… were he still among us.

And when precisely is Great Britain departing the European Union?

In 2016 a majority of British voters opted out.

In 2019… they wait yet.

And if Europe bears the standard for democracy, please explain les gilets jaunes— the yellow jackets.

So displeased were they with their government… tens of thousands of mostly middle-class Frenchmen recently ran riot in the streets.

At issue was a burdensome gasoline tax that bore cruelly upon them.

Elites justified the tax to battle climate change. But those it most affected were never consulted.

The French government ultimately yielded — memories of the guillotine linger.

But only after the rioters had half of Paris in siege.

If this be democracy… then we ask to be excused.

And the prescriptions Davos Man supplies never seem to apply to him.

He would slow your carbon dioxide emissions to a trickle. Meantime, some 1,500 private jets will descend upon Davos this week.

We must conclude this Davos Man is an exquisitely swinish fellow.

But Klaus Schwab has seen the future, shining and brilliant — public-private cooperation:

A new framework for global public-private cooperation has been taking shape. Public-private cooperation is about harnessing the private sector and open markets to drive economic growth for the public good, with environmental sustainability and social inclusiveness always in mind.

The preceding can be reduced to two words:

Crony capitalism.

“Ready or not,” Schwab concludes, “a new world is upon us.”

Just so.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, it sounds much like the old…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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