Disrupted Disruptor – Legal Setback Sweepstakes

It seems Uber just can’t catch a break these days. First its license to operate in London was revoked. At issue was apparently that 43 unlicensed drivers were able to take an estimated 14,000 “unauthorized trips” due to a flaw in the Uber app (note that 45,000 licensed Uber drivers are working in London) .

 

Uber’s service has become an important part of London’s transport infrastructure – and a thorn in the side of established taxi services. [PT]

Photo credit: uber.com

 

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Plans and Consequences

You are probably already getting into the holiday spirit, perhaps you are even under a little stress. But the turn of the year will soon be here – an occasion to review the past year and make plans for the new one. Many people are doing just that – and their behavior is creating the strongest seasonal rally in the precious metals markets.

 

Anonymous industrial stackers showing off their freshly purchased silver hoard. [PT]

 

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A Critical Appraisal of a Hero of Central Monetary Planning

We apologize for publishing this Report late. We have been very busy developing the business. Last week the price of gold moved up $16, and that of silver $0.39. Almost two groceries leaked out of that store of value par excellence, bitcoin. But hey, stocks are up!

 

We admit to having a soft spot for the politically incorrect Paul Volcker. He frequently expressed bemusement at the newfangled obsessions of his successors at the Fed (as an example, at a conference in 2006 he remarked on the increasing emphasis on “core” inflation: “A great mantra of central bankers these days is ‘inflation targeting.’ I don’t understand that nomenclature. I didn’t think central bankers were in the business of targeting inflation. I thought we were supposed to be targeting stability.” h/t Grant’s). Nevertheless, we are on board with the criticism voiced below. Volcker was indeed instrumental (along with Milton Friedman, otherwise a champion of free markets, but oddly blind to the insidious nature of a monetary central planning agency) in persuading Nixon to abandon the last remnant of the gold standard, the Bretton Woods “gold exchange standard” that permitted foreign central banks to exchange their US dollar reserves for gold at a fixed exchange rate. Not only did this decision unleash a decade of economic and currency market chaos, it ultimately paved the way for the unbridled expansion in money and credit in train since the early 1980s. In the meantime we have arrived at a juncture where central banks are “forced” to adopt ever more insane policies as they rush from trying to prevent one potential systemic collapse after another. [PT]

 

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Addicted to Spending

There are many falsehoods being perpetuated these days when it comes to money, financial markets, and the economy. But when you cut the chaff, three related facts remain: Uncle Sam needs your money. He needs a lot of your money. And he needs it bad!

 

The inescapable logic of tax & spend: empty vault… empty pockets… gimme more! [PT]

 

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Re-Purposing of Tractor Parts in South Dakota

 

The price of gold was all but unchanged, but the price of silver dropped another 46 copper pennies last week.

We came across an article showing pictures of something we have previously described: sculptures made from parts taken from farm tractors.

Here is a picture I took:

 

The good old Predator made of tractor parts – looks almost like the real thing! Here is background information on the artist and more pictures of his work. [PT]

 

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Panem et Circenses

The transfer of wealth from workers and savers to governments and big banks continued this week with Swiss-like precision. The process is both mechanical and subtle. Here in the USA the automated elegance of this ongoing operation receives little attention.

 

Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt… so said Juvenal, reportedly [PT]

 

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Great Moqueur

Poor Donald Trump. The Chinese won’t play ball with him. The Democrats are trying to impeach him. And now, other world leaders are laughing at him!

 

Mesmerized by his glorious radiance – the shepherd alights amid his flock. [PT]

 

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Credit Market Bifurcation

By all accounts, credit markets remain on fire. 2019 is already a record year for corporate bond issuance, beating the previous record set in 2017 by a sizable margin. Demand for the debt of governments and government-related issuers remains extremely strong as well, despite non-existent and often even negative issuance yields. Even now, with economic activity clearly slowing and numerous  threats to the post-GFC recovery looming on the horizon, the occasional rise in credit spreads is routinely reversed. And yet, under the placid surface problems are beginning to percolate. Consider exhibit A:

 

The chart shows option-adjusted credit spreads on three rating categories – while spreads on ‘BB’ rated (best junk bond grade) and ‘BBB’ rated (weakest investment grade) bonds remain close to their lows, spreads on ‘CCC’ rated bonds continue to break higher – considerably so. An increase by 473 basis points from their late 2018 low indicates there is quite a bit of concern.

 

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Poland’s Gold and the Conspiracy Theorists

The price of gold was up enough to buy a bottle of Two Buck Chuck wine, and the price of silver was up enough to buy a wooden nickel (well, not enough to buy a real nickel nickel).

 

Poland’s gold bars are packaged by employees of G4S International Logistics to be transported from London to Poland. Poland’s gold was originally transferred to London at the beginning of WW II, when Stalin and Hitler invaded and partitioned the country in the late 1930s. For some reason Poland’s post-war communist government left it there – presumably because it was easier to sell in London. [PT]

Photo credit: G4SI

 

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The Bubble Machine

The launch angle of the U.S. stock market over the past decade has been steep and relentless. The S&P 500, after bottoming out at 666 on March 6, 2009, has rocketed up over 370 percent. New highs continue to be reached practically every day.

 

S&P 500 weekly, since the low of 2009. A party of roaring 20s proportion in terms of duration, extent and end point valuations (a post-war inflation episode triggered a devastating bear market from November 1919 to August 1921, in which the DJIA fell from ~120 to ~64 points. It then rose until early September 1929, topping at ~380 points. By the time it peaked, Wall Street had created all sorts of new-fangled instruments such as the then highly popular investment trusts, everybody was speculating on margin and the equivalent of today’s FANGs such as RCA (“Radio”) traded at previously unheard of multiples – as did the rest of the market. Numerous sharp corrections along the way had eradicated the perception of risk in investors’ minds. We have discussed the parallels between the two eras before, and in the meantime another parallel can be discerned in the charts. In late 1928 the market suffered a sharp sell-off in the normally seasonally strong period, very similar to what occurred in 2018. It was the biggest correction of the entire bull market, but the market swiftly rallied again and by February 1929 it made new highs. It then proceeded to build a chart formation known as “three peaks and a domed house”. The three peaks of 2019 are not a perfect replica of the basic schematic of the formation, but the timing is in line with it (they are supposed to be established within 6-10 months). George Lindsay’s original schematic is very detailed, it is therefore unlikely that the pattern will repeat perfectly every time. The so-called domed house can take up to 7 months to form, but we would focus on the shape rather than the precise duration. Whether the formation does indeed form remains to be seen. It is definitely something worth keeping an eye on. [PT]

 

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Misguided Incentives

The price of gold subsided a few bucks, and the price of silver blipped a few pennies. Not much action last week, groceries neither pumped into nor drained out of this asset class. Those who look to exchange capital goods for groceries need to find a different asset.

 

The best-laid plans… [PT]

 

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Monetary Lunacy, Nipponese Version

Earlier this month, Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda commented that Japan’s central planners are considering a 50-year government bond issue as a long-term means of putting a floor under super-long interest rates.  How this floor would be placed is extremely suspect; we will have more on this in a moment.  But first, the dual benefits – according to Japan’s central planners…

 

Kuroda-san: the man with a plan, or rather, a plethora of plans (過剰な計画). [PT]

 

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