Monday, October 28, 2013

The End of Growth

Another great Jeff Rubin book that builds on the ideas from his first revealing book.
Rather than summarize all of it, I´m going to note a few personal learning points:

The caution siren is sounding, but nobody is listening:  I am confounded by the inability of governments to do anything that will lessen our dependence on fossil fuel.  The book mentions that the US continues to grant permits for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico for example.  After the Moacondo fiasco?  WTF.

Growth is the tenet of Economics: nobody quesitons it; it's the panecea of all economic ills

Potential growth is calculated from productivity and labour (are your factories at capacity, is your workforce growing).  The price of oil does not enter into the equation.

The good times of steady growth are over. An economy can't grow if can't afford to burn the fuel it runs on. Stimulus money and printing money not only creates a huge debt burden, but also causes inflation.

QE:  Fed buying up longer-term government bonds to bring down long-term interest rates. The lower rate of return on long-term gov't bonds, makes other investments more attractive by comparison.  Investors typically park huge sums of cash in long-term US bonds in an attempt to ride our a finacial storm. The Fed is trying to steer money to other parts of the financial system where it can do more good. Buying mortgage-backed securities also lowers mortgage rates which reduces borrowing costs for potential homeowners and hopefully stimulates the housing market.

China:  Every month, China's central bank shows up to buy US bonds (t-bills, t-notes and t-bonds) at the US treasuries auction. China buys US treasury bonds to help keep its currency from rising against the US dollar.  Their demand for treasuries is tantamont to a demand for US currency.  In foreign exchange markets, such demand is what allows a currency to hold its value. Rapacious American consumers have dined on cheap labour from China for decades.  China cycles the savings of these same workers into US treasuires so that Americans can keep buying cheap Chinese goods.    With energy scarcity, distance costs money.  Also higher Chinese wages boosts domestic economic activity which means less reliance on the US.  China is facing high inflation right now.  They can combat this by letting the value of their currency rise.  Letting the yuan rise in relation to the USD would mean that China pays less for imports (e.g. oil, corn) and gives Chinese consumers more purchasing power. China can simply turn inward to its 1.3B consumers.  Their auto market is already 50% larger than the US auto market. China could also start selling their US Treasuries -- this would flood the market, which would shrink the appetitie for buying US bonds at future Treasury auctions and sink the USD further.  In order to entice investors, the US would have to raise interest rates on their bonds.  This would affect US citizens (mortgage holders) as their interest rates would also rise.    

Admittedly, a lot of this basic info was beyond me.  What the hell did I learn at university exactly?  At any rate, the future is bleak.  And no one is doing anything about it.

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