Are you sure you should be doing that?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is money-lending approaching its tipping point?


Chartists are always trying to scry a pattern in markets. Here's one that doesn't seem too difficult to discern: the long-term deceleration in bank lending to the UK private sector.

It looks like a cycle of around 18 years, but rather than simply repeating, the pattern is progressive: lower peaks each time, and lower lows. And for the first time since 1963 (which is as far as the online BoE data goes), we are in negative territory. Previous highs of  c. 35%, 25% and 15% suggest that the next peak will be more of a hillock, at 5%.

Or maybe there will be a phase shift, into some disorderly deflation. Australian Economist Steve Keen has attempted to model macroeconomic change as debt increases, and one curious feature is that the model predicts an apparent tendency towards a moderate point, followed by a catastrophic breakdown in wages and profits - see for example the graphs on pages 43 and 44 of his paper entitled "Are we 'It' Yet?".

The economy is not a machine, of course. It is more like a game played with ever-varying rules, like Calvinball. But the value of Keen's observations is in showing that there must, in fact, be a change in the rules at some point, simply because without it the game breaks down altogether. 

Currently, our counters are cash notes, bank deposit statements, share certificates, bonds, Treasury promises and property deeds - plus the derivative contracts that outweigh everything else. Whether they will be freely accepted by all players in the next version of the game remains to be seen; perhaps they will suffer the fate of Continental and Confederate currency.

No wonder that many thinking persons are converting to tangible assets of various types, even if they seem overpriced according to the present system of reckoning.

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Libertarians should consider commercial tyranny as well as political

I've just happened on a documentary screened on Russia TV (Freeview here in the UK), about the battle between a small Canadian farmer and Monsanto.

I think the fight for freedom is no longer solely against Big Brother. Libertarians should consider Big MD/Big CEO as a major threat, especially since multinational corporations are more powerful than many governments.

And I don't think I'm alone in feeling that patenting life itself is in some way an outrage.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Royal Yacht and the pig-ignorant commentariat

Even Sunday Times journalists can be stunningly ignorant and stupid, it seems. Camilla Long ("never 'eard of 'er", as Harry Hill would say) opines - well, no, read the crap yourself, if you can stand it. The arch title is pretty much a précis of the whole article: "A yacht? Wouldn’t the Queen prefer a really nice soap?"

Perhaps it's the Murdoch connection, I don't know. But this anti-monarchical drivel is of a piece with the sniggering on Radio 4's News Quiz, which I heard driving home yesterday. The panel are usually OK making funnies about animals and human foibles, but when it comes to politics and economics they don't know sh*t.

Has it not occurred to all the pseudo-sophisticates in the media that

(a) The Queen is the Head of State (something Tony Blair was liable to forget).

(b) Show matters. If you don't understand the importance of symbol and pageantry, get out of the commenting game. The soi-disant Labourites understand, all right - why else would TB attempt to get himself a "Blair Force One", and Brown find a way to refuse it him?

(c) When the Royal Yacht was operational, before the Inglorious Revolution of 1997, it was not only a status symbol for our country, but a roving, floating venue for discreet diplomacy and business dealing - and may I suggest, rather less demimondaine than Oleg Deripaska's (the Queen K). Or Murdoch's own Rosehearty.

F****** idiots.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Sack all teachers who can't answer this

"Supergravity theories are often said to be the only consistent theories of interacting massless spin 3/2 fields.

Discuss."

There. That should sort out those baaaaad teachers. Did you know only 17 were struck off for "professional incompetence" in 10 years? (Shame about the Lord Charles-like pic of Michael Gove in that article.)

Erm, how many bad teachers SHOULD there be, then?

Or is this really about the naughty larrikins not wanting a second scything of their pension rights, "at a time when the whole country is suffering"? In prosperous times, they could've switched to a different career, if they were any good, which by definition they're not; in bad times, we simply can't afford to treat them decently.

Much easier to make them keep their heads down with a steady fusillade of criticism, threats and insults. Serve them right, they forgot they were below stairs people.

Fred Goodwin is 53.

Pip pip!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Steve Keen: Dow to drop 35%, housing 40%?

Australian economist Steve Keen has previously argued that it is far more beneficial to bail out consumers than the banks, and now has made it part of a manifesto for avoiding a worse-than-the-1930s economic depression.

As part of his analysis, he looks at the Dow:

... and the US housing market:


If his exponential trend lines are correct, stocks will have to fall by a further 35% and houses 40%, ignoring overshoot.

If that seems overly pessimistic, consider James Howard Kunstler, who revisits his "Dow 4,000" mantra and modifies it to 1,000 by 2014. Unbelievable? Only if you think tomorrow will be no worse than yesterday, and ignore how freakish the whole period from the mid-1980s has been. I had a go at reading the patterns back in February 2011 and the next Dow low looked around 4,500 - adjusted for CPI, in view of our inflation-happy leaders.

What would I know about it, you may say. Well, what does anybody know, and more pertinently, what do they know?

I have to say that I may soon need to modify my investment disclosure, as it may be prudent to begin buying physical gold in regular small quantities, against the possibility of a serious market breakdown and savaging of the value of cash. The gold price is still rather rich for my taste, but what's the alternative?

Do you really think our politicians, bankers and economists have a credible plan to sort out the problems? I like Keen's, but I'll give you long odds against it ever happening. Still, better noble failure than dishonourable compromise, I think the Japanese would agree: 判官贔屓.

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Steve Keen: Dow to drop 35%, housing 40%?

Australian economist Steve Keen has previously argued that it is far more beneficial to bail out consumers than the banks, and now has made it part of a manifesto for avoiding a worse-than-the-1930s economic depression.

As part of his analysis, he looks at the Dow:

... and the US housing market:


If his exponential trend lines are correct, stocks will have to fall by a further 35% and houses 40%, ignoring overshoot.

If that seems overly pessimistic, consider James Howard Kunstler, who revisits his "Dow 4,000" mantra and modifies it to 1,000 by 2014. Unbelievable? Only if you think tomorrow will be no worse than yesterday, and ignore how freakish the whole period from the mid-1980s has been. I had a go at reading the patterns back in February 2011 and the next Dow low looked around 4,500 - adjusted for CPI, in view of our inflation-happy leaders.

What would I know about it, you may say. Well, what does anybody know, and more pertinently, what do they know?

I have to say that I may soon need to modify my investment disclosure, as it may be prudent to begin buying physical gold in regular small quantities, against the possibility of a serious market breakdown and savaging of the value of cash. The gold price is still rather rich for my taste, but what's the alternative?

Do you really think our politicians, bankers and economists have a credible plan to sort out the problems? I like Keen's, but I'll give you long odds against it ever happening. Still, better noble failure than dishonourable compromise, I think the Japanese would agree: 判官贔屓.

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

The poisoned environment, the EU and the need for a more radical revision of democracy

"Endocrine disruptors can accentuate or inhibit the response to hormonal signals. They have been
implicated as one of the potential causes of the significant drop in male fertility observed in Europe over the last 50 years and as having negative impacts on the environment."



I'm not fond of being bossed-about, but clearly there are some matters that have to be addressed at a collective level and it seems that the EU has added this to the 2012 agenda (htp: Ian Parker-Joseph). If the science is right, then yes, I support action.

And while I also support those (especially UKIP) who resist our regional tryout of the New World Order, has anyone considered that if we did successfully disconnect from the EU political machine, we'd be left with the domestic dictators of Westminster and Whitehall, freshly energized and unshackled?

The democracy project has a lot more to do than tweak Rompuy's nose.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, Alastair Smith has just published an article in The Economist, explaining why those in power are never acting in our best interest. After an amusingly cynical analysis, he concludes:

It’s not possible to reform a system by imploring people to do the right thing. You have to know how it works. Dictators already know how to be dictators—they are very good at it. We want to point out how they do it so that it’s possible to think about reforms that can actually have meaningful consequences.

A mild defense of Dawkins

This is in response to Sackerson’s piece on Richard Dawkins. It is probably not my best work, given my lack of sleep.

I have read ‘The God Delusion’, and Anthony Flew’s review of it. Most of the former is concerned with the science of why religion appears to exist, based on the scientific evidence available. In his first major point, Flew chooses to focus on Dawkins’ discussion of Einstein, in which he says:

“But (I find it hard to write with restraint about this obscurantist refusal on the part of Dawkins) he makes no mention of Einstein’s most relevant report: namely, that the integrated complexity of the world of physics has led him to believe that there must be a Divine Intelligence behind it.”

The problem for Flew is that I have read Einstein’s writings and comments on the subject. The latter explicitly said that he did not believe in a deity, and that the most that could be said is to deify the structure of the Universe itself. This is not quite what Flew implies. The rest of his review does not address the science presented.

That being dealt with, I have far more interest in the reasons for the outspoken anti-religious tactics of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, P.Z. Myers and Christopher Hitchens.

It is my claim that they are a product of the current social forces.
Since I moved to the US in 1978, I have seen a rise in the loudness and power of the Religious Right, who have supplanted the fiscal conservatives as the core of the Republican Party. These people are not the pleasant vicars and church-goers of my youth. For my UK readers, I note that Ian Paisley was educated at Bob Jones University, a font of wisdom for the fundamentalist community. His style is representative of many in the movement.

This rise in power can be explained in part by the political and economic uncertainty from the gradual decline in the power of the US, and from the many scientific discoveries which show that emotionally-charged deeply-held beliefs (especially ‘no evolution’) are simply not supported by reality. As any psychologist will tell you, this conflict between the frontal lobe and amygdala results in anger, directed firmly at anyone who rejects their ‘correct’ beliefs. Some have coined this the Ameritaliban.

A few people, such as Pope John Paul II and Stephen Jay Gould, tried to make peace, by showing that religion and science could live in harmony. This has also been tried by the Templeton Foundation. These efforts were roundly rejected by the anti-science crowd, who continue to vilify the former two after death, and use every tactic possible to neuter science education and research.

Faced with a call of ‘no quarter’, is it any wonder that voices like these arose on the pro-science side?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Foreign demand to support the price of gold?

I start with an entertaining and informative investor newsletter: David Collum's annual personal investment report, which is worth reading in full. The prose is very sparky and the scorn and indignation laid on good and thick.

For the impatient, I can report that he begins by describing his own asset allocation:

With rebalancing achieved only by directing my savings, I changed nothing in my portfolio year over year. The total portfolio as of 12/31/11 is as follows:

Precious Metals et al.: 53%
Energy: 14%
Cash Equiv (short duration): 30%
Other: 3%


... which tells you where he stands in the bull/bear debate.

Now, here's a sweet little piece of possible future villainy:

[The Chinese] are rumored to have 1,000 tons of gold with a target of 8,000 tons. How do they buy 7,000 tons? They bid for it like everybody else. Chinese citizens have been encouraged to save using gold (a defacto gold standard and covert accumulation). Although the gold bugs in the US occasionally discuss confiscation, I think the Chinese proletariat are the ones being set up. 

That is so nasty and cynical that it seems almost inevitable.

And easy:

7,000 metric tonnes of gold at current prices ($50,290.84 per kilo at time of writing) is worth a shade over $352 billion.

This IMF report from 2010 (fig. 3, p. 27) estimates Chinese household net savings at some 15% of GDP, and  World Bank data estimates GDP in 2010 to be the equivalent of US $5.88 trillion. So the dollar equivalent of Chinese net household savings is around $882 billion.

So if Chinese convert merely 40% of their personal cash to gold (which David Collum seems to have done already), the target will be met. Theoretically, it's doable today. Meanwhile I still see not just one, but a number of shops offering to buy gold in my neighbourhood. Perhaps the gold is heading East, like the copper wiring from our railway signals and the wrought iron manhole covers from our streets.

It's not just China that's importing gold, of course; Indians (for example) save a third of their income in gold.

So it seems to me that the gold price won't crash back to the levels of some years ago.

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.