Lou Barnes investors financial weekly blog with economic advice for real estate investorsQuiet on the surface, anything but quiet underneath. And “over there”… oh my.

The most important single datum for the investor: the Treasury last week sold at auction $70 billion in new long-term bonds for the first time in six years without the Fed as a QE buyer. The auction was effortless, the yield on the 10-year 2.30% Monday, 2.35% Wednesday, and Friday just under 2.33%. Mortgages have held slightly above 4.00%.

The world is hungry for US paper, bonds or stocks, trying to get out of whatever currency it holds (except Swiss Francs, the ultra-safety play) into dollars. And it is very nearly the whole world. Only China is maintaining its dollar peg, but everyone assumes it will have to devalue as well.

The linkage in all currencies at the moment begins with the US economy, easily in the best shape of all, no matter how poor it feels to 70% of our citizens. The National Federation of Independent Business ( NFIB) small-business survey has been stuck in a Great Recession trench, but this year it’s out for real — not healthy, but out. US retail sales managed a modest 0.3% increase in October after September’s contraction.
US GDP is growing on a baseline of 2.5%, stripped of distortions from inventories and trade.

The investor view overseas

The Eurozone late last week announced 3rd quarter results: up 0.2% after the 0.1% 2nd quarter. The London Telegraph on China (the Brits for old reasons are still well-connected in Asia): producer prices have fallen in 32-straight months, its CPI 1.6% and falling versus 3.5% target, and its actual GDP growth probably less than 5%.

Brazilians, Russians, euro-Europeans, non-euro Europeans (Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Czechs…), Brits, Koreans… all have good reason to sell domestic money and buy dollars. The linkage: deflation is spreading outward from the worst-managed, a dead heat between Japan, Europe, and China.

How pervasive is deflation

Deflation and even sub-normal inflation are fatal in a debt-soaked world. Debtors must pay interest and principal in money more valuable than they borrowed, and can’t borrow new funds. The remedy understood long before the dawn of central banks (circa 1875): chop official interest rates and print money until inflation is restored, aided by your weakening currency. The alternate or companion remedy is fiscal: borrow and spend. But the Krugman mirage is foreclosed today by ruinous sovereign debt.

A currency weakened by printing should make your exports more attractive to others, and make imports more expensive, which should… should… push domestic inflation up and out of the danger zone.

Today that ancient strategy is failing. If the fundamental global problem is excess production and excess labor, those who devalue get this disastrous reward: higher import prices raise domestic costs, but not incomes. Exactly the same effect as an oil “price shock,” self-inflicted, underway in Japan right now.

Another small problem: if everyone devalues at once, their relative positions do not change. Except versus the US and the buck. We have precedent for this situation: the 1997-’98 “Asian Contagion.” At its feverish peak, Russia defaulted on its bonds, and hyper-leverage by some math wonks at nobody-ever-heard-of Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsed the financial system.

In 1997 the Fed misunderstood. It was terrified of an unstoppable global recession, and cut the Fed funds rate from 5.50% to 4.75%. Greenspan, Summers, and Rubin made the cover of Time as the “Committee to Save the World.” Few people understood that the flood of global cash to the dollar was an enormous stimulant here, and the Fed’s rate cut just blimped more gas into the stock bubble.

Today I’m not so sure the cash flood will be as beneficial. We, too, suffer from incipient wage deflation. But, short of starting a trade war with tariffs, we have no way to keep the world from swamping our lifeboat — if that’s the correct analogy. The Fed today is struggling. It sees conditions precedent to an overheated labor market, but a tsunami of deflation as well. Its threats to raise rates just make the currency contagion worse. Better to cork it for a bit, as the Bank of England has done.

10-year T-note in the last year. We held the 2.35% of Aug-Sept, but must keep going down or break the down-trend since January.

Lou Barnes' blog the 10-year T note in the last year

One can argue that “optimism” is the wrong word, below. Alternately: “accustomed to poor conditions.” Hunch: things are genuinely better in small-biz land.

Lou Barnes chart on the national federation of small business optimism index

Retail sales appeared to down-trend from mid-2013 into last spring; now the chart seems to have stabilized back in 2012. Trendless.

Lou Barnes' blog year or year change in retail sales and food service

At the heart of the Fed’s problem: inflation “expectations” (U of Michigan surveys) have been far higher than reality. Not hard to see why: damned few people inside the US are aware of the devaluation/deflation slopping ashore here, generated by waves far away.

Lou Barnes' blog chart on inflation expectations

Oil in the last year. NOBODY knows where this goes. Hunch: about done, too easy for the likes of China to open the import spigot. But oil could stay down for years.

Lou Barnes' blog oil prices in the last year

Yen in the last year. Down 12% in 90 days, next stop 120/dollar (up is weaker).

Lou Barnes' blog Yen in the last year

Euro. Not declining as fast because euro is a “safe-haven” currency, and a lot of people think Draghi is more noise than action. His announced intent to add $1 trillion to the ECB balance sheet would just put the ECB back where it was three years ago. Big QE still seems unlikely.

Lou Barnes' blog Euro in the last year

How pervasive is the mass devaluation? Swedish kroner below. Its central bank discovered to its horror that raising its rate in a deflating world brought… deflation. Hence panicked action. Kroner/$ in the chart: worth fifteen cents in spring, now thirteen.

Lou Barnes's blog on deflation Swedish  kroner

British pound, traditionally quoted in dollars, thus chart line going down is going down. The UK has had the best financial policies ever since 2008. The pound began to weaken when the BOE began to postpone its intent to raise its rate, while the Fed continues to rattle sabers. Smart, the Brits, with Canadian Mark Carney running the BOE.

Lou Barnes' blog and the price of the British pound

Gold. I am a permanent anti-bug, distrustful even of alleged signals from gold. However, this 5-year gold chart is a stark warning to the Fed.

Lou Barnes' blog on 5-year gold chart prices

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  • Danny Johnson

    Danny Johnson has flipped hundreds of houses over the last 11+ years in San Antonio, Texas. He blogs about flipping houses at FlippingJunkie.com and is the author of "Flipping Houses Exposed: 34 Weeks in the Life of a Successful House Flipper," a best-selling book on Amazon. He also provides real estate investor websites at www.LeadPropeller.com.

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