Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Year ahead forecast - stormy

Austrian economists are not huge fans of forecasting as are most mainstream economists, especially those who add a decimal point to lure the gullible into thinking the forecast is accurate. But that doesn’t mean Austrians don’t forecast. Hayek wrote in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that... 
"Without such specific information about the individual elements we shall be confined to what on another occasion I have called mere pattern predictions - predictions of some of the general attributes of the structures that will form themselves, but not containing specific statements about the individual elements of which the structures will be made up."
I call Hayek's concept of forecasting, pattern predictions, or qualitative forecasting vs quantitative. In other words, Austrian economists can tell what will happen next but not exactly when or how much.

That doesn’t mean that Austrian economists don’t ever use numbers in forecasting. Obviously, I have provided a few of those. But I hope readers interpret those forecasts as tendencies and illustrations of theory, not as point-accurate forecasts.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oil can sink lower than we think

Everyone is wondering how low the price of oil can go. It’s well below the profitable level in the US, but the pumps keep pumping. In this earlier post I showed that oil companies will continue to pump at a loss as long as the revenue covers variable costs because the costs of shutting down an oil well can be very high.

But how long will they continue to operate with prices around variable costs? One analyst says they will do so until the cash runs out:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How the Fed creates bulls and bears

If you grasp this you will be light years ahead of most economists. Bull and bear markets can't exist without the Fed manipulating the money supply. Here's why.

Assume the stock of money is fixed. For example, say there exists only $1 trillion in gold and banks have lent out nine times that amount so that the total money supply of gold plus credit equals $10 trillion because the required bank reserves are 10%. Also assume the population remains constant. If nothing changed, prices would remain the same and the economy would be in a state that economists call equilibrium. Profits would equal the cost of credit, say 5%.

Now we have to look at how many times the $10 trillion is turned over, or changes hands, in order to figure out the total sales for the year. We’ll assume that the turnover, or velocity, of money is five. Then total sales for the year would come to $50 trillion. A profit of 5% would mean $2.5 trillion. Now let’s assume the PE ratio, the measure of risk tolerance, is 15. The market cap would be $37.5 trillion.

With a fixed stock of money, productivity increases at zero and the population remaining constant, the stock market would show the same values every day. Planned investment equals real savings.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Poking the bear - what happens next to the market?

The S&P is down about 9% for the year and 10% from the highs last year as of this writing. By the time you read this, the index may be even lower. The bear has been hibernating for seven years and may be waking up. If so, he’ll be hungry for your nest egg. 

Technicians will be looking for the lows of last year for support as if nothing has changed. But a lot has changed. Profits for the fourth quarter of last year are expected to fall over 5%, according to data provider FactSet. And even if you leave out the disastrous energy sector, profits are expected to be flat.

China, Brazil, Europe, Japan are in worse shape. US manufacturing has been in a recession for months. Oil, gas and mining are in recessions. We are beginning to see the effects in the consumer sector as retail sales from the Christmas season sunk below those of last year.

This is a good time to look at where we are in the business cycle using insights from pages 105-107 in my book Financial Bull Riding:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Big Short – good movie, bad economics

The outlaw couple Bonnie and Clyde was not only famous for their bank robberies in the 1930s, they were popular. They lost some of their appeal when they began murdering policemen, but people loved the fact that they robbed banks because the people hated banks. They had watched banks foreclose on farm families during the Dust Bowl and depression. Committing the economic sin of fixating on the seen while ignoring the unseen, an error first identified by the great French economist Frederick Bastiat, they blamed the bankers for the farming disasters.

People have loved to hate bankers for centuries, often for good reason. Until the creation of the FDIC, depositors occasionally lost their life savings to bank failures. Now they don’t, but the people see banks constantly bailed out by governments when they make bad decisions and then foreclosing on borrowers who have made decisions that were no worse.

So it was no surprise that the movie The Big Short blamed greedy bankers for the recent Great Recession. I reviewed the book on which the movie was based, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, here. As I noted then, Lewis’ economics is terrible, but the book is a great read because at its heart it glorifies the difficulties, hard work and genius of entrepreneurs and the heroes of the film are entrepreneurs.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Market crash overdue says Spitznagel

According to the legendary hedge fund manager and author of The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World, Mark Spitznagel, the stock market should follow Canadian geese and head south any day now. I reviewed his book here because he uses the Austrian business-cycle theory (ABCT) to guide his investment decisions. It has proven the most popular post I have written.

Spitznagel created his own index for tracking the market cycle he calls the Equity Q Ratio. Calculating the ratio starts with the relationship of the cost of titles to capital (stock prices) to the cost of the capital the title represents. That part is roughly comparable to a price-to-book value. Then Spitznagel compares the actual ratio to the historical average. The deviation from the historical average is the Q Ratio. The stock market in October was 71% above the long term average. It was higher only just before the dot.com crash of 2000.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How Christmas ended starvation and enriched the West

The world was flat until 1600. Not the shape of the planet. According to the best economic history, standards of living even in 1800 AD hardly differed from those of 5000 BC. TV shows dealing with the ancient past assume a gradual slope of progress so they portray Egyptians or Abraham and Sarah in the Bible as if they were primitive South American tribes still stuck in hunting and gathering mode for food. But if economic historians are correct, Egyptians in 3000 BC lived as well as the eighteenth century French.

Famine and mass starvation were common. Nobel-Prize winner Robert Fogel wrote that in eighteenth century France 20% of the people could get only enough calories each day to fuel a short walk to the spot where they begged.

Of course, some ancient capitals did better than others by looting conquered nations but per capita wealth never increased; it just sloshed from one conqueror to another. Rome enjoyed wealth and splendor because it had stolen stuff from defeated nations for the most part.