Fifty years after the 1929 crash, a group of money managers and investment thinkers put together a collection of essays looking back at that experience. The result was a distillation of some pretty fine investment wisdom. Timely, I think, to review now.One of the contributors was Arthur Zeikel, then with Merrill Lynch. The title of […]
In early July 1944, delegates from 44 countries gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. A three-week summit took place, at which a new system was agreed to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the Second World War.The U.S. was already the world’s commercial powerhouse, having eclipsed the British […]
When you type a website address into a browser, you might have noticed that the letters “http” appear at the front. “HTTP” stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. In typing a Web address, you are actually sending an HTTP command to transmit that website to you. Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the means by which information is […]
Some people are saying it is just what the doctor ordered. Others are saying that the cure is worse than the disease.The Affordable Care Act? Reengagement in Iraq? Tea Party bullying in the GOP?Not this time. Just as protracted in the corridors of Congress and the White House is the debate over the proposed reform […]
In 2012, money mandarins running the European Union chose stagnation over restructuring. Here’s a consequence of that choice: expectations for a self-sustaining economic recovery keep getting crushed.Two years ago, European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to hold the eurozone together. He bluffed nervous investors into believing in a […]
Picture the scene. It’s 2020. You’re at the checkout in a convenience store with a carton of milk. But you’ve got no cash and you’ve left your cards at home. No problem. You scan your right index finger; the green light flashes. Purchase approved and you leave. Easy.Is this a realistic vision of the future, […]
People jacked up about income inequality can find a new hobby. The 1% are victims of a doomsday machine, and the countdown is ticking. Machine, thy name is “family.”This came to mind as I was reading a preview of Columbia Professor Andrew Ang’s forthcoming, must-read book on Asset Management. Ang is that oxymoron, an exciting […]
Here’s a fun fact: Although we all hate the U.S. dollar, as it continues to hemorrhage wealth, its foothold as the world’s reserve currency isn’t going to disappear overnight.A Russian gas deal with China won’t change that — as we’ll highlight below.But before we get to the nitty-gritty, let’s dive into a story that’s right […]
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously used the term “forgotten man” in a 1932 speech to describe those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who, he felt, government should aid.But the originator of the phrase “forgotten man” had a whole different meaning in mind. He aimed to expose the seeming good intentions of government to reveal […]
“As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve derives its authority from the Congress of the United States. It is considered an independent central bank because its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government, it does not receive funding […]
The Keynesian disaster recovery plan has been to lower rates, force people to take more risk in search of yield, and entice others to borrow and spend and, magically, more jobs will be created. If people won’t buy stocks, central banks will.Back in 2011, Ben Bernanke, when asked if QE2 was driving up stock prices, […]
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices are rising at a 2.1% annual rate. This suggests to us that the current stock market boom will die with a bang, rather than a whimper.Fed economists say they don’t think inflation rates are rising. They think the most recent reading is a fluke. But why […]
Entrepreneurs are high-tailing it out of the United States, and it’s the politicians’ faultThe U.S. government is driving some of its most productive citizens abroad. The only beneficiaries are countries such as Singapore and Switzerland, which offer sanctuary to Americans fleeing avaricious Uncle Sam.Three years ago Eduardo Saverin, one of Facebook’s founders, joined 1,780 other […]
Politicians love raising the minimum wage because they don’t have to ask voters to pay more in taxes. They just dump the costs onto shop owners. But they don’t act like politicians and go into debt to pretend like they have all the money in the world. They face real world situations. And sometimes that means replacing workers with more affordable options...
As the world gets more digital, people forget about the benefits of transacting in cash. And government officials know that.
The experts will tell you the recession is over, but they’re only torturing the data to hide the truth. The economy never recovered from the downturn it experienced. But the downturn happened in 2000, not 2008. The country’s been in the middle of a 14 year recession and hardly anyone knows the truth.
Every time Bitcoin crashes, it winds up at a price greater than it’s previous high. Yet the experts still call it a currency fad that will fade away. But a little over a year since it really took up, the digital currency is still going strong, and is once again seeing its price rise. But is there another reason why people are buying Bitcoins.
All paper currency has a shelf life. It could be 5 years or 500 years, but at some point, the value of any paper currency eventually reaches zero. That's why, for centuries, people have turned to one shiny metal to safeguard their personal store of wealth. And, as Jim Rickards explains, you still have that option. Read on...
Harold Hamm isn’t your typical entrepreneur. His life’s story shows you success in America doesn’t always depend on a fat checkbook
It’s a destructive cycle that comes around everytime your politicians ask you to take to the polls. The government’s meddling creates unexpected problems that eventually overshadow the planners’ original intentions. But that only leads the way for even more interventions.
Politicians love inflation. It’s a way to pay for the government’s debts without upsetting the public by raising taxes, or their special interests by cutting government. So they’ll flood the economy with easy money and eat away at your savings. But that’s only part of the story...
You can count the number of people who went to jail over the 2008 financial crisis on one hand. Which is strange considering the U.S. loves to put people away in jail. But as one author discovered in his most recent book, having the right connections and a big enough bank account, can protect you from even the worst crimes.
Obama recently claimed this was the “Decade of the Brain”. But it not the first time the government made that promise. The last time they did it, they wasted millions of your tax dollars. Now they’re back for round two. But this time, their failure could mean more than squandered money. It could mean making Alzheimer’s even worse for those who suffer from it.
“So we have, indeed, had a disappointingly slow recovery, and our consistent expectations for a pickup in growth have been dashed over a number of years… And the labor market is behaving in some perplexing ways and showing patterns that are novel.”–Federal Reserve Chairperson Janet Yellen in a speech to the Economic Club of New […]
When Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys came out, the author caused a stir while making the media rounds to promote it. “The stock market is rigged,” he told 60 Minutes flatly. His comments set off a firestorm of debate as to whether sharp techies and their fast computers are screwing small investors.As titillating as […]
Why Is U.S. Health Care So Much More Expensive?After years of research and many conversations with health policy experts, I see three key culprits of expensive health care in the U.S.In no particular order, they are the third-party payer system (i.e., employer-provided health care), malpractice suits, and administrative support costs/paperwork.The unintended consequence of institutionalized employer-provided […]
When you think of economists, you might think of policy pundits arguing ideas on how to fix the country’s stagnant economy. But that’s only part of their job. Most of the time, their job boils down to decision-making, and how to make the best decision based on your particular circumstance.
I just spoke to a friend, Skinner Layne, who is from Arkansas, but now lives in Santiago, Chile. He emigrated there and is now heading a startup enterprise that is showing great promise. It is called Exosphere. I asked him about the backstory to the company. It turns out that he moved in 2008, six months before the U.S. real estate markets blew up. He left to escape the worst of it.
How did he know that the downturn was coming? His answer came quickly: “The yield curve inverted.”
I was just reading about this very indicator in Mark Skousen’s new book, A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street. Here, Skousen, investor and economist, explains how the teachings of the Austrian School provide some excellent rules of thumb that allow us to anticipate, and act on, the big turns in the business cycle.
In the Austrian view tracing back a century ago, interest rates indicate the preference for goods sooner, rather than later. If you don’t have the money to get the stuff, you borrow for some period of time. Borrowers pay a higher rate if their payback term is longer. That’s because the risk is higher — who knows what’s going to happen in 30 years? — and lenders expect a higher payoff to wait longer for their money. So naturally, the yield curve should show lower overnight rates than five-year, 10-year, or 30-year rates. That’s why the normal yield curve is positive — that is, upward sloping to the right.
What does it mean for the yield curve to be negative? It’s a bit like water running uphill. You can be pretty sure that there is some seismic shift going on. Usually, it means a Fed tightening. Or it could mean that investors are expecting bankruptcies in the future. It is highly predictive of a coming recession.
When it happens, you can also be sure that hordes of television pundits and economists will emerge to say that there is nothing unusual here. It is a perfectly normal thing, and it’s even healthy — certainly nothing to be alarmed about.
My friend Skinner knew better. How? He had been reading the work of F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises for years. He knew that there are certain constants in economic forces that do not change, no matter what government does. In fact, government and central bank attempts to manipulate the market can have exactly the opposite effect of the advertised results.
TV pundits are quick to agree with everything the Fed does. To spot the policy errors requires special knowledge that comes from reading sound economics.
That doesn’t mean that once you learn economics, you can predict the exact timing of events. In fact, this is also one of the observations of the Austrian School: There are no predictable quantitative relationships in the world of human action. This too differs from the mainstream view, which is forever seeking the magic formula to predict price movements.
I like the way Skousen describes financial markets. He says that prices in markets are like a dance. There are patterns and habits at work. But there are also surprises and improvisations going on. That’s part of the spirit of dance too. But the crucial thing here is that it takes two people to coordinate their moves in a dance, just as in markets, it takes buyers and sellers to make a price. Financial markets bring people together to their mutual benefit.
Nice image, isn’t it? It’s one that he elaborates on at length. In the course of his argument, he criticizes other points of view that don’t account for human decision-making and don’t account for the parameters of those decisions as set by economic reality. For example, just as dancers can’t start flying, markets can’t sustain parabolic price increases in one sector forever, even with Fed intervention.
Why did Skinner choose Chile as his home? Well, he knew it to be the most pro-enterprise country in Latin America, at least so far as he could tell. His reading in the Austrian tradition helped him see why this is important.
And he likes Latin America because it is the new world and doesn’t have economies bogged down by bad habits and massive welfare and regulatory bureaucracies. There is far less sludge in the system to harm economic growth. For this reason, he is very bullish on the whole region — and bearish on the U.S. and Europe.
This too reminds me of something else explored in the Skousen book. He discusses how institutions affect economic growth and can help people make better predictions about coming economic booms. A regime that is friendly to free enterprise might lower taxes or cut regulations. Even a little bit helps. Economies are like sponges for this stuff. Just a bit of encouragement — or, more precisely, just a bit of relaxation of the fetters — can spark huge economic booms.
This is why Skousen strongly suggests following the politics of a country to understand its economic future. He goes so far as to slightly scold fellow Austrians for holding a permanent bearish view on economies. He says that this point of view causes investors to miss economic booms such as, say, those in the 1980s and 2000s. And he is right to this extent: If your goal is to play the markets, it makes sense to be able to discern their upside, as well as their downside.
Monetary policy figures in here substantially. As Skousen says, an economy without a huge debt overhang that is emerging from rough economic times can find itself on an upswing if the Fed is pumping money at a rapid pace. Under this rule, you might have bought stocks in 2009. The problem is that this approach to economic policy cannot last. It creates new problems that cry out for correction. The tricky thing is to be able to spot the turning points.
What do Austrian economics imply about today’s precarious situation? Well, the Fed is making loud noises about pulling back its stimulus program. If the drug of new money is cut off, we could see short-term rates rise and blow up the balance sheets of many businesses, not to mention governments.
The beauty of the Austrian School is, fundamentally, this: It sees economics as an extension of human choice. There is nothing mechanical and predictable about it. But there are certain patterns that emerge just from the logic of human action itself. Skousen’s purpose here is to elucidate that logic and illustrate it with examples from the business pages. The results are interesting: You can gain insight into both worlds. In this book, the rubber of finance truly does meet the road of economics.
I’m intrigued at the confidence with which my friend Skinner took the step to move. Five years later, he has a thriving business and a happy life. He only did it once he had intellectually seceded from mainstream thinking. But just as important, he did it with the aid of solid economic thinking.
Now with Skousen’s book A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street, anyone can gain access to that knowledge. A selection like this makes a mighty contribution.