Addicted to Dollars

Carmen Reinhart
. .dollars

FRANKFURT – Since the end of World War II, the United States’ share in world GDP has fallen from nearly 30% to about 18%. Other advanced economies have also experienced sustained declines in their respective slices of the global pie. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the international monetary system.
 
Over the same period, China’s share of world GDP almost quadrupled, to around 16% (just behind the US), and emerging markets now account for about 60% of global output, up from about 40% in the immediate post-war years. Given that advanced-economies’ growth prospects remain subdued, these trends are likely to continue – even with the evident slowing in China and other emerging markets.
 
And yet global finance has not mirrored this shift in balance from the advanced to the emerging. The post-war Bretton Woods arrangements institutionalized the role of the US dollar as the main reserve currency, and until the 1970s, about two-thirds of global GDP was anchored to the greenback. The remainder was largely split between the British pound and the Soviet ruble.
 
In a recent study that I undertook with Ethan Ilzetzki and Kenneth Rogoff, we document that the US dollar has retained its dominant position as the world’s reserve currency – and by a significant margin. Over 60% of all countries (accounting for more than 70% of world GDP) use the US dollar as their anchor currency. Other metrics, which include the proportion of trade invoiced in dollars and the share of US assets (notably Treasuries) in central banks’ foreign exchange reserves, suggest a similar degree of “dollar dominance.”
 
The euro is a distant second. From the early 1980s until the introduction of the euro in 1999, the Deutsche Mark’s (DM) influence expanded first in Western Europe and later in Eastern Europe. But the rise of the euro, which consolidated the DM and French franc (Africa) zones, appears to have stalled. By some measures (given the shrinking share of Europe in world output), its global importance has declined.
 
No other major established international currencies currently compete for global leadership.
 
The divergence between the trends for production and finance, shown in the figure, emerges as a relatively smaller US economy supplies reserve assets in step with rising global demand for them (primarily from emerging markets).
 
US dollar global anchor currency
This divergence is not entirely new. With recovery from WWII underway in Europe and global trade expanding, demand for reserves grew rapidly in the 1950s and remained high into the early 1970s. At that time, the US dollar was backed by gold. Given that the world’s gold supplies were not increasing as fast as global demand for reserves, the gap was filled by US (paper) debt.
 
Over time, fulfilling the global demand for reserves caused a steady rise in the ratio of “paper dollar” reserves to gold reserves, which was incompatible with maintaining the official dollar/gold parity.
 
The incompatibility of the national goal (maintaining the parity) and America’s international role as sole provider of the reserve currency was the essence of the dilemma that the Belgian economist Robert Triffin foresaw (as early as 1960) as a risk to the Bretton Woods system.
 
Two devaluations, relative to gold, in December 1971 and February 1973, were not enough to correct the “overvaluation” of the US dollar. The Bretton Woods system came to an end in March 1973, when the dollar and other major currencies were allowed to float and the dollar depreciated further.
 
Now as then, the US could meet the rest of the world’s appetite for dollars by issuing more dollar debt. This would require the US to run sustained current-account deficits, mirrored in fiscal deficits.
 
Of course, while the link to gold is passé, any domestic fiscal objective to curb US debt growth would be at odds with the international role as sole provider of the reserve currency.
 
One way or another, China will figure prominently in the resolution of this modern “Triffin dilemma.” One possibility is that the inevitable reduction of US current-account deficits (whenever that comes) may result from sustained dollar depreciation (as in the 1970s), implying a capital loss for China and other major holders of US Treasuries. Alternatively, China could eventually become a new supplier of reserve assets. In this scenario, the supply of the reserve asset would align with the world’s fast-growing regions.
 
This connection could be direct, if the renminbi acquires reserve-currency status; or indirect, if the International Monetary Fund’s unit of account, special drawing rights, becomes a favored asset of reserve managers, as the renminbi is now in the SDR currency basket. Reserve status for the SDR is a long-held IMF ambition, though the idea has never gotten much traction.
 
But there is a third possibility: global demand for US reserve assets may subside. While China’s ongoing capital flight is fueling an immediate and substantial decline in demand for US Treasuries, a more sustainable scenario would entail China’s transition to a managed floating exchange-rate regime with a deeper domestic financial market – and less emphasis on maintaining a credible war chest of foreign reserves.
 
 


A Nearby Terror Attack in London

By George Friedman


Such events force us to think of how close we came to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My wife and I are in London this week, and we have spent the last few days enjoying the city.

Yesterday, at about 2 p.m. London time, we thought we would take a walk to the Imperial War Museum. Our hotel is on the corner of Hyde Park, and the museum is across the Thames. We debated whether to go by Parliament over the Westminster Bridge, across the Lambeth Bridge directly to the museum or take a cab. It was chilly, so we took a cab. We thereby avoided a likely encounter with danger. At the same time we were planning our outing, a man was planning what could well have been our death.

The purpose of terror is to force each of us to think that there, but for the grace of God (or the temperature), go I. The night before we had gone to a play in the West End. People crowded the streets. That could have been the place where a car sweeping the sidewalk could have killed many, including us. Tonight, we are going to a concert at the Barbican Centre. There will be crowds. Now I wonder whether someone is planning an attack there too. I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon in London, so by tomorrow we will know.


Police officers stand guard by a cordon around Parliament on March 23, 2017 in London, England. Jack Taylor/Getty Images


Terrorism is a game of probabilities. The probability of any one of us being in the wrong place at the wrong time is very low. But terrorism creates an intimacy between terror and us. It causes us to think of where we were at the time of an attack and how close we came to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its power is contained in the possibility that the plans of someone unknown to us intersect with our own plans. In the military, they speak of force multipliers. This is the force multiplier of the Islamic terrorist: He compels you to be aware of his power over you. It is his decision whether some will die. I have taken risks in my life, but this is different. Terrorists want to cause a kind of fear that compels you to think of what might have been on an afternoon intended for pleasure.

This has not become corrosive to everyday life yet. It is a quantitative matter. The fewer the attacks, the lower the probability that they will affect you. The higher the number of attacks – even if they are still few – the greater the perception and reality of danger. And as a result, more people are forced to adjust their lives.

Terrorists try to use minimal strength to crush the morale of their enemies. Terrorists are few in number, which is necessary by the covert nature of their activity. The more there are who know each other, the more likely they will be betrayed. And the lone wolf attacker is the least likely to be caught before the attack. The Islamic State and related groups have crafted the most effective form of terror.

They have asked individuals to act with few, if any, collaborators, and to strike without warning, using equipment at hand: a car or a knife. The intent is to let everyone know that their lives are in the hands of invisible enemies. Even though we are not likely to be victims of terrorism, after each attack we are forced to think, “What if I had made a different decision?” In time, each of us will brush up against the possibility. Indeed, my wife and I had spoken, on the way to Covent Garden, of how we would hear screams before we saw an attacking car, and what we might do to save ourselves.

This is the real strength behind IS’ strategy. The lone wolf attack by Muslims is relatively rare. But knowing that Muslims are carrying out such attacks in unpredictable times and that no one can really detect the intentions of others, we wonder what the intent of any Muslims we meet might be after an attack like the one in London. Will he be the agent of our death? The brilliance of this strategy is that it drives a wedge between the Muslim world and the rest. The Muslims are feared, in turn treated unjustly, and the conflict intensifies.

The usual bromide is that we should not take counsel of our fear. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean that I should not dwell on the fact that, by chance, I avoided being caught up in the incident? Does it mean that I should ignore the fact that attacks likely will not be carried out by Swedish grandmothers, but more likely by Muslim males under the age of 30? Should I pretend that this is not a movement of Muslims, by telling myself that most Muslims would not do this? I can’t ignore the fact that some would do this, and that one brushed lightly by our lives on Wednesday. Of course, I should take counsel of my fears. My fears are real and reasonable, and the demand that I should not be afraid is unreasonable.

At the same time, if I take the position that all Muslims are killers, we dramatically increase the chance that the enemy – those Muslims who would kill on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in London – will win. There are 1.6 billion Muslims, and if all were willing to do what the man on Westminster Bridge did, our civilization would be, if not transformed into a nightmare, then constantly afraid. It is the solemn hope of IS that we treat all Muslims as terrorists, to bind together the Islamic world under the jihadist banner.

Some will say that terrorism should not be viewed as Islamic. At this point in history, that is an incomprehensible position. Some will say that all Muslims are potential enemies. That is a prescription for an endless war Euro-American civilization might well lose. In dealing with an enemy, dividing them is the only viable strategy, and the Islamic world already has deep divisions. Muslims are not all alike, and some are hostile to others.

In this, as in all wars, realism and prudence are required. The attacks are part of a movement of Muslims whose numbers are substantial but far from encompassing all of Islam. Our allies must be those Muslims who oppose this movement. Just as the key to undermining communism was the American understanding with communist China, so the key here is allying with Muslim enemies of radical jihadism. If none exist, we will be in trouble. But there are many. However, to apply this strategy, we must admit that this is a war with Muslims. Not all perhaps, but many. As long as we are oblivious to the fact that we are at war with Muslims, the situation is hopeless. As long as we are oblivious to the fact that many Muslims hate the jihadists, we have no strategy. And we must remember that many of the enemies of jihadism do not like us much, either. But as with the communist Chinese, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

It is odd that a late winter walk in London should end in these thoughts. But then it was Winston Churchill who said, “If Hitler invaded hell I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Some in England said Germany should not be confused with Nazism. Others said all Germans should be annihilated. Churchill regarded the first statement as fatuous and the second as brutishly stupid.

In the meantime, we are in a strange but real war, and a walk in Covent Garden now must involve a discussion of what to do if death approaches.


What The Hell is Going On?

By: The Burning Platform

"The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."  
- H.L. Mencken
Mencken and Carnegie
 
"The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do." 
- Andrew Carnegie

I'm 53 years old. The older I get the less sure I am about things I was sure about when I was 25 years old. I believed stocks for the long run was an unquestioned truth. I believed our economy was based on free market capitalism. I believed stock prices were based upon profits and cash flows. I believed a home was a place to live - not an investment. I believed the Catholic Church was run by good men doing good things. I believed journalists and the media were watchdogs working on behalf of the public. I believed our military was protecting our interests. I believed politicians legislated on behalf of the people. I believed the main purpose of bankers was to loan money to businesses and consumers in order to support economic growth. Boy, was I dumbass.

My skeptical nature, reliance on data I've personally vetted, and judging our leaders based on what they have done versus what they say, has allowed me to escape the Matrix. I wasn't truly awakened until I watched Bush, Cheney, Powell, the rest of the neo-con prevaricators and fake news mainstream media utilize propaganda to railroad Americans into a $6 trillion unnecessary war, resulting in 36,000 American casualties, the destruction of a country and the creation of thousands of new Muslim terrorists.

I've spent the last fourteen years pushing back against the establishment narrative, documenting the fake data published by government apparatchiks, and trying to open the eyes of as many people as possible to the propaganda utilized by the Deep State to keep the ignorant masses dazed, confused and distracted. The country is in deep trouble because what the majority believe regarding the economy, politics, religion, and culture just ain't so.
"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain
Since the start of this year I've found myself in a mental funk. I'm tired of the lies. I'm tired of incessant media propaganda. I'm tired of politicians. I'm tired of economic experts. I'm tired of hucksters touting their "the end is near" tale to sell me something. I'm tired of faux mainstream media journalists and their whining about Trump being mean and threatening the First Amendment.

They don't know jack about the First Amendment, as they work for one of the six media conglomerates whose job it is to produce fake news supporting whatever narrative keeps their Deep State benefactors in power. Regurgitating lines written for them by corporate propagandists is not journalism and has absolutely no relationship to the First Amendment.

Over the last decade the only place to find some truth has been the alternative media thriving on the uncensored internet. That's why the establishment wants to regulate the internet.

The fake news blitz by a Deep State, flailing about trying to retain their power and wealth, has reached frantic proportions. The left wingers, egged on by Obama and funded by Soros, hold increasingly inane protests with themes like: wear a vagina hat to support feminazis; hug an illegal immigrant; everyone I hate is a Nazi; and women take another day off and no one notices. The traitorous neo-con warmongers like McCain, Graham, and Kristol see their enormously profitable never ending global conflict agenda at risk. The military industrial complex needs enemies. The left wingers and neo-cons have joined forces to utilize the fake Russian election intervention propaganda in a last ditch desperate attempt to derail the Trump presidency before it starts.

The relentlessness, bitterness, and blatant disregard for the truth exhibited by Trump's vast array of opponents have made TV virtually unwatchable. I've found myself mentally checking out. Why waste mental energy debating hacks, mental midgets and paid trolls for the establishment? After spending years obliterating fake government statistics on a daily basis, I find continuing to do so is just mental masturbation with no ultimate satisfaction. Confronting left wingers and neo-cons is like wresting with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it.

I've always been an observer. I've been observing how certain both sides are regarding their positions on illegal immigration, Muslims, Russia, Obamacare, Supreme Court nominees, executive orders, jobs, taxes, climate change, school choice, oil pipelines the First Amendment, Second Amendment, the rule of law, and the Bill of Rights. I find it exhausting. We're lost in a blizzard of lies. I'm not certain about anything. I will remain skeptical of everything uttered by all politicians, all government bureaucrats, all corporate executives, all central bankers, all media pundits, all religious leaders, all corporate paid journalists and especially Wall Street shysters.
"Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure." - H.L. Mencken
The dissonance between what I have been observing and what is being flogged by the establishment mouthpieces in the corporate mainstream media has never been greater. Some of my observations are anecdotal, others are based on real unadulterated truthful data, a few are based on simple common sense and the rest are based on my understanding of what happens during Fourth Turnings.

When you understand the cyclical nature of history you are not surprised when events lead to reactions among the masses which take the linear thinking status quo by complete surprise. The 2008 global financial implosion and the subsequent election of Donald J. Trump by the deplorable white silent majority completely blindsided the oblivious establishment, but were entirely predictable if you had studied previous Fourth Turnings throughout history.

I've been making a horrific sixty mile round trip commute into Philly for the last ten years. The average daily commute has been about two hours, as the entire route has been under some sort of construction for the entire decade. A fantastic one way commute is forty five minutes. I regularly have ninety minute commutes, and I've experienced a few which breached the two hour mark. It became immediately evident to me something changed as this new year got under way. My morning and evening commute has been consistently in the forty-five minute range for the last two months. There are less cars and trucks on the road. The question is why?

This only happened once before over the last decade - during the 2008/2009 recession. In a shocking correlation (especially for brain dead tax and spend liberals), when there are less jobs, there are less drivers on the roads going to work. I tried to think of other reasonable explanations for why traffic appeared to be contracting so dramatically. But lo and behold, certain data can't be easily manipulated by the government. Gasoline demand is plunging, with the year over year trend crashing to levels last experienced during the 2001 recession. Gasoline demand was higher during the 2008/2009 crisis.

Demand was higher when oil was over $100 per barrel. Based on this crash in gasoline demand, Goldman Sachs issued a report saying we should be in a recession.


Gasoline Demand


Total miles driven are dramatically slowing down. It's not because of electric cars or fuel efficiency, as the vast majority of the 17.5 million vehicles being hawked to the math challenged driving public (using low payment leases and six year 0% loans) are pickups, SUVs, or luxury sedans. The Fed induced and subprime debt fueled frenzy of vehicle sales (aka long - term rentals) has seen vehicle sales skyrocket from 10 million in 2010 to an all-time high above 17.5 million in 2016, while auto loan debt has soared from $700 billion to over $1.1 trillion during this same time frame. The truthfulness of the 17.5 million sales number may be in question, as dealer lots are stuffed with record levels of inventory. With a record number of cars in the hands of consumers, how could gasoline usage and miles driven crash?

Vehicle Sales: Autos and Light Trucks


More questions emerge to those with critical thinking skills. If the unemployment rate is really 4.8%, how could 40% of the employable population (102 million) not be working? This explains the lack of cars on the road during my commute. Obama and his minions jabber about the tremendous jobs recovery during his reign of error. In 2007 there were 122 million full-time workers among a working age population of 233 million, or 52.3%. After Obama's eight year economic "recovery", there are 125 million full-time workers among a working age population of 254 million, or 49.2%.

We've added 3 million full-time jobs in the last 9 years, and the captured mainstream media touts this as a success story. The deceitfulness - it burns. When 125 million full-time workers, of which 22 million are non-producing government drones, have to support 102 million non-working Americans, most living on the dole, you have a financially unsustainable paradigm.

Trump's slogan should be Make Americans Get Off Their Fat Asses and Work Again.

The explanation for the plunge in gasoline demand and miles driven is quite simple if you haven't drunk the mainstream media kool-aid about the fantastic economy, low unemployment, and soaring consumer confidence. Americans drive their vehicles to work, to shop, and to eat out. Truckers are the backbone of our just in time big box retail society. If Americans are driving less, there are less people with jobs, less spending at bricks and mortar retailers, and less eating out.

If truckers are logging less miles, retailers are ordering less inventory, manufacturers are selling less widgets, and the economy is contracting. The entire economic improvement narrative is based on soft data about feelings from consumer confidence surveys and dozens of other easily manipulated surveys. Propagandists are experts at convincing clueless dolts it's raining when their government is actually pissing down their backs.

Despite government reports about expanding retail sales and strong holiday sales, real info from real retailers tells the true story. Major retailers have announced 1,500 store closings in the first two months of 2017, including:
  • JC Penney - 140 stores
  • Sears - 150 stores
  • Macy's - 68 stores
  • HHGregg - 88 stores
  • The Limited - 250 stores
  • Abercrombie & Fitch - 60 stores
  • Wet Seal - 171 stores
  • CVS - 70 stores

Kohl's, Target, Macy's, Sears, and dozens of other retailers reported awful holiday sales. Wal-Mart was lauded for generating a 1% comparable store sales increase. There is virtually no store expansion by large retail chains. During the 2000 to 2007 period these chains were each opening hundreds of new stores per year. We are in the midst of a long term retail contraction which is just picking up steam.

The closure of these stores combined with rising interest rates are a toxic concoction for real estate mall developers. The Fed allowed them to extend and pretend for the last eight years.

The jig is up. A wave of retail and mall bankruptcies is baked in the cake. The government reported retail sales growth is driven by Fed induced auto sales (leases and loans), home furnishing sales financed at 0% over five years, building materials stores offering 0% financing, Amazon and until recently restaurant and bar sales.

Since I don't go into malls or many retail establishments, and rarely eat at chain restaurants, my observations of retail and restaurant traffic are based on how full their parking lots are at peak hours.

When the economy was in bubble mode prior to 2008, mall parking lots were jammed and you had a ninety minute  wait to get a seat at Outback or Olive Garden. Today, you can get a parking spot at a big box retailer near the front door on a Saturday afternoon.

Malls are ghost towns, with Space Available as the hot new location. Except for peak dinner time on a Friday or Saturday (if then) there are no longer long waits to get a table at one of the struggling chain restaurants. We reached peak retail and peak overpriced restaurants a few years ago. The downward spiral, due to demographics, declining real income, and over-saturation, is irreversible.

Restaurant Performance Index


As usual, with propaganda distributed by the government or industry organizations, they present a positive restaurant performance index based on false hope and delusional expectations. Restaurant chains like Applebees, Outback, Ruby Tuesday, Chilis, Buffalo Wild Wings and many other major chains have been reporting declining same restaurant sales. Industry comparable restaurant sales are lower than two years ago.

Outback's parent company announced it will close more than four dozen locations of Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse. Ruby Tuesday is closing 100 locations. Despite government reports showing strong restaurant sales over the last eight years, annual traffic to U.S. restaurants has been flat or up just 1% since 2009, when there was a 2% drop in the wake of the Fed created financial crisis.

The "increase" in sales was generated by price increases of 2% to 3% per year. Now these chains are paying the price for high prices, shitty food, and poor service from their college graduate millennial staff. With higher taxes, soaring Obamacare costs, student loan and auto loan debt up to their eyeballs, and low paying service jobs as their career, even clueless millennials have gotten a clue - they don't have the money to eat out four times per week.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows the majority of Americans have fallen further behind since 2009, with only the establishment and those leaching off the establishment profiting from the suffering of senior citizens and the former middle class. When real personal spending plummets at the highest rate since 2009, you just might be in the midst of a recession.

Real Personal Spending


As consumer confidence surveys, ISM surveys and Fed surveys provide fake news about consumer and corporate feelings about a glorious future, the hard data tells the truth. How could households feel confident when real median household income fell by $558 in December and is down by $529 year over year? How could Obama and his lapdogs in the mainstream media pontificate about the record economic recovery when real median income is 2% lower than it was nine years ago?

How can anyone deny the average American household has been experiencing a depression since 2000, when real median household income is lower today than it was at the turn of the century? Do you think the lack of income growth over the last 17 years may have played a part in the deplorables electing Trump in November?

Median Household Income

The corporate fake news media will continue to produce the false narrative as directed by their Deep State employers. The credibility of journalists can be summed up in two pithy sentences by Hunter S. Thompson.
"The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage." - Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
In Part Two of this article I'll show how the Deep State/establishment/ruling class/status quo have utilized their mastery of propaganda techniques to convince the masses inflation and debt are beneficial to their interests and why Trump's election is the pushback by a citizenry who are beginning to awake and are mad as hell.


Eton Park to Shut Down as $3 Trillion Hedge Fund Industry Faces Turmoil

By MATTHEW GOLDSTEIN

Eric Mindich said disappointing results in 2016 were a factor in his decision to return capital to investors. Credit Christian Hartmann/Reuters                    

 
Eric Mindich is the latest big-name hedge fund manager to throw in the towel — another sign of turmoil in the $3 trillion hedge fund industry.
 
Mr. Mindich, a 49-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive, sent a letter to investors on Thursday saying he was closing down his Eton Park Capital Management hedge fund, which manages about $7 billion.
 
The hedge fund, based in Manhattan, will begin the process of returning capital to investors and anticipates returning about 40 percent of its outside money by the end of April, according to a copy of the letter that was reviewed by The New York Times.
 
The decision by Mr. Mindich to close the firm, which was founded in 2004, comes after a tough year in 2016, when Eton Park’s returns were down about 10 percent. This year the hedge fund’s performance has so far been flat.
 
The firm sent out the letter after notifying employees earlier Thursday of the decision to close.
 
Eton Park is the first big hedge fund to close this year. Last year, there were a number of notable hedge fund closings, including Perry Capital, which Richard C. Perry shut after years of poor performance.
 
Over all, 2016 was one of the worst years for hedge fund closures since the financial crisis, with hundreds of smaller funds shutting down because of poor performance, investor redemptions and increasing complaints about high fees.
 
In his letter, Mr. Mindich attributed the decision to close to “a combination of industry headwinds, a difficult market environment and, importantly, our own disappointing 2016 results.”
 
He added, “As responsible stewards of your capital, we have been unwilling to compromise on the business model and investment program in which you invested or the way in which we have pursued it.”
 
Mr. Mindich first made his name as a fast-rising star on Wall Street, heading up Goldman’s arbitrage desk at the age of 25. In 1994, at just 27, he became Goldman’s youngest partner ever and was a leader of the firm’s equities arbitrage business.
 
One of the hedge fund’s best years came in 2013 when it returned 22 percent. In 2008, one of the worst years for hedge funds, Eton Park lost 10 percent, but that was far better than most other firms fared.
 
Eton Park had offices in London and Hong Kong as well. But a week ago, the firm quietly closed its London office, a sign of the trouble to come.


The Dawn Of The New Financial Age With Bitcoin

by: Shikha Kothari


- Bitcoin has not only become the currency of future, but it has also become a current store of value in places under financial distress.

- Finding hope in decentralized currency when both investors and non-investors loses hope in the centralized banking system.

- The impact on prices of Bitcoin with regards to Fed increasing the interest rates, EFT getting approved and Venezuela sovereign debt.

 
Bitcoin (BTC) is positioned to be the currency of future, but it has also become a current store of value in places under financial distress. Sophisticated users are buying Bitcoin because they consider it an uncorrelated asset and want to protect their savings. This includes people who consider Bitcoin as a kind of digital gold based on its limited supply, as well as those that see it as a form of investment, or a hedge against other currencies. The price of bitcoin has reached new heights in recent months. On March 3nd, 2017, it has crossed the price of gold. Bitcoin has same features of gold. Both are scared and mined. Basically, people are turning towards Bitcoin to minimize potential losses due to the increase in risk in the traditional currency.
 
We believe that this is due to recent uncertainty surrounding global financial markets.
 
Economic distress in countries such as Japan, China, India, and Venezuela has threatened to destabilize those countries' currencies and have sparked an interest in the digital alternative.
 
The same thing happened when Britain voted to leave the European Union last year, as well as with the unlikely victory by Donald Trump to win the U.S. presidential election. This was like the Cyprus bail-in when investors rushed into the digital currency.
 
Bitcoin is not controlled by any authority. This is unlike the fiat currency dollar, euro, and yen, which are all controlled by a central bank. Instead, Bitcoin is controlled by a global peer-to-peer network of computers and isn't tangible. Bitcoin is neither a company nor an entity. It is the first decentralized cryptocurrency, created in 2008 right after the financial crisis by a Satoshi Nakamoto, an unknown programmer.

In the 21st century where we have more mobile phones than there are people on earth, Bitcoin is the universal internet currency. By the end of Jan 2017, there were around 11.5 million BTC wallets out there. To understand what makes it so attractive let's look at some recent episodes and what made people choose a currency which is not backed by any government.
Depreciating currency in China
The real estate and the stock market in China have witness times of higher volatility in a short period.
 
Thus, there is an expectation that the Chinese yuan will further loose its value. Investors in an urge to diversify their portfolios started to invest in safe assets abroad. As a result, the flow of capital left China while at this same time this the investment in the US tripled. Some capital left China legally and some did not. The People Bank of China (PBoC) started worrying about it so it imposed tighter regulations in which citizen can only move $50,000 abroad annually. To circumvent these imposing constraints citizens of China started investing in Bitcoin. As per a survey, around 70% of miners are from China. Chinese are paying heavy premiums, for example, the price of one bitcoin in yuan on June 1 was 3,608. This is equivalent to $548. But the dollar price of bitcoin was only $525, a 4.4% premium. So, an ordinary Chinese citizen is paying up and taking a lot of price risk just to get rid of Chinese currency.
 
In the year 2013, the PBoC barred financial institution from dealing with Bitcoin. This announcement leads to a significant drop in the price of Bitcoin. These institutions are usually backed by the government. If the banks get exposed to the Bitcoin infrastructure and something goes wrong it may hamper the economy and then people will expect the bailout.
 
It is believed that China has been the largest driver in the rise and drop in the value of Bitcoin.
 
In early January, the PBoC conducted meetings with Bitcoin exchanges in China, announcing on the 6th of January that it had provided these exchanges with warnings. During that day, the prices decrease more than 10%. On the 11th of January, bitcoin prices reached to $775.98 - a more than 40% drop from the recent high of $1,129.87 reached on January 4th. The volatility was limited, as the digital currency failed to reach $830 on either 12th or 13th of January.
 
 
In the above graph, we can see the correlation between the Bitcoin and Chinese currency Yuan, when the yuan depreciated the bitcoin index increase. The two color represents two major events which shoot up the prices of Bitcoin. The first shade 2013 (orange) represents the instability in Cyprus and the second color (yellow) represents the elections in the U.S. and demonetization in India.
 
Bitcoin traders got their first piece of clarity on January 13th, when Chinese exchanges quietly revised their margin trading policies as the result of the meeting conducted with the PBoC.
 
Though Bitcoin has 16 million market capitalization the amount of capital flowing out of China is way more than that.
 
Demonetization is India
Another reason that Bitcoin prices to surged in November are due to a massive campaign to stamp out black money out of India. The government shocked its citizens when they announced the demonetization of large demonization currencies. This accounted for about 86% of their cash circulation. This move didn't cause the economy to crash but contributed to a lack of liquidity and slowed down of day-to-day activities. In such situations people look for commodities to hedge; some bought gold; other bought silver, but the most interesting was people buying Bitcoin. The BTCXIndia observed a 40% rise during that period.
 
Demonetization made path for digital currency to enter the country. Common people have started building their trust in the digital currency. Taking this into consideration Bitcoin has a scope to have the wider user base in this populated and growing economy. Bitcoin is also a solution to the problem faced in India's fight to abolish counterfeit currency and the problem of black money.
Hyperinflation in South America
 
Average annual inflation around the globe is 1.5%. Economies with low inflation are considered healthy as they have low fluctuation in the value of their currency. However, the high annual inflation in countries such as Argentina (40% inflation) and Venezuela (180% inflation), have created a demand for a stable alternative.
 
Bitcoin price is expected to be double the price of gold
 
Bitcoin became equal to gold on Thursday, March 2nd as a future. It is future expected to rise.
 
Recently Venezuela sell-off may have influenced the precious metal's 10% drop in value.
 
Bringing the bitcoin price = gold price. The parity comes amid news that Venezuela's national reserves are down to $10 bln, of which $7.7 bln is held as gold.
 
 
 
Having previously shipped gold to Switzerland to repay its debts, commentators are assuming a repeat performance in 2017 as the country struggles to pay off $7.2 bln in outstanding payments.
 
A multi-billion dollar sell-off would flood the gold market, creating a lower purchase price and accelerating the depletion of Venezuela's reserves even further.
 
With inflation expected to hit 1660% this year and 2880% in 2018, an end game of default or IMF intervention appears inevitable. By this, we can expect that in near future the bitcoin prices to double the gold price soon.
 
March 2017 is expected to be a turning point for Bitcoin
The Federal Reserve chairperson Janet Yellen on March 3rd announced that Fed may further increase the interest rates if the economy continues to provide data as expected.
 
The increase in rates will make the dollar even stronger and against Japanese and the Chinese currency. Traders who consider Bitcoin as a wealth protection and management product, which is the clear majority of Bitcoin users as of current, will move onto Bitcoin to protect their assets from devaluation.

Currently, the Japanese Bitcoin exchange market controls over 52% of the global Bitcoin exchange market. China, Europe, and South Korea make up the top largest Bitcoin exchange markets, right below the U.S.
 
Based on the current Bitcoin price trend, it is likely that Bitcoin price could reach $1,300, especially as it nears the final approval date of the Winklevoss Twin's Bitcoin ETF.
 
Analysts also predict that Bitcoin price will reach new heights if the rising Fed rates and the March 11th approval of the COIN ETF coincide. The approval of the COIN ETF will immediately open the Bitcoin market to mainstream investors and investment funds, which are expected to exponentially increase the market size of Bitcoin by hundreds of millions and even up to billions of dollars.
 
The probability of the ETF getting approved is quite the center of discussion lately. Various analyst firm and crypto analyst have approved a probability of 25%- 35% chances of the ETF getting approved. If the ETF gets approved more than it would attract more than 300 mln into the market in the first week alone, the average price is expected to reach $1645.45, more than a 30% return.
 
How people acquire Bitcoin in bad times
 
Like all assets, use of bitcoin is based on need and greed. Customers who use bitcoin as an alternative to the traditional financial systems such as those executing cross-border e-commerce payments, as well as people who may desire more security, privacy, or just may want a better user experience.
 
Users also include investors and/or active traders that speculate on volatilities as well as long term speculators or novelty buyers hoping for the value of Bitcoin to increase overtime yielding a sizeable return on their initial investment such as some early investors who may have seen $100 of BTC turn into $380,000 at the peak of Bitcoins' value which was in early December of 2014.
 
Aside, from purchasing Bitcoin through a Bitcoin exchange an individual can acquire BTC through mining, which ultimately is the mechanism for dispersing more of the currency to its users. Mining generally refers to the use of highly powered computers, which are required to solve complex math problems to verify the block chain. For each mined block, a block reward (Bitcoins) is received by the successful miners. The number of Bitcoins received as a block reward is based on the total number of Bitcoins already in circulation. For every 210,000 Bitcoins dispersed the block reward is halved until the total number of Bitcoin reaches 21 million. The number of miners mining has been estimated at roughly 100,000 in 2016 with those who are successful receiving BTC as the reward for mining every 10 minutes. For those who would like to convert cash to BTC and vice versa, they can do so using a Bitcoin ATM or a Bank account.
Bitcoin has not been made illegal by legislation in most jurisdictions. However, some jurisdictions (such as Argentina and Russia) severely restrict or ban foreign currencies. Other jurisdictions (such as Thailand) may limit the licensing of certain entities such as Bitcoin exchanges. Regulators from various jurisdictions are taking steps to provide individuals and businesses with rules on how to integrate this new technology with the formal, regulated financial system.
 
Why to people use bitcoin as medium of exchange, what makes it attractive?
 
Transaction fees
Under the current system, the owner of the store should pay 3% for each transaction done by the credit card company or the PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL). Even the transfer of money internationally is very expensive. Whereas in Bitcoin charges a minimal fee of 1% for each transaction and 10$ for wire transfers. Bitcoin works on peer to peer network which helps it to reduce the transaction cost whereas in another payment system they have the large set up to handle and verify which increases the cost.
 
Security and protection
 
Bitcoin doesn't have a specific location as its headquarters or a place like the data center. It is present globally. This makes the chances of hacking the system, breaching data impossible thus ensuring security and protection.
 
Completely transparent
Bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger, called the blockchain. The block chain tells all. If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address.
 
Future of money
 
The money will be totally interoperable globally through a significantly cheaper, faster and safer payment system. There will be both better privacy and financial freedom in how people use the money. Financial services and money itself will be more intelligent and programable.
 
We believe that decentralized digital currencies, and Bitcoin, will be a key enabler for this future and is likely the best way to get there and get there the fastest. Adoption will form the base for the future of money and financial services; one way or another the opportunity is massive
Conclusion
Bitcoin is the technological revolution in currency. It has revised the meaning of money. Since the barter system, only the fiat currency has mostly been considered the main medium of exchange. But with the creation of Bitcoin, we can say the world is moving forwardly at a fast pace. Bitcoin was created in 2009 and it hit the headlines in 2013. The price of Bitcoin while writing this article is getting back to normalcy. Currently, it is trading at $1283.80. The new regulation regarding the change in margins as imposed by the Chinese government is a smart move towards consumer protection policy.
 
Finding a sound alternative investment has always been key in moments of economic crisis or panic when investors, as well as non-investors, are started losing hope in the centralized banking system. In such situations, the currency starts losing value, which calls for the need for an alternative. This gives rise to a place for a decentralized currency like Bitcoin.

Americans Are Richer Than Ever, But They Don’t Feel That Way

U.S. household net worth is expected to hit another record, but that won’t mean much to most people

By Steven Russolillo

Pedestrians in San Francisco. The Federal Reserve is set Thursday to release its update on net worth of U.S. households and nonprofits for the fourth quarter and full year of 2016. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News


The wealth of the nation is poised to hit another record. Unfortunately, that is small solace to a majority of Americans.

The Federal Reserve is set Thursday to release its update on net worth of U.S. households and nonprofits for the fourth quarter and full year of 2016. This is a sum of all assets, such as homes, stocks, bonds, vehicles and cash, minus all debts, including mortgages, credit cards and student and auto loans.

As of the third quarter, American households had roughly $105 trillion in assets and $15 trillion of debt. This $90.2 trillion in net worth has risen by about two-thirds since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. And as home values kept rising and stock prices surged following the election, it likely only increased. Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics estimates total net worth to have risen by $2 trillion in the fourth quarter, which would be the biggest jump in a year.

But this only tells part of the story: A rising market benefits a small percentage of U.S. households because stock ownership is concentrated among the wealthy. Many individuals who might have been invested have also missed the eight-year bull market. Cash flowed out of U.S. equity mutual funds and exchange traded funds in six of the past eight years through 2016, according to data provider Morningstar Inc.

Rising home values are more important because the value of houses far exceeds the value of stocks held by individuals. Even so, the homeownership rate hovers near a five-decade low and well below its precrisis peak. Those who do own homes aren’t as able or willing to borrow against them to fuel spending binges like they did during the housing bubble.

This explains why the so-called wealth effect isn’t having as much of an impact on overall consumer spending and economic growth as it used to. “Wealth effects may have been smaller than usual due to lingering caution after the financial crisis,” suggests Mr. O’Sullivan.

Whatever the explanation, rising asset values aren’t producing the same boost in spending that they once did. The personal saving rate at 5.5% as of January is twice as high as a decade ago.

It is also higher than the average rate during the technology bubble, measured from December 1996 through March 2000. Rising incomes matter much more to economic activity and, in that regard, wages have grown surprisingly slowly for much of the economic recovery.

Bulging portfolios are nice, but fatter paychecks will be needed to kick the U.S. economy into the next gear.


North Korea Is Approaching the Red Line

The regime appeared to be bluffing about nuclear weapons, but has that changed?


North Korea is a despotic regime in the full sense of the term. It is a regime run for the benefit of the leadership. It is also a hereditary despotism. Kim Jong Un, the current despot, is the grandson of the regime’s founder, and by all evidence his right to rule derives not from any particular skill, but simply because of his bloodline. Like all true despotisms, the country’s fundamental interest is the perpetuation of the regime. North Korea justifies its political system by invoking Karl Marx, but its actual connection to Marxism is that the Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, on the throne.

Also like all other despotisms, the despot sleeps uneasily. There have been reports of members of the Kim family being executed by packs of wild dogs and anti-aircraft guns. To some extent this may be South Korean propaganda. But it all becomes more credible after the recent killing of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face. Given that he killed another relative, once more by a novel means, it is becoming likely that Kim Jong Un feels insecure. His therapy for insecurity, like all despots, is killing anyone – including relatives – who might threaten him.

This all goes along with a theory I developed on North Korea years ago. I said that North Korea’s goal was to survive the collapse of the Soviet Union and decrease any ideological bond that might remain with China. In order to do this, the North Koreans adopted a strategy focused on convincing the world of three somewhat contradictory things.

The first was that North Korea was an extremely dangerous country, and that it was powerful and likely to strike a devastating blow at any action. This would deter any attempt to attack North Korea or destroy the regime. Second, the North Koreans sought to project an air of insanity. Random, pointless acts of violence and bizarre pronouncements were designed to convince the world that not only is North Korea dangerous, but it is also quite mad. This was intended to persuade everyone that they should not try invading North Korea, or even consider it. Even the whiff of danger would push the North Koreans over the edge. Finally, and paradoxically, North Korea sought to appear weak.

Widely publicized famines, ancient factories and the other accoutrements of misery indicated that trying to destroy North Korea’s regime would be pointless. It might topple any day.

A nuclear program firing random ballistic missiles (as we saw this week), insane threats, and evidence of extraordinary poverty and political instability all combined to prevent any action that someone might want to take, assuming anyone wanted to take action. North Korea appeared to be powerful, quite mad, and about to collapse. These are incompatible notions, but they gave everyone good reasons not to attack. Those who feared North Korea, those who believed North Korea was a lunatic bin, and those who felt North Korea was close to collapsing all drew the same policy conclusion: Do not attack North Korea. It was a brilliant ploy, and a regime that had no business surviving the 1990s did.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an undated photo released in March 2016. Korean Central News Agency


In my view North Korea was not particularly dangerous, not at all crazy, and not weak enough for the regime to fall. It was simply running a hustle so that the Kim family could continue to rule. But a picture out of North Korea, having nothing to do with dead relatives, and a statement by former President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump warning that North Korea will be his biggest problem have forced me to re-examine our position.

That picture, released in March 2016, is of Kim Jong Un standing by a ball, which experts have said might very well be a miniaturized nuclear warhead for a missile. I have never taken North Korea’s nuclear program seriously because it is relatively easy, given enriched uranium or plutonium, to trigger a nuclear explosion underground. However, creating a deliverable weapon is another matter.

The nuclear device has to be miniaturized, made small enough to fit on a deliverable missile. In addition, it has to be ruggedized. An intercontinental ballistic missile launches at 10 Gs, vibrating like crazy. Then it enters a vacuum with wild swings of temperature and re-enters the atmosphere at scorching temperatures. At that point, a precision instrument must trigger an explosion. Exploding a nuclear device on a stable, solid platform is a lot easier than exploding one after this wild ride.

Before it can be ruggedized, it must be miniaturized. And what the picture of Kim Jong Un seemed to show was a miniaturized warhead. It is impossible to know whether it has also been ruggedized. My belief continues to be that North Korea built the weapon to deter attacks, both overt and covert. But what used to be a bet about the future is turning into a more immediate matter. My confidence about my understanding of North Korea’s strategy may shift. I don’t think I’m wrong, but the cost of being wrong is pushing the red line.

The North Koreans appear to be pushing themselves into the space between not having a weapon and having one. I would like to think that U.S. intelligence has a very clear view on the state of the nuclear program. But even if they think they do, in intelligence the question is always, do you really know or are you missing something? Have the North Koreans created an illusion, and could U.S. intelligence actually have no idea what’s really going on?

I have assumed that the North Koreans are acting like lunatics because they are trying to intimidate us. A casual look at Kim Jong Un does breed comfort that this is the case. But assume that I’m wrong and that they are acting like lunatics because they are lunatics. If Kim Jong Un is crazy and the North Koreans are actually moving closer to a deliverable weapon, the odds shift. Previously, doing nothing was a low-risk bet. Now doing nothing becomes a high-risk bet. At this point, an error in judging the North Koreans’ mental state would have enormous consequences.

It is easy to say that action will be taken when reconnaissance shows that the warhead has been married to a missile. But failing to see the marriage, seeing it and not understanding it, or seeing it and having meetings instead of taking action can lead to disaster. The intelligence community believes a strategy so finely timed cannot fail, but anything can fail. Thus, if we assume U.S. intelligence is infallible, and we assume that the United States can know and act on information at a split second, then we are fine. If we have any doubts about that, we really aren’t.

I continue to believe that Kim Jong Un understands that crossing the red line of a deliverable nuclear weapon would mean disaster. I don’t think that he will risk an American action that might involve a nuclear strike to ensure that all facilities, above and below ground, are destroyed. I still believe he is bluffing that he has that ace. But given that I called that bet one night many years ago when I was still an optimist, I can’t risk the chance it might be wrong now.

This is the point where geopolitics gets dicey. Geopolitics would dictate that Kim Jong Un is using his program to deter action against North Korea. He has nothing to gain from carrying out a nuclear strike against anyone. But in a despotism, where relatives turn into pink mist, the notion of systemic constraints becomes dicey. He may be as crazy as he looks. And he might not realize the U.S. can’t risk Los Angeles on the quality of intelligence we are gathering, or my dismissive attitude.

If that picture was of a miniaturized warhead, then it has to be assumed that a ruggedized one will follow shortly. Then Trump will have to face the dark night of decision that every president must face.