When an economy turns from expansion to contraction there is an order of events. The first signs are an unexpected increase in inventories of unsold goods, both accompanied with and followed by business surveys indicating a general softening in demand. For monetarists, this is often confirmed by an inverting yield curve, which tells them that at the margin the short-term rates set by the central bank are becoming too high for business conditions.
That was the position for the US 10-year bond less the 2-year bond very briefly at the end of August, since when this measure, which is often taken to predict recessions, has turned mildly positive again. A generally negative sentiment, fueled mainly by the escalating tariff war between America and China, had earlier alerted investors to an international trade slowdown, expected to undermine the American economy in due course along with all the others. It stands to reason that backward-looking statistics have yet to reflect the global slowdown on the US economy, which is still buoyed up by consumer credit. The German economy, which is driven by production rather than consumption is perhaps a better guide and is already in recession.
After an initial hit, a small recovery in investor sentiment is understandable, with the negative outlook perhaps having got ahead of itself. But we must look beyond that. History shows the combination of a peak in the credit cycle and tariffs can be economically lethal. A brief return to a positive yield curve achieves little more than a sucker rally. It may be enough to put further monetary expansion on pause. But when that is over, and jobs begin to be threatened, there can be no doubt that central banks will ramp up the printing presses.
So reliant have markets become on monetary expansion that the default assumption is that an economy will always be rescued from recession by an easing of monetary policy, and furthermore that monetary inflation will prevent it from being any more than mild and short. We see this in the performance of stock market indices, which reflect perpetual optimism.
There is a further problem. Other than a rise in bankruptcies, unemployment and negative indications from business surveys, there may be no statistical evidence of a slump. The reason this is almost certainly the case is we are dealing with a combination of funny money and statistics which are simply not fit for measuring anything. The money and credit are backed by nothing, and when expanded by the banking system simply dilutes the quantity of existing money, which if continued is bound to end up impoverishing everyone with cash balances and whose wages and profits do not increase at least as fast as the surge in the quantity of money.
Indeed, the official purpose of the expansion of money and credit is to somehow persuade economic actors that things are better than they really are, and to stimulate those animal spirits. You’d think that with this policy now being continually in operation that people would have become aware of the dilution fraud. But as Keynes, the architect of it all said, not one man in a million understands money, and in this he has been proved right.
For five years, the ECB has applied negative interest rates on commercial bank reserves, and commercial banks have paid €21.4bn to it in deposit interest. Since it introduced negative interest rates, it has injected some €2.7 trillion of base money into the Eurozone economy, increasing M1, the narrower measure of the money quantity, by 61%. Almost all of it has supported the finances of Eurozone governments.
The effect on broader money, which includes bank credit, has been to increase M3 by 30%. Far from stimulation, this is daylight robbery perpetrated on everyone’s liquidity and cash deposits. It is a tax on the purchasing power of their wages.
The ECB is not alone. Since Lehman went under, the major central banks have collectively increased their balance sheets from $7 trillion to $19.4 trillion, an increase of 177%. Most of this monetary expansion has been to buy government bonds, providing a money-fountain for profligate governments. The purpose of money-printing is always to finance government spending, not to stimulate or ease conditions for the private sector: while some trusting souls in the system believe it is for the latter, that amounts to just a myth.
Due to the flood of new money the yields on government debt have been depressed, giving holders of this debt, principally the banks, a nice fat capital profit. But that is not the purpose of all this monetary largess: it is to make it ultra-cheap for governments to borrow yet more and to encourage banks to expand credit in their governments’ favour. Just listen to the central bankers now encouraging governments to take the opportunity to ease fiscal policy, extend their debts and borrow even more.
Central banks pretend all these benefits come at no cost to anyone. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perpetual motion of money creation, and someone ultimately pays the price. But who pays for it all? Why, it is the wage-earner and saver and anyone else with deposits at the bank. They are also robbed of the compounding interest their pension funds would otherwise receive. These are the very people who, in a bizarre twist of macroeconomic logic, we are told benefit from having the prices of their everyday purchases continually increased.
Attempts to measure the supposed benefits of inflation on the general public are in turn dishonest, with the true rise in prices concealed in official calculations of price inflation. Suppressed evidence of rising prices is then applied to estimates of GDP to make them “real”. For the purpose of measuring the true condition of an economy these official statistics are taken as gospel by both the commentariat and investors.
We cannot know the accumulating economic cost of cycles of progressively greater monetary inflation, because all government statistics are based on the lie that money is a constant, when in fact it has become the greatest variable in everyone’s life. The transfer of wealth from all consumers through monetary debasement is an act of impoverishment, and to the extent it is not offset in other ways the economy as a whole suffers.
Excerpted from the article Measuring Recession
Alasdair Macleod is the Head of Research at GoldMoney.