Category Archives: Secular stagnation

28/1/20: The Precariat of America’s Workampers

Precariat is defined as "a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat." [Source]

Here is a very interesting article chronicling journalist's experience with the "Workampers", or a large number of Americans living in the world of campers, RVs and seasonal jobs: Many are undoubtedly victims to the age discrimination that adversely impacts Americans after the age of 50, despite the pro forma legal bans against discrimination on the grounds of age.

21/1/20: US Deficits, Growth and Money Markets Woes

My article for The Currency on the effects of the U.S. fiscal profligacy on global debt and money markets is out:

Key takeaways:

"As the Trump administration continues along the path of deficits-financed economic expansion, the question that investors must start asking is at what point will debt supply start exceeding debt demand, even with the Fed continuing to throw more cash on the fiscal policies bonfire?"

"In the seven years prior to the crisis of 2008-2012, US economic growth outpaced US budget deficits by a cumulative of $1.56 trillion. This period of time covers two major wars and associated war time spending increases, as well as the beginnings of the property markets and banking crises in 2007.

"Over the last seven years since the end of the crisis, US economic growth lagged, on a cumulated basis, fiscal deficits by $928 billion, despite much smaller overseas military commitments and a substantially improved employment outlook.

"These comparatives are even more stark if we are to look at the last three years of the Obama Administration set against the first three years of the Trump Presidency. During the 2014-2016 period, under President Barack Obama, US deficits exceeded increases in the country’s GDP by a cumulative amount of $226 billion. Over the 2017-2019 period, under  Trump’s tenure in the White House, the same gap more than doubled to $525 billion.

"No matter how one spins the numbers, two things are now painfully clear for investors. One: irrespective of the stock market valuations metrics one chooses to consider, the most recent bull cycle in US equities has nothing to do with the US corporate sector being the main engine of the economic growth. Two: the official economic figures mask a dramatic shift in the US economy’s reliance on public sector deficits since the end of the crisis, and the corresponding decline in the importance of the private sector activity."

10/1/20: Eight centuries of global real interest rates

There is a smashingly good paper out from the Bank of England, titled "Eight centuries of global real interest rates, R-G, and the ‘suprasecular’ decline, 1311–2018", Staff Working Paper No. 845, by Paul Schmelzing.

Using "archival, printed primary, and secondary sources, this paper reconstructs global real interest rates on an annual basis going back to the 14th century, covering 78% of advanced economy GDP over time."

Key findings:

  • "... across successive monetary and fiscal regimes, and a variety of asset classes, real interest rates have not been ‘stable’, and...
  • "... since the major monetary upheavals of the late middle ages, a trend decline between 0.6–1.6 basis points per annum has prevailed."
  • "A gradual increase in real negative‑yielding rates in advanced economies over the same horizon is identified, despite important temporary reversals such as the 17th Century Crisis."

The present 'abnormality' in declining interest rates is not, in fact 'abnormal'. Instead, as the author points out: "Against their long‑term context, currently depressed sovereign real rates are in fact converging ‘back to historical trend’ — a trend that makes narratives about a ‘secular stagnation’ environment entirely misleading, and suggests that — irrespective of particular monetary and fiscal responses — real rates could soon enter permanently negative territory."

Two things worth commenting on:

  1. Secular stagnation: in my opinion, interest rates trend is not in itself a unique identifier of the secular stagnation. While interest rates did decline on a super-long trend, as the paper correctly shows, the broader drivers of this decline can be distinct from the 'secular stagnation'-linked declines in productivity and growth. In other words, at different periods of time, different factors could have been driving the interest rates declines, including higher (not lower) productivity of the financial system, e.g. development of modern markets and banking, broadening of capital funding sources (such as increase in merchant classes wealth, emergence of the middle class, etc), and decoupling of capital supply from the gold standard (which did not happen in 1973 abandonment of formal gold standard, but predates this development by a good part of 60-70 years).
  2. "Permanently negative territory" for interest rates forward: this is a major hypothesis from the perspective of the future markets. And it is consistent with the secular stagnation, as availability of capital is now being linked to the monetary expansion, not to supply of 'organic' - economy-generated - capital.

More hypotheses from the author worth looking at: "I also posit that the return data here reflects a substantial share of ‘non‑human wealth’ over time: the resulting R-G series derived from this data show a downward trend over the same timeframe: suggestions about the ‘virtual stability’ of capital returns, and the policy implications advanced by Piketty (2014) are in consequence equally unsubstantiated by the historical record."

There is a lot in the paper that is worth pondering. One key question is whether, as measured by the 'safe' (aka Government) cost of capital, the real interest rates even matter in terms of the productive economy capital? Does R vs G debate reflect the productivity growth or economic growth and do the two types of growth actually align as closely as we theoretically postulate to the financial assets returns?

The macroeconomics folks will call my musings on the topic a heresy. But... when one watches endlessly massive skews in financial returns to the upside, amidst relatively slow economic growth and even slower real increases in the economic well-being experienced in the last few decades, one starts to wonder: do G (GDP growth) and R (real interest rates determined by the Government cost of funding) matter? Heresy has its way of signaling unacknowledged reality.

13/7/19: A New Era of Entrepreneurship? Not in Data so Far…

We are living in the Great New Era of Entrepreneurship that started in 2013 (according to someone at Forbes) and the academia is pumping high entrepreneurship training and education (the Golden Era, according to some don from Stanford). Living in all of this 'game changing' stuff around you can be daunting, inducing FOMO and other behavioural nudges toward dropping everything and launching that new unicorn doing something disruptive and raking in the miracle dollars that everyone around you seems to be minting out of thin air. Right?

Well, not so fast. Here's the data from the U.S. - that 'super-charged engine of enterprising folks':

Hmm... anyone can spot the 'New Era' in entrepreneurship out there, other than the one with historically low rates of business creation?