While there was some nuance in yesterday's pre-open trading, with Asia at least putting up a valiant defense to what would soon become another US rout, this morning the market theme is far simpler: a global sea of red.
Stocks fell across the globe as worries over softening demand for the iPhone prompted a tech stock selloff across the world, while the arrest of car boss Carlos Ghosn pulled Nissan and Renault sharply lower. Even China's recent rally fizzled and the Shanghai composite closed down 2.1% near session lows, signalling that the global slump led by tech shares would deepen Tuesday, adding a new layer of pessimism to markets already anxious over trade. Treasuries advanced and the dollar edged higher.
S&P 500 futures traded near session lows, down 0.6% and tracking a fall in European and Asian shares after renewed weakness in the tech sector pushed Nasdaq futures sharply lower for a second day after Monday's 3% plunge
and crippled any hopes for dip buying. News around Apple triggered the latest bout of stock market selling, after the Wall Street Journal reported the consumer tech giant is cutting production for its new iPhones.
Europe's Stoxx 600 Index dropped a fifth day as its technology sector fell 1.3% to the lowest level since February 2017, taking the decline from mid-June peak to 21% and entering a bear market. Not surprisingly, the tech sector was the worst performer on the European benchmark on Tuesday, following Apple’s decline to near bear-market territory and U.S. tech stocks plunge during recent sell-off. The selloff was compounded by an auto sector drop led by Nissan and Renault after Ghosn, chairman of both carmakers, was arrested in Japan for alleged financial misconduct. The European auto sector was not far behind, dropping 1.6 percent, and the broad European STOXX 600 index was down 0.9 percent to a four-week low.
“Most of Europe had a red session yesterday and that has been compounded by the news on Apple and tech stocks overnight, The overall climate is risk off,” said Investec economist Philip Shaw. “Beyond stocks, the Italian bonds spread (over German bonds) is at its widest in about a month now, and Brexit continues to rumble on - uncertainty is very much hurting risk sentiment,” he added.
Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 1.2 percent, with Samsung Electronics falling 2 percent. In Japan, Sony Corp shed 3.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei slipped 1.1 percent, with shares of Nissan Motor Co tumbling more than 5% after Ghosn’s arrest and on news he will be fired from the board this week.
Meanwhile, as noted yesterday, the CDS index of US investment grade issuers blew out to the widest level since the Trump election, signaling renewed nerves about the asset class.
Exactly two months after the S&P hit all time highs, stocks have been caught in a vicious decline and continue to struggle for support as some of the technology companies that helped drive the S&P 500 to a record high earlier this year tumbled amid a slowdown in consumer sales and fears over regulation, many of them entering a bear market.
At the same time, a more gloomy macro outlook is emerging, with Goldman chief equity strategist David kostin overnight recommending investors hold more cash even as it reiterated its base case of S&P 3000 in 2019.
Ray Dalio disagreed, and said that investors should expect low returns for a long time after enjoying years of low interest rates from central-bank stimulus.
“The easy days of long, global bull markets where you can invest in a tracker for five basis points -- I say this as an active fund manager -- and watch the thing go up, I think those days are gone,” Gerry Grimstone, chairman of Barclays Bank PLC and Standard Life Aberdeen PLC, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “It’s going to be a move back to value investing, and back to the Warren Buffett-style of investment.”
In the latest Brexit news, UK PM May is reportedly drawing up secret plans to drop the Irish border backstop and win support from angry Brexiteers, while reports added PM May has received agreement from the EU to drop the backstop plan if both sides can agree on alternative arrangements to keep the border open. Meanwhile, Brexiteers reportedly still lack the sufficient number of signatures required to trigger a no-confidence vote against UK PM May, the FT reported. In related news, Brexit rebels reportedly admitted attempts to oust PM May has stalled as Eurosceptic MPs turned on each other. The Telegraph also reported that the confidence vote now appears to be on hold until after Parliament votes in December on Mrs May's Brexit deal.
Sky News reported that the UK government are to publish new analysis before the MPs’ meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement comparing the “costs and benefits” of Brexit. The impact of three scenarios will be measured; no Brexit, no deal, and leaving with the government's draft deal and a free trade agreement.
In rates, Treasuries rose, driving the 10-year yield down to its lowest level since late September, ahead of Thanksgiving Thursday. Italian government bond yields jumped to one-month high on Tuesday and Italian banking stocks dropped to a two-year low, hurt by risk aversion and concerns over the Italian budget. Euro zone money markets no longer fully price in even a 10 bps rate rise from the European Central Bank in 2019, indicating growing investor concern about the economic outlook in the currency bloc.
In FX, the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index whipsawed in early London trading even as it stayed near a more than one-week low on concern cooling global growth will slow the pace of Fed rate hikes, keeping Treasury yields under pressure. At the same time, the pound stabilized as Theresa May appealed to business leaders to help deliver her Brexit deal, and evidence mounted that a plot to oust her as U.K. Prime Minister is faltering.
The euro slid as Italian bonds dropped, pushing the yield spread to Germany to the widest in a month; the currency had opened the London session higher, supported by corporate buying in EUGBP. The yen rallied to a month-to-date high as Asian stocks followed a U.S. equity slide while the New Zealand dollar got a boost from a jump in milk production; the Aussie was on the back foot even after the RBA said Australia’s unemployment rate could fall further in the near term. India’s rupee rallied a sixth day after the central bank signaled a compromise with the government in their dispute over reserves.
Bitcoin extended its drop below $4,500 for the first time since October 2017.
WTI crude oil futures hovered around $57 a barrel after oil prices lost steam as fears about slower global demand and a surge in U.S. production outweighed expected supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Brent crude slipped 0.9 percent to $66.21 per barrel.
In other overnight news, BoJ Governor Kuroda said there is currently no need to ease further, while he added that there was a need for bold monetary policy in 2013 and now we need to persistently continue with policy. Furthermore, Kuroda suggested that the chance of reaching the 2% inflation target during FY2020 is low. Japanese PM Abe says the next initial budget is to have measures to address sales tax.
India's Finance Ministry sources expect that the RBI will stand pat on rates at its meeting next month.
RBA Governor Lowe states that steady policy is to be maintained for 'a while yet' and it is likely that rates will increase at some point if the economy progresses as expected.
Expected data include housing starts and building permits. Best Buy, Campbell Soup, Lowe’s, Medtronic, Target, TJX, and Gap are among companies reporting earnings. Market Snapshot
Top Overnight News
- S&P500 futures down 0.8% to 2,676.00
- STOXX Europe 600 down 0.5% to 353.25
- MXAP down 1% to 150.89
- MXAPJ down 1.2% to 481.70
- Nikkei down 1.1% to 21,583.12
- Topix down 0.7% to 1,625.67
- Hang Seng Index down 2% to 25,840.34
- Shanghai Composite down 2.1% to 2,645.85
- Sensex down 0.8% to 35,498.94
- Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 0.4% to 5,671.79
- Kospi down 0.9% to 2,082.58
- German 10Y yield fell 1.4 bps to 0.359%
- Euro down 0.2% to $1.1433
- Italian 10Y yield rose 10.4 bps to 3.223%
- Spanish 10Y yield rose 0.3 bps to 1.653%
- Brent futures down 0.8% to $66.23/bbl
- Gold spot little changed at $1,223.14
- U.S. Dollar Index up 0.1% to 96.29
Asian stock markets were lower across the board as
- Bank of England governor Carney appears before lawmakers on Tuesday. He’ll be joined by fellow interest-rate setters Jon Cunliffe, Andy Haldane and Michael Saunders. Treasury Committee Chair Nicky Morgan has already asked the BOE to assess any agreement
- While Salvini is threatening to hijack the EU agenda as the dispute over Italy’s 2019 budget heats up, his closest adviser is trying to steer the populist coalition away from a head-on clash with Brussels, according to senior government and League officials who asked not to be named discussing confidential matters
- Credit markets are set for the worst year since the global financial crisis as investors abandon hope of a late-2018 rally
- Turmoil engulfed cryptocurrency markets again on Tuesday, with every major coin extending a rout that’s rocking confidence in the nascent asset class. Bitcoin, which started the year at more than $14,000, has fallen below $4,500. Rivals including Ether, Litecoin and XRP joined the slide, though they pared losses that reached as much as 17 percent
- Evidence is mounting that the plot to oust U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is faltering. One rebel leader said in private that more than 50 Tories had claimed they would submit letter but they hadn’t all followed through
- Germany and France have warned the EU to do more to prevent the U.K. from being able to claim victory in Brexit talks, according to EU diplomats. Spain’s Foreign Minister said the EU shouldn’t accept a text on a Brexit agreement that Spain isn’t happy with
- U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wants to keep a second Brexit referendum open as an option
- Australia’s unemployment rate may fall further in the near term based on leading indicators of labor demand, the central bank said in minutes of its November meeting
- Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda says he welcomes a diversity of opinion on the effectiveness of negative rates. He also said he believes continuing current policy is best approach for achieving the central bank’s inflation target
the risk averse tone rolled over from Wall St, where the tech sector led the sell-off as Apple shares dropped nearly 4% on reports it had reduced production orders and with all FAANG stocks now in bear market territory. As such, the tech sector underperformed in the ASX 200 (-0.4%) and Nikkei 225 (-1.1%) was also pressured with Mitsubishi Motors and Nissan among the worst hit after their Chairman Ghosn was arrested on financial misconduct allegations. Shanghai Comp. (-2.1%) and Hang Seng (-2.0%) were heavily pressured after the PBoC continued to snub liquidity operations and as China’s blue-chip tech names conformed to the global rout in the sector, while JD.com earnings added to the glum as China’s 2nd largest e-commerce firm posted its weakest revenue growth since turning public. Finally, 10yr JGBs were weaker amid profit taking after futures recently hit their highest in around a year and following mixed results at today’s 20yr auction. Top Asian News
- BlackRock Doesn’t Expect Significant Growth Slowdown in China - China Stocks Lead Global Losses as Tech Rout Hits Fragile Market - Stock Traders in Asia Keep Finding New Reasons to Hit ’Sell’ - World’s Largest Ikea to Open in Manila as Company Bets on Asia Major European indices are largely in the red
, with the SMI outperforming (+0.1%) which is being bolstered by Novartis (+1.0%) following their announcement of a joint digital treatment with Pear Therapeutics for substance abuse disorder. The DAX (-0.7%) is lagging its peers, weighed on by Wirecard (-5.0%) following a disappointing change to guidance forecasting as well as weak sentiment across IT names after the FAANG stocks entered bear market territory on Wall St. In particular, the Stoxx 600 Technology sector (-1.9%), dropped to its lowest level since Feb 2017. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank (-2.5%) are in the red due to reports that the Co processed payments for Danske Bank in Estonia. Top European News
- Draghi’s Man in Rome Shows Populists Alert to Budget Backlash
- BASF Targets $2.3 Billion Profit Boost From Corporate Revamp
- Danske Fights Back as Hush Money Claims Raise New Questions
- The One Thing Supercharging Europe Earnings in 2018 Is Crashing
- As Things Stand, Spain Will Vote Against Brexit Deal: Sanchez
the DXY index remains technically prone to further downside pressure having closed below another Fib support level yesterday and testing the next bearish chart area around 96.050-10 ahead of 96.000 even. However, a more concerted bout of risk-off trade/positioning saved the DXY and broad Dollar from steeper declines as the tech-induced sell-off in stocks intensified, and jitters over Brexit alongside the Italian budget returned to the fore. NZD/AUD
- The Kiwi is bucking the overall trend and outperforming in contrast to this time on Monday, with Nzd/Usd rebounding firmly to 0.6850+ levels and Aud/Nzd retreating through 1.0650 to just south of 1.0600 following overnight data showing a hefty 6.5% y/y rise in NZ milk collections for October. Conversely, the Aud/Usd has slipped back under 0.7300 again, and close to 0.7250 in wake of RBA minutes underscoring no rush to hike rates and subsequent affirmation of wait-and-see guidance from Governor Lowe. In fact, he asserts that the jobless rate could decline to 4.5% vs 5% at present without inducing wage inflation, while also underlining concerns about the supply of credit. JPY/CHF
- Both benefiting from their more intrinsic allure during periods of pronounced risk aversion and investor angst, as Usd/Jpy probes a bit deeper below 112.50 and a key Fib at 112.46 that could be pivotal on a closing basis with potential to expose daily chart support circa 112.16 ahead of 112.00. Meanwhile, the Franc has inched closer to 0.9900 and over 1.1350 vs the Eur that remains burdened with the aforementioned Italian fiscal concerns. GBP/EUR
- Almost a case of déjà vu for Sterling and the single currency as early attempts to the upside vs the Greenback saw Cable and EuUsd revisit recent peaks around 1.2880 and 1.1470 respectively, but a combination of chart resistance and bearish fundamentals forced both back down to circa 1.2825 and 1.1425. In terms of precise technical/psychological levels, 1.2897 and 1.1445 represent Fib retracements, ahead of 1.2900 and 1.1500, while the Pound has remained relatively unchanged and unresponsive to largely on the fence pending Brexit rhetoric from the BoE in testimony to the TSC on November’s QIR. In commodities,
gold has stayed within a USD 5/oz range and traded relatively flat throughout the session moving with the steady dollar ahead of US Thanksgiving. Similarly, copper traded lacklustre breaking a 5-day rally because of a subdued risk sentiment stemming from ongoing US-China trade tensions; with Shanghai rebar adversely affected from these factors. Brent (-0.1%) and WTI (+0.2%) are following a relatively quiet overnight session, while recent upticks in the complex resulted in WTI reclaiming the USD 57/bbl and Brent edging closer to USD 67/bbl. This follows comments from IEA Chief Birol that Iranian oil exports declined by almost 1mln BPD from summer peaks. Looking ahead, traders will be keeping the weekly API crude inventory data which is expected to print a build of 8.79mln barrels. On today's light data calendar,
in the US, there should be some interest in the October housing starts and building permits data, especially following Fed Chair Powell’s recent comments acknowledging a slowdown in the housing market and yesterday’s homebuilder data. Away from that, the BoE’s Carney is due to appear before the Parliament’s Treasury Committee to discuss the Inflation Report, while the ECB’s Nouy and Bundesbank’s Weidmann are both scheduled to speak at separate events. US Event Calendar
DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap
- 8:30am: Housing Starts, est. 1.23m, prior 1.2m; MoM, est. 1.79%, prior -5.3%
- 8:30am: Building Permits, est. 1.26m, prior 1.24m; MoM, est. -0.79%, prior -0.6%
With the sell-off of the last 24 hours we have now traded through the last of our YE 2018 top level credit spread forecasts as US HY widened 6bps to +424bps (YE 2018 forecast was 420). We still think US HY is the most expensive part of the EUR & US credit universe but as discussed above, last night we’ve become more optimistic on all credit in the near-term after what has been the worst week of the year. Credit massively under-performed equities last week but equities caught up on the downside yesterday. The sell-off was underpinned by the FANG names selling off, an accounting scandal emerging at Nissan, oil swinging around and the US housing market spooked by weak data.
Just on the market moves first, the NASDAQ and NYFANG indexes slumped -3.03% and -4.28% yesterday, registering their fourth and third worst days of the year, respectively. Facebook and Apple fell -5.72% and -3.96% respectively, as the sector remains pressured amid a slew of negative PR and the spectre of stricter government regulation. Over the weekend, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview that “the free market is not working” and that new regulation is “inevitable”. This negatively impacted highly-valued social media companies. Twitter and Snapchat traded down -5.02% and -6.78% respectively. The tech sector was further pressured after the WSJ reported that Apple had cut production orders in recent weeks for the new model iPhones, with chipmakers broadly trading lower and Philadelphia semiconductor index shedding -3.86%. The S&P 500 and DOW also slumped -1.66% and -1.56% respectively while in Europe the STOXX 600 turned an early gain of +0.71% into a loss of -0.73%. In credit, cash markets were 2bps and 11bps wider for Euro IG and HY and 2bps and 6bps in the US. CDX IG and HY were, however, 3bps and 11bps wider, respectively. Elsewhere, WTI oil first tested breaking through $55/bbl yesterday, after Russia stopped short of committing to supply cuts, before recovering to close +0.52% at $56.76.
Bond markets were relatively quiet, with Treasuries and Bunds ending -0.4bps and +0.6bps, respectively, albeit masking bigger intraday moves. BTP yields rose +10.6bps to 3.597%, within 10 basis points of their recent closing peak, as rhetoric between Italian officials and their European peers continued to intensify. Finance Ministers from Austria and the Netherlands separately spoke publicly about their concerns, and expressed their hope that the European Commission will loyally enforce the fiscal rules. Italian Finance Minister Tria tried to calm conditions by framing the disagreement as relatively minor, though he also accused the Commission of being biased against expansionary policies, which he argued are needed to avert a macro slowdown.
Back to credit, as we highlighted yesterday, the recent weakness in the asset class has become a talking point for broader markets and while our view is now that value is starting to emerge, there are an increasing number of idiosyncratic stories plaguing the market. There were a couple more examples yesterday with the aforementioned story about Nissan removing its chairman after being arrested for violations of financial law. This caused Renault’s CDS to widen +25.0bps (equity down -8.43%), while Vallourec bonds dropped 15pts after falling 11pts on Friday as concerns mount about the company’s rising leverage in the wake of recent results. Like we’ve see in equity markets, it does feel like credits are now getting punished with sharp moves in the wake of negative headlines Certainly something to watch, but as we said above, credit is now much more attractively priced than it has been for some time.
From steel tubing to Downing Street, where we’ve actually had a rare temporary lull for Brexit headlines over the last 24 hours, although behind the scenes it does look we’re getting closer to the threshold for a confidence vote in PM May with the Times yesterday reporting that “senior Brexiteers” had told reporters that they had “firm pledges” from over 50 MPs to submit letters. As a reminder, 48 are needed to trigger the process. Looking further out, yesterday DB’s Oliver Harvey published a report arguing that there is still a path towards an orderly Brexit based on the existing Withdrawal Agreement should May survive a confidence vote. This path is provided by the political declaration on the future economic relationship. The latter has yet to be negotiated, and as the EU27 and UK recognise in the joint statement, the existing temporary customs arrangement (TCA) already provides a basis for a future economic relationship. Oli argues that the UK should push for the political declaration on the future relationship to explicitly commit the UK to a form of Brexit that might be described as “Norway plus.” The temporary customs arrangement would become permanent, but under the governance framework of UK membership of the EEA and EFT. The UK should tie the political declaration on the future relationship to the good faith clause in the existing Withdrawal Agreement, meaning that if negotiations were not pursued on these lines after the transition period had begun, the UK could withhold payments from the EU27. This would help to allay concerns from across the political divide that the UK would be “trapped” in a sub optimal customs union with the EU27.
Meanwhile, to complicate matters, Bloomberg has reported that the EU is mulling over issuing a series of separate statements on Brexit on Sunday, in addition to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration. This comes after pressure from some EU countries not to appease any additional UK demands. Elsewhere, the SUN has reported that the PM May has drawn up a secret plan to scrap the Irish backstop arrangement in an attempt to win over angry Tory Brexiteers after a meeting with them yesterday. However, if a mutually agreeable solution couldn’t be found over the last couple of years, it seems tough to imagine one was finally found yesterday afternoon. We’ll see.
Further adding to the complexity of where Brexit heads, last night the DUP abstained on the UK finance bill, which implements the budget. This stops short of their prior threat to actively vote against the legislation, but is still a surprise and signals that further political turbulence between PM May and the DUP is likely. The bill only just scraped through. Sterling finished +0.14% yesterday and this morning is trading flattish (+0.02%) in early trade.
Sentiment more broadly in Asia is following Wall Street’s lead with almost all markets trading in a sea of red. The Nikkei (-1.25%, with Nissan Motors down as much as -5.41% and Mitsubishi Motors -6.71%), Hang Seng (-1.84%), Shanghai Comp (-1.63%) and Kospi (-0.96%) are all down along with most other markets. Elsewhere, futures on S&P 500 (-0.29%) are extending losses as we type.
Back to yesterday, where as we mentioned at the top, weak US homebuilder sentiment survey data played its part in the moves for markets. The November NAHB housing market index tumbled to 60 from 68 in October after expectations had been for just a 1pt drop. That’s the lowest reading since August 2016 and biggest one-month drop since February 2014. The details weren’t much better and falls into line with the expectation of a softer outlook for housing. As you’ll see in the day ahead we’ve got more housing data in the US today so worth keeping an eye on even if the October data for starts could be distorted by Hurricane Michael.
As far as the day ahead is concerned, we’re fairly light on data today with Q3 employment stats in France, October PPI in Germany and November CBI total orders data in the UK the only releases of note. In the US, there should be some interest in the October housing starts and building permits data, especially following Fed Chair Powell’s recent comments acknowledging a slowdown in the housing market and yesterday’s homebuilder data. Away from that, the BoE’s Carney is due to appear before the Parliament’s Treasury Committee to discuss the Inflation Report, while the ECB’s Nouy and Bundesbank’s Weidmann are both scheduled to speak at separate events.
My dad asked me how I reconciled Bitcoin's fixed supply with the Keynesian model of supply. I understand that most people around here don't hold much stock in what Paul Krugman has to say. But much of the real world actually does, what with his Nobel prize and all. So I put some serious consideration into what he had to say about deflation, how it relates to Bitcoin, and other vague currency questions. What follows is my email back to my pa. Many of these ideas have come from my time spent in this forum, so feel free to chop it up, edit, and distribute away if you find any of it worthwhile. Thoughts from a liberal after reading Paul Krugman's 2010 NYT piece: Why is Deflation Bad? Krugman and Bitcoin and Me
Krugman's argument against deflation is built with a dependency: that there is a central authority which controls the money supply. So in a sense he has two core points.
(1) Krugman prefers that a centralized authority control the currency supply in order to manipulate the economy.
I'll allow that this tool can be a good, stabilizing force. But if that's the case, I want to be able to vet that institution from the bottom up before handing them the keys to the kingdom. And I want that institution to unequivocally work for society, not for Goldman Sachs
. If I thought the current system worked well, I wouldn't be exploring other options in the first place.
(2) Krugman prefers that that centralized authority manipulate the economy such that it encourages spending and lending. In other words, manipulate toward small inflation.
This could be a good thing. And maybe the economy it creates is more fluid than a deflationary one. But when you bake into the system incentives to spend now
and borrow from the future now
, you get exactly the problems that you'd expect: over-consumption and a society largely ridden in debt.
Control of the supply of the currency carries tremendous power. It can be used to smooth natural economic cycles and encourage specific consumer and producer behavior. This supply-manipulative ability is not in and of itself a bad thing. The question is whether it is necessary- because with Bitcoin (as it stands) it is impossible. Within the theoretical bounds of crypto-currency, the abilities for algorithmic, "smart" money-supply, one that rests on mathematics rather than the banking elite, are endless. There are truly exciting developments to come in this space. A First Consideration on Currency
Think, for a moment, of the unit of currency as sort of a creditor's note. It is an IOU from society; a placeholder for some unit of production. It says, "I produced something valuable (for someone else who takes part in this system). In return I got this note. I have reasonable assurance that one day I can cash this IOU in for something that I'll need in the future."
The unit of currency acts as a placeholder for its owner. Under this system, people trade their current productivity for the placeholder, and later (given the system still has integrity) they can trade that placeholder for something that raises their standard of living. It allows us to "time-shift" our production with respect to our consumption.
But don't forget!: A unit of currency as "just a thing". It only carries value if it is actually valued by somebody else you want to do business with. The dollar, the gold bar, the Bitcoin. the Euro, all work the same way: they are nothing but numbers or paper or metal. They are just atoms arranged in a way that make them valuable to a group of people only because they trust in the future of their common system.
Currencies are a subset of commodities. Commodities are things (oil, clothing, food, televisions) that are valuable to humans because they have useful properties. Like we said above, a currency's use is to "time-shift" production and consumption. The properties of the object that afford this advantage are usually a combination of irreproducibility, fungibility, scarcity, ease of transport, and securability. Why is Deflation Bad?
In his 2010 NYT piece
, Krugman argues that deflation hurts the economy due to three factors:
(1) People become less willing to spend, because sitting on money becomes an investment. Your dollar tomorrow will buy you more than what it can today, so why spend today? Therefore, spending goes down.
(2) Those in debt get into serious trouble awfully quickly, because the nominal amount-owed appreciates in value. As a result, they spend significantly less. At the same time, creditors have been shown to not spend enough such that it make up for this difference. Therefore, borrowing (and spending) goes down.
(3) Psychologically, people hate nominal wage decreases. With a fixed supply currency, year over year, wages will have to decrease in name. Even if the value of your wage rises, the amount written on the paycheck is lower. Therefore, people freak out.
These are troubling scenarios, though I think the first two are more substantial than the third. I don't mean to underestimate the psychological factor- in economics psychology is everything- but we'll talk about this later.
Krugman presents the first two points as bugs in a deflationary system. I see them as features. "Your dollar will buy you more tomorrow than what it can today."
I think this is natural. We are a rapidly advancing species; through technology we are becoming more efficient, automating crappy tasks, raising the standard of living for less work, of course
a dollar (that placeholder for your unit of production) is going to go further tomorrow than it does today.
Personally, I find this appealing. It provides every incentive to work now
and spend later
. That falls very much in line with good ol' American hard-working values and non-consumptive ethics.
Krugman finds this worrying though. If people have less incentive to spend, their is a crisis in demand. Hello liberals?! When was the last time we complained about lower consumption? In a country wracked with hyper-consumption that has put an unprecedented load on Earth's environment and ignited a climate crisis, I see a drop in demand as a breath of fresh air! Furthermore, you don't have to worry about people never
spending. People will always spend now
- but only on the want/need products, rather than the maybe-want-need-this-now-really-might-as-well-because-my-currency-is-losing-value-and-all-these-things-meet-my-zillion-useless-ephemeral-wants products.
I do believe there are much higher economic principles at work here. The United States is the world's default consumer. The global economy needs us to consume as much as it needs the million child laborers to produce. The economy would come crashing down if we stopped consuming immediately. But if we're trying to aim for a more sustainable economy, one that is compatible with the Earth's environment, let's move slowly and use a deflating currency as an incentive! "Deflation rewards creditors and hurts debtors. Debtors spend less and creditors don't spend more enough to offset."
The impassive Krugman is beating around the bush. There is
a problem when debtors suffer at the expense of creditors, and it's more than just a net loss in consumer spending. If you're concerned about a reduction in spending, see my previous point. But the remaining ethical problem is glaring- a power imbalance already exists in a creditor-debtor relationship, and it seems that deflation only widens this gap, crucifying the debt class on a cross of deflationary coin
There's no doubt that this is a problem. And wealth redistribution may ultimately be easier with an inflationary currency- again, a word on that later. But there is also an incentive here: borrow less. Credit card debt is at an all-time high, up 1200%
in the US since 1980, all while student loans have ballooned
out of control. But neither of these problems even compares to the $7.8 trillion of mortgage debt our country has dug itself into.
Now debt is not a bad thing. The right combination of debt and saving, that is- using both capital previously earned with capital borrowed from future earnings- indicates a healthy economy. I don't want to have to work my entire life only to afford a house at the very end. I want to be able to borrow from my future economic output, buy the house now, and live in it while I work to pay it off. The same goes for student debt, corporate debt-financing, etc. Access to credit is crucial to a healthy middle class.
But ever-increasing debt is not sustainable. Nobody lives- and produces- forever, so you cannot always borrow from your future economic output. In the end, regardless of the money tricks you play, you have to produce enough value to cover your consumption. The world recently found out, in a mild manor, what happens when a currency's incentive and a nation's culture favors borrowing. When given the opportunity to build houses they never could have dreamed of paying off in their lifetime, millions of people took the offer and the biggest lenders took the risk. The echoes of their mass default still burden the global economy 6+ years later.
The point is, if Krugman says "inflation promotes borrowing", I say, "is this debt-ridden wreck what we really want our economy to look like?" "People would freak out when their paycheck goes down."
I say get over it. Other possible proclamations in a deflationary world:
- "Today, this meal costs the most it ever will!"
- "My phone bill will never be this high again!"
- "Filling my car up costs less every day!"
- "Taxes go down every year so I love my life!"
Better yet, this reflects reality! Technology makes everything cheaper every day. You should
be paying lower phone bills tomorrow. Has the infrastructure gotten less efficient?
Here it feels like Krugman's grasping for straws. He pounces on people's reaction to their one source of income rather than their many expenses. This point also invokes that ugly liberal side: "The people don't know what's best for them." The Central Authority as a Tool for Wealth Redistribution
Now we're talking. As a Liberal, I consider this to be a most important necessary evil. But let's call it what it is: stealing from the rich to give to the poor. (Unless we reject the modern notion of property- stay tuned...)
In an inflationary economy, value is constantly leaching out of everyone's savings. Those who control the monetary supply have a means of reaching into every dollar, and skimming off a little bit of value. We can choose to do a lot of good with this. Right now the skimmed dollars are "lent" to banks- the theory is that they then have more to lend to the general public and everyone benefits. Lending is good right? It introduces liquidity. But continue this cycle ad infinitum and all the spending in the economy starts in the form of bank debt! It is no coincidence that Americans households are more in debt than ever before.
If wealth redistribution is the only benefit of a central supply authority (which can fall out of trust at any time), this is a weak foundation. We already have a mechanism for wealth redistribution: taxation. Let's be proud of it, call a duck a duck, raise taxes on the wealthy, and introduce that liquidity with massive infrastructural programs, education spending, science spending, etc, rather than in the form of bank loans.
One last point- inflation appears to be a flat tax. That's already bad. It affects every dollar proportionally, rich or poor. Worse, the middle class and poor have a higher percentage of their net worth in USD- so inflation then becomes a regressive tax... given to banks... to be lent out to again to the middle class. All in the name of wealth redistribution?! In the name of kick-starting the economy?! Something's fishy here, and "you wouldn't understand, it's more complicated" doesn't cut it as an answer for these practices. Bitcoin
So. What are we even doing here?
In 2009 a great mind developed a tool
, the first in the history of human civilization, for "minting" a currency according to a fixed and open sourced algorithm. Without the involvement of any third party, you can now send an irreproducible digital object of fixed supply to anyone with an internet connection. The implications
. But the first such currency, Bitcoin, happened to be fixed-supply and ultimately deflationary, which has re-sparked the deflation vs. inflation debate.
This is happenstance. The protocol that gives rise to these digital currencies- the bitcoin protocol (small b)- could easily implement a different supply model. Paul Krugman can start a currency, KrugCoin, with any supply model that he likes! Which begs one last question.
Let's say I'm presented with an option: I may collect my paycheck in a currency that deflates- that is, my paycheck will gain value over time. Or I may collect my paycheck in a currency that inflates- it loses value over time. Why would anyone choose the latter? Must a population be forced into using an inflationary currency? Are we?
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