“Markets shrugged off the Brexit vote in a couple of days. They shrugged off Donald Trump’s election in a single day. They shrugged off the Italian referendum result in a couple of hours. Heck, in this mood they would shrug off an alien invasion of planet Earth.”
— Albert Edwards, Société Générale
At this time of year, only the hardest, coldest heart can fail to show good will to fellow man. That said, the silvery orb of Donald Trump’s post-election honeymoon may set sooner than expected as Ms. Yellin prepares to hoist her interest rate petard this week. Even a modest up-bump in the Fed Funds Rate is liable to prang the orgy of corporate share buybacks fueling the eight-year bull market that many formerly sane observers think is a permanent feature of the human condition. The bond market bull also seemed to last a lifetime and that’s gone south now, too.
Poor Trump’s mammoth ego has led him by the snout into a deadfall trap. The Trumpublican voters and cheerleaders expect another Morning in America miracle. Sorry, been there, done that, that was then, this is now. Conditions were quite different in 1981. For one thing, a brutal decade after the 1970 all-time US oil production peak, the Alaska North Slope fields came into full flow, along with the North Sea and Siberian fields.
The Alaska bonanza did not boost US production back to 1970 levels, but it did take the leverage away from OPEC, and it stuffed the elevated price-per-barrel back down to levels that an industrial economy could tolerate. The rest of the Reagan miracle was accomplished with debt. The case was similar for Mrs. Thatcher over in the UK. She was not an economic magician, just the beneficiary of a brief oil boom that made Britain a net energy exporter for two decades, providing an illusion of permanent prosperity and cover for the financialization of the economy. Now, with the North Sea oil playing out, all that’s left is the banking necromancy in Threadneedle Street.
Reagan also came in at the height of Fed Chair Paul Volker’s war on inflation, when the interest rate on the ten-year US treasury bond topped at 15 percent in September of 1981. Imagine paying 18 percent interest rates on your mortgage! How was that a good thing? Well, it wasn’t, not at all, it was a very bad thing for a while — but for Lucky Ronnie Reagan it meant interest rates had nowhere to go but down. And because bond prices correlate opposite to rates, the value of bonds had nowhere to go but up, which they did for 30-odd years until right now. And all that time, the world bond market couldn’t get enough of them — also till now, when big holders like China and Saudi Arabia are puking them back out.
When Reagan stepped in the national debt was only (only!) about half a trillion dollars. It will be over $20 trillion when Trump hangs his golden logo on the White House portico. Oh, by the way, consider that a trillion dollars is a thousand billion dollars and a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. Just so you know. Reagan had room for plenty of government finance monkey business. Trump has no room. Bush One, Clinton, Bush Two and Obama dug the deadfall debt trap for poor Donald and the election shoved him right into it. He thinks he’s on an upper floor of his enchanted tower; he’s actually down in a pit.
Trump thinks he’s going to rebuild highways and bridges for another century of Happy Motoring — to make America like it was in 1962 forever. Fuggeddabowdit. The bond market is poised for collapse as I write, and Trump’s money people (that is, the Goldman Sachs gang he has assembled) are talking about issuing fifty and 100 year “Build America” bonds. Their nostrils must be rimed with the frost of Medellin.
They're certainly not going to accomplish this trick by raising taxes. On who? Corporations? Ha! The One Percent? Double-Ha! Everyone else? Pitchforks and torches!
American oil companies can no longer make a buck doing their thing. Exxon-Mobil's U.S. production business lost $477 million in the third quarter, the seventh straight quarter in the red. Why? Because it costs a lot more to get the stuff out of the ground than it did ten years ago, and that high cost is bankrupting oil companies and industrial economies. That is the stealth action of Peak Oil that so many people pretend is not happening. It will ultimately destroy the banking system.
The disappointment issuing from this dire set of circumstances is apt to be epic as Trump flounders and the furious tweets of futility waft out of the hole he’s trapped in. Christmas will be over, and with it the hopes of a retail reprieve. Gasoline may remain cheap, but the little people won’t be able to buy the cars to run it in. Or buy much of anything else. Not even tattoos. We’ll soon discover the temperamental difference between Donald J. Trump and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.