Central Banks

The beauty of honesty

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The above quote is from quirky fund manager Dr Michael Burry MD towards the end of the movie, The Big Short. It says so much of today. One mate who is a very decent asset manager in Australia wrote to his clients, “I realise such may fly in the face of typical adviser recommendations (show me how someone is paid and I’ll show you how they will behave) however, I would rather lose a client than lose a client’s capital.

We share similar views on the state of the global capital markets. We joked about his long message to his investors sounding like Jerry Maguire burning the midnight oil writing the “fewer clients, less money” manifesto which got him sacked.

Now that our world is moving further and further toward automated everything including pre-emptive responses (which I scoffed out the other day about LinkedIn) it is truly refreshing to see this authentic honesty. The irony is that as much as machines are pushing us into ever tighter time windows, humans instinctively carry long term memory whether trauma or positive life events.

May your honesty be paid back in spades when those you saved a bundle recall your genuine gesture.

Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (by country)

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In an ever growing world of haves vs have nots, Elliman has released an interesting update on the statues of global wealth and where it is likely to head over the next decade. It suggests North America has 73,100 UNHWIs at an average of $100mn each or $7.31 trillion. To put that in perspective 73,100 North Americans have as much wealth as Japan & France’s annual output combined. Over the next decade they expect 22,700 to join the ranks.

Europe has 49,650 UHNWI also at the magical $100mn mark (presumably the cut off for UHNWI or the equivalent of Japan.

Asia is growing like mad with $4.84 trillion split up by 46,000 or $105mn average. In a decade there are forecast to be 88,000 UHNWIs in Asia.

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I am not sure what the World Bank was smoking when coming up with the coming forecasts I’ve rthe next decade but the figures smel fishy.  Then it all comes down to this chart.

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1) Political uncertainty? Everywhere you look – Trump, Brexit, Catalonia, Australia, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Hungary, Poland etc etc

2) Potential fall in asset values – looks a very high chance of that. Current asset bubbles are almost everywhere – bonds, equities, real estate etc

3) Rising taxes – maybe not the US or Canada (if you follow the scrutiny over Finance Minister Morneau), but elsewhere taxes and or costs of living for the masses are rising

4) Capital controls – China, India etc

5) Rising interest rates – well the US tax cuts should by rights send interest rates creeping higher. A recent report showed 57% of Aussies couldn’t afford an extra $100/month in mortgage – a given if banks are forced to raise lending rates due to higher funding costs (40% is wholesale finance – the mere fact the US is raising rates will only knock on to Aus and other markets).

Surely asset prices at record levels and all of the other risk factors seemingly bumping into one another…

So while UHNWIs probably weather almost any storm, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that the $100mn threshold might get lowered to $50m. It reminds me of a global mega cap PM who just before GFC had resplendent on his header “nothing under $50bn market cap”. Post GFC that became $25bn then eventually $14bn…at which point I suggested he change the header entirely.

I had an amusing discourse on LinkedIn about crypto currencies. The opposing view was that this is a new paradigm (just like before GFC) and it would continue to rise ( I assume he owns bit coins). He suggested it was like a promissory note in an electronic form so has a long history dating back millennia. I suggested that gold needs to be dug out of the ground – there is no other way. Crypto has huge risk factors because it is ultimately mined in cyber space. State actors or hackers can ruin a crypto overnight. There have already been hacking incidents that undermine the safety factor. It does’t take a conspiracy theory to conjure that up. To which he then argued if it all goes pear shaped, bitcoin was a more flexible currency. Even food would be better than gold. To which I suggested that a border guard who is offering passage is probably already being fed and given food is a perishable item that gold would probably buy a ticket to freedom more readily as human nature can adapt hunger far more easily in the fight for survival. I haven’t heard his response yet.

In closing isn’t it ironic that Bitcoin is now split into two. The oxymornically named Bitcoin Gold is set to be mined by more people with less powerful machines, therefore decentralizing the network further and opening it up to a wider user base. Presumably less powerful machines means fewer safeguards too although it will be sold as impervious to outsiders. Of course the idea is to widen the adoption rate to broaden appeal. Everyone I know who owns Bitcoin can never admit to its short comings. Whenever anything feels to be good to be true, it generally is. Crypto has all the hallmarks of a fiat currency if I am not mistaken? While central banks can print furiously, they will never compete with a hacker who can digitally create units out of thin air. Fool’s Gold perhaps? I’ll stick to the real stuff. I’ll take 5,000 years of history over 10 years any day of the week.

Sloppy senators who snigger at the seriousness of the situation

Regardless of whether one believes in climate change or not, surely even deniers should get access to transparent data, especially from taxpayer funded bodies. Just being told the science is settled is not acceptable. Indeed if the science is settled, what is there to hide? Allow all the ‘raw’ and ‘homogenised’ data to be independently scrutinized. Surely it will corroborate the facts and convert the heretics.

The argument that I am not a scientist is irrelevant. 99% of the people who are alarmists are not either. Yet, should one be vilified for questioning so many blatant acts of  fraudulent behaviour? As often in the world of ‘settled’ topics, the contrarian opinion is often laughed it. Yet, if 99% of people tell you one thing are you not curious to the counter arguments? So often the conventional wisdom has often turned out to be false.

What Senator Dastyari here has done is take allegations of data manipulation by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) as just a joke and an opportunity to cheap shot one of his fellow senators who is absent. It is willful behaviour to undermine a serious hearing. What is the constant faith that we are asked to put in government bodies that somehow they are above the law and beyond the scope of audit because we should trust them? That is like leaving candies on the table in reach of your kids but telling them they mustn’t eat any. The crack and eat some but when questioned swear they didn’t even though the blue M&M stain on the tongue proves they’re lying.

Former US Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan regularly spoke to the US Senate House Banking Committee. With the exception of Ron Paul, pretty much all other members used to hang off every word, not questioning anything that came from his mouth. It was nauseating to watch them heap praise on him. He was not held to account. Ron Paul used to ask questions about rampant monetary supply growth, asset bubbles and extreme borrowing to income ratios but his fellow law makers would gang up on him for having the hide to interrogate the ‘Maestro’. It is this type of unwillingness to question group think that is much more worrying. To all of the questions asked of Greenspan by Paul, we still got GFC – avoidable if the group thinkers in the Senate were prepared to challenge.

As CM has written frequently – so many bodies have been busted for data manipulation – the UNIPCC, NASA, NOAA and the BoM to name a few. Yes, even NASA, the people who have the brainstrust to launch man to the moon. Human greed is the issue. This discussion with President of the Sierra Club Aaron Mair who tells Senator Cruz there should be no debate as the science is settled yet can’t reliably argue his position even with a bench full of his flunkies pushing the same garbage.

In all seriousness, Dastyari wants to copy Aaron Mair. Shut down any plausible debate and avoid scrutiny that might upset his own constituents. People often use the argument that investing in renewables is like insurance. That we take it on the off chance we’re wrong. Well, in a sense what many scientists are doing is insurance fraud. Then again it is also an unanswered question. Why is it bankers get thrown into jail and fined exorbitant sums yet scientists riddled with conflicts of interest and deliberate ‘forgery’ of data to fit narratives escape scot-free even if caught.

Alitalia – what is it with airlines and government support?

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Last Friday Italy extended a bridge loan for Alitalia, which is in special administration as plans for it are determined by the state.  Italy’s cabinet has  passed an emergency decree to add a further 300 million euros on top of the 600 million euros it made to the ailing airline in May. It has extended the deadline for the repayment of the loan from November 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018.

Airlines are perhaps one of the worst industries as an investment one can find. High fixed costs, variable fuel prices, volatile economic cycles and intense competition. Yet with all of this, governments see them as national icons. Losing the flag carrier is viewed by some governments as a sign of economic impotence.

Several years ago, Japan Airlines went through a state-funded rehabilitation where the airline was able to overhaul its fleet while its legitimately profitable and unassisted competitor All Nippon Airways (ANA) got nothing. In the reverse poor old ANA was effectively taxed as its biggest rival got free kick after free kick from the government.

Qantas reported a $235 million loss in the last half of 2013 and cut 5000 employees to save the company $2 billion. The government was pressured to give state aid to prop up the airline but then PM Tony Abbott said, “because we do not want to be in the business of subsidising any single enterprise. It’s not sustainable in the long term”. So Qantas didn’t get help in 2014 and the airline has since rebounded and recently compensated its CEO Alan Joyce over $24mn as the shares have stormed 6x since the lows of 3 years ago. Most of the 5,000 let go have been recovered.

Which begs the question of state subsidies. When looking at Australia once again the state spent billions over decades to defend a bloated, inefficient and uncompetitive car industry. Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors, Toyota, GM Holden and Ford all closed local auto making opps. When businesses are subsidized, the necessity to reform is numbed. There is less need to get fit and look for efficiencies to get off the taxpayers’ teat. So even after 20 years and $12 billion spent to protect 45,000 jobs, all makers packed up and went home. Would have been better to write each worker a $250,000 cheque.

Of course some will argue that protecting jobs is a noble quest. Nobody likes seeing people unemployed. However if the rest of the world can make the same products cheaper and more efficiently why should consumers and taxpayers be forced to prop up those who won’t make the effort to reform.

Alitalia is yet another one of these businesses that is in the citizen’s pockets. If KLM and Air France can pair, Lufthansa and Swissair can join why shouldn’t Etihad back the initial investment it made in Italy’s national carrier. Another Loan is Time-warped, All Logic Is Abandoned.

I’ll stick with my instincts rather than fall for a Harvard study because it is from Harvard

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Harvard University is without question one of the top schools globally. It has an enviable reputation and having that on one’s CV is hardly a hinderance. It is a status symbol.  In a discussion over global warming an individual was trying to legitimize climate alarmism by citing a Harvard University study. Harvard by the way is ranked top 5 worldwide in Environmental Science. The study as it turns out had been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a US government agency responsible for allocating 24% of science funding that had been raked over the coals by the US Senate for gross mismanagement, fraud and waste. The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope” paper from 2011 documented some of the misappropriation of funds as follows,

An $80,000 study on why the same teams always dominate March Madness”, a “$315,000 study suggesting playing FarmVille on Facebook helps adults develop and maintain relationships”, a study costing “$1 million for an analysis of how quickly parents respond to trendy baby names”, a study costing “$50,000 to produce and publicize amateur songs about science, including a rap called “Money 4 Drugz,” and a misleading song titled “Biogas is a Gas, Gas, Gas”;” a study costing”$2 million to figure out that people who often post pictures on the internet from the same location at the same time are usually friends”; and “$581,000 on whether online dating site users are racist”.Ineffective management examples, cited in the report, included “ineffective contracting”, “$1.7 billion in unspent funds sitting in expired, undisbursed grant accounts”, “at least $3 million in excessive travel funds”, “a lack of accountability or program metrics to evaluate expenditures” and “inappropriate staff behavior including porn surfing and Jello wrestling and skinny-dipping at NSF-operated facilities in Antarctica”.

It is often a tactic to cite supposedly credible bodies to legitimize and seek to win an argument. However at what point do we view Harvard’s stance on climate change as balanced? On Harvard’s own climate change page it is littered with a predetermined view. It is not to doubt the intelligence of the professors and scientists within the university but intelligence and ethics do not have to be mutually inclusive especially when it comes to procuring funds.

One has to wonder that the  NSF, which dispenses 24% of all university grants (some $7bn) is best positioned to fulfill this role given its past. As the Harvard climate page reveals there does not seem to be much attention paid to the alternate view. The offshoot of that is if the NSF wants to get ‘green policy’ outcomes, best pour funds into those schools that will help give the results they’re after.

In 2015 a claim was made against Harvard for not disclosing financial conflicts of interest. A press release entitled ‘Clean air and health benefits of clean power plan hinge on key policy decisions’ constituted a gushing praise of a commentary entitled ‘US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits’ by Charles T. Driscoll, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Jonathan I. Levy, Kathleen F. Lambert, Dallas Burtraw, Stephen B. Reid, Habibollah Fakhraei & Joel Schwartz, published on May 4, 2015, in Nature Climate Change

The claim (a letter to the Dean) suggested that “two of the co-authors of the commentary, Buonocore and Schwartz, are researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Your press release quotes Buonocore thus: “If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented.” Indeed, the commentary and the press release constitute little more than thinly-disguised partisan political advocacy for costly proposed EPA regulations supported by the “Democrat” administration but opposed by the Republicans. Harvard has apparently elected to adopt a narrowly partisan, anti-scientific stance…The commentary concludes with the words “Competing financial interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests”. Yet its co-authors have received these grants from the EPA: Driscoll $3,654,609; Levy $9,514,391; Burtraw $1,991,346; and Schwartz (Harvard) $31,176,575. The total is not far shy of $50 million…Would the School please explain why its press release described the commentary in Nature Climate Change by co-authors including these lavishly-funded four as “the first independent, peer-reviewed paper of its kind”? Would the School please explain why Mr Schwartz, a participant in projects grant-funded by the EPA in excess of $31 million, failed to disclose this material financial conflict of interest in the commentary?Would the School please explain the double standard by which Harvard institutions have joined a chorus of public condemnation of Dr Soon, a climate skeptic, for having failed to disclose a conflict of interest that he did not in fact possess, while not only indulging Mr Schwartz, a climate-extremist, when he fails to declare a direct and substantial conflict of interest but also stating that the commentary he co-authored was “independent”?”

While I do not pretend to be a climate scientist by trade or study, fraud is fraud. The supposed beacons of virtue such as NOAA, IPCC, the CRU of the UEA have all been busted for manipulation of data to fit an end cause. The lack of ethics in certain cases has been so profound that had many of these scientists been in financial services they’d have lost licenses, paid multi billion in fines and served jail time. One person commented that too few in financial services have been locked up. I replied name me one scientist busted for fraud and misuse of public funds has seen the inside of a jail cell, much less fined or barred from teaching? The answer – NONE

I don’t need to possess a degree in astrophysics or science to determine poor ethics generally mean the science papers put forward should be viewed with deep skepticism. Yet we’re constantly told that the science is settled. How so? If one has to lie and deceive in order to scare us into action, how can one say that it is legitimate work? In fact I have been at pains to mention that the scrupulous acts of a few only ends up undermining potentially credible work conducted by others. Yet climate change has become a purely political issue and there is no question that sourcing funding dollars is easiest met when supporting alarmism. After all why would people want to throw dollars at skeptics who may come out with an alternative view? Don’t debate it. Some have suggested sceptics are like pedophiles and even more extreme views have suggested jail sentences. When people think that the only way to win the argument is to jail non believers you can be absolutely sure that the data is completely flawed in that it can’t stand on its own as an argument. Hence the manipulation to try to bully the movement onwards. Some Aussie universities (state funded mind you) are refusing a climate think tank being established on their campus for possessing an alternative view. You have to worry if universities, the bedrock of free thinking, are trying to ban it. Then again if kindergarten schools are being taught they are gender fluid and cross dressing is acceptable then you know there is a more sinister movement at work.

It was no surprise that Hurricane Irma has become Trump’s fault. Alarmists drew any data possible to connect Global Warming and hurricane activity despite the IPCC claiming several years back it  has little supportive data to prove it. So expediency is put before principle. Hopefully if no one has seen the IPCC climb down perhaps we can still convince them we can save the planet. All the meantime the IATA forecasts air travel will double in terms of passenger numbers between now and 2030 and SUVs top most vehicle sales in major markets.

To add to the farcical care factor for climate change by the masses The Australian noted, “On June 30 2017, after 12 years of “advancing climate change solutions”, the Climate Institute is closing its doors in Australia, a victim of the “I’ll ride with you but won’t pay” industry. You would think that Cate Blanchett, so happy to appear in the institute’s ads, could have taken the hat around her Hollywood A-list mates, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, Emma Watson and Brad Pitt, to tip in a few hundred thousand a year for the cause….But alas, the caravan has moved on and the greatest moral challenge of our time is now the Trump White House. For celebrities who fly eyebrow groomers to the Oscars, climate change is kinda yesterday. Still, to humour the faithful and to keep the dream alive, the 10th anniversary of Earth Hour was celebrated last Saturday night. You didn’t notice?”

When I was a staunch opponent of Greenspan’s reckless monetary policy in 2001 and said his actions would lead to a financial calamity in 6-7 years, many laughed at me. I bought gold at under $300. People thought I was mad as did the Bank of England. Barbs were frequent – “how could you possibly possess the intelligence of Greenspan? Back in your box!” I was told. Of course as a contrarian by nature, speaking out against pervading group think was met with a constant wave of ever increasing vitriolic criticism. Of course the simplest thing would have been to roll over and join the band wagon but I stuck to my guns. GFC was the result. In all that time, people used to shame my thinking by citing Harvard or other Ivy League studies on new paradigms. Indeed many of the brains behind the CDOs which eventually brought the financial sector to its knees were brainiacs from the Ivy League. In the end my instincts were bang on. Nothing to do with education levels.

The same arguments were hurled at me during Trump’s presidential campaign. Many people defriended me because my data kept showing to me he’d win. I am not American, I can’t vote but casting my own instincts ended up being a no brainer. Not once were credible arguments made to counter why Trump could win. People would post NY Times polls, CNN polls and so forth to legitimize the argument. Then say I was blind, stupid, bigoted, racist and the usual leftist identikit used to demonise a view. Group think is so dangerous. What it is doing is suppressing real views which show up in the polling booth.

Everywhere I read, the media wants to throw Trump to the wolves and run the lunatic, racist white nationalist card. For 9 months now. To be honest I think he will comfortably do two terms because the media has learned nothing and anything he does is vilified. Most Americans aren’t looking to him for spiritual guidance. He is vulgar and his manner is far from conventional and sometimes not very fitting of the office he serves. However he gets no credit for anything. The latest UN sanctions on North Korea are in large part because Trump has told China to get on with it. Trump said on national TV that he wants “China to sort it out and to stop delaying otherwise we’ll do it for you”. Yet the media is drumming WW3 rhetoric.

Same goes for the Paris Accord. What a stroke of genius. Let France, Germany and other nations pick up the tab for their ‘green policy’ madness and make up America’s renewable shortfall. It is kind of ironic that none of these nations ever pick on China, India or Russia which make up 50% of CO2 emissions for their lack of adherence to actually doing meaningful things to abate climate change albeit signatories to the UN accord. I argue it is like NATO in reverse. US pays a way bigger share into NATO, why not collect a refund via other nation’s virtue signalling which actually helps America First by making other nations less competitive. Brilliant.

DACA – many Americans, including 41mn on food stamps, will welcome the removal of illegal immigrants from their country who in their view are siphoning their ability to get out of poverty. DACA to them isn’t about not being compassionate but realizing that a $20 trillion deficit and loading more onto an overcrowded system isn’t helping. Once again regardless of what people think of Trump he had the fewest white voters and largest share of black and Hispanic voters than Romney or McCain. Hardly the result for a white nationalist, racist bigot. At the current rate if the Democrats run Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren or any other identity politician against him in 2020 they’ll lose. The mid terms won’t be as bad as many calling. The one midterm already returned a Republican despite massive Hollywood support even ferrying voters to booths.

Transgender in the military. I spoke to two dozen US military personnel last month to ask their opinions. The 100% response was, “we think it is inappropriate for the taxpayer to fund sexual reassignment surgery while serving including several years of rehab and ongoing drug therapy…it is taking the p*ss…we serve our country because we love it and we don’t have room to support social experiments to protect freedom!” There was no real issue of transgender per se rather a problem of providing funds in n already tightly allocated budget for such medical expenditure. Several even spoke of the stupidity of LGBT pride day in the armed forces. What has the ability to fight got to do with what goes on in the bedroom? One said “if we had a heterosexual pride day” we’d never hear the end of it.

So when you communicate with the real people you find the truth if you are prepared to listen. The beauty of social media and indeed Google (which happily acts as a Big Brother on what it considers acceptable) is that many people reach for articles they probably haven’t read properly and use them as ways to ram home an argument because they carry a brand name. Harvard is a wonderful institution but as we’ve seen it has run into questions of conflicts of interest.

I happen to think that social media is having the opposite effect on brainwashing to tell the truth. 99.9% of what I see posted has little thought to it. The more people I speak to the more they are ignoring noise. Many people share articles without putting some basis of why they post it. In many cases people are too afraid to face a doxxing or backlash. Bring it on. To me if you post things in the public domain then be prepared to invite criticism. On my site I do not censor, cut off or delete readers. They are free to come and go as they please. I only request they keep profanity to a minimum.

So in summary, the idea that we bow down to venerable institutions to seek guidance is as flawed today as it ever was. I’ll gladly stick to gut instincts because to date they have worked so far. Having said that I should put a disclaimer that was always plastered on financial services product, “Past results are no guarantee of future performance”

Italy proves the ECB Thinks some banks more equal than others

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The ECB proves it is powerless to push member states into banking solutions. It is in fact nothing more than an accomplice. No sooner had the ECB turned a blind eye to a bailout of two banks last week, this week saw the world’s oldest bank likely to get the same treatment.  The state-backed rescue of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA may be approved by the European Commission as soon as today.

EU approval would pave the way for the third recapitalization of an Italian bank by the state this week. Last month, European authorities and Italian officials reached an agreement in principle on a rescue plan that may include a capital increase of about 8.3 billion euros ($9.4 billion) and the sale of about 26 billion euros of bad loans through securitization. Monte Paschi was forced to seek state aid after it failed to raise capital from investors in December.

All it shows is that for all the rhetoric of bail-ins and tough talk, the ECB has no choice but to let member states handle their own affairs. Italy has a banking sector with 20% NPLs with up to 50% in southern parts of the country.

In reality it shows up the ECB to be powerless to control its members. While the US can openly state it is paring back its balance sheet, the ECB has to be content with rolling over and playing dead. At the same time Italy sets precedents that become the benchmark for others to follow. Must be food for thought for all the banks that have been forced to bail-in…-all banks are equal…some more equal than others!

From Sesame to Elm Street

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ETF markets continue to surge in popularity. With low fees and basic packaging of the ETF product even Big Bird can understand what The Count is going on about. No wonder investors are snapping up these products faster than the Cookie Monster. However there is something chilling about the ETF market. In the lead up to and eventual crash of Lehmans et al CDOs, CDSs and other synthetic products were seen as the root of all evil. They were so complex that even Fields Medal winners in mathematics couldn’t make head nor tail of them. The ETF became the opposite – being too simplistic – and with that the product has brought huge complacency. To that end Sesame Street could well switch to Elm Street.

Today assets invested in ETF/Ps comprise over $3 trillion globally. Put simply the new funds flowing into ETFs vs. traditional mutual funds is at a 100:1 ratio and in terms of AUM is on par with total hedge fund assets which have been in existence for 3 times as long.

However ETFs, despite increasing levels of sophistication, have brought about higher levels of market volatility. Studies have shown that a one standard deviation move of S&P500 ETF ownership carries 21% excess intraday volatility. Regulators are also realising that limit up/down rules are exacerbating risk pricing and are seeking to revise as early as October 2015. In less liquid markets excess volatility has proved to be 54% higher with ETFs than the actual underlying indices. A full report can be seen here.

With the continuation of asset bubbles in a TINA (there is no alternative) world, ETFs in my view will lead to massive disappointments down the line. Their downfall could well invite the revival of the research driven fund manager model again as robots show they’re not as infallible as first thought in managing the volatility. Don’t forget humans designed the algorithms.

There is also the added risk of whether some ETFs actually hold the physical of the indices or commodities they mimic. A gold ETF is a wonderfully good way to store wealth without resorting to one’s own bank vault but how many ETF owners have inspected the subterranean cage that supposedly holds the physical the ETF is backed by? Has it been lent out? Does it own a fraction of stated holdings? It could be any other commodity too. Of course the ETF providers bang on about the safety of the products but how many times have we gasped when fraud reared it’s ugly head right in front of us. Bernie Maddoff ring any bells?

Given the implied volatility on the downside we need to bear in mind the actions of central banks. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is the proud owner of 60% of the ¥20 trillion+ domestic ETF market. While the BoJ says it isn’t finished expanding its world’s largest central bank balance sheet (now 100% of GDP), the US Fed is looking to reduce its balance sheet by over 40% in order to normalize. While one can applaud some level of common sense pervading sadly the consequences of defusing the timer on the bomb they created at a period when the US economy is showing signs of recession will only be an overhang on asset markets. Should the US market be put through the grinder, global markets will follow.

It is one thing for the Fed to be prudent. It is another for it to be trying to cover its tracks through higher interest rates in a market that looks optically pretty but hides serious life threatening illnesses. The Fed isn’t ahead of the curve at all. It is so far behind the 8-ball that its actions are more likely to accelerate rather than alleviate a crisis. Point to low unemployment or household asset appreciation as reasons to talk of a robust economy but things couldn’t be further from the truth. Wage growth is not the stuff of dreams and the faltering signs in auto, consumer and residential markets should give reason for concern.

Since GFC we have witnessed the worst global economic revival in history. The weakest growth despite record pump priming and balance sheet expansion. Money velocity is continually falling and the day Greenspan dispensed with M3 reporting one knew that things were bad and “nothing to see here” was the order of the day.

Record levels of debt (just shy of $220 trillion or 300% of GDP when adding private, corporate and government), slow growth, paltry interest rates and coordinated asset buying have not done anything other than blown more air into a bubble that should have been burst. GFC didn’t hit the reset button. Central banks just hit print to avoid the pain. We’ve doubled up on stupidity, forgot the idea of prudent and sensible growth through savings and just partied on. Ask any of your friends in finance what they “really” think and I can assure you that after a few drinks they’ll tell you they’re waiting for the exit trade. They know Armageddon is coming but just don’t know when

Whether we like it or not, the reset button will be hit. I often argue people should not worry about the return ON their money but the return OF it. Global markets can’t be bailed out again with massive cash infusion. That has been a recipe for disaster, only widening the gap between haves and have nots. Debt must be allowed to go bad, banks must be allowed to go bust and free markets must be freed from the shackles of state sponsored manipulation to set prices. It will be ugly but more of the same can kicking won’t work.

ETFs are a sign of the times. They represent the slapdash approach to life these days. Time saving apps if you will. However nothing beats hard nosed analysis to understand what awaits us. Poor old Big Bird will be the canary in the coal mine and Sesame Street will be renamed Elm Street as the Kruger’s move in to give us nightmares Janet Yellen assures us aren’t possible.

Perhaps that is the ultimate question. As you go to work each day do you honestly feel that things are peachy as the management town hall meetings would have you believe? Are your friends or colleagues all bulled up about the future? Perhaps that is easier to answer than an ETF.