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Economics

The Great Crash of 2022

We are now well past the corona crisis of 2020, and most of the restrictions around the world have been repealed or loosened. However, the long-term consequences…

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We are now well past the corona crisis of 2020, and most of the restrictions around the world have been repealed or loosened. However, the long-term consequences of arbitrary and destructive corona policies are still with us—in fact, we are now in the middle of the inevitable economic crisis.

Proclaiming the great crash and economic crisis of 2022 is at this point not especially prescient or insightful, as commentators have been predicting it for months. The cause is still somewhat obscure, as financial and economic journalism still focuses on whatever the Federal Reserve announces. But the importance of the Fed’s moves is greatly exaggerated. The Fed cannot set interest rates at will; it cannot generate a boom or a recession at will. It can only print money and create the illusion of greater prosperity, but ultimately, reality reasserts itself.

The real driver of the present crisis is monetary inflation. Back in 2020, I (along with many others) pointed out the role of inflationary monetary policy in the corona crisis. While consumer price inflation is now the most apparent consequence, the real damage occurred in the capital structure of the economy. This is the cause of the present crisis.

A Business Cycle, of Sorts

While to most people the most obvious consequence of the corona inflation was the transfer payments they received from the government, the real action occurred in the business sector. Through various schemes, newly created money was channeled to the productive sector from the Fed via the Treasury. The result was a classic business cycle of unsustainable expansion ending in inevitable depression.

The immediate effect of the inflow of easy money was twofold. First, it hid some of the economic distortions that lockdowns and other restrictions caused. Since they received government funds to make up for lost revenue and to cover higher costs, businessmen maintained production lines that really should have been shut down or altered in some way due to lockdowns. Second, easy money induced capitalists to make new, unsound investments, as they thought the extra money meant greater capital availability.

These investments were unsound not because the government quickly turned off the money spigot again: they were unsound because the real resources were not there; people had not saved more to make them available. The supply of complementary factors of production had not increased, or not as much as suggested by the increase in money available for investment. As the businesses expanded and increased demand for these complementary factors, their prices therefore rose. To keep the boom going, businesses have started to borrow more money in the market, driving up interest rates. But there is no cheap credit to be had at this point, since there haven’t been additional infusions of cheap money since the initial inflation of 2020, so interest rates are quickly rising. This is the real explanation of the inversion of the yield curve: businesses are scrambling for funding as they find themselves in a liquidity shortage, since their input prices are rising above their revenues. It’s not the market front-running the Federal Reserve or any other fancy expectations-based cause: interest rates rise because businesses are short on capital.

The following chart shows the increase in producer prices compared to consumer prices—an increase of almost 40 percent since the beginning of 2020 is clearly unsustainable. That consumer prices have not increased as much is a clear indication that we’re dealing with a business boom and that businesses can’t expect future revenues that will cover their elevated costs. Nor are we simply seeing oil price increases due to disruptions in supply. Oil and energy commodities complement virtually all production processes, so inflation-induced investment will lead to an early rise in oil and energy prices.

Figure 1: Producer and Consumer Price Indices, January 2019–May 2022

Eventually, interest rates will be bid too high, and businessmen will have to abandon their investments. Many will throw inventories on the market at almost any price to fund their liabilities, cut back their workforces, and likely go bankrupt. This appears to be happening already, as CNBC is reporting many layoffs in tech companies.

A likely consequence of this bust will be a banking crisis: as the share of nonperforming loans increases, bank revenues will dry up, and banks may find themselves unable to meet their own obligations. A crisis could develop, leading to what has been called “secondary deflation”: the contraction of the money supply as deposits in bankrupt banks simply evaporate. While that is a consummation devoutly to be wished, it is unlikely, to put it mildly, that the Federal Reserve will let things get to that point. This neatly brings us to a central question: What is the central bank doing right now?

The Contractionary Fed

Surprising as it sounds, the Fed really is pursuing a tightening policy. Not necessarily the one they officially announced—they are not, in fact, reducing their balance sheet, but an extremely tight policy nonetheless.

It is worth pointing out that the Fed is really a one-trick pony: all it can do is create money, either directly or indirectly by giving banks the reserves necessary for bank credit expansion. All the stuff about setting interest rates is secondary, if not irrelevant: the market always and everywhere sets interest rates. Central banks can only influence interest rates by, you guessed it, printing money.

Figure 2: M2 (billions of dollars), January 2019–April 2022

While the Fed was very inflationary back in 2020 as figures 2 and 3 show, it has since reversed course and become not only conservative, but outright contractionary. That is, not only has the growth rate slowed down, but there was a real, if small, fall in the quantity of money in early 2022.

Figure 3: M2 (percent change), January 2019–April 2022

This contraction is not immediately evident if we only look at the Fed’s overall balance sheet, because since March 2021, the Fed has aggressively increased the amount of reverse repurchase agreements (reverse repos) they hold (or owe, technically). In a reverse repo transaction, the Fed temporarily sells a bond to a bank (just as they temporarily buy a bond from a bank in a repo transaction). This sucks reserves from the system, just as repos add reserves to the system. From virtually zero in March 2021, the amount of reverse repos has increased to $2,421.6 billion as of June 15, reducing the amount of available reserves by the same amount. The Fed balance sheet has not shrunk due to simple accounting: the bond underlying the repo transaction is still recorded on the Fed balance sheet. Banks, meanwhile, benefit from this transaction even though their reserves are temporarily reduced, earning a practically risk-free 0.8 percent (the Fed increased the award rate on reverse repos to 1.55 percent on June 15 and will likely increase it in the near future as the market rate keeps rising).

Figure 4: Reverse Repurchase Agreements, March 2021–June 2022

Whatever this is, it’s not a policy that will feed inflation—in fact, inflation really will be transitory if the Fed continues its present policy. This is somewhat ironic, as the Fed has increased its holdings of inflation-indexed bonds, suggesting its economists themselves do not believe the transitory narrative. Of course, it’s possible that the Fed may simply be gearing up for the next round of inflationary policy.

What is certain is that the Fed is now neutralizing its previous inflation. The great 2020 inflation went first to the US Treasury account at the Fed and then to the government’s favored clients. As the government drew down its account, money went to the banks and was deposited at the Fed as reserves. At this point, the inflation could have accelerated. The banks were already flush with reserves and could have extended credit on top of the tidal wave of additional reserves flowing into them. This would likely have happened as the market rate of interest started rising, if not earlier, but by sucking banks’ reserves out the Fed is limiting banks’ inflationary potential. Credit expansion is still possible, as the banks maintain a historically elevated reserves-deposits ratio of around 20 percent and have since 2020 been liberated from any kind of legal reserve requirement. But by reducing the reserves in the system, the Fed is effectively preventing this development. After peaking at over 23 percent, the reserve ratio has steadily declined since September 2021, hitting 19 percent in April, as shown in figure 5. Since reverse repo transactions have continued in May and June, the monetary contraction seen in the first quarter is likely ongoing, although we will have to wait for more recent money supply figures to confirm this.

Figure 5: Banks’ Reserve Ratio, May 2020–April 2022

What Happens Now?

Whatever happens next, one thing is clear: the crisis is already upon us. Stock market declines and financial market chaos are really epiphenomena, headline capturing though they may be. The damage has already been done. And while I’ve here focused on the covid era, we were already heading for crisis in 2019—the coronavirus just provided an excuse for one last gigantic inflationary binge.

This means that it’s not simply the malinvestments of the last two years that needs to be cleared out—it’s the accumulated capital destruction of the last fifteen years that’s now becoming apparent. How much capital was wasted in tech start-ups that had no chance of ever turning a profit? As this piece in The Atlantic points out, enormous amounts of capital were poured into technology projects aimed at the hip urban millennial lifestyle—and now that they cannot cover operating costs with endless infusions of venture capital, prices are spiking and companies are laying off workers. The boom in construction is also at an end, as demand for housing is unlikely to remain elevated as mortgage rates rise.

In all likelihood, the Fed is not going to stay the course. Pressure from finance and from government is likely to force it back into inflation, but this inflation can’t prevent the bust. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, you can’t paper over the economic crisis with yet another infusion of paper money; the crisis will play out, whatever the central bank decides to do. What the Fed can do is continue funding the government and bailing out the financial system when they come under pressure. Both will be very inflationary.

We should not celebrate the Fed for refraining from inflating the money supply at the moment—after all, its previous recklessness caused the problems to begin with—but let’s hope the Fed stays the course for now.1 The longer a new round of inflation is delayed, the more radical will the purge of malinvestment and clown-world finance be. High inflation is also possible, perhaps even more likely, given the political pressures. In that case, Weimar, here we come!

  • 1. The June 15 numbers suggest that the Fed may be reversing course: it has bought $20 billion worth of mortgages and sold $8.6 billion worth of US Treasurys, increasing the balance sheet by $14.1 billion overall. Deposits continued to decline, falling by $100 billion, but the accumulation of reverse repos reversed sharply from Tuesday to Wednesday (June 13–14) and fell by almost $60 billion. If this is a real policy reversal, the contraction is already over; however, the amount increased slightly on Thursday.

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Economics

Energy Stocks Are Down, But Remain Top Sector Performer

High-flying energy shares have hit turbulence in recent weeks but remain, by far, the leading performer for US equity sectors so far in 2022, as of yesterday’s…

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High-flying energy shares have hit turbulence in recent weeks but remain, by far, the leading performer for US equity sectors so far in 2022, as of yesterday’s close (June 27), based on a set of ETFs. But with global growth slowing, and recession risk rising, analysts are debating if it’s time to cut and run.

The broad-based correction in stocks has weighed on energy shares lately. Energy Sector SPDR (XLE) has fallen sharply after reaching a record high on June 8. Despite the slide, XLE remains the best-performing sector by a wide margin year to date via a near-36% gain in 2022.

By contrast, the overall US stock market is still in the red via SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), which is down nearly 18% year to date. The worst-performing US sector: Consumer Discretionary Sector SPDR (XLY), which is in the hole by almost 29% this year.

The case for, and against, seeing energy’s recent weakness as a buying opportunity can be filtered through two competing narratives. The bullish view is that the Ukraine war continues to disrupt energy exports from Russia, a major source of oil and gas. As a result, pinched supply will continue to exert upward pressure on prices in a world that struggles to quickly find replacements for lost energy sources. The question is whether growing headwinds from inflation, rising interest rates and other factors will take a toll on global economic growth to the point the energy demand tumbles, driving prices down.

The market seems to be entertaining both possibilities at the moment and is still processing the odds that one or the other scenario prevails, or not. Meanwhile, energy bulls predict that the pullback in oil and gas prices is only a temporary run of weakness in an ongoing bull market for energy.

Goldman Sachs, in particular, remains bullish on energy and advises that the potential for more prices gains in crude oil and other products “is tremendously high right now,” according to Jeffrey Currie, the bank’s global head of commodities research. “The bottom line is the situation across the energy space is incredibly bullish right now. The pullback in prices we would view as a buying opportunity,” he says. “At the core of our bullish view of energy is the underinvestment thesis. And that applies more today than it did two weeks, three weeks ago, because we’ve just seen exodus of money from the space… investment continues to run from the space at a time it should be coming to the space.”

Meanwhile, a bit of historical perspective on momentum for all the sector ETFs listed above reminds that the trend direction remains bearish overall. But contrarians take note: the downside bias is close to the lowest levels since the pandemic first took a hefty bite out of market action back in March 2020 (see chart below). This may or may not be a long-term buying opportunity, but the odds for a bounce, however, temporary, look relatively strong at the moment.


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Economics

Five things you can do to help you have a more positive birth experience

Becoming a parent can be nerve-wracking – but there are many things you can do to feel more in control.

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Don't be afraid to make your preferences clear to your care provider. Syda Productions/ Shutterstock

Whether you’re a first time parent or have had children before, you’re probably willing to try anything to ensure you have the most positive birth experience you can. After all, the kind of birth experience you have can not only affect your own mental health, but can have an affect on parent-child bonding, as well as partner-to-partner relationships for years after giving birth.

It can be confusing to know what to expect or where to turn to for advice, especially as maternity services have changed due to falling staff numbers and the continued impact of COVID-19. But here are a few things you can do yourself as you navigate your maternity care, which may help you have a more positive birth experience:

1. Get educated

Studies have shown that signing up for antenatal classes can help reduce fear, depression and anxiety – both during pregnancy and after birth.

Typically, antenatal classes will help you understand what’s happening to your body during pregnancy and explain the birth process. They may also teach you coping strategies to help relax during labour, alongside guidance on caring for your new baby. Antenatal classes can also be a great way of meeting other parents going through the same thing as you.

Another option is creating a personalised care and support plan, which is offered by most NHS trusts in the UK. This is a tool you can use with your care providers to explore what’s important to you – and discuss what your range of options are, such as your preferred place of birth, or whether you prefer skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after birth.

Understanding what your body’s going through, and making a personalised plan for your birth, may help you feel more prepared and less anxious about what to expect.

2. Know your carers

Being cared for by one nominated midwife, or being assigned to a team of familiar midwives, is shown to be associated with better outcomes for you and your baby – including decreased chance of having a premature labour and lower likelihood of needing interventions (such as birth with the help of forceps). You’re also more likely to be satisfied with your overall experience.

When an allocated midwife is not an option this makes choosing the right birth partners crucial. They can not only offer you reassurance, encouragement and support but can be your advocate, help you try different positions in labour and help provide you with snacks and drinks. Most typically these would be trusted loved ones. But be aware that research shows birth partners may also feel anxious or overwhelmed at taking on this role, and may struggle with seeing a loved one in pain – so it’s important to be realistic about your expectations, and choose the right person. It may be the best birth partner for you is a close friend or relative.

3. Challenge care recommendations if you aren’t happy

There are likely to be many other options available to you – such as where you might give birth, or how you want to be cared for during labour.

During antenatal appointments be sure to pause, think and ask about benefits, risks and alternatives to the care being proposed. Research shows how important choice and personalised care are for expectant parents who want their voices and preferences to be acknowledged, and to receive consistent advice.

Expectant couple speak with female doctor in doctor's office.
Bringing a loved one or partner with you can make it easier to voice any concerns you may have. wavebreakmedia/ Shutterstock

If you have concerns over a suggestion your care providers have made or have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. Take your birth partner with you if you prefer, who can empower you to ensure your voice is heard. After all, care providers are duty bound to ensure you make fully informed choices.

4. Don’t always listen to your friends and family

Once people hear you have a baby on the way it seems everyone feels the need, without asking, to tell you the full (and often graphic) details of their own children’s birth.

But it’s perfectly acceptable to politely change the subject if you don’t want to listen, or if hearing these stories makes you nervous or worry. It’s also worth remembering that each person has a different labour and birth, even with their own children – so what was true for someone else is likely not to be the same for you. While it can be helpful for some people to debrief after the birth, it’s okay to avoid hearing this yourself if it makes your nervous, and maybe suggest they speak with a professional about their experience instead of telling you.

5. Visit your preferred place of birth

Many maternity units are now opening up their doors again to tours and informal visits – and those that aren’t are doing this virtually.

Becoming familiar with where you might give birth – even down to where you might park on the day – can help you feel more confident about giving birth. It may also remove some of the unknown, helping you regain a sense of control – which in itself is linked to a more positive birth experience.

For those planning a homebirth, speak to your midwife about how you can improve your space to facilitate the most safe and positive experience. For one of the most important days of your life, visualising where this will take place ahead of time can help you feel more confident and in control.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that no one can predict exactly how your labour and birth journey will go. Even after heeding the above steps – there’s always a chance you may need to consider a plan B, C or even D. But no matter what, remember you’ve done your very best, and you’re not likely to repeat this exact experience the next time.

Claire Parker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Is it safe to buy WTI crude oil after bouncing from horizontal support?

A lot has happened in the energy markets in 2022, especially in the oil markets. WTI crude oil price surged to $130 in the second quarter of the year,…

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A lot has happened in the energy markets in 2022, especially in the oil markets. WTI crude oil price surged to $130 in the second quarter of the year, after only in 2020 it had traded in negative territory.

Futures contracts settle daily, and back in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for oil declined sharply, clearinghouses let the futures contracts settle below zero for the first time ever.

Since then, however, the market has bounced dramatically. Few traders have bet on energy prices, especially because in the last years, the rise of the ESG meant many investments fleeing the energy field.

But supply chain issues, monetary and fiscal stimulus during the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are major drivers in the energy space. After reaching $130/barrel, the WTI crude oil price has corrected but found strong support at the $100/barrel area.

The recent bounce in the last few days came from Macron’s comments during the G7 meeting. He said that the United Arab Emirates does not have spare capacity to produce more oil, something confirmed yesterday by the UAE authorities.

UAE is producing at maximum capacity based on its OPEC+ agreements. Therefore, the price of oil should remain bid on every dip.

A triangular pattern forms on the daily chart

The technical picture looks bullish while the price remains above horizontal support seen at the $100/barrel. Moreover, a confluence area given by both horizontal and dynamic support made it difficult for the market to extend its decline.

As such, a triangular pattern suggests more upside in the price of oil. A triangle may act as both a continuation and a reversal pattern, and traders focus on a breakout above or below the upper or the lower trendline.

Furthermore, every attempt to the downside since last March was met with more buying. Therefore, it is hard to argue with the bullish case, especially since the series or higher lows remains intact.

All in all, the WTI crude oil price remains bullish, and the triangular pattern may break either way. However, as long as the $100 level holds, the bias is to the upside.

The post Is it safe to buy WTI crude oil after bouncing from horizontal support? appeared first on Invezz.

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