On June 5th, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), announced a package of measures, including a policy of negative interest rates, aimed at encouraging or even forcing Eurozone banks to increase their lending to businesses.Although previously imposed by Swiss banks on their depositors, this will be the first time that a central bank has charged negative interest rates. The package also contained a reduction in Base Rate, a further major new Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO), a reaffirmation of 'Forward Guidance' to indicate low interest rates for the foreseeable future, and hints that the ECB might in future engage in Bernanke-style Quantitative Easing (QE).
Taken together, the total package is manna from heaven, or money for nothing, for the neo-Keynesians now holding power in most Eurozone governments. However, to Austrian School economists, it amounts to a political acceptance by Germany of a further postponement of the price of economic reality. It raises the eventual price to be paid in future for the illusion of economic growth today. In the meantime, the package likely will discourage savings, while perhaps encouraging imprudent lending, mal-investment, an asset price boom and currency distortions due to a carry trade based on low cost euros.
Stock markets rose strongly on Draghi's news. Amazingly, the 2.58 percent yield on 10-year Spanish government bonds fell below that of 10-year U.S. Treasuries. Given the continued structural problems that plague the Spanish economy, this fact indicates persistent delusions in markets.
It is hoped that charging a negative interest rate of 0.10 percent on bank deposits with the ECB will encourage banks to lend their excess deposits to other banks (in the interbank market) or to lend to corporate or retail borrowers. It is a desperate measure to force banks to take more risks. One of the unforeseen results may be the further development of the so-called "carry trade."
Given the relatively low cost of borrowing euros vis-à-vis other currencies, many investors could be tempted to borrow euros to purchase higher yielding currency (either for an interest rate spread or to use the newly raised funds to invest in the host country). For example, an investor may borrow euros, exchange them for British Pounds and invest the proceeds in the London property market, inflating further what the Bank of England has warned is a dangerous property bubble. In addition, upwards pressure is exerted on Sterling rendering British exports less price competitive. Of course, this suits Eurozone members such as Germany.
Although Draghi's decision to drop the interest rates on the ECB's massive 400 billion euros Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO)has received less publicity, its impact may be just as great. The lower LTRO rate may encourage further risky lending and dubious investment. In the short-term such lending will conceal current bad loans, boost speculation and financial markets. The future costs of default likely will be socialized. But, by then, it is to be hoped that those bankers and politicians responsible will have been promoted or moved on!
In addition, the continuation of ultra low interest rates, under QE, will erode savings further and even discourage the ethos of saving in favor of current spending. The discouragement of saving in favor of current synthetic growth appears to be politically deceptive and deeply destructive of a healthy economy.
Furthermore, some would argue that, with bond markets at record highs, most banks are at far greater risk than appears at first sight. Already, Eurozone banks are far more highly leveraged than their American counterparts. As such, they are especially vulnerable to a dramatic rise in interest rates and a collapse in government bond prices.
Mario Draghi is acknowledged widely for his PR ability. However, more prudent observers see him more as a conjuror. While his policies have not attracted as many headlines as the Federal Reserve's Quantitative Easing program, the full roster of the ECB's liquidity injectors is perhaps more injurious to economic growth. Draghi has joined and even exceeded the central bank 'monopoly money' policies of the United States, Great Britain and Japan.
It's a shame. The ECB could have been a beacon of sanity in an otherwise insane world.
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.
My father makes a powerful case that the IRS has been collecting the income tax in violation of law, multiple Supreme Court decisions, and the U.S. Constitution. At the very least his efforts provide compelling evidence of the sincerity with which he holds his beliefs and that his conduct was in no way criminal. My father is 86, practically blind, in failing health, yet is still fighting for a cause he wholeheartedly believes in. He is proceeding without a lawyer and despite his physical limitations and the limited computer access provided in federal prisons, he still managed to put this comprehensive motion together. Read it yourself and share it with as many people as you can. My father would appreciate your assistance in making sure that his message is heard. Even if the courts ignore it, let's try and make sure that the American people do not. Thanks for your help.
The red flags contained in the national and global headlines that have come out thus far in 2014 should have spooked investors and economic forecasters. Instead the markets have barely noticed. It seems that the majority opinion on Wall Street and Washington is that we have entered an era of good fortune made possible by the benevolent hand of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen have apparently removed all the economic rough edges that would normally draw blood. As a result of this monetary "baby-proofing," a strong economy is no longer considered necessary for rising stock and real estate prices.
But unfortunately, everything has a price, even free money. Our current quest to push up asset prices at all costs will come back to bite all Americans squarely in the pocket book. Death and taxes have long been linked by a popular maxim. However, there also exists a similar link between debt and taxes. The debt we are now incurring in order to buttress current stock and real estate will inevitably lead to higher taxes down the road. However, don't expect the taxes to arrive in their traditional garb. Instead, the stealth tax of inflation will be used to drain Americans of their hard earned purchasing power.
I explore this connection in great length in my latest report Taxed By Debt, available for free download at www.taxedbydebt.com. But diagnosing a problem is just half the battle. I also present investing strategies that I believe can help Americans avoid the traps that are now being laid so carefully.
The last few years have proven that there is no line Washington will not cross in order to keep bubbles from popping. Just 10 years ago many of the analysts now crowing about the perfect conditions would have been appalled by policies that have been implemented to create them. The Fed has held interest rates at zero for five consecutive years, it has purchased trillions of dollars of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, and the Federal government has stimulated the economy through four consecutive trillion-dollar annual deficits. While these moves may once have been looked on as something shocking...now anything goes.
But the new monetary morality has nothing to do with virtue, and everything to do with necessity. It is no accident that the concept of "inflation" has experienced a dramatic makeover during the past few years. Traditionally, mainstream discussion treated inflation as a pestilence best vanquished by a strong economy and prudent bankers. Now it is widely seen as a pre-condition to economic health. Economists are making this bizarre argument not because it makes any sense, but because they have no other choice.
America is trying to borrow its way out of recession. We are creating debt now in order to push up prices and create the illusion of prosperity. To do this you must convince people that inflation is a good thing...even while they instinctively prefer low prices to high. But rising asset prices do little to help the underlying economy. That is why we have been stuck in what some economists are calling a "jobless recovery." The real reason it's jobless is because it's not a real recovery! So while the current booms in stocks and condominiums have been gifts to financial speculators and the corporate elite, average Americans can only watch from the sidewalks as the parade passes them by. That's why sales of Mercedes and Maseratis are setting record highs while Fords and Chevrolets sit on showroom floors. Rising prices to do not create jobs, increase savings or expand production. Instead all we get is debt, which at some point in the future must be repaid.
As detailed in my special report, when President Obama took office at the end of 2008, the national debt was about $10 trillion. Just five years later it has surpassed a staggering $17.5 trillion. This raw increase is roughly equivalent to all the Federal debt accumulated from the birth of our republic to 2004! The defenders of this debt explosion tell us that the growth eventually sparked by this stimulus will allow the U.S. to repay comfortably. Talk about waiting for Godot. To actually repay, we will have few options. We can cut government spending, raise taxes, borrow, or print. But as we have seen so often in recent years, neither political party has the will to either increase taxes or decrease spending.
So if cutting and taxing are off the table, we can expect borrowing and printing. That is exactly what has been happening. In recent years, the Fed has bought approximately 60% of the debt issued by the Treasury. This has kept the bond market strong and interest rates extremely low. But a country can't buy its own debt with impunity indefinitely. In fact the Fed, by winding down its QE program by the end of 2014, has threatened to bring the party to an end.
Although bond yields remain close to record low territory, thanks to continued QE buying, we have seen vividly in recent years how the markets react negatively to any hint of higher rates. That's why any indication that the Fed will lift rates from zero can be enough to plunge the markets into the red. The biggest market reaction to Yellen's press conference this week came when the Chairwoman seemed to fix early 2015 as the time in which rates could be lifted from zero. That possibility slapped the markets like a frigid polar wind.
Janet Yellen may talk about tightening someday, but she will continue to move the goalposts to avoid actually having to do so. (Or as she did this week, remove the goalposts altogether). As global investors finally realize that the Fed has no credible exit strategy from its zero interest policy, they will fashion their own exit strategy from U.S. obligations. Should this happen, interest rates will spike, the dollar will plunge, and inflation's impact on consumer prices will be far more pronounced than it istoday. This is when the inflation tax will take a much larger bite out of our savings and paychecks. The debt that sustains us now will one day be our undoing.
But there are steps investors can take to help mitigate the damage, particularly by moving assets to those areas of the world that are not making the same mistakes that we are. In my new report, I describe many of these markets. Just because the majority of investors seem to be swallowing the snake oil being peddled doesn't mean it's wise to join the party. I urge you to download my report and decide for yourself.
Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.
Herman Cain has been gaining much traction with his 9-9-9 Plan, a bold proposal to replace our dysfunctional tax code with what could be a simpler, less invasive, and more economically stimulative alternative. While I don't agree with the full spectrum of Mr. Cain's policy choices, I applaud his courage on the tax front. Judging by his rising poll numbers, this appreciation is widely shared. However, the plan has deep flaws, the most glaring of which is its creation of a hidden payroll tax which represents a fourth "nine." This serious pitfall has been unmentioned by Mr. Cain and overlooked by those who have analyzed his plan.
Cain would replace the current system of income and payroll taxes with a 9% flat-rate personal income tax, a 9% corporate tax, and a 9% national sales tax. Great idea. Such a system would unburden businesses, provide a tax cut for most Americans, and shift taxation to consumption and away from income generation. This is exactly what our economy needs. But unlike our current corporate tax system, the plan eliminates the deductibility of wages and salaries from corporate income. The net effect is the creation of a brand new 9% tax on wages. When this fourth 9 falls from Cain's sleeve, many of his opponents will likely accuse him of cheating.
Much of the plan's virtue lies in its elimination of Social Security and Medicare taxes (payroll taxes) that fall heaviest on lower income workers. This includes the 6.2% Social Security tax and the 1.5% Medicare tax paid directly by the worker. But it also includes the 6.2% and 1.5% portions paid indirectly by workers through their employers. Payroll taxes are, in reality, a cost of employment. From the employer's perspective these costs are part of the wage package. Absent these taxes, employers could raise wages by an equivalent amount without raising labor costs. Inclusive of this portion, payroll taxes currently cost workers 15.4% of their wages.
The Cain plan scraps this tax. But the elimination of wage deductibility from corporate taxes replaces it with a 9% payroll tax. Therefore a more accurate name for Cain's proposal could be the 9-9-9-9 plan. The forth nine changes everything.
Cain admits that the 9% sales tax would fall heaviest on the poor, but he claims that the elimination of the payroll tax would more than compensate. But when the hidden 9% payroll tax is factored in, more than 50% of workers who currently pay an average income tax rate of just 3% would see a sizable tax hike, from 18.4% (former payroll tax plus income tax) to 27%: 9% payroll tax, 9% income tax and 9% consumption tax (poorer workers generally spend all income).
On the other hand, high income tax payers get a considerable break. Not counting the consumption tax, the 9-9-9 plan reduces the highest marginal tax rate from 38% (35% income tax and 3% payroll tax - on income over $105,000) to just 18% (9% income tax plus 9% payroll). For the self-employed, who can transform their wages into dividends (that are deductible business expenses under the 9-9-9 plan), the rate would fall to just 9% (all income tax, no payroll or business tax). Of course, in either case, the 9% sales tax will apply to spending, but even if 100% of earnings are spent (which is generally not true of high earners) the top rate would still top out at only 27% for the highest salaried employees and just 18% for the self-employed. In essence, tax cuts for the rich are paid for with tax hikes on the poor and middle class. If these aspects were widely known the plan would become a political dead letter.
Even with its flaws, the 9-9-9-9 plan would create an economic windfall by lowering the top corporate rate to 9% from 50% (35% at the corporate level and 15% on dividends taxed at the individual level), and simplifying the tax code to reduce unnecessary compliance costs and the economically inefficient behavior that is created by perverse tax incentives. These changes alone will make America far more globally competitive. Also by taxing individuals based more on what they spend rather than on what they earn, the plan will encourage more savings (which is a key ingredient for economic growth). As a result, the economy will grow faster, generate greater output of goods and services, and create more jobs.
The problem for Herman Cain is that unless he slashes government expenditures, his pro-growth tax structure will inevitably shift more of the tax burden to low and moderate-income people. The only way to combine tax reform with tax reductions for most taxpayers is to shrink government to a more manageable scale.
The size of the tax increases required to keep Cain's 9-9-9-9 plan revenue neutral demonstrates just how high a percentage of our current taxes are being paid by affluent taxpayers. Couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $125,000 only constitute about 3% of taxpayers but pay almost half of all taxes. Any policy that cuts their taxes will inflict a disproportional hit on government revenue.
Contrary to the rhetoric emanating from the American left, the "rich" are currently paying a lot more than "their fair share." It is only a handful of mega-rich, those whose entire incomes are derived from dividends and capital gains, rather than salaries or business profits, who have the ability to pay lower tax rates than some members of the middle class. The left knows this but continues to build their "free loading millionaire" straw man because it makes good politics.
In the final analysis, if Cain really wants a 9-9-9 plan that doesn't raise taxes he needs to remove the hidden 9% payroll tax. However, the only way this could be done, without blowing an even bigger hole in the federal deficit, is to combine his plan with significant spending cuts. If he can pull that off, three nines may be a winning hand after all.
Peter Schiff is president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of "How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes."
Nothing discussed on the show is an offer to buy or sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security or instrument or to participate in any particular investing strategy. All securities involve varying amounts of risk, and their values will fluctuate, and the fluctuation of foreign currency exchange rates will also impact your investment returns if measured in U.S. Dollars. Dividend yields change as stock prices change, and companies may change or cancel dividend payments in the future. Investments may increase or decrease in value and you may lose money. International investing may not be suitable for all investors.