central banks

Americans hunker down on spending as the pandemic’s impact continues

US stock markets have been hitting new records recently, as investors swoon over the likelihood that the $1400 stimulus payments will power a major surge in consumer spending. But unfortunately, the facts show this is most unlikely. The chart from the New York Federal Reserve measures consumers’ intentions with regards to the 3 stimulus cheques

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Rising US interest rates, US$ and oil prices set to pressure financial markets

Everyone who has ever played the Beer Distribution Game on a training course knows what is happening in supply chains today. A small increase in underlying demand is rapidly leading to a massive increase in ‘apparent demand’. As the New York Times reports, “the pandemic has disrupted every stage of the (supply chain) journey.”  And

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Chart of the Year – CAPE Index signals negative S&P 500 returns to 2030

Each year, it seems there is only one candidate for Chart of the Year. And 2020 is no exception. It has to be the CAPE Index developed by Nobel Prize winner, Prof Robert Shiller.  As the chart shows, it is nearly at an all-time high with Tesla’s addition to the S&P 500. Only the peak

Welcome to the New Normal – a look ahead to 2030

10 years ago, I took a look ahead at what we could expect in the next decade, as discussed last week. Unfortunately, we now face the major economic and social crises that the chart predicted, if policymakers continued with ‘business as usual’. This week, I want to look ahead at what we can expect to

Oil prices signal potential end to the V-shaped recovery myth

Oil prices have moved into another ‘flag shape’ – which previously provided critical warning of the March collapse, and of those in 2014 and 2008. The shape is important as it means the bulls and bears have been battling each other to exhaustion, making it likely one or the other will give up. This time,

Bankruptcies now the key risk as hopes for V-shaped recovery disappear

Governments, financial markets and central banks all originally assumed the Covid-19 pandemic would be over in a few days or weeks. But it is now clear they were wrong. And unfortunately, there is little sign of a Plan B emerging. The idea was that consumers would have plenty of money in their pockets after the

Hertz goes bankrupt as non-essential consumer demand disappears

The US Federal Reserve has now spent $7tn bailing out Wall Street. But it couldn’t save the 102-year old Hertz rental company from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for its US business on Friday night. Sadly, Hertz won’t be the only casualty. Its collapse instead marks the moment when the problems created by two

The bill for two decades of doomed stimulus measures is due

The Financial Times kindly made my letter on the risks now associated with central bank stimulus their Lead Letter One has to agree with your editorial that deflation is now probably inevitable (“Deflation is a bigger fear than hyperinflation”, FT View, April 28). But it is still disappointing to see that the role of central

Financial markets enter their Convulsion phase

Many companies and investors are still comparing today’s downturn to the 9-month hiccups seen after the 1990/91 Gulf War and the 2000/1 dotcom crash. In reality, however, this is wishful thinking, as the IMF highlighted last week in its World Economic Outlook: “The Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression” One key question,

China’s property sector is at the epicentre of the crisis

A branch of Centaline Property Agency in Hong Kong © Bloomberg Indebted Chinese property developers threaten a domino effect on western credit markets , as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog Second-order impacts are starting to appear as a result of China’s lockdowns. These are having

Will stock markets see a Minsky Moment in 2020?

Few investors now remember the days when price discovery was thought to be the key role of stock markets. Instead, we know that prices are really now set by central banks, on the model of the Politburo in the old Soviet Union. How else can one explain the above chart? It shows the US S&P

Chart of the Decade – the Fed’s support for the S&P 500 will end with a debt crisis

Each year, there has been only one possible candidate for Chart of the Year.  Last year it was the collapse of China’s shadow banking bubble; 2017 was Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise; 2016 the near-doubling in US 10-year interest rates; and 2015 the oil price fall. This year, the ‘Chart of the Decade’ is in a league

Global economy hits stall speed, whilst US S&P 500 sets new records

Whisper it not to your friends in financial markets, but the global economy is moving into recession. The US stock markets keep making new highs, thanks to the support from the major western central banks. But in the real world, where the rest of us live, the best leading indicator for the global economy is

Budgeting for paradigm shifts and a debt crisis

It is now 8 years since John Richardson and I published our 10-year forecast for 2021 in Boom, Gloom and the New Normal: How the Western BabyBoomers are Changing Demand Patterns, Again’. Remarkably, its core conclusions are very relevant today, as the summary confirms. Unfortunately, as we feared, policymakers refused to junk their out-of-date models,

Companies ignore the Perennials 55+ generation at their peril

Nearly a third of the the world’s High Income population are now in the Perennials 55+ generation. Yet companies mostly ignore their needs – assuming that all they want are walking sticks and sanitary pads.  Instead, they continue to focus on the relatively declining number of younger people. No wonder many companies are going bankrupt, and

China’s renminbi and the global ring of fire

China’s property bubble puts it at the epicentre of the ring of fire © Reuters  China’s devaluation could be the trigger for an international debt crisis, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog August has often seen the start of major debt crises. The Latin American

London house prices edge closer to a tumble

After the excitement of Wimbledon tennis and a cricket World Cup final, Londoners were back to their favourite conversation topic last week – house prices. But now the news has become bittersweet as the price decline starts to accelerate. As the London Evening Standard headline confirms: “The London property slump has dramatically accelerated with prices

G7 births hit new record low, below Depression level in 1933

If a country doesn’t have any babies, then in time it won’t have an economy. But that’s not how the central banks see it. For the past 20 years, through subprime and now their stimulus policies, they have believed they could effectively “print babies”.  Even today, they are still lining up to take global interest

Smartphone sales decline begins to impact global stock markets

The bad news continues for the world’s smartphone manufacturers and their suppliers.  And President Trump’s decision to add a 25% tariff on smartphone component imports from China from June 25 is unlikely to help. Morgan Stanley estimate it will add $160 to the current US iPhone XS price of $999, whilst a state-backed Chinese consumer boycott

Ageing Perennials set to negate central bank stimulus as recession approaches

The world’s best leading indicator for the global economy is still firmly signalling recession.  That’s the key conclusion from the chart above, showing latest data on global chemical industry Capacity Utilisation (CU%) from the American Chemistry Council. The logic behind the indicator is compelling: Chemicals are one of the world’s largest industries, and also one

Déjà vu all over again for oil markets as recession risks rise

Back in 2015, veteran Saudi Oil Minister Ali  Naimi was very clear about Saudi’s need to adopt a market share-based pricing policy: “Saudi Arabia cut output in 1980s to support prices. I was responsible for production at Aramco at that time, and I saw how prices fell, so we lost on output and on prices

The BoE’s pre-emptive strike is not without risk

The Financial Times has kindly printed my letter below, arguing that it seems the default answer to almost any economic question has now become “more stimulus” from the central bank. After 15 years of subprime lending and then quantitative easing, last week’s warning from the Bank of England suggests there are fewer and fewer economic

Fed’s magic money tree hopes to overcome smartphone sales downturn and global recession risk

Last November, I wrote one of my “most-read posts”, titled Global smartphone recession confirms consumer downturn. The only strange thing was that most people read it several weeks later on 3 January, after Apple announced its China sales had fallen due to the economic downturn. Why did Apple and financial markets only then discover that smartphone sales

Budgeting for the end of “Business as Usual”

Companies and investors are starting to finalise their plans for the coming year.  Many are assuming that the global economy will grow by 3% – 3.5%, and are setting targets on the basis of “business as usual”.  This has been a reasonable assumption for the past 25 years, as the chart confirms for the US economy:

“What could possibly go wrong?”

I well remember the questions a year ago, after I published my annual Budget Outlook, ‘Budgeting for the Great Unknown in 2018 – 2020‘.  Many readers found it difficult to believe that global interest rates could rise significantly, or that China’s economy would slow and that protectionism would rise under the influence of Populist politicians. […]

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Boomer SuperCycle unique in human history – Deutsche Bank

“The 1950-2000 period is like no other in human or financial history in terms of population growth, economic growth, inflation or asset prices.” This quote isn’t from ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal: How Western BabyBoomers are Changing Demand Patterns, Again‘, the very popular ebook that John Richardson and I published in 2011.  Nor is […]

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Why everyone ignored my warnings ahead of the financial crisis

It’s 10 years since my forecast of a global financial crisis came true, as Lehman Brothers collapsed.  I had warned of this consistently here in the blog, and in the Letters column of the Financial Times. But, of course, nobody wanted to listen whilst the party was going strong.  As the FT’s world trade editor wrote […]

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High-flying “story stocks” hit air pockets as credit finally tightens

“Nobody could ever have seen this coming” is the normal comment after sudden share price falls.  And its been earning its money over the past week as “suddenly” share prices of some of the major “story stocks” on the US market have hit air pockets, as the chart shows: Facebook was the biggest “surprise”, falling […]

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The blog’s 14th birthday – and the New Normal world it predicted has arrived

The blog has now been running for 14 years since the first post was written from Thailand at the end of June 2007.  And quite a lot has happened since then: There was the 2008 financial crisis, one of the blog’s early forecasting successes This led to the publication of ‘Boom, Gloom and the New

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Time to recognise the economic impact of ageing populations

Is global economic growth really controlled by monetary policy and interest rates?  Can you create constant growth simply by adjusting government tax and spending policy?  Do we know enough about how the economy operates to be able to do this?  Or has something more fundamental been at work in recent decades, to create the extraordinary […]

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Financial markets party as global trade wars begin

More people left poverty in the past 70 years than in the whole of history, thanks to the BabyBoomer-led economic SuperCycle.  World Bank and OECD data show that less than 10% of the world’s population now live below the extreme poverty line of $1.90/day, compared to 55% in 1950. Globalisation has been a key element in […]

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Oil prices flag recession risk as Iranian geopolitical tensions rise

Today, we have “lies, fake news and statistics” rather than the old phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”. But the general principle is still the same.  Cynical players simply focus on the numbers that promote their argument, and ignore or challenge everything else. The easiest way for them to manipulate the statistics is to ignore […]

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Chemicals flag rising risk of synchronised global slowdown

Chemicals are easily the best leading indicator for the global economy.  And if the global economy was really in recovery mode, as policymakers believe, then the chemical industry would be the first to know – because of its early position in the value chain. Instead, it has a different message as the chart confirms: It […]

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West’s household spending heads for decline as population ages and trade war looms

As promised last week, today’s post looks at the impact of the ageing of the BabyBoomers on the prospects for economic growth. The fact that people are living up to a third longer than in 1950 should be something to celebrate.  But as I noted in my Financial Times letter, policymakers are in denial about the importance of […]

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West faces “demographic deficit” as populations age

Rising life expectancy, and falling fertility rates, mean that a third of the Western population is now in the low spending 55-plus age group.  Given that consumer spending is around two-thirds of the economy in developed countries, the above charts provide critically important information on the prospects for economic growth. They show official data for household […]

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China’s role in market volatility – Beijing’s shifting priorities raise questions over assumptions of global growth

Commentators have confused cause with effect when analysing this month’s sudden downturn in financial markets, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog Surprise and confusion seem to have been the main reactions to this month’s sudden downturn in western financial markets. Yet across the world in […]

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Economy faces slowdown as oil/commodity prices slide

Oil and commodity markets long ago lost contact with the real world of supply and demand. Instead, they have been dominated by financial speculation, fuelled by the vast amounts of liquidity pumped out by the central banks.  The chart above from John Kemp at Reuters gives the speculative positioning in the oil complex as published […]

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London house prices risk perfect storm as interest rates rise

2000 should have been the natural end of the BabyBoomer-led economic SuperCycle. The oldest Boomer (born in 1946) was about to leave the Wealth Creator 25 – 54 age group that drives consumer spending and hence economic growth.  And since 1970, Boomer women’s fertility rates had been below replacement level (2.1 babies/woman).  So relatively fewer young people were […]

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The global economy and the US$ – an alternative view

Every New Year starts with optimism about the global economy.  But as Stanley Fischer, then vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, noted back in August 2014:  “Year after year we have had to explain from mid-year on why the global growth rate has been lower than predicted as little as two quarters back.” Will […]

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US Treasury benchmark yield heads to 4% as 30-year downtrend ends

The US 10-year Treasury bond is the benchmark for global interest rates and stock markets.  And for the past 30 years it has been heading steadily downwards as the chart shows: US inflation rates finally peaked at 13.6% in 1980 (having been just 1.3% in 1960) as the BabyBoomers began to move en masse into the […]

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Chart of the Year: Bitcoin, the logical end for stimulus policies

Last year it was the near-doubling in US 10-year interest rates.  In 2015, it was the oil price fall.  This year, there is really only one candidate for ‘Chart of the Year’ – it has to be Bitcoin: It was trading at around $1000 at the start of 2017 and had reached $5000 by August […]

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Central banks’ reliance on defunct economic theory makes people worry their children will be worse off than themselves

“Average UK wages in 2022 could still be lower than in 2008”  UK Office for Budget Responsibility While Western stock markets boom under the influence of central bank money-printing, wages for ordinary people are not doing so well.  So it is no wonder that Populism is rising, as voters worry their children will be worse […]

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Budgeting for the Great Unknown in 2018 – 2020

“There isn’t anybody who knows what is going to happen in the next 12 months.  We’ve never been here before.  Things are out of control.  I have never seen a situation like it.“ This comment from former UK Finance Minister, Ken Clarke, aptly summarises the uncertainty facing companies, investors and individuals as we look ahead […]

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The Great Reckoning for policymakers’ failures has begun

Next week, I will publish my annual Budget Outlook, covering the 2018-2020 period. The aim, as always, will be to challenge conventional wisdom when this seems to be heading in the wrong direction.  Before publishing the new Outlook each year, I always like to review my previous forecast. Past performance may not be a perfect […]

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Interest rates and London house prices begin return to reality

Global interest rates have fallen dramatically over the past 25 years, as the chart shows for government 10-year bonds:   UK rates peaked at 9% in 1995 and are now down at 1%: US rates peaked at 8% and are now at 2%   German rates peaked at 8% and are now down to 0%: […]

Chemical industry data shows reflation remains hope, not reality

Western central bankers are convinced reflation and economic growth are finally underway as a result of their $14tn stimulus programmes.  But the best leading indicator for the global economy – capacity utilisation (CU%) in the global chemical industry – is saying they are wrong.  The CU% has an 88% correlation with actual GDP growth, far […]

Political risk and interest rates rise in US, UK and Japan, as debt and dysfunctionality grow

It was almost exactly 10 years ago that then Citibank boss, Chuck Prince, unintentionally highlighted the approach of the subprime crisis with his comment that: ‘We are not scared. We are not panicked. We are not rattled. Our team has been through this before.’ We are ’still dancing’.” On Friday JP Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, […]

“Exponentially rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways”

Companies and investors have some big decisions ahead of them as we start the second half of the year.  They can be summed up in one super-critical question: “Do they believe that global reflation is finally now underway?” The arguments in favour of this analysis were given last week by European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi: […]

Metastable markets at risk from impact of US, UK political stalemate

We are living in very uncertain times, where the only certainty is that there is no “business as usual” option for the future.  One sign of this is that the extraordinary has become ordinary : □   The FBI appear convinced Russia’s government targeted last year’s US elections: US President Trump and his former FBI head […]

Chemical industry downturn challenges stock market optimism

Stock markets used to be a reliable indicator for the global economy, and for national economies. But that was before the central banks started targeting them as part of their stimulus programmes.  They have increased debt levels by around $30tn since the start of the Crisis in 2008, and much of this money has gone […]

UK consumers face difficult times as Brexit unwinds the housing bubble, and financial services de-cluster out of London

Brexit negotiations are likely to prove a very uncomfortable ride for UK consumers as Russell Napier of Eric, the online research platform, warned last week: □  ”Public sector debt remains at near-historic highs (in peace time!) and for the first time this public sector debt comes with a private sector bubble □  Credit card debt […]

London housing market hit by Brexit, China’s capital controls

London’s housing market was always going to have a difficult 2017. As I noted 2 years ago, developers were planning 54,000 new luxury homes at prices of £1m+ ($1.25m) in central London, which would mainly start to flood onto the market this year. They weren’t bothered by the fact that only 3900 homes were sold […]

Chemical industry flags rising risk of global recession in 2017, with Trump set to “clear the decks” at the start of his first term

The chemical industry is the best leading indicator that we have for the global economy.  It has an excellent correlation with IMF data, and also benefits from the fact it has no “political bias”.  It simply tells us what is happening in real-time in the world’s 3rd largest industry. Sadly, the news is not good. […]

Interest rate and US$ surge mark start of the Great Reckoning

The bond market vigilantes are back.  And they clearly don’t like what they are seeing.  That is the clear message from the charts above, showing movements in 10 year government bond interest rates for the major economies, plus their exchange rate against the US$ and the value of the US$ Index:   As I warned […]

Fault-lines open connecting the debt-fuelled ‘Ring of Fire’

Next week, I will publish my annual Budget Outlook, covering the 2017-2019 period. The aim, as always, is to challenge conventional wisdom when this seems to be heading in the wrong direction: The 2007 Outlook ‘Budgeting for a Downturn‘, and 2008′s ‘Budgeting for Survival’ meant I was one of the few to forecast the 2008 […]

Markets doubt Carney’s claim to have saved 500k UK jobs

Last week as the BBC reported, Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, explained to an audience in Birmingham that the Bank had saved the UK economy after the Brexit vote in June: “Between 400,000 and 500,000 jobs could have been at risk if the Bank had not taken action after the referendum, he said.  ”We are willing […]

Central bankers create debt, not growth, by ignoring demographic reality

The world’s 4 main central bankers love being in the media spotlight.  After decades climbing the academic ladder, or earning millions with investment banks, they have the opportunity to rule the world’s economy – or so they think. But their background is rather strange preparation to take on this role – even if it was […]

6 impossible things not to believe about oil before breakfast

 ”Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Oil traders know how the Queen felt in Lewis Carroll’s famous book, Alice Through the Looking-Glass.  The list of impossible things that they are being asked to believe grows almost by the day:   Last week, prices jumped 4% on the basis that strong […]

Investors panic in “search for yield” as interest rates go negative

Its been a great few months for financial markets.  All the major markets have seen gains, as the chart shows – something that has happened only once before, since my half-yearly reviews began in March 2009: □   Long-term US Treasury bonds have gained, as long-term interest rates have been falling □   The 30-year bond […]

You’ve seen the Great Unwinding; get ready for the Great Reckoning

Companies and investors now need to prepare for the Great Reckoning, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog We have reached the second anniversary of the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus. Almost inevitably, this now seems likely to be followed by a Great Reckoning, a consequence […]

Pensions crisis finally becomes a mainstream issue

It has been 5 years since we first warned of a looming pensions crisis in Boom, Gloom and the New Normal.  Now, finally, it is becoming a mainstream issue.  The latest round of central bank stimulus policies has clearly been the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back” for anyone connected with pension funding. The […]

Suspense rises as Great Unwinding becomes the Great Reckoning

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise.”  Alfred Hitchcock It is now 2 years since the start of the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus.  On 15 August 2014, Brent was at $105/bbl, and the US$ Index was at 81. Since then, as the chart shows, Brent oil prices have fallen 53%, whilst the […]

Bank of England’s new stimulus policy creates bankruptcy risk for corporate pension funds

The Western BabyBoomers (born between 1946-70), have been one of the luckiest generations in history.  By and large, they have escaped the major wars that have plagued society down the ages.  They have also lived in a world where living standards and material wealth have made astonishing gains.  Equally priceless has been the rise in […]

Investors fear Fed’s outdated theories have hit sell-by date

These are difficult times for companies and investors.  It is becoming more and more apparent that central bank stimulus policies have failed to counter today’s demand deficit, caused by ageing populations.  It is also clear that central bankers themselves have little idea of what is happening in the real economy. They have based their programmes […]

Central banks head for currency wars as growth policies fail

The world’s central bankers would have been sacked long ago if they were CEOs running companies.  They would also have been voted out, if they were elected officials. Not only have they failed to achieve their promised objectives – constant growth and 2% inflation – they have kept failing to achieve them since the Crisis […]

Chemicals, the “flea on the tail of the currency/interest rate dog”

Markets are becoming increasingly chaotic, as the world’s major central banks each try to devalue their currencies. They have created a traders’ paradise, with oil on a particularly wild ride.  But this has not been based on supply/demand fundamentals.  Instead, it has been due to hedge funds jumping back into the commodities market. They don’t […]

Global GDP saw record fall in 2015 – new IMF data

New data from the International Monetary Fund confirms that last year’s collapse in global GDP was even worse than first reported. As the chart shows,the fall when measured in current dollars was a record $4.7tn, versus $3.3tn in 2009.  And it was 6% in percentage terms versus 5.3% in 2009: Even more worrying is that […]

Oil market rally under threat as Doha meeting fails to agree

Yesterday’s failure of the Doha oil producers meeting will hopefully reintroduce a note of sanity into oil markets.  After all, Saudi leaders have made it clear, time and time again, that they were no longer interested in operating a cartel where they take the pain of cutting production, and everyone else gains the benefit of […]

US Federal Reserve aims to devalue the dollar, again

What we “assume” can make an “ass of u and me“, as the proverb says.  And that is certainly true of the way central banks have manipulated the major currencies since the financial crisis began in 2008, as the chart shows of the US$’s movements versus the Japanese yen and the euro: It shows the change […]

Reality battles illusion in world financial markets

“Buy on the rumour, sell on the news” is one of the most reliable definitions for a weak market.  And that seems to have been the picture in Q1 across commodity, stock and bond markets. The key issue is the ongoing battle between Reality and Illusion: Reality accepts that ageing populations have lower levels of […]

Central banks cannot control economic fortune of 7.3bn people

Trillions of dollars have been spent on stimulus by central banks in the developed world since the financial crisis began in 2008.  Clearly these policies haven’t worked – but they are now lining up to do more of them. In this interview with Tom Brown, deputy editor of ICIS news, I argue that their analysis […]

Oil market speculators profit as central banks hand out free cash

Oil markets are entering a very dangerous phase.  Already, many US energy companies have gone bankrupt, having believed that $100/bbl prices would justify their drilling costs.  Now the pain is moving downstream. The problem is the central banks.  Hedge funds have piled into the oil futures markets since January, betting that there would be lots […]

If only the central banks could print babies

The Financial Times has kindly printed my letter below, arguing that central bank stimulus can’t restore growth to previous Super Cycle levels. Sir, John Plender’s excellent analysis “Central banks’ waning credibility is the real threat to confidence” (Insight, February 17) highlights the need for a new narrative to explain the economic slowdown of recent years. […]

Expect $25 – $30/bbl oil and lower chemical prices in 2016

More than $2.3tn was wiped off the value of global stocks last week as China’s slowing economy and currency depreciations spooked investors around the world, leading to the worst start to a year for markets in at least two decades.  This is the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus in action. Worse is likely to come. […]

ECB President has temper tantrum in New York

“There is no doubt that if we had to intensify the use of our instruments to ensure we achieve our price stability mandate, then we would.”  (Mario Draghi, New York, Friday) Pity poor Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB).  He is used to the adulation of markets – and adores his nickname […]

Budgeting for the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus

There have been 35 “flash crashes” in US oil markets so far this year, when prices swung up or down by 200 basis points (2%) – before reversing the move by > 0.75%.  That’s 35 occasions when the markets were out of control.   It is tempting to blame this on misfiring algorithms at the […]

US incomes have plateaued since 2001 as Boomers turn 55+

More and more people are lining up to support our argument that central bank stimulus programmes are damaging the economy, not helping it.  The latest is bond guru Bill Gross, who wrote yesterday: “Zero bound interest rates destroy the savings function of capitalism….(whilst companies) have plowed trillions into the financial economy as they buy back […]

Financial markets head towards chaos as Great Unwinding continues

Financial markets are slowly descending into chaos.  The process began in China over the summer, and has now started to impact Wall Street and other developed markets as the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus continues. The problem is that successful investment, whether in financial or chemical markets, requires the combination of A clear understanding of […]

US interest rate dilemma highlights fragile global economy

Should it really matter that the US Federal Reserve might raise US interest rates by 0.25% tomorrow?  Surely the IMF/World Bank should not need to argue that such a small increase could really be critical for the world economy? The fact that such a debate has been taking place at all, highlights the damage done by stimulus […]

Fed’s loss of credibility risks causing investor stampede

Credibility is hard to gain.  And once gone, it is very hard to regain.  That is the challenge facing the US Federal Reserve today.  The New York Times is just one of the mainstream media now starting to highlight the issue, as last week’s Feb meeting led to a further deferral of the promised rise […]

Gloom turns to boom as US economic data disappoints, again

“If only US GDP growth could remain negative in Q2, what a lot of money we could make”.  You could almost hear the excited chatter in financial markets on Friday, as news spread that revised data showed the US economy had seen negative growth in Q1. This is yet another example of the upside-down world […]

Economic impact of ageing populations is obvious, but ignored

Too many policymakers, companies and investors are continuing to ignore the dramatic changes taking place in the age profile of the global population.  Yet common sense tells us these must have a major impact on the economy.  The impact comes from 2 equally important developments: One is the rise in the number of people in the New […]

US watchdog warns on today’s “quicksilver markets”

What could go wrong in today’s financial world?  Many stock markets in the West are hitting new highs, and central banks are promising they will do nothing to spoil the party.  But as Gillian Tett of the Financial Times warned on Friday: “Before anyone gets too thrilled about equities, they should read a sobering research document from […]

Fertility rates have collapsed in the world’s 10 largest economies

One of the great myths of our time is that the world’s population is inevitably growing.  Almost everyone has heard that the population is certain to reach 9bn by 2050, from today’s 7.3bn. Yet births in 2013 in the G7 economies (almost half of the global economy) were at the lowest level since the Great Depression year […]

Market volatility highlights dangers for Q2

Today’s market conditions are some of the most dangerous that I can ever remember. Of course, markets are always unpredictable.  As UK prime minister Harold MacMillan noted in the 1960s, when asked what kept him awake at nights.  “Events, dear boy, events”.  But today’s markets have a 3-dimensional unpredictability: They have the normal issue of trying to understand fundamental levels […]

Rising life expectancy enabled Industrial Revolution to occur

Living standards have risen 20-fold over the past 200 years.  Yet they rose just 3-fold over the previous 800 years.  What enabled this dramatic change to take place? The key event was clearly the Industrial Revolution.  As Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, notes in a thought-provoking new paper: “In explaining rising living standards since […]

Deflation gains: China’s plastics market sees over-capacity

More and more commentators are beginning to recognise that deflation is becoming inevitable in many major economies: China’s producer prices fell -4.3% last month, and its consumer prices rose just 0.8% Eurozone consumer prices fell in December to -0.2%, and are likely to have fallen further in January US prices rose just 0.8% in December and are […]

“Houston, we have a problem!”

Suddenly, far too late, the world is catching up with reality.  Goldman Sachs and others yesterday halved their forecast for Brent oil to $42/bbl from $80/bbl.  But this isn’t forecasting, this is simply catching up with events long after they happened.  Brent, after all, opened at $45/bbl this morning. As readers will remember, I forecast back in August […]

Stock markets focus on central banks, ignore debt default risk

Some extraordinary things are happening in global chemical markets.  They indicate something is very wrong in the real world outside financial markets.  The chart above highlights some key developments since 18 August when the Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus began: Brent oil prices have halved and are down 51% (blue) Naphtha, the main feedstock for the global industry, has also halved […]

Rocky road ahead for global economy as chemical industry remains downbeat

The chemical industry continues to be the best leading indicator that we have for the global economy.  This is because it is not only the 3rd largest industry (after agriculture and energy), but also because it is truly global and impacts virtually all areas of modern-day life. The chart above therefore presents a very downbeat […]

Oil price collapse, US$ rise confirm Great Unwinding underway

Stock markets are floating ever higher on an ocean of central bank money printing.  But something else is happening in the real world where we all live and work.  Since August, I have been warning that the Great Unwinding of this policymaker stimulus is now underway.  The chart above highlights how my 2 core forecasts have now been confirmed: Brent Oil […]

Boom/Gloom Index suggests S&P 500 close to its peak

How long can the juggler keep all the balls in the air? That is the question that compels us to stand in the square and watch her skill at work. We have the same fascination watching central bankers at work – they similarly aim to keep financial markets aloft, to create their desired ‘wealth effect’. But we know that […]

Oil prices have further to fall as Great Unwinding continues

Oil prices are highly likely to fall further, not rebound, over the next few months.  That is the blog’s conclusion to its 3-part analysis of likely developments in oil markets. Having looked at the outlook for oil supply and demand over the past 2 days, today’s post looks at the key question of ‘what does this mean for oil […]

IMF says economic growth may never return to pre-crisis levels

The Great Unwinding of policymakers’ failed stimulus programmes is now clearly underway in the global economy.  The headlines this week all focused on the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report: “IMF says economic growth may never return to pre-crisis levels.” And then, in response, the US Federal Reserve suddenly realised that the US economy was not […]

European companies missing a major growth opportunity

We all know that the European economy is in a bad way.   Sales and incomes are under pressure, and political risk is rising, whilst unemployment remains at high levels.  Its very easy to get depressed about the outlook. We are also unlikely to get much help from policymakers.  They remain in their world of mathematical models.  These […]

Interest rate outlook more uncertain as Bill Gross leaves PIMCO

Last week’s departure of Bill Gross from his role as Chief Investment Officer at PIMCO is likely to prove a turning point for interest rates in the West, and probably around the world. Gross founded PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Co) more than 40 years ago.  During this time he built its assets under management to around $2tn.   That is […]

Equity markets under pressure as Boom/Gloom Index signals Great Unwinding

Whisper it quietly if you are walking past the imposing Federal Reserve building in Washington DC, so as not to disturb the occupants.  They believe that their efforts to boost financial markets have had their effect, and that the real economy, in which we all live and work, will now recover. But what if the […]

US jobless dominated by Blacks, Hispanics and those without high school diplomas

Financial markets today only care about one thing – whether central banks will continue to provide more low-cost financing to support higher asset prices.  Thus markets liked last Friday’s weak US jobs report.  They hoped that the US Federal Reserve would slow its tapering process as a result. This inverted logic explains why bad news for the […]

US dollar rises as investors worry low-cost money may disappear

Nobody knows how the Great Unwinding of central bank stimulus policies will develop.  The world has simply never been in this position before.  Thus the senior economics and business correspondent of the Financial Times, John Plender, began an article this week: “In a market where asset prices are comprehensively rigged by central bankers, rational investment […]

US, Japan consumer spend falls, deflation threatens Eurozone

We are now two-thirds of the way through 2014, and critical decisions are looming for companies and investors.  Do they give central banks one more chance to stimulate growth?  And are they prepared to trust policymakers to avoid a major geopolitical crisis in the Ukraine? Or do they decide that ‘enough is enough’, and that […]

Unilever says Q2 market growth slows in emerging countries, developed countries weak

The global economy really isn’t getting any better.  That’s the key conclusion from the blog’s quarterly survey of company results for Q2. Of course, some companies are doing well – either because of shale gas economics, or their own market positioning.  But consumer giant Unilever summarised the general picture very well: “Market growth continued to slow in emerging […]

Oil prices break out of their triangle – downwards

The Great Unwinding of the central banks stimulus policies is underway, as discussed last week.  Oil markets have been one of the first to feel the change, as the chart shows, with prices finally falling out of the ‘triangle’ shape built up since 2008.  The value of the US$, interest rates and the S&P 500 […]

The Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus has begun

Large economies are like supertankers.  There are no brakes to use if you want to change direction in a hurry.  Instead, you have to put the engine into reverse, and hope you can slow down fast enough to avoid the rocks. That is what happened in China last month, as the new leadership began to […]

An oil price fall would tip the world into deflation

The blog found it hard to believe, when it started to research for Boom, Gloom and the New Normal, how little information existed on basic facts such as population size and annual births.  Some countries such as the UK and Japan have data going back a century.  But they are the exceptions: US annual data […]

Oil price costs remain close to 5% of global GDP

Oil markets have been driven by speculative excess since 2009.  None of the factors that were supposed to create supply shortages have ever occurred.  Markets have never even been close to scrambling for product.  And the rallies are getting shorter and shorter, as this simple fact is finally being better understood. Thus traders’ most recent efforts to create […]

Will 2014 be a repeat of 2008, but worse?

Will 2014 turn out to be a repeat of 2008 for the US economy? 6 years ago, after all, not a single mainstream forecaster – including the IMF and World Bank – was forecasting a recession.  Even in September 2008, the consensus was still confident about the economic outlook.  Yet the National Bureau for Economic Research […]

Bond investors embrace the 3 Normals

Sometimes the blog gets lucky with its timing.  That was certainly the case when it spoke to the world’s leading bond investors last week.  Just an hour before, they had been shocked by news that US GDP had fallen by 2.9% in Q1, far worse than earlier estimates.  And nobody believed the official excuse that […]

‘Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble’ as China, West’s policy diverge

Sometimes its good to take a step back from the day-to-day markets, and focus on the bigger picture.  Thus the chart looks at how markets have moved since the start of 2008 when the sub-prime bubble came to an end: Prices peaked in June/July 2008 as oil peaked at $147/bbl (blue line) and naphtha at $1147/t […]

China’s earthquake opens fault-lines in debt-fuelled ‘ring of fire’

We can all hope that China’s ‘collateral trade’ turns out not to be as big a problem as seems likely.  But history shows that this type of problem has a way of escalating once people start investigating more closely. Thus state-owned Citic revealed yesterday that it has lost $40m in the Qingdao scandal, as half of its […]

Network effect leaves central banks fighting the real world

The blog first learnt about the network effect in the late 1990s, during the successful launch of the eBusiness platforms CheMatch and then ChemConnect.   Its Silicon Valley colleagues patiently explained that markets tended to move in predictable stages, once a new concept or product was launched: Everyone would initially jump on the bandwagon, not wanting […]

Financial market melt-up takes S&P 500 to new record

A year ago, the blog suggested that financial markets were reaching their most dangerous ‘melt-up’ stage, driven by investor complacency about the ability of central banks to protect them from any downturn.  This analysis was confirmed in November, when absurdly high prices were paid for works of modern art, smashing previous records. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times (another of […]

Markets remain “volatile and challenging” says BASF chairman

Nothing has really changed over the past year.  That seems to be the key conclusion from the blog’s quarterly summary of company results for Q1. A year ago, BASF noted that “achieving our earnings target is significantly more challenging today than we had expected”.  This month, chairman Kurt Bock “warned the markets will remain volatile and […]

Leaders need to “see around corners” in today’s VUCA world

The number “42″ was the answer to “the ultimate question of life” in the classic novel ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe’.  Yet as the supercomputer providing this answer then explained, it was a pointless exercise as nobody understood the meaning of the original question. The world’s policymakers are in the same position, although they don’t yet realise this.  They […]

Demographics drive demand and fertility rates have fallen

A major debate is underway in Eurozone financial markets about the imminent approach of deflation.  As the chart above shows, Eurozone inflation has ben falling steadily for the past 2 years.  Yet most still fail to recognise that today’s demographics make this development more or less inevitable.  The Financial Times has kindly printed  the blog’s […]

5 years of stimulus have only delayed move to the New Normal

Coincidentally the blog began its 6-monthly review of global financial market performance on 7 March 2009, as the US market hit its post-Crisis bottom.  At this point, it was possible to hope that central banks would allow markets to resolve the issues that they themselves had created. After all, there would have been no subprime crash if the US Federal […]

“Reservations are no longer necessary at many high-end restaurants”

Think back a moment to September 16 2008.  Newly released transcripts analysed by the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reveal for the first time what was really going on that day at the world’s most important central bank. Lehman Bros, one of Wall Street’s largest investment banks, had just gone bust.  Merrill Lynch, another giant, had […]

Global economy approaches a T-junction

Intuition’s great benefit is that it provides a different perspective.  Thus the intuitive concept behind the launch of the IeC Downturn Monitor was that April 2011 would prove a watershed moment for policymakers’ Recovery Scenario after 2008′s financial crisis.  Their Scenario essentially had two elements: Acting as a ‘lender of last resort’ when the major banks stopped lending to each other and the […]

The trend is your friend, until it isn’t

Investing in today’s financial markets is relatively easy.  You simply have to believe that governments in the US, Japan and Europe will continue to provide plenty of free cash to investors as part of their Recovery Scenario of a quick return to ‘normal growth’.  It doesn’t matter whether the investor believes in the Scenario, the driver is simply the fear of […]

Can oil prices stay at $100/bbl forever?

Sometimes the blog’s mind goes back to its happy days in Houston, Texas, when it set up and ran ICI’s feedstock and petchems trading office.  And it thinks through the factors that it would have considered when deciding whether to buy, sell or sit on the sidelines. The memory came back during last week’s lively ACS webinar, when […]

Growth remains below SuperCycle trend, whilst debt is building

Whisper it quietly, so as not to disturb policymakers’ dreams.  But the charts above from the Financial Times confirm, as if proof were needed, that their policies of the past 5 years haven’t worked. The charts compare trends in economic growth in the world’s two largest economies, the Eurozone and the USA.   As the arrows indicate, both are […]

“I’m Sorry, America” says Fed’s official responsible for QE operations

Over the years, the blog has been very critical of the quality of people appointed by the US Federal Reserve to undertake the actual trading involved in its ‘Quantitative Easing’ (QE) programmes: In October 2008, it felt “distinctly underwhelmed” by news that the person supervising decisions on which financial institutions should live or die during the peak of the Crisis […]

Benzene highlights rising risks in financial markets

The blog is busy preparing its presentations for its World Aromatics and Derivatives Conference later this month, co-organised as always with ICIS.  As well as looking at the impact of the transition to the New Normal, it will be investigating the current state of benzene markets.  These are always an excellent leading indicator for the global […]

Benzene challenges financial markets’ rosy view of the outlook

This is Budget week, when the blog prepares to present its Budget Outlook for 2014-16.  On Saturday, it reviewed its 2012 forecast.  And starting tomorrow, it will analyse auto markets – as these are the largest single driver of demand – before issuing its 2014 Outlook next Saturday. The chart above presents the dilemma facing companies, […]

Most major financial markets have doubled since 2009 lows

The period since March 2009 has been a wonderful time for most investors in the major markets.  As the blog’s 6-monthly update shows, almost every index has increased, and by large amounts:…

Russia has been the biggest winner, up 151%,

Pimco warns on “negative impacts” of central bank policiy

A new report from Pimco, the world’s largest bond fund manager, makes it clear they share the blog’s worries about the increasingly negative impact of western central bank policy:

“Central banks have reached a critical inflection point in which the …

"Its going to be scary"

As the Financial Times wrote on Saturday:

“Earlier this year, it all seemed so straightforward. Central banks printed money and proffered soothing words, and markets went up. Now, it’s getting more complicated.”

In fact, nervous readers might want t…

"Surplus oil is filling inventories worldwide" – Reuters

Have you ever wondered, as you pay your energy bill or fill the fuel tank in your vehicle, just why oil prices have risen so much on the past decade? The question occurred to the blog when reading a Reuters report of the latest Outlook from the Intern…

Volcker speaks out on central bank policies

Central bankers clearly read too many super-hero comics when they were young. Ben Bernanke at the US Federal Reserve, Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank, Mervyn King at the Bank of England and now Haruhiko Kuroda at the Bank of Japan, all see t…

Companies warn on Q2 earnings outlook

Traders in Western financial markets are confident of 3 key facts about the economic outlook:

• The US is already recovering, with auto and housing markets returning to pre-2008 levels
• The Eurozone crisis is almost resolved and recovery is expec…

Oil markets have lost their price discovery role

The US spent $6bn on its presidential and congressional elections this year. Apart from expressing the will of the people, it may also prove valuable if it helps to highlight the danger of allowing wishful thinking to override factual evidence on the …

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy…"

Writing over 2000 years ago, the ancient Greek dramatists had a phrase to describe what is happening today in the global economy:

‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”

Central banks have spent the last 4 years, since the Crisis b…

A is for Ambiguity

Today the blog ends its review of the VUCA world with A for Ambiguity.

The global economy often seemed to be on auto-pilot during the 25 years of the economic Supercycle between 1982-2007. The chart above shows US GDP since 1929 (when records began),…

Spain’s economy in "extreme difficulty"

Some things are too ‘obvious’ for highly-paid professionals in the financial world to accept. If life was this simple, then clients might ask why their fees were so high. Therefore they maintain a fiction that what is obvious is not the full story.

I…

Low Western pensions will change demand patterns

Next week, the blog publishes Chapter 5 of its ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal’ eBook, co-authored with John Richardson. This looks in detail at the major changes taking place in demand patterns as the BabyBoomers (those born between 1956-70) enter th…