John Mauldin

Outside the Box: The Financialization of the Economy

The Financialization of the Economy 

Roger Bootle once wrote:

The whole of economic life is a mixture of creative and distributive activities. Some of what we ‘‘earn’’ derives from what is created out of nothing and adds to the total available for all to enjoy. But some of it merely takes what would otherwise be available to others and therefore comes at their expense.

Successful societies maximise the creative and minimise the distributive. Societies where everyone can achieve gains only at the expense of others are by definition impoverished. They are also usually intensely violent….

Much of what goes on in financial markets belongs at the distributive end. The gains to one party reflect the losses to another, and the fees and charges racked up are paid by Joe Public, since even if he is not directly involved in the deals, he is indirectly through costs and charges for goods and services.

The genius of the great speculative investors is to see what others do not, or to see it earlier. This is a skill. But so is the ability to stand on tip toe, balancing on one leg, while holding a pot of tea above your head, without spillage. But I am not convinced of the social worth of such a skill.

This distinction between creative and distributive goes some way to explain why the financial sector has become so big in relation to gross domestic product – and why those working in it get paid so much.

Roger Bootle has written several books, notably The Trouble with Markets: Saving Capitalism from Itself.

I came across this quote while reading today’s Outside the Box, which comes from my friend Joan McCullough. She didn’t actually cite it but mentioned Bootle in passing, and I googled him, which took me down an alley full of interesting ideas. I had heard of him, of course, but not really read him, which I think may be a mistake I should correct.

But today we are going to focus on Joan’s own missive from last week, which she has graciously allowed me to pass on to you. It’s a probing examination of how and why the financialization of the US and European (and other developed-world) economies has become an anchor holding back our growth and future well-being. Joan lays much of the blame at the feet of the Federal Reserve, for creating an environment in which financial engineering is more lucrative than actually creating new businesses and increasing production and sales.

There are no easy answers or solutions, but as with any destructive codependent relationship, the first step is to recognize the problem. And right now, I think few do.

What you will read here is of course infused with Joan’s irascible personality and is therefore really quite the fun read (even as the message is sad).

Joan writes letters along this line twice a day, slicing and dicing data and news for her rather elite subscriber list. Elite in the sense that her service is rather expensive, so I thank her for letting me send this out. Drop me a note if you want us to put you in touch with her.

I am back in Dallas after a whirlwind trip to Washington DC. I attended Steve Moore’s wedding at the awe-inspiring Jefferson Memorial; and then we hopped a plane back to Dallas and Tulsa to see daughter Abbi, her husband Stephen, and my new granddaughter, Riley Jane, who was delivered six weeks premature while we were in the air. The doctors decided to bring Riley into the world early as Abbi was beginning to experience seriously high blood pressure and other problematic side effects. Riley barely weighs in at 4 pounds and will spend the first three years of her life in the NICU (the neonatal intensive care unit). Having never been in one before, I was rather amazed by all the high-tech gear surrounding Riley and all of the usual medical devices shrunk to the size where they can be useful with preemie babies. The doctors and nurses assured me that the frail little bundle I was very hesitant to touch would be quite fine. And Abbi is much better and already up and about.

As I was flying back to Dallas later that afternoon, it struck me how, not all that long ago, in my parents’ generation, both mother and daughter would have been at severe risk. Interestingly, both Abbi and her twin sister were significantly premature as well, some 30 years ago in Korea. The progress of medicine and medical technology has allowed so many more people to live long and productive lives, and that process is only going to continue to improve with each and every passing year.

And now, I think it’s time to let you get on with Joan McCullough’s marvelous musings. Have a great week!

Your glad I’m living at this time in history analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
[email protected]

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The Financialization of the Economy

Joan McCullough, Longford Associates
October 21, 2015

Yesterday, we learned that lending standards had eased and that there was increased loan demand from institutions and households, per the ECB’s September report. (Which was attributed to the success of QE and which buoyed the Euro in the process.)

This has been bothering me. Because it is a great example of the debate over “financialization” of an economy, i.e., is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The need to further explore the topic was provoked by reading this morning that one of the larger shipping alliances, G6, has again announced sailing cancellations between Asia and North Europe and the Mediterranean. This round of cuts targets November and December. The Asia-Europe routes, please note, are where the lines utilize their biggest ships and have been running below breakeven. So it’s easy to understand why such outsized capacity is further dictating the need to cancel sailings outright. G6 members: American President, Hapag Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Mitsui, Nippon and OOCL. So as you can see from that line-up, these are not amateurs.

We have already discussed in the past in this space, the topic of financialization. But seeing as how the stock market keeps rallying while the economic statistics have remained for the most part, punk, time to revisit the issue once again. Is it all simply FED or no FED? Or is the interest-rate issue ground zero and/or purely symptomatic of the triumph of financialization over the real economy?

Further urged to revisit the topic by the seemingly contradictory developments of the ECB banks reportedly humming along nicely while trade between Asia and Europe

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