hether or not you’ve had time yet to plow your way through David Collum’s excellent 2017 Year in Review, our annual podcast with Dave always brings additional color to light — and this year’s is no exception.
My model going forward predicts the next recession is going to be a real butt-kicker. That’s why the Feds are so terrified. I think they realize that we’re going to end up with a vicious cycle kicking into gear that the Feds aren’t going to be able to control. They’ve already proven that they can’t do much for the economy: someone tallied the annual GDP growth from 1930 to 1939 and then they tallied GDP growth from 2007 to 2016 and they’re identical when annualized. So we’ve been tracking the Great Depression in terms of GDP growth.
So, you can be thrilled about the fact your 401K has appreciated — but it’s sitting on a pocket of air because nothing is improved underneath the surface.
Over-valuation is appreciation pulled forward. And undervaluation is appreciation deferred. Once you’re 2X overvalued, no matter how many more gains you get, you’re just pulling form the future — and you’re going to give them all back, either by price or by time or a combination of the two. You’re going to regress to the mean.
You can pretend you’re never going to die. But it’s simply not avoidable. We will regress to and through the mean at some point. And when you’re 2X overvalued, that means it is going to take either 30 years like with the Nikkei (in Japan), or massive, massive price adjustments. Neither one appeals to me.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with David Collum (72m:36s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. And it is December 20, 2017. Yes, it’s that time of the year again with the shortest days up here in the northern hemisphere it’s time to once again bring you the keenest insights to brighten your life. Hey, in order to assess where we are headed what could be better than a gigantic romp through where we have just been? Continuing with our annual tradition we are bringing you the best year in review in the business thanks to today’s guest, Dave Collum.
For those of you unfamiliar with Dave he is a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University. But in addition to his academic interests Dave offers an annual macroeconomic assessment it’s broader than that. We are going to go geopolitical. We are going to talk political correctness. You name it. It’s titled The Year in Review. Hands down the best synopsis of anything that mattered or happened in the previous 12 months. Also, the longest. We are going to hit a few highlights here in this podcast but you are going to need a few mornings and several more cups of coffee than that to take in the magnificent collection of information that Dave has lovingly assembled for you.
It’s broken into two parts. Part one, economic and geopolitical topics while part two covers everything else including natural disasters, politics, political correctness, the media, scandals, hey I think I just repeated myself there. Dave’s latest year in review can once again be found in full and all its glory on PeakProsperity.com. I am excited to have him with us now live in order to expand on his excellent insights. Dave, thanks for joining us again this year.
Dave Collum: Thanks for inviting me back. I appreciate you publishing it and then doing this podcast which is kind of fun for me to wrap up what I just wrapped up.
Chris Martenson: I want to talk about the process of that. You know, first, thank you for taking the time to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and delivering your yearly review. Let me tell you something that happens for me and I want to see if this happens for you. I just wrote this big piece on oil, shale oil in particular. I gather all the data and I go oh my God how can it be all this obvious that this thing is a giant swindle? And every time I write a collection of data like this I scare myself a little bit and I also wonder at how other people aren’t seeing it this way — what happens for you as you romp through 10 times as much subject matter as I do in your yearly review all at once? Is that overload or how do you manage that?
Dave Collum: Yea, it’s actually tremendous overload. What I do during the year is I am actually thought about writing this process. I once read that William F. Buckley, could write a rough draft of a book in 160 hours.
Chris Martenson: Wow.
Dave Collum: I did the math I am not that far off of a rough draft of something the size of a book. As I go through the year any graphic I see I throw in a folder I keep open Word files on my different computers. I use copy/paste quotes and excerpts with links and snotty words and things like that. And no attempt to cull it and no attempt to organize it. And then in October I start working through the notes and I rediscover what happened that year. There are things that seem so long ago. I start formulating categories. I start culling them and that takes the evenings of October to do pretty much. Then I start banging out rough drafts of the different chapters and they are essentially unedited. So I end up with a huge volume of poorly written, unedited, ungraphically supported, unfunny prose, which has been filled with human folly that the times are so wretched it is almost unimaginable. I literally find myself in kind of a deep funk. And then what happens is from there I start editing it and start adding graphics and start putting it — making it, smooth it over. And then it kind of pulls me out. But by the time I’m done I think it’s not so bad.
And then remind — I keep asking myself, why do I do it and then the major reason besides narcissism and things like that are that it kind of pulls it together. These things I had totally forgotten about. It’s like a final exam for a course. It melds the whole thing into a storyline. And that way I retain it. I am able to grasp what that year meant to me.
Chris Martenson: It is difficult, though, to sort of catalog whole year of craziness. Because look, our view at Peak Prosperity is we are not just in a bubble we are in the mother of all bubbles that this is a very long tail end of a very bad set of ideas implemented to absurd levels. And to really catalog that first, I think I advise everybody keep a journal. I think this is what you have done because these are amazing times. I truly believe in 20 years or 10 or 50, whatever people look back on your collection here and think what the hell are those people thinking? How could they have fallen for such a thing? It is like we chuckle at those tulip bulb people. Right?
Those delusions occur and recur. It is part of the human condition. So here we are at the height of these follies. You mentioned you sort of hinted at it though it can be a little depressing to add up the giant pile of stupidity all at once, can it?
Dave Collum: Yea. And now you talk about this gigantic I’m not sure how to get to. _But my view has gotten sufficiently dire as has yours — I’ll read some article about some guy predicting a 25% correction. If we get a 25% correction I’m dead wrong. 25% won’t correct anything. We are way, way, way out of balance relative to that. So, I tell people that. If we don’t see a 50% correction in equities and bonds and things like that I will simply analyzed it wrong. Those are just regressions to the mean in my opinion. So yea, it’s a tough process. What makes it really tricky is this period we are in now is what I call end of cycle. Now, no one knows when it’s going to end but it sure as heck isn’t the beginning of a cycle.
The reckless investing behavior, reckless personal behavior, reckless borrowing all looks okay. So someone is out there ringing some bell saying the end is near and that you just seem stupid. And so I actually started writing these things when things were pretty bleak. I actually didn’t sound stupid. I made a fortunate off gold, so I could kind of hide behind that. Now I’m just a cranky old man running around ranting in the subway, right?
Chris Martenson: Yea. Well I too am a cranky old man. I want to see if we can parse this from the outside in and I want to start with this idea of broken markets. And I’ve logged in on that bandwagon for reasons ranging from the storm of computer algos that infest the market structure to warp psychology, as the central bankers have put us so deep in the house of mirrors there is probably no way ever to find our way back out. And you wrote this, “Regression to the mean is a force of nature. It’s also a mathematical truism that markets reside below the mean for half of their price weighted existence. The failure to go through the man in 2009 is an anomaly caused by global central bankers that remains as an IOU on investor’s balance sheets and foreshadows trouble to come.” Expand on that for us. Help people understand why going through the mean is a pretty normal thing. And what central bankers did by forced stalling that?
Dave Collum: Well, you know there is this concept of zombie companies and zombie debt and one of the arguments why you have to have recessions is it is kind of a purge. It is a projectile vomit when you get sick and when you get food poisoning. If you can somehow; well Nobel prize to be given out for Imodium, right? When I have an intestinal problem I don’t take Imodium right away. And that’s because mother nature is trying to tell me something, right? I let things purge. And they basically came in with a bowl of some money that was so unimaginably large that they stemmed they stemmed the problem before the problem had finished doing its work. So companies that really were not viable except for the fact that they were living in a credit got saved and these things represent parasites. These are like intestinal worms trying to go into the intestines so deeply. And the purging, Andrew Mellon said it: liquidate, liquidate, liquidate was the phrase something along those lines in the 30s. You got to get rid of the rot. The fires in California are getting rid of the rot, unfortunately. And when you let the rot get too bad then you end up with regression through the mean, right? You’re not clearing out rot when you burn down the neighborhood now. But you are — you are clearing out underbrush when you burn the scrub. So when you let a system get way far away from equilibrium the return trip is so dangerous and so destructive and we are going to get one of those in a very big way I think. We have a lot of regressing to do.
Chris Martenson: I will put a very sizable amount of money down on this wager that we were tipping over 2011. We were tipping over again in 2014. We were doing it again in 2016 and each of those times we had those miracle — two times in 2016, by the way. Once in January with a miracle rescue towards the end of that and then again after the election at 2:30 in the morning that Wednesday miraculously investors suddenly parsed everything known about Trump and magically cast that into a 1000 point DOW futures rebound before market open. That these will all be revealed eventually as times when the central bankers panicked and threw more money into the markets in an attempt to rescue them because they are so afraid of the downside and my hypothesis here, David, is that people are very inappropriately overlooking the fact that the central bankers are actually scared, meaning they don’t know what to do. They don’t like what they have created. They don’t have a good plan for what to do with it besides more of the same. But every time they do a little more of the same we go a little further over the tips of our skis and nobody seems to have a good plan. Now I think people should be cautious in the face of that. Iinstead people seem to be as bullish as they have ever been. Do you agree with that and how do we begin to account for that psychology there?
Dave Collum: I totally agree with that. I think the Fed has realized that they are so far — I almost used the leaning over the skis metaphor with you. I don’t think I did, but maybe I did. Get so big I can’t remember. And I think the Fed is indeed truly terrified. And they are terrified because they know. So jumping ahead, maybe, I don’t know the markets by any one of a dozen indicators are two fold over valued meaning a regression to the mean is 50% or a regression through the mean in a sort of Husmanesque sort of way is 60, 70, 80 whatever number you want as you start doing real destructive things. And but if you have a regression to the mean, which ought to be benign right? You have just given up access, but all the pension funds in the world will break all the people’s savings all the boomers everything will break so that we have now built a system that requires this complete house of cards to not fall. And it’s not possible in my opinion. So they are trying to hold it up. They built these Potemkin village type models to pretend like everything is fine. They lie about the price earnings ratios on the indices. They’re way off like the Russell 2000 reports a P of 25 well, it’s a growth index so 25 is fine. You find out it is more like 90.
Chris Martenson: 90. How do we get to 90?
Dave Collum: You wouldn’t believe the fraud they commit. So every time they calculate a PE is they take any — they take all the companies and they look at their individual price earnings ratios and they say any company over 40 they round down to 40 and any company that has no earnings or negative earnings they round it up to 40. So they are completely fabricating it so kind of actually calculate it by taking all the earnings and losses all the market cap and pick one gigantic PE. Comes out to 87 for the triple Qs. I think it was John Crudell said that the Russell was about the same. So you are buying something that is a 1% return in bust. And you think you are buying it at 4, 4 to 5%. It is kind of fraud.
Chris Martenson: Kind of fraud. Well, let’s talk about sort of fraud that is completely, it is just a swindle as far as I’m concerned and I love this — I love this example you gave. Starting simple you wrote, “McDonalds.” So this is a fast food company, everybody. They sell hamburgers. “Saw zero revenue growth between 2008 and 2016.” So that would be zero. But had 154% grown in debt. You left this out, but they now have negative book value. They used to have a positive book value. Now it’s negative because of all that debt. It’s share price though is up more than 200% and I love this — this is not an outlier — this is to me, it is just again, this is fractals sort of discussion. If you can understand the McDonald’s story you can understand the larger story because you are going to see it over and over again. Just how do we begin unpacking this insanity here?
Dave Collum: Well, actually that insanity, the guy did a beautiful job of this Mike Liebowitz and he unpacked that story for something like 20 companies. So in the year review is a Liebowitz created chart showing the revenue growth over that one might have been over the last five year and the share price growth. Revenue growth over the last five years was -25% and if you are losing revenues you are going to lose money, right? It is just math. You can crank up that profit margin by firing people, but you are in trouble if your revenues are dropping. And then, the share prices are up to like 105% over that period. So this is just, just — this is a dark kind of stupid that is going on here. And yet the market is going up. I keep groping for a metaphor. It’s like a two year old on a sugar high like stumbling around the living room and banging its head against the table. And nothing can get this market’s attention. It just keeps doing its thing and some point it will get scolded by reality and it will be in a puddle of tears and you know, and but — then people say oh no one saw it coming. Yes, of course we saw it coming. Helen Keller could see it coming.
Chris Martenson: This one is different, Dave. And that is what we are really being led to believe it is different. Here is what I think is different and this is something I have to have a little caution around is that these markets are now dominated by computers, right? Even if Chicago Mercantile Exchange there is no more people running around in blue and gold jackets, right? It is just blinking lights on a server farm. And these algorithms talking with people who actually run and code high frequency trading algorithms that these things are very actually simple. If they are out of parameter they shut down. But if they see something going the direction they want to go they will chase it. And on the basis of that I was highly suspicious that Ben Bernanke, just optically this was really poor. One of the first plum reward positions he took existing the chairmanship for the Federal Reserve was with Citadel, which said he’s going to perform the chief economist function.
This is a company that goes home flat every night. What do they need an economist for, right? It is the largest octopus high frequency trading firm out there. You know, just it seems like we are in an era of nothing matters. Nobody cares. I am sure we will get to this in the politics section, but watching how these political witch hunt investigations are conducted and what is prosecuted and what isn’t it is all just a mess. But optically, what did you make of Bernanke who had, to quote his own book, “the courage to act”? What do you make of that move of his?
Dave Collum: Well, it’s just a revolving door. I’m going to give Bernanke a little more credit. I don’t think Bernanke came up with that title. I actually think Bernanke might have some humility. I’m not sure. But I don’t think anyone would title their own book “The Courage to Act.” I think that got jammed down his throat by the publishers, but with that said, you know, his claim that he got 100% confidence he can control inflation — that’s bologna. Going to Citadel is clearly some sort of collect — I don’t even know who writes his paycheck. I would Citadel hire him – great questions. Citadel is not only even at the end of the day, they are zig zagging through even on microsecond time scales and so they don’t need Bernanke, but it is a thank you very much from Wall Street and instead of getting it from Goldman where he so garishly post performance bribe. And he goes to Citadel where you can’t really find a conflict.Again, who ponied up to give Bernanke a salary? I don’t know. For all I know, Jamie Dimon did.
Chris Martenson: Yea, well let’s go back to the McDonald’s example because you know people are asking why is the stock market so bulletproof stock buybacks by corporations are a major if not the major source of rocket fuel for the equity markets? Markets. I use that term loosely these days. Corporations have been using debt to go in the largest debt funded buying spree in all of history. We have so many records being broken right now. Here is one — why is that such a bad thing. If the CFO can retire dividend yielding stock at 2% and borrow at 1% isn’t that just a great thing?
Dave Collum: Well, you know, it’s when it started it was okay. The idea of a share buyback was an insider buying shares that he knew were undervalued and so Peter Lynch put forth the notion that when insiders are buying whether it is accompanying buybacks or insiders buying there must be something good going on. They know more than we do. But then it would became a pump and dump scheme and it became a shilled pump and dump scheme due to some legislation in the early 80s. And so here is what they are doing is they are taking on debt and they are not topping off pension plans and things like that. Instead they are buying back shares. So they are becoming more saddled with debt so they are decreasing the share account. In the meantime they are developing this liability this terrible corporate pension plan liability. I think it was last year you actually talked about the idea. That in the limit you can take enough debt to buy back all the shares. And that’s essentially a leverage to buy out, right? So now the BO and as you take on debt to buy back shares increasingly creditors own the company. And the limit that they buy all the shares the creditors own the entire company. So now here is the interesting question — before that last share sells, what’s the PE ratio on that last share?
So you have a price of the share. It’s not worth shit because it’s the creditors own the company. You don’t own it. It’s not like that one share owns the whole company. The creditors own the company. Literally the earnings of the company might be billions. There is one share. And so the PE ratio should be one over 10 to the 8th or 9th or 10th whatever. The ratio and the limit should go to 0 but what happens is people see the drop in P and they all want to bargain. And then they don’t even notice. Investors don’t pay any attention to the balance sheets. I mean, some presumably do. But IBM spent $40 billion of credit buying back shares. Investors should be running from that company. They should be high tailing it out of there. That is a scam.
Chris Martenson: Well, speaking of a scam — listen, I happen to really like Amazon Prime. It is pretty — a couple of clicks and the big brown truck of happiness rolls up. I like it. Every time I look at the financials of Amazon, though I come away with the idea of Scamazon. At first they are okay, but what I can derive from it is this is a company that is not earning any money. Really. In fact it is taking loss leaders on all sorts of positions. It looks like it is using its web services, which is profitable to subsidize its retail side, which is to me the very definition of antitrust. Do you think you know would you agree that Scamazon is more smoke and mirrors in reality and is there a danger at some point that they go too far and they get the Ma Bell treatment meaning the antitrust people finally wake up and say this isn’t right?
Dave Collum: Yea. That’s very dangerous. Here is a deal — let’s say they hold together. I don’t know how to value them at this point because if they hold together as a monstrous let’s call it a monopoly that is allowed to exist then they might be worth what the market is pricing of that because it might be that once they have control they can say okay now we are going to let our profits show. Because they are running profit neutral on purpose, I think. I think they are literally just using the cash flow to just keep buying stuff up. It’s like a land speculator they guy doesn’t have a penny in the bank but yea, he has got thousands of acres and buildings and whatever, right? I am not sure if they are valued and what not.
Here is the interesting scenario — their value is proportionate to their level of monopolistic skill. To the event that they can totally control the market data that adds a huge premium to the price. If they get broken up that premium should be gutted because now they are just — now the pieces are non monopolistic, non profit bearing pieces. And without the power to keep mauling people. So that I think the break up will unlock shareholder value in the negative sense.
Chris Martenson: You use the word maul. I want to use mall one of the things that has been happening of course is we are just seeing retail apocalypse out there. All of your retail malls come in A, B and C grades. The C grades are just getting destroyed. B even as well. Some of the A grades seem to be holding out for now. But what I’m noticing in that Dave, is that I can’t go a week without reading about some major bankruptcy or store shutterings it’s a retail apocalypse. In my mind this is where the old guy in me comes out. I don’t understand how the Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting reliably that retail workers are just going up like a straight line ever since the so called recovery started in 2009. I keep reading about store closings. I’m wondering these stores must have been staffed with nothing — with no humans I guess. Or there must be some secret place the VLS has found where people are going into retail that I’m not reading about. How do I make sense of this?
Dave Collum: Yea, I don’t know how to make sense. The other thing is they are hiding their retail apocalypse behind the Amazon story, I think. The claim is that online is trouncing brick and mortar so it is a culture change a sea change but everything else is fine. You and I both know if in the labor capital balance if all of a sudden labor can’t be paid you are going to have a problem. I also think the problem is that it is a mirage that it is online destroying the brick and mortar. The claim is that online is about 8.5% of the fails. So brick and mortar is closing. I don’t know I saw some numbers of like 8,000 stores and it was closing thousands and thousands of stores and Amazon and the various online is only 8% then those two don’t square. I actually think we have a retail apocalypse. If you sum over online and brick and mortar we have a retail apocalypse. And I don’t know where it goes from here. At some point there is going to be a spark that lights the fuse and blows this whole thing up. You and I both wonder when. we can’t stay, but the house of cards will get a vibration and down it goes.
Chris Martenson: I think it has been forestalled for obvious reasons because in my view this is truly the mother of all bubbles. We aren’t experiencing an eco bubble which would have been an internet bubble being followed by a housing bubble being followed by this mess.
Where it really began in my view began in the 1970s it is a fantasy bubble sitting on one delusion it is that one can forever compound one’s debts at twice the rate of one’s underlying income. If we look at the slate 70s ‘till now debt has been compounding about almost 9% a year even a nominal GDP let alone real GDP are way under that number. That delusion date is so deeply embedded in the entire structure of money, power, geopolitical arrangements that nobody in the echo chamber has any idea what I am talking about when I raise this. It is like I am talking words they can’t make sense of, right? They can’t detect it let alone fashion a coherent response to it, so here we are. This thing at some point blows up under its own power. Do you agree with that sort of larger assessment and in your view what happens when 50 years of self deception coagulates in the monetary aorta?
Dave Collum: Yea, I do agree. If you look at the various numbers about how many assets boomers have. Boomers are headed for retirement they can declare that they are going to work for eternity. The next aneurysm will put a check on that and the next layoff will put a check on that. I once read that like 50% of the people who retire do so against their will. You got these boomers you have seen numbers all over the ballpark but what is clear is they are way, way, way under saved and the savings don’t even include cancellation due to mortgage debt and some of them even student loan debt and credit card debt. And so I saw some stat about the median boomer who makes 250k a year has 450 a year saved. My brain explodes. That person is going to live such a good life. And they cannot retire. They don’t know how to live on that amount of money. $450,000 in current returns is going to spin off four digit incomes per year. It is not going to pay anything. I can’t imagine the sense of horror and frustration the person who is my age is looking up and saying wow, I don’t know how I am going to live the next 30 years.
Chris Martenson: Well maybe healthcare insurance premiums will go down in the future. We have some cash.
Dave Collum: Maybe. Seems unlikely doesn’t it? But I even find the tentacle stuck to me. I subscribe to some you know things that I read like Grant Interest Rate Observer and we get a person to clean our house once a week and we got internet and we got phones. I have a landline because I got a security system that goes through it. I got the cell phones. If you look at all the tentacles hanging off me. I’m not going to go wow the fixed cost before I even eat a meal is just enormous. Now I don’t have a mortgage but I look at my taxes and they are just humongous. I got to budget before I do anything remotely discretionary well above what social security would pay out. And I have thought a lot about it.
Chris Martenson: Yea, no it is astonishing. One town south of me is Amherst, Massachusetts. College town so unfortunately for the town its tax base is largely wrapped up in a 501C3 corporation entity, and so they have to get all of their taxes from the homeowners. And you know, a lot of college professors and students and all that stuff. If you look it is not at all uncommon Dave to see a pretty standard house with taxes of 10 or 11 or I’ll make this simple $12,000 a year property taxes. Which means your first $1,000 a month is going to rent your house from the town. And there is — that is what are you going to do? Your choices include either paying that or losing your home. There is really not a lot of ways to exist the system at this point, you know. And once you factor in all those other structural things if you say well I need to eat, I need to have a car which means I need the car insurance. I am going to have fire insurance on my house as well. I’m going to have healthcare insurance. You add that up and you are way past the median household income in the county I live in. I happen to live in one of the poorer counties in Massachusetts. I just look at that and for the life of me don’t understand how it operates until I wonder over to consumer credit data. I’m like oh, this is the game. The game is we ratchet the cost up right to the point where people can barely stand it and then allow them to borrow the rest so they can make up the difference.
It feels like a futile surf system that is a little more subtle or a parasitic system, but you know, first you know is there another way — am I missing something in the land of the free home of the brave I should be seeing this differently? Does this help us understand the growing unrest and happiness we are starting to see socially?
Dave Collum: The whole story actually. You really have to be so self delusional to not see this problem. And so yea, I think you are dead right. I think consumers are now starting to try to find ways to resist taking out more debt. But now they are taking out debt to keep the lights on, right? And then you got idiots out there you know, who talk about how it is good that consumers are taking equity out of their house. No it’s not. It means they’re desperate. That tis pure desperation. Consumers aren’t taking equity out of their house as a n investment so they owe more money on the same house. What good does that do you? Right? They got to pay bills. Really, I am really I’m horrified at what it must be like trying to raise a family and trying to retire on the amount of resources that not only average but anyone on the bottom 90% has. I don’t know how they are going to do it.
Chris Martenson: In the next generation my eldest daughter, 23 years old, heard a lot of her friends are shooing that whole model and choosing not to either go into debt, choosing in some cases not to go to college choosing not to have cars, choosing not buy houses all of that stuff. I really thin in this model if you give people no way to participate in the system and no hope they can do it without it being thieved away from them at some point guess what? You find people don’t participate. I am just astonished David, all the hand wringing from people why aren’t these millennial behaving properly? It’s like well, when you demoralize somebody completely and leave them no way to participate meaningfully try and act surprised when they don’t actually show up excited for that gig. I don’t know — it really feels like — I think Jim Kunstler puts it best – we are running rackets on ourselves and there is only so long you can run rackets before people get tired of that carney show. Like no I am not going to try and do the ring toss. It’s a rigged game. Sorry.
Dave Collum: Question is what is it going to — let’s say that it does so systematically and it doesn’t go rogue warrior, right? I mean there is always risk of a phase change and the whole thing just goes bananas we end up with guillotines and everything else. Let’s just say we correct for it systematically. What does it look like? I don’t even know how to wrap my brain around the idea that some doctor who earned 180,000 a year and retires and then doesn’t have any money. I don’t know what that looks like when society is loaded down with those people.
Chris Martenson: Well, I do because I spent a month in Buenos Aires this year in June — all of June and formerly middle class people very proud people down there. Not on person approached me and asked for money. Not the whole time I was there with a lot of poverty going on. I saw formerly middle class people tipping into the dumpsters after dark because their pride was involved. They didn’t want to be seen doing it. I think that is what a slow burn looks like. Formerly proud, wealthy people just get systematically eroded and then you wake up one day and it’s your feet upside down tipping into the dumpster. I think that is what it looks like, you know? And we are well on our way there and you know, we are starting to as you say we are late in the cycle and you wrote that you think the next session starts unnoticeably and you know, the economists miss every single one of them. But even a typical recession if it comes forward now is going to be highly damaging to portfolios for sure. To jobs absolutely. To corporate balance sheets which will finally be recognized. All of that stuff.
You know we are fighting this with everything we have got monetarily but isn’t this Dave, really a fight between what we might call reality and fantasy You can’t print your way to prosperity or I am open to the idea that maybe this time is different, although I have to confess this time I am not that open.
Dave Collum: You are talking a typical recession. If a typical recession causes that much pain it won’t be a typical recession either, right? So my model going forward is I think the next recession is going to be a real butt kicker that is why the Feds are so terrified. I think they realize that it is going to feed on itself and you are going to end up with a vicious cycle kicking into gear and the Feds aren’t going to be able to control it. One of the things that I showed you in the last time they can sound the decline in the markets but they can’t do much for the economy. Again, I don’t know where I got it from. I can probably look it up but someone tallied the annual GDP growth from 1930 to 1939 and then they tallied GDP growth from 2007 to 2016 and they are identical annualized. So we have been tracking the Great Depression in terms of GDP growth.
So you can be all thrilled about the fact your 401K has appreciated it is on a pocket of air because nothing is improved underneath the surface. So I came up with this maxim that I put in there that, I think its original, but it’s a pirate from a related maxim I wrote that over valuation is appreciation pulled forward and undervaluation is appreciation deferred that is the pirate of the savings maxim right? You recognize that. But why it helps me is I realize that once your 2X overvalued no matter how many more gains you get you are just pulling form the future and you are going to give them all back and they are either going to be given back by price or by time or combination of the two. You are going to regress to the mean. You can pretend like you are not going to protest. Pretending like you are never going to die. Simply not true. We will regress to and through the mean at some point. And when you are 2X overvalued that means it is going to take either 30 years like in the NKE or massive, massive price adjustments. Neither one appeals to me.
Chris Martenson: I am with you on that of course and my framework I see that everything we talk about in terms of prices what are bonds worth, what are stocks worth? Well nothing. They are claims. Whatever the underlying entities can product blatantly peel that back we discover that involves real raw goods being transformed into real products with real value added. That is ultimately driving all of this. So now we are really at a resource story and everything I do I just wrote a big two part report on oil. Most people don’t know this because it didn’t get splashed around but — much, but the most important piece of data I know about is the Beijing Petroleum University, that is the premiere place where they train their petroleum engineers came forward with a three year study — they looked for it and everything and said oh, China gets a peak of oil in 2018 both from conventional oil and unconventional sources. Our own shale plays aren’t going to work out because we have more of a molested geology that is all fractured. It is more like Bakersfield; it doesn’t really work for that. They don’t have much. They are going to be doubling their imports of oil over the next 12 years out to 2030 and where is that going to come from and they ask serious questions about that. So this allows us to understand what is happening in Saudi Arabia, pivoting away from the US towards China with Russia building pipelines rapidly. This is all happening.
And meanwhile in the United States we are telling ourselves a story that says oh, we are going to solve this with cleverness. We are drilling into the source rocks themselves. This is almost like we are going to be the new Saudi America. It is just an amazing self delusion. Here is the thing these shale companies have not made net positive free cash flows in any year of their existence, collectively. Not in 2008, 9, 10, 12, 13 clear on through not when oil was 100 a barrel, 120, not when it was 80, not when it was 20, at no point.
If you said hey give me a company where their principal thing is a well they drill for many million dollars to despite the principally 85% within three years how many years of operation would you need to see before you want to see that enterprise kicking out positive free cash flows? I am like no more than three, you know? The truth is we are 10 years into that experiment after not a single year of positive free cash flows and I don’t know what it is going to take to wake people up. You heard it here — there is at least 300 billion dollars in debt on the line and at least that much equity on the line. This is about a half a trillion dollar accident waiting to hit somebody’s portfolio. Try to act surprised when it doesn’t show up in Wall Street’s portfolio, but I will just pick a victim. Maybe Orange County, California. I don’t know. Just because they are Charlie trying to kick the football in this story, are they not?
Dave Collum: Yea, the whole story is just mind boggling and the willful delusion and I don’t know — I don’t’ know who gets it and how is just lying. I don’t know if Wall Street is just saying look, if you have to keep dancing, as the CEO of Citigroup said at one point it baffles me. It baffles me. Baffles me that somehow I guess everyone thinks they are smart enough they are going to get out before reality encroaches. It is not possible, right? Someone has to own those assets all the way back to the bottom. There is enough —
Chris Martenson: I saw you collected a lot of quotes and most of the sort of the realistic quotes are bearish really seem to be coming from old guys, right? So you got some of your Tudors and your Singers and all those people — did you notice that the people with more market experience were tending to be more — add more warnings you know the Dalios and et al, and I know you made a point there at one point of the people who are many of the participants in the market are not old enough to even remember 2008 from a market standpoint. So is this just like are there just people who don’t get this is a new world, it’s a brave new world or?
Dave Collum: I think it’s always this way. I think it is — I think Wall Street the fuel of Wall Street is a bunch of crazed kids and the old guys are looking in it reminds me when you are a kid walking across the living room stumbling at the age of two and the kid is about to do a header and you are looking oh this is going to hurt. And at some point you just watch him do the header and you sort of, they end up in tears and you say oh, you will be okay and the old guys are just watching this amused at some level and horrified at another.
I keep hearing stories from behind closed doors of people who are just horrified at what they have to do to manage money and how they just suck it up and take the risk. They just think it is going to be awful.
Chris Martenson: You wrote prudence disappoints investors in the final stages of a market cycle. We work with financial advisors to say that the career risk is extraordinary to try to be prudent at this point in time. Nobody wants prudences. Too hard. It’s too hard.
Dave Collum: The other guy will get better returns than you and get all the money.
Chris Martenson: Yea. Prudence disappoints the investors in the final stages of a market cycle. I don’t even know if this counts as a cycle though. This is really the mother of all bubbles. This is astonishing. Really keep the journal because this has never been — the central bankers are not monetary wizards. They are basically inept social experimenters. They don’t know what they are doing. When you take the price of money and you make it negative for the first time in money history, that is really a social experiment more than anything else, isn’t it?
Dave Collum: Yea and — it is you know, again, mind boggling this Swiss Central Bank creates money and then buys equities. If I can do that I would do it, right? That is a good business model. But the world stands by and a friend of mine says, well but their currency is too strong and that is what they are doing. I am going there is just something wrong with eh system where counterfeiting money and buying assets is constructive, right? That person should be punished. That person — the free market should have a way of dealing with that kind of behavior. Right now you can’t and it will end in tears. And you get these little things that uncorrelated but they are like Bitcoin and all these you know, Bitcoin is going to be historic no matter what the outcome is. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Of course I own zero and will not own any until it becomes a real currency and that is going to take unbelievable heroic changes, behavior. But it is going to be historic either if you think about the possibility– let’s say Bitcoin does become real it’s not just a speculative playtoy, it is a transformational thing it means we have transferred wealth from adults who have worked their whole lives over to 12 year old kids who bought a Bitcoin with their Christmas presents and you know, there is a guy at Target who made a ton of money on speculative, but some kid whose parents gave him a check for Christmas and he bought Bitcoin and it is worth like $10 million.
Here is a system that has transferred money into a teenager’s pocket for reasons that are completely baffling. So Bitcoin becomes real then the entire shift of who owns what is going to be profound. But I don’t think that is going to happen. I think it is going to be a bubble. It is a bubble. I think it is going to burst. And when it does, it is going to be one of the truly gigantic bubbles because not only because of the size, it is approaching a trillion although I read something about it crashing today. That is daily, right?
Chris Martenson: Yea. Whatever.
Dave Collum: Whatever, right. Whatever. It is upwards of a trillion dollars and it in effect goes to zero. It is going to be second at most to the tulips possibly exceed the tulips in terms of the absurdity of it. And what boggles me about this bubble of everything that you were talking about earlier it is based on a storyline that stinks. So the bubble in 1929 was based on this idea that we were in this brand new world we had just invented basically electrical appliances and cars and auto — you know, 30 years earlier people were running around in wagon cars using brooms to clean their house. Now all of a sudden there is all this cool stuff and electrical lights and everything. I can accept the 29 bubble, why people got sucked in. Then the dot com bubble we got sucked in because the internet has just shown its stuff and everything was going wild. I get that one. This one is based on the assumption that some central bank is just going to protect you. That is a pathetic story.
Chris Martenson: Yea well, the thing about you know once Bitcoin gets unpacked I get the — I like the idea of a blockchain. I like the idea of distributed ledgers. I am not smart enough to understand all the clever ways that will be implemented. But I am smart enough to know that people’s fantasies about Bitcoin becoming the currency are completely delusional because of the way it is constructed. I know a lot of people, Dave who have bought Bitcoin. I don’t know any who can explain it to me really. Very few, I should say. We got a few in our site that are way more knowledgeable than I by far. The average person I talk to who is sort of involved in it and they are like oh this is going to be the new money. This is the way people are going to transact. I am like but every single transaction is understood throughout the entire system. It just doesn’t scale, right? The bigger it gets the computational power required like doesn’t go up linearly. It just becomes extraordinary. It has some uses, but becoming the currency is not one of them. Right?
Dave Collum: I heard, I keep hearing and it could be ignorance on either my part or their part I don’t know which — the average Bitcoin transaction requires the energy that a house consumes over nine days or two weeks or something like that. Do you have any idea what that means? What is it about a transaction a Bitcoin that wouldn’t be so energy intensive? If it was the mining of a Bitcoin, I would get it because they are algorithm driven mining procedures. You can say well you have super computers whizzing away to mine these. I get that. But I’ve heard it’s the transactions and I don’t understand how something that is a click of a mouse can consume energy? Do you understand that?
Chris Martenson: I am not sure I can do this justice, but say you and I decide to trade .01 Bitcoin. It goes from wallet A to wallet B. But that transaction can’t be verified until all these other computers out there, in particular the miners are going through to make sure they are running a very, very comprehensive algorithm. Basically, they are running a cracking operation to make sure that they can verify that that is true. So each — each block of transactions goes through this chain. Every time we conduct a transaction that has to run through the chain. It has got to be verified. So there are so many computers this is like not a simple computational thing that has to be run. It is very, very large. It is a very comprehensive thing. And so that gives it lots of the security.
Dave Collum: Where are these computers? What computers are we talking about?
Chris Martenson: Well, some people have set up actual mining operations and what not where they have got them parked in a big room you know, wired up to a hydrodam. But in some cases we have discovered that they need so much power they have used slaves. They have slaved on computers. Recent – Tesla discovered that somebody had been using their computational power to drive this business and were using their energy directly. People have discovered that cell phones have been hijacked for this. That is sort of the darker ways that this can happen.
Dave Collum: Let me ask you a simple — I order a pizza and I pay with Bitcoin.
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Dave Collum: Nine days worth of energy consumed to order that pizza, supposedly.
Chris Martenson: Yes. It may take — it may take up to an hour for that transaction to actually be verified, right?
Dave Collum: You can’t even do it, then.
Chris Martenson: In that hour the bitcoin paid for your pizza, that pizza might have been worth twice as much or half as much. We don’t know.
Dave Collum: Also, the pizza is old. You got to be able to do it faster than that. The question is who paid for the energy?
Chris Martenson: Well, that would be I guess, silently hidden in the electric bills of all the people participating in this.
Dave Collum: Transactions pick up speed. People are going to find their electric bills – they are going to be crushed. Their own computers are going to be buried by bitcoin transactions. Right?
Chris Martenson: Well, it is all sort of distributed through the thing. People have made the point that you know cat videos on YouTube are burning way more electricity than that. But this is kind of the silent side of our so called, you know, internet of everything free world where transactions happen quick. You do your Google search it takes .21 seconds to come up with a million results. There is a giant server somewhere that is consuming gobs of energy around that. Our internet is not free. It consumes some huge percentage of worldwide global electricity production. I forget what it is. I’m going to make a number up. I think it is something like 8 or 9%. It’s a lot. It’s a very, very big number. It’s huge. And Bitcoin is just tucked within that somehow. Well let’s talk about something a little bit more real then because gold. Gold you wrote on a seemingly monthly basis “gold takes swan dive.” Somebody decides to sell several billion dollar equivalents that might be 20 or 30,000 future contracts. When the market is least liquid that is when we traded stories of fat fingered trades abound. I suspect these are just traders molesting the market for fun and profit unconcerned that a regulator will ever call them on it and then you know the silver market looking really creepy there. Seventeen days down in a row where you need a ruler to understand that market best because it is literally ruler straight 17 days in a row. To me, this looks like a prima facie evidence of a manipulated market, meaning it is not legitimate price discovery that somebody is molesting it for fun and profit and regulators could not care less at this point in time. Fair?
Dave Collum: Yea. Fair. In some sense embedded in that bundle of snark was the statement endorsing the idea that the price was not necessarily manipulated by high powered you know, sovereign states. You know one of the theses about it it could be true. I am a big fan of conspiracy theory. One of the theories is that you know, the central banks want to keep prices down until they bash it. I don’t think you need that thesis to explain those late night late night rades. I think you just need some 20 something year old kid who says oh look I can see the trading stack, I think it’s called, and I can bash through all those trades and crush this thing with this many future trades . That person then goes and does it. They run the stops and they trigger the sell off and buy it at the bottom and they do it all over again.
But these are pretty big traders so they are probably traders, London whale types, maybe. Something like that maybe. Who knows.
Chris Martenson: Well and they have gotten away with it for so long and they know that nobody is going to come and regulate them or slap them on the wrist even. And by the way I think in last year’s year in review we went through all of the things that bankers have been caught manipulating for fun and profit and it was an extensive list. I just believe that if anything humans can get away with without consequences can do. That can be really horrifying stuff too. I think the Harvey Weinstein piece just showed he can get away with it he will keep doing it. It is part of the make up. Banks have not gotten in trouble for anything. They got a couple of fines, here and there. Come on. HSBC resizing their teller window so they can get special suitcases of cash from drug lords and nobody gets charged with anything. Really?
By the way, just one fact, most people don’t know that the district attorney who was on that case was Loretta Lynch, who later went on to become attorney general and displayed even better ethics in that position.
Dave Collum: Yea, she’s a real piece of work. In fact, one of these — well, what came out of Russiagate. If you can make sense of Russiagate, you are a better man than I. One of the things that came out of it is you try to piece together the story about Russia collusion and things like that is how many people who you don’t even know are connected are connected. You find out there is a Russian spy is doing this with this guy. Then you find out that Russian spy got help from Loretta Lynn. Then you got Visa problem solved and they are all connected. All these events that seem unrelated are connected. Then all of a sudden something will happen and someone will wash up on a Miami Beach dead. You think it is unrelated but it happened to occur the day they are supposed to testify. The world is still Loretta Lynch is everywhere in the skanky world of geopolitics. Mueller is everywhere. Mueller was investigating Hillary’s uranium deals and now he is investigating Trump’s collusion. And Manafort who supposedly was working for Trump and got himself in trouble for colluding with the Russians, which I don’t believe probably. But he before he worked for Trump he worked for Hillary. It is just so promiscuously corrupt out there. It’s a mess. It’s a mess.
With this kind of corruption society doesn’t do well. Right? The free market doesn’t do well when people lose faith in the basic tenets of the system. That’d be my big concern.
Chris Martenson: Well absolutely both the appearance and the fact of impartial law is important, right? SO we have I thin either at this particular point in time. We see people getting away with clear felonies. Come on. Wells Fargo created how many hundreds of thousands of fake bank accounts and then fraudulently wired money from one to the other and stole from people? If I opened up a bank account in your name I would be facing felony charges.
Dave Collum: 3.5 million.
Chris Martenson: 3.5 million. Oh no, no the CEO he totally got punished. He had to leave his position with $65 million. That’s rough.
Dave Collum: It goes back more years than when we first saw it, too. Has been going on for a long time.
Chris Martenson: If banks can commit felonies constantly but URI can get absolutely hauled before a magistrate for going 20 over you know in our cars it just that is corrosive over time of course. It absolutely is corrosive.
Dave Collum: In the beginning of the corrosion was the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was really the first sort of social movement that looked like it was in response to the disgust with the system. And, of course, they were able to stem it but the idea of Occupy Wall Street has not gone away, right? The idea of it has not. Well, it’s real.
Chris Martenson: Yea. And John F. Kennedy said that if you make peaceful revolution impossible you ensure violent revolution is inevitable. Occupy Wall Street was fairly peaceful. Got squashed. I went to one of the first demonstrations within two weeks of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, I was there. Checking it out. It was a bunch of hippies. College students. It was a mish mash you know. Poorly organized in terms of central message and it was rigged with the latest hardware. Rigged with every possible thing that I had been reading about from the acoustic crowd control devices to funny little face recognition cameras on stalks. It was amazing. The tools the state that came out to sort of suppress and you know, really hold that in check. And so what do we have now? Now we have ANTIFA. I think this only goes further and further because the disgust is growing. It is a deeply unfair system where monkeys who are primates at the bottom of it all and we like since we are social creatures fairness is an important concept. I think that is one of the main themes that was coming up, particularly in part two. I am looking at this and I am like how is this not just seen as grotesquely unfair in a way that is deeply uncaring and the healthcare insurance premiums are sort of one fractal representation of that for me.
That is what I think for the theme going forward when I read your comprehensive piece I say this — the social tensions are only going to increase. That feels like I am using prediction to make and it is because the powers that be are so hopelessly out of touch. I think Peggy Noonan categorized it well calling it the protected class. The people who pass the laws aren’t the ones who suffer under them and all of that. So that is really I think it is a tail of two worlds you know and increasingly I think that is what is going to come forward. I am wondering what are you seeing looking forward after this summary — what is next do you think?
Dave Collum: I don’t know. Actually — it is funny when I write this I never quite know what the conclusion is going to be. The conclusion I drew this year that I got to over time – what I was stunned by was the anger of what we will call the progressive left and I view the election of Trump over Hillary as a phase change and so I captured in a pair of tweets from a woman who I haven’t a clue who she is, but the first tweet was right before the election. The whole essence of the tweet is we have to heal and come together and solve problems and blah, blah, blah, sing kumbaya, right. The second tweet was obviously right after the election and the F bombs and the epithets and the anger and the white supremacist claims and stuff and then she finishes by saying good night and signs off. That is the same woman. I title it what a difference a day makes.
What is stunning to me is my image of the progressive left is that they are heavy on idealism and light on realism and I would say that the right tends to be the opposite. That has kind of been our division of labor for many, many, many years. This year the progressive left show themselves to be the most bigoted racist bunch of clowns I have ever seen. I just am stunned by every word they say. And it was because they decided that Trump being elected and I think even more importantly Hillary not being elected was just so intolerable that doing anything saying anything is okay. And I got to tell you I have never seen such hateful speech coming out of mouths of people who call themselves liberals. And so it has pushed me to the right. It has pushed me to where I finished the thing by a write up I know the person I don’t know the source where the person says you seem a little upset that you lost the election. Let me explain something to you and he goes through this long list. He says you took away our religion, you have taken away our schools, you have taken away our freedom of speech and he goes through 25 things. He says, you created us and we beat you. We beat you not with bullets. We beat you at the ballot box.
A lot of people are talking about impeaching Trump. Now, I have this profound sense that they can’t do that. And the reason they can’t is because half the country whether they like him now or not will say no we elected him and you don’t get to just remove him because of your little tantrums. So there is this poster which I was going to put in but it is a little too militant and I actually tweeted it this morning. It is a picture of a bunch of people at a shooting range. And to me it is really symbolic, it is like men and women. It is we have approximately 300 million legal guns. We have maybe a trillion rounds of ammunition and the final line was if we were the problem you would know it. The problem I see is if the progressive left thinks they can just extract an elected president because of their tantrums, because they don’t like it — they don’t like what he does half the country — we are going to see what the other half can do in a rage. And so I don’t think we can just remove him. I think the election is over and it is time to heal. And I think that Trump has got a lot of flaws. I think a lot of flaws are induced by people opposing him in the most vile ways imaginable. We will never find out what he could have done, but we sure as heck will find out what is going to happen if they try to remove him. They try to extract him. That is going to be an ugly moment.
Chris Martenson: It is. I get the sense that we are operating sort of at the collective level out of real brainstem sort of territory right now. I too have discovered the fairly emotional and in many cases morally incoherent sort of eruptions that have been going on around now. My model from that comes from a — they did a series of studies in the 40s and 50s and 60s where they would take a rat and put it in a cage and give it no escape. It is just in a bare cage and a grid floor. They would shock it pretty unpleasantly and that one rat would sort of figure out how to tolerate that shock even be miserable, figure it out. The problem came in when you put the second rat in the cage and now they are both getting shocked and they don’t know they don’t have anybody they don’t have any understanding of where the shocks are coming from but now they have somebody to point it at. Oh it’s you. And they bite. It is called shock induced aggression. You can google it. It is pretty common. Very well studied. and so the point of this is when people don’t know where they are getting shocked from it is very natural for them to want to blame somebody and easy for the powers that be in the media to sort of begin pointing them in the wrong direction.
And this is — I want to get back to the subtext of a racket. It feels to me that while people are busy you know pointing fingers at each other and really venting some probably pretty righteously sourced emotion but probably misplaced in terms of it where it is coming from. My metaphor for this the place that captured it was there was a series of protests in Berkeley where this really started to blow over you got ANTIFA on the left people on the right they are fighting each other and I found it ironic because Berkeley is where Janet Yellen teaches. That is the source of the shocks. That is the headwaters. Like you want to know where 80% of our shocks are coming from it is from a deeply unfair system that prints money and hands it to some people and pretends like that is legitimate. And what is actually happening is they are sucking economic oxygen and our future from everybody else and giving it to a very small number of people. That is unfair. Both of those parties should have been aligned and fighting Yellen and what she has done for this country and what the central bankers are doing rather than each other. It is a hypothesis of mine.
Dave Collum: Well, there is a video. I couldn’t find it. I would have posted — I somehow lost it in the noise of 500 pages of links. What a shock. A bunch of guys from Black Lives Matter going to essentially what we will call a white nationalist rally. But I want to use the most non pejorative component. It is certainly a bunch of white guys. And they were certainly irate that they were being treated poorly for being white guys. Now they’re being villainized, right? And a bunch of Black Lives Matter guys show up and the white — the leader the guy who had the mic said because we support freedom of speech we are going to give these guys two minutes at the microphone. And the black leader stands up there and he starts talking and you can hear some angst in the audience. Then he starts saying we support this and we support this and pretty soon everybody is cheering because this one black leader was able to say we all support the same damn thing. And we are not in opposition like you guys think we are. And we don’t oppose the cops. We oppose bad cops. And we want rights and we want freedoms and we want our kids to be educated.
And at the end which was a big group hug and it was tear jerkingly heart warming to watch this guy rally a decidedly polarized group into one unified force. There was some uneasiness of course. What a great story that was. It can be done. But right now, I think the game in Washington is to keep us fighting. In fact, you probably don’t want to go there but my final section is on the Vegas shooting. The final question that I don’t get to an answer is why did the Vegas shooting occur? One of the possibilities is to keep us fighting.
Chris Martenson: Yea, there is a lot unexplained about that. It is funny how it just sort of evaporated. Happened and it is gone. So when things go down the memory hole I always get suspicious. I follow both what is said and what is not said in the media.
Dave Collum: I need to pull things back out of the memory hole.
Chris Martenson: The media commits sins of omission and commission and all of that. We didn’t get a chance to really go through much of part two. I think we will have to pick this up again and do it at some other point. We rare the limit that I know people will listen to look at a podcast time and say I will sign up for that. So gosh, so much we missed on that whole second part, which I think I am going to make an on call on audible we got to do it. But we gotta do it at a second piece if you are up for that.
Dave Collum: That’s great. Always up for it.
Chris Martenson: Alright, Dave, thank you so much for your time again today and for writing the two giant part two year in summaries. Fantastic people. You should listen to it here on this podcast and go and read it and because the data is there and so yea. Have your coffee and maybe put some bourbon in it and – because it is astonishing to see it all in one spot. It is really inescapable in its conclusion. We at Peak Prosperity we love data. We love going by the facts. We love letting the dots connect and tell us that story and this is just a fabulous, fabulous collection of dots for anybody who wants to know what is going on in the world. Thank you for writing this and we will pick this up again soon.