Turkey & the Real Risk of a Debt Crisis


The Treasury and Finance Ministry of Turkey announced that the country’s net external debt stock totaled $286.2 billion going into the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018. The country’s net external debt stock to its gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was 34.4% at the end of the third quarter of 2018. However, Turkey’s gross external debt stock amounted to $448.4 billion at the end of the 3rd quarter, bringing the debt/GDP ratio to 53.8% according to the official figures.

Interestingly, because of the fear of the Turkish lira, Turkish corporations have been often compelled to borrow in dollars. Therefore, the private sector’s share in the country’s gross external debt stock was 68.2% ($305.9 billion), while some $215.9 billion of this amount consisted of long-term debts with a maturity of more than one year. The Turkish public sector’s share of this debt was 30.6% in the country’s total foreign debt, which is about $21.4 billion in short-term (under one year) with $115.7 billion in the long-term (over one year). The banking sector’s (lenders and the central bank) external debt stock was $176.99 billion at the end of the 3rd quarter.

When we break this down further, 58.5% of the total gross external debt is denominated in U.S. dollars with only 32.3% denominated in euros. The amount denominated in Turkish lira among the external debt stock was a trifling 5.9%. This illustrates the crisis that will emerge with a change in the currency values.

 

Roman Coins Wash up on Beach in Florida


 

There have been discoveries of Roman coins in Japan as well as in North America. There has even been the discovery of a Roman sword in Newfoundland. Now, a treasure hunter with a metal detector uncovered seven Roman coins that washed up on a beach here in the Tampa region. This is strong evidence that there must have been a Roman shipwreck off the coast of Tampa or in nearby proximity.

These coins are of the 4th century from the era of Constantine. They are bronze and of no particular rarity. In such a condition, they are really worthless. Nevertheless, there certainly seems to have been Roman ships that crossed the Atlantic long before even the Vikings, no less Columbus.

There are accounts that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sent diplomats to China around 180 AD. There are no written records from Rome, but there are written records from China confirming that meeting and even a recording of the name of the Roman emperor.

There are no documents that confirm Romans traveling across the Atlantic, yet there is evidence that they were indeed here in North America. This raises the possibility that these were one-way trips, perhaps from a ship caught in a storm and set on its path to America.

The left coin in this photograph is clearly one of Saint Helena who was the mother of Constantine I the Great. She was a devout Christian who set out to discover the major places in the Holy Land. She built the church in Jerusalem over Calvary and near the tomb of Jesus Christ

Preferred v Ordinary Shares


QUESTION: Hi Martin,

What are your thoughts on preferred shares? Especially the ones with good quality DBRS ratings. Will they survive the downturn or will they fail?
Thx
FS

ANSWER: Ordinary and preference shares are a claim on corporate earnings and assets. Dividends for ordinary shares may be irregular and indefinite, whereas preference shareholders will receive a fixed dividend which will accrue usually if the payments are not made in one term. Ordinary shareholders are in a riskier position than preference shareholders since they are the last to receive their share in the event of liquidation. That may not be a concern in a blue chip company. Nevertheless, they also are open to the possibility of a higher dividend during times when the firm is doing well in contrast to preferred shared with fixed income.

Preferred shares can be looked upon as a hybrid debt where you have a claim on the assets, but like a loan, it has a fixed rate. Ownership of preference shares offers advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it provides a higher claim on earnings, assets, and fixed dividends. On the other, it limits voting rights and the possibility for growth in dividends in times when the company is financially sound.

The good companies will generally survive. This is a collapse in government – not the private sector

Fear of Inflation & Sterilization


QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; you were friends with Milton Friedman. Do you agree with his view that the Great Depression was caused in part by the Fed refusing to expand the money supply? Isn’t Quantitative Easing expanding the money supply yet it too has failed to create inflation. Would you comment on this paradox?

Thank you for your thoughtful insight.

P

ANSWER: Yes, this certainly appears to be a paradox. This results from the outdated theory of economics which completely fails to grasp the full scope of the economy and how it functions. This same mistake is leading many down the path of MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) which assumes we can just print without end and Quantitative Easing proves there will be no inflation. They are ignoring the clash between fiscal policy carried out by the government and monetary policy in the hand of the central banks. This is a major confrontation where central banks have expanded the money supply to “stimulate” inflation. Governments are obsessed with enforcing laws against tax evasion and it is destroying the world economy and creating massive deflation.

In 1920, Britain legislated a return to the gold standard at the prewar parity to take effect at the end of a five-year period. That took place in 1925. Britain based its decision in part on the assumption that gold flows to the United States would raise price levels in Britain and limit the domestic deflation needed to reestablish the pre-war parity. In fact, the United States sterilized gold inflows to prevent a rise in domestic prices. In the 1920s, the Federal Reserve held almost twice the amount of gold required to back its note issue. Britain then had to deflate to return to gold at the pre-war parity. Milton saw that the Fed failed to monetize the gold inflows, fearing it would lead to inflation. So what we had back then was the opposite roles. This predates income tax being applied to everyone so there was no hunt for taxes on the part of the government. The scale was tipped because the Fed was imposing deflation by sterilizing the gold inflows.

Conversely, following World War I, France had counted unrealistically on German reparations to balance its budget. When they did not materialize, it used inflation as a tax to finance expenditures. In 1926, France pulled back from the brink of hyperinflation. Unlike Britain, France’s inflation had put the old parity hopelessly out of reach. Consequently, France returned to gold but at a parity which undervalued the franc. Fearing inflation, France sterilized its gold inflows to prevent a rise in prices declining to monetize the gold.

Therefore, all the theories behind MMT are once again wrong for they are only looking at one side of the equation. Today, simply stashing money in a safe deposit box is illegal and considered to be money laundering. The government can justify itself in confiscating your assets even after you paid your taxes.

Therefore, in the ’30s, Milton’s criticism of the Fed was justified because there was no massive hunt for taxes from the fiscal side. Today, we have the fiscal policies hunting capital resulting in a contraction economically (declining in investment) while you have QE just funding the government – not the private sector. It is a different set of circumstances today v 1930s.

 

Basel III – IMF – Liquidity Crisis


QUESTION: As of today, Basel III comes in effect. Rumour goes that in a couple of months, there will be a lot of turmoil on the market and it would be the start of the implementation of an SDR like thing where people would lose 20-30% of their value and get stuck with this new currency. You have mentioned before this was in the pipeline but no timing was given. Is it really this close or is it for 2020-2022?

PT’S

ANSWER: The IMF has been pitching Washington to let their SDR become the new reserve currency. They claim this would eliminate the problem of the Fed having to worry about external influence v domestic. Let me say that this will NEVER eliminate the issues of international capital flows. The fixed exchange rate of Bretton Woods never prevented that problem and it was that very issue that brought it crashing down. Until we are ready to begin teaching the meaning of a floating exchange rate system and abandon Keynesian economics, I do not see this problem ever being eliminated.

Basel III is separate from the IMF and its purpose is capitalization of banks — not the reserve currency of a dollar v SDR. Basel III was agreed upon by the members of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in November 2010, and was scheduled to be introduced from 2013 until 2015. However, implementation was extended repeatedly to March 31, 2019, and then again until January 1, 2022. The Committee replaced the existing Basel II floor with a floor based on the revised Basel III standardized approaches. This revised output floor is to be phased in between January 1, 2022, and year-end 2026, thereby becoming fully effective on January 1, 2027, if the banking system can survive that long to begin with.

The Basel III leverage ratio framework and disclosure requirements (“the Basel III leverage ratio framework”) was supposed to be raised to protect banks from failures. Many were required to raise more capital. The Net Stable Funding Ratio (“Basel III NSFR standards”) was to be applied to participating banks. Moreover, the committee is monitoring the overall impact of Total Loss Absorbing Capacity (TLAC) and banks’ holdings of TLAC instruments. Capital requirements for market risk as well as the committee’s finalization of post-crisis reforms were all supposed to be back-tested. Additionally, profit and loss (P&L) accounts related to the revised internal models-based approach (IMA) for calculating minimum capital requirements for market risk more specifically.

All of that said, the crisis we have is a LIQUIDITY Crisis. This time it has been created especially by the European Central Bank (ECB). By keeping interest rates negative and punishing banks for having cash, they have (1) lent into real estate to get higher yields but this type of asset cannot be sold easily, (2) buying emerging market debt to get a high-yield like Turkey. Turkey was the favorite of Spanish Banks and the capital controls that Turkey did before the election sent shivers down the spine of institutional investors. The ECB has driven banks into these markets that are notoriously illiquid. This means that under Basel III, banks will not have the liquid assets to support their capitalization requirements. It becomes more likely that the Basel III requirements will be suspended or else there will be a wholesale collapse of the banking system.

Liquidity Crisis


QUESTION: I have attended the last 2 conferences and you have said the “liquidity” in the stock market will become tighter coming into 2020 and that there will be less stocks available to buy. Does that have something to do with this inflow of capital from Europe as people become more aware? I read your article about the Emerging Market crisis with great interest and remembered what you said. Is there more information you can share with us on this topic?

CDH

ANSWER: Since Quantitative Easing has failed, capital was driven into non-traditional investments to simply try to earn income. There were institutions buying farmland just to lease it out to get 5% annual income. Others ran off into Emerging Markets. Spanish banks are heavily invested in Turkey. The problem is that this trend has caused a liquidity crisis insofar as capital has been invested in assets that are not liquid. Add to this corporate buybacks that are reducing the supply of stocks available.

All I can say is thank God for Socrates. There are so many global trends emerging that by themselves are confusing and would be impossible for a standard domestic analysts to forecast from a personal interpretation perspective. The combination of investment shifts into real estate, Emerging Markets, and corporate buybacks have created an interesting risk factor for liquidity during a financial panic.

 

Are 95% of Bitcoin Trades Fake?


 

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; I love the fact you always stand in the middle. Do you believe that 95% of Bitcoin Trading is fake?

Thank you

KL

ANSWER: I did not conduct that study. It does sound a bit high. However, manipulation has been a historical problem in the commodity world. As I stated before, the manipulations were common practice in commodities during the 1970s. It was brought to Wall Street when Phibro took over Solomon Brothers in the early 80s. By 1991, they were charged with manipulating the US government bond market. How did they do that? The very same way these allegations of fake Bitcoin trades are taking place. You put in bids to pretend the market is deep and so you buy ever increasing the price.

Do I personally believe there is fake trading in Bitcoin taking place off-exchange? Absolutely. Would I assume that 95% is fake? I would question that high of a number. I would have to review their criteria for classifying a trade as fake. I would probably place it at the 50%+ level but not 95%. That is just my opinion based upon historical levels of manipulations in commodities.

For example, I knew the Hunt brothers as clients in the early 1970s. Only a few months before the high, the world suddenly knew what they were up to. That info was spread by the dealers to get everyone in the retail market to rush in and buy silver with claims it was heading to $100. But the dealers, I believe, bribed the CFTC and the exchange into raising margins to be long on silver and making shorts required to put up a fraction of that margin requirement. The dealers shorted silver, the public lost, and they bankrupted the Hunts. They made so much money that they then began to buy Wall Street.

Inverted Yield Curve Points to Recession?


Last week, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bill fell below that of the 3-month note for the first time since 2007. This is what everyone calls an Inverted Yield Curve, and is seen as an early indicator of a recession. In that regard, it is conforming to the Economic Confidence Model (ECM) which has been warning that this last leg should be a hard landing economically for most of the world. Nonetheless, while the yield curve has inverted, it has done so in a rather unusual manner. This is NOT suggesting a major recession in the United States. Instead, it is a reflection of global uncertainty outside the USA.

This Inverted Yield Curve is confirming that as the political chaos emerging around the world, and that more and more foreign capital is parking in the dollar. With the May elections on the horizon in Europe, and the October elections in even Canada, April elections in Israel … etc. etc., the capital flows are still pointing ever stronger into the dollar right now. The foreign capital has been buying the 10-year notes driving the spread lower.

 

We can see that the 10-year premium to the 2-years has been in a major decline ever since our War Cycle turned in 2014. The Yield Curve (10-2yr) has not inverted. This is clearly showing the capital flight to the dollar that has been going on post-2014. This is not reflecting a major recession in the USA, but it is inferring that the ECM will be turning soon

Facebook to Launch a Cryptocurrency & Compete Against Banks?


QUESTION: Why is Facebook going to issue a cryptocurrency? Doesn’t that confirm the evolutionary path of technology?

ND

ANSWER: The term “cryptocurrency” is being thrown around very loosely. It is true that there is increasing hype and speculation regarding a theoretical Facebook Coin. However, this is not a “cryptocurrency” it is simply a digital entry and nothing more. The proposed Facebook Coin is the polar opposite of Bitcoin. AFacebook is creating a pretend cryptocurrency for WhatsApp. This is not a real cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency enthusiasts are only looking at the label. The Facebook Coin is nothing like Bitcoin (BTC).

Thet Facebook Coin will be pegged to a fiat currency similar to that of Tether (USDT) and USD Coin (USDC) and it will use blockchain technology. The only real unique aspect about Facebook Coin versus a regular stablecoin is that it could be backed by a basket of fiat currencies, all held in Facebook bank accounts. This is more along the lines of the ultimate evolution of what I would expect to become the next reserve currency – a basket of currencies rather than a single currency.

If our sources are correct, this means that a Facebook Coin would easily compete with the rest of the $2-3 billion stablecoin markets where the biggest stablecoin remains Tether (USDT). Tether (USDT) has had some problems with its backing which resulted in its decline by as much as 10% below the value of a U.S. dollar.

That said, since Facebook Coin would be a stablecoin, it will not be possible to invest in it so it would not be a trading vehicle like Bitcoin. That means it would be more of a store of value which is quite different from Bitcoin (BTC) and most other cryptocurrencies where fluctuating prices really prevent them from becoming a true currency digital or otherwise. Clearly, Facebook has no intention of launching a trading cryptocurrency. If they did, it would probably blow Bitcoin out of the water. Facebook is not going this route for it is looking to get into really the digital currency world, not cryptocurrency. However, Facebook’s total stock has a market cap of $463 billion is closer to 4 times that of the entire crypto market cap of $130 billion.

If we pull back the curtain, Facebook is much more interested in a real-world market by creating its own payment network independent of Visa and PayPal. Effectively, venturing into a digital currency world backed by a basket of currencies or allowing clients to select their currency means they would compete for deposits like banks but globally. With Facebook’s immense user base, such as a payment network would be extremely competitive in the banking world. Obviously, Facebook sees that a digital payment network will be unique out of all the other big name fiat payment networks since it will use blockchain technology and its client base to launch it into the future..