Tuesday, 14 February 2012

February mid-month round-up: Greece burns, Alberta gambles & Canada trades soul for Pandas

Well it would appear that China has finally found a spot to park it's unwanted USD. That would be here in good old Canada and all it cost them was leasing us two Pandas. What a deal! Back in 2011 I wrote a quick post about why Canada's economy is good, bad and bullshit. A key portion of this post was that China was dumping the USD - but one year later with multiple countries such as Russia, India, and Iran writing off the USD as well one has to wonder, who exactly is taking it? Well it would appear the answer is Canada.

Now not only are we trading resources to the U.S. for a devaluing USD, no no.. now we will accept them from China as well. Many people are probably looking at our new trade relations with China and say to themselves: "well thats good isn't it? We're diversifying from dependence on the U.S. economy" - but this isn't really the case. Whether we are receiving USD from China, or USD from the U.S. it is still USD which is directly tied to the health of the U.S. and global economy. So are we breaking our dependence on the U.S.? When it comes to the actual physical trade: yes. When it comes to the value we receive for what we trade: no.

Are you a big coffee drinker? Have you noticed anything happening to the price of coffee? How about other imported foods? If you are conscious about your grocery bill you will probably have noticed it's gone up quite a bit. This is a direct result of piggybacking the CAD off the USD. Many analysts now claim the CAD is directly tied to resources now. They indicate that when resources go up, the CAD goes up, and when resources go down, the CAD goes down. However, the target for comparison always happens to be the USD. You may notice that if the CAD does exceed the USD, it's not by very much and not for very long. This is because while resource prices influence our dollar, a 1:1 ratio with the USD at most (approximately) is essential not just for continuing trade with the U.S. but also to continue trade with any country who trades using USD. The number of countries is large, albeit dwindling. It is really a match made in heaven: MAny countries around the world are looking for a place to dump their USD and Canada's valuable resources are "open for business". As most of our politicians are heavily involved in the U.S. stock market, they also have a vested interest in keeping the USD alive, even if the cost of food and gas for you and your family becomes unaffordable. This is the new measure for economic health, this is why the Euro was rising even as Greece was burning. On paper accepting austerity is great, but in reality it is destroying what's left of their physical economy. You know; the economy that feeds people, not HFT.

On top of Canada's "everything must go" fire sale policy it appears that we also are in a bit of a huff about proposed changes to the U.S. banking system. The take away paragraph from this article is:
The source of concern is a new U.S. regulation meant to deter deposit-taking institutions that receive backstopping from Washington from engaging in speculative trading for their own—not their clients’—profit, a practice known as proprietary trading. Risky trades by global banking giants were central to the banking crisis that compelled former U.S. president George W. Bush to launch a $700-billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008.
Translation: our banks engage in the same practices as in the U.S.

It goes on further:
“I think the impact could be very, very negative,” said Canadian Bankers Association President Terry Campbell. “If you interfere with the ability of governments and corporations to fund themselves, if you interfere with liquidity in the marketplace, which is necessary for funding, then you could have a very severe impact on our economy.”
Translation: Governments and Corporations fund themselves using risky and sometimes fraudulent banking practices and if we try to change that now then our "financial stability" is put at risk. Canada's complaints about these changes should confirm for all Canadians that our banks ARE NOT anymore stable than the U.S. or European banks. When you combine this fact with a world that uses the USD and a U.S. whose financial system is mostly dependant on foreign countries providing goods for that USD it should be no surprise the Fed's crisis fund bailed out non-US banks including Canada's TD.

The crisis in Greece is a preview of what's to come for all countries that engage in these practices as their ponzi economies rely on ever-increasing returns while peak oil ensures returns will be ever diminishing. It is the shortfall between leveraged value and real wealth which has Canada concerned as without riskier and riskier ways to leverage funds: profits dry up. For proof of this look no further than Alberta's latest budget which depends on a predicted 40% increase in oil revenue to meet expenses and bring Alberta out of a deficit (yet again).

Alberta's entire budget is based on a "bet" and betting is a feature of gambling. So Alberta's budget isn't really a "budget" at all now is it? When I budget for the month, I do not assume that sometime during that month I'm going to win the lottery and I certainly do not factor my theoretical lottery winnings into my budget. After you win the lottery and have the money in your hand then it is safe to include that in your budget. Now of course the odds of predicting oil price are a lot better than winning the lottery, but the cost of failure is the same.

Back in 2008, no energy analysts and no economic experts predicted a drop in oil price from $147/barrel to $38/barrel. No experts predicted that there would be a scooter revolution due to the price of gas at the time. Alberta has spent the last decade convincing Albertan's the oilsands were making them rich and yet wheres the money? The sustainability fund has been drained, infrastructure is crumbling or 20 years behind, the heritage fund in leu of their olympic train, $25m rebranding effort, and $2B for carbon capture is hardly sufficient to account for all of the resources given away in Albertan's names. With the latest budget and Alberta's continued campaign to pretend it has more money than it does - I expect a repeat of the 2008 situation in Alberta within the next 2 years.

Remember, at $147/barrel - and with cheap credit everywhere - debt could not be sustained. This time around all of that cheap credit has been used up and I believe the ceiling on oil demand is a lot lower. There is no more debt people (Americans) can get into to subsidize their ever-increasing cost of living. If oil hits Albertas targets and without some external crisis (Iran), it's highly unlikely it will be sustained any longer than the time it takes for those price changes to show up in the cost of consumer goods.

Further Reading: The Federal Reserve's Explicit Goal: Devalue The Dollar 33%: Forbes