There is a planned economy emerging before our eyes

The European Central Bank has to deal with the details of the financial markets in such a way that it has become a daytrader and organizes a planned economy. That said Econopolis economist Geert Noels yesterday.

The banks are still ‘too big to fail’, but much worse is that the central banks are ‘too big to fight’, said Danielle DiMartino Booth yesterday. The writer of the book ‘Fed Up’ was in Brussels for the third edition of Leergeld.eu, a debate series organized by the N-VA on the free money policy of the European Central Bank.

The Texan worked from 2008 to 2015 for the US central bank (Federal Reserve, abbreviated Fed) in Texan Dallas. When she left, she wrote the book and since then she has not received any postcards from her former colleagues during the holidays, she said. In ‘Fed Up’ she argues that the Fed has become an overly powerful institution that directs the economy without contradiction.

In central banks, there is an army of PhD economists working who share the same haughty belief in economic models and are too often disconnected from reality, said DiMartino Booth. According to her, since the arrival of Alan Greenspan in 1987, the Federal Reserve has been trying to disrupt the classic cycle of the economy by smoothing out the buisiness cycle, so nothing still works as it should.

The disadvantages are numerous. The free money does not go to expenses or investments, but to overpriced real estate. Companies that are ill do not go bankrupt because are kept alive with cheap money. Pensioners see the income from their savings shrink. Pension funds are forced to take greater risks than they want to reach a minimum return. In the US there are again more people who can not pay off their student loan, credit card or car loan, DiMartino Booth enumerated. And that while the economy is growing.

Geert Noels of asset manager Econopolis also attacked the ECB policy. According to him, the central bank has interpreted its mandate – price stability – in an idiosyncratic way to ‘inflation close to but below 2 per cent’, which then allows it to proceed without democratic control.

Noels is annoyed by the statement by ECB chairman Mario Draghi four years ago that he will undertake ‘whatever it takes’. “To do what?” Noels asked. “Save the euro? Save the Italian banks? Southern European government bonds? ‘

He alluded to Draghi implementing a hidden Italian agenda. At a time when the Five Star Movement and the Lega in Rome are playing with the idea of ​​the ECB having to cancel 250 billion euros in Italian government debt, that is an uncomfortable idea.

Noel was contradicted by Stéphane Rottier, who for five years was the assistant of chief economist Peter Praet at the ECB, but spoke in his own name in the debate. He stressed that ECB decisions were taken by 25 people and that there was no hidden Italian majority at that meeting.

But the chairman chooses his staff, Noels threw it. DiMartino Booth also said that at the time none of the 800 doctoral chairman Alan Greenspan contradicted the Fed. ‘At the ECB, 19 of the 25 directors do not work in Frankfurt and they have their own staff’, Rottier remarked.

He explained that the strong drug that the ECB was administering was indeed necessary because the crisis was so severe. And that it is not the fault of the ECB that governments in Europe have not implemented the reforms that are needed.

Noel insisted that this situation led to the central banks having started to deal with too many things. ” Whatever it takes ‘meant that you went all in, in an ultimate gamble to stear the markets’, Noels said. ‘Markets are very complex and by intervening they become even more complex. The central banks are now buying bonds from real estate companies, are then they worry that real estate is becoming too expensive and try to fight that with other policies. There is a planned economy emerging before our eyes. ”

DiMartino Booth nodded in agreement, but is convinced that there is already some improvement in the United States. According to her, the new Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will abandon the legacy of Greenspan and no longer put a floor under the losses of investors.

If the stock market crashes, he will crash them, she predicted. ‘Finally, a ray of light is falling into this building of darkness.’

Leergeld.eu. brussels

 

 

 

Brussels Bound by Way of Tokyo — Will Europe Succumb to Recession Before Interest Rates are Positive?

Bonjour de Bruxelles! Call what we refer to as Brussels the land of surprises for this initiate including the fact that the primary language spoken here is French. That aspect alone saved yours truly who studied the language for seven years and can only manage to say hello in Dutch because it’s “Hallo.”

What else can I tell you about this trek taken at the invitation of some European Parliamentarians who asked me to speak here on the perils of Quantitative Easing? For starters, Americans have zero concept of bureaucracy. I was almost relieved to find out that my hosts were associated with the one and only European Parliament given there are six other parliaments in Brussels. Seven parliaments, one town!

Not surprisingly, Brussels has a similar feel to that of Washington D.C. but much more relaxed given the bureaucrats have bureaucratic underlings. A tour of the Parliament building had the feeling of a vast city center filled with humanity, but strangely absent of energy. My hosts were the first to concede that not near enough gets done here, not enough meaningful decisions made, precisely because there are too many institutions, too many committees within those institutions and sub-committees within those committees.

This historic city a short 48-minute flight from Heathrow apparently has a climate that’s right up there with London or Seattle if you prefer. Luckily, I brought the sunshine with me which meant the streets were teeming with happy bureaucrats taking in their Vitamin D. Sadly, the local specialty, Moules Frites, was not on the menu – only eat the mussels in months that contain the letter ‘R.’ The fact that billiards merits prime time sports coverage did not assuage my culinary disappointment, but it did make me marvel at cultural differences. Whatever would they make of college football madness?

The people here are lovely. The sheer scope and depth of the bureaucracy, however, leaves little mystery as to the source of the anger that’s barely beneath the surface in so many European countries.

Without a doubt, this frustration extends to the inefficacy of Mario Draghi’s European Central Bank. Our housing is expensive. Theirs is dearer yet. Our government has spent with abandon thanks to interest rates being held at artificially low levels. Their governments have “enjoyed” even lower borrowing costs. Ergo, their countries have been even less compelled to pursue fiscal reforms leaving them that much less prepared for the next crisis. And while their economies are also looking quite late stage, their central bank is still knee deep in QE and getting more skittish about a full taper to say nothing of the radicalness of an actual increase in interest rates (to less negative territory, mind you).

The move north of 3% in our 10-year Treasury yield is doing nothing to calm the nerves. Europe’s bond market renders that of the U.S. a screaming bargain on a relative basis. Some serious strategists have begun to ask the very question I ask this week: Is normalization even conceivable for the ECB?

With that, the day is ending here so I will leave you with this week’s newsletter: Brussels Bound by Way of Tokyo: Will Europe Succumb to Recession Before Interest Rates are Positive?

 

Hoping you too can see lovely Bruxelles one day and as always, wishing you well,

 

Danielle

 

Please enjoy my latest Bloomberg column:  The Dark Lining in the Silver Jobs Cloud

 

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DiMartino Booth, Wendys 5.15.18

Something’s Amiss in the U.S. Jobs Market

The pace of employment cuts in the service sector is accelerating.

It’s difficult to discern given the incessant headlines lamenting the dearth of skilled workers, but something is amiss in the powerhouse U.S. services sector, which accounts for some 80 percent of the economy.

The headline figures say very little. The Institute for Supply Management’s April survey of non-manufacturing industries showed that activity slowed for a third consecutive month, dropping its index to the lowest since December. Still, at 56.8 the index is materially higher than the 50 mark that is the dividing line between expansion and contraction. Moreover, all 18 industries surveyed by ISM saw growth last month.

By the looks of things, the service sector is in fine shape. As the ISM itself said, “Overall the respondents remain positive about business conditions.” But there was this caveat: “The respondents have expressed concern regarding the uncertainty about tariffs and the effect on the cost of goods.”

The April jobs report from the ADP Research Institute was noteworthy in that the services sector created the fewest jobs since November. And the U.S. nonfarm payrolls data show service sector job growth has averaged just 135,000 over the past six months, a marked slowdown from 2016’s monthly average of 170,000. As for what the future holds, take a look at the Challenger, Gray & Christmas monthly survey data. It showed that in the first four months of this year, employers announced 176,460 job cuts, an 8.4 percent increase from the 162,803 reported in the same period of 2017.

It would be easy enough to assign all of the blame to the retail sector. There is ample evidence that the bloodshed in this sector continues. Some 64,370 job cuts have been announced this year thus far, a 28 percent jump over 2017. According to Challenger’s tracking, 2,460 retail stores have closed this year on top of the 9,241 that shuttered in 2017. But the story is broader than one sector. Health Care/Products job cuts total 17,450 this year, up from 11,269 over the same period last year. It’s key to note that the trend in this sector has accelerated in recent months. Meanwhile, the service sector announced 14,665 cuts, up from 8,263 last year.

John Challenger, the firm’s chief executive officer, has been a flag bearer of the positive labor market trends in the current recovery, so it was notable that he warned “an increase in large-scale job cut announcements could be on the horizon.”

Challenger has been at the helm of his firm for two decades, so it likely hasn’t been lost on him that the past six months have seen $1.53 trillion in announced mergers and acquisitions, which would make 2018 a record year for deals if they are all completed and top the previous high set in 2015. Challenger has seen this M&A film before and knows how it ends. After deals close, “synergies” are extracted, which is a polite way of saying layoffs happen. While the number of firms in the Challenger survey citing M&A as the reason they cut jobs pales in comparison to closings, M&A as the culprit is nevertheless at a 12-month high.

With M&A as a fresh driver, the jobs bifurcation that’s emerged between the goods-producing and services sector is likely to persist until supply chains have been replenished and the inventory rebuilding concluded. With the threat of tariffs, though, it’s conceivable that the gap widens.

It has always been the case that goods-producing workers collect a fatter paycheck vis-à-vis their services-providing counterparts. The downside, of course, is the secular decline in manufacturing which has decimated the ranks of manufacturing employees. It is still remarkable that average weekly earnings for the goods-producing sector are running at 4.7 percent over last year versus those of the services sector, which are up by only 2.3 percent.

Goods-producing and Service-Providing Sector
Wages No Longer Trending Together

The wage gap would be even more pronounced if not for the record number of hours factory workers are clocking. Service-sector workers have seen the opposite, a veritable flat-lining in their workweek.

Goods-producing workweek soars while Service-Sector
Workweek Flatlines

DiMartino Booth 5.5.goods.services

While no doubt a welcome development for goods-producing workers, there is a real risk that this trend will burn itself out. Second-quarter gross domestic product could well be the peak for the current cycle if there is no follow-through in demand following the panic buying ahead of potential tariff impositions, evidence of which is apparent in the Challenger data. Companies announced plans to hire more than 350,000 employees in the first four months of 2017, far above the 210,000 in actual hires.

More than any other data, the need to hire workers speaks to demand building in the economy’s pipeline, or lack thereof. The message may continue to be lost in the noise, but it’s increasingly likely that the recent weakness in the services sector is anything but an aberration.

 

 

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DiMartino Booth, Money Strong, Fed Up, NY Fed, MIGRATION OF MEDALLIONS.MOVE

The Migration of the Medallions — Leadership, Leniency and Leaks at the NY Fed

Inflation is up, and the yield curve is flattening? What gives? In bond market nomenclature, much of which is indecipherable by the design of craft fixed income traders, what we are witnessing today is a bull flattening. Long maturity Treasury yields are falling at a faster pace than short rate Treasury yields are decreasing.

The short rates rising reflects the March core CPI, which excludes those two essentials of food and energy, hitting 2.1%, the highest in 13 months. At 2.4%, the headline CPI is also at a 13-month high. It would seem consumer prices are finally beginning to echo what we’ve known on the input side, that is producer prices rising at the fastest pace in nearly six years, not months.

As for the pressure on the long end of the curve, words such as “missiles” and “strike” when combined tend to make markets a bit edgy. The clear winners are investors who have been waiting for such a development to hammer home the validity of their owning oil. Refer back to that headline CPI, however, as relentlessly rising gasoline prices will do little to assuage drivers and policymakers.

Is this Syria business the real deal? The crafty analysts at Political Alpha, one of the Street’s preeminent political intelligence outfits, certainly seem to think so. “The main issue under debate is that last year’s strike didn’t deter Assad from using chemical weapons. The conclusion is that a bigger strike is necessary.” That emphasis is theirs, not mine.

So, the Administration is serious even as the GOP’s leadership ranks continue to disperse. Nervousness is thus justified.

In the other corner of the market ring is the happy crew, those who are elated at Chinese President Xi’s sweet nothings. The risk, as has been the case since Xi took office, is that Xi’s words are closer to being nothing at all.

According to the China Beige Book, trade tensions aren’t going anywhere. “Markets have rallied several times over the past few weeks on the idea that Presidents Trump and Xi can quickly come to a trade deal. The logic: ‘It makes too much sense not to.’ We disagree, possibly over the short term and certainly over the long term. Media and business hysteria over the tariff list aside, going after China is perceived as still popular by the White House and both sides of the congressional aisle.” Again, the emphasis is theirs.

The market’s relative euphoria could just be a simple, technical matter of short covering as those betting on a negative outcome get squeezed by happy headlines.

Of exceedingly more importance is the upcoming earnings season. Traders are betting on companies continuing their streak of under-promising and over-delivering on the bottom line. Banks may be the exception and get things off to a swimming start but be careful from that point on.

As my great friend, Dr. Gates warns, persistence cannot be discounted. To wit, input costs have been rising at a most persistent rate. Headline PPI final demand grew at a 0.3% rate in March – it’s been higher for six of the last eight months, a streak not seen since the eight months ended July 2011. Perhaps more tellingly, the measure favored by the Federal Reserve, that is core PCE, has risen in five of the last six months. The last time we’ve seen such persistence: the six months ended March 2008.

Fed Chair Jay Powell and his recently anointed second in command, John Williams, have their work cut out for them. Come June, Williams will rise to the position of Vice Chair of the FOMC, permanent vote and all, in his capacity as New York Fed President. Williams comes to the position with deep experience on the economics front but precious little as the financial markets go. In a perfect world, the duo will have everything from the economy to financial stability to regulation of the banking system covered.

The hope is that Williams’ work ethic and capacity to learn will offset the formidable challenge his new position presents. For more on this, please enjoy this week’s installment, The Migration of the Medallions: Leadership, Leniency & Leaks at the NY Fed.

Before signing off, I would like to share with you a noble endeavor undertaken by my good friend, Josh Frankel. Last November, Rich Yamarone passed away suddenly at the age of 55, much, much too young. Rich had become an institution in and of himself as senior economist at Bloomberg. Everyone he called friend he loved and made laugh, and we were all better for knowing him. Josh has blessed Rich’s memory by spearheading the creation of the Richard A. Yamarone Memorial Scholarship in Economics at Brooklyn College. Please join me in contributing via the link below.

Richard A. Yamarone Memorial Scholarship in Economics at Brooklyn College

NOTE:  Donors should enter “Richard A. Yamarone Memorial Scholarship” in the comments box provided to ensure that their gift will be allocated to the Yamarone Scholarship. 

Hoping someone has blessed your life as Rich blessed mine, and wishing you well,

Danielle
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DiMartino Booth, Federal Reserve, Jay Powell

POWELL ON POWELL — A Deep Dive into 2012’s FOMC Transcripts

It’s official…for a second time around. At least that’s what the CNBC headline said: Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Wins Approval (Again) of Senate Banking Committee. It would seem the esteemed Committee is challenged by expiration dates, which could give one pause as it pertains to dairy products and such. Though the members voted on December 5th to approve Powell’s nomination, it would seem the expiry date came and went on December 31st.

For the record, Senator Elizabeth Warren was the only committee member to vote against Powell’s nomination…again. The full Senate now has all of 16 days to confirm Powell before Janet Yellen’s term ends on February 3rd.

At the risk of stating the obvious, time could be of the essence. While it’s true that the ink has yet to dry on the acclamatory, congratulatory and laudatory approbations of the Yellen mini-era, we might not want to risk even one day without a warm body chairing the Federal Reserve Board.

According to one veteran hedge fund manager, today resembles neither 1987 or 1999. What does this say of what’s to come, of the markets’ fate? One thing is for certain. If Jay Powell is confirmed, he’s going to find out.

To say that a den of cynics lays in wait, hoping for Powell’s failure is kind. Consider the very first Twitter reply to the posting of a Business Insider article about the world’s nine wealthiest men having a combined net worth that exceeds that of the poorest four billion.

I tweeted out the following: “I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face. Inequality will morph from a socioeconomic to a macroeconomic issue and boomerang back with a vengeance. And I’m a proud card-carrying capitalist if there ever was one.”

The first reply: “End the Fed and all other Central Banks.”

The public, it would seem, is taking no prisoners. The gig is up that trillions upon trillions of dollars of quantitative easing have accomplished one thing – they’ve made the rich richer. Let’s be clear, that’s a gross oversimplification. But the Pavlovian and vitriolic reaction to any mention of inequality nevertheless induces howls from the masses who lay the blame for the yawning gap that’s opened up between the proverbial have’s and have not’s squarely at central bankers’ doorsteps.

Meanwhile, despite my own fears that the cryptocurrency craze could infect the FANG stocks if Bitcoin did something like halve, all seems to be fine in the major indices. In fact, as Bleakley Advisory Group’s Peter Boockvar points out, if we manage another three days without a 5% correction in the S&P 500, history will have been made, as in the longest winning streak of all time. Is it any wonder the Goldman Sachs Financial Conditions Index is at the lowest since 2000?

And yet, the long end of the yield curve seems incapable of responding with anything more than a Heisman to the insistent laundry list of reasons long-maturity Treasury yields should be rising – climbing deficits leading to greater supply, razor-thin risk premiums, producer prices bubbling over. At last check, the 10-year yield registered 2.56% to the 2-year’s 2.04%. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that 52-basis-point differential is within a hair of the flattest curve we’ve seen for the better part of a decade.

Add them up – a grassroots campaign calling for your failure, risky assets gone wild, a bond market that’s double-daring you to hike into building inflationary pressures, oh, and, just for good measure – no historic precedent. How would you like to be Jay Powell?

The good news is that Powell understands every single aspect of what’s to come. His CV suggested as much, but it wasn’t until I dove into the freshly-released 2012 FOMC transcripts that I was sure. Especially after reading his words, I reiterate my contention that Powell is no clone of any of his predecessors. With that, I invite you to enjoy the fruits of my painstaking parsing of the transcripts in this week’s newsletter, POWELL ON POWELL: A Deep Dive into 2012’s FOMC Transcripts.

A personal aside. I was able to catch up with my best friends from New York over the long weekend in beautiful La Jolla. It had been over three years. Let’s just say that was too long a stretch. Sometimes Facetime just doesn’t cut it. Do yourself a favor before the new year sweeps you away, and schedule a time to catch up face-to-face. You’ll thank me for it.

Hoping you too enjoyed your long weekend and wishing you well,

Danielle

 

 

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ICYMI – please enjoy the best in class – 2017’s Money Strong Top 10.

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Danielle DiMartino Booth, TOPTEN2017

Money Strong Top Ten 2017 — Make That Top 11 #NeverForget

Money Strong Top 10 — 2017

Make That Top 11 #NeverForget

Many of us have just sung the most popular song in the world, Happy Birthday, albeit it in varying forms, dialects and venues. Color me sentimental, but Stille Nacht, or Silent Night to you and me, stirs the spirit and celebrates Jesus’ birthday as no other. I even have a favorite line from the Austrian poem cum smash hit hymn Franz Xaver Gruber wrote in 1818 – “With Dawn of Redeeming Grace.” In a world tragically bereft of grace, regardless of your religion, what could possibly best rising with the sun to find grace itself redeemed?

With that happy and hopeful thought in mind, it is time we look forward by looking back, which we achieve by singing the world’s second most popular tune, Auld Lang Syne. In 1788, Robert Burns sent the song to the Scots Musical Museum with the disclaimer that he was merely recording what he knew to be an ancient song. In exchange for being the first to put pen to paper, Burns is often credited as its author. If nothing else, he deserves props for taking the initiative that resulted in the introduction of the song and its translation into countless languages worldwide.

Auld Lang Syne is tough to translate but the song’s essence defines simplicity – we must look back at the year’s events to honor all of those we hold dear. Readers of Money Strong certainly qualify. The inspiration, feedback – both kind and constructive, and encouragement give me the courage to write to my best ability week in and week out. As we ponder what 2018 holds, tradition dictates that I share with you the newsletters from the prior year that have resonated the most with none other than you.

With ado, I add that #11, Angels Manning Heaven’s Trading Floor, was for a third year running the most read weekly newsletter. I cannot express enough pride in sharing that with you. I am also linking my favorite version of Auld Lang Syne, sung in haunting beauty by Mairi Campbell and featured in this video clip from Sex and the City, a show that captures my years in New York, years on which I often look back with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. With that, I give you 2017’s Money Strong Top 10 List.

 

1.  Destination Reformation — The Dawn of a New Era in Central Banking

Combine contraband coffee, paralytic guilt and a gift for translating Greek and you too can change the world. Such was the case with a young, deeply devout Catholic by the name of Martin Luther in the year 1516.

A decade after he traded academia for the priesthood, Luther found himself disturbed by the quid pro quo nature of Catholicism. Sin expunged via penance in increasingly pecuniary form struck Luther as graceless at best. A field trip to Rome only served to dial up his unease as the ornateness on vivid display communicated dishonesty and even vice. That this epiphany coincided with the first trickles of coffee into Germany was fitting given what was to come.

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2.  The Labor Market: The End of the Innocence?

One of the first of life’s lessons we all learned is that we need not rush life; it will do that for us and in the end against our will. The inspiration for this wisdom could well have sprung from Ecclesiastes wherein we read these peaceful words: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Co-writers Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby embraced the spirit of this message as the 1980s were coming to a close. You must agree 1989’s The End of the Innocence, that haunting and mournful ballad, was just the coda needed to move on to the last decade of the last century.

“Let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye,” the song asks of the listener who can’t help themselves but to listen.

Many veteran investors, those who don’t need to be reminded about the Reagan era because they were there, may be feeling a bit more wistful as they peer over the horizon. They have lived through extraordinary economic times and maybe even recall the early 1970s, the last time initial jobless claims were at their current historically low levels. They know, in other words, this can’t go on forever, that we are nearing the end of our own innocence.

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ATLAS STUMBLES Inequality and Macroeconomics at a Crossroads, DiMartino Booth, Federal Reserve, Money Strong
3.  Atlas Stumbles — Inequality and Macroeconomics at a Crossroads

 

“If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” 

“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not.” 

“I like to deal with somebody who has no illusions about getting favors.”

Red-blooded Americans read these lines and, if in polite company, resist the urge to beat their chests. These mantras say all that need be said of the virtues of honesty, integrity, productivity, grit, independence, pride and liberty itself. Accurately attribute the quotes to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, however, and some pause for a moment of reticence, gently reminded of the need to be politically correct.

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DiMartino Booth, Big Boys, CRE, Money Strong, Fed Up

4.  The Big Boys of Summer

Do you feel it in the air? Is summer out of reach? Many of us came of age, or thought we did, the first time we heard Don Henley’s mega-hit The Boys of Summer, released in October 1984. But can a song be reincarnated to mean even more? Can one brush with destiny change everything? This week more than any other, it’s right and true to look back and answer that question in the affirmative.

For those of us in New York 16 years ago, September 12th and 13th stretched on for many more than the 24 hours the clock conveyed. It wasn’t until the early morning hours of the 14th, when Dick Grasso announced the New York Stock Exchange would remain closed through the weekend, that many of us were released, on many levels. Walking the beach that weekend, looking for signs in the sand, Henley’s mournful song stopped me in my tracks. “Those days are gone forever” forever took on new meaning.

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The Smell of Dry Paint in the Morning, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong LLC

5.   The Smell of Dry Paint in the Morning

Irish Playwright Oscar Wilde defied Aristotle’s memorable mimesis: Art imitates Life. In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, Wilde opined that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Jackson Pollock, the American painter, aesthetically rejected both philosophies as facile. We are left to ponder the genius of his work, which in hindsight, leaves no doubt that Art intimidated Life.

Engulfed in the flames of depression and the demons it awakened, Pollock’s work is often assumed to have peaked in 1950. The multihued vibrancy of his earlier abstract masterpieces descends into black and white, symbolically heralding his violent death in 1956 at the tender age of 44. Or does it? Look closer the next time you visit The Art Institute of Chicago. Greyed Rainbow, his mammoth 1953 tour de force, will at once arrest and hypnotize you. As you struggle to tear your eyes from it, you’ll ask yourself what the critics could have been thinking, to have drawn such premature conclusions as to his peak. Such is the pained beauty of the work. Rather than feign containment, the paint looks as if it will burst the frames’ binding. And the color is there for the taking, if you have the patience to slow your minds’ eye and see what’s staring back at you.

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Investing Now & Then: A Panoply of Parallels, DiMartino Booth, Money Strong, Fed Up
6.  Investing Now & Then: A Panoply of Parallels

So much for “ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggedy beasties” having a monopoly on “things that go bump in the night.”  No longer is this classification reserved for things that taunt, tantalize and toy with our terrors as that traditional Scottish poem first invaded our minds. Earlier this summer, some avid astronomers, tasked as they are with mapping out the infinitely capacious celestials, literally stumbled upon a distinctly different sort of bump in the night. A mysterious ‘cold spot’ sighted telescopically might actually be a bruise of sorts, “the remnant of a collision between our universe and another ‘bubble’ universe during an earlier inflationary phase.”

Such a discovery would strip the ‘uni’ right out of universe landing us smack dab in a ‘multiverse’ in which all conceivable outcomes are playing out at once in a layered rather than singular reality. In the event this panoply of parallel possibilities has left your brain in a painful pretzel, ponder not another moment. The jury is in and the verdict is parallel universes in quantum mechanics and the cosmos alike are unanimously unproven.

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The Buford T. Justice Job Market, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong, Fed Up

7.  The Buford T. Justice Job Market

Never in the history of filmmaking has artistic license paid off so handsomely.Of course, comic legend Jackie Gleason was no schlep in the world of thespians. Odds were high he would deliver a handsome return on stuntman cum director Hal Needham’s investment. And while it’s no secret there would have been no directorial debut for Needham had his close friend Burt Reynolds not agreed to be in the film, it was Gleason’s improvisation that made the Smokey and the Bandit the stuff of legends.

Though Gleason’s character’s name screams ‘surreal,’ the stranger than fiction fact is that Reynolds’ father was the real life Chief of Police in Jupiter, Florida who just so happened to know a Florida patrolman by the name of Buford T. Justice. The treasure trove of quotes from the film’s tenacious Texas Sherriff Buford T. Justice, who so tirelessly pursues the Bandit in heedless abandon over state lines, elicited nothing short of laugh-out-loud elation from anyone and everyone who has ever feasted on the 1977 runaway hit (it was the year’s second-highest grossing film after Star Wars).

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Economy, Pensions, DiMartino Booth, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong LLC, Fed Up: An Insider's Guide to why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America,

8.  Retirement in America: The Rise of the Velvet Rope

Before there was the One Percent, there was the velvet rope at Studio 54. Gaining entry to the divine disco, with its adherence to a strict formula, was just as exclusionary. This from Mark Fleischman, the Manhattan haunt’s second owner in a memoir released to mark the 40th anniversary of the club’s opening:  “A movie star could bring unlimited guests, a prince or princess could invite five or six guests, counts and countesses four, most other VIPs three, and so on.”

Andy Warhol called it the, “dictatorship at the door.” Brigid Berlin, one of Warhol’s Factory workers and guests, once described to Vanity Fair how she, “loved getting out of a cab and seeing those long lines of people who couldn’t get in.” If beauty alone could sway the dandy doorman, famed for flaunting his fur, a different kind of cordon awaited you once you set foot inside the cavernous strobe-lit mecca, that is a screen hung across the dance floor to separate the chosen from the common. The scrim summarily dropped at midnight, but not a minute before, affording elites ample opportunity to make their escape to the VIP floors above.

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The Art of Trade Warfare, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong LLC

9.  The Art of Trade Warfare

For a moral compass, many look to the Bible. For political directives, Machiavelli’s succinct and direct The Prince. But for matters of war, the Chinese have a lock; they’ve literally raised the wisdom guiding generals engaged in battle to an art form. Here is a but a sampling from the Top 500 List of quotes from Sun Tzu’s fifth century masterpiece, The Art of War:

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

“The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities… It is best to win without fighting.”

“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

“All warfare is based on deception.”

Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

The essence of the last two quotes is what has many market watchers on tenterhooks as Inauguration Day and the Chinese yuan sporting a seven-handle fast approach. For those of you following the Vegas odds, January 20th is sure to mark both Trump’s taking office and the yuan falling to 7-something, as if they’re somehow in simpatico and synched at the hip.

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Danielle DiMartino Booth, Central Bankers, Money Strong LLC, Federal Reserve, Debt, Trojan Horse, Fed Up,

10. Beware of Central Bankers Bearing Gifts

Ulysses’s reputation preceded him.

 ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness?

Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think

any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?

Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,

or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls,

or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,

or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse.

Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’

Virgil, The Aeneid Book II

So warned Laocoön to no avail, and that was with Cassandra’s corroboration. As reward for his prescient prudence, the Trojan priest and his twin sons were crushed to death by two sea serpents. It would seem the Greeks had no intention of relinquishing hold of ancient Anatolia, a critical continental crossroad where Europe and Asia’s borders meet, a natural target for conquering civilizations.

Thankfully, history has made history of menacing machinations crafted with the aim of undermining the opposition. If only… History is rife with exceptions starting with most politicians on Planet Earth and more recently, central bankers.

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9/11, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong, Fed Up

11.  Angels Manning Heaven’s Trading Floors

He could have passed for Yul Brynner’s twin if it wasn’t for those eyes. He was 57 years old, 6’2” tall, tan and handsome with a shining bald head. But his eyes, those elfish eyes dared those around him to partake of anything but his infectious happiness. It was those eyes I will never forget.

It was Labor Day weekend, 2001. One of my best friend’s college buddies from UCLA was in town and his uncle had a boat. So we had the good fortune to be invited to take a cruise around Shelter Island on that long holiday weekend 16 years ago. I was 30 years old at the time and I can tell you there was no “boat” about this Yul Brynner look-a-like’s 130-foot yacht. The crystal champagne flutes, the hot tub on the deck, the full crew – none of these accoutrements faintly resembled the boats I’d been on as a middle class girl spending summers off Connecticut’s stretch of Long Island Sound. The thing is, our friend’s uncle was none other than Herman Sandler, the renowned investment banker and co-founder of Sandler O’Neill.

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FINDING NEOM, DiMartino booth

Finding Neom: The Future of Black Gold

Sometimes you have to lose nearly everything to focus your attention on what’s most important, even if you’re a clownfish.

But then it’s not every day a barracuda massacres your entire family, save one damaged egg. Lucky for all us moviegoers, it was Nemo who eagerly emerged from that egg, the big screen’s most beloved orange-striped fish, damaged right fin and all. Not surprisingly, such trauma drove Nemo’s father to helicopter parenting, to the extent such proclivities are possible…underwater…on the Great Barrier Reef. On the other hand, anything is conceivable in animated features. Such was the case nearly 15 years ago with Disney’s release of Finding Nemo.

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DiMartino Booth, China, Policy, Economy

Dim Sums: A Fork in the Silk Road

Two centuries before Christ and millennia before truck stops, there was Dim Sum along the Silk Road. What, after all, could possibly best tea houses with nibbles to break the monotony of a 4,000-mile journey from Xi’an to the Mediterranean and back?

The tradition of Dim Sum is rooted in the revelation that drinking tea helps the digestion process, which prompted the introduction of bite-sized dishes to stand as accompaniments. It’s easy enough to envision the warm feeling those beckoning tea house silhouettes over the horizon elicited, the same sensation stimulated by the Golden Arches today.

 

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THREEofTHREE, Danielle DiMartino booth, Money Strong

Pricing in Perfection: Three out of Three?

We know two out of three ain’t bad. Does that render three out of three perfection itself? The history of the number three certainly suggests that to be the case. Little did we know that three is the first number bequeathed ‘all-encompassing’ status.

True Triads come in many familiar forms including the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the beginning, middle and the end; the heaven, earth and waters; the body, soul and spirit; and last but certainly not least — life, liberty and happiness.

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Economy, Pensions, DiMartino Booth, Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong LLC, Fed Up: An Insider's Guide to why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America,

Retirement in America: The Rise of the Velvet Rope

Before there was the One Percent, there was the velvet rope at Studio 54.

Gaining entry to the divine disco, with its adherence to a strict formula, was just as exclusionary. This from Mark Fleischman, the Manhattan haunt’s second owner in a memoir released to mark the 40th anniversary of the club’s opening:  “A movie star could bring unlimited guests, a prince or princess could invite five or six guests, counts and countesses four, most other VIPs three, and so on.”

Andy Warhol called it the, “dictatorship at the door.” Brigid Berlin, one of Warhol’s Factory workers and guests, once described to Vanity Fair how she, “loved getting out of a cab and seeing those long lines of people who couldn’t get in.” If beauty alone could sway the dandy doorman, famed for flaunting his fur, a different kind of cordon awaited you once you set foot inside the cavernous strobe-lit mecca, that is a screen hung across the dance floor to separate the chosen from the common. The scrim summarily dropped at midnight, but not a minute before, affording elites ample opportunity to make their escape to the VIP floors above.

The annals of the truly desperate include one reckless raver who rappelled into Studio 54’s courtyard, breaking his neck in the process. But at least he eventually walked away. A less fortunate celebrity seeker perished in one of the club’s air vents. Upon discovering his body, there was no surprise he was in black tie. Studio 54’s velvet rope has long since fallen. Unfortunately, in its place, another has risen.

So inescapable are the headlines pronouncing inequality, we’ve all but grown impervious. But what of the stories of Tomorrowland? What will come to pass in the coming years as demographics and valuations collide?

Last month, Deutsche Bank broke Wall Street’s version of The Ten Commandments, all of them at once, in a comprehensive report titled “The Next Financial Crisis.” In case you’ve been on sabbatical or on the buy side so long you’ve forgotten, the First Commandment is, Markets Always Rise. The nine that follow are a variation on why and how to convey to your clients that the music is still playing, even if you’ve long since sat down.

Though there were many condemning graphs related to the increased frequency of booms and busts, government balance sheets and central bankers gone wild, it was the one you see here that was the most incriminatory in its simplicity.

The chart dates back to 1800 and depicts an equal weighted index of 15 developed markets’ government bond and equity markets. Nominal yields relative to history and share prices relative to nominal GDP are used to gauge historic deviations. The 100 percent reading you see means that in the aggregate, using an equally weighted bond/stock portfolio, bond yields have never been this low and equity prices this high.

You could quibble that stocks are not as richly valued as they were in 2000. But that argument runs counter to the fact that thanks to the bond-sale-proceed/share-buyback feedback mechanism, the symbiotic relationship between stocks and bonds has never been so tight. You could also venture that the central-bank, spoon-fed trend higher in earnings of the past decade will remain intact, that this represents, in the Deutsche analysts’ words, “a new paradigm.” But such declarations do tend to come back to haunt. So why go there?

Instead, marry the inescapable reality of the Deutsche graph to the other fact of life, the $400 trillion shortfall in retirement savings that will pile up over the next 30 years. Perhaps it’s easier to get your arms around the figure if you look at it as a multiple of the global economy. By that metric, underfunding will equate to more than five times global GDP.

The recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report attributed the disaster in the works to longer lifespans and disappointing investment returns. But it’s the what’s to come that is more telling. It’s no secret that employers have been shifting away from traditional pensions to 401(k)s, IRAs and the like over the past several generations. It was somewhat startling, though, to learn that these self-directed plans now comprise more than half of all global retirement assets.

Zeroing in on the United States, we are racking up an additional $3 trillion a year in aggregate retirement underfunding. By 2050, the nation’s retiree assets should be under water by $100 trillion.

It’s safe to say I’ve written reams on the societal ramifications of public pension underfunding in the United States. In far too many cases, it will be mathematically impossible for the funding gaps to be rectified before time closes in and cash flows run blood red. The judiciaries will go toe to toe with the governing authorities who will in turn battle the unions. Around and around the interested parties will go, appearing to man the front lines of the retirement crisis. As is so often the case with appearances, these too will deceive.

While the fiscal unraveling of states and municipalities promises to pack punchy headlines, the World Economic Forum report nevertheless shifts the discussion 180 degrees.

As of the middle of this year, total U.S. retirement assets totaled $26.6 trillion. That’s not all good and well, hence the shortfall cited above. Still, it’s the breakdown of those assets that’s critical. As of the end of June, IRAs held $8.4 trillion followed by $7.5 trillion in defined contribution plans, mostly 401(k)s. Public pensions came in at $5.7 trillion while their dying-breed private pension counterparts rounded out at $3.0 trillion. Annuities complete the picture at $2.1 trillion (who knew?)

Though naïve to do so, remove IRAs from the calculus for the moment given the voluntary nature of these accounts and what that implies, albeit superficially. For the sake of argument, focus solely on 401(k)s and public pensions. Now, envision a typical public pensioner and a typical 401(k)-plan worker. You won’t be alone if similar pictures of hard-working folks came to mind.

The question is, how do their fates differ in Tomorrowland, after markets have begun to revert to the mean? (A full reversion to the mean is more than most can stomach, hence the softer suggestion.)

The fact is 401(k) holders suffer double damages vs. public pensioners, at least initially. While both individual investors’ and pensions’ portfolios take a beating, the pensioner won’t feel it due to their income being guaranteed by law. Heck, the pension fund manager won’t lose too much sleep knowing where there’s a loss, there’s a way…to raise taxes, that is.

That’s where 401(k) investors’ second helping of lumps enters the picture in the form of higher state or municipal taxes. Some lucky residents might see everything save their federal taxes rise if they’re fortunate enough to live in windswept areas where spineless politicians were corrupted by even more corrupt interested parties who negotiated pensions that could never be repaid. If push comes to shove and the increased taxes still don’t cover the pension bill, public services can be slashed.

Of course, public pensioners will also feel the brunt of cost of living increases, if they’ve not relocated to a town with faster EMS response times and more frequent trash pickups. But then, in the public sector many are able to retire at young enough ages to secure second careers and with them, supplemental sources of income.

Recall, though, that the retirement assets of the protected pensioners ($5.7T) are a pittance of those of the unprotected, especially if you factor back in those IRA assets to say nothing of at-risk private pensioners, whose benefits are severely cut in the event of bankruptcy ($18.9T).

It’s hard to conceive a blanket acceptance of working men and women bailing out working men and women. But that’s what we’re supposed to believe to be the solution to what is and will continue to ail public pensions, from, by the way, a starting point of record highs in asset prices.

Now might be a good time to add another snippet from that Deutsche Bank report. “Prior to the last decade, the only comparable rise in populism started in the 1920s and culminated in World War II. So although populism has proved unpredictable in recent years, the rise surely increases the risks to the current world order and could set off a financial crisis at some point soon.”

Substitute out ‘populism’ for ‘anger factor’ as it better captures the sensation shared by so many today who believe they’ve been dealt an unfair hand by a dealer on the take. Most who remain among our middle-income earners understand the terms ‘elite’ and ‘establishment.’ As much pride as they still have, they will find a way to revolt at the first whiff of being asked to bank a bailout on their pittance of a living.

The majority of workers may not have the statistics at the ready – that their paltry and at-risk retirement assets are but a third of the country’s financial assets, that the balance sits in the hands of the wealthy. But they do know what it’s like to be frozen out on the other side of society’s velvet rope and they won’t sit back and take it.

In other words, there’s simply no denying that some pensions, especially those of some acutely fiscally enfeebled states, will require federal bailouts in the coming years. As for how that is funded? More taxes yet, of the federal sort, of course. That is the only fathomable answer, which adds a dollop of insult to injury for those whose other taxes had already been rising for years.

Stepping back, you may be asking, why sound the alarm if the worst of the underfunding won’t crest for another three decades? The shortest answer is the sooner pension underfunding is addressed, the lower the probability a financial matter morphs into one that engulfs our society and provides one more reason yet to add parental controls to the evening news.

In the event your capacity for combining nobility, vision and politics is limited, you might deduce that some can-kicking takes place long before any preemptive pension reform is conceived. If you’d like to capitalize on that assurance and at the same time profit from the few states that have put their finances in order, you might want to put in a call to your municipal bond manager (I have several suggestions if you’d prefer).

The directive is simple enough. First, identify the most vulnerable states with the least-funded pensions and the lowest per capita income. The bottom three are Kentucky, Kansas and Mississippi. Next, locate the mirror image, the states with the most funded pensions and the highest per capita income, as in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Washington State. Now, short the weakest and buy the strongest and then sit back and wait for politicians to do their jobs.

As for the here and now, you can toss out any superstitious notions about October being a spooky month for the markets. September is traditionally the nastiest of the year’s bunch and it was a flat-out party in the house. Market history suggests the year will end with a bang.

But it’s much more than pure pattern that should sustain your risk appetite. The past two years, Federal Reserve policymakers have committed to hike in September and delivered in December. What’s followed have been Happy New Years, one after the other. It’s a safe bet most investors will remain in textbook Pavlovian momentum mode and go long into the mid-December Fed meeting.

Besides, fourth-quarter, hurricane-influenced economic data promise to do one thing and only one thing — produce more noise than the punk backlash that followed disco fever. Fundamentals will thus be fuzzy at best.

And finally, corporate bond issuance in the year through September was yet another for the record books, which says something about lenders looking the other way, or better yet, tuning out altogether. Those sales proceeds do tend to find a home and it doesn’t tend to be a bear cave.

So do the hustle, and fight that rational urge to short these irrational markets. Keep on dancing, dancing, dancing in Wall Street circa 2017’s answer to Studio 54 lest you find yourself rejected and subjugated to boogying down at the Crisco Disco.