Freddie Mac Launches "3% Down" Mortgage With No Income Restrictions
ZeroHedge.com Sat, 04/28/2018 - 19:28
It's been a while since the US made a wholesale push to get more cash and income-strapped households into the ever more unaffordable American dream of owning a house, three years to be exact, which is when nationalized housing agency Freddie Mac last rolled out a conventional mortgage that only required a 3% down payment for certain borrowers.
The problem is that what modest requirement the mortgage program had back in 2015, meant that most Americans who needed access would be excluded. The program, which as we described at the time was designed for qualified (that being the key word) low-and moderate-income borrowers - i.e., Millennials - saw limited progress over the last few years, with FHFA Director Mel Watt telling Congress last year that Freddie’s 3% down program (along with a similar one from Fannie Mae) was continuing to grow.
It just wasn't growing fast enough, because while putting 3% down may not have been especially challenging for most Americans, having even the modest income required to go along with it, was.
Freddie Mac announced on Thursday it was about to supercharge its 3% down program and launch a widespread expansion of the offering, when it announced that it is rolling out a new conventional 3% down payment option for qualified first-time homebuyers, - effectively the same as the 2015 program... with one small difference: there would be no geographic restrictions; more importantly there no longer will be any income restrictions.
In other words, whereas many Americans could not qualify for the original 3% down program because, well, they lacked virtually any income, that will no longer be a hindrance and the government will effectively backstop the lack of income as a new wave of 'income-challenged' Americans rushes in to buy houses.
Amusingly, the new program, which is called HomeOne (full brochure below), puts Freddie Mac in direct competition for mortgage business with the Federal Housing Administration, which also only requires 3% down on some mortgages.
Furthermore, according to Freddie Mac, this new offering is not replacing its Home Possible 3% down mortgages. Rather, the program is meant to complement the Home Possible program, which will still be available to low-and moderate-income borrowers.
“Freddie Mac’s HomeOne mortgage is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to support responsible lending, provide sustainable homeownership and improve access to credit,” Danny Gardner, senior vice president of single-family affordable lending and access to credit at Freddie Mac, said in a statement.
It was not quite clear how it is responsible to lend money to households which have saved only enough to put down 3% equity value, oh, and which have no income to even give the false impression their equity stake may grow in the future.
It gets better. As Housing Wire summarizes the terms of HomeOne, Freddie Mac said that the new mortgage is designed for first-time homebuyers, who currently make up nearly half of all home purchases.
According to Freddie Mac, a HomeOne mortgage must be underwritten through its Loan Product Advisor, which makes a complete risk assessment based on several factors as it relates to credit, capacity and collateral.
Additionally, the HomeOne mortgage is offered only for conforming fixed-rate mortgages that are secured by a 1-unit primary residence. And, at least one of the borrowers must be a first-time homebuyer.
There is one potential hurdle: when all the borrowers are first-time homebuyers, at least one borrower must participate in homeownership education in order to qualify for the mortgage.
Yes, one may have no income and still qualify as long as one watches a few videos explaining why having an income is critical to avoid having another housing market crash, or something.
None of that matters however, as the US government is once again clearly more interested in well and truly blowing another housing bubble, where not Countrywide or New Century, but the government itself is issuing NINJA loans.
"The HomeOne mortgage will provide our customers the flexibility they need to help borrowers anywhere in the country achieve the milestone of homeownership and overcome the common down payment resource hurdle,” Gardner continued. “HomeOne is a great solution for aspiring homebuyers to grab that first rung of the property ladder and enjoy the financial and social benefits of participating in homeownership.”
What was unsaid is that now that rates just happen to be rising, making homes even more unaffordable and resetting ARM mortgages higher, the generously funded by taxpayers HomeOne also assures another housing crisis, and even more GSEs/Fredde/FHA bailouts in the near future.
The fun begins on July 29, 2018, when the new HomeOne mortgage will become available.
The Crash Of 1929: "Can It Happen Again?"
ZeroHedge.com Fri, 04/27/2018 - 21:35
Submitted by GnS Economics
In the 4th of February, GnS Economics posted a blog entry detailing the similarities of the current stock market environment with that before the stock market crash in 1987. On February 5th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) experienced the worst daily point decline of its history. Since then, the stock market has recovered, but are we out of the woods?
At the aforementioned entry, we also warned that the situation in the global economy actually resembles more of the time before the Great Depression than that before of the Black Monday in 1987. Worryingly, the same holds for the US equity markets. In fact, almost all of the developments that led to the Great Crash of 1929 are already visible in the US. We may thus be heading towards the worst asset market crash in 90 years.
Prequisites: The ‘Roaring Twenties’
The 1929 crash marked the end of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. The era got its name from consumer and stock market booms driven by the automobile and building sectors. The gold standard and the neutralization of all gold purchases from abroad by the newly created central bank, Federal Reserve or Fed, controlled the consumer price inflation. Due to low inflation, Fed had only limited incentives to intervene on the speculation by increasing the short-term interest rates. The easy credit era was let to persist fueling the boom in the consumer durables, commercial property market, automobile industry and the stock markets.
The tide switched in January 1928. The Fed decided that the boom had gone far enough and started to raise its discount rate and sell its holdings of government securities in effort to stem the speculation. But, rising money market rates made the brokers’ loans viable options for the bank loans because the former were mostly funded by the large balance sheets of corporations. The call loan rates were also clearly higher than the Fed discount rate, which meant that banks were able to borrow cheaply from the Fed and earn a nice margin on loans to investors. The higher interest rates set by Fed thus increased both the bank and non-bank funds available for stock market speculation. Contrary to the aim of the Fed, the financial conditions eased further and the speculation increased. The twenties kept on roaring.
The Great Crash
In 4 December 1928, President Calvin Coolidge had given a reassuring State of the Union speech and 1929 started with positive expectations. The stock market kept rising and the consumer boom continued. It was a common belief that earnings and dividends are growing because of the systematic industrial application of the science together with the development of modern management technologies and business mergers. Still, the first half of 1929 was marked with increasing volatility.
By the summer a dubious mood started to creep. The dividend growth was solid but the economy started to look mature. The first hints about the approaching recession arrived in July 1929 as the index of the industrial production of the Fed diminished. Mixed news and rising interest rates in the US and abroad warned of a looming recession. In September, the stock market started to drift downwards. The fear of a recession started to set in.
On Thursday October 24, after a turbulent week, the prices hovered for all while at the start, but then fell rapidly and the stock ticker started to lag behind. The prices kept falling and the ticker fell further behind. The pace of the sell orders grew at an increasing rate and by eleven o’clock a ferocious selling had gripped the market. A few selected quotations given by the bond ticker showed that the that the current values were far below the now seriously lagging tape. Margin calls started to roll in and many investors were forced to liquidate their stock holdings. The increasing uncertainty made the investors even more scared and by eleven-thirty there was a sheer panic. The frenzy of selling could even be heard outside the New York Stock Exchange, where crowds gathered.
At noon, the reporters learned that several notable bankers had gathered at the office of the J.P. Morgan & Company. At one thirty, the vice-president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Richard Whitney, appeared on the trading floor and started to make large purchases of variety of stocks (starting from the Steel post). This had a clear message: the bankers had stepped in. The effect was imminent. The fear eased and the stocks rallied.
On Friday, the volume of trading was large, but the prices held up. During the weekend, there was a sense of relief. The disaster had been avoided and the actions of the bankers were celebrated. But then came Monday.
On Monday, October 28, the market opened to uneasy tranquility which was quickly broken. The selling started, then accelerated, and by noon the market was in a full panic mode. The bankers gathered again but the savior was never seen on the floor. Heavy selling continued throughout the day, and the market melted down, with the DJIA closing down by almost 13 percentage points for the day. After the close, there was not a word from the bankers or from anyone else, for that matter. During the night, a panic spread through the nation.
On Tuesday, October 29, the selling orders flooded the NYSE in the open. The prices plunged right from the start, feeding the panic. The sell orders from all over the country overwhelmed the ticker and sometimes even the traders. During the day, massive blocks of stocks were sold indicating that the ”big players” (banks, investment funds etc.) were liquidating. During the worst selling periods, there was a countless number of the selling orders but no buyers. This meant that, at times, the markets were in a complete free fall. There was a brief rally before the end of trading but despite this, the ”Black Tuesday” was one of the most brutal days at the NYSE with the DJIA falling by 11 % with heavy volumes. Within a week, DJIA had lost 29 % of its value.
Are we in a time loop?
The crash of 1929 marked the end of a long stock market boom fed by several years of easy credit. Because inflation was low for most of the 1920’s, Fed did not bother to curb the speculation by rising rates and when it did, the rise was too little too late. The signals for an upcoming recession broke the highly over-valued stock market in 1929. Actually, for example the dividends grew even in the last quarter of 1929 but the faith for the future of the market was broken and the investors panicked.
Currently, we are in a situation where, according to several metrics, the stock market is the most over-valued in the history of the NYSE. The central banks, with their orthodox and unorthodox monetary policies, have fed the asset market mania for nine years now but, currently, they are in a tightening cycle. Moreover, the global economy is in a risk of a dramatic slowdown.
This indicates that the main components of the crash of 1929: an over-valued stock market, a central bank tightening cycle (higher interest rates) and a slowing economy are almost all present in the US. We will thus soon know how well the history rhymes.
The historical accounts are based on the “The Great Crash 1929“ by John K. Galbraith, “The stock market boom and crash of 1929 revisited” by Eugene White and on “Lessons from the 1930’s Great Depression” by Nicholas Crafts and Peter Fearon.
Question 1. Mike M: I have approx. 1/3 of my gold stored in a vault in Singapore. What would happen to that if there is an overt confiscation?
Question 2. Rene W: To get protection against bail-in would it be wise to remove let say $10,000.00 or more from your bank account and stuff it under the mattress?
Question 3. Awake1percent: What happens to social security and other entitlements AFTER the reset? Will people start getting their government checks in whatever the new currency is? Do you think these programs could just cease?
Question 4. Annette S: When being used for barter, can you get the same amount of goods for a one-ounce silver round that you could get with a one ounce silver eagle? If so, why would someone pay the extra premium for the eagle?
Question 5. Craig J: why is it that when countries by tons of gold and big gold guys that buy gold by the tonnage for their clients, why doesn’t the price rise dramatically?
Answers, Answers ...
Doug Casey Warns "It's Going To Get Very Unpleasant In The US At Some Point Soon"
ZeroHedge.com Thu, 04/12/2018 - 05:00
Authored by Doug Casey via InternationalMan.com,
You’re likely aware that I’m a libertarian. But I’m actually more than a libertarian. I don’t believe in the right of the State to exist. The reason is that anything that has a monopoly of force is extremely dangerous.
As Mao Tse-tung, lately one of the world’s leading experts on government, said: “The power of the state comes out of a barrel of a gun.”
There are two possible ways for people to relate to each other, either voluntarily or coercively. And the State is pure institutionalized coercion. It’s not just unnecessary, but antithetical, for a civilized society. And that’s increasingly true as technology advances. It was never moral, but at least it was possible, in oxcart days, for bureaucrats to order things around. Today it’s ridiculous.
Everything that needs doing can and will be done by the market, by entrepreneurs who fill the needs of other people for a profit. The State is a dead hand that imposes itself on society.
It’s always been a battle between the individual and the collective. I’m on the side of the individual.
Let me put it this way. Since government is institutionalized coercion—a very dangerous thing—it should do nothing but protect people in its bailiwick from physical coercion.
What does that imply? It implies a police force to protect you from coercion within its boundaries, an army to protect you from coercion from outsiders, and a court system to allow you to adjudicate disputes without resorting to coercion.
I could live happily with a government that did just those things. Unfortunately the US Government is only marginally competent in providing services in those three areas. Instead, it tries to do everything else.
The argument can be made that the largest criminal entity today is not some Colombian cocaine gang, it’s the US Government. And they’re far more dangerous. They have a legal monopoly to do anything they want with you.
Even under the worst circumstances, even if the Mafia controlled the United States, I can’t believe Tony Soprano or Al Capone would try to steal 40% of people’s income from them every year. They couldn’t get away with it. But—perhaps because we’re said to be a democracy—the US Government is able to masquerade as “We the People.” That’s an anachronism, at best. The US has mutated into a domestic multicultural empire. The average person has been propagandized into believing that it’s patriotic to do as he’s told. “We have to obey libraries of regulations, and I’m happy to pay my taxes. It’s the price we pay for civilization.” No, that’s just the opposite of the fact. Those things are a sign that civilization is degrading, that the society is becoming less individually responsible, and has to be held together by force.
It’s all about control. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The type of people that gravitate to government like to control other people. Contrary to what we’re told to think, that’s why you get the worst people—not the best—who want to get into government.
Hark back to the ’60s when they said, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” But let’s take it further: Suppose they gave a tax and nobody paid? Suppose they gave an election and nobody voted? What that would do is delegitimize government. I applaud the fact that only half of Americans vote. If that number dropped to 25%, 10%, then 0%, perhaps everybody would look around and say, “Wait a minute, none of us believe in this evil charade. I don’t like Tweedledee from the left wing of the Demopublican Party any more than I like Tweedledum from its right wing…”
Remember you don’t get the best and the brightest going into government. There are two kinds of people. You’ve got people that like to control physical reality—things. And people that like to control other people. That second group, those who like to lord it over their fellows, are drawn to government and politics.
America was once unique among the world’s countries. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case. The idea is still unique, but the country no longer is. And getting more dangerous as the State grows more powerful. The growth of the State is actually destroying society. Over the last 100 years the State has grown at an exponential rate, and it’s the enemy of the individual. I see no reason why this trend, which has been in motion and accelerating for so long, is going to stop. And certainly no reason why it’s going to reverse.
It’s like a giant snowball that’s been rolling downhill from the top of the mountain. It could have been stopped early in its descent, but now the thing is a behemoth. If you stand in its way you’ll get crushed. It will stop only when it smashes the village at the bottom of the valley.
This makes me quite pessimistic about the future of freedom in the US. As I said, it’s been in a downtrend for many decades. But the events of September 11, 2001, turbocharged the acceleration of the loss of liberty in the US. At some point either foreign or domestic enemies will cause another 9/11, either real or imagined. It’s predictable; that’s what sociopaths, do.
When there is another 9/11—and we will have another one—they’re going to lock down this country like one of their numerous new prisons. I was afraid that the shooting deaths and injuries of several hundred people in Las Vegas on October 1st might be it. But, strangely, the news cycle has driven on, leaving scores of serious unanswered questions in its wake. And about zero public concern.
It’s going to become very unpleasant in the US at some point soon. It seems to me the inevitable is becoming imminent.
Truth and Confidence In Currencies
This article was written for Miles Franklin by Gary Christenson.
In 1967 the Jefferson Airplane sang:
"When the truth is found to be lies,
And all the joy within you dies..."
Restate this for global currencies and it becomes:
When the truth is found to be lies,
Confidence in currencies dies.
WHAT LIES? There have been many. Examples specific to the United States:
a) President Lyndon Johnson: In 1965, after decades of excessive government expenditures which caused rising consumer price inflation and rising gold and silver prices, Johnson removed silver from U.S. coins. He stated,
"If anybody has any idea of hoarding our silver coins, let me say this. Treasury has a lot of silver on hand, and it can be, and it will be used to keep the price of silver in line with its value in our present silver coin. There will be no profit in holding them out of circulation for the value of their silver content."
Our President lied. One hundred dollars purchased 77 ounces of silver in 1965. A decade later $100 purchased 24 ounces of silver. In early 2018 $100 purchases 6 ounces of silver. In 2025 $100 will probably purchase a fraction of an ounce of silver.
b) President Richard Nixon on the gold window and Watergate: In 1971 President Nixon "temporarily" rescinded the agreement to exchange US dollars submitted by foreign governments for gold. He stated,
"Let me lay to rest the bugaboo of what is called devaluation... But if you are among the overwhelming majority of Americans who buy American-made products in America, your dollar will be worth just as much tomorrow as it is today. The effect of this action, in other words, will be to stabilize the dollar."
On Watergate: He stated:
"1. I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate operation.
2. I took no part in, nor was I aware of, any subsequent efforts that may have been made to cover up Watergate."
Our President lied regarding both topics. One thousand dollars purchased 24 ounces of gold in 1971. A decade later $1,000 purchased 2.2 ounces of gold. In early 2018 $1,000 purchases 0.7 ounces of gold.
In 2025 $1,000 will probably purchase less than one-tenth of an ounce of gold.
Devaluation of currencies is necessary in our debt based fiat currency financial system. When leaders are caught lying the populace is more inclined to see corporate and banking control over government policies. This leads to loss of confidence in the nation and its institutions, and accelerates the decline of the currency.
When the truth is found to be lies,
Confidence in currencies dies.
WHAT IS THE POINT?
WE PROTECT OURSELVES BY CHANGING OUR UNDERSTANDING AND OUR ACTIONS!
a) The US dollar has lost approximately 98% of its purchasing power since 1913. Because devaluation and lies are necessary, we should expect a much weaker dollar during the next decade. Gold, silver, diamonds, hard assets, land, and fine art are preferable to unbacked paper currencies, over-valued stocks and low-yielding bonds.
b) Hemmingway: "The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin."
c) Buy silver! If corporate, banking, and military interests dictate presidential policies, does it matter who is President? It matters to those on the receiving end of the government "gravy train."
d) For those not riding the "gravy train," buy silver to protect from devaluation, inflation, corruption and runaway spending.
Our former Presidents taught us to mistrust official pronouncements because they lied about the dollar, gold, silver, health care, sexual indiscretions, unemployment, inflation, and wars.
When the truth is found to be lies,
Confidence in debt-based fiat currencies dies.
After Doubling US Debt In 8 Years, Yellen & Furman Fearmonger "A Debt Crisis Is Coming"
ZeroHedge.com Sun, 04/08/2018 - 22:25
After doubling America's national debt in the eight short years of President Obama's reign - expanding benefits for all, and relying on a Federal Reserve with its knee-high jack boot firmly on the throat of interest-rates, thus supressing any derogatory signal among the every day noise - five former chairs of The White House Council of Economic Affairs turned up their hypocrisy dial to '11' in a stunning op-ed in The Washington Post tonight, warning of a debt crisis looming due to President Trump's deficits...
A debt crisis is coming. But don’t blame entitlements.
Martin Neil Baily, Jason Furman, Alan B. Krueger, Laura D’Andrea Tyson and Janet L. Yellen are all former chairs of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The U.S. unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent, and economic growth could well increase in 2018. Consumer and business confidence is high. What could go wrong?
A group of distinguished economists from the Hoover Institution, a public-policy think tank at Stanford University, identifies a serious problem. The federal budget deficit is on track to exceed $1 trillion next year and get worse over time. Eventually, ever-rising debt and deficits will cause interest rates to rise, and the portion of tax revenue needed to service the growing debt will take an increasing toll on the ability of government to provide for its citizens and to respond to recessions and emergencies.
None of that is in dispute. But the Hoover economists then go wrong by arguing that entitlements are the sole cause of the problem, while the budget-busting tax bill that was passed last year is described as a “good first step.”
Entitlement programs support older Americans and those with low incomes or disabilities. Program costs are growing largely because of the aging of the population. This demographic problem is faced by almost all advanced economies and cannot be solved by a vague call to cut “entitlements” - terminology that dehumanizes the value of these programs to millions of Americans.
The deficit, of course, reflects the gap between spending and revenue. It is dishonest to single out entitlements for blame. The federal budget was in surplus from 1998 through 2001, but large tax cuts and unfunded wars have been huge contributors to our current deficit problem. The primary reason the deficit in coming years will now be higher than had been expected is the reduction in tax revenue from last year’s tax cuts, not an increase in spending. This year, revenue is expected to fall below 17 percent of gross domestic product - the lowest it has been in the past 50 years with the exception of the aftermath of the past two recessions.
All of us have supported corporate tax reform. The statutory tax rate was too high, much higher than in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economies. However, because of deductions and breaks in the tax code, the effective marginal tax rate was similar to the average among competitor economies. The right way to do reform was to follow the model of the bipartisan tax reform of 1986, when rates were lowered while deductions were eliminated.
Instead, the tax cuts passed last year actually added an amount to America’s long-run fiscal challenge that is roughly the same size as the preexisting shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare. The tax cuts are reducing revenue by an average of 1.1 percent of GDP over the next four years. The Hoover authors minimized the cost of the tax cuts by noting that if major provisions are allowed to expire on schedule — certainly an open question, given political realities — they would amount to “only” 0.4 percent of GDP. Even this magnitude exceeds the Medicare Trustees’ projections of a 0.3 percent of GDP shortfall in Medicare hospital insurance over the next 75 years.
Just as entitlements are not the primary cause of the recent jump in the deficit, they also should not be the sole solution. It is important to use the right wording: The main entitlement programs are Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits and Medicaid. These widely popular programs are indeed large and projected to grow as a share of the economy, not because of increased generosity of benefits but because of the aging of the population and the increase in economywide health costs.
There is some room for additional spending reductions in these programs, but not to an extent large enough to solve the long-run debt problem. The Social Security program needs only modest reforms to restore its 75-year solvency, and these should include adjustments in both spending and revenue. Additional revenue is critical because Social Security has become even more vital as fewer and fewer people have defined-benefit pensions. Medicare has been a leader in bending the health-care cost curve. Reforms to payments and reformed benefit structures in Medicare could do more to hold down its future costs.
As we focus on the long-run fiscal situation, our goal should be to put the debt on a declining path as a share of the economy. That will require running smaller deficits in strong economic periods — such as the present — to offset the larger deficits that are needed in recessions to restore demand and avoid deeper crises. Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act turned that economic logic on its head. The economy was already at or close to full employment and did not need a boost. This year’s bipartisan spending agreement contributed further to the ill-timed stimulus. The Federal Reserve will have to act to make sure the economy does not overheat.
Several years ago, there was broad agreement that responding to the looming fiscal challenge required a balanced approach that combined increased revenue with reduced spending. Two bipartisan commissions, Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin, proposed such approaches that called for tax reform to raise revenue as a percent of GDP and judicious spending cuts. Without necessarily agreeing with these specific plans, we believe a balanced approach is the correct one. Start with spending goals based on the priorities of the American people and then set tax policy to realize adequate revenue. The Hoover economists’ advocacy of paying for large tax cuts with entitlement reductions would take the United States in the wrong direction.
* * *
So to sum up - everything was awesome before Trump got here, with unemployment low, interest rates low, inflation low, stocks high, and having added more debt to the serfdom-bearing shoulders of future Americans in the last eight years than since the existence of the nation over 200 years ago... But now that The Fed is blindly hiking rates, normalizing its balance sheet and Washington is continuing down its spend-as-if-there's-no-tomorrow path, suddenly these five disgustingly hypocritical 'economists' decide to cry foul over fiscal largesse... and, of course, right before CBO will dump a bucket of ice cold water over Trump's budget.
Why A Dollar Collapse Is Inevitable
Fri, 04/06/2018 - 23:05
Authored by Alasdair Macleod via GoldMoney.com,
"Naturally, the smooth termination of the gold-exchange standard, the restoration of the gold standard, and supplemental and interim measures that might be called for, in particular with a view to organizing international credit on this new basis, will have to be deliberately agreed upon between countries, in particular those on which there devolves special responsibility by virtue of their economic and financial capabilities."
General Charles de Gaulle, February 1965
We have been here before – twice.
The first time was in the late 1920s, which led to the dollar’s devaluation in 1934. And the second was 1966-68, which led to the collapse of the Bretton Woods System.
Even though gold is now officially excluded from the monetary system, it does not save the dollar from a third collapse and will still be its yardstick.
This article explains why another collapse is due for the dollar. It describes the errors that led to the two previous episodes, and the lessons from them relevant to understanding the position today. And just because gold is no longer officially money, it will not stop the collapse of the dollar, measured in gold, again.
General de Gaulle made himself very unpopular with the international monetary establishment by holding the press conference from which the opening quote was taken. Yet, his prophecy, that the gold exchange standard of Bretton Woods would end in tears unless its shortcomings were addressed by a return to a gold standard, turned out to be correct shortly after. What the establishment did not like was the bald implication that it was wrong, and that the correct thing to do was to reinstate the gold standard. Plus ça change, as he might say if he was still with us.
Those of us who argue the case for a new gold standard, and not some sort of half-way house such as a gold exchange standard to address the obvious failings of the current monetary system, are in a similar position today. The first task is that which faced General de Gaulle and Jacques Rueff, his economic advisor, which is to explain the difference between the two.[i] It is now forty-seven years since all forms of monetary gold were banished by the monetary authorities, and today few people in finance understand its virtues.
Furthermore, in the main, historians educated as Keynesians and monetarists do not understand the economic history of money, let alone the difference between a gold standard and a gold-exchange standard. These similar sounding monetary systems must be defined and the differences between them noted, for anyone to have the slimmest chance of understanding this vital subject, and its relevance to the situation today.
Defining the role of gold
To modern financial commentators, there is little or no significant difference between a gold standard and a gold exchange standard. Keynes’s famous quip, that the gold standard was a barbarous relic, was made in his Tract on Monetary Reform, published in 1923, before the gold exchange standard really got going, yet it is quoted as often as not indiscriminately in the context of the latter.
Yet, they are as different as chalk and cheese. The gold exchange standard evolved in the 1920s as America and Britain went to the aid of European countries, struggling in the wake of the Great War. It allowed the expansion of national currencies under the guise of them being as good as gold. It was not. In modern terms, it was as different as paper gold futures are to the possession of physical gold today.
A gold standard is commodity money, where gold is money, and monetary units are defined as a certain fixed fineness and weight of gold. The monetary authority is obliged by law to exchange without restriction gold against monetary units and vice-versa, and there are no restrictions on the ownership and movement of gold.
Under a gold exchange standard, the only holder of monetary gold is the issuer of the domestic monetary unit as a substitute for gold. The monetary authority undertakes to maintain the relationship between the substitute and gold at a fixed rate. Only money substitutes (bank notes and token coins – gold being the money) circulate in the domestic economy. The monetary authority exchanges all imports of monetary gold and foreign currency into money substitutes for domestic circulation at the fixed gold exchange rate. The monetary authority holds any foreign exchange which is also convertible into gold on a gold exchange standard at a fixed parity, and treats it to all extents and purposes as if it is gold.
The essential difference between a gold standard and a gold exchange standard is that with the latter, the monetary authority has added flexibility to expand the quantity of money substitutes in circulation without having to buy gold. A gold standard may start, for example, with 50% gold and 50% government bonds backing for money units, but all further issues of monetary units will require the monetary authority to purchase gold to fully cover them. This was the monetary regime in Britain and many other countries before the First World War.
As stated above, gold exchange standards evolved after the First World War, in the early 1920s.[ii] It was the taking in of foreign currencies, also on gold exchange standards themselves, and booking them as if they were the equivalent of gold, that allowed central banks to expand the quantity of monetary units domestically. To understand how this operated in practice requires us to work through an example between two countries on gold exchange standards. We will take the entirely hypothetical example of two countries, America and Italy, both of which have monetary gold in their reserves and operate on a gold exchange standard.
America lends Italy dollars by crediting its central bank’s account at the Fed with the dollars loaned. But while ownership has changed to Italy, dollars never leave America. And dollars, when drawn down by the Banca d’Italia are recycled into America’s banking system.
The economic sacrifice to America of lending money to Italy is therefore zero. America has simply created a loan out of its own currency, and in the process increased the quantity of dollars in circulation. And because in practice Italy does not encash dollars for gold, America expects to preserve its gold reserves.
Meanwhile, The Banca d’Italia has expanded its balance sheet by the inclusion of America’s dollar loan to it as a liability, and the dollars themselves as an asset regarded as the equivalent of gold. Because dollars are not permitted to circulate in Italy’s domestic economy, they can be used by Banca d’Italia, either to settle other foreign obligations, or as a gold substitute to back the issue of further lira. Meanwhile, the Banca d’Italia’s dollars are reinvested in US Treasuries, which give a yield. Banca d’Italia has little incentive to exchange its dollars for physical gold, because gold yields nothing and is costs to store.
If Banca d’Italia uses dollars to discharge a foreign obligation with another country, that third party will also end up investing the dollars gained in US Treasuries, assuming it also prefers yielding assets to physical gold. Alternatively, if the dollars are used by the Banca d’Italia to back an increase in the quantity of lira or to subscribe for government debt, the effect in the domestic Italian economy is an inflation of prices.
Therefore, the effect of a gold exchange standard is the opposite of a gold standard. A gold standard puts the requirements for the quantity of money in circulation entirely in the hands of the market, to which the central bank mechanically responds. A gold exchange standard allows a lending central bank to inflate its money supply through inward investment, and a borrowing central bank to inflate its money supply on the presumption the monetary substitutes borrowed to back it are monetary units of gold.
The gold exchange standard in the 1920s
After the First World War, both sterling and dollars were made available under the Dawes Plan of 1924, which provided non-domestic capital for Germany after her hyperinflation. France suffered a currency crisis in July 1926, which was successfully dealt with by the Poincaré government through raising taxes. The Bank of France was then enabled to borrow dollars and sterling and to issue francs and subscribe for government debt.
To summarize, these loans bolstered the balance sheets of the Reichsbank and the Bank of France, which invested the sterling and dollars borrowed in gilts and Treasuries respectively. If instead France and Germany had taken gold under the gold exchange provisions, they would have had an asset with no yield, though France did opt increasingly for some gold towards the end of the decade and beyond – by December 1932 she had accumulated 3,257 tons. So, by lending their monetary units, the creditor nations achieved finance for their own governments, as well as providing capital for foreign central banks. It was seen to be a win-win for all the central banks involved.
The accumulation of dollars in foreign hands from 1922 onwards accompanied and fuelled bank credit expansion in the US. This gave the roaring twenties an inflationary impetus, dramatically reflected in its stock market bubble. However, the increasing quantity of dollars in foreign ownership became an accident waiting to happen. There had been a mild thirteen-month recession from October 1926 to November 1927, after which the stock market boomed. The Fed was compelled to reverse earlier interest rate cuts and increased the discount rate from 3 ½% to 5% by July 1928.
French investors began to repatriate capital en masse, and the Bank of France’s gold reserves rocketed from 711 tons in 1926 to 2,099 tons by 1930.[iii]The gold exchange standard had spectacularly failed, and redemption of dollars for gold, being deflationary, exacerbated the Wall Street Crash. It certainly rhymed with Robert Triffin’s dilemma: the export of dollars into foreign ownership was monetary magic, until it reversed at the first sign of trouble.
The gold exchange standard of Bretton Woods
In 1944, the monetary panjandrums of the day, led by Harry Dexter-White for the US and Lord Keynes for the UK, designed the post-war gold exchange standard of Bretton Woods. No doubt, Dexter-White fully understood the advantage to the US of forcing all countries to accept dollars with a yield, or gold with none. When American payments abroad exceeded receipts, the difference was generally reflected in dollars issued to foreign central banks, kept on deposit in New York, or invested in US Treasuries.
Throughout the ‘fifties, America recorded a surplus on goods and services, which declined as European manufacturing recovered. But other factors, such as investment ab road and the Korean war resulted in an overall balance of payments deficit totaling $21.41bn, the equivalent of 19,024 tons of gold at $35 per ounce. However, US gold reserves declined only 4,457 tons between 1950 and 1960, which tells us that the balance was indeed invested in US bank deposits and US Government notes and bonds.The respective figures for the 1960s were total payment deficits of $32bn, the equivalent of 28,437 tons of gold, and an actual decline in gold reserves of 5,283 tons.
The accelerating increase of foreign ownership of dollars over these two decades meant the world, ex-America, was awash with dollars by the mid-1960s. By the end of that decade, America’s gold reserves had declined from 20,279.3 tons in 1950, two-thirds of the world’s monetary gold, to 10,538.7 tons, 29% of the world’s monetary gold in 1970.
The effect was to remove trade settlement disciplines on net importing nations, and to cause inflation in net exporting nations, the opposite of the disciplines of a pre-WW1 gold standard on global trade. It was this effect that was central to the second Triffin dilemma, whereby dollars became wildly over-valued in gold terms through their excessive issuance.
In the mid-sixties, Washington became increasingly alarmed that foreigners weren’t playing by the assumed rule that they should take dollars and not redeem them for gold. By then, France and Germany between them had increased their gold holdings from 487.1 tons in 1948 to 7,089 tons at the time of de Gaulle’s press conference. General de Gaulle’s press conference, from which this article’s opening quote is taken, had touched some very raw nerves.
It was clear that the dollar, with the overhang of foreign ownership, had become horribly overvalued, and so should have been devalued, perhaps to over $50 or $60 per ounce, for a gold peg to stick. A devaluation of this magnitude might have been sufficient at that time to stem the outflow of gold.
Both Washington and American public opinion were set strongly against any devaluation. Instead, the London gold pool, designed to ensure the major central banks supported the Bretton Woods System, collapsed in 1968, when France withdrew from it. A dollar devaluation to $42.2222 shortly after was simply not enough, and in 1971 President Nixon suspended the Bretton Woods System, and the new regime of floating exchange rates that is still with us to this day began.
The situation today
Following the Nixon shock, official monetary policy towards gold was to ignore it, and to persuade other central banks and financial markets it was irrelevant to the modern monetary system. To this day, the Fed still books the gold note from the Treasury at $42.2222 per ounce, even though the price has risen to over $1300.
We can simplistically value the dollar in terms of gold, which is certainly a valid, perhaps the most valid approach. But to merely conclude that the dollar has collapsed since 1971, while true, side-steps an analysis that points to the risk that even today’s value may still be too high. Furthermore, with the dollar acting as the world’s reserve currency, all other fiat currencies, which are priced with reference to it rather than gold, are to a greater or lesser extent in the same boat.
Taking a cue from our analysis of the workings of cross-border monetary flows, which allows America to have its privilege of foreigners financing its deficits, we can estimate the approximate extent of the accumulated imbalances that could lead to the dollar’s collapse.
We know that the US balance of payments deteriorated from 1992 onwards, though those figures did not include military spending abroad, which has been a significant and unrecorded addition to dollars both in cash circulation outside America, and also to estimates of the balance of payments.[vi] Official balance of payments figures are therefore understated and have been for at least a quarter of a century.
More recently, from September 2008 the Fed began expanding its balance sheet by policies designed to increase commercial bank reserves, as a response to the financial crisis. That August, they were $10.5bn, increased to $67.5bn the following month, and peaked at $2,786.9bn in August 2014, since when there has been a modest decline. From our analysis of the run-ups to the two previous dollar crises, we know we should try to estimate how much of the increase was effectively funded from abroad. Treasury TIC Data gives us a fairly good steer to what extent this has happened. We find that between those dates, (August 2008 – August 4014) foreign ownership of dollars increased by $6,237.7bn, over twice as much as the increase in the Fed’s record of commercial bank reserves.
This is Triffin at its most fast and furious. Since then, foreign ownership of dollars has increased a further $2,142.4bn to a record $18,694.1, even though bank reserves declined by $572bn.[viii] In other words, the accumulation of dollars in foreign hands now stands at over 95% of US GDP.
Another way of looking at it is to assess the market values of US securities held by foreigners and relate that to GDP, though this information is less timely,. This is shown in the following chart.
The build-up of foreign investment in America, in large measure the counterpart of dollar loans to foreigners, has been remarkable. At the time of the dot-com bubble, it had jumped to 35% of GDP, from less than 20% in the nineties and considerably less before. At over 90% of GDP in recent years, there can be no doubt that the next financial event, whether it be derived from a rise in interest rates or a general weakness in the dollar, can be expected to trigger a substantial flight out of the dollar.
The pricing of financial assets, and today’s extraordinarily low interest rates indicate that a flight from the dollar is the last thing expected in financial markets. If they were still alive, de Gaulle and his economic advisor, Jacques Rueff, would be instructing the ECB, as successor to the Bank of France, to dump all dollars for gold immediately. And probably to dump all other foreign fiat currencies for gold as well. However, today, it is likely that other actors will blow the whistle on the dollar, such as the Chinese, and the Russians.
For it is clear that when the over-valuation of the dollar is corrected, the downside of a dollar collapse is far greater than it was in the early-thirties or the early-seventies. All other fiat currencies take their value from the dollar, not gold. So, the destabilizing forces on the dollar, the other unexpected side of Triffin’s dilemma, could take down the whole fiat complex as well.