The currents of the oceans carry warmth to northern latitudes. The jet stream can be ridden by jets carrying travelers to new adventures. In much the same way, money flows around the world in waves which make nearly every aspect of our economic life possible.
That may be coming to a halt soon, however. The climate change that brings us trade wars also shuts down the financial weather systems which move in a predictable bounded chaos. Our ability to predict the economic future, always right in bulk but rarely precise, may be closing down.
The “Panama Papers” were a delight for conspiracy theorists, who have long contended that the global monetary system is fundamentally corrupt and that world leaders are skimming huge amounts of money off the top of it. They are, of course, correct.
But lost in the salacious details of the story has been the real business of Mossack Fonseca, which is moving money out of China. We’ve covered this story before when the official estimates were that half a trillion left China last year alone. That number, it turns out, was off by at least as much again – and possibly much more.
At least a trillion dollars left China last year through a wide variety of creative means. Mossack Fonseca’s offices in Hong Kong handle a third of their total business, moving money around the globe through over 60k shell companies at an incredible pace. How much? That’s the multi-trillion dollar question.
When will the Fed raise interest rates? If you ask investors, the answer is “Not this year”. Bets have been placed on bond futures which imply that the Fed Funds Rate will be no higher than a quarter of a percent at the end of the year – hardly any rise at all.
But if you ask the Fed, it’s going to come soon. Why doesn’t anyone believe them?
Even if most people don’t believe it, the economy is certainly improving for some people. The Federal deficit has declined to $415B, or 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), from a high of over 10% as recently as 2009. This has been fueled by a large increase in tax revenues combined with a drop in spending on unemployment insurance, mortgage assistance, and so on. Our trade deficit with other nations is also dropping rapidly due to lower imports of fuel, and now stands at less than $400B.
That’s good news all around. The only problem is that the US economy is borrowing money or sending it overseas at anywhere near the rate that the world needs it as trade expands. That is putting upward pressure on the US Dollar, meaning that while imports are likely to become cheaper there is little hope that US manufacturing is going to get a break anytime soon – despite remaining one of the big casualties of the depression so far.
While Syria and Ukraine have the world worried about war, a much cooler war continues across the world. This is the one fought not with bullets or missiles, but instead with big wads of cash. The currency war that has swept the globe since 2008 is continuing on many fronts, as we have discussed before.
It’s time for an update. Who is winning the currency war? Right now, the answer appears to be Japan, but China has more than a few tricks it is working on. Europe remains a big loser and the US is pretty much holding even.