The linear thinkers that dominate the mainstream media and the halls of power in Washington D.C. are assessing the series of disasters in Japan without connecting the dots of history. Their ideological desire to convince people that things will go back to normal in short order flies in the face of the facts. It makes me wonder whether these supposed thought leaders lack true intelligence or whether their ideological biases convince them to lie. At the end of the day it comes down to wealth, power and control. If those in power were to tell the truth about the true consequences of demographics, debt, disasters, and devaluation, their subjects would revolt and toss them out. Before the multiple disasters struck Japan last week, the sun was already setting on this empire. The recent tragic events will accelerate that descent.
Japanese Beetle Meet Windshield
Smart financial minds have been expecting a Japanese economic tsunami for the last few years. John Mauldin described Japan's predicament in early 2010:
"I refer to Japan as a bug in search of a windshield. I am not so sure about the timing, however, as the economic and fiscal insanity that is Japan may be able to go on for longer than many think possible. But to me it is not a question of whether there will be a crisis, but when there will be one. This year? 2011? 2012? I doubt Japan makes it to the middle of the decade with a very serious and sad day of reckoning.
The downside to the continuation of running massive deficits is that when the break does come, it will be all the more painful and difficult to deal with as the debt mounts. If there is an upside, it is for the rest of the world to see what can happen to a developed country like Japan when massive deficits are allowed to pile up one after another. It will be a morality play writ large upon the walls, which cannot be dismissed."
Ambrose Pierce-Pritchard expected a 9.0 debt earthquake to strike Japan in 2010:
"Weak sovereigns will buckle. The shocker will be Japan, our Weimar-in-waiting. This is the year when Tokyo finds it can no longer borrow at 1% from a captive bond market, and when it must foot the bill for all those fiscal packages that seemed such a good idea at the time. Every auction of JGBs will be a news event as the public debt punches above 225% of GDP. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii will become as familiar as a rock star.
Once the dam breaks, debt service costs will tear the budget to pieces. The Bank of Japan will pull the emergency lever on QE. The country will flip from deflation to incipient hyperinflation. The yen will fall out of bed, outdoing China's yuan in the beggar-thy-neighbor race to the bottom."
Mr. Pritchard was either wrong or early, depending upon your point of view.
JAPAN INTEREST RATES
Japan can still borrow for 10 years at 1%. Despite the highest government debt as a percentage of GDP on the planet at 225%, Japan has not felt the wrath of the bond vigilantes. Not only did the Yen not fall out of bed, but it soared to a post-war high against the USD last week after the earthquake/tsunami. Investors drove the value of the yen higher, anticipating a huge rebuilding program in Japan. Japanese financial institutions would need to convert foreign assets into yen to pay for damage claims and construction expenses, a process that would strengthen the currency. In anticipation, investors piled into yen, helping drive up its value. Central banks across the globe intervened and weakened the currency, for the time being. When the world comes to its senses, the Yen will weaken on its own.Debt & Demographics
Japan is a one trick pony that just broke two legs and is waiting to be put down. They have experienced a two decade long recession. Their stock market is still 70% below its 1990 peak. They have no natural resources. They allow virtually no immigration. And their population is in a death spiral. The one and only thing they have going for them is their phenomenal ability to manufacture high quality products and export them to the rest of the world. The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan severely damaged their just in time manufacturing machine. A surging yen would destroy their export machine by making their products more expensive. Hundreds of high tech Toyota, Honda, and Sony factories are shut. Four hundred miles of ports and harbors have been wiped out. There are rolling blackouts, with one million households without electricity. Over 500,000 people are still homeless.
The short-term impact of this disaster will push Japan into recession. The rebuilding efforts over the coming years will create a positive GDP figure, but will not do anything to benefit Japan over the long haul. The billions designated to rebuild will be money not invested in a more beneficial manner. The linear thinkers conclude that over the long-term Japan will be OK. These people are ignoring the double D's -- Debt and Demographics. When Japan entered its two decades of recession and experienced the Kobe earthquake in 1995, its government debt stood at 52% of GDP. Today it stands at 225% of GDP. Twenty one years ago, the Japanese population was still relatively young, with only 12% of the population over 65 years old. The population of Japan peaked in 2004 and now is in relentless decline. Over 23% of the population is over 65 and the median age is 45 years old. For comparison, the median age in the U.S. is 37 years old, with only 13% over 65. The projection portion of the chart below paints a picture of death. The population of Japan is aging rapidly and will decline by 4.4 million, or 3.5% in the next ten years.
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