Behavioral economics suggests that a little QE can change human behavior at the margins, but no amount of QE is enough to change human nature at its core. The High Priests of the IMF, the Fed, and the ECB are blind to this because all of modern economic theory – ALL of it – is based on a single bedrock assumption: humans are economic maximizers. Yes, we are maximizers of reward. But we are also minimizers of regret. We seem destined to learn the hard way... once again... that you can’t change human nature by government fiat. But individual investors and allocators can listen and learn from these old good ideas, and that’s how you survive the Golden Age of the Central Banker.
The grand central banking experiment being conducted around the globe right now will not end well. With little more than a lever to ham-fistedly move interest rates, the central planners are trying to keep the world's debt-addiction well-fed while simultaneously kick-starting economic growth and managing the price levels of everything from stocks to housing to fine art. The complexity of the system, the questionable credentials of the decision-makers, and the universe's proclivity towards unintended consequences all combine to give great confidence that things will not play out in the way the Fed and its brethren are counting on.
The distinction between the world's only two types of traders (good vs bad) has been a very vague one. Until now. According to a new study by researchers at Caltech and Virginia Tech that looked at the brain activity and behavior of people trading in experimental markets where price bubbles formed, an early warning signal tips off smart traders when to get out even as the "dumb" ones keep ploughing in and chasing the momentum wave. In such markets, where price far outpaces actual value, it appears that wise traders receive an early warning signal from their brains—a warning that makes them feel uncomfortable and urges them to sell, sell, sell.
Alan Greenspan's Modest Proposal: Fix Broken Economic Models By... Modeling Irrational "Animal Spirits"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 01/02/2014 14:26 -0500
We leave it to everyone's supreme amusement to enjoy the Maestro's full non-mea culpa essay, but we will highlight Greenspan's two most amusing incosistencies contained in the span of a few hundred words. On one hand the former Chairman admits that "The financial crisis [...] represented an existential crisis for economic forecasting. The conventional method of predicting macroeconomic developments -- econometric modeling, the roots of which lie in the work of John Maynard Keynes -- had failed when it was needed most, much to the chagrin of economists." On the other, his solution is to do... more of the same: "if economists better integrate animal spirits into our models, we can improve our forecasting accuracy. Economic models should, when possible, measure and forecast systematic human behavior and the tendencies of corporate culture.... Forecasters may never approach the fantasy success of the Oracle of Delphi or Nostradamus, but we can surely improve on the discouraging performance of the past." So, Greenspan's solution to the failure of linear models is to... model animal spirits, or said otherwise human irrationality. Brilliant.
The financial crisis is surely a touchy subject at the Fed, where the biggest PR challenge is “bubble blowing” criticism from those of us who aren’t on the payroll (directly or indirectly). But Foote, Gerardi and Willen are, of course, on the payroll. They tell us there’s little else that can be said about the origins of the crisis, because any “honest economist” will admit to not understanding bubbles... " Unfortunately, the study of bubbles is too young to provide much guidance on this point. For now, we have no choice but to plead ignorance, and we believe that all honest economists should do the same." This smells to us like a strategy of gently acknowledging criticism (of the Fed’s interest rate policies), while at the same time attempting to neutralize it.
Until recently, Alan Greenspan’s main argument to exonerate himself of responsibility for the 2007-2009 financial crisis has consisted in the claim that strong Asian demand for US treasury bonds kept interest rates on mortgages unusually low. Though he has not given up on this defense, he is now emphasizing a different tack... His new tack is no better than the old tack.
It may appear to be safe for everyone to be on the same side of the boat, but the gunwale is awfully close to the water.
We are growing more concerned by the day by the actions of the central banks. It isn’t just that markets popped and dropped dramatically before and after Draghi’s rate cut, or that any policy seems particularly bad, just that the policies don’t seem to be working great, and are leaving a changed landscape that will need to be corrected, somehow, in the future. We are quite simply concerned that too much faith is being placed in untested theories that may or may not work, or may or may not even be correct.
Bob Shiller is one of the winners of this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which makes him acutely aware of criticism of the prize by those who claim that economics – unlike chemistry, physics, or medicine, for which Nobel Prizes are also awarded – is not a science. One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Shiller notes that economics is somewhat more vulnerable than the physical sciences to models whose validity will never be clear, because the necessity for approximation is much stronger than in the physical sciences, especially given that the models describe people rather than magnetic resonances or fundamental particles. People can just change their minds and behave completely differently. But all the mathematics in economics is not, as Taleb suggests, charlatanism.
San Francisco Fed head John Williams - known for his extremely dovish views on monetary policy (and support of record accomodation) - appears to have taken some uncomfortable truth serum this morning. In a speech reminiscent of previous "froth" discussions and "irrational exuberance" admissions, Williams explained:
- *WILLIAMS SAYS POLICY MAY YIELD ASSET BUBBLES, UNINTENDED RESULT
- *WILLIAMS: ASSET-PRICE BUBBLES AND CRASHES 'ARE HERE TO STAY'
- *WILLIAMS: ASSET-PRICE BUBBLES ARE 'CONSEQUENCE OF HUMAN NATURE'
His words appear to reflect heavily on the Fed's Advisory Letter (from the banks) from 3 months ago - warning of exactly this "unintended consequence." This, on the heels of Plosser's recent admission that the Fed was responsible for the last housing bubble, suggests with the black-out period before September's FOMC about to begin, the Fed is sending us a message that Taper is coming - as we know they are cornered for four reasons (sentiment, deficits, technicals, and international resentment).
Can you imagine successfully navigating the next decade ahead with a great system. We have arrived at a juncture that will require major efforts on the part of investors to reshape their investments. You see, we believe that major forces at work will be to the benefit of credits. We propose a structure that removes any debt based investments.
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
The assumption that households are doing much better simply because the stock market is up is really a problematic understanding of how wealth is dispersed across the United States. I vividly remember a handful of parties back during the peak of the bubble where people would often quote how much their net worth went up courtesy of the housing bubble. “My home that I bought in the 1990s is now worth over $1 million.” As all of you know, until you sell the home those gains are largely on paper and many did not sell. In fact, many tapped out large portions of that equity and spent it. This is why even with home prices moderately recovering US households still have close to record low equity in their homes. It probably does not help that low down payment FHA insured loans are such a large part of the market encouraging Americans to make the biggest purchase of their lives with very little down. The Fed reported last week on net worth figures and it is worth digging deep into the data.
The market rally has assuredly been more powerful than Morgan Stanley had anticipated, defying the weak fundamentals. Many have said they don’t think fundamentals will matter for the rest of this year. We don’t do heroin. We are sure the period of being high on heroin is “enjoyable.” We had thought that most investors would decide this “heroin” wasn’t worth it. We forgot about what it means to be an addict. Will equities continue to go higher simply because the specter of unlimited liquidity is there or will investors see through to the other side of the “high”? People can’t envision a catalyst to make fundamentals matter, they can’t envision a catalyst for earnings to come down, and they still think the “tradable rally” from positioning and policy will last. It well may last for a while more, but the disconnect from fundamentals can’t last forever. We all know that the current “bad is good, good is good” mentality can’t persist.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg may be cautious on the outlook for risk assets and cyclical securities over the near- and intermediate-term, but, he notes, change is always at the margin, and it usually starts in the political sphere. Austerity is not some dirty nine-letter word as the socialists in Europe would have you believe. It is all about living within your means and living up to your commitments. There is some good news in the United States with respect to this topic, but the uncertainty over the extent of next year's tax bite is likely to cause households and businesses to pull spending back and raise cash, at the margin, which means the economy won't turn around in time for Mr. Obama. As was the case with Ronald Reagan, just having a clear and coherent fiscal plan will part the clouds of uncertainty and encourage capital to be put at risk rather than sit as idle unproductive cash on corporate balance sheets. In a somewhat stunning sentence from the no-longer-a-permabear, he notes that "The future is brighter than you think", but just in case you are backing up the truck, he adds "this does not mean we will not have another recession, by the way — as we suffer through a deflationary debt deleveraging. I'm noticing a certain degree of despair these days, just as I am getting enthusiastic about the future. Much depends on what happens on November 6th and between now and then we still have the European mess, China hard landing risks and the U.S. debt ceiling issue to confront. Be that as it may, those with some dry powder on hand will be in a solid position to take advantage of whatever forced "panic" selling takes place."