Economic history is pockmarked with policies instigated with the full intention of improving economic performance which have eventually turned out to do real damage. From the Napoleonic Wars to Weimar and up to the present day gold standards and Keynesianism, Deutsche's Jim Reid notes all too often economic institutions allow themselves to be stuck in intellectual cul-de-sacs at their peril. Such a risk appears alive and well today in the halls of the Federal Reserve. The outlook for tapering is mired in a continuing war between an institutional framework which sees QE as an emergency measure that has gone on far longer then was desired and an economy whose self-sustaining momentum is far from secure. The following statements from the FOMC members shows the tight-rope of uncertainty they are treading...
Last month, we offered a plain language translation of the Warsh op-ed, because we thought it was too carefully worded and left readers wondering what he really wanted to say. Translation wasn’t necessary for Fisher’s speech, which contained a clear no-confidence vote in the Fed’s QE program. Now William Poole is more or less saying that we have no idea what’s truly behind the Fed’s decisions. But he doesn’t stop there. He’s willing to make a prediction that you wouldn’t expect from an establishment economist... Poole’s refreshingly honest take on the Fed’s inner workings – from someone who truly knows what goes on behind the curtains – is more than welcome.
Since the bank that decides what happens at the NY Fed, and by implication, at the broader Federal Reserve system, is none other than Goldman Sachs, it would be informative to read what none other than Goldman thinks of Ben Bernanke's thesis advisor Stanley Fischer, formerly head of the Bank of Israel, as the next vice chairman - as he is now actively rumored to become shortly. Conveniently, here is just such a Q&A from Goldman's Jan Hatzius - the man who feeds Bill Dudley all his economic and monetary insights over lobster sandwiches at the Pound and Pence.
In the 1st installment of this article – May the Odds Ever Be in Your Favor – The Reaping, we addressed how wealth inequality created by men rigging the system and utilizing media propaganda ultimately leads to rebellion. In Part 2, we will show how hope and defiance can ignite the flame of liberty in the minds of men. Edward Snowden has ignited that flame. A Lot of Hope is Dangerous... Linear thinking old timers are likely to scoff at the notion that some trilogy of novels for teenagers could capture the mood of the time in a way that explains how the people of this country will respond to the current worsening Crisis. History is cyclical and we’ve returned to a time where leaders will step forward to lead and brave heroes step forward to fight. The future of the country hangs in the balance.
"You can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do. Why? Because it doesn’t know." - Stanley Fischer
The 21st century has proven interesting when it comes to Time's choices for person of the year: George Dubya, twice, Barack Obama, twice, Vladimir Putin, Ben Bernanke, and of course, Mark Zuckerberg. And now, moments ago, the Time person of the year 2013 has been revealed: the winner - Pope Francis, best known recently for bashing materialists and those who cry over a 2 point drop in stocks everywhere. Sorry Miley Cyrus - more twerking will be required in 2014 to make up for this epic loss.
In “Why the Fed Won’t Taper in December,” we pretended to write the first paragraph of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) statement for next week’s meeting. By thinking about the likely mix of upgrades and downgrades to its assessment of the economy, which is the crux of that paragraph, we argued that we can find clues to policy decisions. Our results tell us to expect a deferral of the committee’s tentative plans to taper its securities purchase program. You may suggest, though, that economic data doesn’t always tell you what the FOMC will do. Because we agree, we’ve also taken a different approach: listening to Fedspeak and working through the math on the committee’s consensus view. This, too, leads us to think there won’t be a taper this month. Here’s our math, starting with the biggest QE supporters and ending with Chairman Bernanke...
The bombs are going to drop – increased forward guidance on rates and decreased direct bond purchases – but these policies in and of themselves are just tactical. What’s really at stake is the strategic meaning of these policies, the belief system that takes hold (or doesn’t) around the power of the Fed to create market outcomes. Over the next three or four months we’re going to see quite a battle for the hearts and minds of investors, with both “sides” employing the Narrative of Don’t Fight the Fed. On the one hand you will have the Fed, with their Jericho Trumpet of Hilsenrath et al shrieking at you a new interpretation of the Narrative: ZIRP is the source of the Fed’s power, not QE, so tapering is no big deal. On the other hand you also have the Fed, but the Fed of the past several years and the way it has trained the market to believe that the portfolio rebalancing effect … i.e., the behavioral impact of QE that Bernanke has directly credited with driving up the stock market … is what really matters. And if that’s your reality, then tapering is a big deal, indeed. I’ll be monitoring all this closely at Epsilon Theory in the weeks ahead.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
From Bernanke's infamous 2008 "not forecasting a recession" call to Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines 2004 "subprime assets are riskless" commentary, the following 10 "predictions" - as opposed to Wien "surprises" - will go down in infamy for their degree of errant-ness...
We warned here (and here most recently), the most insidious way in which the Fed's ZIRP policy is now bleeding not only the middle class dry, but is forcing companies to reallocate cash in ways that benefit corporate shareholders at the present, at the expense of investing prudently for growth 2 or 3 years down the road. It seems the message is being heard loud and very clear among 'some' of the FOMC members; most notably Richard Fisher:
"Without fiscal policy that incentivizes rather than discourages U.S. capex (capital expenditure), this accommodative monetary policy aimed at reducing unemployment (especially structural unemployment) or improving the quality of jobs is rendered flaccid and less than optimally effective... I would feel more comfortable were we to remove ourselves as soon as possible from interfering with the normal price-setting functioning of financial markets."
Perhaps Yellen (and others) will listen this time?
Just out from the NYT's Fed watcher Appelbaum:
Fed’s Plan to Taper Stimulus Effort Not Expected Until Next Year
At the same time, out from the WSJ's Hilsenrath:
Fed Closes In On Winding Down Bond Purchasing
Who is right? Are both right? Are both wrong? Does anyone even care? Far more relevant is what is the Fed's price target for the Monday and year end close.
Janet Yellen is readying herself to take over the duties of Ben Bernanke. What can we expect from her?
They say those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. We’ve seen that maxim made true time and again. The cycle swings fear back to greed. The overcautious become the overzealous. And at the top, the story is always the same: Too much credit, too much speculation, the suspension of disbelief, and the spread of the idea that this time is different. The weaknesses of the human heart and mind means the swings will always exist. Our rudimentary understanding of the forces of economics, which in turn, reflect ultimately reflect the fallacies of people making investing, purchasing, and saving decisions, means policymakers will never defeat the vagaries of the business cycle. So no, this time isn’t different. The specifics may have changed, but the themes remain the same.
Japan is likely to launch even more QE in early 2014 and a much lower yen may result. That'll have dramatic consequences, perhaps greater than US tapering.