Borrowing heavily from Albert Edwards "Ice Age" analogy of our new normal, PIMCO's Bill Gross, after explaining why he does not have a cell phone, discusses the "frigidly low" levels of "The New Neutral" in this week's letter. Confirming Ben Bernanke's "not in my lifetime" promise for low rates and a lack of normalization, Gross explains that the "the new neutral" real policy rate will be close to 0% as opposed to 2-3% (just as in Japan) leaving an increasingly small incremental rise in rates as potentially responsible for popping the bubble. Gross concludes, "if 'The New Neutral' rates stay low, it supports current prices of financial assets. They would appear to be less bubbly," clearly defending the valuation of bonds knowing that he can't expose stocks as 'bubbly' without exposing his firm to more outflows.
With Thomas Piketty's book on inequality topping the charts among the book-reading common-folk, ambitious ex-bankers are enjoying the high-life in ways not even Gordon Gecko could have dreamed up. If greed is good, then this is better as former Lehman execs sell the first ".luxury" website domain names and ex-Goldmanites pitch "curated environments that optimize health" for home living with 'Vitamin-C-infused showers'. Of course, as one banker opines philosophically, "it's all about balance...it's important that people who have the capital are making it as useful as possible."
Has the next major economic downturn already started? The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live. If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not. In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming. But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.
One of the most important, but difficult to measure, concepts in macroeconomics is the natural or equilibrium real interest rate. This is the rate of interest consistent with full employment and stable inflation. The last few weeks have seen bond yields tumble and a rising cacophony of market participants questioning both the Fed's central tendency of terminal or natural rates (around 4%) and the market's perception of how fast we get there. SF Fed Williams models see a 1.8% natural rate, BofA also believes it is between 1.5 and 2%; and now Citi admits, "fair value of long-term rates may be lower than we and other market participants judged them to be."
The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since we always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, we predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.
After the crisis, many expected that the blameworthy would be punished or at the least be required to return their ill-gotten gains—but they weren’t, and they didn’t. Many thought that those who were injured would be made whole, but most weren’t. And many hoped that there would be a restoration of the financial safety rules to ensure that industry leaders could no longer gamble the equity of their firms to the point of ruin. This didn’t happen, but it’s not too late. It is useful, then, to identify the persistent myths about the causes of the financial crisis and the resulting Dodd-Frank reform legislation and related implementation...."Plenty of people saw it coming, and said so. The problem wasn’t seeing, it was listening."
Ben Bernanke told those that could afford to hear that rates would not "normalize" in his lifetime and just last week we noted the market's shifting attitude towards what a post-rate-hike 'rate normalization cycle' might look like. As longer-term bond yields tumble, the Fed's Bill Dudley just confirmed the lower post-rate-hike "terminal rate" meme:
DUDLEY: LONG-TERM RATES LIKELY TO BE LOWER THAN HISTORIC NORM, SAYS EQUILIBRIUM REAL RATE MAY BE LOWER THAN NORMAL
In other words, if and when the Fed starts raising rates, the highest rate to which it will raise rates in the next cycle is now expected to be notably below previous historical 'norms'. And stocks didn't like it and long-term bond yields tumbled...
Equity markets are not happy about the Fed's Charles Plosser's economic exuberance ("3% growth no matter the weather" which is 20% above consensus of 2.5%) and his 'good-news-bad-news' monetary policy hawkishness ("may need to raise rates sooner rather than later"). But perhaps the most crucial part of his speech this morning was what the headlines notably left out. Plosser admonished his global central bank brethren: "if central banks do not limit their interventionist strategies and focus on returning to more normal policymaking aimed at promoting price stability and long-term growth, then they will simply encourage the financial markets to ignore fundamentals and to focus instead on the next actions of the central bank." Simply put, he warned, "central bankers have become too sensitive and desirous of managing prices in the financial world.."
During the bubblicious years from 2000 through 2014, while Wall Street used control fraud and virtually free money provided by the Fed to siphon off hundreds of billions of ill-gotten profits from the economy, the average middle class family saw their income drop and their debt load soar. This is crony capitalism success at its finest. The oligarchs count on the fact math challenged, iGadget distracted, Facebook focused, public school educated morons will never understand the impact of inflation on their daily lives. The pliant co-conspirators in the dying legacy media regurgitate nominal government reported income figures which show median household income growing by 30% over the last fourteen years. In reality, the real median household income has FALLEN by 7% since 2000 and 7.5% since its 2008 peak. Again, using a true inflation figure would yield declines exceeding 15%.
It was supposed to be a blistering Mega Merger Monday following the news of both AT&T'a purchase of DirecTV and Pfizer's 15% boosted "final" offer for AstraZeneca. Instead it is shaping up to be not only a dud but maybe a drubbing, with AstraZeneca plunging after its board rejected the latest, greatest and last offer, European peripheral bond spreads resume blowing out again, whether on concerns about the massive Deutsche Bank capital raise or further fears that "radical parties" are gaining strength in Greece ahead of local elections. But the worst news for BTFDers is that not only did the USDJPY break its long-term support line as we showed on Friday, but this morning it is taking even more technician scalps after it dropped below its 200 DMA (101.23) which means that a retest of double digit support is now just a matter of time, as is a retest of how strong Abe's diapers are now that the Nikkei has slid to just above 14,000, while China, following its own weak housing sales data, saw the Shanghai Composite briefly dip under 2000 before closing just above it. Overall, it is shaping up to be a less than stellar day with zero econ news (hence no bullish flashing red headlines of horrible data) for the algos who bought Friday's late afternoon VIX slam-driven risk blast off.
Since the Fed can't be bothered with an objective analysis covering both sides the most important debt issue for America, we go to Pew which recently concluded an analysis on the impact of student debt and found that "Student debt burdens are weighing on the economic fortunes of younger Americans, as households headed by young adults owing student debt lag far behind their peers in terms of wealth accumulation."
Bernanke's legacy: a deceptive case for a failed policy.
Sophistry: the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving. The Federal Reserve's core policy of quantitative easing (QE) is based on a deceptive but appealing argument voiced by former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.
More Reasons QE Is a Dud
There's not much good news for housing these days. For a little while, the Fed's suppression of interest rates juiced housing enough to distract Americans from weak job creation and stagnant real wages. Don't have a job? No problem! Just borrow against the appreciation of your house to feed your family. But Yellen's interest rate wand looks to be out of magic. The government had a pipe dream of white picket fences for everyone. But Americans can't refinance their way to wealth. Especially in the Greater Depression.
One can’t help but look at the situations transpiring around the globe and hope: things are different this time. The problem is being different puts it right back in line with that other caveat: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. And so lies the most troubling aspect facing not only the U.S. economy, but quite possibly the world as whole. For if things rhyme anything inline with past events in history: We’re all in a dung heap of QE based minutia, with Geo-political ramifications the “intellectual” crowd never contemplated as possible – let alone probable.