"Many will remember Ben Bernanke for classic central bank stabilizing actions taken during the fall 2008 panic, including emergency loans to banks and swap lines to foreign central banks. But historians might also consider actions the Fed took before and after that panic...
Many argue that QE has not reduced unemployment, but has diminished the Fed’s independence and credibility, offsetting the effects of adopting a numerical inflation target. Now, only a year after the latest round of QE began, the Fed is struggling with how to unwind it, just as many had warned."
Last week brought two important pieces of news: one deceptive, the other fraudulent. The deceptive news was that the Fed, in its last Ben Bernanke moment, would stay the course. The fraudulent news was that US economy grew at a 3.2% annualized pace in the last quarter of 2013. We're still in the weakest recovery since the end of World War II. But since 1950, the composition of the US economy has changed so substantially that GDP 'growth' no longer means what it used to mean...
Miserable? Feeling like you want to turn the corners of the smiley down so it reflects your current mood? Believe you would get the lead role in the Les Misérables?
Reality will reassert itself in 2014, with lemmings, flippers, and hedgies getting slaughtered as the housing market comes back to earth with a thud. The continued tapering by the Fed will remove the marginal dollars used by Wall Street to fund this housing Ponzi. The Wall Street lemmings all follow the same MBA created financial models. They will all attempt to exit the market simultaneously when their models all say sell. If the economy improves, interest rates will rise and kill the housing market. If the economy tanks, the stock market will plunge, creating fear and killing the housing market. Once it becomes clear that prices have begun to fall, the flippers will panic and start dumping, exacerbating the price declines. This scenario never grows old.
Who stole the people's money?
A classicial economist... and Harvard professor... preaching to the world that one's money is not safe in the US banking system due to Ben Bernanke's actions? And putting his withdrawal slip where his mouth is and pulling $1 million out of Bank America? Say it isn't so...
17 years ago, the first major Emerging Market crisis started in Thailand, leading to the Russian default and the collapse of LTCM ushering in the era of Too Big To Fail. This time, all the world needed for the second major EM crisis, was for Ben Bernanke to announce he is giving global central planning a break (because one can be certain the Untaper will be right back on the agenda as soon as the S&P enters a bear market). Ironically, Thailand has largely been insulated from the EM decimation, even through it is now in as bad a political shape as it ever was, and one day ahead of the February 2 general elections things are getting from bad to worse. AFP reports that explosions and heavy gunfire rattled Bangkok Saturday as pro- and anti-government protesters clashed on the eve of controversial Thai elections seen as unlikely to end a cycle of violence in the kingdom after months of opposition rallies.
It’s fairly clear if you look at the data objectively that Mr. Bernanke’s policies have left the Fed (and consequently the global financial system) in far more precarious condition than when he started, yet disproportionately benefited the US government and small percentage of society at the expense of everyone else. This is not to say that Mr. Bernanke is some evil mastermind bent on nefarious ends. Unfortunately the road to ruin is almost always paved with good intentions.
Since his appointment, the balance sheet of Ben Bernanke's Fed has exploded, stock prices have resurged to newerer highs, and home prices are breaking (bad) records once again. However, the following chart of sentiment towards the money-printer-in-chief by income bracket sums it all up... (despite Bernanke's "belief" that "Fed policy is a Main Street policy") Greenspan will be happy though, as Bernanke's disapproval rating is almost double that of his when he left office in 2006 (and approval rating considerably lower).
There is no point in trying to avert or prevent bubbles caused by monetary pumping by regulatory means. If one avenue for bubble formation is cut off, the newly created money will simply flow into another area. In fact, new bubbles almost always become concentrated in new sectors. If there were a genuine desire to keep the formation of bubbles in check, adopting sound money would be a sine qua non precondition. However, no-one who has any say in today's system has a desire to adopt sound money and give up on the failed centrally planned monetary system in favor of a genuine free market system. Our guess is that the booms and busts the current system inevitably produces will simply continue to grow larger and larger until there comes a denouement that can no longer be 'fixed'.
- Only time will define Bernanke's crisis-era legacy at Fed (Reuters)
- Record Cash Leaves Emerging Market ETFs (BBG)
- Investors Look Toward Safer Options as Ground Shifts (WSJ)
- Fed Policy Makers Rally Behind Tapering QE as Yellen Era Begins (BBG)
- Rating agencies criticise China’s bailout of failed $500m trust (FT)
- Russia to await new Ukraine government before fully implementing rescue (Reuters)
- U.S. readies financial sanctions against Ukraine: congressional aides (Reuters)
- Companies resist president’s call for minimum wage rise (FT)
- Secret Swiss Funds at Risk as Italy’s Saccomanni Visits Bern (BBG)
- Top Democrat puts Obama trade deals in doubt (FT)
- Erdogan to Give Rate Increase Time Before Trying Other Plans (BBG)
The problem, though, is that once you embrace the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence to "explain" recent events, you can't compartmentalize it there. If the pattern of post-crisis Emerging Market growth rates is largely explained by US monetary accommodation or lack thereof ... well, the same must be true for pre-crisis Emerging Market growth rates. The inexorable conclusion is that Emerging Market growth rates are a function of Developed Market central bank liquidity measures and monetary policy, and that all Emerging Markets are, to one degree or another, Greece-like in their creation of unsustainable growth rates on the back of 20 years of The Great Moderation (as Bernanke referred to the decline in macroeconomic volatility from accommodative monetary policy) and the last 4 years of ZIRP. It was Barzini all along!
It took Hilsenrath 2 minutes after the FOMC announcement to release the following 729 word analysis of what Bernanke just did. The punchline: "Overall, the Fed changed very little in its statement from the previous month. Neither a disappointing December jobs report nor recent turmoil in emerging markets was enough to diminish their positive outlook for the U.S. economy. The Fed reiterated their view that "risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having become more balanced," language they added to the statement for the first time in December.... The Fed repeated its message that they will likely keep rates at that low level "well past" the unemployment rate reaching 6.5%."
The FOMC will probably reduce the pace of its asset purchase program by another $10 billion at its meeting today as it continues to move towards using forward guidance as the primary policy tool. However, as we noted in the case of the Bank of England's Mark Carney, New Fed vice-chair Stan Fischer's skepticism, and even Ben Bernanke, forward guidance is losing its luster (as it works in theory but not in practice). Bloomberg's Joseph Brusuelas warns that given the probable direction of the unemployment rate amid a structurally damaged labor market and disinflation, the Fed faces a dilemma in that the status quo is untenable and may soon be challenged by traders and investors eager to move back toward interest rate and policy normalization. Just as Carney lost his credibility, the Fed risks a lot by reversing its taper today.
The forest (the economy) can only remain vibrant and healthy if the dead wood is burned off in bankruptcy and insolvency. Retail commercial real estate is over-built and over-leveraged. If it is allowed to burn off as Nature intended, we can finally move forward.