We heard from several central banks in the last few days, and what they had to say was just one more reminder that we are in a Hill Street Blues financial world. So, hey, let’s be careful out there - and then some!
Democrats are moving on a “$12 by ‘20” pitch, whereby they hope to have the minimum wage hiked to $12 within the next five years. The rationale is simple: restore the purchasing power Americans once had and you will restore robust economic growth. Ok, maybe it's not that simple, because as Republicans note, raising the pay floor by nearly 70% may well cost America jobs, thus making things worse for the very people the wage hike was meant to help.
“The market is dead,” one industry insider tells Bloomberg, referring to demand for tax-free physical gold in Dubai. As it turns out, the ill-effects of sliding crude prices aren't confined to Alberta's housing market, cash-strapped oil boom towns and the market for blue collar jobs in Texas. The pain is also being felt by gold vendors who are quickly discovering that when oil revenue begins to run short, fewer Saudis and Russians go on precious metals shopping sprees.
During the heyday of post-war prosperity between 1953 and 1971, real final sales - a better measure of economic growth than GDP because it filters out inventory fluctuations - grew at a 3.6% annual rate. That is exactly double the 1.8% CAGR recorded for 2000-2014. The long and short of it, therefore, is that there has been a dramatic downshift in the trend rate of economic growth during an era in which central bank intervention and stimulus has been immeasurably enlarged. How exactly is the Fed helping when the trend rate of real growth has withered dramatically?
According to the latest SNB financial release, 18%, or CHF 95 ($102 billion) of the assets held on the SNB's balance sheet are, drumroll, foreign stocks! In other words, the SNB holds 15% of Switzerland's GDP in equities!
The current equities bull run seems unstoppable. No amount of geopolitical concerns, Greek default fears, rate hikes, US dollar strength, crude oil price volatility, Russian sanctions or whatever else you can think of can put a dent on it. Perhaps we should take a step back and try to understand what is driving this strength. OK, we know that central banks continue to spike the punchbowl, but what is the actual transmission mechanism that directs all this liquidity into equities – as opposed to commodities for instance, which continue to struggle?
As Bloomberg summarizes the various opinions suggested by Wall Street analysts, the rout in German debt and other European sovereign bonds was caused by market-technical factors such as investor positioning and supply glut rather than shift in views on economic outlook, analysts say, with profit-taking on successful QE trades, thin market liquidity and position-squaring before month-end are cited among main bearish catalysts.
Honest price discovery is essential to capitalist prosperity since it is the miraculous mechanism by which capital is raised from savers and investors and efficiently allocated among producers, entrepreneurs and genuine market-rate borrowers. What the central banks have generated, instead, is a casino that is blindly impelled to churn the secondary capital markets and inflate the price of existing assets to higher and higher levels - until they ultimately roll-over under their own weight. The Easy Button addiction of our central bankers is thus not just another large public policy problem. It is the very economic and social scourge of our times.
"The global economy is awash as never before in commodities like oil, cotton and iron ore, but also with capital and labor—a glut that presents several challenges as policy makers struggle to stoke demand," WSJ notes, suggesting yet again that QE can cause deflation when those who have access to easy money overproduce but do not witness a comparable increase in demand from those to whom the direct benefits of ultra accommodative policies do not immediately accrue.
“Sometimes the side effects outweigh the benefits"...
Claiming to own X quantity of gold is one thing, and reporting how many times the gold has been pledged as collateral is another.
Instead of merely plugging the hole left from declining liabilities (deposits), what the ECB's ELA funding appears to also be doing is compensating for a rapid write down in bank assets (loans) as well, in the form of charged off Non-Performing Loans. According to Reuters, one of the leading Greek financial institutions, Piraeus Bank will write off credit cards and retail loans up to 20,000 euros ($21,484) for Greeks who qualify for help under a law the leftist government passed to provide relief to poverty-stricken borrowers, it said on Thursday.
The reality is, like dominoes, that once one of these issues becomes a problem, the rest become a problem as well. Central Banks have had the ability to deal with one-off events up to this point by directing monetary policy tools to bail out Greece, boost stock prices to boost confidence or suppress interest rates to support growth. However, it is the contagion of issues that renders such tools ineffective in staving off the tide of the next financial crisis. One thing is for sure, this time is "different than the last" in terms of the catalyst that sparks the next great mean reverting event, but the outcome will be the same as it always has been.
"To find the real source of the system's excessive fragility, the regulators will need to look much closer to home... The Federal Reserve remains the largest market manipulator ever, and the desperate yield-chasing, hair-trigger markets that it created were the primary cause of that crash and the inevitable ones yet to come."
Whether it is in sympathy with the now relentless surge in the Shanghai Composite which tacked on another 2.44% overnight to close at a fresh multi-year high just shy of 4400, well more than double from a year ago, or because Mrs Watanabe was unable to read the latest Japan trade data whose first trade surplus in 3 years hinted that there will be no new easing by the BOJ any time soon, but overnight the Nikkei closed above 20,000 for the first time in 15 years, with "makers of chocolate, mayonnaise, potato chips and household appliances" helping lift the Tokyo market according to the WSJ. The now daily Asian euphoria however did not last long in the European session, and after opening higher, the Stoxx Europe 600 slipped into negative territory just an hour into trading, and was down 0.4% by midmorning, lead by a near 1% decline on Athens' mains stock index, which has since recouped losses stemming from the overnight report that the ECB is considering an up to 50% haircut on Greek bank collateral, a move that would wipe out the Greek financial sector with ease.