One of the few things that we do know - for certain - about the future is that actions have consequences. In the world studied by the physical sciences of inanimate matter, it is possible to predict the future with certainty. That is because the entities being studied ARE inanimate. They have no power to initiate an action so they have no power to vary their reaction to a force which is applied to them. In the field of the study of HUMAN action, the situation is fundamentally different. No “stimulus” will ever produce the same response on entities which have the power of thought and the power of choice.
A generation of market participants has grown up knowing only the era of central bankers and the 'Great Moderation' of (most of) the last two decades elevated their status significantly. While central bankers are generally very well aware of the limits of their own power, financial markets seem inclined to overstress the direct scope of monetary policy in the real world.
If markets fall, investors need only to run to central bankers, and Ben Bernanke and his ilk will put on a sticking plaster and offer a liquidity lollipop to the investment community for being such brave little soldiers in the face of adversity
Monetary policy impacts the real economy because it is transmitted to the real economy through the money transmission mechanism. This has become particularly important in the current environment, where, as UBS' Paul Donovan notes, some aspects of that transmission mechanism have become damaged in some economies. Simplifying the monetary transmission mechanism into four very broad categories: the cost of capital; the willingness to lend; the willingness to save; and the foreign exchange rate; UBS finds strains in each that negate some or all of a central bank's stimulus efforts. In the current climate, it may well be that the state of the monetary transmission mechanism is even more important than monetary policy decisions themselves. Some monetary policy makers may be at the limits of their influence.
"It's impossible to have a political solution to a balance sheet problem" says Paul Brodsky, bond market expert and co-founder of QB Asset Management. The world has simply gotten itself into too much debt. There are creditors that expect to be paid, and debtors that are having an increasingly difficult time making their coupon payments. No amount of political or policy intervention is going to change that reality. (Unless a global "debt jubilee" transpires, which Paul thinks is unlikely). Looking at the global monetary base, Paul sees it dwarfed by the staggering amount of debts that need to be repaid or serviced. The reckless use of leverage has resulted in a chasm between total credit and the money that can service it. So how will this debt overhang be resolved?
Central bank money printing -- and lots of it -- thinks Paul.
With global PMI rolling over again, dimming unemployment growth, and slowing EM Asia impacting global production, it is no wonder than BofAML's economics team sees a dearth of 'feelgood' factors in the market. In fact, as they note, further rate cuts in the euro area and China along with around $500bn of NEW QE in this quarter are priced into the market with any hope for risk assets to rally more consistently, investors will need to see not just willing-and-able central bankers but an abatement of the sovereign crisis in Europe and improvement in global data - neither of which they expect anytime soon. Easier monetary policy can only cushion the blow from higher uncertainty in the US and Europe. Effective policy breakthroughs would thus have to come from compromises in the European Council or in US cross-party politics. Investors have yet to zero in on the real impacts of rising economic uncertainty in the US. As Ethan Harris and Michael Hanson have argued, it is unlikely that the cliff is fully priced into the markets and US political dysfunction will share the spotlight with the European crisis over the next few months. And as last time, the joint act will likely undercut investor confidence.
Your one stop summary of all the notable bullish and bearish events in the past week.
The last few days have seen some rather concerning central-planning actions by Argentina. Fresh from their nationalization of Spain's YPF, not only did they "forbid individuals from buying dollars for savings" issuing a statement allowing dollars to be used for "travel, mortgages, and to send family members traveling abroad if they they run out of money"; but now we hear of the forced action on Argentina's banks to lend out 5% of deposits at rates well below inflation estimates in the next six months (or else). As Reuters notes, "The move... marks an escalation in [President Christina Fernandez] war on private enterprise which may spread further." It should be noted just how far central banks are willing to go (strong-arming banks into subsidized loans to businesses) and it would absolutely not surprise us if this is precisely where the US is heading as command economies become the new normal globally.
So where does this leave us, knowing that despite all the exuberant highs and depressed lows, we had ended the previous week pretty much in unchanged matter?
Well, after a 10-day period that had not one but 2 bail-outs announced, a EU summit that initially seemed to good to be true, results-wise, and then ended up just being that, and a triplet of Central Bank cuts cum QE supportive measures, things don’t look much better…
- Beggars can't be choosers after all: Greece Drops Demand to Ease Bailout Terms (FT)
- It took journalists 4 years to get that under ZIRP all banks have to be hedge funds: US Banks Taking Risks in Search of Yield (FT)
- Made-In-London Scandals Risk City Reputation As Money Center (Bloomberg)
- Merkel Approval Rises to Highest Since 2009 After EU Summit (Bloomberg)
- Judge orders JPMorgan to explain withholding emails (Reuters)
- U.S. hiring seen stuck in low gear in June (Reuters)
- Germans Urged to Block Merkel on Integration (WSJ)
- Crony Capitalism Rules: Countrywide used VIP program to sway Congress (Reuters)
- Barclays’ US Deal Rewrites Libor Process (FT)
- Cyprus Juggles EU and Russian Support (FT)
- Delay Seen (Again) For New Rules on Accounting (WSJ)
- Lagarde Says IMF to Cut Growth Outlook as Global Economy Weakens (Bloomberg)
Global Crunch: Central Banks Anemic Response - A doubtful boost in investor confidence.
If you are reading this, you are probably a member of what the sociologists would term middle class (albeit at the upper end). This is precisely the segment of society which is poised to come off worst from what is coming. Here is a very disturbing idea. As this crisis develops, if you are an equity portfolio manager and you want to outperform the market, you are going to have to position your portfolio so that it benefits most from your own wealth destruction and that of your family, friends and colleagues. Almost everybody is going to lose and there aren’t many places to hide. This is deeply unpleasant but you can blame the central planners. I’ve written about my own investing, e.g. gold and silver, equities in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, etc. In this Thunder Road Report (below) and going forward, I will discuss this middle class theme and highlight positions I have in individual stocks, etc. The only good thing that can come out of this is a rise in awareness. It’s just awful.
But please don’t tell me that you are surprised that Barclays was “manipulating” LIBOR.
Central Banks came, stood and delivered… just not much more, although the (nightly) POBC cut (1 YRS by 31 to 6% and deposits by 25bp to 3%) had not really been foreseen. Second Chinese cut in as many month, the last one having been on 07 Jun (as well just ahead of the ECB meeting, then by 25 basis points to 3.25% and 6.31%). The Chinese move was good for a small uptick, rapidly squashed by the European serving.
ECB quarter cut and BoE GBP 50bn additional QE to GBP 375bn both already in the valuation ramp-out of late.
Then came the ECB press conference…
A few days ago we noted that the ECB may well be contemplating the monetary neutron bomb, which would see it lower rates to below zero, ushering in a Negative Interest Rate Policy. Today, Mario Draghi cut such speculation short promising the ECB has not discussed this. Yet one bank which certainly has is the Danish Central Bank, which just lowered its Discount Rate to 0%, joining China, England, the ECB, and, of course, Kenya in easing, but also went one step further and cut its deposit rate to negative 0.2%. Keep a note of this: NIRP is coming to a central bank, and shortly thereafter to a bank deposit branch, near you very soon.
In continuing the quantum physics scramble of the past 48 hours in the aftermath of the potential Higgs Boson discovery which confirms mass exists (and will soon be blamed for America's obesity epidemic) we ask if three of the world's largest central banks eased and futures turned red, did three of the world's largest central banks actually ease? Because if today is any indication, either all the EURUSD-ES algos are being furiously shut down right now to prevent risk from being dragged far lower, or we have reached peak central planner intervention. In other news, the entire EURUSD ramp since last week's summit is now gone, which incidentally is just what Germany always wanted.
The past few years have produced an impression of the Chinese government that it is invincible, and it has miraculous control over the economic machine, that the slowdown is “intentionally” engineered by the government and everything within the economy is still very much under control. Unfortunately, most who use this argument to justify that the slowdown is not a big problem have all invariably forgotten that most economic slowdowns in recent memories started with central banks tightening monetary policy to control inflation and slow down the economy, and most, if not all, of the cases ended with recession that they did not want to get into. Many have also not realized how difficult it would be for China to relate its way out of a debt deflation. So how different China is in this regard is totally beyond our comprehension, and we are forced to suggest that the believers of China cult have gone delusional. As the economic slowdown becomes a reality and a hard landing unavoidable, more of the problems we have identified will surface. The cult will surely die within the next few years at most. The only questions are when it will finally die, and whether it will suffer a violent death or slow death.