The days of reasonable economic forecasting are over. Today, an economic forecast is more like the analysis of a criminal mind than the evaluation of economic data. The dominating role of government overpowers markets intentionally. In the short-term that will continue. Reactions to Federal Reserve minutes referencing continuation, alteration or cessation of quantitative easing cause stock markets to move by over 100 points. Other markets are affected by government interventions, just not so noticeably. Long term, markets will overpower government. Welfare states can no longer maintain their level of spending, services and welfare. However, they dare not stop lest civil unrest and violence break out. The bind they are in has no solution. Governments around the world are doing whatever is necessary to survive. Lying, stealing and outright confiscation will begin in order to support their bankruptcies. Cyprus was a minor precursor of what is coming.
As we noted just two weeks ago - before the hope-and-change-driven exuberance in Japanese equities came crashing down - "those who believe in Abenomics are suffering from amnesia," and Nomura's Richard Koo clarifies just who is responsible for the exuberance and why things are about to shift dramatically. Reasons cited for the equity selloff include Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks about ending QE and a weaker than expected (preliminary) Chinese PMI reading, but, simply put, Koo notes, more fundamental factor was also involved: stocks had risen far above the level justified by improvements in the real economy. It was overseas investors (particularly US hedge funds) that responded to Abe's comments late last year by closing out their positions in the euro (having been unable to profit from the Euro's collapse) and redeploying those funds in Japan, where they drove the yen lower and pushed stocks higher. Koo suspects that only a handful of the overseas investors who led this shift from the euro into the yen understood there was no reason why quantitative easing should work when private demand for funds was negligible... The recent upheaval in the JGB market signals an end to the virtuous cycle that pushed stock prices steadily higher.
This was one helluva week. Nevertheless current markets are still hooked on QE.
Almost all recoveries from recession have included rapid employment growth – until now. Though advanced-country central banks have pursued expansionary monetary policy in the wake of the global economic crisis in an effort to boost demand, job creation has lagged. As a result, workers, increasingly convinced that they will be unable to find employment for a sustained period, are leaving the labor force in droves. Rather than changing its approach, however, the Fed has responded to slow employment growth by launching additional rounds of QE. At some point, the Fed must realize that its current policy is not working. The US economy has not responded to the Fed’s monetary expansion, because America’s biggest problems are not liquidity problems.
Fractional reserve banking is unlike most other businesses. It's not just because its product is money. It's because banks can manufacture their product out of thin air. Under the bygone rules of free market capitalism, only one thing kept banks from creating an infinite amount of money, and that was fear of failure. Periodic bank failures remind depositors of the connection between risk and reward. What is not widely appreciated is that the ensuing government bailouts allowed an underlying shadow banking system to not only survive but grow even larger. To the frustration of Keynesians, and despite an unprecedented Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Federal Reserve, conventional commercial banks have broken with custom and have amassed almost $2 trillion in excess reserves they are reluctant to lend as they scramble to digest all the bad loans still on their books. So most of the money manufactured today is actually being created by the shadow banks. But shadow banks do not generally make commercial loans. Rather, they use the money they manufacture to fund proprietary trading operations in repos and derivatives. No one knows when the bubble will pop, but when it does a donnybrook is going to break out over that thin wedge of collateral whose ownership is spread across counterparties around the world, each looking for relief from their own judges, politicians, bureaucrats, and taxpayers.
"QE detractors... see something quite different. They see QE as not responding to the collapse in the money multiplier but to some extent causing it. In this account QE – and the flatter yield curves that have resulted from it – has itself broken the monetary transmission mechanism, resulting in central banks pushing ever more liquidity on a limper and limper string. In this view, it is not inflation that’s at risk from QE, but rather, the health of the financial system. In this view, instead of central banks waiting for the money multiplier to rebound to old normal levels before QE is tapered or ended, central banks must taper or end QE first to induce the money multiplier and bank lending to increase."
Today is one on those rare days in which everyone stops pretending fundamentals matter, and admits every market uptick is purely a function of what side of the bed Bernanke wakes up on, how loudly Kuroda sneezes, or how much coffee Mark Carney has had before lunch, but more importantly: that all "risk" is in the hands of a few good central-planners. Following last night's uneventful Bank of Japan meeting, in which Kuroda announced no changes to the "full speed ahead" policy of inflation or bust(ed bank sector following soaring JGB yields) and which pushed the Nikkei225 to surge above the DJIA closing at 15,627, today it is Bernanke's turn not once but twice, when he first takes the chair in the Joint Economic Committee's "Economic Outlook" hearing at 10 am, followed by the May 1 minutes release at 2pm (which may or may not have been previously leaked like last month). As a reminder, Politico reported last night that Ben Bernanke had previously met in secret with Darrell Issa and other lawmakers "to discuss the central bank’s efforts to stimulate the economy and how it could exit this strategy in the future, according to people who attended the meeting." And since we know how important transparency is to Bernanke and the Congress, "Participants in the meeting declined to disclose specifically what Bernanke told lawmakers beyond saying there was discussion about the Fed’s bond buying programs and other issues." But as long as Mr. Issa, the wealthiest man in the House, has his advance marching orders, all is well.
While many may not recall that the US has been without an official debt ceiling for the past three months, or even that it has a debt target ceiling, the bonus period agreed upon in January to let the nation rake up some $400 billion in addition debt in the past few months, officially runs out tomorrow, May 19, when the debt limit will be restored to its previous level plus the debt that was incurred in the interim, which means around $16.735 trillion in total debt as of yesterday, plus the amount incurred today, excluding the debt not subject to the cap which is about $30 billion. And since no grand bargain is forthcoming in a world in which official governance is now almost universally in the hands of the world's central bankers and out of the hands of the theatrical career politicians, it means that the next deadline in the endless US debt ceiling saga will be the day when the extraordinary measures to extend the debt ceiling run out. Such a deadline will likely be hit in just over three months.
There have been a litany of articles written recently discussing how the stock market is set for a continued bull rally. There are some primary points that are common threads among each of these articles which are that interest rates are low, corporate profitability is high and the Fed's monetary programs continue to put a floor under stocks. The problem is that while we do not disagree with any of those points - they are all artificially influenced by outside factors. Interest rates are low because of the Federal Reserve's actions, corporate profitability is high due to accounting rule changes following the financial crisis and the Fed is pumping money directly into the stock market. Being bullish on the market in the short term is fine. The expansion of the Fed's balance sheet will continue to push stocks higher as long as no other crisis presents itself. However, the problem is that a crisis, which is always unexpected, inevitably will trigger a reversion back to the fundamentals.
So, apparently, according to Jon Hilsenrath, "QE to Infinity" is actually "finite" after all. There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve will do everything in its power to try and "talk" the markets down and "signal" policy changes well in advance of actual action. However, that is unlikely to matter. The problem with the financial markets today is the speed at which things occur. High frequency trading, algorithmic programs, program trading combined with market participant's "herd mentality" is not influenced by actions but rather by perception. As stated above, with margin debt at historically high levels when the "herd" begins to turn it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to valuation or fundamental measures. The reality is that the stock market is extremely vulnerable to a sharp correction. Currently, complacency is near record levels and no one sees a severe market retracement as a possibility. The common belief is that there is "no bubble" in assets and the Federal Reserve has everything under control. Of course, that is what we heard at the peak of the markets in 2000 and 2008 just before the "race for the door." This time will be no different.
Put down the Sunday newspaper; grab a pot of coffee; and call 'mom' and tell her she has to read this. Doug Rudisch has written a far-reaching summary of the true state of the world and 'why policy has failed'. Simply put, there is no faith in the system; real underlying faith and trust in the system, as opposed to the confidence born from economic steroid injections or entitlements. There also is a subtle but important distinction between faith and trust versus confidence. Faith and trust are longer term and more powerful concepts.There is more going on than a temporary lull in animal spirits that current fiscal and monetary policy will cure. If that was the case, it would be working already... We have ended up with a system where the worst of the risk takers have the ability to take the most risk and are currently taking it at extreme levels. We wish we could be more prescriptive and offer more solutions for the problems. But in order to solve a problem, you must first realize you have one. With respect to the Fed, we don’t think the U.S. realizes it has a problem.
If the American people truly understood how the Federal Reserve system works and what it has done to us, they would be screaming for it to be abolished immediately. It is a system that was designed by international bankers for the benefit of international bankers, and it is systematically impoverishing the American people. The Federal Reserve system is the primary reason why our currency has declined in value by well over 95 percent and our national debt has gotten more than 5000 times larger over the past 100 years. The Fed creates our "booms" and our "busts", and they have done an absolutely miserable job of managing our economy. So why is the Federal Reserve doing it? Sadly, this is the way it works all over the globe today. In fact, all 187 nations that belong to the IMF have a central bank. But the truth is that there are much better alternatives.
One of the widely accepted misconceptions surrounding the so-called "housing recovery" fanfared by misleading headlines such as this "Remodeling activity keeps up positive momentum", which in reality has merely turned out to be a housing bubble in various liquified "flip that house" MSAs (offset by continuing deteriorating conditions in those places where the Fed's trillions in excess reserves have trouble reaching coupled with ongoing foreclosure stuffing), is that "renovation spending", the amount of cash spent to upgrade and update a fixer-upper, has surged. Sadly, this is merely the latest lie about the US economy: as the attached chart showing renovation spending in the past 6 months, it has absolutely imploded, confirming that not only is a broad housing recovery a myth (instead of localized pockets of bubbly liquidity here and there), but that the US home-owning household is now more tapped out than at any time in the past two years.
A. Gary Shilling's discussion of how to invest during a deleveraging cycle is a very necessary antidote to the ecstacy and euphoria that surrounds the nominal surges in risk-assets around the world sponsored by central banking largesse. Shilling ties six fundamental realities together: Private Sector Deleveraging And Government Policy Responses, Rising Protectionism, the Grand Disconnect Between Markets And Economy, a Zeal For Yield, the End Of Export Driven Economies, and why Equities Are Vulnerable. The risk on trade is alive and well - but will not last forever. We are still within a secular bear market that begin in 2000 with P/E ratios still contained within a declining trend. Despite media commentary to the contrary - this time is likely not different.
FX market overreacted yesterday to ECB developments. Europe has corrected it and now participants will take a fresh look after the US employment report.