The problem with printing money and promising to do so for years ahead of time is that the negative consequences of inflation only happen after a delay. As a result, it's difficult to know if a policy has gone too far until years down the road at times. Unfortunately, if confidence in the dollar is lost, the consequences cannot be easily reversed. One problem for the Fed itself is that it holds long-term securities that will lose value if rates rise. The federal government faces an even more serious problem when interest rates rise, as higher rates on its debt mean greater interest payments to service. Due to this federal-government debt burden, the Fed has an incentive to keep rates low, even if the long-term result is higher inflation. However, for now the Fed's statement suggests it sees inflation as "subdued," so it's putting those concerns aside for now.
In all the excitement over the December 21 LTRO, Europe forgot one small thing: since it is the functional equivalent of banks using the Discount Window (and at 3 years at that, not overnight), it implies that a recipient bank is in a near-death condition. As such, the incentive for good banks to dump on bad ones is huge, which means that everyone must agree to be stigmatized equally, or else a split occurs whereby the market praises the "good banks" and punishes the "bad ones" (think Lehman). As a reminder, this is what Hank Paulson did back in 2008 when he forced all recently converted Bank Holding Companies to accept bail outs, whether they needed them or not, something that Jamie Dimon takes every opportunity to remind us of nowadays saying he never needed the money but that it was shoved down his throat. Be that as it may, the reason why there has been no borrowings on the Fed's discount window in years, in addition to the $1.6 trillion in excess fungible reserves floating in the system, is that banks know that even the faintest hint they are resorting to Fed largesse is equivalent to signing one's death sentence, and in many ways is the reason why the Fed keeps pumping cash into the system via QE instead of overnight borrowings. Yet what happened in Europe, when a few hundred banks borrowed just shy of €500 billion is in no way different than a mass bailout via a discount window. Still, over the past month, Europe which was on the edge equally and ratably, and in which every bank was known to be insolvent, has managed to stage a modest recovery, and now we are back to that most precarious of states - where there is explicit stigma associated with bailout fund usage. And unfortunately, it could not have come at a worse time for the struggling continent: with a new "firewall" LTRO on deck in three weeks, one which may be trillions of euros in size, ostensibly merely to shore up bank capital ahead of a Greek default, suddenly the question of who is solvent and who is insolvent is back with a vengeance, as the precarious Nash equilibrium of the past month collapses, and suddenly a two-tier banking system forms - the banks which the market will not short, and those which it will go after with a vengeance.
And so we've come full circle. The WSJ is reporting that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York will be seeking bids by the middle of this week for roughly $6 Billion dollars worth of residential mortgage backed securities currently held in Mainden Lane II. This would be on the heels of a $7 Billion dollar sale on January 19th to Credit Suisse.
The mainstream view uniting the entire political spectrum is that all our financial problems can be fixed by what amounts to top-down, centralized policy tweaks and regulation: for example, tweaking policies to "tax the rich," limit the size of "too big to fail" financial institutions, regulate credit default swaps, lower the cost of healthcare (a.k.a. sickcare), limit the abuses of student loans to pay for online diploma mills, and on and on and on. But what if the rot is already beyond the reach of more top-down policy tweaks? Consider the recent healthcare legislation: thousands of pages of obtuse regulations that require a veritable army of regulators staffing a sprawling fiefdom with the net result of uncertain savings based on a board somewhere in the labyrinth establishing "best practices" that will magically cut costs in a system that expands by 9% a year, each and every year, a system so bloated with fraud, embezzlement and waste that the total sum squandered is incalculable, but estimated at around 40%, minimum....The painful truth is that we are far beyond the point where policy/legalist regulatory tweaks will actually fix what's wrong with America. The rot isn't just financial or political; those are real enough, but they are mere reflections of a profound social, cultural, yes, spiritual rot. This is the great illusion: that our financial and political crises can be resolved with top-down, centralized financial reforms of one ideological flavor or another. It is abundantly clear that our crises extend far beyond a lack of regulation or policy tweaks. We cling to this illusion because it is easy and comforting; the problems can all be solved without any work or sacrifice on our part.
It has only been a week since we discussed the San Francisco Fed's research group admitted that water was wet Fed policy will be unable to impact unemployment since the cyclical changes are more structural leading to jobless recoveries as fat is removed from the system. The powerless Fed now has another well-researched problem. As Daniel Wilson of the FRBSF sheepishly admits (having spent several thousands in taxpayer cash to fund the latest Fed 'white paper') with regard to the impact of fiscal stimulus: It is an inconvenient reality that this literature provides an enormous range of multiplier estimates, ranging from –1 to +3. Critically he notes that the benefits of fiscal stimulus vary with the business cycle and are strongest during recessions. So, given that the US is decoupling and that we are not in a recession, we assume the multiplier effect of the Fed's much-desired fiscal stimulus requests will be at the lower end of the range - either negative or inconsequential?
In other words, for the Fed to get its desired fiscal stimulus from the government they had better engineer, using only the monetary policies up their sleeves, a recession.
The last week has offered an amusing display of the difference between the cheerleading corporate mainstream media, lying Wall Street shills and the critical thinking analysts. What passes for journalism at CNBC and the rest of the mainstream print and TV media is beyond laughable. Their America is all about feelings. Are we confident? Are we bullish? Are we optimistic about the future? America has turned into a giant confidence game. The governing elite spend their time spinning stories about recovery and manipulating public opinion so people will feel good and spend money. Facts are inconvenient to their storyline. The truth is for suckers. They know what is best for us and will tell us what to do and when to do it.... The drones at this government propaganda agency relentlessly massage the data until they achieve a happy ending. They use a birth/death model to create jobs out of thin air, later adjusting those phantom jobs away in a press release on a Friday night. They create new categories of Americans to pretend they aren’t really unemployed. They use more models to make adjustments for seasonality. Then they make massive one-time adjustments for the Census. Essentially, you can conclude that anything the BLS reports on a monthly basis is a wild ass guess, massaged to present the most optimistic view of the world. The government preferred unemployment rate of 8.3% is a terrible joke and the MSM dutifully spouts this drivel to a zombie-like public. If the governing elite were to report the truth, the public would realize we are in the midst of a 2nd Great Depression.
Mind versus technicals.
Bernanke's recognition of his penalizing savers with low rates as an 'issue for people' sparked an interesting note from the WSJ on how sensible and stoic savers are being herded (unsafely) into risky investments. Bernanke's insistence that "our savers collectively have to hold all the assets of the economy and a strong economy produces much better returns in general" must be juxtaposed with comments from a money manager that "I don't think that's a fair-trade" for money intended to be invested safely. By removing the last shred of hope for a rise in savings rates anytime soon, the Fed is once again creating the potential for major unintended consequences as the 30% drop in interest income for US savers from the 2008 peak forces them to extend duration (TSYs), lower quality (corporate bonds), and/or increase leverage/risk (equities). One only has to look at Treasury yields, Muni yields, investment-grade bond yields, and now high-yield bond yields for how tempted investors (retail and professional 'insurance/pension' assets) have become to take their safest net worth asset (low risk liquidity) and expose it to the business/credit cycle and all its myriad event risks. While reducing the rate of savings might seem sensible for the short-term from the Fed perspective, it leaves a wholly unsustainable recovery (or bubble in who knows which asset class next) and as Nordea notes this week, based on their models, a considerably higher savings rate will be needed going forward (for any sustainability) even as 'saved money' is rotated into risk or spent on quality-of-life maintenance. Perhaps it is time for many to listen to the sensibilities of the WSJ's last (75 year-old) interviewee who notes "At my age, I can't be a risk-taker anymore" as maybe it is time to consider the reality of the recent good US data in relation to coinciding elements such as inventory build-up, plummeting household savings, and lower gas prices when adding to that risky investment.
- Greeks Struggle to Resolve Their Differences (WSJ)
- China May See Deeper Slowdown on Crisis: IMF (Bloomberg)
- Banks to take a hit on US home loans (FT)
- Europe’s banks face challenge on capital (FT)
- Smaller Interest-Rate, Credit-Default Swap Trades Seen On Horizon (WSJ)
- Pro-European elected Finland president (FT)
- Push Sputters for Credit-Default Swap Futures (WSJ)
- China Money Rate Rises as Central Bank Gauges Demand for Bills (Bloomberg)
- China Takes On Skeptics of Aid to Euro Zone (WSJ)
On The Failure Of Inflation Targeting, The Hubris Of Central Planning, The "Lost Pilot" Effect, And Economist IdiocySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/05/2012 11:49 -0400
As an ever greater portion of the world succumbs to authoritarian control (whether it is of military disposition, or as we first showed, a small room of economists defining the monetary fate of the future as central banks now hold nearly a third of world GDP within their balance sheets) we can't help but be amazed as the population simply sits idly by on the sidelines as the modern financial system repeats every single mistake of the past century, only this time with stakes so high not even Mars could bail out the world. Unfortunately, with the world having operated under patently false economic models spread by hacks whose only credibility is being endorsed by the same system that created these models over the past century, the only temporary solution to all financial problem is to "try harder." Sadly, the final outcome is well known - a global systematic reset, in which the foundation of all modern democracies - the myth of the welfare state (which at last check, was about $200 trillion underfunded on an NPV basis globally and is thus the most insolvent of all going concern entities in existence) is vaporized (there's that word again) leading to global conflict, misery and war. Sadly that is the price we will end up paying for over a century of flawed economic models, of "borrowing from the future", of ever more encroaching central planning, and of an economic paradigm so flawed that as Bill Buckler puts it, "Keynes’ response to those who questioned the “longer-term” consequences of his advocacy of credit-creation as a basis for money was - “In the long run, we are all dead”. It is difficult to overemphasise the venal arrogance of this remark or the destructiveness of its legacy." Alas, the last thing the central planning "fools" (more on that shortly) will admit is their erroneous hubris, which in the years to come will claims millions of lives. In the meantime, we can merely comfort ourselves with ever more insightful analyses into the heart of the broken system under which we all labor, such as this one by SocGen's Dylan Grice, whose latest letter on Popular Delusions is a call for "honest fools" - "Frequently, when we make mistakes we try to correct them not by changing the flawed thinking which led to the mistake in the first place, but by reapplying the same flawed thinking with even more determination. Behavioural psychologists call it the “lost pilot” effect, after the lost pilot who tried to reassure his passenger: “I have no idea where we’re going, but we’re making good time!” Policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic are treating today’s malaise with the same flaky thinking which created it in the first place. How can that work?" Simple answer: it can't.
The vast majority of professional investors are unable to contemplate truly dark times for the markets. After all, the two worst items most of them have witnessed (the Tech Bust and 2008) were both remedied within about 18 months and were followed by massive market rallies.Because of this, the idea that the financial system might fail or that we might see any number of major catastrophes (Germany leaving the EU, a US debt default, hyperinflation, etc.) is on par with Bigfoot or Unicorns for 99% of those whose jobs are to manage investors' money or advise investors on how to allocate their capital.
Let's compare three financial criminals. The first is an old-fashioned counterfeiter who doctors up paper and runs a printing press to produce fake currency. The second criminal borrows money based on a fraudulent asset and phantom future income. For example, the criminal might obtain a credit card based on false assets and income, or borrow money against a property that is worth far less than he claims and base his credit on an inflated fantasy income he does not actually receive. The third criminal borrows money from the Federal Reserve at zero interest and extends a loan to a fraudulent borrower because a government agency has guaranteed the loan. Whatever income the lender receives is pure gravy, and whatever losses are incurred when the fraud is uncovered are made good by the taxpayer. Since our banking system is based on money being borrowed into existence (i.e. fractional reserve), then how is creating money unsecured by either assets or income any different from actually counterfeiting bills? The outcome is identical: money created out of thin air.
Was the Chapter 11 Petition of MF Global Holdings filed fraudulently?