As Fortune's Stephen Gandel begins, "if you hate the Fed, you have a new hero." He is referring to none other than GMO's Jeremy Grantham who aggressively takes on the status-quo-hugging faith in the omnipotence in Central banking prowess with fact and anecdote in this brief interview..."Higher interest rates would have increased the wealth of savers. Instead, they became collateral damage of Bernanke's policies. The theory is that lower interest rates are supposed to spur capital spending, right? Then why is capital spending so weak at this stage of the cycle. There is no evidence at all that quantitative easing has boosted capital spending. We have always come roaring back from recessions, even after the mismanaged Great Depression. This time we are not..we have never had such a limited recovery."
When the profits from financializing collateral and leveraging those bets to the hilt far exceed generating wealth by creating products and services, the economy is soon hollowed out as the perverse incentives of financialization start driving every business decision and strategy. Fed-funded financialization creates a perverse set of incentives: talent and capital flow to unproductive skimming operations because that's what generates the outsized profits, effectively starving the real economy of talent and capital.
I think we are now even more strongly in a good-news-is-bad-news (and vice-versa) world. If we start seeing some strong economic data come out over the next few weeks and months, then I think the market - particularly the bond market and emerging markets - could get pretty squirrelly. Not that US stocks would be immune from this. Remember, the modern day Goldilocks environment for stocks has nothing to do with a happy medium between growth and inflation, but everything to do with growth being weak enough to keep an accommodative Fed in play. Strong growth data would augment a Common Knowledge structure that the Fed is on track to raise rates sooner and more rather than later and less, and that's no fun for anyone. Then again, if global growth data remains weak - and you really can't look at what's coming out of China, Europe, or Japan and think that the global growth story is anything but weak - that creates enough uncertainty about the Fed's path (not to mention the cover for political and economic Powers That Be to wage a full-scale media war to keep monetary policy in QE la-la land forever) to support the markets. Sounds a lot like Freedonia to me. Rufus T. Firefly for President?
Despite much hope that the current breakout of the markets is the beginning of a new secular "bull" market - the economic and fundamental variables suggest otherwise. Valuations and sentiment are at very elevated levels while interest rates, inflation, wages and savings rates are all at historically low levels. This set of fundamental variables are normally seen at the end of secular bull market periods. It is entirely conceivable that stock prices can be driven higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, current momentum, and excessive optimism. However, the current economic variables, demographic trends and underlying fundamentals make it currently impossible to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's. These dynamics increase the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. The good news is that it is precisely that reversion that will likely create the "set up" necessary to launch the next great secular bull market. However, as was seen at the bottom of the market in 1974, there were few individual investors left to enjoy the beginning of that ride.
There are three things that are often spotted, widely believed, and actively sought after with little evidence they actually exist: Big Foot, Ghosts and Economic "Soft Landings." Over the past 159 years, there is not much evidence that an economic "soft landing" has ever occurred. However, it is not without precedent that as the economy reaches the latter stage of the growth cycle that the words "soft landing" are uttered by economists and Federal Reserve members. Why do we bring this up? Bihnamin Appelbaum, via the New York Times, recently interviewed John Williams, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who stated: "John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is feeling pretty good about the economy. He is ready to continue the Fed’s retreat from bond-buying and forward guidance. And he says he’s optimistic that this time, the Fed will manage to produce a soft landing."
From a strictly empirical perspective, the Keynesian theory is a disaster. Positivism wise, it’s a smoldering train wreck. You would be hard-pressed to comb through historical data and find great instances where government intervention succeeded in lowering employment without creating the conditions for another downturn further down the line. No matter how you spin it, Keynesianism is nothing but snake oil sold to susceptible political figures. Its practitioners feign using the scientific method. But they are driven just as much by logical theory as those haughty Austrian school economists who deduce truth from self-evident axioms. The only difference is that one theory is correct. And if the Keynesians want to keep pulling up data to make their case, they are standing on awfully flimsy ground.
A critical element for investors to consider is that the Fed is not forward thinking when it comes to monetary policy. Indeed, if we reflect on the last 15 years, we see that the Fed has been well behind the curve on everything.
“The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort – in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it.”
The core elements of this Fourth Turning continue to propel this Crisis: debt, civic decay, global disorder. Central bankers, politicians, and government bureaucrats have been able to fashion the illusion of recovery and return to normalcy, but their “solutions” are nothing more than smoke and mirrors exacerbating the next bloodier violent stage of this Fourth Turning. The emergencies will become increasingly dire, triggering unforeseen reactions and unintended consequences. The civic fabric of our society will be torn asunder.
The "good" news this evening is that Baoding Tianwei Baobian Electric Co (TBE), the company which as recently as two days ago was rumored to be the second "imminent" Chinese corporate bond default which sent copper to multi year lows, has issued a statement that it will not default on its upcoming interest payment (due July 11th - so how the delisted company is convinced it will have enough cash four months from now is a mustery). The "bad" news is that markets don't care. There is a slight whiff of positivity in Copper futures but aside from that, weakness continues in China's corporate bond and stock market. Simply put, the market gets it - this is no longer about the next idiosyncratic bond (or trust) to default; this is about Xi's renewed confidence in efforts to 'clean up' the mounting local government and corporate debts and shrink the shadow-banking bubble. This is systemic, and the markets know it.
While the Fed's interventions have certainly bolstered asset prices by driving a "carry trade," these programs do not address the central issue necessary in a consumer driven economy which is "employment." In an economy that is nearly 70% driven by consumption, production comes first in the economic order. Without a job, through which an individual produces a good or service in exchange for payment, there is no income to consume with. With the Federal Reserve now effectively removing the "patient" from life support, we will see if the economy can sustain itself. If this recent Bloomberg poll is correct, then we are likely to get an answer very shortly, and it may very well be disappointment.
Now that it appears clear the bottom is in for gold, it’s time to stop fretting about how low prices will drop and how long the correction will last - and start looking at how high they’ll go and when they’ll get there. When viewing the gold market from a historical perspective, one thing that’s clear is that the junior mining stocks tend to fluctuate between extreme boom and bust cycles. As a group, they’ll double in price, then crash by 75%... then double or triple or even quadruple again, only to crash 90%. Boom, bust, repeat. Given that we just completed a major bust cycle - and not just any bust cycle, but one of the harshest on record, according to many veteran insiders - the setup for a major rally in gold stocks is right in front of us.
There probably isn’t a more over-used phrase thrown across the media landscape than, “It’s different this time.” One can’t look at the financial markets, the political stage, and more without shaking ones head. Nothing seems to make sense. Yet if one wants to lazily answer, “It’s different this time.” Things become crystal clear. Water now seems to run uphill. The definition of words no longer mean what they once did. (we’re still marveling on what is – is) Free society means the loss of only a few freedoms per year, as opposed to everything at once. Work is a bad thing however, if someone else goes to work and pay for your things – then that’s good. You can keep your plan if you like your plan – but if we don’t like it – well – you can’t. The Federal Reserve would never monetize the debt – however if you’re a preferred dealer in the QE (quantitative easing) program – they’ll do it for you. These precarious times leave many scratching their heads. Expressed another way, When everyone is on the band wagon – except the band. You had better take notice.
Since 1999, the annual real economic growth rate has run at 1.94%, which is the lowest growth rate in history including the "Great Depression." While the Fed's ongoing interventions since 2009 have provided support to the current economic cycle, they have not "repealed" the business cycle completely. The Fed's actions work to pull forward future consumption to support the current economy. This has boosted corporate profitability at a time when the effectiveness of corporate profitability tools were most effective. However, such actions leave a void in the future that must be filled by organic economic growth. The problem comes when such growth does not appear. With the economy continuing to "struggle" at an anaemic pace, the effects of cost cutting are becoming less effective. This is not a "bearish" prediction of an impending economic crash, but rather just a realization that all economic, and earnings, forecasts, are subject to the overall business cycle.
Mainstream media discussion of the macro economic picture goes something like this: “When there is a recession, the Fed should stimulate. We know from history the recovery comes about 12-18 months after stimulus. We stimulated, we printed a lot of money, we waited 18 months. So the economy ipso facto has recovered. Or it’s just about to recover, any time now.” But to quote the comedian Richard Pryor, “Who ya gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?” However, as Hayek said, the more the state centrally plans, the more difficult it becomes for the individual to plan. Economic growth is not something that just happens. It requires saving. It requires investment and capital accumulation. And it requires the real market process. It is not a delicate flower but it requires some degree of legal stability and property rights. And when you get in the way of these things, the capital accumulation stops and the economy stagnates.
There’s good propaganda and bad propaganda. Bad propaganda is generally crude, amateurish Judy Miller “mobile weapons lab-type” nonsense that figures that people are so stupid they’ll believe anything that appears in “the paper of record.” Good propaganda, on the other hand, uses factual, sometimes documented material in a coordinated campaign with the other major media to cobble-together a narrative that is credible, but false. The so called Fed’s transcripts, which were released last week, fall into the latter category... But while the conversations between the members are accurately recorded, they don’t tell the gist of the story or provide the context that’s needed to grasp the bigger picture. Instead, they’re used to portray the members of the Fed as affable, well-meaning bunglers who did the best they could in ‘very trying circumstances’. While this is effective propaganda, it’s basically a lie, mainly because it diverts attention from the Fed’s role in crashing the financial system, preventing the remedies that were needed from being implemented (nationalizing the giant Wall Street banks), and coercing Congress into approving gigantic, economy-killing bailouts which shifted trillions of dollars to insolvent financial institutions that should have been euthanized. What I’m saying is that the Fed’s transcripts are, perhaps, the greatest propaganda coup of our time.