The Bank of Japan will, for the first time in history, "own" all of Japan's GDP on its balance sheet some time in 2018 when its "assets" as a percentage of GDP surpass 100%, and then proceed in linear fashion to add about 10% of GDP to its balance sheet with every passing year until everything inevitably comes crashing down.
The Fed's capabilities to engineer changes in economic growth and inflation are asymmetric. It has been historically documented that central bank tools are well suited to fight excess demand and rampant inflation; the Fed showed great resolve in containing the fast price increases in the aftermath of World Wars I and II and the Korean War. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, rampant inflation was again brought under control by a determined and persistent Federal Reserve. However, when an economy is excessively over-indebted and disinflationary factors force central banks to cut overnight interest rates to as close to zero as possible, central bank policy is powerless to further move inflation or growth metrics. The periods between 1927 and 1939 in the U.S. (and elsewhere), and from 1989 to the present in Japan, are clear examples of the impotence of central bank policy actions during periods of over-indebtedness. Four considerations suggest the Fed will continue to be unsuccessful in engineering increasing growth and higher inflation with their continuation of the current program of Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP)...
Some confidence tricks have characteristics that don’t quite fit the Fonz. Take the swindles known as Ponzi schemes. These are tricks that need an endless supply of participants to sustain confidence and stay alive. Once the participant pool depletes as it eventually must, the tricks are revealed as scams. Whereas Fonzies can persist indefinitely (at least in theory), Ponzis eventually collapse. Note that the U.S. has already passed its Ponzi point by Minsky’s definition. According to Minsky, borrowing qualifies as Ponzi finance whenever fresh issuance is needed to fund interest on existing debt. Based on the common assumption that the U.S. would miss its interest payments without regular increases in the statutory debt limit, this is indeed the case
What perhaps Minsky couldn’t conceive of was the point at which debt, deficits and interest rates would go to such extremes that the creation of credit itself, which was and remains the heart of capitalism, would be threatened. No longer might the seventh inning stretch lead to a Coke, some “Cracker Jacks” and the resumption of the old ballgame. Instead, zero-bound interest rates and debt/GDP ratios in a majority of capitalistic economies would begin to threaten, not heal, the nature of finance and investment in the real economy. Investors, leery of not only overleveraged investment banks such as Lehman Brothers, but overextended countries such as Greece, Cyprus and a host of Euroland lookalikes would derisk as opposed to rerisk as per the Minsky model. As well, with interest rates close to the zero bound, investors in intermediate and long term bonds would become dependent on Big Bank to do their bidding. When that QE buying power became jeopardized via tapering and the eventual ninth inning conclusion of asset purchases, then the process of maturity extension and the terming out of historically modeled corporate lending was prematurely threatened.
In UBS' view, 1994 is critical for guiding investing today. The key point about 1994 was not that US bond yields rose during a global recovery. But that the leverage and positioning built up in previous years, on the assumption that yields would remain low, then got stressed. The central issue, they note, is that a long period of lacklustre growth, low rates and easy money induces individual investors, funds, non-financial corporates and banks to reach for yield. In many cases, they gear up to do it. And as Hyman Minsky warned; in this way, stability breeds leverage, and leverage breeds instability. It is much less likely that we see the US enter a ‘high plateau’ of growth as we saw from 1995-98, where the US saw a powerful productivity & credit fuelled boom while the emerging markets deflated. And it makes it more likely that the US stays on a lower trajectory, interspersed with periodic recessionary slowdowns in the years ahead. The point at which the market realises this would likely herald a significant risk-off event.
The fastest growing part of the median household income for nearly a quarter of a century has been transfer payments. The state has stepped in to fill the gap left by the breakdown of the previous social conract. The new efforts to renegotiate the basket of goods citizens receive is likely to antagonize employee and employer relationships.
A small note on the frankly hilarious news that the Dow Jones Industrial Average smashed through to all-time-highs. First of all, while stock prices are soaring household income and household confidence are slumping to all-time lows. Employment remains depressed, energy remains expensive, housing remains depressed, wages and salaries as a percentage of GDP keep falling, and the economy remains in a deleveraging cycle. Essentially, these are not the conditions for strong organic business growth, for a sustainable boom. We’re going through a structural economic adjustment, and suffering the consequences of a huge 40-year debt-fuelled boom. While the fundamentals remain weak, it can only be expected that equity markets should remain weak. But that is patently not what has happened. With every day that the DJIA climbs to new all-time highs, more suckers will be drawn into the market. But it won’t last. Insiders have already gone aggressively bearish. This time isn’t different.
Our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic – it is running out of energy and time. When does money run out of time? The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return; when lenders desert credit markets for other alternatives such as cash or real assets.
From a valuation perspective, Chinese equities do not, at first glance, look to be a likely candidate for trouble. The PE ratios are either 12 or 15 times on MSCI China, depending on whether you include financials or not, and do not scream 'bubble'. And yet, China has been a source of worry for GMO over the past three years and continues to be one. China scares them because it looks like a bubble economy. Understanding these kinds of bubbles is important because they represent a situation in which standard valuation methodologies may fail. Just as financial stocks gave a false signal of cheapness before the GFC because the credit bubble pushed their earnings well above sustainable levels and masked the risks they were taking, so some valuation models may fail in the face of the credit, real estate, and general fixed asset investment boom in China, since it has gone on long enough to warp the models' estimation of what "normal" is. Of course, every credit bubble involves a widening divergence between perception and reality. China's case is not fundamentally different. In GMO's extensive discussion below, they have documented rapid credit growth against the background of a nationwide property bubble, the worst of Asian crony lending practices, and the appearance of a voracious and unstable shadow banking system. "Bad" credit booms generally end in banking crises and are followed by periods of lackluster economic growth. China appears to be heading in this direction.
Pump it up, until you can feel it, Pump it up, when you don't really need it...
It is important to consider how beneficial a debt reset — so long as society comes out of it in one piece — will be in the long run. As both Friedrich Hayek and Hyman Minsky saw it, with the weight of excessive debt and the costs of deleveraging either reduced or removed, long-depressed-economies would be able to grow organically again. This is obviously not ideal, but it is surely better than remaining in a Japanese-style deleveraging trap. Yet while most of the economic establishment remain convinced that the real problem is one of aggregate demand, and not excessive total debt, such a prospect still remains distant. The most likely pathway continues to be one of stagnation, with central banks printing just enough money to keep the debt serviceable (and handing it to the financial sector, which will surely continue to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else). This is a painful and unsustainable status quo and the debt reset — and without an economic miracle, it will eventually arrive — will in the long run likely prove a welcome development for the vast majority of people and businesses.
And now a little something for everyone who consistently has a nagging feeling that at any second the world is one short flap of a butterfly's wings away from complete systemic disintegration: according to David Korowicz of FEASTA, and his most recent paper: 'Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse." that just may be the case. Think of the attached 78-page paper as Nassim Taleb meets Edward Lorenz meets Malcom Gladwell meets Arthur Tansley meets Herman Muller meets Werner Heisenberg meets Hyman Minsky meets William Butler Yeats, and the resultant group spends all night drinking absinthe and smoking opium, while engaging in illegal debauchery in the 5th sub-basement of the Moulin Rouge circa 1890. To wit: "Something sets off an interrelated Eurozone crisis and banking crisis, a Spanish default say, which spreads panic and fear across other vulnerable Eurozone countries. This sets off a Minsky moment when overleveraged speculators in the banking and shadow banking system are forced to unwind positions into a one-sided (sellers only) market. The financial system contagion passes a tipping point where governments and central banks start to lose control and panic drives a (positive feedback) deepening and widening of the impact globally. In our tropic model of the globalised economy, the banking and monetary system keystone hub comes out of its equilibrium range, crosses a tipping point, and is driven away by positive feedbacks to some new state.... it is very clear that we have learned almost nothing general about risk management as a societal practice arising from the financial crisis. We have merely adopted a new consensus, with a questionable acknowledgement that we will not let this type of crisis happen again. However, the argument in this following report is that we are facing growing real-time, severe, civilisation transforming risks without any risk management."
Brad DeLong makes an odd claim:
So the big lesson is simple: trust those who work in the tradition of Walter Bagehot, Hyman Minsky, and Charles Kindleberger. That means trusting economists like Paul Krugman, Paul Romer, Gary Gorton, Carmen Reinhart, Ken Rogoff, Raghuram Rajan, Larry Summers, Barry Eichengreen, Olivier Blanchard, and their peers. Just as they got the recent past right, so they are the ones most likely to get the distribution of possible futures right.
Larry Summers? If we’re going to base our economic policy on trusting in Larry Summers, should we not reappoint Greenspan as Fed Chairman? Or — better yet — appoint Charles Ponzi as head of the SEC? Or a fox to guard the henhouse? Or a tax cheat as Treasury Secretary? Or a war criminal as a peace ambassador? (Yes — reality is more surreal than anything I could imagine).
Here we go again. Back in July 2011 we wrote an article entitled "The Real Banking Crisis" where we discussed the increasing instability of the Eurozone banks suffering from depositor bank runs. Since that time (and two LTRO infusions and numerous bailouts later), Eurozone banks, as represented by the Euro Stoxx Banks Index, have fallen more than 50% from their July 2011 levels and are now in the midst of yet another breakdown led by the abysmal situation currently unfolding in Greece and Spain.... Although the last eight months have not played out the way we would have expected for gold, they have played out the way we envisioned for the banks. The question now is how long this can go on for, and how long gold can remain under pressure in a banking crisis that has the potential to spread beyond Greece and Spain? So much now rests on the policy responses fashioned by the US Fed and ECB, and just as much also rests on what's left of European citizens' confidence in their local banking institutions. Neither of these things can be precisely measured or predicted, but we continue to firmly believe that depositors in Greece and Spain will choose gold over drachmas or pesetas if they have the foresight and are given the freedom to act accordingly. The number one reason we have always believed gold should be owned, and why we believe it will go higher, is people's growing distrust of the banking system - and we are now there. We will wait and see how the summer develops, and keep our attention firmly focused of the second phase of the bank run now spreading across southern Europe.
While eugenicists and Keynesians make correct descriptive observations — like the fact that certain qualities and traits are inheritable, or more simply that children are like their parents — their attempts to use the state as a mechanism to control these natural systems often turns out to be drastically worse than the natural systems that they seek to replace. As Keynes seems to admit when — in the German language edition of his General Theory — he noted that the conditions of a totalitarian state may be more amenable to his economic theory, the desire for control may be the real story here. Keynesianism brings more of the economy under the control of the state. It is a slow and creeping descent into dependency on the state. As we are seeing in Europe today, cuts in state spending in a state-dependent economy can cause deep economic contraction, providing the Keynesian more confirmation for his idea that the state should tax more, and spend more. That is, until nature intervenes. Just as a state-controlled eugenics program might well spawn an inbred elite suffering hereditary illnesses as a result of a lack of genetic diversity, so a state-controlled economy may well grind itself into the dirt as it runs out of innovation as a result of a lack of economic diversity. Such a situation is unsustainable — no planner is smarter than nature.