There has been no forward progress in US hourly compensation over the last half century. How it is possible that the world’s richest and most technologically advanced economy ever, operating during a 50-year period that included the invention of the Internet … the triumph of capitalism in China and Russia … and a landing on the moon – that is the most bountiful half-century in human history – failed to make its most important component parts better off. And at the bedrock level, we find the explanation: Fed policies are dangerous claptrap.
The only thing that can be said about Janet Yellen’s simple-minded paint-by-the-numbers performance yesterday is that the Keynesian apotheosis is complete. American capitalism and all political life, too, is now ruled by a 12-member monetary politburo, which is essentially accountable to no one except its own misbegotten doctrine that prosperity flows from the end of a printing press.
“Excessively low interest rates are inflationary because they mean that bonds, stocks, real estate and unincorporated businesses are capitalized at excessively high rates, and will fall in value even though the annual income they pay remains the same, if interest rates rise.” If interest rates were artificially low, it would follow that prevailing investment values are artificially high. I contend that they are, and you may or may not agree. Natural interest rates — free-range, organic, sustainable — are what we need. Hot-house interest rates — the government’s puny, genetically modified kind — are the ones we have.
We do not need “monetary policy” any more than we need a paintbrush policy, a baseball bat policy, or an automobile policy. We do not need a monopoly institution to create money for us. Money, like any good, is better produced on the market within the nexus of economic calculation. Money creation by government or its privileged central bank yields us business cycles, monetary debasement, and an increase in the power of government. It is desirable from neither an economic nor a libertarian standpoint. If we are going to utter monetary truths, this one is the most central and subversive of all.
In three concisely-worded, precisely-defined, factually-correct minutes, Jim Grant not only deconstructs Janet Yellen's mumblings this morning but explains how each of the Fed's three beholden doctrines...
- We believe in price control
- We believe in market manipulation
- We believe in the Phillips Curve
...have been discredited as heresies over time; and, as Grant so poetically notes, Yellen "did not touch on the moral quandary that low interest rates introduce into our country - grandmothers, grandfathers, savers are figuratively on their hand and knees and rooting around in bushes and between sofa seats for lose change on which to sustain themselves."
From 110 slides of Ackman-inspired Fannie Mae bullishness to Tudor-Jones "Central Bank Viagra", and from Jim Grant's "Buy Gazprom because it's the worst-managed company in the world" to Jeff Gundlach's housing recovery bearishness and "never seeing 1.5 million home starts ever again"... there was a little here for every bull, dick, and harry at the Ira Sohn conference. Perhaps noted behavioral psychologist said its best though: "be careful about the quality of advice you get."
For 18 years, the Ira Sohn Conference has enabled hedge fund managers to pitch their best long (and short) ideas to the rest of the investing public. This year's speakers include Bill Ackman, David Einhorn, Jeff Gundlach, Jim Grant, and Paul Tudor Jones. Listen carefully, trade accordingly, but bear in mind the following table when judging just how masterful of the universe these guys really are...
At the young age of 22 Henry Hazlitt figured out the future involves too many factors for anyone to predict, not to mention just knowing what the relevant factors are. Jim Grant admitted it took him 40 years in the business to finally realize he couldn’t understand the future, noting, however, unfortunately the folks working at the Eccles Building have not come to this realization. The PhDs believe they can depreciate the currency at the proper rate to cause everyone gainful employment and live happily ever after. Hazlitt also has a fan in Rich Santelli who notes that if government makes loans, that private lenders won’t make, to entities that can’t pay back, economic signals get destroyed, and chaos ensues. Chaos, indeed...
With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
In less than 30-seconds, the always eloquent founder of the Interest Rate Observer 'translates' Yellen's Fed speak into reality:-
"What we mean to do is continue to nationalize the yield curve... and we would like to enlist the stock market in a program of wealth creation for the security holders of America."
The Fed has manipulated interest rates for 100 years but Grant adds, "never - until now - has it manipulated the stock market as if it were a lever of public policy." His discussion ranges from the bubble in Biotech to holding Gold (which he describes as "nature's bitcoin") because it is "the reciprocal of faith in Central Banks."
"The market is way overdue for a 20 to 30% drop," Marc Faber warns, "but that is not what worries him." Sarcastically reflecting on the typical talking-head that appears on financial media, Faber adds you won't "hear this view from someone who is fully invested," as he "hopes the market drops 40% so stocks will become - from a value point of view - attractive." The outspoken Faber channels Jim Grant as he exclaims, "the experience with quantitative easing is a complete failure. It has lifted asset prices and created asset inflation, but it hasn't lifted the standard of living of most people in the U.S. nor worldwide."
Even before the new myRA program was announced, there had been whispers about the need for the US government to assume some risk for US retirement accounts. That's code for forced conversion of private retirement assets into government bonds. As bad as it is to deceive naïve Americans into trading their hard-earned retirement savings for garbage (i.e., Treasury securities), the myRA program potentially represents something far worse... the first step toward the nationalization of existing private retirement accounts.
In a mere 140 seconds, Jim Grant explains to an almost stunned into silence Rick Santelli how we all "live in a valuation hall of mirrors" as the Fed manipulates everything. Thanks to it's "fingers and thumbs on the scales of finance," Grant continues, the Fed "insists on saving us from 'everyday low prices'" - what they call deflation - and by doing so it manufactures "redundant credit" which "does mischief" in and out of markets. Grant, ominously concludes, "there is no suspense as to how [this will] end... [it will] end badly."
From the United States to Europe and Asia: The world's central banks are flooding markets with liquidity and pushing deeper into unknown monetary policy territory. Jim Grant tells Germany's Finanz und Wirtschaft that he "fears that this journey will not end well." The sharply thinking Wall Street veteran doesn’t trust the theoretical models of the central banks and warns of irrational exuberance in the financial markets adding that "the stock market is increasingly full of stocks that are borne aloft by hope rather than demonstrated performance."