Having previously reduced the world's predicament to two short paragraphs, Jim Grant has outdone himself with this holiday card this year...
It is truly amazing to see the contortions into which some analysts twist themselves, trying to make the historical facts fit their economic models.
Having recently given us a two paragraph synopsis of all that is wrong with our financial market faith in fed officialdom, Jim Grant unleashes his critical wit and insight on CNBC to explain the Fed's new remit, as Bill Dudley recently explained, "the administration of American equity prices." The Fed will find it difficult ro raise rates - both technically (for reasons we have explained in detail previously) and "they will find many blocks in the way having to do with financial markets' reaction." Simply put, the Fed wants to raise rates but mostly it wants peace and quiet, which it does not have: "The Fed is America's central bank but it is the steward of the world's currency," and as Grant concludes, "it is raining currencies around the world... and the Fed must be coginizant of that."
Every year, David Collum writes a detailed "Year in Review" synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year's is no exception. "I have not seen a year in which so many risks - some truly existential - piled up so quickly. Each risk has its own, often unknown, probability of morphing into a destructive force. It feels like we’re in the final throes of a geopolitical Game of Tetris as financial and political authorities race to place the pieces correctly. But the acceleration is palpable. The proximate trigger for pain and ultimately a collapse can be small, as anyone who’s ever stepped barefoot on a Lego knows..."
Just four charts to consider now that The Fed has stepped away, the Shale Oil miracle has been exposed for the debt-fueled mal-investment boom that it is, cold-weather is coming, and stock market bulls are forced to face some awkward truths...
"... we seem to have miscalculated..."
"Perhaps sooner rather than later, investors must recognize that modern day inflation, while a necessary condition for survival, is not a sufficient condition for increasing wealth at a rate necessary to satisfy future liabilities associated with education, health care, and a satisfactory retirement. The real economy needs money printing, yes, but money spending more so, and that must come from the fiscal side – from the dreaded government side – where deficits are anathema and balanced budgets are increasingly in vogue. Until then, deflation remains a growing possibility – not the kind that creates prosperity but the kind that’s the trouble for prosperity."
Central banks are printing rules almost as fast as they’re printing money. The consequences of these fast-multiplying directives — complicated, long-winded, and sometimes self-contradictory — is one topic at hand. Manipulated interest rates is a second. Distortion and mispricing of stocks, bonds, and currencies is a third. Skipping to the conclusion of this essay, Jim Grant is worried: "The more they tried, the less they succeeded. The less they succeeded, the more they tried. There is no 'exit.'"
“Hyperinflation and hyper-deflation are just two different forms of the same phenomenon: credit collapse. Arguing which of the two forms will dominate is futile: it blurs the focus of inquiry and frustrates efforts to avoid disaster.”
I think this is a time where people will look back on us and see it as a period of practically central bank worship. The central bankers – Draghi, Yellen, Bernanke – have become almost celebrities in America. People have invested unreasonable hopes in what these central banks can know, and what they can do. I think that, sooner or later, the investing public will become disillusioned of these ideas.... I dare say that stock prices will not continue to rise uninterrupted at the same pace. That’s not a very interesting prediction, but the stock market is certainly a cyclical thing. I think it’s fair to observe that today’s ultra-low interest rates flatter stock market valuations. Stock prices are partly valued based on a discounted flow of dividend income. To the extent that the discount rate you use to value that stream of dividend income, which depends on interest rates, is artificially low, stock prices are artificially high. I think that the burden of proof is on anyone who would assert that we are in a new age of persistently and steadily rising stock prices.
On Nov. 15, 2010, a letter signed by academics, economists and money managers warned that the Federal Reserve's strategy of buying bonds and other securities to reduce interest rates risked "currency debasement and inflation" and could "distort financial markets." As Bloomberg reports, they also said it wouldn't achieve the Fed's objective of promoting employment. Four years later, many members of the group, which includes Seth Klarman of Baupost Group LLC and billionaire Paul Singer of Elliott Management Corp., explain why they stand by the letter's content...
"The central bank imposed interest rates are the source of global financial instability now and in the future," warns Grant's Interest Rate Observer's Jim Grant, adding that "The Fed... has manipulated us into a period of quite eerie stability and measured volatility." Grant believes, given the values (and aware of the risks) that Russian "stocks stand to do very well," and also likes mining stocks as he warns credit markets are overvalued (especially sovereign debt). His conclusion, own gold as "it stands to benefit from the demonstrated, as opposed the theoretically likely, crack up of the [current] monetary arrangements."
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.