Central bankers have been counting on "the wealth effect" to lift their economies out of the post-2009 global meltdown slump. The wealth effect concept is simple: flooding the economy with credit and zero-interest money boosts the value of assets such as housing, stocks and bonds. Those owning the assets feel wealthier, and thus more inclined to borrow and spend more money. This new spending creates more demand which then leads employers to hire more employees. Unfortunately for the bottom 90% who don't own enough stocks to feel any wealth effect, the central bankers got it wrong: wages don't rise as a result of the wealth effect, they rise from an increased production of goods and services. Despite unprecedented money-printing, zero interest rates and vast credit expansion, real wages have declined.
Selling snake oil and issuing unbacked paper currency are not so different. They're both wildly successful ploys for the guys pulling the strings. And they're both complete scams that depend solely on the confidence of a willing, ignorant public. But once the confidence begins to erode, the fraud unravels very, very quickly, and the perpetrators resort to desperate measures in order to keep the party going. In the case of fiat currency, governments in terminal decline resort to a very limited, highly predictable playbook in which they try to control... everything... imposing capital controls, exchange controls, wage controls, price controls, trade controls, border controls, and sometimes even people controls. These tactics have been used since the ancient Sumerians. This time is not different.
"History is replete with examples of societies whose downfalls were related to or caused by the destruction of money. The end of this phase of global financial history will likely erupt suddenly. It will take almost everyone by surprise, and then it may grind a great deal of capital and societal cohesion into dust and pain. We wish more global leaders understood the value of sound economic policy, the necessity of sound money, and the difference between governmental actions that enable growth and economic stability and those that risk abject ruin. Unfortunately, it appears that few leaders do."
- Paul Singer, Elliott Management
Since Alan Greenspan became the Fed chairman in 1987, there has been a policy consensus on the primary role and effectiveness of monetary policy in cushioning an economic downturn and kicking it back to growth. Fiscal policy, due to the political difficulties in making meaningful changes, was relegated to a minor role in economic management. Staving off crisis and reviving growth still dominate today's conversation. The prima facie evidence is that the experiment has failed. The dominant voice in policy discussions is advocating more of the same. When a medicine isn't working, it could be the wrong one or the dosage isn't sufficient. The world is trying the latter. But, if the medicine is really wrong, more and more of the same will kill the patient one day. The global economy was a debt bubble, functioning on China over-borrowing and investing and the West over-borrowing and consuming. The dynamic came to an end when the debt crises exposed debt levels in the West as too high. The last source of debt growth, the U.S. government, is coming to an end, too, as politics forces it to reduce the deficit. Trying to bring back yesterday through monetary growth will eventually bring inflation, not growth.
Keynesian stimulus policies (deficit spending and low-interest easy money) create speculative credit bubbles. The U.S. economy is a neofeudal debt-serf wasteland with few opportunities for organic (non-Central Planning) expansion. The velocity of money is in free-fall, and borrowing, squandering and printing trillions of dollars to prop up a diminishing-return Status Quo won't reverse that historic collapse. Put another way: we've run out of speculative credit bubbles to exploit.
When people talk about "cash in the bank", or "money on the sidelines", the conventional wisdom reverts to an image of inert capital, used by banks to fund loans (as has been the case under fractional reserve banking since time immemorial) sitting in a bank vault or numbered account either physically or electronically, and collecting interest, well, collecting interest in the Old Normal (not the New ZIRPy one, where instead of discussing why it is not collecting interest the progressive intelligentsia would rather debate such trolling idiocies as trillion dollar coins, quadrillion euro Swiss cheeses, and quintillion yen tuna). There is one problem, however, with this conventional wisdom: it is dead wrong. Tracking deposit flow data is so critical, as it provides hints of major inflection points, such as when there is a massive build up of deposits via reserves (either real, from saving clients, or synthetic, via the reserve pathway) which can then be used as investments in the market. And of all major inflection points, perhaps none is more critical than the just released data from today's H.6 statement, which showed that in the trailing 4 week period ended December 31, a record $220 billion was put into savings accounts (obviously a blatant misnomer in a time when there is no interest available on any savings). This is the biggest 4-week total amount injected into US savings accounts ever, greater than in the aftermath of Lehman, greater than during the first debt ceiling crisis, greater than any other time in US history.
Earlier today, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and CNBC's Steve Liesman got into a heated exchange over a recent Frezza article, based on some of the key points we made in a prior post "A Record $2 Trillion In Deposits Over Loans - The Fed's Indirect Market Propping Pathway Exposed" in which, as the title implies, we showed how it was that the Fed was indirectly intervening in the stock market by way of banks using excess deposits to chase risky returns and generally push the market higher. We urge readers to spend the few minutes of this clip to familiarize themselves with Frezza's point which is essentially what Zero Hedge suggested, and Liesman's objection that "this is something the banks don't do and can't do." Liesman's naive view, as is to be expected for anyone who does not understand money creation under a fractional reserve system, was simple: the Fed does not create reserves to boost bank profits, and thus shareholder returns, and certainly is not using the fungible cash, which at the end of the day is what reserves amount to once dispersed among the US banks, to gun risk assets higher.
Alas, Steve is very much wrong.
A month ago, we showed something disturbing: the weekly increase in savings deposits held at Commercial banks soared by a record $132 billion, more than the comparable surge during the Lehman Failure, the First Debt Ceiling Fiasco (not to be confused with the upcoming second one), and the First Greek Insolvency. And while there were certainly macro factors behind the move which usually indicates a spike in risk-aversion (and at least in the old days was accompanied by a plunge in stocks), a large reason for the surge was the unexpected rotation of some $70 billion in savings deposits at Thrift institutions leading to a combined increase in Savings accounts of some $60 billion. Moments ago the Fed released its weekly H.6 update where we find that while the relentless increase in savings accounts at commercial banks has continued, rising by another $70 billion in the past week, this time there was no offsetting drop in Savings deposits at Thrift Institutions, which also increased by $10.0 billion. The end result: an increase of $79.3 billion in total saving deposits at both commercial banks and thrifts, or an amount that is only the third largest weekly jump ever following the $102 billion surge following Lehman and the $92.4 billion rotation into savings following the first US debt ceiling debacle and US downgrade in August 2011.
All the extraordinary measures deployed since 2008 to jumpstart the U.S. economy are one-offs: either they cannot be repeated or they have lost their effectiveness. As a result, we now have an extraordinarily fragile one-off economy that is dependent on "emergency" measures that cannot be withdrawn even as their utility in the real economy dwindles by the day. These two dynamics--declining effectiveness and unrepeatability--have created a uniquely fragile economy. Once you become dependent on extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus, withdrawing the stimulus will trigger a recessionary cascade. But continuing the stimulus cannot duplicate its initial effectiveness, as malinvestment and unintended consequences degrade the initial boost.
In a sharp turn around from the open, Italian and Spanish 10yr government bond yield spreads over German bunds trade approx. 10bps tighter on the day, this follows several market events this morning that have lifted sentiment. Firstly from a fixed income perspective, both Spain and Greece managed to sell more in their respective t-bill auctions than analysts were expecting and thus has eased concerns ahead of longer dated issuance from Spain this Thursday. In terms of other trigger points for today's risk on tone the December headline reading in the German ZEW survey was positive for the first time since May 2012 coming in at an impressive 6.9 M/M from previous -15.7 with the ZEW economists adding that Germany will not face a recession. Finally, reports overnight have suggested that Italian PM Monti could be wooed by Centrist groups which means that if he wanted too the technocrat PM could stand for elections next year albeit under a different ticket. As such yesterday's concerns over the Italian political scene have abated and the FTSE MIB and the IBEX 35 are out performing the core EU bourses. Looking ahead highlights from the US include trade balance, wholesale inventories and a USD 32bln 3yr note auction, however, volumes and price action may remain light ahead of the key FOMC decision on Wednesday.
Back in June, we wrote an article titled "On The Verge Of A Historic Inversion In Shadow Banking" in which we showed that for the first time since December 1995, the total "shadow liabilities" in the United States - the deposit-free funding instruments that serve as credit to those unregulated institutions that are financial banks in all but name (i.e., they perform maturity, credit and liquidity transformations) - were on the verge of being once more eclipsed by traditional bank funding liabilities. As of Thursday, this inversion is now a fact, with Shadow Bank liabilities representing less in notional than traditional liabilities.
Sixteen years ago today, Alan Greenspan spoke the now infamous words "irrational exuberance" during an annual dinner speech at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Much has changed in the ensuing years (and oddly, his speech is worth a read as he draws attention time and again to the tension between the central bank and the government). Most critically, Greenspan was not wrong, just early. And the result of the market's delay in appreciating his warning has resulted in an epic shift away from those same asset classes that were most groomed and loved by Greenspan - Stocks, to those most hated and shunned by the Fed - Precious Metals. While those two words were his most famous, perhaps the following sentences are most prescient: "A democratic society requires a stable and effectively functioning economy. I trust that we and our successors at the Federal Reserve will be important contributors to that end."
Back in March, we first presented a rather stunning finding: by 2020 75% of Americans will be obese or overweight. This was promptly followed up with a post showing just how it is transpired that America became the fattest nation in the world in less than 20 years. What however may not be known, is that America's fatness epidemic is not localized to the country that gave the world the McDonalds burger (and the McMansion): it really is a fat, fat world, after all.
You've probably noticed the cookie-cutter format of most financial media "news": a few key "buzz words" (fiscal cliff, Bush tax cuts, etc.) are inserted into conventional contexts, and this is passed off as either "reporting" or "commentary" depending on the number of pundits sourced. Correspondent Frank M. kindly passed along a template that is "officially deny its existence" secret within the mainstream media. With this template, you could launch your own financial media channel, ready to compete with the big boys. Heck, you could hire some cheap overseas labor to make a few Skype calls to "the usual suspects," for-hire academics, hedge fund gurus, etc. and actually attribute the fluff to a real person.