So far the Fed's 4 year old QEasing strategy has failed for the simple reason that the smart money instead of being "herded", has far more simply decided to just front-run the Fed thus generating risk-free returns, while the "dumb money", tired of the HFT and Fed-manipulated, and utterly broken casino market, has simply allocated residual capital either into deposits (M2 just hit a new all time record of $10.2 trillion) or into "return of capital" products such as taxable and non-taxable bonds. Alas none of the above means that the Fed will ever stop from the "strategy" it undertook nearly 4 years ago to the day with QE1. Instead, it will continue doing more of the same until the bitter end. But how much more is there? To answer this question, below we present the entire universe of marketable US debt, in one simple chart showing the average yield by product type on the Y-axis, and the total debt notional on the X.
The usual definition of a recession is GDP goes negative. But this isn't necessarily true. Notice that GDP never went below the zero line in the 2001 recession. Dipping close to zero was good enough. The more interesting line is our composite of economic activity. We can pose the "recession" question in this way: if real investment, net earnings after debt service and M2 money are all puking, how can the economy be "growing slowly but steadily"?
The fact that naturally scarce currencies like gold do not hyperinflate — even in times of extreme economic stress — suggests that the underlying mechanism here is of an extreme exogenous event causing a severe drop in productivity. Governments then run the printing presses attempting to smooth over such problems — for instance in the Weimar Republic when workers in the occupied Ruhr region went on a general strike and the Weimar government continued to print money in order to pay them. While hyperinflation can in theory arise either out of either ?Q or ?M, government has no reason to inject a hyper-inflationary volume of money into an economy that still has access to global exports, that still produces sufficient levels of energy and agriculture to support its population, and that still has a functional infrastructure. This means that the indicators for imminent hyperinflation are not economic so much as they are geopolitical — wars, trade breakdowns, energy crises, socio-political collapse, collapse in production, collapse in agriculture. While all such catastrophes have preexisting economic causes, a bad economic situation will not deteriorate into full-collapse and hyperinflation without a severe intervening physical breakdown.
Some wonder why we have been so convinced that no matter what happens, that the Fed will have no choice but to continue pushing the monetary easing pedal to the metal. It is actually no secret: we explained the logic for the first time back in March of this year with "Here Is Why The Fed Will Have To Do At Least Another $3.6 Trillion In Quantitative Easing." The logic, in a nutshell, is simple: everyone who looks at modern monetary practice (as opposed to theory) through the prism of a 1980s textbook is woefully unprepared for the modern capital markets reality for one simple reason: shadow banking; and when accounting for the ongoing melt of shadow banking credit intermediates, which continues to accelerate, the Fed has a Herculean task ahead of it in restoring consolidated credit growth. Shadow banking, as we have explained many times most recently here, is merely an unregulated, inflationary-buffer (as it has no matched deposits) which provides the conventional banking credit transformations such as maturity, credit and liquidity, in the process generating term liabilities. In yet other words, shadow banking creates credit money which can then flow into monetary conduits such as economic "growth" or capital markets, however without creating the threat of inflation - if anything shadow banks are the biggest systemic deflationary threat, as due to the relatively short-term nature of their duration exposure, they tend to lock up at the first sing of trouble (see Money Markets breaking the buck within hours of the Lehman failure) and lead to utter economic mayhem unless preempted. Well, preempting the collapse in the shadow banking system is precisely what the Fed's primary role has so far been, even more so than pushing the S&P to new all time highs. The problem, however, as we will show today, is that even with the Fed's balance sheet at $2.8 trillion and set to rise to $5 trillion in 2 years, it will not be enough.
We believe an unsustainable new global financial architecture that arose in response to the US and European financial crises has replaced an older, more sustainable, architecture. The old architecture was crystallized in Washington- and IMF-inspired policy responses to the numerous sovereign defaults, banking system failures, and currency collapses. Most importantly, the previous architecture recognized limits on fiscal and central bank balance sheets. The new architecture attempts to 'back', perhaps unconsciously, the entire liability side of the global financial system. This framing is consistent with a purely political—institutional stylized—fact that it is nearly impossible to penetrate the US political parties if the message is that there are limits to their power…or that their power requires great effort and sacrifice. This is why Keynesians (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a fiscal balance sheet are so popular with Democrats, and why monetarists (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a central bank balance sheet are popular with (a decreasing number of) Republicans. Party on! Again, nobody chooses hard-currency regimes – they are forced on non-credible policymakers. Let me put it more positively. If politicians want the power of fiat money, let alone the global reserve currency, they need to behave differently than they have - or the consequences for Gold are extraordinary.
Remember when we said cash flow is always more important than diluting the M2 (the Fed is great at the latter, powerless at the former)? Here's why: The municipality of Acharnes in northern Athens has decided to suspend all of its operations after running out of money. The municipal council met on Thursday night and voted to stop providing anything other than basic services because of its inability to pay employees’ wages and regular expenses. In Nintendo Donkey Kong Game and Watch parlance: Game over.
The great day has come and gone when the Fed would once again ride to the action, not daring to be left behind by the ECB’s perverse vaunting of its new ‘unlimited’ programme of bond purchases. But the few, brief sentences from Bernanke contain such a miasma of error that it is hard to know where to begin if we are to restore a fresh breeze of economic rationale to this swamp of non sequiturs and wilful misunderstandings. It is not enough that crude, Krugmanite Keynesianism clings to the cheap parlour trick of using money illusion to fool unemployed wage-earners into lowering the reservation price of their labour, but now we must battle against banal, Bernankite Bubble-blowing – the hope that money illusion will fool cash-constrained asset owners instead. It is not only that Bernanke’s policies will inevitably assist the zombie companies and the obsolescent industries to absorb scarce resources (not least on bank balance sheets) to a much greater degree than is justified, there is also the danger that lax money misleads even today’s supramarginal businesses into over-estimating the depth and duration of demand for their products, ultimately undermining many otherwise sound undertakings and reducing these, too, when the cycle next turns, to the ranks of the Living Dead.
Global gold production remains at its level of the late '90s, even though prices have risen to over $1,700 per ounce from $252 per ounce in 1999 or roughly 16% per annum in dollar terms. Only Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe's Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia stand out as a major new gold mines expected to begin production in the near future. Bulls note that global production has remained impervious to the price of gold. This may continue to be the case due to the increasingly obvious geological constraints being seen in the gold mining sector. Resource nationalism is beginning to become an important factor again. This will also almost certainly affect supply at a time when demand is increasing from people throughout the world and many hedge funds, pension funds and central banks’ due to geopolitical, systemic and monetary risks. The lesson of QE is that fiat currencies increasingly grow on trees. Gold does not. This is the primary reason that gold will continue to protect investors in the coming months.
Pump it up, until you can feel it, Pump it up, when you don't really need it...
Earlier this week, former U.S. president Bill Clinton gave the keynote address to the Democractic National Convention in an effort to lend some of his popularity to Barack Obama. With the unemployment rate still stubbornly high at 8.1%, Obama has lost many of the enthused voters who put him into the Oval Office in 2008. Clinton was tapped to deliver the speech not only because of his image of a wonkish pragmatist but because of his presiding over the booming economy of the late 1990s. Like a prized mule, Clinton was dragged out to give Democrats someone to point to and say that his policies were the hallmark of smart governance. Today, Clinton still takes credit for Greenspan’s manipulated boom. His supporters on the left love nothing more than to point at his presidency as vindication of the backwards theory that higher taxes equal more growth. Clinton wasn’t a policy wonk; he was a politician who dipped into the Social Security trust fund to give an appearance of balancing the budget while the national debt still climbed higher. Through all of his financial scandals, womanizing, aggressive foreign policy approaches, and possible cover ups, it is actually fitting that Clinton is still looked to by the political establishment as someone worthy of respect. He is representative of F.A. Hayek’s timeless lesson: in government the worst rise to the top and state power corrupts.
Simon Black recounts a recent experience as he pulled in to a gas station in Italy; he whipped out his American Express card and asked the attendant in broken Italian to turn on the pump. He acted like Simon had just punched him in the gut, wincing when he saw the credit card. "No... cash, only cash," he said. I didn’t have very much cash on me, so I drove to the next station where a similar experience awaited me. This is a trend that is typical when economies are in decline– cash is king. Businesses often won’t want to spend the extra 2.5% on credit card merchant fees... but more importantly, distrust of the banking system and a debilitatingly extractive tax system pushes people into cash transactions. You can’t really blame them.
If you haven’t heard yet, the committee which is drafting the platform for next week’s US Republican National Convention has announced that they are including a proposal to return to the gold standard. Big news. Remember, a gold standard is a monetary system in which individual currency units are fixed to an amount of gold held by the government; under a gold standard, the paper money supply cannot be expanded without also increasing the amount of gold on hand. At present, the market value of the federal government’s gold holdings only amounts to about $250 billion which constitutes a mere 2.5% of US money supply. Clearly one of the key risks in this scenario is that the US government would need to acquire as much gold as they can get their hands on, likely through Roosewellian-style gold confiscation, and if so - the safest place for your gold is going to be a snug safety deposit box in a place like Hong Kong or Singapore.
Money printing isn't creating inflation because the velocity of money has declined, right?
The lunatics are running the asylum. This is the only conclusion one can come to when considering the nonchalance with which what was once considered an extraordinary policy with a firm 'exit' in mind is now propagated as a perfectly normal 'tool' to be employed at the drop of a hat. We refer of course to so-called 'quantitative easing' (QE), which really is a euphemism for money printing. Apart from his sole focus on short term outcomes, an important point that seems not be considered by the FOMC's Rosengren this week is the question of what should happen if the 'open-ended' QE policy were to fail to achieve its stated goals. He seems to assume that it will succeed in lowering unemployment and creating 'economic growth' as a matter of course. It goes without saying that money printing cannot create a single molecule of real wealth. If it could, then Zimbabwe wouldn't be a basket case, but a Utopia of riches. We must infer from Rosengren's idea of implementing open-ended QE until certain benchmarks in terms of unemployment and 'growth' are achieved, that in case they remain elusive, extraordinary rates of money printing would simply continue until the underlying monetary system breaks down.
The easing of credit conditions (in other words, the enhancement of banks’ ability to create credit and thus enhance their own purchasing power) following the breakdown of Bretton Woods — as opposed to monetary base expansion — seems to have driven the growth in credit and financialisation. It has not (at least previous to 2008) been a case of central banks printing money and handing it to the financial sector; it has been a case of the financial sector being set free from credit constraints. Monetary policy in the post-Bretton Woods era has taken a number of forms; interest rate policy, monetary base policy, and regulatory policy. The association between growth in the financial sector, credit growth and interest rate policy shows that monetary growth (whether that is in the form of base money, credit or nontraditional credit instruments) enriches the recipients of new money as anticipated by Cantillon. This underscores the need for a monetary and credit system that distributes money in a way that does not favour any particular sector — especially not the endemically corrupt financial sector.