...and what opportunities does this create?
The Fed’s public relations firm of Hilsenrath & Blackstone was out this morning with the official line on the market’s tremors of recent days. It seems that $10 trillion in freshly minted digital money at the world’s major central banks over the last eight years—-that is, a tripling of their balance sheets to $16 trillion—- is not enough. Not only is 2% inflation still MIA, but it now threatening to enter the dark side: Behind the spate of market turmoil lurks a worry that top policy makers thought they had beaten back a few years ago: the specter of deflation. Never mind that there is nothing close to a sustained run of negative consumer price indices anywhere in the world.
When will the Fed... Raise rates? Stop buying bonds? End quantitative easing? Common questions, those, from Wall Street to Main Street. And – apparently – the online world as well, because they also reflect (literally) what Google autofills when individuals pose inquiries about future monetary policy action in the famously simple Google search box.
Nearly two decades of central bank financial repression have created huge distortions and imbalances in the world economy. Now they are coming home to roost as the impossibility of ZIRP forever dawns on even our mad money printers. Having created yet another round of ebullient financial bubbles, they are now getting palpably nervous.
The old adage that if something is repeated often enough it is soon assumed to be true couldn’t be more apt with respect to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. That Keynesian central bankers peddle this nostrum with a straight face is amazing in itself, but it is at least understandable because it gives them a reason to keep the printing presses humming. That journalists repeat it with no questions asked is even more remarkable. It proves that the impending replacement of financial journalists with robo-writers may not be so bad after all. It won’t make any real difference.
Following the sad death of Thomas Duncan this morning, CBS is now reporting that a possible second case of Ebola has been discovered in a suburb of Dallas:
*DALLAS AREA PATIENT SHOWS EBOLA SYMPTOMS: CBS
The patient claims to have had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, referred to as Dallas ‘patient zero', and also confirmed travel to West Africa.
The September jobs report was greeted by a flurry of robo-trader exuberance because another print well above 200k purportedly signals that growth is underway and profits will remain in high cotton as far as the eye can see. But how many years can this Charlie Brown and Lucy charade be taken seriously - even by the headline-stalking talking-heads who inhabit bubblevision? For the entirety of this century they have actually been gumming about little more than “born again” jobs, not real expansion of labor inputs to the faltering US economy.
Here come the revisionists with new malarkey about the 2008 financial crisis. No less august a forum than the New York Times today carries a front page piece by journeyman financial reporter James Stewart suggesting that Lehman Brothers was solvent; could and should have been bailed out; and that the entire trauma of the financial crisis and Great Recession might have been avoided or substantially mitigated. That is not just meretricious nonsense; its a measure of how thoroughly corrupted public discourse about the fundamental financial and economic realities of the present era has become owing to the cult of central banking. The great error of September 2008 was not in failing to bailout Lehman. It was in providing a $100 billion liquidity hose to Morgan Stanley and an even larger one to Goldman. They too were insolvent. That was the essence of their business model. Fed policies inherently generate runs, and then it stands ready with limitless free money to rescue the gamblers. You can call that pragmatism, if you like. But don’t call it capitalism.
The key question now is “Can the U.S./global economy handle a meaningful downturn in financial asset prices?” The short answer is that it may not have a choice. The Federal Reserve has done what it can to juice the American economy and has the balance sheet to prove it. Central banks, for all their power, do not control long term capital allocation or corporate hiring practices. Fed Funds have been below 2% for six years. If the U.S. economy can’t continue to grow in 2015 as the Federal Reserve inches rates higher, there are clearly larger issues at play. And those private sector problems will need private sector solutions.
And no, it certainly can not be characterized as doing God's work............................
Self-evidently, all the major economies are saturated with debt. Accordingly, central bank balance sheet expansion has lost its Keynesian magic entirely. Now the great sea of freshly minted liquidity simply fuels the carry trades as gamblers everywhere load up with any asset that generates a yield or short-run capital gain, and fund these bloated positions with cheap options and repo style finance. But here’s the obvious thing. Central banks can’t normalize interest rates - that is, allow the money markets to rise off the zero-bound - without triggering a violent unwind of the carry trades on which today’s massive asset inflation is built. On the other hand, they can no longer stimulate GDP growth, either, because the credit expansion channel to the main street economy of households and business is blocked by the reality of peak debt. Yes, the era of Keynesian money printing is over and done. But don’t wait for the small lady at the Fed to sing, either.
Despite her platitudes to the unemployed (here) and the poor (here), it is clear Janet Yellen's Federal Reserve policies are aimed squarely at only one segment of the US population - the wealthy. The reason is simple... with an economy built on the back of conspicuous consumption, it's only the top quintiles of the population's income earners that spend-spend-spend to keep the dream alive. What's good for the 'wealthy' is good for America, right?
Believing they are filling the macroeconomic bathtub with aggregate demand and full-employment jobs, Janet Yellen and her merry band of Keynesian money printers are simply blowing chronic, giant, dangerous bubbles on Wall Street. Easy money is always the wrong medicine, but most especially for an economy that is already and self-evidently saturated with too much debt. The implication of all of this, of course,is that our monetary politburo is out of business; that “monetary accommodation” is nothing more than a one time parlor trick of central bankers.
"You can't eat GDP, and you can't live in a rising stock market" is the striking phrase from NY Times' Neil Irwin as he offers the most damning chart of the decline of America's Economic Model (and dream). As we have explained vociferously, the most important thing to understand about today’s economy is: Around 1999, growth in the United States economy stopped translating to growth in middle-class incomes. The choice, by Greenspan and carried on by his followers, was to enable the financialization of the US economy for the benefit of the few, at the cost of the many. As Irwin concludes, and we explained previously, Americans feel disappointed by the economy; the new data show that they have good reason.
Getting out of a Liquidity Trap with monetary policy playing the lead role necessarily involves a Dornbuschian sequence of rational overshooting: The Fed must drive up Wall Street prices, which move quickly, so as to get to Main Street prices that move up slowly, most importantly, wages. This sequencing implies that Wall Street prices must become very rich relative to Main Street prices in order to achieve so-called escape velocity from the Liquidity Trap. At the transition point, Wall Street prices will be rationally “overvalued” relative to their long-term “fair value.” The dominant risk for Wall Street is not bursting bubbles, but rather a long slow grind down in profit’s share of GDP/national income. And you can stick that into a Gordon Model, too! Bonds and stocks may at present be rationally valued, but borrowing from the lyrics of Procol Harum’s Keith Reid: Expected long-term returns are turning a more ghostly whiter shade of pale.