We are now entering the fifth season of head-fakes about “escape velocity” acceleration in as many years. Yet the Wall Street stock peddlers and their financial media echo boxes are so fixated on the latest “delta”—that is, ultra short-term “high frequency” data releases—that time and again they serve up noise, not meaningful economic signal. The larger point here is that the Kool-Aid drinkers keep torturing the high frequency data because they are desperate for any sign that the Fed’s $3.5 trillion of QE has favorably impacted the Main Street economy. And that’s important not because it might mean some sorely needed income and job gains for middle America, but because its utterly necessary to validate the Fed’s financial bubble.
During the course of its massive money printing campaign after the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed drove the 30-year mortgage financing rate down from 6.5% to 3.3% at its mid-2012 low. The ostensible purpose was revive the shattered housing market which had resulted from the crash of its previous exercise in bubble finance. But what it really did was touch off another of those pointless “refi” booms which enable homeowners to swap an existing mortgage for a new one carrying a significantly lower interest rate and monthly service cost. Such debt churning exercises have been sponsored repeatedly by the Fed since the S&L debacle of the late 1980s.
The Fed’s transmission mechanism to the household sector is blocked. The business credit expansion channel to higher GDP is blocked, too. The flood of demand by which the Fed endeavors to “pull” idle and underemployed workers back into production cannot be activated if the US economy has reached a condition of peak debt, as we strongly believe to be the case. Indeed, when the credit expansion channel is broken and done, all the Fed’s liquidity “accommodation” flows into the Wall Street finance channel where it pulls up the price of existing financial assets, not the employment rate of idle labor. This much is obvious, yet Yellen and her monetary politburo keep on attempting to flood the nation’s macroeconomic bathtub with more “demand”. Worse still, they fail to note that even if they could induce business and households to bury themselves deeper in debt that it wouldn’t necessarily have a salutary impact on the “labor market”— the ostensible target of their strenuous ministrations.
Employment is a function of demand by customers on businesses. As opposed to many economists and politicians, businesses do not hire employees to be "good samaritans." While such a utopian concept is fine in theory, the reality is that businesses operate from a "profit motive." The problem is quite clear. With the consumer heavily leveraged, the inability to "spend and borrow" is reducing aggregate demand. As stated, the current level of aggregate demand simply isn't strong enough to offset the rising costs of taxes, benefits and healthcare (a significant consideration due to the onset of the Affordable Care Act) associated with hiring full-time employees. Therefore, businesses initially opt for cost efficient productivity increases, and only hire as necessary to meet marginal increases in customer demand which has come from population growth.
America is being run by an unelected gang of essentially self-perpetuating PhDs. The notion of an economics coup d’ etat is not so far-fetched. So the last 35 years have brought the greatest exercise in mission creep ever undertaken by an agency of the state. That explains why the monetary politburo persists in its absurd quest to force more debt into an economy which is already saturated with $59 trillion of the same. To pretend, as does Yellen and most of the monetary politburo that they must plow ahead printing money at lunatic rates because Congress so mandated it, is the height of mendacity. The Fed has seized power and is not about to let go - common sense be damned, and the constitution, too.
Though the mainstream financial media and the blogosphere differ radically on their forecasts - the MFM sees near-zero systemic risk while the alternative media sees a critical confluence of it - they agree on one thing: the Federal Reserve and the “too big to fail” (TBTF) Wall Street banks have their hands on the political and financial tiller of the nation, and nothing will dislodge their dominance. In addition, the U.S. dollar’s status as a reserve currency is a key component of U.S. global dominance. Were the dollar to be devalued by Fed/Wall Street policies to the point that it lost its reserve status, the damage to American influence and wealth would be irreversible. What if there is another possibility to the consensus view that the Fed/Wall Street will continue to issue credit and currency with abandon until the inevitable consequence occurs, i.e. the dollar is devalued and loses its reserve status. What if Wall Street’s power has peaked and is about to be challenged by forces that it has never faced before. Put another way, the power of Wall Street has reached a systemic extreme where a decline or reversal is inevitable.
Five years ago, we were the first to bring the world's attention to the staggering profitability of several firms that engaged in 'high frequency' trading that presented themselves as 'liquidity providers' and suggested (in our ever so humble way) that mark liquidity was in fact shrinking and this could lead to a 'black swan of black swans' long before the flash crash was even dreamed of. Fast forwarding to today, after hundreds of articles, not only is the mainstream "getting it" but such behemoths as Cliff Asness - who happens to run one of the world's biggest quant funds - are forced to pen a WSJ op-ed to explain it's all a fallacy and blame a lowly blogger (or digital dickweed) for starting all this naysaying five years ago.
First we had Jeab-Claude Juncker saying it's ok to lie to the people, then President Obama's poster-child for Obamacare who later discovered she was unable to get the healthcare she expected and now following Janet Yellen's apparently 'uber-dovish' "jobs are not plentful" sob story spech yesterday we have more governmental factual inaccuracies. As Bloomberg reports, in her first speech as Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen told the stories of three people who had trouble finding work to illustrate her concern about the unemployed -- omitting the fact that two had criminal records that might have influenced employers’ decisions on whether to hire them. As we commented yesterday, "it’s troubling when we have to assume that everything we hear from any politician or any central banker is being said for effect, not for the straightforward expression of an honest opinion."
One of the evils of massive over-financialization is that it enables Wall Street to scalp vast “rents” from the Main Street economy. These zero sum extractions not only bloat the paper wealth of the 1% but also fund a parasitic bubble finance infrastructure that would largely not exist in a world of free market finance and honest money. The infrastructure of bubble finance can be likened to the illegal drug cartels. In that dystopic world, the immense revenue “surplus” from the 1000-fold elevation of drug prices owing to government enforced scarcity finances a giant but uneconomic apparatus of sourcing, transportation, wholesaling, distribution, corruption, coercion, murder and mayhem that would not even exist in a free market. The latter would only need LTL trucking lines and $900 vending machines. In this context, the sprawling empire known as Bloomberg LP is the Juarez Cartel of bubble finance.
If you are not Professor Paul Krugman you probably agree that Washington has left no stone unturned on the Keynesian stimulus front since the crisis of September 2008. By the time the “taper” is over later this year (?) the Fed’s balance sheet will exceed $4.7 trillion - $4 trillion in new central bank liabilities in six years. All conjured out of thin air. Professor Krugman proposing to “do something”... In short, Krugman wants to double-down on the lunacy we have already accomplished. Unfortunately, we are presently nigh onto “peak debt”; there is no “escape velocity” because the Fed’s credit channel is broken and done. Going forward, the American people will once again be required to live within their means, spending no more than they produce. By contrast, Professor Krugman’s destructive recipes are entirely the product of a countrafactual economic universe that does not actually exist. He wants us to borrow and print even more because our macro-economic bathtub is not yet full. And that part is true. It doesn’t even exist.
The idea of “under-shooting inflation from below” is just ritual incantation. It provides the monetary central planners an excuse to keep the printing presses running red hot, but the true aim is not hard to see. After a 30 year rolling national LBO that has taken credit market debt outstanding to $59 trillion and to an off-the-charts leverage ratio of 3.5X national income, the American economy is saddled with $30 trillion of incremental household, business, financial and public debt compared to its historically sound leverage ratio of 1.5X GDP. We are at peak debt. Household, business and government balance sheets are tapped-out. The problem is not too little CPI inflation, but the unavoidability of a pay-back era of sustained debt deflation.
When you ponder the implications of allowing a small group of powerful wealthy unaccountable men to control the currency of a nation over the last one hundred years, you understand why our public education system sucks. The average American has experienced a fourteen year recession caused by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. Our leaders could have learned the lesson of two Fed induced collapses in the space of eight years and voluntarily abandoned the policies of reckless credit expansion, instead embracing policies encouraging saving, capital investment and balanced budgets. They have chosen the same cure as the disease, which will lead to crisis, catastrophe and collapse.
This is the multi trillion-dollar question.
"We never should have painted ourselves so deep in this QE corner in the first place," chides David Stockman, "because the whole predicate [of Fed policy] is false." The author of The Great Deformation holds nothing back in this brief 3-minute primer of everything is wrong with the American economic system (and the CNBC anchors definitely did not want to hear). "We are already at peak debt and forcing more into the economy didn't work," and won't work as is merely funds Wall Street's latest carry trade to nowhere and fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. Simply put, "the private credit channel of monetary transmission is busted," so the Fed is exploiting the only channel it has left - "the bubble channel."
The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.