Here are six things to ponder this weekend:
1. Inflation Debate Continues
2. The Obamacare Nightmare
3. The Disconnect Between "Main Street" and "Wall Street"
4. Payroll Number Become Even More Manipulated
5. Congress Living The High Life At The Taxpayers Expense
6. What If The "Fear Trade" Bubbles Up?
The Federal Reserve continues to cling to a destabilizing and ineffective strategy. By maintaining its policy of quantitative easing (QE) – which entails monthly purchases of long-term assets worth $85 billion – the Fed is courting an increasingly treacherous endgame at home and abroad. By now, the global repercussions are clear, falling most acutely on developing economies with large current-account deficits. But there is an even more insidious problem brewing on the home front - wealth effects are for the wealthy (as the Fed knows too well). QE benefits the few who need it the least. That is not exactly a recipe for a broad-based and socially optimal economic recovery.
Still Laundering Terrorism and Drug Money ...
The cardinal rule of investing – and life, frankly – is, according to ConvergEx's Nick Colas, "When the facts change, you have to change your point of view." The Fed’s decision to maintain its current pace of bond buying at yesterday’s FOMC meeting is one of those fact-changing events. Markets were primed for a reduction, and along with a host of other flashing yellow lights that was enough to make plenty of market watchers cautious. Yes, the Fed will eventually cut the QE tow rope if/when labor markets improve, but for now, Colas notes, they seem content to keep toting the barge and lifting the bale. That leaves markets free to head to the bar, hopefully avoiding incarceration along the way. Remember 1999 though, he warns, when markets ripped through Q4 because so many investors had bided their time waiting for the dot-com bubble to collapse earlier in the year? Cue the music, because this is beginning to look like the same market setup.
It has been a "Summer of Recovery" for the U.S. economy with GDP growth rising from 1.1% in the first quarter to 2.5% in the second and manufacturing surveys showed sharp jumps in new orders and outlooks. The same occurred in the Eurozone with Markit's PMI reports showing sharp bounces higher and hopes that the recession that has plagued the region was finally coming to an end. The question of sustainability remains. The recent uptick in the Eurozone has now ended which most likely suggests that the recent pop in domestic production is likely ephemeral. The next couple of months of data should be telling in the regard and also suggests why employment reports have been much weaker than anticipated. With hopes once again running high that the economy is set to regain "escape velocity" in the coming year there is plenty of margin for disappointment.
It is undeniable that America is thoroughly addicted to fiat stimulus. Every aspect of our economy, from stocks, to bonds, to banks, and by indirect extension main street, is now utterly dependent on the continued 24/7 currency creation bonanza. The stock market no longer rallies to the tune of increased retail sales, growing export markets or improved employment expectations. In fact, “good” economic news today is met with panic and market sell-offs! Why? Because investors and banks still playing equities understand full well that any sign of fiscal improvement might mean the end of the private Federal Reserve’s QE pajama party. They know that without the Fed’s opiate-laced lifeline, the economy dies a fast and painful death. All mainstream economic news currently revolves around the Fed, as pundits clamor to divine whether the latest signals mean the free money will flow, trickle, or dry up. At the edge of the Federal Reserve’s 100th anniversary, it is vital that we see the current developments for what they really are – history changing, in a fashion so violent they are apt to scar America forever.
The chart below tells a story. Do you think the fiscal and monetary policies implemented by Bernanke and Obama since 2008 were designed to benefit you? If you believe in regression to the mean and a world based on reality, then you should be prepared for corporate profits to decline by 14% to 20% over the next four years. What do you think that will do to a stock market where the PE ratio is already at valuation levels of 1929, 2000, and 2007?
With Syria now quickly fading from the headlines and Wall Street believing that Yellen is a "shoe in" for the Fed, what headwinds still remain for the markets ahead...
A decisive tipping point in the evolution of American capitalism and democracy - the triumph of crony capitalism - took place on October 3, 2008. That was the day of the forced march approval on Capitol Hill of the $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bill to bail out Wall Street. This spasm of financial market intervention, including multi-trillion-dollar support lines provided to the big banks and financial companies by the Federal Reserve, was but the latest brick in the foundation of a fundamentally anti-capitalist régime known as “Too Big to Fail” (TBTF). It had been under construction for many decades, but now there was no turning back. The Wall Street bailouts of 2008 shattered what little remained of the old-time fiscal rules. There was no longer any pretense that the free market should determine winners and losers and that tapping the public treasury requires proof of compelling societal benefit.
It had become clear that the President's own political base in the Senate were not going to support Mr. Summer's ascendancy. The eye of the Press will now turn to Mr. Kohn, Ms. Yellen, who does not seem to have the support of Mr. Obama, and the long, though interesting shot, of Stanley Fischer. Mr. Obama appears to be easing into a lame duck presidency far earlier than once thought and the reality of Obamacare will hit Main Street on October 1 which may tip the scales further out of his control. It may not be either the best of times or the worst of times but very volatile times that mark this week.
Significant monetary stimulus, the end of fiscal austerity, a booming housing market, a cheap dollar, record corporate cash balances... BofAML warns - if the US economy does not significantly accelerate in coming quarters, it never will. Crucially, they note, asset prices will not do as well in the next 5 years, no matter what the “nouveau bulls” say. Central banks will be less generous, corporations less selfish. And when excess liquidity is removed it will get "CRASHy" as we discussed previously. In the meantime, five years after Lehman, Wall Street has soared, but Main Street has soured.
In the first three parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) of this disheartening look back at a century of central banking, income taxing, military warring, energy depleting and political corrupting, we made a case for why we are in the midst of a financial, commercial, political, social and cultural collapse. In this final installment we’ll give our best estimate as to what happens next. There are so many variables involved that it is impossible to predict the exact path to our world’s end. Many people don’t want to hear about the intractable issues or the true reasons for our predicament. They want easy button solutions. They want someone or something to fix their problems. They pray for a technological miracle to save them from decades of irrational myopic decisions. As the domino-like collapse worsens, the feeble minded populace becomes more susceptible to the false promises of tyrants and psychopaths. Anyone who denies we are in the midst of an ongoing Crisis that will lead to a collapse of the system as we know it is either a card carrying member of the corrupt establishment, dependent upon the oligarchs for their living, or just one of the willfully ignorant ostriches who choose to put their heads in the sand and hum the Star Spangled Banner as they choose obliviousness to awareness. Thinking is hard. Feeling and believing a storyline is easy.
While the world is currently glued to the events surrounding Syria; the reality is that such an event has very little to do with the real economy. The surges in expectations by business is very interesting given the actual demand that drives the real economy. Real employment remains weak and corporate earnings are struggling given the diminishing returns of cost cutting. The recent increases in interest rates also have a very important "tightening" effect on the "Main Street" economy which will also likely suppress consumption in coming months somewhat. Also not likely factored in to current survey's is the upcoming debt ceiling debate and the onset of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA is a de facto increase in taxes and there is a potential for further tax hikes coming from the budget debate. The current NFIB survey suggests that the economy is still stuck in "struggle mode" and an acceleration above 2% real economic growth is currently unlikely. The divergence between expectations and real demand will likely converge in the next couple of months so we will see businesses follow through with their optimisitic outlooks - "Overall, the Index of Optimism says the small business sector is going nowhere and that's what it feels like."
Despite trillions of dollars of interventions and zero interest rates by the Federal Reserve, combined with numerous bailouts, supports and assistance from the Federal Government, the economy has yet to gain any real traction particularly on "Main Street." Are we currently experiencing the second "Great Depression?" That is a question that we can continue to debate currently, however, it will only be answered for certain when future historians judge this period. One thing is for sure. With the lowest rate of annualized economic growth on record there is a problem currently that is not being adequately recognized. The depression may indeed be on "Main Street" once again with the only difference being that the "breadlines" are formed in the mailbox rather than on street corners. And while many are quick to dismiss comparisons to the Great Depression, there is one important difference: the rate of population growth which, as opposed to the depression era, has been on a steady and consistent decline since the 1950's.
There has been much discussion as of late about the need for interest rates to rise as they have been historically way too low for too long. However, is that really the case? The average long term interest rate in the U.S. has been 5.49% (median is 4.91%) since 1854. However, that average rate would be much lower if the "spike" in interest rates in the 1960's and 70's were removed which would mean that the current long term interest rate is likely more aligned currently with historical norms. This is particularly the case when compared to the much slower rates of economic growth that currently exists. What we find find most interesting currently are the ongoing discussions about whether or not the U.S. is in a recession. The reality is that such discussions are relatively pointless in the broader context. The "Great Depression" was not just one very long "recessionary" period but rather two recessions that "bookended" a period of relatively strong economic growth.