The philosophical roots of Janet Yellen's economics voodoo, it seems, are in many ways even more appalling than the Bernanke paradigm (which in turn is based on Bernanke's erroneous interpretation of what caused the Great Depression, which he obtained in essence from Milton Friedman). The following excerpt perfectly encapsulates her philosophy (which is thoroughly Keynesian and downright scary): Fed Vice Chairman Yellen laid out what she called the 'Yale macroeconomics paradigm' in a speech to a reunion of the economics department in April 1999. "Will capitalist economies operate at full employment in the absence of routine intervention? Certainly not," said Yellen, then chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers. "Do policy makers have the knowledge and ability to improve macroeconomic outcomes rather than make matters worse? Yes," although there is "uncertainty with which to contend." She couldn't be more wrong if she tried. We cannot even call someone like that an 'economist', because the above is in our opinion an example of utter economic illiteracy.
Once the economy's capital structure is distorted beyond a certain threshold, it won't matter anymore how much more monetary pumping the central bank engages in – instead of creating a temporary illusion of prosperity, the negative effects of the policy will begin to predominate almost immediately. Given that we have evidence that the distortion is already at quite a 'ripe' stage, it should be expected that the economy will perform far worse in the near to medium term than was hitherto widely believed. This also means that monetary pumping will likely continue at full blast, as central bankers continue to erroneously assume that the policy is 'helping' the economy to recover.
It has been a very interesting week as the Government shutdown/debt ceiling debate debacle moves into the background. The focus has now turned back towards the fundamentals of the market, economic environment and the ongoing Federal Reserve interventions. What is becoming increasingly evident is that market participants are once again potentially throwing "caution to the wind" betting on a belief that the Fed's ongoing Q.E. programs will continue to trump valuations and economics. After all, that has seemingly been the case up to this point. The problem is that no one really knows how this will turn out. However, as we discussed earlier this week, it is likely that we are close to finding out answer. In the meantime, here is our weekly list of "things to ponder this weekend."
After reading the coverage of Janet Yellen’s Fed Chair nomination yesterday, it feels as though it’s 2006 all over again. Confidence in our central bankers seems to be approaching all-time highs, little more than five years after it collapsed alongside the financial sector. The overwhelmingly positive response to Yellen’s nomination is worrisome because, well, it’s overwhelming positive. As Galbraith once astutely observed: “In economics, the majority is always wrong.”
David Stockman, author of The Great Deformation, summarizes the last quarter century thus: What has been growing is the wealth of the rich, the remit of the state, the girth of Wall Street, the debt burden of the people, the prosperity of the beltway and the sway of the three great branches of government - that is, the warfare state, the welfare state and the central bank...
What is flailing is the vast expanse of the Main Street economy where the great majority have experienced stagnant living standards, rising job insecurity, failure to accumulate material savings, rapidly approach old age and the certainty of a Hobbesian future where, inexorably, taxes will rise and social benefits will be cut...
He calls this condition "Sundown in America".
The standard wisdom on gold is that it does well in times of economic bad news such as in the 1970s, a period of stagflation and recessions, when the yellow metal rose from $35/oz to peak at $850/oz in 1980. But this time, Don Coxe, a portfolio adviser to BMO Asset Management, believes, things are different. In this interview with The Gold Report, Coxe explains why gold will rise when the economy improves.
The process the Fed is wrestling with is no different than that of the drug addict. After a certain point, dependency develops. Then the withdrawal process is so painful it is not willingly accepted. The drug analogy is appropriate up to a point. Here is a major problem with the analogy. The drug addict brings the outcome on himself. Those who will suffer the most for the Fed’s actions are not responsible for the pain they will endure. Regardless, the pusher has made most of us junkies. We have been forced into an economic haze that seems real but is not. Whether we know it or not, we are hooked. A great “drying-out” period lies in front of us. Few have understanding of what “economic cold turkey” means, but we will all learn.
"A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter drop" of money ."
- Ben Bernanke, Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here, November 21, 2002
If ever there was an investor reaction that summed up just how much the Federal Reserve has broken the markets it was yesterday morning's post-dismal-jobs-report surge. As John Phelan notes, we now appear to be in a position where the interests of financial markets are precisely at odds with the interests of the rest of the economy; where the good news for us is bad news for them and bad news for us is good news for them. The one way bet of the Greenspan Put maintained, so far, by Ben Bernanke, has created a market of monetary-punch-drunk liquidityholics. On its 100th birthday the Federal Reserve has the tricky task of sneaking the punch bowl out of the party, a task it seems they’ll struggle to manage without starting a riot. They may have printed themselves into a corner.
With all of the problems afflicting the world economy nowadays, inflation seems to be the least of our worries. In addressing the post-2008 economic malaise, which stems from over-indebtedness, policymakers are correct to focus on the threat of debt deflation, which can lead to depression. But dismissing inflation as “yesterday’s problem” could undermine central banks’ efforts to address today’s most pressing issues – and, ultimately, facilitate inflation’s resurgence. Understanding how the Great Inflation from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s was tamed offers important lessons for addressing far-reaching economic problems, however different ours may be, and provides insight into the dangers that may lie ahead.
While we know that the Fed will be forced to taper in the short-term as it desperately avoids the 'appearance' of outright monetization that a falling deficit will create, Marc Faber sums up the endgame perfectly in this clip: "I don’t think they will come to their senses for the simple reason that insane people don't realize that they are insane." Faber adds, "they think they’re doing a great job," and in fact they believe - in general - that "if anything, we need to do more, not less." The 'forced-taper-to-plunge-to-untaper' progression means it's going to get worse; as Faber notes, QE/printing will continued indefinitely "until the system breaks down." Having printed this much money with such dismal results, Faber concludes, "the Fed is completely clueless."
Based on media reports over the past few weeks, there are two clear front-runners in the competition to be named Ben Bernanke’s successor as Fed chairman. Current Vice Chair Janet Yellen sits in one corner, former Treasury Secretary and National Economic Council (NEC) Director Larry Summers in the other corner, and pundits are actively placing their bets. Yellen is "soft-spoken, even-tempered, 100% mainstream academic economist who boils the world down to simplistic concepts," so similarities between Bernanke and Yellen are far stronger than the differences. A hand off from one to the other would be about as eventful as a rainy day in Seattle. Compared to Yellen, Summers has a longer history as a heavyweight policymaker but as Charles Ferguson wrote, “rarely has one individual embodied so much of what is wrong with economics, with academe, and indeed with the American economy." And that’s what it seems to be coming down to: a choice between a yawn and a hiss. Why not appoint someone with a track record of getting things right, you ask? Well, that would require a culture of accountability in the White House. Does anyone remember when we last had that?
At the end of the day, Friedman jettisoned the gold standard for a remarkable statist reason. Just as Keynes had been, he was afflicted with the economist’s ambition to prescribe the route to higher national income and prosperity and the intervention tools and recipes that would deliver it. The only difference was that Keynes was originally and primarily a fiscalist, whereas Friedman had seized upon open market operations by the central bank as the route to optimum aggregate demand and national income. The greatest untoward consequence of the closet statism implicit in Friedman’s monetary theories, however, is that it put him squarely in opposition to the vision of the Fed’s founders. As has been seen, Carter Glass and Professor Willis assigned to the Federal Reserve System the humble mission of passively liquefying the good collateral of commercial banks when they presented it. Consequently, the difference between a “banker’s bank” running a discount window service and a central bank engaged in continuous open market operations was fundamental and monumental. In short, the committee of twelve wise men and women unshackled by Friedman’s plan for floating paper dollars would always find reasons to buy government debt, thereby laying the foundation for fiscal deficits without tears.
Gold has gone down Friday to under $1, 200 an ounce and that means it’s reached its lowest point for the past three years. Worse than that: it’s been the worst quarterly performance for gold for 45 years!
The bloodbath in the bond markets has led some 'greatly rotating' commentators to see this as the end of the long bull market (and the beginning of a lost decade for Treasuries); in fact, as SocGen's Albert Edwards notes, the financial wreckage left in the wake of Bernanke's taper talk has generated a lot of interesting commentary. But, he asks (and answers eloquently in this far-reaching anatomy of all-the-world's-views-on-what-the-Fed-is-doing) what if (as we have noted) tapering has nothing to do with the US economy having reached a sustainable take-off velocity? From Janjuah to Rosenberg, and from Wolf to Faber, Edwards explains how his Ice-Age thesis (lower lows and lower highs for nominal economic quantities in each cycle... with each recovery bringing a partial reversal to the process and each recessionary phase taking us to shocking new lows, both in bond yields and in equity multiples) is very much still in play (despite the risks that are evident) since governments will take the path of least resistance, which is to print their way out of this looming fiscal catastrophe. Marc Faber is right. QE99 here we come.