August 15, 2016 will mark the 45th anniversary of President Nixon’s decision to close the gold window. U.S. citizens and the government are now beholden to the consequences of years of accumulated debt and weak productivity growth that have occurred since that day. Now, seven years after the end of the financial crisis and recession, these consequences are in plain sight. The Fed finds themselves crippled under an imprudent zero interest rate policy and unable to raise interest rates due to fear of stoking another crisis.
The last two-quarters of economic growth have been less than exciting, to say the least. However, these rather dismal quarters of growth come at a time when oil prices and gasoline prices have plummeted AND amidst one of the warmest winters in 65-plus years. Why is that important? Because falling oil and gas prices and warm weather are effective “tax credits” to consumers as they spend less on gasoline, heating oil and electricity. Combined, these “savings” account for more than $200 billion in additional spending power for the consumer. So, personal consumption expenditures should be rising, right?
Futures on the S&P 500 slipped 0.3%, as U.S. equities are on track to extend losses for a sixth day. Europe's Stoxx 600 fell to a four-month low, sliding 1% for its sixth decline in seven days, and U.S. crude retreated for a sixth day in the longest losing streak since February. Bond yields sank to records in Germany, Australia after Japan as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said next week’s U.K. vote on European Union membership was a factor in the decision to hold interest rates steady. The Yen surged more than 2% as the Bank of Japan refrained from adding any new stimulus,
Following Abe's decision to delay the April 2017 increase in the consumption tax, warnings about Japan's rating (recall that Japan's consolidated debt/GDP ratio is the highest in the world at 400%) were inevitable, and moments ago Fitch was the first to come out and while "affirming" Japan's AA rating, it was the first major agency to cut its outlook from Stable to Negative. Expect the other two big agencies to do the same, followed inevitably by downgrades.
There are just two drivers setting the pace for today's risk mood: the OPEC meeting in Vienna which started a few hours ago, and the ECB's announcement as well as Mario Draghi's press statement due out just one hour from now. Both are expected to not reveal any major surprises, with OPEC almost certainly unable to implement a production freeze while the ECB is expected to remain on hold and provide some more details on its corporate bond buying program, although there is some modest risk of upside surprise in either case.
There is perhaps no other area where the tunnel-vision, hypocrisy, and corruption of the U.S. media is more visible than with respect to its nearly incessant China-bashing. Previous commentaries have exposed such vacuous drivel again and again and again. Admittedly, the numbers involved should give any sober individual cause for concern. They are an obvious symptom of the global phenomenon of worthless, paper currencies being used to pump-up, manipulate, and destabilize our markets – to a degree never before seen in the history of our species. However, singling out China’s markets as being “prone to bubbles” represents hypocritical blindness on the part of the U.S. media which is too absurd to be accidental.
The overnight session has been one of alternative weakness and strength: it started in China where stocks tumbled 2.8% to a two month low following some unexpected warnings in the official People's Daily newspaper and poor trade data. Concerns about China, however, were promptly forgotten and certainly not enough to keep global assets lower, with European stocks gapping higher at the open and rallying from a one-month low, driven by a "surprising" surge in the USDJPY which has moved nearly 200 pips higher since its post-payrolls low. Another driver is the jump in oil, which rallied just shy of $46 a barrel, buoyed by Canadian wildfires that are curbing production and speculation that the Saudi Arabian oil minister succession will be bullish for oil prices.
“What this means for the Fed’s reaction function isn’t clear,” Pozsar concludes. “But our instinct tells us that we will deal with a Fed inherently more sensitive to global financial conditions, inherently more sensitive to global growth and inherently more dovish than in the past…” Far be it from yours truly to worry. Still, it’s hard to take comfort in the knowledge that the Drano we’ve all come to know, though maybe not love, is now off the market.
The biggest argument for a BOJ disappointment is that with the G7 meeting in Japan in on month on 26–27 May 2016, it’s unlikely that Japanese policymakers will want to draw attention yet again to the idea that they are in the business of manipulating the JPY lower. After all the most recent G20 meeting once again confirmed that absent "disorderly moves" in the Yen, the US would frown on any attempt to dramatically manipulate its currency lower.
"We expect $/JPY to move higher again in the near term and continue to forecast $/JPY at 130 a year from now.... by making the fiscal expansion permanent and funded through money creation (a politically correct phrase for a form of 'helicopter money'), expectations of future inflation should increase and real rates fall"