When we first posted this article a month ago, few paid attention as the entire world was gripped in Summer-mania. Now that Summers is out of the picture, and the monetary policy acumen of the former San Fran Fed president are under the spotlight, it is probably an opportune time to recall Janet Yellen's ability to foresee the future heading into the great financial crisis whose five year anniversary took place this weekend. Or rather lack thereof, because as the following excerpt from a 2010 FCIC hearing, noticed first by the NYT, demonstrates, if this is the best Fed head replacement we can do then we may as well fast forward to the Great Financial Crisis ver 2.0: “For my own part,” Ms. Yellen said, “I did not see and did not appreciate what the risks were with securitization, the credit ratings agencies, the shadow banking system, the S.I.V.’s — I didn’t see any of that coming until it happened.”
The most important event of the "coming" week was unexpected, and did not even take place during the week, but the weekend. So with Summers unexpectedly, and uncharacteristically out, here is what else is in store.
US Fed's exit plan poses a critical dilemma and underscores important contradictions. The calendar says Europe should be talking about exits too--as aid packages for Spanish banks, and Ireland and Portugal are to wind down in the coming year--yet more rather than less assistance may be neeed.
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.
As we head for the fateful FOMC announcement on September 18, US data have continued to moderate. Accordingly, the consensus seems to be converging on a $10-15 billion initial reduction in monthly purchases (mostly focused on the Treasury side and less so on MBS) with any 'tightening' talk tempered by exaggerated forward-guidance discussions and the potential to drop thresholds to appear more easy for longer, since as CS notes, assuming Fed policymakers have learned anything in the last four months, they must know that the markets view “tapering” as “tightening,” even though they themselves for the most part do not. Thus, they are going to need to sugar-coat the message of tapering somehow. But as UBS notes, political risks have grown and there is little clarity on the Fed's thinking about the housing market. This leaves 3 crucial surprise scenarios for the FOMC "Taper" outcome.
Even if one correctly predicts what the FOMC does next week, getting the direction right for dollar is a different matter. The markets are anticipatory in nature and the effect often takes place before the cause.
To say that bonds are under pressure would be an understatement. Over the last few months, sentiment about fixed income has flipped dramatically: from a favored investment destination that is deemed to benefit from exceptional support from central banks, to an asset class experiencing large outflows, negative returns and reduced standing as an anchor of a well-diversified asset allocation. Similar to prior periods, history will regard the ongoing phase of dislocations in the bond market as a transitional period of adjustment triggered by changing expectations about policy, the economy and asset preferences – all of which have been significantly turbocharged by a set of temporary and ultimately reversible technical factors. By contrast, history is unlikely to record a change in the important role that fixed income plays over time in prudent asset allocations and diversified investment portfolios – in generating returns, reducing volatility and lowering the risk of severe capital loss. Understanding well what created this change is critical to how investors may think about the future.
Until six days before Lehman Brothers collapsed five years ago, the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s maintained the firm’s investment-grade rating of “A.” Moody’s waited even longer, downgrading Lehman one business day before it collapsed. How could reputable ratings agencies – and investment banks – misjudge things so badly? Regulators, bankers, and ratings agencies bear much of the blame for the crisis. But the near-meltdown was not so much a failure of capitalism as it was a failure of contemporary economic models’ understanding of the role and functioning of financial markets – and, more broadly, instability – in capitalist economies. Yet the mainstream of the economics profession insists that such mechanistic models retain validity.
"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
It seems this morning's trial balloon has set the gamblers off as PaddyPower shows that the probability of Larry Summers becoming the next Fed Chair has soared to over 85%. Just six short weeks ago Summers was a long-shot 20% probability and Yellen the shoe-in at 75%. In the meantime, despite over 300 economists putting pen to paper to demand more of the same monetary policy that has not worked; Summers is now more probable that Yellen was at the start. Of course, given today's reaction, traders may start to position for the seemingly inevitable though we suspect that - as usual - we will be told that stocks near their highs are already discounting this and any other potential change.
Overnight asset classes got a jolt following a report by Nikkei that Obama was moving toward naming Summers the next Fed chairman, citing “several close US sources,” pushing stocks modestly lower in Europe, with bond yields higher. According to the report, Obama is to name Summers as next Fed chairman as early as late next week, after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Otherwise, risk is still digesting the news of the confidential Twitter IPO, as it is becoming quite clear that some of the largest names (Hilton also announced yesterday) are seeking to cash out in the public markets. Is this the top?
With bonds and stocks rallying (and the USD dropping) notably in the last few days, one could be forgiven for believing the Taper is off but Goldman's baseline forecast remains for a $10bn reduction in asset purchases - probably all in Treasuries - and $15bn is possible (though recently mixed labor data may choke that a little) and a strengthening of forward-guidance. As they note, the current redction in uncertainty (or rise in complacency some might say) has the potential to offset the tightening in financial conditions, barring another major outbreak of DC strife in the run up to the debt ceiling in late October/early November. However, what is most notable is Goldman's expectation that the Fed will start walking-back its unemployment-rate threshold as it has been clearly shown not to be a good catch-all indicator of broad economic and labor market performance. So it's data-dependent - but the data is unreliable at best and false at worst.
For the right answer, we look to the past....
Jitters from Syria still abound, as confirmed by reports from the Israeli army that two shells had hit the Southern Golan region. Despite the reports that the shelling appeared to be errant, WTI remains near session highs as markets remain sensitive ahead of the meeting between US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva over the next two days. Buying of the 10Y is also prevalent and the yield on the benchmark bond was has dropped below 2.90%, or at 2.88% at last check. Today's key economic news in the US session will be the weekly claims report, the Fed buying 10 Year bonds at 11 am followed by the Treasury selling 30 Year bonds at 1 pm (this follows the Fed buying 30 Year bond yesterday: yes ironic).
Stanley Druckenmiller's World View: "Catastrophic" Entitlement Spending, "Bizarre" & "Illusory" Asset Markets, & Beware The TaperSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/11/2013 21:50 -0400
During an extended interview with Bloomberg TV, billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller provided a seemingly fact-based (and non-status-quo sustaining, commission-taking, media-whoring) perspective on a very wide variety of topics. The brief clips below touch the surface, with the detailed annotated transcript below providing details, as Druckenmiller opines on the looming catastrophe in entitlement spending "when you hear about the National debt being $16tn; if you actually took what we promised to seniors and future taxes, present value to both of them, that number is $200tn," why the Fed exit will be a big deal for markets, "it is my belief that QE has subsidized all asset prices and when you remove that, the market will go down," and his changing views on Obama "I was drinking the hope and change Kool-aid... in hindsight, he probably needed more experience for this job." Looking back to the financial crisis, he warns, "...a necessary condition to have a financial crisis, in my opinion, is too loose monetary policy that encourages people to take undue risk and go on the risk curve and do silly things. We should have shut this down in 1998, 1999. The NASDAQ bubble, we should have raised rates, we didn’t. Then we got the implosion."