There should be three objectives for a well-functioning monetary system: i) internal balance, ii) allocative efficiency and iii) financial stability. The international financial and monetary system (IFMS) has functioned under a number of different regimes over the past 150 years and each has placed different weights on these three objectives. Overall, this recent Bank of England paper finds that today’s 'fiat' system has performed poorly against each of its three objectives, at least compared with the Bretton Woods System, with the key failure being the system’s inability to maintain financial stability and minimize the incidence of disruptive sudden changes in global capital flows. There is little consensus in the academic literature, or among policymakers, on what are the underlying problems in the global economy which allow excessive imbalances to build in today’s IMFS and/or which impede the IMFS from adjusting smoothly to counteract these imbalances. Critically though, while the fiat money system we are currently does indeed exhibit lower GDP growth volatility (by design), it has dramatically more incidents of banking and currency crises than under a Gold Standard.
The other day the Huffington Post ran an article by a Bonnie Kavoussi called “11 Lies About the Federal Reserve.” And you’ll never guess: these aren’t lies or myths spread in the financial press by Fed apologists. These are “lies” being told by you and me, opponents of the Fed. Bonnie Kavoussi calls us “Fed-haters.” So she, a Fed-lover, is at pains to correct these alleged misconceptions. She must stop us stupid ingrates from poisoning our countrymen’s minds against this benevolent array of experts innocently pursuing economic stability. Here are the 11 so-called lies (she calls them “myths” in the actual rendering), and Tom Woods and Bob Murphy's responses.
Many times what "should" happen does not happen. For example, global stock markets "should" decline as the global economy free-falls into recession, as global recession is not exactly an ideal scenario for rising corporate sales and profits or demand for commodities. Yet global markets are by and large rising significantly. Sometimes what "should" happen is simply being delayed. In other cases, some other dynamic is at work. Stock market bulls, for example, say the "other dynamic" is global money-printing by central banks, and this "easing" will power stocks higher even as sales and profits sag. Analysts who believe fundamentals eventually over-ride monetary manipulation believe the stock market decline has only been delayed, not banished. A similar tug-of-war is playing out between those who feel the U.S. dollar "should" decline in the years ahead and those who see the dollar strengthening significantly.
For those who still wonder why China has given up on Europe, and is solely focusing on Africa (where none other than Goldman Sachs is opening more offices than any other bank), the IMF explains why the Berlin Beijing Conference 2.0 is now in its peak, if entirely behind the scenes. And yes, the "developed" world wishes it was one big banana republic. Amazing what not having 100%+ debt/GDP will do for one's economic prospects...
IMF Cuts Global Growth, Warns Central Banks, Whose Capital Is An "Arbitrary Number", Is Only Game In TownSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/08/2012 18:05 -0400
"The recovery continues but it has weakened" is how the IMF sums up their 250-page compendium of rather sullen reading for most hope-and-dreamers. The esteemed establishment led by the tall, dark, and handsome know-nothing Lagarde (as evidenced by her stroppiness after being asked a question she didn't like in the Eurogroup PR) has cut global growth expectations for advanced economics from 2.0% to only 1.5%. Quite sadly, they see two forces pulling growth down in advanced economies: fiscal consolidation and a still-weak financial system; and only one main force pulling growth up is accommodative monetary policy. Central banks continue not only to maintain very low policy rates, but also to experiment with programs aimed at decreasing rates in particular markets, at helping particular categories of borrowers, or at helping financial intermediation in general. A general feeling of uncertainty weighs on global sentiment. Of note: the IMF finds that "Risks for a Serious Global Slowdown Are Alarmingly High...The probability of global growth falling below 2 percent in 2013––which would be consistent with recession in advanced economies and a serious slowdown in emerging market and developing economies––has risen to about 17 percent, up from about 4 percent in April 2012 and 10 percent (for the one-year-ahead forecast) during the very uncertain setting of the September 2011 WEO. For 2013, the GPM estimates suggest that recession probabilities are about 15 percent in the United States, above 25 percent in Japan, and above 80 percent in the euro area." And yet probably the most defining line of the entire report (that we have found so far) is the following: "Central bank capital is, in many ways, an arbitrary number." And there you have it, straight from the IMF.
If interest income as a percentage of total personal income had remained at its 2008 level, the total would now be over $1.5 trillion. It is this $550 billion annual delta that the Fed has directly, though its policies, taken away from US consumers in terms of purchasing power. So while the Fed has taken away the bond market as a venue in which to generate current income, it is the structural failures of equities in a post-HFT world (stories of mini, amd maxi, Flash Crashes are now a daily occurrence) that prevent investors from having the same confidence about current income in a market in which terminal and fatal capital loss are all too real fears. And there are those who still wonder why the US consumer is withering away, and absent such crutches as soaring Federal non-revolving debt, used for anything but its designated purposes, would have less purchasing power now than before the crisis as a result of the Fed's failed policies. As George Magnus so peotically summarizes it "What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away."
It will, or should, come as no surprise that as a result of the Great Financial Crisis, just as in real life, so in D.C., the wealthiest politicians have gotten wealthier: in fact at least 72 politicos have doubled their wealth in the past 5 years. It will, or should, also come as no surprise, that as a result of the GFC, the average wealth of Republicans (which declined) and Democrats (which rose) has converged, confirming that at least when it comes to the economic disparity between America's two big parties, there is no longer any difference. At least these are the findings of a recent WaPo study looking at how America's lawmakers have benefited from the laws they themselves institute. In other words, while America's laws may be designed for its people, those who actually benefit from this country's fiscal (and of course monetary) policy is just one group: those who continue to transfer wealth from what little is left of the middle class and into their own, mostly offshore, bank accounts. From the WaPo: "You would find that, contrary to many popular perceptions, lawmakers don’t get rich by merely being in Congress. Rich people who go to Congress, though, keep getting richer while they’re there." We are fairly confident that there were no "popular perceptions" that anyone goes to Congress to get wealthy. Congress, and certainly the Senate, are merely vehicles to allow those with power and money to simply perpetuate a status quo that benefits the 1% and takes, what little is left, from everyone else. And sadly, this theft transcends political lines and ideological colors. In short: everyone is doing it, even as America continues to delude itself there is an option. There is none.
Even if both the Bush tax cuts and emergency unemployment insurance are extended, the 'sequester' is mostly postponed, and the fresh fiscal drag is confined to the expiration of the payroll tax cut and the new taxes to pay for Obamacare, Goldman estimates suggest that fiscal policy would shave nearly 1.5% from real GDP growth in early 2013. While it seems the 'market' believes that some compromise will be enough to lift the market to new stratospheric heights; we believe, as does Goldman, that the risks are almost exclusively on the downside of this 'not so good' fiscal scenario.
Individually, it seems, most Fed officials accept the chief recommendation of monetary theorists, such as Michael Woodford of Columbia University, about how to conduct policy when the nominal federal funds rate is stuck at its zero lower bound. The problem they face rather explicitly, as Morgan Stanley's Vince Reinhart points out, is how to translate the advice from economic textbooks to the application of policy by the diverse group of people on the FOMC. Reinhart goes on to ask, rhetorically, if a conditional policy rule works so well in theory, why has it not been put into practice? Congress instructs the Fed to foster maximum employment and price stability but gives no guidance on weighing deviations from those goals in the short run. If the FOMC cannot agree on the weights, then they cannot agree on a rule. As a result, the Fed is living out a collective action problem, in that officials individually support a rule but collectively cannot agree to a single rule. This leaves Fed officials are now in the improvisation phase of their monetary policy experiment. That does not seem to us like a 'good' thing for the most powerful entity in the world.
The BOJ pioneered QE in March 2001, with two objectives. The first was to eliminate deflation, which took hold in the mid-1990s; and the second was to shore up Japan’s fragile financial system. Did it work? Yes, for the second objective - the BOJ arguably bought time for banks tied up in NPL disposal; but, unfortunately, QE was not successful in combating deflation. The BOJ’s intended policy transmission mechanism was so-called portfolio rebalancing. Ideally, the buildup in banks’ deposits at the BOJ that earned no return (but carried zero risk) should have prompted banks to seek higher returns (with higher risk) and thus increase their lending. But portfolio rebalancing did not kick in for several reasons; most of which are the same as are occurring in the US currently. More fundamentally, however, Japan's demographics hindered any hopes of a capex-driven recovery - and policy can do little to affect that. While the US faces a less dismal demographic picture, the Japanese experience highlights that other policies (as Bernanke himself admits) are required for any sustained benefit in the real economy.
Goldman's equity strategist David Kostin has been very quiet for the past year, having not budged on his 2012 year end S&P target of 1250 since late 2011. Today, he finally released a revised forecast, one that curious still leaves the year end forecast unchanged at a level over 200 points lower in the S&P cash, and thus assuming a ~15% decline. The reason: the same fiscal cliff (which would otherwise deduct 5% in GDP growth) and debt ceiling debate we have warned will get the same market treatment as it did in August of 2011 when the only catalyst was a 15% S&P plunge and a downgrade of the US credit rating. However, one the fiscal situation is fixed, Kostin sees only upside, with a 6 month target of 1450 ("We raise our medium-term fair value estimates for the S&P 500 in response to openended quantitative easing (QE) announced by the Fed."), and a year end S&P target of 1575, calculated by applying a 13.9 multiple to the firm's EPS forecast of 114. Of course, this being bizarro Goldman Sachs it means expect a continued surge into year end, then prolonged fizzle into the new year. Why? Because there is not a snowball's chance in hell the consolidated S&P earnings can grow at this rate, especially not if the Fiscal Cliff compromise is one that does take away more than 1% of GDP thus offsetting all the "benefit" from QE. Simply said, companies who have already eliminated all the fat, and most of the muscle, and are desperate for revenue growth to generate incremental EPS increase, have not invested in CapEx at nearly the rate needed to maintain revenue growth, having dumped all the cash instead in such short-sighted initiatives as dividends and buybacks. Also, recalling that revenues are now outright declining on a year over year basis, and one can see why anyone assuming a 14% increase in earnings in one year, is merely doing all they can to make the work of their flow desk easier.
Precious metals have all run up with the recent loose money policies enacted by various governments. Clearly the market darling of late is silver which is now gaining favour in Asia for its value appeal. Spot silver traded in New York has risen by 27% since the end of June, while the price of spot gold has increased by a meek 12%. Analysts say future Indian demand is key for silver’s price to climb. Futures contracts for silver at India's largest commodity exchange, the Multi Commodity Exchange, rocketed 30% in September compared with July, while volumes fell by 10% for gold futures contracts over the same period. Indian rupee weakness sent gold prices in rupees to an all time high this year, while silver never exceeded the record it hit last April. Rupee-denominated silver is currently being quoted around 20% below the record. Indian investors have ceased purchasing because the 2 weeks ending Oct. 15th is regarded as inauspicious. The buying will commence and peak during the week ahead of the Hindu festival of Diwali on November 13th. In China, on the Shanghai Futures Exchange silver futures were up 29% at the end of September verses the end of June, while gold climbed 13%, according to data from the exchange's website.
The Federal Reserve is probably not ready to take the aggressive plunge into Nominal GDP Targeting, but it likely will. But if you think these measures are desperate, we have only just begun to push energy and financial systems beyond their capability. The launch of QE3 (and similar measures by the European central bank (ECB) in Europe) is like the crack! of a starting-gun to human psychology that carries the following, urgent message: Hey, humans – go get those resources quickly, before someone else does! Indeed, the most powerful lever for monetary policy remains our capacity for social competition. The open-ended promise to pursue a faster rate of growth at the expense of inflation, mal-investment, bubbles, and the environment places a new and fast pressure on human economies to perform.
A common theme among many of our insights is the reality that lurks behind the proposed perception of many of our economic, financial, and political leaders' projections. From Spain not needing a bailout to Juncker's lies, from Bernanke's transitory inflation to Dimon's not needing TARP, the list is endless. Artemis Capital, whose insights we have discussed here and here, use the metaphor of the impossible object (e.g. Penrose Triangle or Necker's Cube) to explore the role of perception in modern markets, monetary policy, and risk. In a world where global central banks manipulate the cost of risk, the mechanics of price discovery have disengaged from reality resulting in paradoxical expressions of value that should not exist according to efficient market theory. Fear and safety are now interchangeable in a speculative and high stakes game of perception. The market is no longer an expression of the economy... it is the economy; and common sense says do not trust your common sense.