There are already three former European central bankers who criticize more or less openly the European Central Bank (ECB). All these older central bankers experienced the inflationary periods in the 1970s in detail, whereas the younger ones seem not to grasp what inflation means. Modern central bankers seem to think that monetary inflation will not lead to price inflation in the long-term. This might be true in countries where asset prices need to de-leverage after the bust of real-estate bubbles. But it is certainly not true in states like Germany, Finland or Switzerland, that did not have a real-estate bubble till 2008. With current low employment and the aging population, qualified personnel who speaks the local language will get rare. PIMCO’s Bill Gross might be right saying that soon employees want to get a part of the cake and not only the stock holders. This essentially implies wage inflation, the enemy of the 1970s.
One of the most vocal advocates of a NEW QE announcement next month, at either the FOMC meeting or Jackson Hole - Goldman Sachs - has just pulled the plug. From Jan Hatzius: "The US economic data continue to look a bit stronger. Tuesday’s retail sales report for July beat expectations, while inventory accumulation showed a further slowdown in June. Our Q3 GDP tracking estimate edged up to 2.3%. The recent news also has implications for Fed policy. While QE3 at the September 12-13 FOMC meeting remains possible, our best estimate is that it will take until late 2012/early 2013 before Fed officials return to balance sheet expansion." Just as we have been saying. Which means the Fed is now out of the picture until the end of 2012. And with corn prices where they are, so is the PBOC. As for the ECB - talk to Rajoy, who will do nothing as long as 10 Year yields are under 8%. Which means that, as explained previously, Spain and Italy, and in fact the entire world, must all be destroyed first, before they are saved.
It is important to consider how beneficial a debt reset — so long as society comes out of it in one piece — will be in the long run. As both Friedrich Hayek and Hyman Minsky saw it, with the weight of excessive debt and the costs of deleveraging either reduced or removed, long-depressed-economies would be able to grow organically again. This is obviously not ideal, but it is surely better than remaining in a Japanese-style deleveraging trap. Yet while most of the economic establishment remain convinced that the real problem is one of aggregate demand, and not excessive total debt, such a prospect still remains distant. The most likely pathway continues to be one of stagnation, with central banks printing just enough money to keep the debt serviceable (and handing it to the financial sector, which will surely continue to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else). This is a painful and unsustainable status quo and the debt reset — and without an economic miracle, it will eventually arrive — will in the long run likely prove a welcome development for the vast majority of people and businesses.
With less than three months to go, the outcome of the November election remains highly uncertain. SocGen notes that, as always, economic performance over the coming months will be a key determinant of who wins and who loses. If the elections were held today, the most likely outcome would be a Republican win in both Congressional races and a Democratic win in the race for the White House. This means that any new significant legislation will almost certainly have to be a product of compromise. In this sense, we may very well be looking at a status quo in terms of bipartisanship and gridlock which have dominated Washington politics over the past few years. This would be bad news at a time when the country faces a number of serious challenges with significant long-term implications. From the economy to long-term fiscal health, and from the debt-ceiling to Housing, Healthcare, and Energy policy differences, the following provides a succinct review.
Last week we presented the aftermath of the very much unannounced "Conference of Beijing" as a result of which Africa has been slowly but surely converting to a continent controlled almost exclusively by China. However, there was one thing missing: even as China has been virtually the sole source of infrastructure funding in Africa, the continent has long been a legacy dollar preserve, which obviously means renminbi penetration and replacement would be problematic to say the least. As it turns out, this too is rapidly changing: as the WSJ reports, Africa is increasingly just saying "nein" to the USD. "African countries are trying to shoo the U.S. dollar away, even if it means threatening to throw people who use greenbacks in jail. Starting next year, Angola will require oil and gas companies to pay tax revenue and local contracts in kwanza, its currency, rather than dollars. Mozambique wants companies to exchange half of their export earnings for meticais, hoping to pull more of the wealth in vast coal and natural-gas deposits into the domestic economy. And Ghana is seeking similar ways to reinforce "the primacy of the domestic currency," after the cedi plummeted more than 17% against the dollar in the first six months of this year. The sternest steps come from Zambia, a copper-rich country in southern Africa where the central bank has banned dollar-denominated transactions. Offenders who are "quoting, paying or demanding to be paid or receiving foreign currency" can face a maximum 10 years in prison, the central bank said in a two-page directive in May." Is it time to dump the EUR in hopes of a short covering rally that continues to be elusive (just as Germany wants) and buy Zambian Kwachas instead? We will wait for Tom Stolper to advise Goldman clients to sell the Zambian currency first, but at this rate the USDZMK may well be the most profitable currency pair of the next 3-6 months.
Last week was a scratch in terms of events, if not in terms of multiple expansion, as 2012 forward EPS continued contraction even as the market continued rising and is on the verge of taking out 2012 highs - surely an immediate catalyst for the New QE it is pricing in. This week promises to be just as boring with few events on the global docket as Europe continues to bask in mid-August vacation, and prepare for the September event crunch. Via DB, In Europe, apart from GDP tomorrow we will also get inflation data from the UK, Spain and France as well as the German ZEW survey. Greece will also auction EU3.125bn in 12-week T-bills to help repay a EU3.2bn bond due 20 August held by the ECB. Elsewhere will get Spanish trade balance and euroland inflation data on Thursday, German PPI and the Euroland trade balance on Friday. In the US we will get PPI, retail sales and business inventories tomorrow. On Wednesday we get US CPI, industrial production, NY Fed manufacturing, and the NAHB housing index. Building permits/Housing starts and Philly Fed survey are the highlights for Thursday before the preliminary UofM consumer sentiment survey on Friday.
The debt levels of advanced economies remains unsustainably high - bringing with it the considerable risk of renewed crisis - and while strong growth is the best way to deleverage, this solution appears out of reach for most (if not all) economies. Financial repression, austerity, inflation, or default are the remaining options - all of which come with considerable costs to economic growth and employment. While 'muddling-through' appears to be heralded as a positive by many market-savants currently, SocGen notes that the line between a virtuous (expansionary fiscal contraction) and vicious austerity trap comes down largely to policy confidence. Most (if not all) advanced economy politicians entirely lack the public's or market's confidence in credible policy direction (and in fact we are seeing policy uncertainty at extremes) which leads to SocGen's conclusion that the muddle-through strategy (which comes with a high price tag economically and socially) is too high a burden politically and will inevitably lead to spillover to core-Europe and the global financial system.
All major macro data from China over the last 2 days have been disappointing. The third quarter started on a surprisingly weak note for China despite all the talks (and hope) on stimulus and monetary policy easing. The macro data pretty much confirm our view that economic growth did not reach a bottom in the second quarter as the consensus used to believe. If anything, the economy seems to be worsening somewhat again. We hope that the consensus is (finally) right and that we are wrong. We hope that we will not be repeating the joke that “the consensus is expecting a recovery in next quarter during every quarter”. Unfortunately, we just don’t see that, and we doubt if the government has the willingness at this point to do much more, and we doubt whether the government really has the ability as the market thinks. We do not see convincing signs of recovery (except, perhaps, Wen Jiabao making waves every other week), and we even struggle to see signs of stabilisation. If we see anything, we are seeing a bottomless pit.
In the euro area overnight rate targeting has produced roughly a 130% expansion of the true money supply in the first decade of the euro's existence – about twice the money supply expansion that occurred in the US during the 'roaring twenties' (Murray Rothbard notes in 'America's Great Depression' that the US true money supply expanded by about 65% in the allegedly 'non-inflationary' boom of the 1920's). This expansion of money and credit is the root cause of the financial and economic crisis the euro area is in now. This point cannot be stressed often enough: the crisis has nothing to do with the 'different state of economic development' or the 'different work ethic' of the countries concerned. It is solely a result of the preceding credit expansion. Since long term interest rates are essentially the sum of the expected path of short term interest rates plus a risk and price premium, the central bank's manipulation of short term rates will usually also be reflected in long term rates. In the euro area's periphery, the central bank has lost control over interest rates since the crisis has begun. The market these days usually expresses growing doubts about the solvency of sovereign debtors by flattening their yield curve: short term rates will tend to rise faster than long term ones. This in essence indicates that default (or a bailout application) is expected to happen in the near future. It is possible that this effect has also influenced the ECB's decision to concentrate future bond buying on the short end of the yield curve. However, as is usually the case with such interventions, there are likely to be unintended consequences.
The presidential season has started in earnest. First to hit the hustings was the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Eric Rosengren, who, true to his blue-state roots, pressed the case for an open-ended asset purchase program. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher made the red-state argument for easing off the monetary gas pedal. Increased chatter from Fed officials is a marker Morgan Stanley's Vince Reinhart has long-identified as signifying increased chance of Fed action. And we are hearing it. But why do Fed officials talk so much in advance of action? Fed officials must be disappointed by an economic outlook that falls short of both of their objectives. They individually think that policy can do better, but they cannot collectively agree on how.
Six weeks ago we detailed how watching intra- and inter-asset-class correlations can tell investors a lot about what is behind market movements and as Nick Colas, of ConvergEx, highlights in his monthly review of asset price correlations - it reveals a key feature of the "Mystery Rally of Summer 2012." The move from the early June lows for U.S. stocks has come with increasing correlations across a wide array of asset types and industry sectors. That's unusual, because rising markets over the past three years more commonly bring lower correlations. For example, the rally from January to early April of this year saw industry correlations within the S&P 500 drop from +95% to 75-80% as the index went from 1270 to 1420 (a 12% return). Conversely, the move from 1278 to 1400 (early June to present day) has come with increasing industry correlations – 82% in May to 86% currently. To us, that's an important "Tell" about what's been taking us higher – hopes for further Federal Reserve liquidity at the next FOMC meeting in September and ECB liquidity to support the euro. The rest of August will likely feature the kind of light-volume tape that loves to drift higher, but increasing correlations represent a flashing yellow light signifying the need for caution in trading over the balance of the month.
Today's youth are especially drawn to digital platforms because most of them don't know how to read anyway, and the grease from their sausage-fingers can be quickly wiped off the screen of their iDevice. The New American Golden Boy will collect not one, but two weekly checks from the government. First he will get the well-deserved unemployment check, and on top of that he will receive his disability check simply for being a fat-ass. But let's be real here: these are not rational consumers making rational consumptions decisions. This is the new America that is being engineered by corporations that force mindless individuals to become addicted to their products with zero regard for health implications. We are witnessing consumption for capitalism's sake. An economy is the aggregate of its consumers, and just like its consumers, this economy is structurally sick. The monetary policy pill that central planners and investors have been high on since 2008 has caused the economy to build up such a tolerance that it is no longer effective unless taken in doses that will kill the patient.
Anyone who has been following US fiscal policy over the past three years, which by implication means US monetary policy since Congress and the president have dumped everything in the lap of the Fed, which by implication means the Fed's guide to investing in the Russell 2000, knows too well that it can be summarized in two words: financial repression. Read the attempt to force everyone out of "riskless" assets such as Treasurys and mortgages and into risky assets such as Amazon and its 200+ P/E. All else equal, there has been one huge error with this policy which is akin to the Fed attempting to herd cats: instead of pushing investors into other asset classes, all the Fed has achieved is to get everyone to front run it in buying whatever bonds the Fed has not committed to monetizing just yet as we showed before. The other problem is that all else is not equal, and as SocGen shows Financial Repression, even by construct assuming practice and theory were the same, will not be sufficient due to the following three reasons.
Just over a month ago we laid out the market's key indicator for whether NEW QE (or the just as fungible LTRO / unsterilized money printing from Europe) was likely. The 5Y5Y forward inflation expectation has been invaluable in front-running decisions by the world's anti-deflation central banks. What is amazing is that the market has become so conditioned now to the glut of easy money (knowing deep down it fixes nothing but needing that fix for their 'assets') that based on this framework, it appears inflation expectations have now priced in another EUR1 trillion worth of LTRO. We strongly suspect, given the one-year highs in inflation expectations that the Fed will disappoint in September (no matter how much insanity Rosengren spouts) but Draghi will come under increasing pressure not to disappoint (like he did last time).
The easing of credit conditions (in other words, the enhancement of banks’ ability to create credit and thus enhance their own purchasing power) following the breakdown of Bretton Woods — as opposed to monetary base expansion — seems to have driven the growth in credit and financialisation. It has not (at least previous to 2008) been a case of central banks printing money and handing it to the financial sector; it has been a case of the financial sector being set free from credit constraints. Monetary policy in the post-Bretton Woods era has taken a number of forms; interest rate policy, monetary base policy, and regulatory policy. The association between growth in the financial sector, credit growth and interest rate policy shows that monetary growth (whether that is in the form of base money, credit or nontraditional credit instruments) enriches the recipients of new money as anticipated by Cantillon. This underscores the need for a monetary and credit system that distributes money in a way that does not favour any particular sector — especially not the endemically corrupt financial sector.