The biggest news this past week was Janet Yellen's first post-FOMC meeting speech and press conference as the Federal Reserve Chairwoman. While some have the utmost respect for her accomplishments, every time we hear her speak all we can think of is a white haired, 75-year old grandmother baking cookies in her kitchen. This week's "Things To Ponder" covers several disparate takes on what she said, didn't say and the direction of the Federal Reserve from here.
Over the past few years we have grown used to the odd dissent among Fed members as hawks complain at the uber-easy policies and the costs outweighing the benefits but it's different this time. Among the most dovish of Fed heads, Narayana Kocherlakota, dissented, warning that the new "guidance" of the Fed (rather than lowering existing and entirely discredited 'thresholds') will hurt Fed credibility, foster undertainty, and lower growth. Perhaps, then, this is moment when the doves cry and in fact the Fed is becoming more hawkish than that investing public really believes is possible.
Once again there has been little fundamental news or economic data this morning in Europe with price action largely driven by expiring option contracts. In terms of key events, Putin says Russia should refrain from retaliating against US sanctions for now even as Bank Rossiya discovered Visa and MasterCard have stopped servicing its cards, and as Putin further added he would have his salary sent to the sanctioned bank - the farce will go on. Continuing the amusing "rating agency" news following yesterday's policy warning by S&P and Fitch on Russian debt (was that a phone call from Geithner... or directly from Obama), Fitch affirmed United States at AAA; outlook revised to stable from negative, adding that the US has greater debt tolerance than AAA peers. Perhaps thje most notable move was in Chinese stocks which rallied overnight after major domestic banks said to have stopped selling trust products which were blamed for encouraging reckless borrowing and diluted credit standards. Speculation of further stimulus and the potential introduction of single stock futures also helped the Shanghai Comp mark its biggest gain of 2014 closing up 2.7%.
S&P, still deep in the mire of a legal battle with the US government, has decided now is an opportune time to cut the ratings outlook on Russia:
- *RUSSIAN FEDERATION OUTLOOK TO NEGATIVE FROM STABLE BY S&P
- *S&P SEES EU-U.S. IMPOSING FURTHER SANCTIONS
Russia remains a BBB credit (but with the outlook shift remains open to a downgrade with 24 months). S&P has cut 2014 GDP forecast to 1.2% and 2015 to 2.2%. Of course, we are sure, this would have nothing to do with currying favors with the US government (who threatened them when they downgraded the USA). Full report below.
Why Mainstream Economists Like Krugman Are So WRONG and So DANGEROUS
"We never should have painted ourselves so deep in this QE corner in the first place," chides David Stockman, "because the whole predicate [of Fed policy] is false." The author of The Great Deformation holds nothing back in this brief 3-minute primer of everything is wrong with the American economic system (and the CNBC anchors definitely did not want to hear). "We are already at peak debt and forcing more into the economy didn't work," and won't work as is merely funds Wall Street's latest carry trade to nowhere and fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. Simply put, "the private credit channel of monetary transmission is busted," so the Fed is exploiting the only channel it has left - "the bubble channel."
"It is clear to us that speculative and Ponzi finance dominate China’s economy at this stage. The question is when and how the system’s current instability resolves itself. The Minsky Moment refers to the moment at which a credit boom driven by speculative and Ponzi borrowers begins to unwind. It is the point at which Ponzi and speculative borrowers are no longer able to roll over their debts or borrow additional capital to make interest payments.... We believe that China finds itself today at exactly this juncture."
On account of the clear decline in the growth momentum of the US price index, many economists have concluded that this provides scope for the Fed to maintain its aggressive monetary stance. Some economists, such as Chicago Fed head Charles Evans, even argue that the declining trend in the growth momentum of the CPI makes it possible for the Fed to further strengthen monetary pumping. This, 'they' believe, will reverse the declining trend in price inflation and will bring the US economy onto a path of healthy economic growth. We suggest that contrary to Evans miracles, a strengthening in monetary pumping will only deepen economic impoverishment by allowing the emergence of new bubble activities and exacerbate existing bubble activities.
If the idea is to anticipate what an adversary does, it behooves us, even if we do not believe in QE on moral grounds or on efficacy grounds, to consider how the ECB can have QE, which it appears under increasing pressure to do. Here is such a course.
Has the market done it again? Two weeks ago, Putin's first speech of the Ukraine conflict was taken by the USDJPY algos - which seemingly need to take a remedial class in Real Politik - as a conciliatory step, and words like "blinking" at the West were used when describing Putin, leading to a market surge. Promptly thereafter Russia seized Crimea and is now on the verge of formally annexing it. Over the weekend, we had the exact same misreading of the situation, when the Crimean referendum, whose purpose is to give Russia the green light to enter the country, was actually misinterpreted as a risk on event, not realizing that all the Russian apparatus needed to get a green light for further incursions into Ukraine or other neighboring countries was just the market surge the algos orchestrated. Anyway, yesterday's risk on, zero volume euphoria has been tapered overnight, with the USDJPY sliding from nearly 102.00 to just above 101.30 dragging futures with it, in advance of Putin's speech to parliament, in which he is expected to provide clarity on the Russian response to US sanctions, as well as formulate the nation's further strategy vis-a-vis Crimea and the Ukraine.
Having offloaded its short-dated Ukraine bonds to clients (recommending they buy them in size when Yanukovych was ousted for a decent loss so far), the boys from Goldman are up to their old tricks with a lorry-load of German stocks to sell you... "Year to date, the DAX is one of the worst performing indices in Europe (down 4.6% relative to the European market which is flat)... but we think the overall German market will outperform the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index, and also highlight a list of DAX stocks that are currently Buy rated by our analysts."
There are three things that are often spotted, widely believed, and actively sought after with little evidence they actually exist: Big Foot, Ghosts and Economic "Soft Landings." Over the past 159 years, there is not much evidence that an economic "soft landing" has ever occurred. However, it is not without precedent that as the economy reaches the latter stage of the growth cycle that the words "soft landing" are uttered by economists and Federal Reserve members. Why do we bring this up? Bihnamin Appelbaum, via the New York Times, recently interviewed John Williams, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who stated: "John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is feeling pretty good about the economy. He is ready to continue the Fed’s retreat from bond-buying and forward guidance. And he says he’s optimistic that this time, the Fed will manage to produce a soft landing."
These Six Euroarea Countries Are In Outright Deflation As Eurozone Inflation Slides To Four Year LowsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/17/2014 10:47 -0500
As we explained in great detail recently, the abundance of so-called cash-on-the-sidelines is a fallacy, but even more critically the we showed the belief that these 'IOUs of past economic activity' would immediately translate into efforts to deploy them into future economic activity is also entirely false. Simply put, there is no relationship between corporate cash and subsequent capital expenditure, nor is the level of capital expenditure even well-correlated with the level of real interest rates. At this point, as John Hussman explains, it should be clear that the mere existence of a mountain of IOUs related to past economic activity is not enough to provoke future economic activity. What matters instead is the same thing that always matters: Are the resources of the economy being directed toward productive uses that satisfy the needs of others?
A critical element for investors to consider is that the Fed is not forward thinking when it comes to monetary policy. Indeed, if we reflect on the last 15 years, we see that the Fed has been well behind the curve on everything.