A few weeks ago we noted Bundesbank president and ECB governing council member Jens Weidmann's analogy between the Faustian bargain offered by a money-printing Mephistopheles in Goethe's classic prose and today's ubiquitous oh-so-tempting short-term solution to everyone's pain. His full speech (below), while a little dramatic, should indeed strike fear into many with its clarity. The financial power of a central bank is unlimited in principle; it does not have to acquire beforehand the money it lends or uses for payments. Many believe Goethe was portraying the modern economy with its creation of paper money as a continuation of alchemy by other means. While traditional alchemists attempted to turn lead into gold, in the modern economy, paper was made into money. Indeed, the fact that central banks can create money out of thin air, so to speak, is something that many observers are likely to find surprising and strange, perhaps mystical and dreamlike, too – or even nightmarish. Of course, Weidmann concludes, it is important that central bankers, who are in charge of a public good – in this case, stable money – bolster public confidence by explaining their policies. The best protection against temptation in monetary policy is an enlightened and stability-oriented society. [and Gold!]
"Liquidity trap" was a term coined by John Maynard Keynes in the aftermath of the Great Depression. He argued that when yields are low enough, expanding money supply won't stimulate growth because bonds and cash are already near-equivalents when bonds pay (almost) no interest. Some, like Citi's credit strategy team, would say that it is a pretty apt description of the state of play these days. To their minds (and ours), there is very little doubt that central banks have played an absolutely crucial role in propping up asset prices in recent years, Why have markets responded so resolutely when growth hasn't? The answer, we think, is that in their attempts to free markets from the liquidity trap, central banks are ensnaring markets in what we'll call a "liquidity lure". That lure is three pronged... but tail risks are bound to re-appear and from this position, there is no painless escape.
Goldman "Hannibal Lecter" Sachs used to be the visible ringleader of The Gold Cartel. They have since disappeared from the gold price suppression scheme totally, at least as far as this eye can see.
With equities sat the edge of an ugly-looking cliff and precious metals leaking lower, FX markets remain somewhat less shell-shocked (for now). Citi's Steve Englander provides a quick-and-dirty view of the five key issues FX investors are focusing on.
A mere three weeks ago we noted that Tim Geithner is preparing to transition to a Blackrock cubicle...
Geithner Reiterates Refusal to Talk About Monetary Policy. Or which floor of Blackrock his cubicle will be on
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) September 25, 2012
Today, it seems, the FT has finally got the memo as they note that Mr. Fink (Geithner's new boss?) trumped Mr. Rubin (Geithner's old boss?) as the most frequent 'can-I-phone-a-friend' call - speaking 49 times over 18 months (once every 11 days). We wonder if this is simply a 'rotation' discussion/interview process as Fink transitions to Geithner's little seat at Treasury and Geithner slides into his capacity as official guard of the Blackrock Stapler in the 3rd sub-basement.
One-year "money" is offered at .9750. The .9700 bid is vulnerable. I don't get it.
Economists, market analysts, journalists and investors alike are all talking about it quite openly, generally in a calm and reserved tone that suggests that - to borrow a phrase from Bill Gross – it represents the 'new normal'. Something that simply needs to be acknowledged and analyzed in the same way we e.g. analyze the supply/demand balance of the copper market. It is the new buzzword du jour: 'Financial Repression'. The term certainly sounds ominous, but it is always mentioned in an off-hand manner that seems to say: 'yes, it is bad, but what can you do? We've got to live with it.' But what does it actually mean? The simplest, most encompassing explanation is this: it describes various insidious and underhanded methods by which the State intends to rob its citizens of their wealth and income over the coming years (and perhaps even decades) above and beyond the already onerous burden of taxation and regulatory costs that is crushing them at present. One cannot possibly "print one's way to prosperity". The exact opposite is in fact true: the policy diminishes the economy's ability to generate true wealth. If anything, “we” are printing ourselves into the poorhouse.
It seems our recent re-introduction of the world to Robert Triffin has struck a note among a number of market participants. The gold-convertible U.S. dollar became the global reserve currency under the Bretton Woods monetary system, which lasted from 1944-1971. This arrangement ended because foreign central banks accumulated unsustainably large reserves of U.S. Treasuries, threatening price stability and the purchasing power of the dollar. Today, central banks are once again stockpiling massive Treasury reserves in an attempt to manage their currency values and gain advantages in export markets. We have, effectively, returned to Bretton Woods. The trouble is, as Guggenheim's Scott Minerd notes, that the arrangement is as unsustainable today as it was during the middle of the last century. None of this should come as a surprise given the unorthodox growth of central bank balance sheets around the world. The collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 caused a decade of economic malaise and negative real returns for financial assets. Can anyone afford to wait to find out whether this time will be different?
Some prefer to see the 'employment' glass half-full, some half-empty, and others see the glass smashed into a million shards on the keynesian kitchen floor. The zealousness with which the 'number' has been dismissed and praised has generated more questions than answers. Goldman's Jan Hatzius addresses the question of the pace of progress in the labor market, the reasons for the contrast between GDP and employment, the amount of slack left, and the implications for Fed policy.
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 17:05 -0500
"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.