The worst thing about the government’s reckless response to the financial crisis of 2008, even worse than the trillions in taxpayer bailouts and backstops granted to the financial criminals that created the disaster, is the primary lesson that it sent to American society as a whole. Some people like to call it “moral hazard,” but in more pedestrian terms it really just boils down to: The Bad Guys Got Away with It... "The California Highway Patrol officer accused of stealing nude photos from a DUI suspect’s phone told investigators that he and his fellow officers have been trading such images for years, in a practice that stretches from its Los Angeles office to his own Dublin station."
Many have recently drifted toward believing the Fed will be ‘lower for longer’. My view is that the Fed will be ‘sooner, but slower’. In other words, I expect the Fed to hike in March or sooner, but then run into problems that will slow the pace (and make it difficult to get to 1% by the end of 2015). Moreover, today’s equity market ‘melt-up’ should be a warning sign to the Fed of the moral hazard, one-way, bubble-like conditions it has instigated.
The current trade-off is not the contemporaneous one between more versus less policy stimulus today, but is an intertemporal trade-off between more stimulus today at the expense of more challenging and disruptive policy exit (and disruptive markets) in the future. The FOMC's dialog needs to change immediately.
Due to the inherent problems with collective security alliances – tragedy of the commons fed by socialism and moral hazard – nations should enter into them with great caution. George Washington’s farewell address has never sounded more prescient: Beware foreign entanglements.
The last time the stock market reached a fevered peak and began to wobble unexpectedly was August 2007. Markets were most definitely not in the classic “price discovery” business. Instead, the stock market had discovered the “goldilocks economy." But what is profoundly different this time is that the Fed is out of dry powder. Its can’t slash the discount rate as Bernanke did in August 2007 or continuously reduce it federal funds target on a trip from 6% all the way down to zero. Nor can it resort to massive balance sheet expansion. That card has been played and a replay would only spook the market even more. So this time is different. The gamblers are scampering around the casino fixing to buy the dip as soon as white smoke wafts from the Eccles Building. But none is coming. For the first time in 25- years, the Wall Street gamblers are home alone.
First a secret "Doomsday book", and now this?
If anyone's bucket list includes hearing, and seeing, the unholy trinity of Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner whose actions have pretty much doomed America, today is your lucky day, because as part of the lawsuit brought on by former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, the three legendary statists will field questions from prominent, and very flamboyant, lawyer David Boies. As has been reported previously, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg is challenging the terms of the 2008 bailout for the company he built into a global financial-services powerhouse before being pushed out in 2005. He is not challenging the bailout which prevented AIG from liquidating as a result of selling billions of default protection on worthless companies, and which avoided the all out, and much needed, purge of trillions in bad debt and just as worthless equity.
It has been a while since the PBOC engaged in some "targeted" QE. So clearly following the biggest drop in the Shanghai Composite in 6 months after some abysmal Chinese economic and flow data in the past several days, it's time for some more. From Bloomberg:
- CHINA’S PBOC STARTS 500B YUAN SLF TODAY, SINA.COM SAYS
- PBOC PROVIDES 500B YUAN LIQUIDITY TO CHINA’S TOP 5 BANKS: SINA
- PBOC PROVIDES 100B YUAN TO EACH BANK TODAY, TOMORROW WITH DURATION OF 3 MONTHS: SINA
Just as expected, the Chinese "derivative" currency, the AUD, goes vertical on the news, and the S&P 500 goes vertical alongside:. As for those confused what the SLF is, here is a reminder, from our February coverage of this "stealth QE" instrument.
Desperate governments call for desperate measures. Unfortunately for us, citizens often end up paying for the mistakes of their governments. That’s not how it should be but, sometimes, that’s how it is. If and a when a government is no longer able to meet its obligations, capital controls, broad wealth confiscation measures, and other extreme burdens are often considered. Spanish bond yields just fell to their lowest levels in history but does that mean that your money is safe there? Absolutely not. It means that investors are complacent, not that Spain’s political risk has diminished. Portugal is in the same boat. While its borrowing costs continue to fall, its prospects for economic growth and its financial position continue to worsen. If you’ve got assets in Portugal then now would be a good time to contemplate how safe they really are. Unless you like bail-ins, that is.
Some believe that actions today were jointly agreed to by the Fed and ECB to allow the stimulus baton to be passed from one major central bank to another. Could this be to help ease the risk-off fallout that is likely to ensue in anticipation of the first Fed hike? Maybe the price action in US equity markets today should serve as an early warning signal.
Zero inflation is like death penalty to debt-laden countries. It has been estimated that Italy would need a primary surplus of ~8% if it wanted to stabilize its debt/GDP at zero inflation, which means just stopping it from moving even higher. Spain would need a primary surplus of 2%+, instead of current negative 1.44%. Which means more austerity and more contractionary policies, to cause more internal devaluation than it is currently the case, more declines in unit labor costs, more salary cuts, more unemployment, less consumer spending, less corporate investments.... Incidentally, we have for European assets and the ECB the same feeling we have for Japan and the BoJ. Abenomics has a high chance of failure, in the long term. Nevertheless, on the road to perdition, chances are that efforts will be stepped up and more bullets shot in an attempt to avert the end game. As stakes are raised, financial assets will be supported and melt-up in bubble territory, doing so at the expenses of a more turbulent end-game in the years ahead.
Overview of the ECB meeting and likely outcomes. More robust analysis than ideological fervor.
We believe Fed’s actions would be more appropriately described as permitted cancerous beliefs to spread throughout the financial system, thereby killing Democratic Capitalism which is the basis of the capital markets. Today we’re going to explain what the “final outcome” for this process will be. The short version is what happens to a cancer patient who allows the disease to spread unchecked (death).
Financial markets are broken. Fundamental analysis and Modern Portfolio Theory are relics of the past. Investors used to care about maximizing a portfolio’s expected return for a given amount of targeted risk. Fed policies have led to (investor) herd behavior that has plunged market volatilities and manipulated asset prices and correlations to lofty levels. The allure of the Fed’s magic spell has lapsed investors into a soporific state of cognitive dissonance, with them focusing more on trying to justify valuations, rather than on the Upside Downside Capture Ratio. Markets have thus mutated into one of two possible combustible states. Either financial assets have all transcended into prodigious bubbles, or stocks and bonds are signifying two completely separate outcomes. Either possibility will have dangerous repercussions for the economy, and for portfolios and investors.