Open Market Operations
Forget Competing Theories … What Do the Facts Say about Quantitative Easing?
It must be difficult for the BRICS countries today. On one hand, they continue to jockey for respect among the Western powers, insisting on participating in quasi-European bailout funds like the IMF. On the other hand, they are also clearly aware of the Western nations' continuing efforts to surreptitiously devalue their domestic currencies, and the pernicious effect that has had on them as exporters and as lenders of capital. In that vein, it was interesting to note that during the latest BRICS Summit held this past March in New Delhi, the main topic of discussion centered on the creation of the group's first official institution, a so-called "BRICS Bank" that would fund development projects and infrastructure in developing nations. Although not openly discussed, reports suggest what they were really talking about was creating a type of BRICS central bank - an institution that could facilitate their ability to "do more business with each other in their local currencies, to help insulate from U.S. dollar fluctuations…" Given the incredible scale of western central bank intervention over the past six months, the BRICS' increasing frustration with their printing efforts should be a given by now. The real question is what they're doing about it, and what assets they're accumulating to protect themselves from the inevitable, which brings us to gold.
In perhaps the most courageous (and now must-read) speech ever given inside the New York Fed's shallowed hallowed walls, Economic Policy Journal's Robert Wenzel delivered the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the monetary priesthood. Gracious from the start, Wenzel takes the Keynesian clap-trappers to task on almost every nonsensical and oblivious decision they have made in recent years. "My views, I suspect, differ from beginning to end... I stand here confused as to how you see the world so differently than I do. I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality." And further..."I scratch my head that somehow your conclusions about unemployment are so different than mine and that you call for the printing of money to boost 'demand'. A call, I add, that since the founding of the Federal Reserve has resulted in an increase of the money supply by 12,230%." But his closing was tremendous: "Let’s have one good meal here. Let’s make it a feast. Then I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you all, walk out of here with me, never to come back. It’s the moral and ethical thing to do. Nothing good goes on in this place. Let’s lock the doors and leave the building to the spiders, moths and four-legged rats."
We pay homage to one of the architects and chief implementors of quantitative easing and discuss the end game for the Fed.
In the science of physics, we know that ice freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed.. There are no such constants in the field of economics since the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry. And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist. It is as if one were to assume a constant relationship existed between interest rates here and in Russia and throughout the world, and create equations based on this belief and then attempt to trade based on these equations. That was tried and the result was the blow up of the fund Long Term Capital Management, a blow up that resulted in high level meetings in this very building. It is as if traders assumed a given default rate was constant for subprime mortgage paper and traded on that belief. Only to see it blow up in their faces, as it did, again, with intense meetings being held in this very building. Yet, the equations, assuming constants, continue to be published in papers throughout the Fed system. I scratch my head.
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal's Jon Hilsenrath was kind enough to present to the general public some 515 pages of massively redacted Fed transcripts from the oh so very interesting period of 2007-2010, ahead of schedule. Unfortunately those curious to find out the details of just what was going on in that critical period between March 2008 and March 2009 will have to wait another 3 years for the full declassification to take place. That said, digging among the unredacted data, one does find the occasional pearl. Such as the following exchange between CHAIRMAN BERNANKE and the Fed staff, from the October 28-29, 2008 meeting, in the days when AIG was dying, when Lehman had failed, when money markets had frozen and when the end of the world was nigh. Ironically, it is this one unredacted piece of data that pretty much says it all.
- I’d like first to do the open market operations, which I hope are not too controversial. [Laughter] (source: page 231 of 513)
And that, as they say, is that.
After Obama's "fairness doctrine" was roundly rejected by the Senate last night as the doomed from the beginning Buffett Rule was voted down, Obama needs to find some more evil villains for society to demonize, and whom to blame for the failure of central planning, or rather its success in pushing gas prices to all time highs. Today - it is that mysterious, amorphous blob of vile, conspiratorial henchmen known as "oil speculators." Forget that these "speculators" are merely conduits for the Fed to conduct its open market operations, forget that the same free liquidity that drives stocks up relentlessly in nominal terms (what? no demonization of evil stock pumping speculators?), even as it produces ever increasing inflation in all those items not tracked by the Fed, forget that Obama's speech is about to be replica of Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence platitude in 1979. Finally forget that the biggest speculator is none other than the White House with its periodic release of SPR release rumors any time WTI approaches $110. Forget all that, and merely focus on the hypnotic, undulating intonation of the engrossing, populist sermon: that is all that is demanded of you. Everything else is to be ignored. And now since the time of "fairness" is over, it is time to do a shot every time "speculator" is uttered. And get ready for many, many CL margin hikes.
Blythe Masters On The Blogosphere, Silver Manipulation, Gold-Axed Clients And Doing The "Wrong" ThingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/05/2012 13:53 -0500
For all those who have long been curious what the precious metals "queen" thinks about allegations involving her and her fimr in gold and silver manipulation, how JPMorgan is positioned in the precious metals market, and how she views the fringe elements of media, as well as JPMorgan's ethical limitations to engaging in 'wrong' behavior, the answers are all here.
With volatility so low and risk seemingly removed from any- and every-one's vernacular, perhaps it is time to refresh our perspective on downside and tail-risk concerns. While most think only in terms of equity derivatives as serving to create a tail-wagging-the-dog type of reflexive move, there is a growing and increasingly liquid (just like the old days with CDOs, so be warned) market for options on CDS. Concentrated in the major and most liquid indices, swaption volumes have risen notably as have gross and net notional outstandings. Puts and Calls on credit risk - known as Payers and Receivers (Payers being the equivalent of a put option on a bond, or call option on its spread) have been actively quoted since 2006 but the last 2-3 years has seen their popularity increase as a 'cheap' way to protect (or take on) credit risk - most specifically tail risk scenarios. Morgan Stanley recently published another useful primer on these instruments - as the sell-side's new favorite wide-margin offering to wistful buy-siders and wannabe quants - noting the three main uses for swaptions as Hedging, Upside, and Yield Enhancement. These all have their own nuances but as spreads compress and managers look for ever more inventive ways to add yield so the specter of negative gamma appears - chasing markets up into rallies and down into sell-offs - and the inevitable rips and gaps this causes can wreak havoc in markets that have momentum anyway. Given the leverage and average notionals involved, understanding this seemingly niche space may become very important if we see another tail risk flare and as the Fed knows only too well (as it suggested here) like selling Treasury Puts, derivatives on credit are for more effective at establishing directional moves in the the underlying than simple open market operations.
Yesterday, Ben Bernanke dedicated his entire first propaganda lecture to college student to the bashing of the gold standard. Of course, he has his prerogatives: he has to validate a crumbling monetary system and the legitimacy of the Fed, first to schoolchildrden and then to soon to be college grads encumbered in massive amounts of non-dischargeable student loans. While it is decidedly arguable that the gold standard may or may not have led to the first Great Depression, there is no debate at all that it was sheer modern monetary insanity and bubble blowing (by the very same professor!) that brought us to the verge of collapse in the Second Great Depression in 2008, which had nothing to do with the gold standard. And as usual there is always an other side to the story. Presenting that here today, is Antal Fekete with "The Gold Problem Revisited."
It was one short week ago that both Australia surprised with hotter than expected inflation (and no rate cut), and a Chinese CPI print that was far above expectations. Yet in confirmation of Dylan Grice's point that when it comes to "inflation targeting" central planners are merely the biggest "fools", this morning we woke to find that the PBOC has cut the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) by another largely theatrical 50 bps. As a reminder, RRR cuts have very little if any impact, compared to the brute force adjustment that is the interest rate itself. As to what may have precipitated this, the answer is obvious - a collapsing housing market (which fell for the fourth month in a row) as the below chart from Michael McDonough shows, and a Shanghai Composite that just refuses to do anything (see China M1 Hits Bottom, Digs). What will this action do? Hardly much if anything, as this is purely a demonstrative attempt to rekindle animal spirits. However as was noted previously, "The last time they stimulated their CPI was close to 2%. It's 4.5% now, and blipping up." As such, expect the latent pockets of inflation where the fast money still has not even withdrawn from to bubble up promptly. That these "pockets" happen to be food and gold is not unexpected. And speaking of the latter, it is about time China got back into the gold trade prim and proper. At least China has stopped beating around the bush and has now joined the rest of the world in creating the world's biggest shadow liquidity tsunami.
Heading into the North American open, EU equity indices are trading lower following reports that Eurozone Finance Ministers have dismissed as incomplete a budget presented to them by the Greek party leaders. In addition to that, EU lawmakers have warned Greece of more intensive involvement in the Greek economy to improve tax collection and accelerate the sale of state-owned assets. The Greek Finance Minister Venizelos said that Greece must make a “final, strategic” decision Greek membership in the Eurozone over the next six days as it decides on new austerity and reform measures or faces leaving the single currency. However, according to sources, German finance minister told MPs, Greek reform plans would bring debt to 136% of GDP by 2020, instead of targeted 120%. So it remains to be seen as to whether Greece will be able to meet the looming redemptions in March. Of note, analysts at Fitch said that the ongoing Greece talks stating that the country must secure an agreement to cut its debt burden in the next few days to prevent a “disorderly” default.
With Fed officials a laughing stock (both inside and outside the realm of FOMC minutes), Bank of Japan officials ever-watching eyes, and ECB officials in both self-congratulatory (Draghi) and worryingly concerned on downgrades (Nowotny), the world's central bankers appear, if nothing else, convinced that all can be solved with the printing of some paper (and perhaps a measure of harsh words for those naughty spendaholic politicians). The dramatic rise in central bank balance sheets and just-as-dramatic fall in asset quality constraints for collateral are just two of the items that UBS's economist Larry Hatheway considers as he asks (and answers) the critical question of just how safe are central banks. As he sees bloated balance sheets relative to capital and the impact when 'stuff happens', he discusses why the Eurozone is different (no central fiscal authority backstopping it) and notes it is less the fear of large losses interfering with liquidity provision directly but the more massive (and explicit) intrusion of politics into the 'independent' heart of central banking that creates the most angst. While he worries for the end of central bank independence (most specifically in Europe), we remind ourselves of the light veil that exists currently between the two and that the tooth fairy and santa don't have citizen-suppressing printing presses.
When one has $2.9 trillion in costless AUM (because if the cost is breached, one just doubles down, especially if one prints the money), it is not all that surprising to generate $77 billion in profits in one year (think of the hubris emanating from that particular year end letter), or even $385 billion in profits in the past 10 years. Yet it is still a stunning number considering the rest of the $2 trillion hedge fund industry lost about 10% in 2011. Which is why we all bow down to what is without doubt the world's most lucrative and profitable generator of P&L in history: the Federal Reserve, which for the second year in a row has printed (pun intended) over $70 billion in profits. And who is the lucky LP? Why the US Treasury of course, which for the second year in a row will pocket all the proceeds from PM Ben's immaculate trading perfection. Of course, there is one caveat for this spotless performance sheet: what happens when Fed interest expense surpasses interest income? But why worry - everyone tells us this can never happen, so it obviously can never happen...
Merely minutes after reporting the third daily surge in the SHIBOR we see a Dow Jones update which confirms that this liquidity escalation is far more serious than a merely transitory jump in short-term lending rates. Per DJ: "China's central bank said Wednesday it will suspend its regular open market operation Thursday, in an apparent response to the tight liquidity conditions in the banking system." As a result of the just reported 7 Day SHIBOR hitting 8.81%, the highest since October 2007, the PBoC will not conduct regularly scheduled open market operations tomorrow when it offers three-month paper, to mop up excess liquidity in the country. "The PBOC sold CNY1 billion ($154.6 million) worth of one-year bills at 3.4019% in its operation Tuesday, after leaving the rate unchanged at 3.3058% for the past 11 weeks. On Thursday last week, the PBOC lifted the rate on its three-month bills by eight basis points to 2.9985%, the first increase on the three-month central bank bill yield since early April. "It is difficult for the central bank to find enough demand for its short-term bill offering amid the severe liquidity squeeze in the money market. If it persisted with the three-month bill offering tomorrow, the yield would jump again, adding pressure to the central bank's operating costs," said a Shanghai-based trader with a local bank."