The risky borrowing indicators are troubling. They show that we’ve reverted to old habits of borrowing far more than we can fund with non-money savings. At almost 10% of GDP in 2013, risky borrowing is higher than in all but the early 1970s and middle part of the last decade. This tells us that we’re accumulating risk at a rapid clip, although not for as long as in those earlier episodes. (Yet.) Worse still, policymakers and mainstream economists are unperturbed, failing to acknowledge that some types of financing are riskier than others. It’s as if we’re stuck at a 1970s Pepsi Challenge booth, watching people debate cola tastes with no mention of health risks. With ample evidence of these risks, how can this be? One theory is that the current generation of mainstream economists staked their careers on the soda business, filling resumes with research on topics such as sweetness and carbonation, but nothing on health. It’s just too big a step for them to acknowledge that the old research is unhelpful and the resumes hollow. We can only hope that the unpopular, long-term thinkers who are willing to take that step become more influential over time. In the meantime, keep an eye on the sources of financing and, in particular, the three indicators of risky borrowing discussed below.
Did you know that there are nearly 102 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now? And 20 percent of all families in the United States do not have a single member that is employed. So how in the world can the government claim that the unemployment rate has "dropped" to "6.3 percent"? Well, it all comes down to how you define who is "unemployed". For example, last month the government moved another 988,000 Americans into the "not in the labor force" category. According to the government, at this moment there are 9.75 million Americans that are "unemployed" and there are 92.02 million Americans that are "not in the labor force" for a grand total of 101.77 million working age Americans that do not have a job. Back in April 2000, only 5.48 million Americans were unemployed and only 69.27 million Americans were "not in the labor force" for a grand total of 74.75 million Americans without a job. That means that the number of working age Americans without a job has risen by 27 million since the year 2000. Any way that you want to slice that, it is bad news.
The still-dominant consensus view that America’s economy is poised to single-handedly yank the world out of its lethargy is likely to be disappointed once again with the odds high that our economy will remain burdened by growth-inhibiting monetary policies. In addition, it will continue to be negatively impacted by various other impediments, including a populace that is increasingly under-employed, an unwieldy and inscrutable tax code, a Rube Goldberg-like healthcare system, an increasingly ossified infrastructure, and a regulatory apparatus that congests the lungs of our economy, small businesses... weaning the stock market off of casino capitalism promises to be anything but pain-free. But did any responsible adult really believe there would be no pay-back for all these years of the Fed’s force-fed gains? If you do, you probably also believe foie gras grows on trees.
You don’t benefit from it, but you pay for it as a result of the government losing out. Yes, the government complacently sits back and does nothing while tax havens enable people to put their money hidden away in some secret off-shore excuse for a bank while at the very same time the taxpayer ends up paying for what the state is losing out on.
Speaking at The Brooking Institution on April 12, Reserve Bank Of India Governor Raghuram Rajan - no stranger to controversial truthiness (as we have noted here and here) - made clear his views on the rest of the world's central bankers as he concluded, "the first step to prescribing the right medicine is to recognize the cause of the illness. And, when it comes to what is ailing the global economy, extreme monetary easing has been more cause than cure. The sooner we recognize that, the stronger and more sustainable the global economic recovery will be."
The early session risk on trade, which materialized after the Pfizer confirmation it was seeking to buy AstraZeneca, and which sent the GBPUSD to its highest level since 2009, and also sent the EURUSD and EURJPY soaring in the process lifting US equity futures, has started to fizzle on the most recent news out of Ukraine, where the pro-Russian mayor of Ukraine's second largest city of Kharkiv was shot in the back in an apparent assassination attempt, which happened hours before the US is set to announce more sanctions against the Kremlin and its closest financial oligarchs. As a result, futures have pared gaisn modestly, especially since AstraZeneca made it clear with its initial reponse it has no interest in Pfizer's offer in its current format.
Bad Government and Central Bank Policy Are the MAIN CAUSE of Runaway Inequality
Although investors are wondering where the markets are headed, there is one question that is captivating the entire industry.
The US middle class, well on its way to extinction, just took out the first and most critical milestone, to wit - the US middle class is no longer the world's richest. And yes, "it's all downhill from here."
As we noted earlier, The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has continuously been overly optimistic regarding its expectations for economic growth in the United States. A major reason for the FOMC’s overly optimistic forecast for economic growth and its incorrect view of the effectiveness of quantitative easing is the reliance on the so-called 'wealth effect'. However, "There may not be a wealth effect at all. If there is a wealth effect, it is very difficult to pin down..." Since the FOMC began quantitative easing in 2009, its balance sheet has increased more than $3 trillion. This increase may have boosted wealth, but the U.S. economy received no meaningful benefit. Furthermore, the FOMC has no idea what the ultimate outcome of such an increase will be or what a return to a ‘normal’ balance sheet might entail. Given all of this, we do not see any evidence for economic growth as robust at the FOMC predicts. Without a wealth effect, the stock market is not the “key player” in the economy, and no “virtuous circle” runs through the stock market.
Investors take note. One of the primary market props of the last five years is being removed. What happens when the markets finally catch on?
Too much testosterone in the room? Heard that all before. It’s the adolescent-like traders that were battling with levels of testosterone and cortisol, pounding on their chests like Tarzan swinging through the trees in the jungle of the financial markets that brought the world down too.
Japan is where the Keynesian economic model rubber hit the road. And it's proven that QE is ultimately an economic dead end.
In her first public speech on monetary policy, Janet Yellen made it clear that the Fed intends to pursue a more rules-based, less discretionary policy. This is good news. The bad news, however, is that Yellen focused only on employment and inflation. In that same speech, not a single word was said about attending to speculative risks or financial instability (which are inherent in Fed-induced, yield-seeking speculation). Without attending to that third leg, the Fed is resting the fate of the U.S. economy on a two-legged stool. The problem is this. In viewing the Fed’s mandate as a tradeoff only between inflation and unemployment, Chair Yellen seems to overlook the feature of economic dynamics that has been most punishing for the U.S. economy over the past decade. That feature is repeated malinvestment, yield-seeking speculation, and ultimately financial instability, largely enabled by the Federal Reserve’s own actions.
Keep interest rates at zero, whilst printing trillions of dollars, pounds and yen out of thin air, and you can make investors do some pretty extraordinary things. "Central bankers control the price of money and therefore indirectly influence every market in the world. Given this immense power, the ideal central banker would be humble, cautious and deferential to market signals. Instead, modern central bankers are both bold and arrogant in their efforts to bend markets to their will. Top-down central planning, dictating resource allocation and industrial output based on supposedly superior knowledge of needs and wants, is an impulse that has infected political players throughout history." The result was always a conspicuous and dismal failure. Today’s central planners, especially the Federal Reserve, will encounter the same failure in time. The open issues are, when and at what cost to society?