At the end of December 2010, Philipp Bagus (he of the must watch/read 'Tragedy of the Euro') provided a clarifying and succinct rebuttal or Bernanke's belief in the extreme monetary policy path he has embarked upon. Bernanke's latest diatribe, or perhaps legacy-defining, self-aggrandizing CYA comment, reminded us that perhaps we need such clarification once again. Critically, Bagus highlights the real exit-strategy dangers and inflationary impacts of Quantitative Easing (a term he finds repulsive in its' smoke-and-mirrors-laden optics) adding that:
Money printing cannot make society richer; it does not produce more real goods. It has a redistributive effect in favor of those who receive the new money first and to the detriment of those who receive it last. The money injection in a specific part of the economy distorts production. Thus, QE does not bring ease to the economy. To the contrary, QE makes the recession longer and harsher.
Or we might name it after the intentions behind it: "Currency Debasement I," "Bank Bailout I," "Government Bailout II," or simply "Consumer Impoverishment."
To use the analogy offered by Senor Cervantes we would say that Rodrigo, as representing Spain, is about to be devoured by the snakes. The central bank of Spain just released the net capital outflow numbers and they are disastrous. During the month of June alone $70.90 billion left the Spanish banks and in July it was worse at $92.88 billion which is 4.7% of total bank deposits in Spain. For the first seven months of the year the outflow adds up to $368.80 billion or 17.7% of the total bank deposits of Spain and the trajectory of the outflow is increasing dramatically. Reality is reality and Spain is experiencing a full-fledged run on its banks whether anyone in Europe wants to admit it or not. We are now at the virtual epicenter of the European Crisis where decisions will have to be made; avoidance is no longer possible. We have reached the end of the road where there is no more path left for can kicking.
While many claim that inflation is at historic lows, those who spend a large share of their income on necessities might disagree. Inflation for those who spend a large proportion of their income on things like medical services, food, transport, clothing and energy never really went away. And that was also true during the mid 2000s — while headline inflation levels remained low, these numbers masked significant increases in necessities; certainly never to the extent of the 1970s, but not as slight as the CPI rate — pushed downward by deflation in things like consumer electronics imports from Asia — suggested. This biflationary (or polyflationary?) reality is totally ignored by a single CPI figure. To get a true comprehension of the shape of prices, we must look at a much broader set of data.
This is an important update on the U.S. drought of 2012, the combined record-setting July land temperatures, and their impact on food prices, water availability, energy, and even U.S. GDP. Even though the mainstream media seems to have lost some interest in the drought, we should keep it front and center in our minds, as it has already led to sharply higher grain prices, increased gasoline costs (via the pass-through of higher ethanol costs), impeded oil and gas drilling activity in some areas (due to a lack of water), caused the shutdown of a few operating electricity plants, temporarily reduced red meat prices (but will also make them climb sharply later) as cattle are dumped in response to feed- and pasture-management concerns, and blocked and/or reduced shipping on the Mississippi River. All this and there's also a strong chance that today's drought will negatively impact next year's Winter wheat harvest, unless a lot of rain starts falling soon.
We destroyed the myth that the LTRO would not in fact stigmatize bank balance sheets when it was first introduced as the encumbrance was evident from the start - though took the market a while to comprehend and reprice (exuberant on the new-found liquidity optics). The expectations that the ECB will embark on a new scheme of sovereign debt purchases, implicitly funding governments - no matter how many times they tell us that it is to ensure transmission mechanisms flow, have three objectives or rationales, according to Goldman's Huw Pill: Easing private financing conditions through monetary expansion, Financing governments, and/or Reactivating private markets. However, there is one glaring unintended consequence of this 'aid' - the risk exists that well-intentioned sovereign debt purchases result in perverse incentives and a perpetuation of chronic fiscal and structural problems (much as Bernanke's band-aids have eased the fiscal pressure on our own government and led us further down the rabbit hole). The lack of political legitimacy and blunting of incentives for more fundamental consolidation and reform to take place can only turn the acute pain of the moment in Spain into a truly chronic problem for Europe as a whole - be careful what you wish for.
Over the weekend, we pointed out that the old mechanism for the People’s Bank of China to expand its balance sheet and create base money has been broken by new funds flow pattern, and it will sooner or later require some sort of large scale asset purchases programme a.k.a. quantitative easing to offset the impact of the broken mechanism (after other tools such as cutting RRR reach their limits). However, we also mentioned that as the private sector is currently quite overstretched and will start the deleveraging process (if they have not already started), and that would render traditional monetary tools useless, and quantitative easing ineffective. And that would necessitate deficit spending at both local and central government levels. If we have read the social mood correctly that China might be more pro-austerity than pro-Keynesian, and if policymakers indeed share that view, then the consequence in the near term could be rather grim. The delay in stimulus as well as the small size of it so far has already done damage, if you like. The economy is already on course to a hard landing.
We tried to bite our tongue; we ignored some of the sheer hypocrisy of Cleveland Fed's Sandra' oh Sandy' Pianalto (that QE2 was a definitive success in 2010 but now LSAPs require more analysis of costs and benefits); but when she started down the road of praising the US consumer for deleveraging we had enough. In the immortal words of John Travolta: "Sandy, can't you see, we're in misery" as while she notes consumers cutting back on credit card debt (due to forced bankruptcies we note), Consumer debt has only been higher on one month in history! Soaring auto loans and student debt should just be ignored? There is no deleveraging - Total US Consumer debt is 0.23% from its all-time high in mid-2008, and will with all likelihood break the record at the next data point. Meanwhile her speech, so full of careful-not-to-over-commits can be summed up by the world-cloud that shows the six words most prominent: 'Monetary Policy', 'Financial Conditions', and most importantly 'Credit Economy'. Here's the deal: Consumer Debt is Consumer Debt.
In a little under two-and-a-half minutes, CNBC's Rick Santelli surveys the landscape of just what exactly is Quantitative Easing, why more debt does not solve the problem of too much debt, and why these actions (as even Frau Merkel has ascribed concern) are nothing but counterfeiting. He rhetorically questions how the printing of more money is the way to solve our 'problems', adding via Rick Rule, that "there's been no shortage of cash in the system; but one wonders [given] this economy seems based on liquidity, whether building an economy on what is, in fact, counterfeiting is very good for the economy in the long term?"
While there are many answers to this rhetorical question, a key one is the schism that exists between the two media behemoths when it comes to the topic of the NEW QE, elsewhere incorrectly called QE3. While the now virtually daily missives from Fed mouthpiece Jon Hilsenrath, whom once has to wonder whether he is more of a part time worker at the WSJ or the New York Fed, are there to force markets ever higher each day, with promises that Bernanke will not sit idly by if the S&P were to ever close red (the S&P being a multi-year highs notwithstanding), and that as he stick saved the European close on Friday, the Fed has lots of additional capacity for more QE, Bloomberg actually has the temerity to ask: why do we need any more QE: after all so far all previous iterations have been a disaster. Sure enough, a few hours after Hilsenrath did his latest Fed planted piece in which he amusingly pretended to be objective about more QE and "sized up" costs of more QE, here comes Bloomberg in its daily Brief newsletter, with a far simpler question: why the hell do we keep doing the same idiocy over and over, hoping and praying to generate inflation, knowing full well if we do get inflation, with global central banks soon to hold half of the world's GDP on their books, it will promptly deteriorate to the "hyper" kind.
Although the supply and demand factors do not seem to support the current price levels, there are plenty of other events to sustain and add premium.
What do we call a power center that enables and enforces neofeudal exploitation and predation? We call it evil. The Federal Reserve is a force of evil that should be abolished at once. Its purpose - enabling and enforcing a neofeudal transfer of wealth from the productive many to the unproductive, parasitic few - is evil. Those within it are serving evil. Those who defend it are serving evil. Those who worship its power are serving evil. Those who mask its true nature are also serving evil. In a society and culture that has lost its moral compass, a culture of greed, self-serving lies and corrupt vested interests, the word "evil" has lost its power. It has been reduced to a cartoonish label, a cynic's smarmy joke.
It is one thing for various anti-Central Planning (and thus central bank) outlets to warn, over 3 years ago, that easy monetary policy is merely an enabling substance, and is addictive as any drug to a dysfunctional political establishment which is more than happy to avoid fiscal prudence if monetary policy is readily available to delay the inevitable day of reckoning when monetizing the debt will no longer work. It is a different matter entirely when the head of the world's only solvent central bank - the German Bundesbank, which happens to be the biggest guarantor of that other mega hedge funds the ECB, and which of all developed economies also happens to have had the closest recent encounter with hyperinflation (unlike all the "other" theoretical experts who enjoy talking extensively about matters they have zero experience with). In an interview with German Spiegel magazine, Buba head Jens Weidmann, once again has loudly warned what as recently as 2009 very few dared to even think: namely that rampant and gratuitous deficit plugging using central bank debt issuance, and thus explicitly monetizing the debt, "can be addictive as a drug." Obviously, like any drug overdose, the aftereffects are always fatal.
The empirical data is in. And it turns out that as we have been suggesting for a very long time — yes, shock horror — helicopter dropping cash onto the financial sector does disproportionately favour the rich. Here are four simple questions to the venerable Bank of England (just as applicable to any and every Central Banker); and sadly, we expect to see the announcement of more quantitative easing to the financial sector long before we expect to see answers to any of these questions.
The odds of Fed easing at the September FOMC meeting seem close to 50-50 (with both sides vehemently talking their books - Fed officials and equity managers alike). Recent data has been a bit better: payrolls, claims, retail sales, and industrial production. As UBS' Drew Matus notes, other factors that will play a role include the ISM report, claims reports, and 'fiscal cliff'-related events. However, the primary determinant will be the upcoming August payroll report. The chart below ignores these other factors and offers up the odds of further easing in September based on the base case that Bernanke’s primary concern is the state of the US labor market. July’s 8.3% unemployment rate and payroll gain of 163k put current odds of further easing at 45%.