Our biggest concern here on the cusp of 2013 is the current odd combination of extreme complacency about the risks presented by extend-and-pretend macro policy making and rapidly accelerating social tensions that could threaten political and eventually financial market stability. Before everyone labels us ‘doomers’ and pessimists, let us point out that, economically, we already have wartime financial conditions: the debt burden and fiscal deficits of the western world are at levels not seen since the end of World War II. We may not be fighting in the trenches, but we may soon be fighting in the streets. To continue with the current extend-and-pretend policies is to continue to disenfranchise wide swaths of our population - particularly the young - those who will be taking care of us as we are entering our doddering old age. We would not blame them if they felt a bit less than generous. The macro economy has no ammunition left for improving sentiment. We are all reduced to praying for a better day tomorrow, as we realise that the current macro policies are like pushing on a string because there is no true price discovery in the market anymore. We have all been reduced to a bunch of central bank watchers, only ever looking for the next liquidity fix, like some kind of horde of heroin addicts. We have a pro forma capitalism with de facto market totalitarianism. Can we have our free markets back please?
Short and sweet from the Chairman of the fermentation committee: "the central banks of the world are poised to simultaneously embark on aggressive new rounds of quantitative easing. There will be lots of focus on Thursday's BOJ comments. This is a world even Keynes could not conceive." Of course, Keynes never worked out of 1954 Stalingrad, or 2012 Washington, D.C.
Ministry of Finance official: “That’s why the MoF is trying to gain control over the Bank of Japan.”
There was a time when it was nothing short of economic blasphemy and statist apostasy to suggest three things: i) that the Fed's canonic approach to monetary policy, in which Stock not Flow was dominant, is wrong (as we alleged, among many other places, here); ii) that the Fed is monetizing the deficit, thus enabling politicians to conceive any idiotic fiscal policy: the Fed will always fund it no matter how ludicrous, converting the Fed effectively into a political power and destroying any myth of its "independence" (as we alleged, among many other places, most recently here in direct refutation of Bernanke's sworn testimony); and iii) that by overfunding bank reserves, the same banks are left with one simple trade - to frontrum the Fed in its monetization of the long-end, in the process destroying the bond curve's relevance as an inflationary discounting signal, with more QE, leading to tighter 10s, flatter 10s30s, even as the propensity for runaway inflation down the road soars, in the process eliminating any need for the massively overhyped, and much needed to rekindle animal spirits "rotation out of bonds and into stocks" trade (as we explained, first, here). Well, that time is now officially over, with that stalwart of statist thinking, JPMorgan, adopting all of the above contrarian views as its own, and admitting that once again, the Fed and conventional wisdom was wrong, and fringe bloggers were right all along.
Okay, the Fed's recent decision to boost its monetary stimulus (a.k.a. "money printing," "quantitative easing," or simply "QE") by another $45 billion a month to a combined $85 billion per month demonstrates an almost complete departure from what a normal person might consider sensible.
To borrow a phrase from Joel Salatin: Folks, this ain't normal. To this I will add ...and it will end badly.
- Our markets are now truly broken; they don't send accurate price signals anymore
- Markets are now just a giant and rigged casino, where a relative handful of big firms and other tightly coupled players are gaming their orders to take advantage of this flood of money
- Expect the Fed balance sheet to quickly expand by an additional $3-4 trillion, resulting in runaway inflation and a possible currency crisis
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited the Bank of England’s gold vault and wonders like most people how the things got so bad. Back in 2008, when the monarch visited the London School of Economics she described the credit crunch as ‘awful.’ . Fast forward to 2012, the heart of Europe’s 4 year-old debt crisis while the Queen of England hears a financial expert compare the debt crisis to a flu epidemic or an earthquake, as hard to predict. This comparison is truly patronizing and an insult to the Queen’s intelligence. Although I am not English have some respect for your elders, especially your Queen, Britons! Pensioners in England can recall hard times during the World War when items like sugar were a luxury. In this new era of credit you have people complaining if they can’t borrow to have their new BMW financed to match their Cotswold’s country house or Spanish holiday home. The Queen was informed that since financial risk has been managed better (need we mention Libor?) than it was in the past, people became complacent. She smiled and said, ‘But people had got a bit...lax, had they?’ Her Royal Highness also suggested that the Financial Services Authority may not have been hard-line enough in its policing. She said: ‘The Financial Services – what do they call themselves, the regulators – Authority, which was really quite new … it didn’t have any teeth.’ It’s rather ironic that the tour showed the gold vault since a good portion of the UK gold reserves were sold off from 1999-2002, when gold prices were at their lowest in 20 years.
If there is one thing better than Marc Faber providing a free, must-watch (and listen) 50 minute lecture on virtually everything that has transpired in the end days of modern capitalism, starting with who caused it, adjustable rate mortgages, leverage, why did the Fed let Lehman fail, why was AIG bailed out, quantitative easing, Operation Twist, where the interest on the debt is going, which bubbles he is most concerned about, a discussion of gold and silver, and culminating with his views on a world reserve currency, is him saying the following: "The views of the Keynesians like Mr. Krugman is that the fiscal deficits are far too small. One of the problems of the crisis is that it was caused by government intervention with fiscal and monetary measures. Now they tells us we didn't intervene enough. If they really believe that they should go and live in North Korea where you have a communist system. There the government intervenes into every aspect of the economy. And look at the economic performance of North Korea." Priceless.
Glenn Stevens, RBA Governor: "Central banks can provide liquidity to shore up financial stability and they can buy time for borrowers to adjust, but they cannot, in the end, put government finances on a sustainable course... They can't shield people from the implications of having mis-assessed their own lifetime budget constraints and therefore having consumed too much."
The US dollar and yen remain soft. The news stream has encouraged the so-called risk-on trade. The Greek debt buyback appears to have gone well enough that it will get dollop of aid. Spain reportedly received 40 bln euros of bank aid. There seems to be a potential compromise banking supervision in Europe. On top of that, of course, the market expects the Federal Reserve to announce an expansion of its quantitative easing later today and keep the door open to further steps if necessary.
The dollar made new eight month highs against the yen, just shy of the JPY83 level. These dollar gains ahead of the FOMC meeting underscores one of our interpretative points that the old drivers of dollar-yen, like interest rate differentials and general risk appetite, have broken down, trumped by Mr Abe and his aggressive monetary and fiscal rhetoric.
It seems not every nation's head of central banking believes in the Bernanke Doctrine of moar QE is better QE... Hong Kong Monetary Authority Chief Executive Norman Chan said Monday that quantitative easing is not a panacea, and added:
... there is a possibility that the process of deleveraging is disrupted by quantitative easing, leading to sharp increases in asset prices in the first place. Yet, since such increases are not supported by economic fundamentals, any increase in wealth will be seen as transient... (and asset prices might drop sharply and remain volatile). As a result, households are unwilling to increase spending and in the end, the real economy fails to rebound.
Jeff Gundlach presents his latest thoughts in the following 75-slide presentation and webcast. Briefly summing it up, he expects considerably more volatility to re-appear in Europe, thinks JPY is a short (and NKY a buy) and Japan is to be closely watched, prefers Gold to stocks as a vehicle to play more quantitative easing, and is anxious of the fiscal cliff - noting that the problem was created from years of budget deficits. Some notable quotes include: "A lot of that GDP is phony"; "Japan is really out of policy tools"; "Many countries can be net debtors if central banks are monetizing debt."
A week ago, Mark Carney was announced as the BoE’s next Governor amid much fanfare. This week, Japan’s election could herald a new more aggressive approach from the BoJ. 2013 will then see speculation mount about Bernanke’s successor and also likely see the operation of the ECB landmark OMT program. It will also mark the 100 years of the Fed and probably much reflection on their impact on the US/Global financial system. So, as Deutsche's Jim Reid notes, central banks will remain in the spotlight for 2013. However whilst their actions to date have certainly minimized the tail-risk post-GFC, they have yet to lift real GDP above their 2007/2008 peak in most countries and virtually every developed economy is operating well below what is perceived to be trend growth. QE would have been seen as highly unorthodox four years ago - and unique for most central banks stretching back through their history. However fast forward to today, that old unorthodoxy has become the new orthodoxy. But what have the world’s central banks got left to offer a world that at some point might be hungry for more? as the world economy peers into the future and sees a growing threat of a recurring recessions and below target inflation, radical monetary policy may become increasingly appealing as elected politicians stuck in gridlock turn to (relatively) politically unconstrained central bankers to save them from their failings and get their economies racing again. For better or for worse.
"They say this is not massive money printing, but first they are wrong; and second, monetary authorities in the United States did not see the crash coming and the unsoundness of the financial system. In fact, right up until the crash they were saying that nothing like what happened could ever happen... This monetary policy, $3 trillion of bond buying in the United States, $3 trillion in Europe and another $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion in Japan, is unprecedented. ... If and when people lose confidence in paper money because of repeated bouts of quantitative easing and zero-percent interest rates—it could happen suddenly and in a ferocious manner in the commodity markets, in gold, possibly in real estate—interest rates could go up at the long end by hundreds of basis points in a very short time. I’m quite concerned as a money manager that we have to manage money, not just for the boundaries of what’s in front of our faces—maybe we’ll have a little tax increase or not, the fiscal cliff, or the stock market might go up or down 10% or 15%—but for a basic shift. The thing that scares me most is significant inflation, which could destroy our society."
Back in June, we wrote an article titled "On The Verge Of A Historic Inversion In Shadow Banking" in which we showed that for the first time since December 1995, the total "shadow liabilities" in the United States - the deposit-free funding instruments that serve as credit to those unregulated institutions that are financial banks in all but name (i.e., they perform maturity, credit and liquidity transformations) - were on the verge of being once more eclipsed by traditional bank funding liabilities. As of Thursday, this inversion is now a fact, with Shadow Bank liabilities representing less in notional than traditional liabilities.
"what you realize is that the lessons of ’08 will actually result in a much quicker process, a process that I would describe as a “black hole” if and when there is the next financial crisis.... Nobody in America has actually seen, or most people probably can’t even contemplate, what an actual loss of confidence may look like. What I’m trying to struggle with as a money manager, who really seriously doesn’t like to lose money, is how to protect our capital and how to think about the next crisis."