The central banks have created moral hazard on a scale which is simply unbelievable and set a stage for a bonfire of the vanities seldom, if ever, seen in history. Professional Investors who have spent a lifetime playing these contrarian opportunities offered by human behavior are being carried out on stretchers as historic market behaviors fail to materialize. "Never in my 30+ year career as a market observer have I seen so many out on a limb which is about to be sawed off." Those who live within the matrix are fully loaded for a recovery which is not and will not appear. But when the leverage fails, the world’s developed economies will be thrust into the next leg of the cleansing process of deleveraging and the destruction of it will be equally bigger. This conclusion is firmly on the horizon; let’s call it the great insanity.
For 5 years the correlation between the expansion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and the growth of the S&P 500 has risen dramatically. Since QE3 was unveiled, the correlation is converging on 1 which of course is just happy coincidence and nothing to do with the free and easy flow of liquidity that month after month of Fed largesse has created. The problem is we now know that the hurdles to a Fed un-Taper are very high and so we can extrapolate the end-point for the Fed's balance sheet and where stocks would trade at that point. The S&P 500's recent exuberance has priced in the total expansion of the Fed's balance sheet to the end of the taper, so how much more upside is there?
The massive consolidation of wealth, combined with the removal of any limits on money in campaigns, has allowed for the purchase of our government. Americans know that something is wrong, deeply wrong. They see signs of the problem everywhere: income inequality, growing concentration and power of mega corporations, political donations/corruption, the absence of jobs with decent salaries, the explosion of the US prison population, healthcare costs, student loan debt, homelessness, etc. etc. However, the true causes and benefactors behind these problems are purposely hidden from view. What Americans see is Kabuki Theater of a functioning form of capitalism and democracy, but beyond this veneer our country has devolved into the exact opposite.
Over the last few years central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low – the economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Whatever the variability this is still a dead end model and at some point people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why de-growth is needed.
Gold surged 1.6% in euros to €928/oz after the historic ECB announcement to adopt negative interest rates. Cheap money, financial repression and currency debasement are classic recipes for short term financial and economic gains. Throughout history, they have been the easy options for emperors, kings, queens and governments. They are the easy option for the ECB and central banks today.
As the chart below shows, there’s much the Fed doesn’t understand, while at the same time showing that QE may have little purpose beyond providing a massive gift to wealthy traders and investors. With regard the question of where a dollar of QE goes, the answer is “not far.” Outside of pushing up asset prices and encouraging an occasional luxury purchase, it doesn’t seem to escape the financial sector. Liquidity that might otherwise be offered by private institutions is instead provided by the Fed, and – as Phil Collins might put it – that’s all.
While the last 2 weeks have seen numerous Fed heads, most vociferously Bill Dudley, warning of 'complacency' in markets, fearsome of low volatility and worried about low risk spreads. Of course, investors don't care - don't fight the fed unless the fed tells you to sell, appears the mantra-du-jour. Fed communications are not working... and so they have left it to their mouthpiece - WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath - to explain that they are indeed concerned at just how risk-free markets have become..."Federal Reserve officials, looking out at mostly calm financial markets, are starting to wonder whether tranquility itself is something to worry about."
Monetary policy is diverging in the two largest economies, a trend that is set to shape funding markets for years to come. Before long, these divergent fortunes are bound to lead to large differences in policy. One might expect that movements in financial markets would reflect these expectations. However, so far, by and large, they have not. To my mind, investors should prepare for more volatility this year. A tightening in US monetary policy always causes fallout. This time will be no different. In fact, it may be worse, since the tightening starts from extremely expansionary territory.
“I say to all those who bet against Greece and against Europe: you lost and Greece won. You lost and Europe won.” - Jean-Claude Juncker...
[Spoiler Alert: No, it's not over yet]
You can smell this one coming a mile away... the ECB is now energetically trying to revive the a market for asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) - the very kind of “toxic-waste” that allegedly nearly took down the financial system during the panic of September 2008. The ECB would have you believe that getting more “liquidity” into the bank loan market for such things as credit card advances, auto paper and small business loans will somehow cause Europe’s debt-besotted businesses and consumers to start borrowing again - thereby reversing the mild (and constructive) trend toward debt reduction that has caused euro area bank loans to decline by about 3% over the past year. What they are really up to, however, is money-printing and snookering the German sound money camp.
Could the euro rally on a 10-15 bp cut in key rates? Technical indicators suggest this may be likely.
As we wrap up a holiday shortened trading week, there are several things to ponder this weekend. Will the breakout of the S&P 500 of the trading range it has been stuck in since February hold? Is the negative print of GDP in the first quarter simply a weather related anomaly, or something else? Is the decline in interest rates telling us something important? Are the currently high levels of complacency and bullishness in the markets a warning sign? Or, is this just a continuation of the bull market cycle that started over five years ago with plenty of room left to run. "I always thought that record would stand until it was broken?" - Yogi Berra
Just as we can't eat iPods, we can't subsist on official reassurances that the Fed and inflation are both benign.
The Keynesians have failed. Japan has proved it. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world… and the markets catch on.
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