Real Interest Rates
While not exactly a "bear", Deutsche Bank's David Bianco - until this weekend - had the lowest S&P 500 target for 2014 year-end at 1,850. That's all changed now...
Today, high inflation seems so remote that many analysts treat it as little more than a theoretical curiosity. They are wrong to do so. No matter how much central banks may wish to present the level of inflation as a mere technocratic decision, it is ultimately a social choice. And some of the very pressures that helped to contain inflation for the past two decades have been retreating. Modern central banking has worked wonders to bring down inflation. Ultimately, however, a central bank's anti-inflation policies can work only within the context of a macroeconomic and political framework that is consistent with price stability. Inflation may be dormant, but it is certainly not dead.
Draghi is a savvy political operator. He is fully aware of the limitations and consequences of a sovereign debt QE program. He knows that a central bank’s willingness to purchase a country’s debt (in ‘whatever –it-takes’ quantities), basically places an implicit cap on the price of a country’s funding. Such a program rids a government of fiscal discipline, while simultaneously eliminating the spikes in yields that would normally result. Complacency or fiscal stalemate ensues; enabled specifically by monetary actions. We expect Draghi to be dovish on Thursday, but it likely too presumptuous to expect any new measures.
Zero inflation is like death penalty to debt-laden countries. It has been estimated that Italy would need a primary surplus of ~8% if it wanted to stabilize its debt/GDP at zero inflation, which means just stopping it from moving even higher. Spain would need a primary surplus of 2%+, instead of current negative 1.44%. Which means more austerity and more contractionary policies, to cause more internal devaluation than it is currently the case, more declines in unit labor costs, more salary cuts, more unemployment, less consumer spending, less corporate investments.... Incidentally, we have for European assets and the ECB the same feeling we have for Japan and the BoJ. Abenomics has a high chance of failure, in the long term. Nevertheless, on the road to perdition, chances are that efforts will be stepped up and more bullets shot in an attempt to avert the end game. As stakes are raised, financial assets will be supported and melt-up in bubble territory, doing so at the expenses of a more turbulent end-game in the years ahead.
If you like your de-escalation, you can keep your de-escalation. To think that heading into, and following the Russia-Ukraine "summit" earlier this week there was so much hope that the tense Ukraine civil war "situation" would somehow fix itself. Oh how wrong that thinking was considering overnight, following rebel separatists gains in the southeast of Ukraine which included the strategic port of Novoazvosk and which is "threatening to open up a new front in the war" including setting up a land corridor to Russia controlled-Crimea, Ukraine's president Poroshenko for the first time came out and directly accused Russia of an "Invasion", or at least a first time in recent weeks, saying he has convened the security council on the recent Russian actions.
"Rather than trying to spur private-sector spending through asset purchases or interest-rate changes, central banks, such as the Fed, should hand consumers cash directly.... Central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, have taken aggressive action, consistently lowering interest rates such that today they hover near zero. They have also pumped trillions of dollars’ worth of new money into the financial system. Yet such policies have only fed a damaging cycle of booms and busts, warping incentives and distorting asset prices, and now economic growth is stagnating while inequality gets worse. It’s well past time, then, for U.S. policymakers -- as well as their counterparts in other developed countries -- to consider a version of Friedman’s helicopter drops. In the short term, such cash transfers could jump-start the economy... The transfers wouldn’t cause damaging inflation, and few doubt that they would work. The only real question is why no government has tried them"...
Rising rates would hurt bonds and equities but would support gold. This was clearly seen in the 1970s when rising interest rates corresponded with rising gold prices. Gold becomes vulnerable towards the end of an interest rate tightening cycle when there are positive real interest rates and savers earn something on their deposits.
The algos and chart traders are making another run at 2000 on the S&P 500, attempting to convince the wary investor one more time that buying on the dips is a no brainer. And in that proposition they are, ironically, correct. To buy this utterly manipulated market at these nosebleed valuation levels is about as brainless of an undertaking as is imaginable.
The arrogance, hubris and contempt for morality displayed by the ruling class is breathtaking to behold. They think they are untouchable and impervious to norms followed by the rest of society. They may have won the opening battle, but will lose the war. Discontent among the masses grows by the day. The critical thinking citizens are growing restless and angry. They are beginning to grasp the true enemy. The system has been captured by a few malevolent men. When the stock, bond and housing bubbles all implode simultaneously, all hell will break loose in this country. It will make Ferguson, Missouri look like a walk in the park.
Is there something particularly notable about a 17x trailing PE multiple on the S&P 500? According to Deustche's David Bianco, there is especially during mid to late cycle expansions, i.e., after three (or much more in this case with the S&P 500 now repoting 5+ years of EPS growth) years of rising earnings. In fact, as DB calculates, the only two periods of a PE over 17 after 3 years from the last EPS decline are 1965-66 and 1996-98 (Figure 2) below. And right now. It should be self-explanatory that both of those historic periods ended with a sharp equity correction.
If one wants to identify bubbles, one must perforce study monetary conditions. The comparison of historical data on valuations and other ancillary factors can only take one so far. The problem is that in times of strongly inflationary policy, the economy's price structure becomes thoroughly distorted, and that therefore a great many “data” can no longer be regarded as reliable... Most of the time, it's the eventual slowdown of money supply growth that brings a bubble to its knees.
The only thing that can be said about Janet Yellen’s simple-minded paint-by-the-numbers performance yesterday is that the Keynesian apotheosis is complete. American capitalism and all political life, too, is now ruled by a 12-member monetary politburo, which is essentially accountable to no one except its own misbegotten doctrine that prosperity flows from the end of a printing press.
You know things have got a little too strange when the largest government bond market in the world saw no futures trades in the morning session last night. We may complain in the US of falling volumes but none, zero, zip, nada is about as low as it gets; and that is how many trades occurred in the 20Y futures contract in Japan (and 10Y cash bond market). This is not the first time as Mizuho warned in Nov 2013 that "to all intents and purposes, there is no JGB market." And this lack of trading on a day when major macro data printed far worse than expected... well played Abe... you entirely broke your bond market.
Der Spiegel deemed it was the “end of capitalism”, while Die Welt described Mr Draghi as Europe’s Bismarck and as a near autocrat beyond control. Throughout history, currency debasement has been the easy option for emperors, kings, queens and governments. It is the easy option of central banks and of Goldman's Draghi today.
In his recent note “Treacherous Market Conditions,” Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann attempted to outline the precarious position the FOMC has put itself in. The Fed’s depleted ammunition applies greater pressure on its attempts to ensure a strong recovery; yet, as Haselmann hinted, the Fed is in a race against time, because risks to financial stability aggregate with each passing day, while economic benefits approach zero. Despite differences as to the extent and degree of financial risks, FOMC members have (finally) become aware that they have arisen. Draghi seems to share concerns about bubble conditions... and now the BIS fears that a "persistently aggressive monetary policy risks exacerbating collateral damage."