Real Interest Rates
There's something we 'regular' citizens wrestle with that the elites never seem to: a sense of moral duty.
Many nations have gone through periods in the past where they've had very high levels of government debt. There are four traditional ways of dealing with that... decades of austerity, defaulting on government debts, inflating away the value of debt by rapidly destroying the value of currency, and government's favorite - "financial repression" - a process that is complex enough that the average voter never understands how it works, thus allowing governments to use this potent but subtle method of taking vast sums of private wealth, year after year, decade after decade, with almost no political consequences.
It’s not about the current Dollar & Treasury market safe haven bid, it’s about tomorrow’s confidence in our monetary system.
Nearly two decades of central bank financial repression have created huge distortions and imbalances in the world economy. Now they are coming home to roost as the impossibility of ZIRP forever dawns on even our mad money printers. Having created yet another round of ebullient financial bubbles, they are now getting palpably nervous.
Olivia Newton John had it right................
Yesterday, in a periodic repeat of what he says every 6 or so months, Jamie Dimon - devoid of other things to worry about - warned once again about the dangers hidden within the shadow banking system (the last time he warned about the exact same thing was in April of this year). The throat cancer patient and JPM CEO was speaking at the Institute of International Finance membership meeting in Washington, D.C., and delivered a mostly upbeat message: in fact when he said that the industry was "very close to resolving too big to fail" we couldn't help but wonder if JPM would spin off Chase or Bear Stearns first. However, when he was asked what keeps him up at night, he said non-bank lending poses a danger "because no one is paying attention to it." He said the system is "huge" and "growing." Dimon is right that the problem is huge and growing: according to the IMF which just two days earlier released an exhaustive report on the topic, shadow banking (which does not include the $600 trillion in notional mostly interest rate swap derivatives) amounts to over $70 trillion globally.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of the money supply prevents interest rates from telling the truth: How much are people really choosing to save out of income, and therefore how much of the society’s resources — land, labor, capital — are really available to support sustainable investment activities in the longer run? What is the real cost of borrowing, independent of Fed distortions of interest rates, so businessmen could make realistic and fair estimates about which investment projects might be truly profitable, without the unnecessary risk of being drawn into unsustainable bubble ventures? All that government produces from its interventions, regulations, and manipulations is false signals and bad information.
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.