And Unemployment and Inequality Are Worse Than During the Recession
Bernanke took the plunge yesterday by embarking on QE3 or what would be better described as “Currency Debasement 3”. Improving the U.S. job market and therefore economy was the reason given for the extremely radical measures. However, the scale of the open ended monetary commitments suggests the Fed is worried about another Great Depression and an economic collapse. The move was described as "stunningly bold" by some analysts as it is "open ended" with Bernanke pledging to print or electronically create, with no time limit, an extra $40 billion every single month until the labour market improves. This is the frightening vista we have been warning of for some time. It means that should the US economy enter a recession and or depression, which still seems very likely, that the Fed will continue printing money and debasing the dollar thereby leading to dollar devaluation and inflation - potentially virulent inflation on a par with or worse than that seen in the 1970's. We had long said that QE3 was inevitable - the question was when rather than if. Indeed, we had said that given Bernanke's closeness to Wall Street we expected that QE4, QE5 etc. were likely. The "open ended" nature of this new round of QE as enunciated yesterday means that the Fed could if it wished or believes it is necessary print unlimited quantities of dollars.
The acquisition of CRBC by FMER provides a stark illustration of the fundamental conflict between the Fed’s “dual mandate” and its legal responsibility to supervise the nation’s banks.
The Fed panicked. It is extraordinary that the Fed would announce an open-ended "we'll print as much as it takes, as long as it takes" policy. Chairman Bernanke is sending a signal to the markets and to government that the economy is bad and getting worse and that the Fed will do its part as everyone expects them to do. This is a clear signal to the markets and the world that the Fed stands for monetary inflation. They don't know what else to do. Here is the fallout.
You could be forgiven for believing that the ECB's talk/plans have indeed solved the European problems. The market's reaction appears to confirm all anchoring bias and thanks to overly bearish positioning (and thin summer markets) has sent all but the long-term-est bears scurrying for their rabbit-holes - as once again 'tail-risk has been removed' - just like LTRO, the SGP, and The Grand Plan before it. However, as BofAML notes in this must read note, we do not believe the ECB move will necessarily lead to a permanent stable equilibrium for the euro area for two reasons: 1) a stable equilibrium would require certainty about the ability of countries to restore debt sustainability, i.e. that they will respect an agenda of economic policy reforms and/or; 2) certainty about the ECB course of action, i.e. that the ECB will purchase bonds in such a way that we will not observe renewed financial market stress as we did this summer. Such certainty would require both Spain and Italy to put their faith in the Troika’s hands and the ECB to pre-commit in return, which seems to us very unlikey at this time. The ECB’s conditional backstop is some way from the “bazooka” that many were expecting
The answer, of course, is yes: they are after all, economists (who somehow, with no real world experience, determine the daily fate of billions of productive and capital-allocation decisions every day). But it is one thing for everyone to discuss the obvious anecdotally by the water cooler. It is something else for this verbal heresy to be printed in a "serious" publication. Such as Reuters, which today asks if "the Federal Reserve has watched the U.S. recession and painfully slow recovery through rose-colored glasses?" And answers: "A look at the U.S. central bank's economic forecasts over the past five years suggest it has." It then explains: "Since October 2007, when the Fed's policy committee began giving quarterly predictions for GDP growth and the jobless rate, the central bank has downgraded its nearer-term forecasts almost two-and-a-half times as often as it upgraded them. The gap between Wall Street's expectations for 2012 growth and the Fed's own current view points to yet another downgrade on Thursday, when policymakers wrap up a two-day meeting that has world financial markets rapt." It concludes: "The trend of back-pedaling shows how poorly the central bank has fared at reading the economic tea leaves, with the Fed's optimism a likely factor in policy decisions through the Great Recession and its fallout, economists say." In summary: the world's most ebullient and permabullish forecasters, who incidentally happen to constantly be wrong in their desperate attempts to affect the only thing that matters: consumer and investor sentiment and confidence via the increasingly irrelevant myth that are asset prices, happen to run the monetary world and "determine" just what the future looks like. Needless to say, if the Fed's presidents were actually employed in the private sector, they would have been fired ages ago. Only in a fiat world do they not only keep their jobs, but keep on running the world.
Lakshman Achutan, ECRI (Economic Cycle Research Institute) made a recession call for the US on September 30, 2011 (and confirmed it multiple times since then). Gary Shilling, titling his August letter “Global Recession”, says “We are already in a global recession.” However, equity markets don’t think so, with the S&P 500 trading less than 10% away from a new all-time high. Only one side can be right. Could this be a repeat of October 2007, when the S&P 500 hit new all-time highs mere six weeks before the “Great Recession” began? Are so-called leading indicators, as used by the Conference Board, still reliable? Established leading indicators incorporate questionable input. While there is no perfect indicator, a combination of the ones tested here, weighed by accuracy, confidence and timeliness should produce a good reading. The higher-confidence indicators say that 2011 was a “close call”, but we are currently not in a recession. However, a lot of lower-confidence indicators are showing readings consistent with a severe recession.
Presented for your viewing pleasure are ten of the most prescient indicators of the resilience of the consumer and his largest asset (liability) since the 'supposed' end of the recession. We thought the subtle hint at which of these trends is not like the others would help; but, just in case you missed it, it's the part of the economy that is government-backed, subprime-funded, over-inventoried, and entirely channel-stuffed. Aside from all that, entirely sustainable, we are sure.
The middle won't disappear, but might wildly transform its appearance.
The Second Great Depression officially started in December 2007. The NBER tells us that the recession that started at the same time ended some time in the summer of 2009. The Second Great Depression continues. The chart below shows the cumulative increase in Americans receiving foodstamps and disability benefits since December 2007 on the positive Y-Axis, and the jobs lost on the negative Y-axis. No additional explanation is necessary.
Since The Dreme (Draghi Scheme) began shortly after the EU Summit, the P/E multiple on the S&P 500 has risen by a faith-defining 2x. This is the largest three-month rise in this indicator-of-indifference-to-reality since the initial burst rally off the March 2009 lows. Meanwhile, the actual earnings consensus is being marked down further, heading for an earnings recession as we pointed out last week. It seems investors are too afraid not to believe in P/E miracles or perhaps it is just faith that central banks have it all under control and their 'promises' are as good-as-gold.
A few days ago, the BOE's Andy Haldane, rightfully, lamented that the apparent "solution" to the exponentially growing level of complexity in the financial system is more complexity. Alas, there was little discussion on the far more relevant central planning concept of fixing debt with even more debt, especially as the US just crossed $16 trillion in public debt last week, right on schedule, and as we pointed out over the weekend, there has been precisely zero global deleveraging during the so-called austerity phase. But perhaps most troubling is that with 2 days to go to what JPM says 77% of investors expect with be a NEW QE round (mostly MBS) between $200 and $500 billion in QE, the world is, also in the words of JP Morgan, drowning in liquidity. In other words, according to the central planners, not only is debt the fix to record debt, but liquidity is about to be unleashed on a world that is, you guessed it, already drowning in liquidity. The bad news: everything being tried now will fail, as it did before, because nothing has changed, except for the scale, meaning the blow up will be all that more spectacular. The good news: at least the Keynesians (or is it simply Socialists now?) out there will not be able to say we should have just added one more [ ]illion in debt/liquidity and all would have worked, just as our textbooks predicted. Because by the time it's over, that too will have happened.
Perhaps never a more truthful 'lifting-the-veil' paragraph has been written by the squid as the following discussion of just what NEW QE will consist of and what it will achieve; sad that our economy market has come to this.
"The form of any return to QE is less clear. The issue is not so much whether the Fed buys Treasuries or agency mortgage-backed securities; we are pretty sure that any new program would be primarily focused on agency MBS purchases. These should have a somewhat bigger per-dollar effect on private-sector demand and are probably less controversial with the public than Treasury purchases. They can be framed as help for homebuyers to achieve the American Dream, which sounds better than help for the government to run large budget deficits."
Ken Burns and Alfred Hitchcock are movie makers. 'The Ken Burns Effect' - panning and zooming to focus attention on a certain isolated piece of the full picture; and the 'Hitchcock Zoom' - a 'shocking' dramatic change in perspective; keep the viewer occupied and entertained by material that would otherwise look a little staid and to ensure that attention is paid to the precise piece of the picture that the director wishes to be the center of focus. As Grant Williams ruminates on the Draghi Scheme (The Dreme), the devices of Burns and Hitchcock came to mind as central bankers attempt to either unsettle the viewers or make them focus on a specific part of the whole, rather than the big picture. For the last eighteen months, we, the viewers, have been manipulated by a seemingly never-ending procession of Eurocrats, bureaucrats, technocrats and who-said-thats to look at a very precise part of the economic picture rather than be allowed to step back and try to take in the wider situation. Accordingly, we thought this week we would take a step back, ignore where the Ken Burns Effect of Draghi’s words were pointing our attention, turn a blind eye to the conflicting rhetoric emanating from the various actors in the Theater of the Absurd and concentrate on the big picture - to try and make sense of the broader reality in Greece, Spain, TARGET2, and The Dreme. It damned near gave us vertigo.
During the height of the 'Goldilocks economy' of the mid-1990s, Mat Stein wrote When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency , a master compendium of do-it-yourself preparation skills. Fast-forward to today's Great Recession, drought-stricken, $100+ oil, post-Katrina, post-Fukushima world -- many are realizing the prudence of taking basic precautionary steps to reduce their vulnerability to whatever the future may bring. Whether you're concerned about the fallout from a breakdown of today's weakened global economy, or simply want to be better able to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster if you live in an earthquake/hurricane/flood/wildfire/tornado-prone part of the world, the personal resiliency measures Mat recommends make sense for almost everyone to consider. It's important to note that Mat isn't a doomer bent on fanning fears of a zombie apocalypse (though those concerned about social collapse will find much utility in his work), but believes that our current fossil fuel-driven, hyper-consumptive, and over-leveraged way of life is not sustainable.