The present global financial ‘crisis’ began in 2007-8. It is not nearly over. And that simple fact is a problem. Not because of the life-choking misery it inflicts on the lives of millions who had no part in its creation, but because the chances of another crisis beginning before this one ends, is increasing. What ‘tools’ - those famous tools the central bankers are always telling us they have – will our dear leaders use to tackle a new crisis when all those tools are already being used to little or no positive effect on this one?
Desperate governments call for desperate measures. Unfortunately for us, citizens often end up paying for the mistakes of their governments. That’s not how it should be but, sometimes, that’s how it is. If and a when a government is no longer able to meet its obligations, capital controls, broad wealth confiscation measures, and other extreme burdens are often considered. Spanish bond yields just fell to their lowest levels in history but does that mean that your money is safe there? Absolutely not. It means that investors are complacent, not that Spain’s political risk has diminished. Portugal is in the same boat. While its borrowing costs continue to fall, its prospects for economic growth and its financial position continue to worsen. If you’ve got assets in Portugal then now would be a good time to contemplate how safe they really are. Unless you like bail-ins, that is.
The current environment is distinct from the period of 2009-2013 when governments and central banks were quasi-coordinated in providing gargantuan amounts of stimulus, and when the geo-tensions were only chirping modestly. This year, governments and central banks have focused more generally on domestic issues. This is good in theory, but it has splintered coordination into a quasi-fracturing of the global monetary system. Diverging policies serve as a trigger for capital flow movements. They are shaking the foundation of capital markets, which in turn is causing second order effects like a mini-contagion. Amplified volatility in FX and commodity markets are warning signs. They appear on the cusp of spilling more broadly into other markets, exposing the full size of the iceberg.
In today’s financialized economies, zero cost money has but one use: It gifts speculators with free COGS (cost of goods sold) on their carry trades. Indeed, today’s 10 basis point cut by the ECB is in itself screaming proof that central bankers are lost in a Keynesian dead-end. You see, Mario, no Frenchman worried about his job is going to buy a new car on credit just because his loan cost drops by a trivial $2 per month, nor will a rounding error improvement in business loan rates cause Italian companies parched for customers to stock up on more inventory or machines. In fact, at the zero bound the only place that today’s microscopic rate cut is meaningful is on the London hedge fund’s spread on German bunds yielding 97 bps—-which are now presumably fundable on repo at 10 bps less.
Sterling fell sharply yesterday as traders became nervous of a possible vote for Scottish independence. The referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom takes place on Thursday 18th September.
While the referendum and the potential impact of an independent Scotland have been on the horizon for some time, the approaching vote in two weeks is causing upheaval for the British pound in currency markets, and also more general macro uncertainty in the regional economic and monetary system.
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.
The Central Bank policies of the last five years have damaged the capital markets to the point that the single most important item is no longer developments in the real world, but how Central banks will respond to said developments.
Capitalism gets into deep trouble when the price of financial assets becomes completely disconnected from economic reality and common sense. What ensues is rampant speculation in which financial gamblers careen from one hot money play to the next, leaving the financial system distorted and unstable - a proverbial train wreck waiting to happen. That’s where we are now.
Were this extreme policy to be implemented it would be a further and deliberate debasement of fiat currencies. Alan Greenspan’s warning of “fiat money in extremis” becomes more real by the day. Were this silly proposal ever to become policy, it would significantly increase the risk of inflation and stagflation. In a worst case scenario, it will lead to currency collapse and hyperinflation.
We believe Fed’s actions would be more appropriately described as permitted cancerous beliefs to spread throughout the financial system, thereby killing Democratic Capitalism which is the basis of the capital markets. Today we’re going to explain what the “final outcome” for this process will be. The short version is what happens to a cancer patient who allows the disease to spread unchecked (death).
Yields on European sovereign debt have collapsed in recent months as investors piled into these 'riskless' investments following hints that the ECB will unleash QE (at some point "we promise") and the economic situation collapses. However, Mario Draghi has made it clear that any QE would be privately-focused (because policy transmission channels were clogged) and the appointment of Blackrock to run an ABS-purchase plan confirms that those buying bonds to front-run the ECB may have done so in error. As Rabobank's Elwin de Groot notes in six simple comments that he expects continued "procrastination" by the ECB over sovereign QE even after dismal economic data - and in doing so, exposes the entire facade behind The Fed's QE.
May 2013, President Kirchner: ""As long as I'm president, those who want to make money through devaluations, which other people have to pay for, will have to keep waiting for another government,"
Jan 2014: Argentina Devaluation Sends Currency Tumbling Most in 12 Years
Aug 2014: Argentina’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said today a devaluation of the peso, "obviously won't happen."
So what's next?
Last week’s Jackson Hole meeting helped to highlight a simple reality: unlike other parts of the world, the eurozone remains mired in a deflationary bust six years after the 2008 financial crisis. The only official solutions to this bust seem to be a) to print more money and b) to expand government debt. Nothing Mr Draghi said in his Jackson Hole speech changed this reality.
At this stage, the path of least resistance is for the eurozone, and especially France, to continue disappointing economically, for the euro to weaken, and for Europe to remain a source of, rather than a destination for, international capital.
The only three previous times when there was such a sharp contraction in the pace of San Fran home price appreciation, either the dot com bubble, the housing bubble, or the European sovereign debt bubble had just burst. For now, we leave what is going on in San Francisco as merely a question mark, because clearly the Fed's grand "reflation at all costs" experiment is nowhere near over...
Today, the world economy is in uncharted territory. Never before has the developed world carried this much debt. Never before have the central banks of those same countries expanded their balance sheets so much. Never before has so much sovereign debt been outright monetized. Never before have major financial institutions been officially designated as “too big to fail” and thereby been granted special license to assume gigantic risks. Dr. Lacy Hunt, economist and current executive vice president of Hoisington Investment Management Company, expects the macroeconomic situation to get worse from here...