I gave a 45-minute presentation on Yield Purchasing Power at American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, MA on October 14, 2016. I am grateful to the Institute for recording video of my presentation plus extended Q&A.
"The problem with Cassandras, such as Gross and Jim Grant and Stanley Druckenmiller, among a host of others, is that we/they can be compared to a broken watch that is right twice a day but wrong for the other 1,438 minutes. But believe me: This watch is ticking because of high global debt and out-of-date monetary/fiscal policies that hurt rather than heal real economies. Sooner rather than later, Yellen’s smooth shot from the fairway will find the deep rough."
The problem for individual investors is the “trap” currently being laid between the appearance of strong market dynamics against the backdrop of weak economic and market fundamentals. There will be a collision between the fantasy of asset prices and the reality of the underlying fundamentals. This will particularly be the case if the much anticipated rebound of economic growth and earnings fails to materialize.
What is happening this year is astounding. After saying year after year after year that the recovery is coming, and even doing so to the point of condescension, the admissions of wrongfulness are starting to roll in, if only softly at first. How ludicrous does “transitory” look now?
“There are a lot of things that we thought we knew that haven’t turned out quite as we expected,” said Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. “The economy and financial markets are not as stable as we previously assumed.”
If, as is likely, the economy is closer to recession than resurgence, the Fed is poorly positioned to respond with force, efficacy and credibility. The Fed is vulnerable. Its recent centennial as our nation’s central bank should not be confused with its permanent acceptance in the American political system.
"They look to me asset price dependent more than they look data dependent. When the stock market falls like it did in the beginning of this year, they say, ‘Oh, we better not do anything.’ Stock markets are now at career highs. I suspect when they meet next week they will suggest, ‘Oh, now they look like they can be somewhat more responsible.’"
"My fear is that central banks are now taking this too far through negative interest rates in particular and that they’re going to literally destroy their own banking systems. If they’re actually successful in generating higher inflation, then they’re going to destroy their own bond markets... our government officials, and I will include the Federal Reserve in that, have failed the American people."
The economy was supposed to fire on all cylinders in 2015. Sufficient time had passed for the often-mentioned lags in monetary and fiscal policy to finally work their way through the system according to many pundits inside and outside the Fed. Surely the economy would be kick-started by: three rounds of QE and forward guidance; a record Fed balance sheet; and an unprecedented increase in federal debt to $18.63 trillion in 2015, a jump of 86%. Further, stock prices had gained sufficiently over the past several years, thus the so-called wealth effect would boost consumer spending. But the economic facts of 2015 displayed no impact from these massive government experiments.
Today’s dilemma – for financial markets and central bankers – is that pushing back against nascent “risk off” unleashes another forceful bout of “risk on.” At this point, it’s either Bubble on or off – destabilizing either way. The global Bubble has grown too distended and the market backdrop too dysfunctional. Central bankers over the past 25 years have created excessive “money,” while incentivizing too much finance into financial speculation. There is now way too much “money” crowded into the securities and derivative markets, and the upshot is an increasingly hostile backdrop for leverage and speculation.
Q: Why do you still expect the FOMC to hike rates in December?
A: Because the FOMC leadership has said that a rate hike by the end of the year is likely if the economy and markets evolve broadly as expected. Our near-term forecast is similar to theirs, so our baseline is also that they hike.