A must read from FX Concept's John Taylor for anyone who has been following the global central bank's exponential balance sheet expansion over the past several months.
March 1, 2012
By John R. Taylor, Jr.
Chief Investment Officer
During the past few years, the activist strain of central banking has spread around the world like wildfire, but the impact of this change on the future course of the global economy is very unclear. The number of countries involved now covers the developed world, the multitude of interventions in the financial market has expanded dramatically, and the amounts involved are exponentially higher than they were in 1979 when the Chrysler bailout began the process. Back then, the US Treasury guaranteed a $1.5 billion loan to the automaker, but the government demanded and received $2 billion in concessions from labor, the company, and other stakeholders. The star-crossed team of Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and President Jimmy Carter fell to Lee Iacocca’s political pressure 15 months before the 1980 election. This outcome differed dramatically from that of the Penn Central collapse, nine years before, as Congress had turned down its bailout request. By the mid-1980’s, the Chrysler rescue was seen as a great success, while everyone knew that the Penn Central refusal ended as a black hole, with many billions poured into Conrail and Amtrak just to keep the trains running.
With the arrival of Alan Greenspan activism took a big step forward, as he reversed the stock market crash of 1987, rescued Mexico with Bob Rubin in 1995, South East Asia in 1997, and then the global banking system, as it got in too deep with Long Term Capital (LTCM) in 1998. There were some failures, most notably Russia in 1998, but these interventions led directly to a feeling of complacency among investors as moral hazard, the Greenspan ‘put,’ and the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets became a widely perceived reality. Buy risk, you were safe, was the only way to go. Still, the monetary base, heart of the fractional reserve system, was largely untouched. Now, 14 years after LTCM, we know that the previous quarter century was just child’s play. The central banks have to pay a lot more for optimism today. Loans aren’t enough; now they must give the money away. Printing presses are running flat out (I know this is different than Zimbabwe, but…) and the developed world monetary base is almost three times higher than it was at the start of 2008.
All this money sloshing around is nothing but kindling. This is enough to start one hell of a large inflationary fire, but probably not until we have a deflationary panic first – which will add even more kindling to the pile. The progression from the $1.5 billion Chrysler rescue to the current multi-trillion dollar worldwide financial support operations seems to parallel the march from the first US forestry service attempts to limit forest fires about a century ago to the far more sophisticated efforts possible today. Although the forestry service is successful limiting small fires, the longer they suppress them, the higher the probability of a highly disastrous, totally uncontrollable conflagration. Studies have shown that the onset of that catastrophe is almost totally unpredictable. By suppressing small fires, the forests approach an unstable state where the dead wood, resulting from the natural cycle of birth and death in the wild, is piled high, ready to explode into flames if the conditions are right. The central banks and other governmental authorities have piled the money so high that bubbles are popping up everywhere. This might be different than the explosion in the cost of a can of beans in Zimbabwe, but it is an inflation nevertheless and it impoverishes those who do not own these inflating assets. Furthermore, as those assets are in a bubble, a sharp reversal in price could appear at any time, just like the fire might begin in the forest. With so many bubbles and so much kindling, volatility in price is a sure thing. As research has shown that the timing of these dramatic breakdowns, whether a forest fire, an earthquake, or a market crash cannot predicted, or mitigated as it runs its course, the time to control these crises is way before they start. The US Forestry Service knows that, please tell Bernanke!