It is becoming increasingly obvious that we are seeing the disconnect between financial markets and the real economy grow. It is also increasingly obvious (to Citi's FX Technicals team) that not only is QE not helping this dynamic, it is making things worse. It encourages misallocation of capital out of the real economy, it encourages poor risk management, it increases the danger of financial asset inflation/bubbles, and it emboldens fiscal irresponsibility etc.etc. If the Fed was prepared to draw a line under this experiment now rather than continuing to "kick the can down the road" it would not be painless but it would likely be less painful than what we might see later. Failure to do so will likely see us at the "end of the road" at some time in the future and the 'can' being "kicked over the edge of a cliff." Enough is enough.
It would appear that much of the rally yesterday (and early overnight) was driven by hope (and confirmed relief) that Fed chair nominee Yellen is not about to take on a substantially less-dovish tone in today’s testimony in an effort to garner the support of the more hawkish elements of the Senate Banking Committee. There was a great deal of confirmation bias in the market's move and interpretation but, as BofAML notes below, this may be misplaced. The more important part of today’s testimony is yet to come in the Q&A session - where we will hear likely more unscripted thoughts from the QEeen at her Senate confirmation this morning.
A timely tiding for Santa's 2013 ZH wishlist...
With Ben Bernanke's tenure closing, many financial TV pundits delight in touting the stellar performance of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman with just a couple months left in his term. Before the re-writers of history begin spinning performance, we thought why not compare Mr. Bernanke against all the other Federal Reserve Chairman to determine which Chairman deserves recognition. Bernanke's overall score across all factors was the lowest (let the spin begin counterfactualists). The data suggests that Mr. Bernanke ranks last in performance between the two mandates since 1948. Quite an accomplishment considering what events transpired during the last 60+ years; Korea & Vietnam, Oil Shock, high interest rates, etc...
Anyone who says that he or she is prepared to “do whatever it takes”, whether it’s Mario Draghi and Angela Merkel talking about support of the euro, Ben Bernanke talking about preventing deflation, George W. Bush talking about pursuit of terrorism, or Barack Obama talking about growing the economy … is making a preventive war argument just like Curtis LeMay. Not a preventive war against a particular nation, but a preventive war against some conceptual social ill. Of course, you can’t defeat a conceptual social ill like you can defeat a nation. You can’t accept the surrender of General Deflation. These social ills will always be with us in one form or another, which means that a preventive war in the modern context is a permanent and constant war. It may not seem like we are on a war footing when it comes to NSA eavesdropping or QE, because the trappings of war … mobilizations, set battles, etc. … may not be present. But the language associated with a war footing is definitely present, and this is what creates the social space that allows these policies to exist and thrive. I am struck almost every day by how the language of extremism and war pervades our domestic political and social institutions, on both the left and the right.
"I can only say: I'm sorry, America. As a former Federal Reserve official, I was responsible for executing the centerpiece program of the Fed's first plunge into the bond-buying experiment known as quantitative easing.... We were working feverishly to preserve the impression that the Fed knew what it was doing... The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I've come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.... Having racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in opaque Fed subsidies, U.S. banks have seen their collective stock price triple since March 2009. The biggest ones have only become more of a cartel: 0.2% of them now control more than 70% of the U.S. bank assets. As for the rest of America, good luck..... The implication is that the Fed is dutifully compensating for the rest of Washington's dysfunction. But the Fed is at the center of that dysfunction. Case in point: It has allowed QE to become Wall Street's new "too big to fail" policy."
In his parting act, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has decided to continue printing some $85 billion per month (6% of GDP per year) and spend those dollars on government bonds and, in the process, keep interest rates low, stimulate investment, and reduce unemployment. Trouble is, interest rates have generally been rising, investment remains very low, and unemployment remains very high. As Lawrence Kotlikoff points out, echoing our perhaps more vociferous discussions, Bernanke’s dangerous policy hasn’t worked and should be ended. Since 2007 the Fed has increased the economy's basic supply of money (the monetary base) by a factor of four! That's enough to sustain, over a relatively short period of time, a four-fold increase in prices. Having prices rise that much over even three years would spell hyperinflation.
Most market watchers expect that Janet Yellen will grapple with two major tasks once she takes the helm at the Federal Reserve in 2014: deciding on the appropriate timing and intensity of the Fed's quantitative easing taper strategy, and unwinding the Fed's enormous $4 trillion balance sheet (without creating huge losses in the value of its portfolio). In reality both assignments are far more difficult than just about anyone understands or admits.
Ben Bernanke is participating in an IMF panel with Larry Summers, Ken Rogoff, and fromer Bank of Israel chief Stan Fischer... Full speech below...
Over the past year there has been some confusion about whether Ben Bernanke has managed to not only completely break the stock market (which, if one harkens back to hallowed antiquity used to discount good or bad news in the future, and "trade" accordingly), but also invert it fully. The chart below from Guggenheim will once and for all put any such confusion to rest. As Guggenheim's Scott Minderd points out "The 52-week correlation between S&P 500 returns and the change in the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index has plunged from 0.45 to -0.13 over the past 12 months. A negative correlation indicates that weak U.S. economic data tends to push equity prices higher, while strong economic data tends to send them lower."
As Mike "Hidden Secrets Of Money" Maloney has said many times before, the economic crisis of 2008 was only a speed bump on the way to the main event. He believes that before the end of this decade there will be an economic crisis so historic that it will eclipse the crash of 29 and the subsequent great depression. He also believes it is both unavoidable and inevitable, because it is merely the free market releasing the stored up energy from decades of economic manipulation. As Maolney notes, "the best investment that you will ever make in your lifetime is your own financial education," and the following provides a succinct reminder of the top reasons to buy gold and silver...
As the S&P 500 continues to push to one new high after the next, the bullish arguments of valuation have quietly given way to "it's all about the Fed." The biggest angst that weighs on professional, and retail investors alike, are not deteriorating economic strength, weak revenue growth or concerns over the next political drama - but rather when will the Fed pull its support from the financial markets. For the Federal Reserve, they are now caught in the same "liquidity trap" that has been the history of Japan for the last three decades. Should we have an expectation that the same monetary policies employed by Japan will have a different outcome in the U.S? More importantly, this is no longer a domestic question - but rather a global one since every major central bank is now engaged in a coordinated infusion of liquidity. Will the Federal Reserve "taper" in December or March - it's possible. However, the revulsion by the markets, combined with the deterioration of economic growth, will likely lead to a quick reversal of any such a decision.
European unemployment hits a new record high. China's see-saw taper no taper talk. And the beginning of US Housing Bust 2.0
The extreme experiment of current US monetary policy has evolved (as we noted yesterday), from explicit end-dates, to unlimited end-dates, to threshold-based end-dates. Of course, this 'threshold' was no problem for the liquidty whores when unemployment rates were extremely high themselves, but as the world awoke to what we have been pointing out - that it's all a mirage of collapsing participation rates - the FOMC (and sell-side strategists) realized that the endgame may be 'too close'. Cue Goldman's Jan Hatzius, who in today's note, citing two influential Fed staff economists, shifts the base case and forecasts that the Fed will lower its threshold for rate hikes to 6.0% (and perhaps as low as 5.5%) as early as December (as a dovish forward-guidance balance to an expected Taper announcement).
Just as Friday ended with a last minute meltup, there continues to be nothing that can stop Bernanke's runaway liquidity train, and the overnight trading session has been one of a continuing slow melt up in risk assets, which as expected merely ape the Fed's balance sheet to their implied fair year end target of roughly 1900. The data in the past 48 hours was hot but not too hot, with China Non-mfg PMI rising from 55.4 to 56.3 a 14 month high (and entirely made up as all other China data) - hot but not too hot to concern the PBOC additionally over cutting additional liquidity - while the Eurozone Mfg PMI came as expected at 51.3 up from 51.1 prior driven by rising German PMI (up from 51.1 to 51.7 on 51.5 expected), declining French PMI (from 49.8 to 49.1, exp. 49.4), declining Italian PMI (from 50.8 to 50.7, exp. 51.0), Spain up (from 50.7 to 50.9, vs 51.0 expected), and finally the UK construction PMI up from 58.9 to 59.4.