Not everything is as it seems. While the PBOC may be taking a stand on monetarism and its character, it has been very curious that the yuan has not fully participated in the dollar turmoil marking so many other “dollar” dependent nations. While the yuan’s appreciation trend may have been altered, that has not led again to the kind of disorder that marked the currency earlier in the year. Maybe that is due, at least in part, to these expectations that the PBOC will eventually relent on its new approach, but we also think that the PBOC is at least looking the other way on some of the “old tricks” that supported the Chinese version of the dollar short.
We have been discussing the widespread belief in "the narrative of central bank omnipotence" for a number of months (here and here most recently) as we noted "there are no more skeptics. To update Milton Friedman’s famous quote, we are all Bernankians now." So when Saxobank's CIO and Chief Economist Steen Jakobsen warns that "the mood has changed," and feedback from conference calls and speaking engagements tells him, there is a growing belief that the 'narrative of the central banks' is failing, we sit up and listen.
Those of you who thought volatility was high this past week just wait until the Fed waits to the “Whites of the eyes of inflation” before raising rates.
Since we are now in the middle of the final month of a quarter, checking repo stats shows what we have come to expect of a fragile liquidity system. Once again, repo fails spiked sharply. The problem for “markets” is that repo is a primary liquidity conduit indicating significant and persistent degradation under, again, very benign conditions. There is no doubt that QE is the primary culprit here and that its removal is not “allowing” a healing process to begin but instead revealing the damage. With the Fed’s reverse repo program having no impact whatsoever, it just adds to the weight of evidence that policymakers don’t really know what they are doing and are just making it up as they go.
“At This Point You Just Have to Laugh”. In every important respect, the Fed and the ECB and their brethren are no longer central banks at all. They are Ministries of Markets, no different from a Ministry of Industry or – even more eerily similar – the Ministry of Culture you would find in most European governments. At this point the Narrative hegemony is complete. There’s no longer even a cursory bow to the idea that fundamentals matter. So I’m calling a top. Not a top in markets, because I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I’m calling a top in the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence because it has, in fact, reached its asymptotic limit of influence and belief.
Janet Yellen has essentially confirmed QE’s demise; good riddance. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the final end of QE in America, just as it hasn’t been the end time after time in Japan (and perhaps now Europe treading down the same ill-received road). The secular stagnation theory, that we think has been fully absorbed in certainly Yellen’s FOMC, sees little gain from it because, as they assume, the lackluster economy is due to this mysterious decline in the “natural rate of interest.” Therefore QE in the fourth iteration accomplishes far less toward that goal, especially with diminishing impacts on expectations in the real economy, other than create bubbles of activity (“reach for yield”) that always end badly. What Krugman and Summers call for is a massive bubble of biblical proportions that “shocks” the economy out of this mysterious rut, to “push inflation substantially higher, and keep it there.” In other words, Abenomics in America. Japanification is becoming universal, and the more these appeals to generic activity and waste continue, the tighter its “mysterious” grip.
- Obama says Missouri shooting death tragic, reflection needed (Reuters)
- U.S. Weighs Iraq Rescue Mission to Save Yazidis (WSJ)
- Maliki says Abadi's appointment as Iraqi PM 'has no value' (Reuters)
- Iran Joins U.S. in Backing Replacement for Iraq’s Maliki (BBG)
- Kurds Push Attack in North Iraq as Maliki Clings to Power (BBG)
- Obama Donors Embrace Corporate Inversions He Criticizes (BBG)
- Syrian Forces Advance on Aleppo, Rebels Fear Another Siege (WSJ)
- Israel, Palestinians pursue Gaza deal with ceasefire clock ticking (Reuters)
- Ebola Drug’s Success Bolsters Approach for Other Diseases (BBG)
- With Natural Gas Byproduct, Iran Sidesteps Sanctions (NYT)
- Kazakhs to Hoard Food as Putin Sanctions Rattle Alliance (BBG)
We noted yesterday once again that The Fed was out en masse demanding investors sell their bonds because "bonds are in a bubble" but not stocks. The reason - as we have explained in great detail - is the repo market is broken due to massive collateral shortages (thanks to the Fed). Today, the Fed admitted it has a problem...
*TREASURY ASKS DEALERS TO EXPLAIN REASONS FOR FAILS-TO-DELIVER
The bottom line is - The Treasury wants to know why all the dealers are so short bonds (even as it urges 'investors' to sell). Furthermore, it is surveying dealers over the need to issue bonds of greater maturity than 30 years in order to fulfill collateral needs.
This is a big deal. On the heels of our pointing out the surge in Treasury fails (following extensive detailing of the market's massive collateral shortage at the hands of the unmerciful Fed's buying programs), various 'strategists' wrote thinly-veiled attempts to calm market concerns that the repo market (the glue that holds risk assets together) was FUBAR. Even the Fed itself sent missives opining that their cunning Reverse-Repo facility would solve the problems and everyone should go back to the important business of BTFATHing... They are wrong - all of them - as yet again the Fed shows its ignorance of how the world works (just as it did in 2007/8 with the same shadow markets). As JPMorgan warns (not some tin-foil-hat-wearing blogger with an ax to grind) "the Fed’s reverse repo facility does little to alleviate the UST scarcity induced by the Federal Reserves’ QE programs coupled with a declining government deficit." The end result, they note, is "higher susceptibility of the repo market to collateral shortages" and thus dramatically higher financial fragility - the opposite of what the Fed 'hopes' for.
The current repo fails problem “directly rebukes” the idea that the Fed has “all possible scenarios covered.” The FOMC wants, actually needs, to instill confidence that it can transform itself from its QE legacy (however much tarnished it has grown). This only heightens the idea that stability is a paperlike illusion that may be undone with only the slightest “shock” or disruption – the hidden asymmetry that is the hallmark of fragility. This severely, in my opinion, undermines the credibility of even the idea of the rate floor.
Yesterday we heard from the CEO of the world's biggest company that the exuberant jobs data did not reflect any economic reality Wal-Mart was seeing. Overnight, William Arthur Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, further destroyed the myth of a 'recovery' stalled by 'weather' and threw the rest of his 'retailer' brethren under the bus: "We thought our sluggish sales were all because of weather and calendar shift...but now we've come to realize it's more than that, consistent with so many of our fellow retailers, we're experiencing a retail funk."
Be careful what you wish for. As the Fed imbibes a sense of confidence in its ability to manage any bumps in the road on its perpetual bubble-blowing mission through the use of macro-prudential policies (big words that truly mean nothing) as stock valuations surge and the repo market is experiencing severe problems; it can always point to VIX as an indicator that all is well in the world and no real risk exists. The problem is - the world is beginning to wake up to the 'odd' micro-structure of the US equity markets and how 'dark pools' are beginning to dominate trading volume. As Barclays faces major legal problems over its alleged dark pool lies, lies, and more lies, the Fed must be growing concerned... as the following chart shows JPMorgan indicates there is evidence of an inverse relationship between equity volatility and the share of off-exchange trading.
- Bond Anxiety in $1.6 Trillion Repo Market as Failures Soar (BBG), as reported first by Zero Hedge
- As Food Prices Rise, Fed Keeps a Watchful Eye (WSJ)
- Yellen’s Economy Echoes Arthur Burns More Than Greenspan (BBG)
- Draghi’s $1.4 Trillion Shot: Silver Bullet or Misfire? (BBG)
- Israel's Netanyahu phones father of murdered Palestinian teen (Reuters)
- Ukraine says forces will press forward after taking rebel stronghold (Reuters)
- Goldman Sachs Brings Forward Rate Forecast as Treasuries Drop (BBG)... you mean rise?
- Super typhoon takes aim at Japan (Reuters)
- Kidnapped Nigerian girls 'escape from Boko Haram abductors' (Independent)
- Merkel says U.S. spying allegations are serious (Reuters)
The selloff last year was a desperate warning about the lack of resilience in credit and funding. That repo markets persist in that is, again, the opposite of the picture Janet Yellen is trying to clumsily fashion. Central banks cannot create that because their intrusion axiomatically alters the state of financial affairs, and they know this. It has always been the idea (“extend and pretend” among others) to do so with the expectation that economic growth would allow enough margin for error to go back and clean up these central bank alterations. That has never happened, and the modifications persist. Resilience is the last word we would use to describe markets right now, with very recent history declaring as much.
Goldman Sachs listened (and read) Janet Yellen's remarks at The IMF and see them "generally in line." Despite waffling on for minutes about risk management and monitoring, no one at The Fed has mentioned the total carnage in the repo market, spike in fails-to-deliver, and record reverse repo window-dressing that just occurred. The use of the term "reach for yield" twice and "bubble" 5 times, and admission that the Fed should never have popped the housing bubble, leaves us less sanguine than Goldman and wondering if this was Janet's subtle and nervous 'irrational exuberance" moment.