Economics is all about making rational decisions given some set of likes and dislikes. It doesn’t presume to tell you what you should like or dislike, and it assumes that you do in fact know what you like or dislike. Or at least that’s what economic theory used to proclaim. Today economic theory is used as the intellectual foundation for a political stratagem that goes something like this: you do not know what you truly like, and in particular you do not know your economic self-interest, but luckily for you we are here to fix that. This is the common strand between QE and Obamacare. The former says that you are wrong to prefer safety to risk in your investments, and so we will fix that misconception of yours by making it extremely painful for you not to take greater investment risks than you would otherwise prefer. The latter says that you are wrong to prefer no health insurance or a certain type of health insurance to another type of health insurance, and so we will make it illegal for you to do anything but purchase a policy that we are certain you would prefer if only you were thinking more clearly about all this.
The third stage of bull markets, the mania phase, can last longer and go farther that logic would dictate. However, the data suggests that the risk of a more meaningful reversion is rising. It is unknown, unexpected and unanticipated events that strike the crucial blow that begins the market rout. Unfortunately, due to the increased impact of high frequency and program trading, reversions are likely to occur faster than most can adequately respond to. This is the danger that exists today. Are we in the third phase of a bull market? Most who read this article will say "no." However, those were the utterances made at the peak of every previous bull market cycle.
As DB notes, it appears that markets continue to steadily price in a greater probability of a December taper judging by the 2bp increase in 10yr UST yields, 1.2% drop in the gold price and an edging up in the USD crosses yesterday. Indeed, the Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart, who is considered a bellwether within the Fed, kept the possibility of a December tapering open in public comments yesterday. But his other comments were quite dovish, particularly when he said that he wants to see inflation accelerate toward 2% before reducing asset purchases to give him confidence that the US economy was not dealing with a “downside scenario”. Lockhart stressed that any decision by the Fed on QE would be data dependent - so his comments that the government shutdown will make coming data "less reliable" than might otherwise have been, until at least December, were also quite telling. The dovish sentiments were echoed by Kocherlakota, a FOMC voter next year. In other words, an Oscar-worthy good-cop/bad-cop performance by the Fed's henchmen, confusing algotrons for the second day in a row.
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.
In what is the biggest black eye for Bill Gross and the largest bond manager in the world, moments ago Bloomberg reported that the title of the world's largest mutual fund has just changed hands:
- PIMCO TOTAL RETURN LOSES LARGEST MUTUAL FUND TITLE TO VANGUARD
- GROSS'S PIMCO TOTAL RETURN BECAME LARGEST MUTUAL FUND IN 2008
- PIMCO TOTAL RETURN HAD $247.9 BILLION IN ASSETS AS OF OCT. 31
This comes on the heels of what Reuters reports is the sixth consecutive month of outflows for the TRF, with $4.4 billion withdrawn in October, while on the other side Vanguard, now at $251 billion, has more than tripled in size since the end of 2008 as the scramble for equities in Bernanke's new normal has become the only game in town.
The Fed will have to increase QE (not taper it) because systemic debt is compounding faster than production and interest rates are already zero-bound. Lee Quaintance noted many years ago that the Fed was holding a burning match. This remains true today (only it is a bomb with a short fuse). Thirteen years after the over-levered US equity market collapsed, eleven years following Bernanke’s speech, five years after the over-levered housing bubble burst, and four years into the necessary onset of global Zero Interest Rate Policies and Long-Term Refinancing Operations, global monetary authorities seem to have run out of new outlets for credit. In real economic terms, central bank policies have become ineffective. In other words, the US is now producing as much new debt as goods and services.
When even Bank of America has a note titled "It's getting frothy, man", and joins such other bubble-warners as JPM, Bill Gross, Larry Fink, and David Einhorn, one can be absolutely positive that the Fed will do... absolutely nothing.
Gross: All risk asset prices artificially high. When won’t they be? When they don’t produce growth in real economy. Is 2% GDP enough?
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) October 29, 2013
— Carl Icahn (@Carl_C_Icahn) October 28, 2013
Bernanke couldn’t stomach this kind of deleveraging. The reason is simple: those who have accumulated great wealth as a result of this system are highly incentivized to keep it going. Bernanke doesn’t talk to you or me about these things. He calls Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan.
Having fired a shot across Carl iCahn's bow yesterday, PIMCO's Bill Gross has a new target - once again talking his book...
Gross: By the way, I should spend more TIME like Bill Gates too -- we all should. He and Melinda are great paragons.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) October 25, 2013
Perhaps more Americans should spend more time that way... instead of watching every tick in AMZN and dreaming of retirement...
GROSS: 6 weeks reprieve from the gallows. Washington sure knows how to put on a show. Buy 5yr Treasuries and Corps.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) October 10, 2013
With the government shutdown stretching into an improbable 4th day (and with every additional day added on, the likelihood that the impasse continues even longer and hit the debt ceiling X-Date of October 17 becomes greater), today's monthly Non-Farm Payroll data has quickly become No-Farm Payroll. However, just like on day when Europe is closed we still get a ramp into the European close, expect at least several vacuum tube algos to jump the gun at 8:29:59:999 and try to generate some upward momentum ignition in stocks and downward momentum in gold. In addition to no economic data released in the US, President Obama announced last night he has cancelled his trip to Bali, Indonesia, to attend the APEC conference and instead to focus on budget negotiations back at home - which is ironic because his latest story is that he will not negotiate, so why not just not negotiate from Asia? Ah, the optics of shutdown.
Gross: Don’t run for the hills b/c of the #shutdown or the debt ceiling – Run b/c the economy is slowing by itself.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) October 3, 2013
A week ago, we first reported that Bridgewater's Ray Dalio had finally thrown in the towel on his latest iteration of hope in the "Beautiful deleveraging", and realizing that a 3% yield is enough to grind the US economy to a halt, moved from the pro-inflation camp (someone tell David Rosenberg) back to buying bonds (i.e., deflation). This was music to Bill Gross' ears who in his latest letter, in which he notes in addition to everything else that while the Fed has to taper eventually, it doesn't actually ever have to raise rates, and writes: "The objective, Dalio writes, is to achieve a “beautiful deleveraging,” which assumes minimal defaults and an eventual return of investors’ willingness to take risk again. The beautiful deleveraging of course takes place at the expense of private market savers via financially repressed interest rates, but what the heck. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if the Fed’s (and Dalio’s) objective is to grow normally again, then there is likely no more beautiful or deleveraging solution than one that is accomplished via abnormally low interest rates for a long, long time." How long one may ask? "the last time the U.S. economy was this highly levered (early 1940s) it took over 25 years of 10-year Treasury rates averaging 3% less than nominal GDP to accomplish a “beautiful deleveraging.” That would place the 10-year Treasury at close to 1% and the policy rate at 25 basis points until sometime around 2035!" In the early 1940s there was also a world war, but the bottom line is clear: lots and lots of central planning for a long time.