San Francisco Fed
How long will interest rates stay low? We expect the Fed to keep rates very low for a long, long time.
In 1977, the total indebtedness of U.S. government, corporate and household borrowers was $323 billion. By 1985, that figure had grown to $7 trillion. Volcker left the Fed in August of 1987 after handing the reins over to Alan Greenspan. By year’s end 2015, U.S. indebtedness had swelled to $45.2 trillion. Tack on financials, which few do, and it’s $64.5 trillion and unabashedly growing. We are a nation transformed. What has today’s vast store of debt purchased? Certainly not freedom.
With oil losing some of its euphoric oomph overnight, following the API report of a surge in US oil inventories, and a subsequent report that Iran's oil minister would skip the Doha OPEC meeting altogether, the global stock rally needed another catalyst to maintain the levitation. It got that courtesy of the return of USDJPY levitation, which has pushed the pair back above 109, the highest in over a week, as well as a boost in sentiment from the previously reported Chinese trade data where exports rose the most in over a year, however much of the bounce was due to a favorable base effect from last year's decline. Additionally, as RBC reported, the 116.5% y/y increase in China’s reported March imports from HK likely reflects the growing trend of "over-invoicing", which is merely another form of capital outflow.
While the market is still enjoying the post-NFP weekly data lull, economic data starts to pick up again in the coming days, alongside the start of the reporting season. Below are this week's key events.
In the final day of the week, it has again been a story of currencies and commodities setting stock prices, however instead of yesterday's Yen surge which slammed the USDJPY as low as 107.67 and led to a global tumble in equities, and crude slide, today has been a mirror imoage after a modest FX short squeeze, which sent the Yen pair as high as 109.1, before easing back to the 108.80 range. This, coupled with a 3.5% bounce in WTI, which is back up to $38.54 and up 4.9% on the week as speculation has returned that Russia and OPEC members can reach a production freeze deal on April 17, led to a global stock rebound which will see the S&P open back in the green for 2016.
It’s important to realize that the inexorable buying of debt securities by global central banks has so distorted markets that no one can actually know what’s implied by market pricing: other than monetary policy run amok. Just this week several central banks warned they have plenty more ammunition to ease further. After all, its done so much good. Wave after wave of price insensitive frenzy and disregard for risk make these debates merely an academic exercise. But, scarily, one that directly influences policy.
After The Fed jawboned the world into the largest aggregate net short position in Treasuries in Q4 since 2010, its rapid realization that all is not well in the real world - and subsequent talking (and walking) back of rate-hike expectations - has sparked the biggest short-squeeze in 6 years and sent Treasuries up by the most since 2012. With odds collapsing for any more rate-hikes in 2016, as Yellen admits their forecasts are worthless, it seems - just as in 2010 - the bonds shorts have a way to go.
At the end of the day, it was all about the dollar and the reason for this morning's stock surge around the globe, as we noted last night, is absurdly delightful: Yellen signaled "weakening world growth" and "less confidence in the renormalization process." In other words, the "bad news is good news" mantra is back front and center.
Bottom line – the economy is due for a recession and the indicators suggest that one may already be in the works. But if you listen to SF Fed's Williams (for example), the narrative goes something like this: "Everything's awesome. Stop asking questions." What if The Fed is wrong (again) - Today, interest rates are at 0.25%... next to nothing. That means that even if the next (i.e. current) recession is extremely mild, interest rates are practically guaranteed to go below zero... And from there, it’s a very short road to capital controls.
Many investors today are not very familiar with market history and tend to live only in the day-to-day mainstream narrative while watching little red and green graphs move up and down. This is not so much an issue in a relatively stable economic environment. The problem is, today we live in the most unstable economic conditions possible.
While Asian stocks continued their longest rally since August overnight, led higher for the third consecutive day on the back of Japan (+1.3%), Australia (+1.2%) and China (+0.4%) strength, European stocks have as of this moment halted their longest rally since October (Stoxx -0.1%) and U.S. index futures are little changed. Oil slipped from an eight-week high despite yesterday's massive rise in US oil inventories on hopes Saudi Arabia may be forced to cut production as its budget strains grow actue and the kingdom is forced to seek a $10 billion loan, its first material borrowing in a decade.
The Fed doesn’t see it coming and would be petrified by the prospect of a Wall Street hissy fit were it actually to express doubts about the sustainability of this so-called recovery. At the same time, Wall Street fails to recognize the obvious truth that the Fed is out of dry powder. If it attempts QE4, it will be a confession of total failure and lack of efficacy. If it actually seeks to launch negative interest rates, it will ignite a political firestorm of untold intensity. So both parties are unprepared for what is coming down the pike, and that makes this time truly different. There will be no massive liquidity injection and quick reflation of risk assets because even the Fed can’t push on a string when it is out of dry powder.
Not even this morning's mandatory European open ramp has been able to push US equity futures higher, and as a result moments ago the E-mini hit session lows on rising concerns about Brexit as talks drag on in Brussles, but mostly as a result of overnight confusion about China's loan explosion and whether the PBOC has lost control over its maniacally-lending banks.
Another day, another Goldman prediction fiasco, and no, we are not talking about the stop out of the firm's Top Trade for 2016, namely the long USDJPY, short EURUSD (although that should happen any minute) - we are talking about that perpetual permabull, Jan Hatzius, just admitting the economy is in far worse shape than expected (if only by him), and as a result he just "revised" his Fed rate hike call, no longer expecting a March hike, instead now forecasting that the first rate hike will be in June and "and see a total of three rate increases this year."