If you are not Professor Paul Krugman you probably agree that Washington has left no stone unturned on the Keynesian stimulus front since the crisis of September 2008. By the time the “taper” is over later this year (?) the Fed’s balance sheet will exceed $4.7 trillion - $4 trillion in new central bank liabilities in six years. All conjured out of thin air. Professor Krugman proposing to “do something”... In short, Krugman wants to double-down on the lunacy we have already accomplished. Unfortunately, we are presently nigh onto “peak debt”; there is no “escape velocity” because the Fed’s credit channel is broken and done. Going forward, the American people will once again be required to live within their means, spending no more than they produce. By contrast, Professor Krugman’s destructive recipes are entirely the product of a countrafactual economic universe that does not actually exist. He wants us to borrow and print even more because our macro-economic bathtub is not yet full. And that part is true. It doesn’t even exist.
The credit cycle is called a "cycle" because, unlike the business cycle (which the Fed has convinced investors no longer exists), it 'cycles'. At some point the re-leveraging of the balance sheet - remember more cash on the balance sheet but even morerer debt (as we noted here) - requires risk premia that outweigh even the biggest avalanche of yield-chasing free money. It appears, as Bloomberg's James Crombie notes, that point may be approaching as yield premiums for U.S. distressed debt hit a five-year high on March 25, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
The structural incompetence of centralized, wrong-unit-size agencies and central banks is global: the centralized strategies of China, Japan, the European Union and yes, Russia, too, will all fail for the same reasons: organizations with a few limited controls are intrinsically incapable of managing complex systems.
When you ponder the implications of allowing a small group of powerful wealthy unaccountable men to control the currency of a nation over the last one hundred years, you understand why our public education system sucks. The average American has experienced a fourteen year recession caused by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. Our leaders could have learned the lesson of two Fed induced collapses in the space of eight years and voluntarily abandoned the policies of reckless credit expansion, instead embracing policies encouraging saving, capital investment and balanced budgets. They have chosen the same cure as the disease, which will lead to crisis, catastrophe and collapse.
When the profits from financializing collateral and leveraging those bets to the hilt far exceed generating wealth by creating products and services, the economy is soon hollowed out as the perverse incentives of financialization start driving every business decision and strategy. Fed-funded financialization creates a perverse set of incentives: talent and capital flow to unproductive skimming operations because that's what generates the outsized profits, effectively starving the real economy of talent and capital.
The red flags contained in the national and global headlines that have come out thus far in 2014 should have spooked investors and economic forecasters. Instead the markets have barely noticed. It seems that the majority opinion on Wall Street and Washington is that we have entered an era of good fortune made possible by the benevolent hand of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen have apparently removed all the economic rough edges that would normally draw blood. As a result of this monetary "baby-proofing," a strong economy is no longer considered necessary for rising stock and real estate prices. But unfortunately, everything has a price, even free money.
White House attacks Russian financial markets and oil, Merkel suffers from “moral cowardice,” Russia develops “Putin Doctrine,” in crescendo of sanctions and counter-sanctions
While the talking heads are desparate to maintain the myth that this statement is dovish, the fact is, the flow of free money from the Fed is slowing and confusion of the outlooks for growth (and more Fed member see rate hikes in 2015) means Yellen's dovishness is being questioned aggressively by the bond and stock markets. The S&P 500 fell 12 points. Treasuries are getting clubbed with major short-dated selling (and bear-flattening). The dollar is surging and gold is down modestly.
Back in 2013 it was Syria where the world was gearing for imminent military action after a relentless series of false flag provocations by the United States (intent on securing a Qatar gas pipeline to Europe) which in the last minute was deftly diffused by Vladimir Putin. In 2014, it was the Ukraine's turn, and after a prolonged campaign orchestrated by Victoria Nuland and the US State Department (again) which succeeded in the now traditional violent coup (see Egypt and Libya), once again saw Putin victorious, after yesterday's annexation of the all important Crimean peninsula, achieved without the firing of one shot. So now that Putin has succeeded in trouncing the US twice in a row, it is time to poke some old, well-known geopolitical wounds, such as Iran. And who better to do it than Israel, where as Haaretz reports, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers."
US equity markets are up around 2% from Friday's close - extending yesterday's hope-filled gains on the back of Vladimir Putin not nuke-ing the world this morning and lower-than-expected inflation prompting hope for moar free money tomorrow. This jump is a ridiculous deja vu all over again of Putin's first press conference. Bear in mind that the USD is unchanged on the week and Treasury yields are up a mere 1-2bps - so hardly a resounding risk-on conviction. Following yesterday's epic low volume, today was little better. Copper was flat as Oil prices rose back towards $100. Gold and silver were pummeled - just for good measure (gold's biggest 2-day drop in 3 months) - as was VIX (which took over the role of S&P 500 driver from AUDJPY after Europe closed). The afternoon saw VIX diverging (higher ahead of tomorrow's FOMC) from rising stocks. For the week, USD unch, Bonds unch, Stocks +2%, Gold -2%.
For five long years, we have pursued the fantasy that we could return to "growth" without having to fix or change anything. The core policy of the fantasy is the consensus of "serious economists," i.e. those accepted into the priesthood of PhD economists protected by academic tenure or state positions: what we suffered in 2009 was not the collapse of leveraged crony-state financialization but a temporary decline of "aggregate demand" and productive capacity. The five-year fantasy that free money would fix all the distortions and systemic problems is drawing to a close. Why can't the fantasy run forever? The two-word answer: diminishing returns. Handing out subprime auto loans works at first because it pulls demand forward: anyone who wants or needs a new car buys one now, rather than put the purchase off a year or two. Eventually the marginal buyers default and demand falls off, and the distortions cause an even greater collapse in demand and auto loan quality.
While Jim Bullard has admitted that "tapering is tightening", the rest of the Fed remains adamant that reducing the flow and promising ever-lower for ever-longer rates will make up for the supply of portfolio-rebalancing free money. One glance at the following charts suggests that the bulls are losing faith but the dearth of bears leaves the low-volume levitation of US equities standing on increasingly fragile foundations.
The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.
The truth is the Fed incentivizes and rewards the most parasitic, least productive sector of the economy and forcibly transfers the interest that was once earned by the productive middle class to the parasites. Though the multitudes of apologists, lackeys, toadies, minions and factotums of the Fed will frantically deny it, the inescapable truth is that the nation and the bottom 99.5% would be instantly and forever better off were the Fed closed down and its assets liquidated. The only way to eliminate the financial parasites is to stop subsidizing their skimming and scamming, and the only way to stop subsidizing the financial parasites is to shut down the Fed.
Let's be clear about one thing (to quote the president): the Fed's policies have been an unqualified success for financiers and an abject failure for everyone who has to work for a living. The Fed has not just failed to rectify the nation's obscene inequality in wealth and income; it has actively widened it by handing guaranteed returns to the banks and financiers while strip-mining what's left of the middle and working classes' non-labor income, i.e. interest on savings.