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.
You hear that old saw that "the market is not the economy," a lot these days, and for good reason. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the S&P 500 breaks to record highs - but U.S. labor markets remain sluggish; investor portfolios do well - but over 47 million Americans (more than 15% of the population) are still in U.S. food stamp program – the same as August 2012. The important question now is: "Is the market TOO different from the economy?"
Following last week's confirmation that capital expenditure in the land of the Free runs a very poor third to buybacks and dividends (and well anything that props up the over-inflated share prices of US corporates), and merely confirming what we have been discussing for the last few years (that Fed policy has focused management on short-term gratification and not long-term growth and stability), ex-PIMCO shit-cleaner-upper Mohamed El-Erian notes six reasons why the collapse in capex spend will continue and how central banks have failed to prime the pump of the real economy.
While we realize that newsflow over the past few years has taken a decided turn for the surreal, we are sad (or, alternatively, delighted) to announce that we are dead serious when we report that Illinois governor Pat Quinn has now tapped The Onion - that would be the famous satiric website - to sell Obamacare. Perhaps we should not be surprised: after we previously revealed that The Onion served as the mystery source of economic insight by such intellectual economist titans as Paul Krugman and Larry Summers, the time may have come come to surrender to the great wave of absurdity that has washed over this nation, and admit that when it comes to pitching idiotic policies, self-referential satire may be the only option left in the arsenal of the central planners.
The problem, though, is that once you embrace the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence to "explain" recent events, you can't compartmentalize it there. If the pattern of post-crisis Emerging Market growth rates is largely explained by US monetary accommodation or lack thereof ... well, the same must be true for pre-crisis Emerging Market growth rates. The inexorable conclusion is that Emerging Market growth rates are a function of Developed Market central bank liquidity measures and monetary policy, and that all Emerging Markets are, to one degree or another, Greece-like in their creation of unsustainable growth rates on the back of 20 years of The Great Moderation (as Bernanke referred to the decline in macroeconomic volatility from accommodative monetary policy) and the last 4 years of ZIRP. It was Barzini all along!
Either the Volcker Rule is making Wall Street's menu of investment choices so unbearably limited, or traditional assets are so overpriced Wall Street won't even touch them with other people's money, but when it comes to allocating capital the smartest conmen in the room are coming up with some truly unorthodox products. Such as investing in ex-convicts in the form of 2000 newly released prisoners.
From the first headline to the last, the following brief month-by-month summary of the year shows just how far markets and global happenings have come...
Saying we need continuous financial bubbles to keep full employment is such a flawed conception of economics, it belongs on an island of misfit philosophies. Krugman’s incessant promotion of statism is doing more harm to the economy than good. As an opinion-molder, he is perpetuating the economic malaise of the last few years. More bubbles won’t help the recovery, just harm it more. In the middle of a grease fire, Krugman calls for more pig fat. And the rest of us are the ones left burnt.
The so-called Volcker Rule for policing banking practices, approved by a huddle of federal regulating agency chiefs last week, is the latest joke that America has played on itself in what is becoming the greatest national self-punking exercise in world history. The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 was about 35 pages long, written in language that was precise, clear, and succinct. It worked for 66 years. The Volcker rule comes in the form of nearly 1,000 pages of incomprehensible legalese written with the “help” of lobbyist-lawyers furnished by the banks themselves. Does this strain your credulity? Well, this is the kind of nation we have become: anything goes and nothing matters. There really is no rule of law, just pretense.
"If secular stagnation concerns are relevant to our current economic situation, there are obviously profound policy implications... Some have suggested that a belief in secular stagnation implies the desirability of bubbles to support demand. This idea confuses prediction with recommendation. It is, of course, better to support demand by supporting productive investment or highly valued consumption than by artificially inflating bubbles. On the other hand, it is only rational to recognize that low interest rates raise asset values and drive investors to take greater risks, making bubbles more likely. So the risk of financial instability provides yet another reason why preempting structural stagnation is so profoundly important."
"You can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do. Why? Because it doesn’t know." - Stanley Fischer
"We think that something structurally has changed since the GFC, a change that seems destined to continue to hold back growth in the near-term and more worryingly has lowered the longer-term trend rate of growth. In the absence of structural reforms, a lack of appetite for debt restructuring and no ability to pursue more aggressive fiscal policy, the temptation will be strong globally to continue to throw liquidity at the problem which is likely to continue to have more impact on asset prices than the actual economy. Bubbles could easily form which could ultimately be the catalyst for the imbalances that will likely lead to the next recession or crisis... Our base case is that the world needs low yields and high liquidity given the huge amount of outstanding debt that we’re still left with post the leverage bubble and the GFC. There’s still too much leverage for us to believe that accidents won’t happen with the removal of too much stimulus. If we’re correct, we may see a reaction somewhere to tapering and this in turn may force the Fed into a much slower tapering path than it wants."
A great many long refuted Keynesian shibboleths keep being resurrected in Krugman's fantasy-land, where economic laws are magically suspended, virtue becomes vice and bubbles and the expropriation of savers the best ways to grow the economy. According to Paul Krugman, saving is evil and savers should therefore be forcibly deprived of positive interest returns. This echoes the 'euthanasia of the rentier' demanded by Keynes, who is the most prominent source of the erroneous underconsumption theory Krugman is propagating. Similar to John Law and scores of inflationists since then, he believes that economic growth is driven by 'spending' and consumption. This is putting the cart before the horse. We don't deny that inflation and deficit spending can create a temporary illusory sense of prosperity by diverting scarce resources from wealth-generating toward wealth-consuming activities. It should however be obvious that this can only lead to severe long term economic problems. Finally it should be pointed out that the idea that economic laws are somehow 'different' in periods of economic contraction is a cop-out mainly designed to prevent people from asking an obvious question: if deficit spending and inflation are so great, why not always pursue them?
Here’s the crucial part of what Summers and Krugman are saying: this is not a temporary gig. This isn’t going to just “get better” on its own over time. This really is, as Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO would call it, the New Normal. And if you’re Jeremy Grantham or anyone for whom a stock has meaning as a fractional ownership stake in a real-world company rather than as a casino chip that gives you “market exposure” … well, that’s really bad news... Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that your deep dive into the value fundamentals of some large-cap bank has any predictive value whatsoever for the bank’s stock price, or that a return to the happy days of yesteryear is just around the corner. It doesn’t and it’s not, and even if you’re making money you’re going to be miserable and ornery while you wait nostalgically for what you do and what you’re good at to matter again. Spoiler Alert: Godot never shows up.