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.
Dear old Larry Summers has come over all Zero Bound constipated, fretting that the natural, real rate of interest has somehow become fixed down there at negative 2%-3% where conventional policy (if you can still remember of what that used to consist) cannot get at it – unless we blow serial bubbles, that is, these episodes in mass folly and gross wastefulness now being raised to the level of such perverse desiderata of which Krugman’s only partly-facetious call for a war on Mars forms an infamous example. In fact, this entire notion is another piece of nonsense to spring from the one of Keynes’ least cogent ramblings, the notoriously insupportable notion of ’Liquidity Preference’ – a logical patch fixed over the lacunae in his reasoning when, having insisted that saving must always equal investment, all he could think of to determine the rate of interest was our collective desire to hold money for its own sake. From such intellectually bastard seed soon sprang, fully-armed like Minerva from the head of our economic Jove, the even worse confusion of the ‘Liquidity Trap.’
For anyone who still suggests, incorrectly, that Larry Summers was the "wrong" choice for Fed Chairman just because he would promptly end QE the second he was elected as the erroneous popular meme goes, we have one soundbite from his recent Bloomberg TV interview refuting all such speculation: "if you had to say, should we have used this tool or should we not have, I think the answer is overwhelming that we should have." He had some other amusing logical fallacies (including discussing whether the market is in a bubble) all of which are transcribed below, but the best one is the following: "I think it does bear emphasis that the people who were most appalled by it are the people who have been predicting hyperinflation around the corner for four years now and they have been wrong at every turn." And let's not forget that "subprime is contained" - until it isn't. Then again, the last time we checked, the history on the biggest monetary experiment in history - one in which both the Fed and the BOJ are now openly monetizing 70% of gross bond issuance - has certainly not been written. Finally, in the off chance Summers is indeed correct, what history will instead say, is why instead of monetizing all the debt from day 1 of the Fed's inception in 1913, and thus pushing the stock market into scientific notation territory, did the Fed leave so many trillions of "wealth effect" on the table?
A new opportunity to play "What's wrong with this picture" arose recently, with Larry Summers’ recent speech at the IMF and Paul Krugman’s follow-up blog. The two economists’ messages are slightly different, but combining them into one fictional character we shall call SK, their comments can be summed up "...essentially, we need to manufacture bubbles to achieve full employment equilibrium." With this new line of reasoning, SK have completely outdone themselves, but not in a good way. Think Jamie Dimon’s infamous “that’s why I’m richer than you” quip. Or, Bill Dudley’s memorable “but the price of iPads is falling” excuse for increases in basic living costs. Dimon and Dudley managed to encapsulate in single sentences much of what’s wrong with their institutions. Yet, they showed baffling ignorance of faults that are clear to the rest of us.
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.
Jim Rogers hope-driven wish is that the politicians were smart enough at some point to say (to the central bankers), "we've got to stop this, this is going to be bad." He adds, on the incoming QEeen, "she’s not going to stop it, first of all she doesn't believe in stopping it, she thinks printing money is good." However, Rogers warns in this excellent interview with Birch Gold, "eventually the markets will just say, "We're not going to play this game anymore", and we'll have a serious collapse." The world is blinded by central bank liquidity, and as Rogers somewhat mockingly notes "if everybody says the sky is blue, I urge you to look out the window and see if it's blue because I have found that most people won't even bother to look out the window..." Rogers concludes, "everybody should own some precious metals as an insurance policy," because as he ominously warns, when 'it' collapses, "there will be big change.
"Every American family deserves a false sense of security," said Chris Reppto, a risk analyst for Citigroup in New York. "Once we have a bubble to provide a fragile foundation, we can begin building pyramid scheme on top of pyramid scheme, and before we know it, the financial situation will return to normal." Despite the overwhelming support for a new bubble among investors, some in Washington are critical of the idea, calling continued reliance on bubble-based economics a mistake. Regardless of the outcome of this week's congressional hearings, however, one thing will remain certain: The calls for a new bubble are only going to get louder. "America needs another bubble," said Chicago investor Bob Taiken. "At this point, bubbles are the only thing keeping us afloat."
Ben Bernanke is participating in an IMF panel with Larry Summers, Ken Rogoff, and fromer Bank of Israel chief Stan Fischer... Full speech below...
As the S&P 500 continues to push to one new high after the next, the bullish arguments of valuation have quietly given way to "it's all about the Fed." The biggest angst that weighs on professional, and retail investors alike, are not deteriorating economic strength, weak revenue growth or concerns over the next political drama - but rather when will the Fed pull its support from the financial markets. For the Federal Reserve, they are now caught in the same "liquidity trap" that has been the history of Japan for the last three decades. Should we have an expectation that the same monetary policies employed by Japan will have a different outcome in the U.S? More importantly, this is no longer a domestic question - but rather a global one since every major central bank is now engaged in a coordinated infusion of liquidity. Will the Federal Reserve "taper" in December or March - it's possible. However, the revulsion by the markets, combined with the deterioration of economic growth, will likely lead to a quick reversal of any such a decision.