By Michael Every of Rabobank
I noted yesterday that the expected market turbulence caused by the Archegos sell-off was not representative of the underlying structural issues that will guide markets going forwards. I stick by that claim, but even so what a messy day it was. Some individual stocks got hit hard, and US bond yields were up, presumably due to the need to sell anything to get liquidity, while the USD see-sawed. Archegos? ‘Argh, chaos’ more like.
This overshadowed the good news that the Suez Canal is now open again. However, there is a link between the two: both stories reveal how stupid the key infrastructure of the global economy and financial system still is. ‘Too big to sail and too big to fail’, as some dub the two halves of this dyad: and Joe Public can again see our system encourages entities to get so large and complex that when a simple incident happens, everything gets stuck. Something surely needs to change, unless we are going to assume there can’t be any more ‘Argh, chaos’ “because markets”, or any more stuck giant ships in the Suez Canal “because boats”.
So, change? Fed Governor Waller spoke to the Peterson Institute for International Economics yesterday, where he rejected any suggestions the Fed was close to embracing the MMT: he wanted to “definitively put that narrative to rest. It is simply wrong”. Borrowing costs are not being kept low to help finance the government, apparently. (It’s all inflation; and unemployment; and social justice; and the climate?) Clearly there won’t be any need for an Operation Twist and Shout or for Yield Curve Control then…but can we get that in writing?
At the same time, the press reports the Biden administration is planning a further Covid relief bill separate from a key infrastructure bill to be launched Wednesday; and the latter is now rumored to be for as much as USD4 trillion, or close to 20% of GDP, funded by USD3 trillion of tax hikes on businesses and the rich, the largest hike in a generation, as opposed to the original idea of USD3 trillion in spending funded by USD1 trillion of taxes.
If the larger stimulus package is the one put forward, it means there is no sign of MMT in the White House either, because the net spend of USD1 trillion (over a decade) is hardly in the money-printing category. Instead, there is a redistributive fiscal package that presumes USD3 trillion the rich have can be spent more productively on bridges, roads, and ports, etc., than on $100m condos filled with gold-dusted caviar or stock buybacks. Cue a shift of political debate from ‘MMT’ vs. ‘no MMT’ to ‘The government doesn’t know what it’s doing!’ vs. ‘The rich do know what they are doing – turning the US into an oligarchic kleptocracy’. And may the best lobbyists win.
As a linked aside, yesterday I saw 1963 US plans for an alternative to the Suez Canal, because at the time Egypt was a Soviet client state. This was to use *530* nukes to blow a 160-mile long, 1,500 foot deep channel through Israel from its Mediterranean coast to the Red Sea, which would “probably contribute greatly to the economic development of the surrounding area”(!) That underlines the idiocy of central planning and of Cold War thinking. Which is doubly worrying given any new Cold War is again very likely going to see key global infrastructure in the hands of states not aligned with US geostrategic interests, and the US is already talking about its own Belt and Road rival (as China seems to slowly back away from the economic drain of its own). Beware Americans bearing nukes.
Yet the economic national-security Hamiltonian model, the ideas of Henry George, and the fact Eisenhower built the US inter-state highway network partially to prevent Soviet invasion from either coast, still all hold as much water as the glow-in-the-dark 160-mile long monstrosity through Israel would have.
Meanwhile, as the US and nukes and the Middle East make headlines for different reasons today, but still leaving much of Israel feeling antsy, BOJ Governor Kuroda just stated he will continue to buy ETFs within a JPY12 trillion cap “with a close eye on markets” even after Covid is over; he won’t sell the BOJ’s stock of ETFs; and the inflation target stays at 2% (ROFL!). He also thinks that it is “natural for the government to deploy fiscal stimulus flexibly, though Japan must also maintain market trust over its medium- and long-term fiscal health.” (Will the people in the market who associate Japan with long-term fiscal health please stand up?) The BOJ will also “support various entities’ efforts towards reform as Japan faces challenges in the post-Covid world”: does he mean the local Olympic Games Committee? In short, more of the same is on offer from the BOJ – which has worked so magnificently for it so far.
That’s another lesson for the US. Structural reform needs to be structural, not just cementing over river beds – or blowing up the Negev desert.
On which note, the FTSE Bond Index just announced that it is about to include Chinese government bonds (CGBs) in its world index, allowing global investors to buy both sides of the Cold War bet and all related public expenditures. But there is a sting in the tail: the FTSE CGB weighting will be just 5.25%, not the 6.5% expected, starting October 29, and this will be tapered in over 36 months, not 12 months as originally believed.
A few months ago, when China was seeing too much capital flow in for its liking, that slower pace might have been welcome. Indeed, and ironically, much of the capital that went in to Chinese markets from foreign funds is believed to have been encouraged to flow straight back out again via different channels to prevent excess appreciation pressure on the currency (and note that China’s FX reserves have hardly soared). Yet CNY and CNH are starting to move markedly lower again; and genuine capital outflows are being experienced as US yields rise, even despite bumper Covid-related trade surpluses (which will fade with the virus does). Moreover, with the geopolitical backdrop this Cold, how could this most political of all FX crosses not eventually respond in kind?
One wonders what the Fed (and ECB and BOJ) would make of any sustained move lower in CNY, given what it will mean for inflation; and the White House, given what it means for jobs.