On practically every day of the past four years, we have said that it was the Fed's own policies that are causing the ever-deeper systemic weakness in the US (and now global with all central banks going "all in") economy, which in turn forces the Fed to intervene even more aggressively in an attempt to counteract, in turn generating ever more economic weakness, leading to even more intervention, which is why every incremental episode of QE is larger and longer, and why the economic baseline is ever lower in the most perverse feedback loop of the New Normal. Now, it is once again Bill Gross to catch up to Zero Hedge and conclude just this in his latest monthly letter: "It’s been five years Mr. Chairman and the real economy has not once over a 12-month period of time grown faster than 2.5%. Perhaps, in addition to a fiscally confused Washington, it’s your policies that may be now part of the problem rather than the solution. Perhaps the beating heart is pumping anemic, even destructively leukemic blood through the system. Perhaps zero-bound interest rates and quantitative easing programs are becoming as much of the problem as the solution." Which is why there simply is no way out as long as Bernanke stays in.
From Bill Gross of PIMCO
- Zero-bound yields deprive savers of their ability to generate income which in turn limits consumption and economic growth.
- Reduced carry via duration extension or spread actually destroys business models and real economic growth. If banks, insurance and investment management companies can no longer generate sufficient “carry” to support employment infrastructures, then personnel layoffs quickly follow. With banks, net interest margins (NIM) are lowered because of “carry” compression, and then nationwide retail branches previously serving as depository magnets are closed one by one. In the U.K. for instance, Britain’s four biggest banks will have eliminated 189,000 jobs by the end of this year compared to peak staffing levels, reports Bloomberg News. Investment banking, insurance, indeed the entire financial industry is now similarly threatened, which is leading to layoffs and the obsolescence of real estate office structures as well which housed a surfeit of employees.
- Zombie corporations are allowed to survive. Reminiscent of the zero-bound carry-less Japanese economy over the past few decades, low interest rates, compressed risk spreads, historically low volatility and ultra-liquidity allow marginal corporations to keep on living. Schumpeter would be shocked at this perversion of capitalism, which is allowing profits to be more than “temporary” at zombie institutions. Real growth is stunted in the process.
- When ROIs or carry in the real economy are too low, corporations resort to financial engineering as opposed to R&D and productive investment. This idea is far too complicated for an Investment Outlook footnote – it deserves expansion in future editions – but in the meantime, look at it this way: Apple has hundreds of billions of cash that is not being invested in future production, but returned via dividends and stock buybacks. Apple is not unique as shown in Chart 1. Western corporations seem focused more on returning capital as opposed to investing it. Low ROIs fostered by central bank policies in financial markets seem to have increasingly negative influences on investment and real growth.
- Credit expansion in the private economy is restricted by an expanding Fed balance sheet and the limits on Treasury “repo.” Again, too complicated for a sidebar Investment Outlook discussion, but the ability of private credit markets to deliver oxygen to the real economy is being hampered because most new Treasuries wind up in the dungeon of the Fed’s balance sheet where they cannot be expanded, lent out and rehypothecated to foster private credit growth. I have previously suggested that the Fed (and other central banks) are where bad bonds go to die. Low yielding Treasuries fit that description and once there, they expire, being no longer available for credit expansion in the private economy.
Well, there is my still incomplete thesis which when summed up would be this: Low yields, low carry, future low expected returns have increasingly negative effects on the real economy. Granted, Chairman Bernanke has frequently admitted as much but cites the hopeful conclusion that once real growth has been restored to “old normal”, then the financial markets can return to those historical levels of yields, carry, volatility and liquidity premiums that investors yearn for. Sacrifice now, he lectures investors, in order to prosper later. Well it’s been five years Mr. Chairman and the real economy has not once over a 12-month period of time grown faster than 2.5%. Perhaps, in addition to a fiscally confused Washington, it’s your policies that may be now part of the problem rather than the solution. Perhaps the beating heart is pumping anemic, even destructively leukemic blood through the system. Perhaps zero-bound interest rates and quantitative easing programs are becoming as much of the problem as the solution. Perhaps when yields, carry and expected returns on financial and real assets become so low, then risk-taking investors turn inward and more conservative as opposed to outward and more risk seeking. Perhaps financial markets and real economic growth are more at risk than your calm demeanor would convey.
Wounded heart you cannot save … you from yourself. More and more debt cannot cure a debt crisis unless it generates real growth. Your beating heart is now arrhythmic and pumping deoxygenated blood. Investors should look for a pacemaker to follow a less risky, lower returning, but more life sustaining path.
The Wounded Heart Speed Read
1) Financial markets require “carry” to pump oxygen to the real economy.
2) Carry is compressed – yields, spreads and volatility are near or at
3) The Fed’s QE plan assumes higher asset prices will revigorate growth.
4) It doesn’t seem to be working.
5) Reduce risk/carry related assets.