Grant Williams returns this week to set the context for this week's FOMC meeting, where the Federal Reserve is widely expected to hike interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. To say he is very skeptical of the Fed's ability to continue to control market forces much longer is a gross understatement:
None of this has been tried before and, to me, that just demonstrates the dangers. Once you get into a situation like the central banks did in ’08 with this panicking -- everyone calls it the Hotel California -- you can’t get out. And, so incrementally, they have to keep doing something. Instead of stepping back and letting free markets and business cycles and forces of nature have their way and flush out all of the impurities in the system, this is what happens. And, yet, this time, for whatever reason, I think since post-Volker, Greenspan has basically started this ball rolling with this knee-jerk reaction to slash interest rates. And, you can kind of understand it, because everyone was still traumatized by the high inflation of the ‘70s. But, they started and they started down that road.
And, if you look at a chart of interest rates in the U.S., you can see. It’s just, from 1980—I’ve marked two points on all my charts for presentations. One is the end of the gold standard, August 15, ’71, when Nixon closed the gold window. And, the next is peak interest rates in 1980. And, if you look at those two charts and you see what’s happened with interest rates since, they’ve been on a course to hit zero ever since.
But, if you step back from that and you say forget the creeping nature of this and how we’ve gradually got here, try and parachute yourself in and look at the situation, and look at it through clear eyes, you'll say, “Hang on, we have negative nominal interest rates, and we have people queuing up to buy the debt of what are clearly bankrupt governments at negative interest rates.” It would take you no time at all to think, “Well, this is, this is ridiculous. Not only that, but this is the end of the road. It has to end here or near here.”
And, so I think that’s where we are. I think we’ve reached the end of the road. That’s not to say the end of the road is a brick wall. We can be trying to turn the car around for a year, who knows, trying to find another way out of this thing. But, we’re there. I mean, believe it or not, we are there. And, so how this thing plays out, none of us know. But, I suspect that the tactics that are going to be employed are going to get more and more desperate, because they have to keep going now. They’re so far in, they have to keep going, and keeping going means doing more and more extraordinary things.
It’s a relative game. There are people that have to be invested. And, so you can herd them by taking away the chance of investing into one thing, i.e., putting rates at zero so you can’t just put your money in cash or short-term Treasuries. By doing that, you know, psychologically, you’re going to herd them somewhere else, and that’s been into the stock market, it’s been into asset prices, which is fine. But, it’s not a temporary removal of that ability to put stock in cash. You have to keep that away from them, because if you give it back to them, if you give them back that option, it’s going to mean interest rates are at much higher levels, which is going to screw all the debt payments. They are going to run for the hills faster than you can imagine, because none of this stuff is what you would choose to invest in, all things being equal. You wouldn’t invest in the S&P where it is now, after the run it’s had. God knows you wouldn’t invest in government bonds where they are now. You might take a long hard look at asset prices and think, “Well, you know what, actually, I might buy some base commodities here, because they’ve been just completely slaughtered.” But, you certainly wouldn’t be investing in the two things that they need you to invest in, which are government bonds and equities.
So, that’s the real problem. And, the fact that they realize that tells me that we are getting to the end of this road, because that credibility is not something they can maintain forever, particularly when they’ve boxed themselves in with negative interest rates.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Grant Williams (59m:06s)