"There Is No Clear Way Out" - Richard Koo Says "The Price For QE Has Yet To Be Paid"

In his latest note tited "The Calm before The Storm", Nomura's traditionally downcast Richard Koo is not too excited about the market's future prospects, in fact quite the opposite and makes the point that since QE was no game changer, not only is there no clear way out, but "the price for QE has yet to be paid."

What does that mean for risk assets:

Recently, for example, the markets took a tumble when the Fed moved to normalize monetary policy. The US central bank responded by delaying the normalization process, which stabilized the markets, but eventually fears of falling behind the curve on inflation will force it to resume the process. That will lead to renewed market turmoil in a cycle that has the potential to repeat itself endlessly.

 

I expect this balancing act between the monetary authorities, who want to push ahead with policy normalization, and the markets, which violently reject each such attempt, will persist for an extended period of time, interspersed with periodic lulls like the current one.

Some further insight from Nomura's Richard Koo:

For more than half a century after macroeconomics began to develop as an independent academic discipline in the 1940s, the emergence of breakthrough products such as aircraft, automobiles, home appliances, and computers provided companies in the developed world with a host of investment opportunities. Perhaps it should not be surprising that economic theorists at that time were unable to envision a world of no borrowers.

Economists were focused instead on the problem of how to effectively allocate a limited pool of private-sector savings. Government borrowing and spending was seen as something to be avoided since it was a symbol of inefficient resource allocation.

And until Japan caught up with the west in the 1970s, economists’ attention was focused on monetary policy since there was a surplus of domestic private-sector borrowers and no one envisioned capital fleeing the developed world for the EMs. This was the world of Phases 1 and 3, in which there were enough borrowers. Given the historical backdrop, it is perhaps only natural that economists at that time moved in the direction they did.

Macroeconomics did not keep up with changes in global economy

Subsequently, the global economy underwent major changes, with manufacturing shifting to Asia and the developed economies—almost without exception—experiencing asset bubbles that eventually burst, triggering balance sheet recessions. These economies entered Phases 2 or 4 as a result.

The discipline of economics, however, did not keep pace with these changes. Economists continued to build their theories and models based on assumptions that had only been valid in the developed economies of the 1950s and 1960s.

That is the main reason why most economists, whether in academia or the private sector, were completely unable to predict what has happened since 2008. They could not imagine a world where the private sector is actually minimizing debt instead of maximizing profits. Even now, the discipline tends to suffer from the bias that monetary policy is inherently good and fiscal policy inherently bad.

Unconventional monetary policy creates problems when it is wound down

These preconceptions underlie the current policies of inflation targeting, quantitative easing, and negative interest rates. Because central banks have pushed ahead with these policies even though there is no reason why they should work at a time of no borrowers, excess reserves created by the central bank now amount to $2.3trn in the US, or 15 times the level of statutory reserves, and to ¥222trn in Japan, or fully 26 times statutory reserves.

I have used the term “QE trap” to describe the problems that must be confronted when such policies are unwound. They can trigger severe market turmoil that cannot be avoided no matter how extensive the authorities’ dialogue with market participants.

Recently, for example, the markets took a tumble when the Fed moved to normalize monetary policy. The US central bank responded by delaying the normalization process, which stabilized the markets, but eventually fears of falling behind the curve on inflation will force it to resume the process. That will lead to renewed market turmoil in a cycle that has the potential to repeat itself endlessly.

QE was no game changer, and price has yet to be paid

Professor Krugman, who came up with the idea of lowering real interest rates by combining an inflation target with quantitative easing, has finally acknowledged that these measures were no “game changer” capable of sparking an economic recovery. But he still insists they did no real harm. (https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2015/RES111915A.htm)

While that may be the case during a balance sheet recession, when there is no private loan demand, these policies can cause huge problems when they are wound down (witness the market’s recent gyrations). The global economy has now entered a phase characterized by this kind of instability.

Inasmuch as there is no clear way out, I expect this balancing act between the monetary authorities, who want to push ahead with policy normalization, and the markets, which violently reject each such attempt, will persist for an extended period of time, interspersed with periodic lulls like the current one.