The global bubble that central banks have kept afloat for the past eight years, based on sovereign and government debt, as well as central bank credit, runs right to the heart of the monetary system. That, according to Doug Noland, means we are in for a bigger crash and deeper dislocation when it all comes to an end, and Noland has a good idea which will be the first central bank to crack.
Doug Noland of McAlvany Wealth Management has a long history in the hedge fund industry as a short seller, having worked with Gordon Ringoen and Bill Fleckenstein among others, but is perhaps best known for his ability to spot bubbles ahead of the crowd.
Studying credit data, he was initially concerned about the balance sheet expansion of Freddie and Fannie in the early 90s and started writing about the mortgage finance bubble in 2002. He also called the government finance bubble in April 2009.
In an interview with Real Vision TV, Noland said the current market bubble is a dangerous place to be and there has been a major shift from previous boom bust scenarios, where the impact has been more limited. He also examines how support from central banks has led the markets to ignore the risk - and what happens when that support is taken away.
Deeply Systemic Bubble – Consequences Unknown
“This bubble is deeply systemic,” he said “I thought the bubble burst in '08. I thought we were going into another depression. I wrote as much. Well, in early '09, I had to come out and say-- I started warning about the potential for what I called back in, I think it was April 2009, the global government finance bubble.
“I think we're late, but this is a different type of a bubble because it's global. Very different dynamics. The other thing is it's gone to the heart of money and credit. Right now this bubble is being fed by government debt, sovereign debt, and central bank credit. Back when WorldCom debt and Telecom debt was driving the technology bubble, in my mind that can only go on so long. People will have enough of that junk debt and that will end that cycle.
“The mortgage finance bubble was a little different. That was more money-like. Moneyness of credit is a term I used during that period. People had insatiable demand for GSE credit, insatiable demand for AAA rated mortgage backed securities. That bubble could go much longer, as it did, go longer, have a much deeper impact on economic structure.
“This bubble, again, it's gone to the heart and soul of money and credit. And right now central bankers are basically doing everything to keep it going. So this one, we're what, eight years into it? I think we're really late, but we don't know to what extent central bankers will continue to try to sustain the backdrop.”
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Which Central Bank Domino Will Fall First
Although the markets are ignoring the risk and continuing to move higher, cracks are starting to appear in the global environment, Noland said. As stresses and strains become evident among central banks, the discussion is turning to which will be the first of the dominos to fall, because the greater concern is that once faith goes in one central bank, the ripple effect will be fast and fatal.
“There’s a lot of complacency here in this country because the Fed postponed its QE, and the bull market just continued and everything looked fine,” Noland said. “Well part of the reason they were able to do that is because of the massive QE globally and the flow of finance into the US from QE abroad.
“But right now, it seems like the Bank of Japan is in the crosshairs. They've tried to devalue their currency, that didn't work. Their latest spin is to try to manipulate their yield curve, and that certainly hasn't worked so far. So I think the Bank of Japan is in the forefront of a credibility crisis. I think in Europe, the ECB is only one step behind. Their QE has certainly destabilized finance throughout Europe and is playing a major role in the European bank issues right now.
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Danger, Desperation and a $10 Trillion Balance Sheet
All the policy measures in play now are reactive, with helicopter money and fiscal stimulus the latest ideas on the table and we’re now hearing the Fed wants the ability to buy equities. With the Fed looking at a balance sheet of around $10 trillion, Nolan said things are starting to look desperate.
“I've often contemplated the size of the Fed's balance sheet, and I don't think $10 trillion is ridiculous,” he said. “I said that before and it sounded outrageous. I think the next crisis, the next serious de-risk and de-leveraging, the Fed's balance sheet is going to probably have to double again. Larry Summers was out also saying there's a role for buying-- continuous buying of stocks and corporate debt by central bankers. Yeah. They're desperate. It's a global bubble. And the markets believe they'll do anything to keep it going, and that's just a very dangerous place to be.“
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Markets Believe Central Banks Will Save Them but Cracks Mean Caution
Markets are convinced that central bankers will not allow an institution like Deutsche Bank to fail, Noland said, but indications of stress can be seen in the currency swaps market. “You don't hardly even see it in Deutsche Bank senior CDS because the perception is there's no way they're going to allow this,” he said. “Their CoCo bonds and some of the more mezzanine debt, yeah, that's under pressure. But in the market there is confidence that they will not allow a crisis with that institution.”
“To me there are enough cracks out there, there are enough cracks to be extremely cautious. For me, I would not be exposed to global securities markets, I would not be. We're in the environment now where to survive, people have had to ignore risk. And they're ignoring it today as much as ever. I don't want to be in that situation because the risks are so high. I don't want to be in the market when everyone else comes to realize, recognize that there are risks.”
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The Short Opportunity of a Lifetime
For now, Noland is in the process of putting together a new venture with David McAlvany, which he said is exciting and because he thinks “this is the opportunity of a lifetime on the short side. But I'm happy to be watching from the sidelines right now,” he said, with some ferocious tops in chaotic markets.
“I think it's time to be risk averse. I'm a big fan of the precious metals, I think they're investable. To me, marketable securities, they're not investable to me because I don't know what the risk is. And I know the market wants to ignore the risk. What do we do if central bankers back away? What is the risk profile for economies, for the financial markets?
“I was very concerned back in 2007. I was very concerned with the consequences of this bubble imploding. I'm much more worried today. In 2007, I wasn't worried about the world. I wasn't worried about geopolitical. And I never want to be part of the lunatic fringe, but if people aren't concerned about geopolitics right now, they're not paying attention.
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A Destructive Bubble Squandering Wealth
When this particular episode ends and people really understand how much money has been spent propping up a broken system, the divisions in society and mistrust of governments evident in the past year could move to more extreme levels.
“For me, bubbles are always about a redistribution and a destruction of wealth. During the bubble, there is perceived wealth that keeps the system inflating. People believe there's all this wealth and securities and asset prices, etc. And they find out when the bubble bursts that a lot of that wealth was actually squandered. The problem with this global government finance bubble-- we'll call it that-- is this is a redistribution of wealth globally.
“And this is not going to sit well. Right now, global central bankers are all working together to try to keep the global financial system liquid, levitated. Politicians generally are cooperating, but you can see society starting to fray here. This is not working right. This is archaic, but this is the consequence of unsound money. History tells us this, right? Society here in the US, people don't trust their institutions, they don't trust their politicians, they don't trust Wall Street, they don't trust the banks. That's not a good place to be.”
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