2017 was phenomenal in so many ways. The year will be remembered for a tumultuous first year of the Trump Presidency, the passage of major tax legislation and seemingly endless stock market records. It was a year of synchronized global growth and stock bull markets, along with record low market volatility. It was the year of parabolic moves in bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. “Blockchain the Future of Money.”
Yet none of the above is worthy of Story of the Year. For that, I turn to this era’s Masters of the Universe: global central bankers. 2017 was a fateful year of central bank failure to tighten financial conditions in the face of bubbling markets and economies. Fed funds ended the year below 1.5%, in what must be history’s most dovish “tightening” cycle. The Draghi ECB stuck to its massive open-ended QE program, though reluctantly reducing the scope of monthly purchases. In Japan, the Kuroda BOJ held the “money” spigot wide open despite surging asset markets and a 2.7% unemployment rate. As for China, the People’s Bank of China was an active accomplice in history’s greatest Credit expansion.
Loose global financial conditions fed and were fed by record Chinese Credit growth. After almost bursting in early 2016, the further energized Chinese Bubble attained overdrive “terminal” status in 2017. Importantly, another year passed with Beijing unwilling to forcefully rein in rampant excess. The situation becomes only more perilous, with global markets increasingly confident that Chinese officials dare not risk bursting the Bubble. Powerful Chinese and global Bubbles were instrumental in stoking Bubble excess throughout the EM “periphery.” In the face of mounting fragilities, “money” inundated the emerging markets. What is celebrated in 2017 will later be recognized as dysfunctional.
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