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Three Crazy Things We Now Accept as “Normal”

Three Crazy Things We Now Accept as “Normal”

How can central banks “retrain” participants while maintaining their extreme policies of stimulus?

Human habituate very easily to new circumstances, even extreme ones. What we accept as “normal” now may have been considered bizarre, extreme or unstable a few short years ago.

Three economic examples come to mind:

1. Near-zero interest rates. If someone had announced to a room of economists and financial journalists in 2006 that interest rates would be near-zero for the foreseeable future, few would have considered it possible or healthy. Yet now the Federal Reserve and other central banks have kept interest rates/bond yields near-zero for almost nine years.

The Fed has raised rates a mere .75% in three cautious baby-steps, clearly fearful of collapsing the “recovery.”

What would happen if mortgages returned to their previously “normal” level around 7% from the current 4%? What would happen to auto sales if people with average credit had to pay more than 0% or 1% for a auto loan?

Those in charge of setting rates and yields are clearly fearful that “normalized” interest rates would kill the recovery and the stock bubble.

2. Massive money-creation hasn’t generated inflation. In classic economics, massive money-printing (injecting trillions of dollars, yuan, yen and euros into the financial system) would be expected to spark inflation.

As many of us have observed, “official” inflation of less than 2% does not align with “real-world” inflation in big-ticket items such as rent, healthcare and college tuition/fees. A more realistic inflation rate is 7%-8% annually, especially in the higher-cost regions of the US.

But setting that aside, there is a puzzling asymmetry between low official inflation and the unprecedented expansion of money supply, debt and monetary stimulus (credit and liquidity). To date, most of this new money appears to be inflating assets rather than the real world. But can this asymmetry continue for another 9 years?

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