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The Irresponsible ECB

Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images

The Irresponsible ECB

Ultra-loose monetary policy stopped being appropriate long ago, and is especially inadvisable now, with the global economy – especially the developed world – experiencing an increasingly strong recovery. As recent stock-market turbulence shows, refusal to normalize policy faster is drastically increasing the risks to financial stability.

FRANKFURT – The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s recent “flash crash,” in which it plunged by nearly 1,600 points, revealed just how addicted to expansionary monetary policy financial markets and economic actors have become. Prolonged low interest rates and quantitative easing have created incentives for investors to take inadequately priced risks. The longer those policies are maintained, the bigger the threat to global financial stability.

The fact is that ultra-loose monetary policy stopped being appropriate long ago. The global economy – especially the developed world – has been experiencing an increasingly strong recovery. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest update of its World Economic Outlook, economic growth will continue in the next few quarters, especially in the United States and the eurozone.

Yet international institutions, including the IMF, fear the sudden market corrections that naturally arise from changes in inflation or interest-rate expectations, and continue to argue that monetary policy must be tightened very slowly. So central banks continue to postpone monetary-policy normalization, with the result that asset prices rise, producing dramatic market distortions that make those very corrections inevitable.

To be sure, the US Federal Reserve has moved away from monetary expansion since late 2013, when it began progressively reducing and ultimately halting bond purchases and shrinking its balance sheet. Since the end of 2015, the benchmark federal funds rate has been raised to 1.5%.

But the Fed’s policy is still far from normal. Considering the advanced stage of the economic cycle, forecasts for nominal growth of more than 4%, and low unemployment – not to mention the risk of overheating – the Fed is behind the curve.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Latvia Bank Crisis: Central Bank In Chaos As ECB Blocks Payments By Third Largest Bank

One day after we reported that the central bank governor and ECB Governing Council member Ilmars Rimsevics was detained by Latvia’s anti-corruption authority on Saturday on suspicion of accepting a bribe of more than €100,000, prompting both Latvia’s Prime Minister and the president to call on Rimsevics to resign, Latvia appears to have a full-blown banking crisis on its hands, after the European Central Bank froze all payments by Latvia’s third largest bank, ABLV, following U.S. accusations the bank laundered billions in illicit funds, including for companies connected to North Korea’s banned ballistic-missile program.

Latvia’s Central Bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics

The troubles started on February 14, when Latvia began investigating  ABLV over suspicions of illegal trading related to North Korea’s weapons system. The investigation was launched after the Treasury Department charged the bank with having “institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices,” which proposed preventing the bank from opening an account in the U.S.

That decision immediately made ABLV a pariah to other financial institutions, effectively cutting its access to the dollar and funding flows from the world’s most important market, and forcing it to rely exclusively on the ECB as it sole-source of funds.

As the WSJ reported, in proposing the ban on ABLV, Treasury said the bank managed transactions for clients connected to several long-sanctioned North Korean firms.

These include North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, the institution that manages Pyongyang’s foreign-currency earnings, revenue that U.S. and United Nations officials say go directly to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

According to the Treasury, ABLV’s alleged illegal activity also included funneling billions of dollars in public corruption proceeds from Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine through shell company accounts.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Central Banks Will Let The Next Crash Happen

Central Banks Will Let The Next Crash Happen

If you have been following the public commentary from central banks around the world the past few months, you know that there has been a considerable change in tone compared to the last several years.

For example, officials at the European Central Bank are hinting at a taper of stimulus measures by September of this year and some EU economists are expecting a rate hike by December. The Bank of England has already started its own rate hike program and has warned of more hikes to come in the near term. The Bank of Canada is continuing with interest rate hikes and signaled more to come over the course of this year. The Bank of Japan has been cutting bond purchases, launching rumors that governor Haruhiko Kuroda will oversee the long overdue taper of Japan’s seemingly endless stimulus measures, which have now amounted to an official balance sheet of around $5 trillion.

This global trend of “fiscal tightening” is yet another piece of evidence indicating that central banks are NOT governed independently from one another, but that they act in concert with each other based on the same marching orders. That said, none of the trend reversals in other central banks compares to the vast shift in policy direction shown by the Federal Reserve.

First came the taper of QE, which almost no one thought would happen. Then came the interest rate hikes, which most analysts both mainstream and alternative said were impossible, and now the Fed is also unwinding its balance sheet of around $4 trillion, and it is unwinding faster than anyone expected.

Now, mainstream economists will say a number of things on this issue — they will point out that many investors simply do not believe the Fed will follow through with this tightening program.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Conflict between Fiscal & Monetary Policy

We are moving into a crisis of monumental proportions. There has been a serious fundamental problem infecting economic policy on a global scale. This conflict has been between monetary and fiscal policy. While central banks engaged in Quantitative Easing, governments have done nothing but reap the benefits of low-interest rates. This is the problem we have with career politicians who people vote for because they are a woman, black, or smile nicely. There is never any emphasis upon qualification. Every other job in life you must be qualified to get it. Would you put someone in charge of a hospital with life and death decisions because they smile nicely?

Economic growth has been declining year-over-year and we are in the middle of a situation involving low-productivity expansion with high and rapidly rising budget deficits that benefit nobody but government employees.  Once upon a time, 8% growth was average, then 6%, and 4% before 2015.75. Now 3% is considered to be fantastic. Private debt at least must be backed by something whereas escalating public debt is completely unsecured. The ECB wanted to increase the criteria for bad loans, yet if those same criteria were applied to government, nobody would lend them a dime.

Monetary policy, after too long a phase of low-interest rates and quantitative easing, has created governments addicted to low-interest rates. They have expanded their spending and deficits for the central banks were simply keeping the government on life-support – not actually stimulating the private sector. Governments have pursued higher taxes and more efficient tax collection. They have attacked the global economy assuming anyone doing business offshore was just an excuse to hide taxes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Don’t Expect A Central Bank Bailout This Time, ECB’s Nowotny Warns

To all those hoping for a sign or signal from central bankers that the recent correction in US stocks was necessary and sufficient for intervention, here are some disappointing examples of what they have said recently:

“If stock prices or asset prices more generally were to fall, what would that mean for the economy as a whole?” asked outgoing Fed Chair Yellen during her exit interview, selling the all-time highs. “The financial system is much better capitalized. The banking system is more resilient,” the former US central banker added, listing her accomplishments. “I think our overall judgment is that, if there were to be a decline in asset valuations, it would not damage unduly the core of our financial system.”

That was that moment when the “Yellen Put” instantly vanished, and stocks – predictably – plunged, while the industry’s most obviously ill-conceived financial innovations – inverse VIX ETFs – collapsed to essentially zero in the space of thirty minutes on the first day of new Fed chair’s Jay Powell tenure.

* * *

“I think it’s basically a market event, and these things can be healthy,” stated Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan, diagnosing Monday’s -4.1% S&P 500 epileptic fit. “I don’t think it will have economic implications. 2018 will be a strong year in America. We’re at or near full employment. I continue to expect three rate hikes this year,” explained the former Goldman banker.

* * *

This is the most predicted selloff of all time because the markets have been up so much and they have had so many days in a row without meaningful down days,” said Philly Fed president Bullard. “Something that has gone up 40% like the S&P tech sector would at some point have a selloff.” he added philosophically.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB “In Touch With Market Participants” Over Market Crash; White House “Concerned”

In a double whammy of panic about the fate of the artificial “wealth effect” created thanks to $20 trillion in central bank liquidity, officials at both the White House and Europe’s largest hedge fund expressed concerns about the market rout that saw the Dow suffer its biggest point drop in history.

According to Bloomberg, ECB staff “have been in contact with market participants over the current selloff in stocks to gauge if there is any risk to financial stability.”

As Bloomberg adds, the latest communications are part of the ECB’s regular interactions with financial institutions and the central bank isn’t yet overly concerned by the global equity rout. The underlying assumption is that “it’s simply a correction because valuations may have become overstretched.”

Of course, if the VIX explosion continues, the ECB will be far more worried.

As a result, staff are “watching for signs the downturn might enter a self-reinforcing spiral or spread from equities to bonds.”

One worry is that the selloff was triggered by strong U.S. economic data that led to expectations of faster interest-rate increases, a symptom that financial markets are still  relying on monetary support, one of the people said.

Meanwhile, across the Atlatnic, White House Spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said on Fox that “obviously we’re concerned about setbacks that happened in the stock market” however, she was quick to hedge that “with that being said, we’re looking at the long term strong economic fundamentals.”

Seeking to distance the White House from Trump’s relentless boasting about every uptick and sudden silence now that stocks have crashed, she instead decided to sound like your typical, worthless sellside analyst, and said that people should focus on “improving fundamentals” instead:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s Looking A Lot Like 2008 Now…

It’s Looking A Lot Like 2008 Now…

Did today’s market plunge mark the start of the next crash?

Economic and market conditions are eerily like they were in late 2007/early 2008.

Remember back then? Everything was going great.

Home prices were soaring. Jobs were plentiful.

The great cultural marketing machine was busy proclaiming that a new era of permanent prosperity had dawned, thanks to the steady leadership of Alan Greenspan and later Ben Bernanke.

And only a small cadre of cranks, like me, was singing a different tune; warning instead that a painful reckoning in our financial system was approaching fast.

It’s fitting that I’m writing this on Groundhog Day, as to these veteran eyes, it sure has been looking a lot like late 2007/early 2008 lately…

The Fed’s ‘Reign Of Error’

Of course, the Great Financial Crisis arrived in late 2008, proving that the public’s faith in central bankers had been badly misplaced.

In reality, all Ben Bernanke did was to drop interest rates to 1%. This provided an unprecedented incentive for investors and institutions to borrow, igniting a massive housing bubble as well as outsized equity and bond gains.

It’s worth taking a moment to understand the mechanism the Federal Reserve used back then to lower interest rates (it’s different today). It did so by flooding the banking system with enough “liquidity” (i.e. electronically printed digital currency units) until all the banks felt comfortable lending or borrowing from each other at an average rate of 1%.

The knock-on effect of flooding the US banking system (and, really, the entire world) in this way created an echo bubble to replace the one created earlier during Alan Greenspan’s tenure (known as the Dot-Com Bubble, though ‘Sweep Account’ Bubble is more accurate in my opinion):

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Forced to postpone New Stricter Credit Rules Indefinitely

The ECB’s was forced to suspend its new stricter credit rules indefinitely concerning bad loans. The banks were screaming “you idiot”  for it would have pushed way too many banks over the edge, particularly in Italy. With the Italian elections coming in March, the new rules would have been a major issue why Italy should also exit the EU.

The ECB originally sought to introduce new rules for dealing with new bad loans previously.  As of January, banks were expected to cover all loans, which are now classified as default risk. There was no possible way that could be accomplished.

In Italy, their domestic banks would be oppressed and that fewer new loans would ever be issued. This was finally seen as a major negative consequence for the economy. Only with an extreme rebellion by the banks was the ECB forced to back off.

This illustrates the banking crisis that is still brewing in Europe even after nearly 10 years of quantitative easing. There is little prospect for this crisis to be fixed. All that can happen is to postpone the inevitable.

Our Outlook For 2018 Interest Rates to Stay Low. The Consensus View is That Europe’s Banks Are Recovering But We Are Not So Sure.

The Interest Rate Outlook

Despite their shortcomings, European banks do not seem on the verge of collapse and few commentators, analysts or policymakers think that there will be any systemic wobbles in 2018. We do not necessarily disagree; with ECB interest rates still zero to negative and a raft of generous credit facilities open to banks on softish terms there is little doubt that monetary policy has helped and will continue to help Europe’s banks. We would venture to say that supporting the banking system has been the main objective of ECB monetary policy for a decade now. Keeping rates at around zero not only ensures that mark-to-market profits are maximised, but also enables banks whose depositors might have lost confidence and withdrawn funds to fill the gap by borrowing from central banks at no cost.

The opposite view is that banks are struggling to make money in this low interest rate environment and that profits will rise when rates increase. There are three difficulties with this counter. Firstly, the market for high quality lending business remains very competitive, not least because low rates have helped many banks stay in business that might otherwise have folded. Secondly a raft of fintech businesses have emerged seeking to pick off this ‘low hanging fruit’. Fintech businesses of course have low overheads. Many are targeting the SME market. Larger corporations with internal treasury functions have always been able to borrow at skinny margins. In the retail market the European Union’s new Payment Services Directive will make it easier for third parties, with the customer’s permission, to access secure information and initiate customer payments. This is expected to put pressure on large banks’ pricing power, pushing them closer to market average pricing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Spawned Mass Culture of Financial Dependency that’s Now Very Hard to Undo

ECB Spawned Mass Culture of Financial Dependency that’s Now Very Hard to Undo

Right at the front of the monetary welfare queue is the government of Italy.

As the Eurozone economy continues to grow, pressure is rising on Europe’s biggest bond buyer, the ECB, to withdraw from the market, a process it has already begun. No one believes that more than the head of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, who recently told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that the ECB should soon set a date to end its multi-trillion euro asset-buying program.

”The prospects for the evolution of prices correspond to a return of inflation to a level sufficient to maintain the stability of prices,” he said. “For this reason, in my opinion, it would be justifiable to put a clear end to the buying of bonds by establishing a concrete date (for ending the program).”

Weidmann, who is hotly tipped to replace Draghi in 2019, has been one of the most vocal critics of the ECB’s QE program.

“Central banks have become the largest creditors of nation states,” Weidmann noted. “With our program of bond purchases, the financing conditions of Member States depend much more directly on monetary policy than in normal times. This could lead to political pressure on the ECB board to maintain lax monetary policy for longer than would in fact be justified from the perspective of price stability.”

Though it has lowered its asset purchases to €30 billion a month, the ECB has pledged to keep buying until at least September. But with the Eurozone economy growing faster than it has since the crisis and inflation comfortably above 1%, the ECB is widely expected to wind down the program thereafter. “If the economy continues to do so well, we could let the program run out in 2018,” ECB rate-setter Ewald Nowotny told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Municipal Debt Crisis Begins

I have previously reported that about 50% of German municipalities are insolvent. This is a global trend and we are witnessing it in the United States as well. The North Rhine-Westphalian Association of Cities has called for help from the future German federal government as the building crisis among financially weak municipalities continue to escalate. This includes the fourth largest by area in Germany with the capital situated in Düsseldorf. The main cities include Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, and Essen. They are pleading for a grand coalition between the CDU and SPD to save the municipal governments. With the end of the historic low-interest phase, interest rates are poised to rise dramatically in Europe and they begin to see that the appetite for new debt from the government is sharply declining.

Politicians have been hiding this municipal crisis in Germany until after the elections when it was assumed Merkel would win as always. Now the cat is coming out of the bag and we will begin to see the real impact of nearly 10-years of subsidizing governments by the ECB rather than actually stimulating the economy that never bounced. This is a fundamental background issue behind the rise in interest rates between 2018 and 2021.

Transparent citizens, negative interest rates and other crazy ideas of economic experts

Transparent citizens, negative interest rates and other crazy ideas of economic experts

In a March paper, Alexei Kireyev of the International Monetary Fund advises abolishing cash without having the citizens aware of the process. First, large banknotes are to be withdrawn from circulation, next limits on cash transactions are to be imposed, then computerization of the world’s financial system and control of international cash transactions are to be enforced and, finally, private companies are to be encouraged to avoid cash transactions The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing.

Kireyev draws on the ideas of former IMF chief Kenneth Rogoff. In his 2016 book “The Curse of Money”, he advocated the abolition of cash. In his opinion, it would contribute to the fight against crime, tax evasion and the reduction of the grey area. The ECB obliged him and promised not to print the 500 euro note after 2018. The government of India did the same thing: on November 9,2016, it unexpectedly devaluated all 500 and 1000 rupee banknotes over the night – a severe blow against the black economy and corruption. The next day, chaos reigned on India’s streets – crowds of people in front of banks, empty ATMs – everyone wanted to withdraw his money, exchange the old rupees for new, valid ones, and there were even casualties.1)

The other governments eagerly followed this ideas of great economic gurus, not worrying about what was happening in the Indian streets: Australia wants to withdraw its 100 notes from circulation,2)and Venezuela has already abolished the 100 bolivar note. France, Italy, Spain and Greece already have ceilings for cash withdrawals, and a ceiling of EUR €5000 is currently being discussed in Germany. In some countries, the renunciation of cash is becoming a means of political struggle. In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki introduced cashless payments to the state postal service. Soon it will also be possible to pay his tickets directly on the patrol car.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Stressful Year Ahead for Spanish Banks

Stressful Year Ahead for Spanish Banks

The “spillover effects.” 

Just how much more stress Europe’s banking system can bear will be one of the big questions of 2018. This year was already a pretty stressful year, what with two major Italian banks being put out of their misery while, another, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, was brought back from the dead. In Spain, 300,000 shareholders and subordinate bondholders mourned the passing of the country’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, which was acquired by Santander for the measly price of one euro.

Now, a whole new problem awaits. A report published by Spain’s second largest lender, BBVA, has warned about the potential impact on the sector’s profitability of new rules on provisions due to come into effect in early 2018.

Until now, banks only had to report losses when loans began deteriorating — i.e. when the defaults began. But the introduction in January of a new accounting rule, known as IFRS 9, will force banks in Europe to provision for souring loans much sooner than at present. One direct result will be that banks will have to hold more capital on their books, and that will have a detrimental impact on their profits.

If next year’s stress test by the ECB sets the same macroeconomic conditions and parameters as those used in 2014, banks holding just over one-fifth of the market share in Spain — measured in risk-weighted assets — would have to undertake provisions exceeding 200 basis points, the BBVA report predicts. That would leave some entities with a solvency rating lower than 9% — i.e., on the brink or even below the minimal level required by European regulation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Doug Noland: There Will Be No Way Out When This Market Bubble Bursts

Doug Noland: There Will Be No Way Out When This Market Bubble Bursts

Financial assets will become toxic to hold

This week Doug Noland joins the podcast to discuss what he refers to as the “granddaddy of all bubbles”.

Noland, a 30-year market analyst and specialist in credit cycles, currently works at McAlvany Wealth Management and is well known for his prior 16-year stint helping manage the Prudent Bear Fund.

He certainly shares our views that prices in nearly every financial asset class have become remarkably distorted due to central bank intervention, first with Greenspan’s actions to backstop the markets in the late-1980’s, and more recently (and more egregiously) with the combined central banking cartel’s massive and sustained liquidity injections in the years following the Great Financial Crisis.

All of which has blown the biggest inter-connected set of asset price bubbles the world has ever seen.

Noland foresees tremendous losses as inevitable, as the central banks lose control of the monstrosity they have created:

This is the granddaddy of all bubbles. We are at the end a long cycle where the bubble has reached the heart of money and credit.

There will be no way out. We’re not going to get enough private credit growth to reflate things when this bubble bursts. It’s going to have to come from central bank credit; it’s going to have to come from sovereign debt.

When this bubble bursts, it will shock people how far the central banks will have to expand their balance sheet just to accommodate the deleveraging in the system. And they won’t really be able to add new liquidity to the market; they’re just going to allow the transfer of leveraged positions from the leveraged players onto the central bank balance sheets.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s More Than Just the Absences of Acceleration, It’s the Synchronization Where There Should Be None

According to the latest ECB figures, as of yesterday total “liquidity” added to the European banking system for that central bank’s ongoing monetary “stimulus” was just shy of €2 trillion. The outstanding balance in the core current account (reserves) held on behalf of the banking system was €1.296 trillion. In the deposit account, banks are holding €686 billion at -40 bps in “yield.”

To create all these euro-denominated numbers, the European Central Bank through its constituent National Central Banks (NCB) has purchased €2.21 trillion through its three main active LSAP’s (Large Scale Asset Purchases): the PSPP, or QE, which buys up sovereign bonds and is the reason for running them through the NCB’s (out of original concern exactly who would bear any default risk); the CBPP3, or the third time the ECB has bought covered bonds from banks; and the Corporate Sector Purchase Program which is self-explanatory.

The numbers given above don’t appear to balance because of the way all this stuff is accounted for. The NCB transactions of QE and other material operations actually subtract from the ECB’s asset side because it isn’t doing them, becoming instead -€1.21trillion in so far accumulated autonomous factors. On the other side, the liability side of the simple balance sheet, there are outstanding €769 billion in normal liquidity operations (OMO) at the MRO.

The net of all these hundreds of billions and trillions is actually unclear. I don’t mean that in an accounting sense, for all the euros are there in the various statements. Rather, what these massive transactions have produced where it counts is truly negligible.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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