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Swan Song Of The Central Bankers, Part 4: The Folly Of 2.00% Inflation Targeting

Swan Song Of The Central Bankers, Part 4: The Folly Of 2.00% Inflation Targeting

The dirty secret of Keynesian central banking is that under current circumstances its interventions have almost no impact on its famous dual mandate—-stable prices and full employment on main street.

That’s because goods and services inflation is a melded consequence of global central banking. The capital, trade, financial and exchange rate movements which result from the tug-and-haul of worldwide central banking policies generate incessant shape-shifting impacts on the CPI; and the ebb and flow of these forces completely dwarfs FOMC actions in the New York money and bond markets.

In today’s world, there is no such thing as inflation in one country. In that regard, the traditional Fed tool of pegging the funds rate is especially obsolete, impotent and ritualistically mindless. After all, if the 2.00% inflation target is meant as a long haul objective, it was achieved long ago. The CPI index for January 2018 at 249.2 compared to a level of 169.3 back in January 2000, thereby representing exactly a 2.17% compound annual gain over the 18 year period.

So where’s the Eccles Building beef about missing its target from below—even if that wasn’t one of the more ludicrous notions of “failure” ever to arise from the central banking fraternity?

On the other hand, if 2.00% is meant as a short-run target, how much more evidence do we need? Since the Fed shifted to deep pegging at or near the zero bound in December 2008, there has been no inflation rate correlation with the funds rate whatsoever.

In the sections below we will resolve the inflation matter once and for all by demonstrating that the very idea of 2.00% inflation targeting (or any other target) is singularly stupid and destructive.

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

Fed Warns Inflation Has Arrived: Philadelphia, New York Fed Prices Paid Soar

Just in case the economic data appeared to be coming in as too hot in recent days, today’s two key regional Fed manufacturing indicators sent conflicting signals, with the New York Fed survey sliding from 17.70 to 13.1, and missing expectations of 17.50, while the Philadelphia Fed rose from 22.2 to 25.8, beating exp. of a dip to 21.6

The commentary from both regional Feds was optimistic, although NY conceded a slowdown in January:

Business activity continued to expand in New York State, according to firms responding to the February 2018 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index fell five points to 13.1, suggesting a somewhat slower pace of growth than in January.

The New York internals, however, were good, especially when it comes to labor: number of employees rose to 10.9 vs 3.8, while work hours rose to 4.6 vs 0.8. Meanwhile, inventory fell to 4.9 vs 13.8. Unlike current conditions, optimism rose with six-month general business conditions up to 50.5 vs 48.6. A potential bottleneck was noted in future delivery times at a record high in Feb, up from 10.9 to 15.3

The Philly Fed meanwhile was stronger across the board:

Results from the Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest that the region’s manufacturing sector continues to expand in February. The indexes for general activity, new orders, and employment were all positive this month and increased from their readings last month. Price increases for inputs were more widespread this month, according to the respondents. The survey’s future indexes, reflecting expectations for the next six months, suggest continued optimism.

Here, too, the internals were strong:

  • New orders rose to 24.5 vs 10.1
  • Employment rose to 25.2 vs 16.8
  • Unfilled orders rose to 14.5 vs -1.8
  • Shipments fell to 15.5 vs 30.3
  • Delivery time fell to 4.5 vs 6.1

There were some declines:

  • Inventories fell to -0.9 vs 9.4
  • Prices received fell to 23.9 vs 25.1
  • Average workweek fell to 13.7 vs 16.7

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

What’s Behind Global Inflation: China Creates A Record 2.9 Trillion Yuan In New Loans In One Month

According to one monetary theory, in a world in which China is the dominant creator of debt – which it has been since the financial crisis – it is also China that is the marginal creator of the global inflationary impulse. In which case, the latest Chinese new loan data helps explain the recent inflationary burst which judging my the recent market volatility has freaked out US traders, because according to the PBOC, in January China created a record CNY2900 billion in new loans ($458.3 billion), a striking rebound from the CNY2030 billion a year ago, and almost 1 trillion yuan above the CNY2000 expected.

According to Reuters, the credit boom has been fueled “by strong economic growth, a robust property market and a crackdown on riskier shadow lending, which has forced banks to shift some loans back onto their balance sheets.” But mostly it has been forced by an implicit demand on Beijing to keep the global reflationary impulse strong at a time when the Fed is shrinking its balance sheet – a highly deflationary, if only for circulating monetary aggregates, exercise.

A more detailed breakdown of the loan data showed sharp pickups in demand for credit from both households and companies, a harbinger of strong consumption and investment, if both funded on credit. Corporate loans surged to 1.78 trillion yuan from 243.2 billion yuan in December, while household loans rose to 901.6 billion yuan in January from 329.4 billion yuan in December.

Outstanding yuan loans grew 13.2% in January from a year earlier, also faster than an expected 12.5% rise and compared with an increase of 12.7% in December.

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

BIll Blain: “The Unintended Consequences Are Finally Coming Back To Bite Us”

Fundamentals ok, Technicals corrected, so why we should still be nervous on what comes next for markets…

“If the apocalypse comes, tweet me..”

That was an interesting week that was…. but what a hangover we face! What happened to the global bull stock market? Just as the party was looking likely to carry on forever, the music stopped… Reading through market the scribblers this morning, the consensus seems to be it was just a correction, and we should be buying the dips. I’m always a big supporter of buying dips…. I’m not so keen on buying into a more secular decline.

Thing is, it feels there is nothing particular we can put the finger on as responsible for last week’s stock market ructions. Bond yields rose a bit, inflation has gathered a bit of momentum, and economic fundamentals remain generally positive and are expected to improve in line with rising growth estimates. There is little threat of an oil-shock. Folk have pointed out that with so much money likely to be invested in share-buybacks and special dividends by US companies repatriating cash, the stock fundamentals look positive.

Central banks remain hawkish re normalisation and higher interest rates – but modestly so. A world with moderate on-trend inflation, still low interest rates, and solid growth prospects should be positive. A screaming buy signal.

Others say last week’s pain was technically driven – on the back of a massive sudden and shocking unwind of “short-vol” trades. Others say if was due to AI driven algorithmic traders, while the FT carries a story about insurance companies dumping massive amounts of stocks, triggered by rising volatility, linked to “managed volatility” variable annuities.

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

What Just Changed?

What Just Changed?

The illusion that risk can be limited delivered three asset bubbles in less than 20 years.

Has anything actually changed in the past two weeks? The conventional bullish answer is no, nothing’s changed; the global economy is growing virtually everywhere, inflation is near-zero, credit is abundant, commodities will remain cheap for the foreseeable future, assets are not in bubbles, and the global financial system is in a state of sustainable wonderfulness.

As for that spot of bother, the recent 10% decline in stocks: ho-hum, nothing to see here, just a typical “healthy correction” in a never-ending bull market, the result of flawed volatility instruments and too many punters picking up dimes in front of the steamroller.

Now that’s winding up, we can get back to “creating wealth” by buying assets–$2 million homes in Seattle that were $500,000 homes a few years ago, stocks, bonds, private islands, offshore wealth funds, bat guano, you name it. Just borrow whatever you need to borrow to buy more.

(But don’t buy bitcoin. No no no, a thousand times no. It is going to zero, Goldman Sachs guaranteed it.)

Ahem. And then there’s reality: something has changed, something important.What changed? The endlessly compelling notion that risk has magically vanished as the result of financial sorcery is now in doubt. If risk hasn’t been made to disappear, and even worse, can’t be corralled into a shortable instrument like VIX, then–gasp–every asset and instrument might actually be exposed to some risk.

As I’ve noted many times here, risk cannot be made to disappear; it can only be transferred onto others or off-loaded into the financial system itself. Risk can be cloaked or masked, and indeed, that is the beating heart of financial alchemy: we can eliminate risk by hedging via exotic instruments.

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

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?

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

Really Bad Ideas, Part 6: Money That “Rots And Rusts”

Really Bad Ideas, Part 6: Money That “Rots And Rusts”

In the next downturn (which may have started last week, yee-haw), the world’s central banks will face a bit of poetic justice: To keep their previous policy mistakes from blowing up the world in 2008, they cut interest rates to historically – some would say unnaturally — low levels, which doesn’t leave the usual amount of room for further cuts.

Now they’re faced with an even bigger threat but are armed with even fewer effective weapons. What will they do? The responsible choice would be to simply let the overgrown forest of bad paper burn, setting the stage for real (that is, sustainable) growth going forward. But that’s unthinkable for today’s monetary authorities because they’ll be blamed for the short-term pain while getting zero credit for the long-term gain.

So instead they’ll go negative, cutting interest rates from near-zero to less than zero — maybe a lot less. And their justifications will resemble the following, published by The Economist magazine last week.

Why sub-zero interest rates are neither unfair nor unnatural

When borrowers are scarce, it helps if money (like potatoes) rots.DENMARK’S Maritime Museum in Elsinore includes one particularly unappetising exhibit: the world’s oldest ship’s biscuit, from a voyage in 1852. Known as hardtack, such biscuits were prized for their long shelf lives, making them a vital source of sustenance for sailors far from shore. They were also appreciated by a great economist, Irving Fisher, as a useful economic metaphor.

Imagine, Fisher wrote in “The Theory of Interest” in 1930, a group of sailors shipwrecked on a barren island with only their stores of hardtack to sustain them. On what terms would sailors borrow and lend biscuits among themselves? In this forlorn economy, what rate of interest would prevail?

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

Inflation Alert: The Velocity Of Money Has Finally Bottomed

Forget the Trump tax cuts, the Senate budget deal, the Fed’s Quantitative Tightening and the collapse in foreign buying of US Treasuries: after years of dormancy, the biggest catalyst for a sharp inflationary spike has finally emerged, and it is none of the above. Behold: the velocity of money.

Over the past decade we have shown this chart on numerous occasions and usually in the context of failed Fed policy. After all, based on the fundamental MV = PQ equation, it is virtually impossible to generate inflation (P) as long as the velocity of money (V) is declining.

None other than the St. Louis Fed discussed this  in a report back in 2014:

Based on this equation, holding the money velocity constant, if the money supply (M) increases at a faster rate than real economic output (Q), the price level (P) must increase to make up the difference. According to this view, inflation in the U.S. should have been about 31 percent per year between 2008 and 2013, when the money supply grew at an average pace of 33 percent per year and output grew at an average pace just below 2 percent. Why, then, has inflation remained persistently low (below 2 percent) during this period?

The issue has to do with the velocity of money, which has never been constant. If for some reason the money velocity declines rapidly during an expansionary monetary policy period, it can offset the increase in money supply and even lead to deflation instead of inflation.

The regional Fed went on to note that during the first and second quarters of 2014, the velocity of the monetary base was at 4.4, its slowest pace on record. “This means that every dollar in the monetary base was spent only 4.4 times in the economy during the past year, down from 17.2 just prior to the recession.

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

“This Won’t End Well” – Mortgage Rates Spike To 4-Year Highs

Growth? Inflation? Be careful what you wish for, as the surge in Treasury yields has sent mortgage interest rates to their highest in four years, flashing a big red warning light for affordability and home sales in 2018…

The U.S. weekly average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rocketed up 10 basis points to 4.32 percent this week. Following a turbulent Monday, financial markets settled down with the 10-year Treasury yield resuming its upward march. Mortgage rates have followed. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is up 33 basis points since the start of the year.

Will higher rates break housing market momentum?

As the following chart shows, that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses…

Should we Restore the Gold Standard?

Would it make sense to rebuild an international gold standard like the one we had in the late 1800s? Larry White says the idea has merit, David Glasner believes it isn’t worth the risk. Over the years I’ve followed the back-and-forth between these two blogging economists, each of whom has done an admirable job defending their respective side for and against the gold standard. Let’s look at one or two of the most important themes running through the White v Glasner debate.

Like a ruler measures distances, a nation’s monetary standard serves as a measuring stick for the value of goods and services. People need to be able to set sticker prices with the unit, calculate profit and loss, negotiate labour contracts, and establish the terms of long-term debts using it. If the measuring stick is faulty, then all these important tasks becomes unnecessarily difficult.

Gold as Unit of Account

Since 1971 we have been on a fiat money standard in which all currencies float against each other. Central banks try to ensure that, within the confines of their nation, the general level of domestic consumer prices stays constant, or at least rises at a constant rate of around 2-3%. And while the first decade of the fiat standard was a disaster characterized by high and rising inflation, central bankers in developed nations have generally managed to keep inflation on track for the last thirty or so years.

To re-establish a modern gold standard, each nation’s unit of account—say the $ or ¥ or £—would have to be redefined as a certain fixed number of ounces of gold.

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

Misleading with Numbers: It’s Worse When the Government Does It

Misleading with Numbers: It’s Worse When the Government Does It

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Major international comparisons have long concluded that Americans’ ability to effectively utilize mathematics is inadequate. Such conclusions divide students, parents, teachers and administrators into camps that share little more than blaming others for the problems. However, it is unclear whether all the finger-pointing indicates a real desire to overcome our innumeracy. In fact, we systematically misuse numbers to distort reality because we want to fool ourselves, making our ineptitude no surprise.

One of today’s most obvious misleading number games is grade inflation. Teachers have accommodated student desires for higher grades to the point that the median GPA of graduating college seniors has risen around a full grade point since it was about 2.2 in 1965. At some schools, almost everyone now gets As and Bs, and who is valedictorian has become a question of how many “perfect” students will share that title. Students have also pushed to allow A+ grades that count more.

High schools have gone even further. Many make advanced placement or community college courses worth an extra grade point. This has created a competition among students to take as many such GPA-padding courses as possible, especially ones they discover are actually easier than the corresponding high school courses. These and other policies (e.g., statewide comparisons crafted to show that, as in Lake Woebegone, all children are above average) have, however, thrown away much of the useful information such evaluations once contained.

Price inflation is another form of ego-building by manipulating comparison numbers. For most of us, if we want to brag that, say, we make more than our parents did, enough years of inflation can make it so. On the other hand, older Americans use it to “prove” how much better things used to be (e.g., “I remember when bread was a nickel” or “I only paid $22,000 for my house”).

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

What Does it Mean, Saving Rate drops to 12-Year Low when 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings?

What Does it Mean, Saving Rate drops to 12-Year Low when 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings?

Or what the averages are hiding.

We will start with income and see what’s left over, and for whom.

Personal income increased by 4.1% in December from a year earlier, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today. This includes all income received by all persons from all sources, such as from labor, financial assets (dividends and interest income but not capital gains), business activities, homeownership (rentals), government transfers, etc.

“Real” personal income — adjusted for inflation via “chained 2009 dollars” — rose only 2.37%. This is for the US overall.

Per-capita “real” personal income – which accounts for 0.71% population growth in 2017 and measures income per individual – rose only about 1.7%. If the inflation measure even slightly understates actual inflation as experienced by these individuals, their personal income growth might go away entirely.

Next step down…

Disposable personal income – personal income less personal taxes – increased 3.9% year over year in December. This is the income that folks have available for spending or saving. “Real” disposable personal income rose 2.1%. And on a per-capita basis, it rose only 1.4%. So these are not exactly huge increases.

Not everyone is getting this income growth equally.

The economy can be divided up into layers. Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio sees a split between the top 40% of income earners for whom the economy is doing well, and the bottom 60% for whom the economy is a series of setbacks. Or by it could be 30% and 70%. Wherever the split is drawn, the smaller group of top income earners has had it good while the larger group of income earners at the bottom is struggling.

But consumers, no matter what their income levels, are trying to do their best to prop up the economy, upholding an American tradition. And they’re spending more, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today.

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

Visualizing Real Inflation – A Decade Of Grocery Prices For 30 Common Items

Over the span of 2000-2016, the amount of money spent on food by the average American household increased from $5,158 to $7,203, which is a 39.6% increase in spending.

Despite this, as Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes, for most of the U.S. population, food actually makes up a decreasing portion of their household spending mix because of rising incomes over time. Just 13.1% of income was spent on food by the average household in 2016, making it a less important cost than both housing and transportation.

That said, fluctuations in food prices can still make a major impact on the population. For lower income households, food makes up a much higher percentage of incomes at 32.6% – and how individual foods change in price can make a big difference at the dinner table.

Only prices of three items fell: chicken breasts (-6.4%), whole milk (-7.4%), and eggs (-14.9%).

However, the average price increase for all items was 22%, buoyed especially by meats like bacon (58.2%), ground beef (44.6%), top round steak (40.6%), frozen turkey (38.3%) and sirloin steak (35.2%).

THE FUTURE OF FOOD

As we’ve previously noted, technology is being applied to agriculture and food in really interesting ways – and the future of food could be very different than what we see today.

How will the grocery prices of everyday staples be affected by growth in automated vertical farms, aquaponics, in vitro meats, and artificial animal products?

With shifting consumer preferences towards more local and sustainable products, it will be interesting to revisit this data in the coming years.

Can We Stop the Government Borrowing & Just Print Without Inflation?

The conservatives are going nuts about raising the debt ceiling as if this really matters. They claim: “The United States is effectively bankrupt, but that doesn’t matter to the GOP. Once evangelists of fiscal responsibility and scourges of deficit spending, Republicans today glory in spilling red ink. The national debt is now $20.6 trillion, greater than the annual GDP of about $19.5 trillion. Alas, with Republicans at the helm, deficits are set to continue racing upwards, apparently without end.”

What they fail completely to grasp here is until the system is completely revamped and we adopt the way the Roman Empire was funded from 280BC to 68AD, just creating the money to fund the government instead of borrowing it, there is no hope in solving this issue. In a recession, Keynes argued borrowing can be beneficial in creating economic stimulus and shortening the recession. Governments used that statement to then perpetually borrow year after year.

In 1940 a Cadillac sold for $1675. Currently, the low-end Cadillac is $35,000. This is almost 21 times the 1940 price level. The US national debt was $51 billion before the war and it is now $20 trillion. The debt has risen 392% compared to 20.89% for a Cadillac. The minimum wage in 1940 was 30 cents per hour. Today, the minimum wage is $10.10 per hour in 2018, which is a rise of 33.6%. However, if we look at collectibles, the famous 1804 silver dollar sold for $30,000 around 1940. In 1999, one sold for $4.14 million. Here we had an advance of 138%.

Then there was the Peter Paul Rubenswhich just sold for $58 million in 2016. The owners had tried to sell during the Great Depression. Nobody was interested. They then lent to a monastery where it hung in a hallway for 20 years. Other than that exception, nothing has advanced in proportion to the national debt.

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

Are Inflationary Expectations the Heart of Inflation?

For most economic commentators the underlying driving force of inflation is inflationary expectations[1]. For instance, if there is a sharp increase in the price of oil, individuals may form higher inflationary expectations that could set in motion spiraling price inflation, or so it is held.

If somehow expectations could be made less responsive to various price shocks, then over time this would mitigate the effect of a price shock on price inflation, it is argued.

If we were to accept that inflation expectations are the driving force of the inflationary process, is there a way to make these expectations less sensitive to various price shocks?

Most commentators are of the view that by means of suitable central bank policies it is possible to bring peoples inflationary expectations to a state of equilibrium.

At this state it is held expectations are perfectly anchored or not sensitive to changes in various economic data.

According to various economic experts once inflationary expectations become anchored, various price shocks such as sharp increases in oil or food prices are likely to be of a transitory nature.  This means that over time price shocks are unlikely to have much effect on the rate of inflation.

Note that what matters in this way of thinking is the underlying price inflation. It is for this reason that Federal Reserve policy makers and many economists are of the view that to be able to track the underlying inflation one must pay attention to core inflation – percentage changes in the consumer price index less food and energy.

To make inflation expectations well-anchored individuals must be clear about the monetary policy of central bank policy makers. According to this way of thinking as long as individuals are unclear about the precise goal with respect to inflation that policy makers are aiming at it would be difficult to bring inflationary expectations to a state of equilibrium.

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

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