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Who Knows the Right Interest Rate

WHO KNOWS THE RIGHT INTEREST RATE

On January 6, we wrote the Surest Way to Overthrow Capitalism. We said:

“In a future article, we will expand on why these two statements are true principles: (1) there is no way a central planner could set the right rate, even if he knew and (2) only a free market can know the right rate.”

Today’s article is part one of that promised article.

Let’s consider how to know the right rate, first. It should not be controversial to say that if the government sets a price cap, say on a loaf of bread, that this harms bakers. So the bakers will seek every possible way out of it. First, they may try shrinking the loaf. But, gotcha! The government regulator anticipated that, and there is a heap of rules dictating the minimum size of a loaf, weight, length, width, depth, density, etc. Next, the bakery industry changes the name. They don’t sell loaves of bread any more, they call them bread cakes. And so on.

There is always a little arms race going on, wherever there are government controls. One recent example is Uber. This company actually illustrates two different workarounds. One, is labor law. Labor law sets not only a minimum price for labor, but also adds many other restrictions that make companies less flexible, and therefore less able to deliver what customers want. So Uber drivers are not employees. Oh no, they are independent contractors.

Two, is taxi regulation. Uber is not a taxi. It is a ride-sharing service. Under regulation, definitions determine the difference between life and death. So everyone is forced to play a game of hair-splitting.

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

Doug Noland: Central Banks Are “Hostages Of Market Bubbles”

Doug Noland: Central Banks Are “Hostages Of Market Bubbles”

Doug Noland’s weekly Credit Bubble Bulletin is always required reading. The latest – befitting the amazing things that have happened lately – is more necessary than usual. But at 10,000 words it’s also a lot longer than usual. So while everyone should definitely read the whole thing, here are some excerpts to get you started:

I wonder if the Fed is comfortable seeing the markets dash skyward – the small caps up 16.4% y-t-d, the Banks 15.9%, the Transports 15.2%, Biotechs 18.5% and Semiconductors 17.0%. Or, perhaps, they’re quickly coming to recognize that they are now fully held hostage by market Bubbles.

Similarly, I ponder how Beijing feels about January’s booming Credit data – Aggregate Financing up $685 billion in the month of January. Do officials appreciate that they are completely held captive by history’s greatest Credit Bubble? 

Bubbles have become a fundamental geopolitical device – a stratagem. Things have regressed to a veritable global Financial Arms Race. As China/U.S. trade negotiations seemingly head down the homestretch, each side must believe that rallying domestic markets beget negotiating power. Meanwhile, emboldened global markets behave as if they have attained power surpassing mighty militaries and even nuclear arsenals.

China’s banks made the most new loans on record in January – totaling 3.23 trillion yuan ($477bn) – as policymakers try to jumpstart sluggish investment and prevent a sharper slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

January’s record China new bank loans were 11.4% higher than the previous record from January 2018 – and 15% above estimates. Total Bank Loans expanded 13.4% over the past year; 28% in two years; 45% in three years; 91% in five years; and an incredible 323% over the past decade.

“The San Francisco Fed put out a white paper about the benefits of negative interest rates. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but we can only cut rates about 225/250 bps to be at zero” — Kyle Bass, Hayman Capital Management.

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

Here Comes The Shanghai Accord 2.0: China Unleashes Gargantuan Credit Injection To Start 2019

Here Comes The Shanghai Accord 2.0: China Unleashes Gargantuan Credit Injection To Start 2019

One month ago, we pointed out a curious shift in the official language out of China’s central bank: in late December, when traders were generally away on vacation, the PBOC indicated a critical shift in the official monetary policy description at the December Central Economic Work Conference, from “prudent and neutral” to “prudent with appropriate looseness and tightness”.  

What caught our attention is that the new description was surprisingly similar to what was adopted in 2015, just as monetary policy eased significantly and ahead of the famous “Shanghai Accord” of January 2016 when, as the world was careening to a bear market, a coordinated response from G-7 leaders and China sparked a massive rally in stocks as China unleashed another massive credit injection burst which impacted the global economy for the next year. As Goldman said at the time, “such official policy language, while subtle, can carry important information about the monetary policy stance.”

Which is why in January we said that “while traders were focusing on the latest words out of Fed Chair Powell, is the real “risk-on” catalyst the hint out of China that a new “Shanghai Accord” may be imminent” and added that “the answer is most likely yes, especially if the upcoming US-China trade talks fail to yield a favorable outcome, as the alternative would be even more pain for China’s economy.”

One month later we got the answer when China overnight reported its latest credit aggregate data, and it was a doozy.

While the market’s attention may have been focused on that “other” news reported by China overnight, namely yet another disappointing month of CPI and PPI, as China’s CPI inflation eased further to 1.7% Y/Y in January from 1.9% in December, while PPI inflation moderated further to just barely above deflation territory, printing at 0.1% yoy in January, the lowest since October 2016…

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

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

In his various writings, the champion of the monetarist school, Milton Friedman, argued that there is a variable time lag between changes in money supply and its effect on real output and prices. Friedman holds that in the short run changes in money supply will be followed by changes in real output.

However, in the long-run changes in money will only have an effect on prices. All this means that changes in money with respect to real economic activity tend to be neutral in the long-run and non-neutral in the short-run. Thus according to Friedman,

In the short-run, which may be as much as five or ten years, monetary changes affect primarily output. Over decades, on the other hand, the rate of monetary growth affects primarily prices.1

According to Friedman because of the difference in the time lag, the effect of the change in money supply shows up first in output and hardly at all in prices. It is only after a longer time lag that changes in money start to have an effect on prices. This is the reason according to Friedman why in the short-run money can grow the economy, while in the long run it has no effect on the real output.

According to Friedman, the main reason for the non-neutrality of money in the short-run is the variability in the time lag between money and the economy.

Consequently, he believes that if the central bank were to follow a constant money growth rate rule this would eliminate fluctuations caused by variable changes in the money supply growth rate. The constant money growth rate rule could also make money neutral in the short-run and the only effect that money would have is on general prices in the long run.

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

RBI Bows To Political Pressure With Unexpected Rate Cut

RBI Bows To Political Pressure With Unexpected Rate Cut

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell isn’t the only leader of a major central bank to capitulate to political (and market) pressure so far this year. On Thursday, RBI Gov. Shaktikanta Das during his first meeting at the helm of the bank led a 4-2 vote to cut rates after raising them twice last year.

RBI

Shaktikanta Das

Das was widely seen bowing to pressures from Prime Minister Nahrendra Modi, who is desperately trying to boost economic growth ahead of a re-election fight later this year. As one analyst at Mizuho Bank pointed out, the move risks reviving inflationary pressures in India after they had largely eased last year. Das was hastily appointed to lead the central bank in December after his predecessor quit following a very public battle over the RBI’s autonomy.

“If caught wrong-footed by higher oil, twin deficit worries and global risk aversion, the rupee may have to pay the price for monetary complacency, whether perceived or real,” says Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank Perceptions matter for India’s monetary policy, which is trying to target inflation expectations USD/INR may rise above 72.5 over the next 3-4 months; Mizuho’s view was for a prolonged hold in policy

The RBI cut its repurchase rate 25 basis points to 6.25%, a move that only 11 of 43 economists polled by Bloomberg had anticipated. The rest had expected no change.

Screen

The board also voted unanimously to switch the central bank’s policy stance to neutral from “calibrated tightening.”

Unsurprisingly, the Indian government cheered the cut, with Finance Minister Piyush Goyal tweeting that it would “give a boost to the economy, lead to affordable credit for small businesses, home buyers etc. and further boost employment opportunities,” said Indian Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in a post on Twitter.

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

he Coming Global Financial Crisis: Debt Exhaustion

The Coming Global Financial Crisis: Debt Exhaustion

The global economy is way past the point of maximum debt saturation, and so the next stop is debt exhaustion.Just as generals fight the last war, central banks always fight the last financial crisis. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008-09 was primarily one of liquidity as markets froze up as a result of the collapse of the highly leveraged subprime mortgage sector that had commoditized fraud (hat tip to Manoj S.) via liar loans and designed-to-implode mortgage backed securities.

The central bank “solution” to institutionalized, commoditized fraud was to lower interest rates to zero and enable tens of trillions in new debt. As a result, total debt in the U.S. has soared to $70 trillion, roughly 3.5 times GDP, and global debt has skyrocketed from $84 trillion to $250 trillion. Debt in China has blasted from $7 trillion 2008 to $40 trillion in 2018.

A funny thing happens when you depend on borrowing from the future (debt) to fund growth today: the new debt no longer boosts growth, as the returns on additional debt are increasingly marginal. This leads to what I term debt exhaustion: lenders can no longer find creditworthy borrowers, borrowers either don’t want more debt or can’t afford more debt, and the cost and risk of the additional debt far outweigh the meager gains. Whatever credit is issued is gambled in speculations that the current bubble du jour will continue indefinitely.

Unfortunately, all central banks know how to do is goose liquidity to inflate asset bubbles and juice the issuance of more debt. If asset bubbles start to deflate, then central banks start buying mortgages, empty flats, stocks and bonds to prop up markets that would otherwise implode.

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

The Sorry State of the World Economy

shanghai skyline dark sky

The Sorry State of the World Economy

Data released in January paint a bleak picture of advanced-economy prospects. Even if some emerging economies – which face serious challenges of their own – manage to pick up some of the slack, the world economy will remain encumbered by the combination of economic interconnectedness and political balkanization.

NEW YORK – January is traditionally a time for assessing the developments of the previous year, in order to anticipate what the new one has in store. Unfortunately, even though we may be at a turning point for the better politically, the data that have emerged in the last month do not paint a promising picture of the global economy’s short-term prospects.

The tone was set early in the month by the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects, along with the accompanying articles. The report paints a picture as bleak as its subtitle – “Darkening Skies” – and cuts the growth forecast for the advanced economies in 2020 to 1.6% (down from 2.2% in 2018).

Moreover, last week, the European Central Bank sounded the alarm over the eurozone economy. Between the prospect of a disorderly Brexit and rising protectionism, exemplified by the trade war between the United States and China, Europe is subject to increasing uncertainty.

Making matters worse, Germany is facing a growth slowdown. According to its own official data, the economy contracted by 0.2% in the third quarter of 2018, while the Purchasing Managers Index for manufacturing sank to 49.9 – a four-year low. Given Germany’s role as the backbone of the eurozone economy, its economic struggles are likely to cascade beyond its borders.

This is particularly problematic, because, after more than a decade of fighting crisis and recession, the advanced economies have depleted their ammunition for countering a slowdown. With the ECB’s benchmark interest rate at zero, there is little room for a cut.

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

Weekly Commentary: No Mystery

Weekly Commentary: No Mystery

January 30 – Financial Times (Sam Fleming): “After putting traders on notice six weeks ago to expect further increases in US interest rates in 2019, the Federal Reserve… executed one of its sharpest U-turns in recent memory. Leaving rates unchanged at 2.25-2.5%, Jay Powell, Fed chairman, unveiled new language that opened up the possibility that the next move could equally be down, instead of up. Forecasts from the Fed’s December meeting that another two rate rises are likely this year now appear to be history. Changes to its guidance were needed, Mr Powell argued, because of ‘cross-currents’ that had recently emerged. Among them were slower growth in China and Europe, trade tensions, the risk of a hard Brexit and the federal government shutdown. Financial conditions had also tightened, he added. Yet the about-face left some Fed-watchers wrongfooted and bemused. Many of those hazards were already perfectly apparent in the central bank’s December meeting, when it lifted rates by a quarter point and kept in place language pointing to further ‘gradual’ increases.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip pursued a similar path with his article, “The Fed’s Mysterious Pause.” “Last December, Mr. Powell noted his colleagues thought they’d raise rates two more times this year, from between 2.25% and 2.5%, which was at the lower end of estimates of ‘neutral’—a level that neither stimulates nor holds back growth. On Wednesday, he suggested the Fed could already be at neutral: ‘Our policy stance is appropriate right now. We also know that our policy rate is in the range of the… committee’s estimates of neutral.’ If indeed the Fed is done, that would be a breathtaking pivot. Yet the motivation remains somewhat mystifying: What changed in the past six weeks to justify it?”

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

Fed Will Crash Markets & Dollar, Gold Protects – John Williams

Fed Will Crash Markets & Dollar, Gold Protects – John Williams

Economist John Williams warns the Federal Reserve has painted itself into a very tight no win corner. No matter what the Fed does with rates it’s going to be a disaster. Williams explains, “You had some very heavy selling towards the end of the year and when you saw the big declines in the stock market you also saw that accompanied by a falling dollar and rising gold prices. That was foreign capital which was significant fleeing our markets. So if the Fed continues to raise interest rates, and they want to do and they still don’t have rates where they want them, it’s going to intensify the economic downturn. That’s going to hit the stock market. If they stop raising rates . . . and they have to go back to some sort of quantitative easing, that’s going to hit the dollar hard. Foreign investors are going to say the dollar is going to get weaker and let’s get out of the dollar. Then, you are going tom see heavy selling in the stock market. So either way they go, they created a conundrum for themselves because of the way they bailed out the banking system (in 2008-2009). At this point they don’t have an easy way out of this.”

Williams says the U.S. is already entering into a recession. Williams contends, “The first quarter, which is the quarter we are in right now, the first quarter of 2019 likely will be in contraction partially due to the government shutdown. That is slowing the economy on top of the interest rate hikes, but the cause of the recession here is not the government shutdown. It’s the Fed hiking rates . . . the fundamental driving factor that was putting us into recession even before the government shutdown was the rapid rise in interest rates.”

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

U.S. Debt Worries Fed Chairman Powell – Fears May Be Confirmed in March

U.S. Debt Worries Fed Chairman Powell – Fears May Be Confirmed in March

us debt worries

As we enter 2019, the U.S. national debt continues to grow, approaching $22 trillion with global Government debt sitting at $72 trillion.

It seems like the 21st century is hitting the U.S. with a debt “haymaker,” according to CNBC (emphasis ours):

U.S. debt began accelerating at the turn of the 21st century. The total jumped 85 percent to $10.6 trillion during former President George W. Bush’s two terms, another 88 percent to $19.9 trillion under President Barack Obama and has risen 10 percent during the first two years of President Donald Trump’s term.

And even though the U.S. economy may be growing, the sustained annual deficit exceeds $1 trillion. This is concerning economists, including Chairman Powell:

I’m very worried about it… It’s a long-run issue that we definitely need to face, and ultimately, will have no choice but to face.

If a recession hits (and signals are potentially pointing towards one), then having that amount of sustained deficit could be devastating.

And since the Fed is partially responsible for creating this debt problem, it seems odd for Powell to call it a “long-run” issue when it’s more of a “right-now” issue.

According to a recent CNBC article, normally when the deficit is expanding, the “Fed would be lowering rates”. But they aren’t. In fact, rates have been on a steady rise for the last few years.

At the global level, the picture isn’t much better. Debt has reached record levels, double what it was in 2007.

This is “leaving many countries poorly positioned for financial tightening as global interest rates begin to move higher,” says James McCormack, Fitch’s global head of sovereign ratings, in a statement.

Powell and other economists have every right to be concerned, because both debt and deficit spending may be spiraling out of control.

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

The Dangers of Negative Interest Rates and a Cashless Economy

THE DANGERS OF NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES AND A CASHLESS ECONOMY

The recent gyrations in the stock market and the uncertainties surrounding American trade policies with China and other parts of the world have raised the question of when the next recession will inevitably follow the current economic recovery from the 2008-9 financial crisis. In the face of a future economic downturn, some economic policy analysts are already making the case for central banks to use negative interest rates to dampen and shorten the impact of any economy-wide decline in output and employment that may be ahead.

Not surprisingly, much of the speculation concerning the power of government to mitigate, if not prevent, an economic downturn surrounds the usual debates over the potentials of monetary and fiscal policy. Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff, in a recent article, “Central Bankers’ Fiscal Constraints” (January 4, 2019), downplays the efficacy of taxing and spending tools, and highlights, instead, the continuing crucial role of monetary policy and interest rate manipulation.

The Limits on Implementing Fiscal Policy

With nominal interest rates in the United States and some other places around the world still at historical lows (even in the face of recent Federal Reserve rate increases), Rogoff points out that many central bankers hope that more direct fiscal policy will carry the weight of countercyclical activities in the face of any serious recession that may come.

But he points out that in the American system of government, there is little immediate flexibility to enable agreement upon and introduction of tax cuts or spending increases that might be effective in holding back the recessionary trends in a timely fashion. Fiscal changes must work their way through and be passed by Congress, then signed by the president, and finally implemented by various government agencies. The entire process normally can take a long time, during which a recession could get increasingly worse.

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

The Positive Interest Rate Cycle, RIP…1950 – 2019

The Positive Interest Rate Cycle, RIP…1950 – 2019

I’m going to make the case that the US is concluding the final positive interest rate cycle and that upon the next downturn, the Japanese / EU style ZIRP and/or NIRP will become the new norm.  But, before we say goodbye…let’s take a look at the ups, downs, and rationale of the post WWII cycles.

Below, the 11 interest rate cycles since 1954, with each subsequent cycle highlighted in a separate box.  Each cycle was unique but, in sum, they were part of an arc that has run its course.  I’ll detail that the Federal Funds curve actually represents the real annual change in demand.  Organic demand accelerated up to 1981 and organic demand decelerated from ’81 to present but synthetic credit / debt based demand was increasingly substituted.   And, for some strange reason, when the annual core population growth among the consumer nations was at its peak, the Fed (and CB’s) restricted the economy and potential capacity via extremely high rates.  Now at minimal to negative core population change (little to no demand growth), the Fed is attempting to incentivize debt and increase capacity with zero and/or with negative rates?

Below, every US interest rate cycle since WWII, showing cycles from initial rate cut until the initiation of cuts starting a new cycle.  Clearly, the ’89 to ’00 and current “lower for longer” cycles stick out like a sore thumb.

Splitting the cycles into two separate buckets; first looking at the cycles from 1950 through 1980.  During this period, every cycle finished at a higher rate than the cycle began (recouping all cuts plus some).  Cycles were as short as a year all the way up to six years long.

Second, looking at 1980 through 2019; interest rate cuts become deeper, none of the cuts are fully clawed back and rates are progressively lower prior to the next cycle. 

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

Federal Reserve Confesses Sole Responsibility for All Recessions

Federal Reserve balance sheet reduction not happening yet even as the Fed applauds its own success

In a surprisingly candid admission, two former Federal Reserve chairs have stated that the Federal Reserve alone is responsible for creating all recessions in the United States.

Former Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke Federal Reserve creates all recessions
First, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said that
Expansions don’t die of old age. They get murdered.

To clarify this statement, former Chair Janet Yellen placed the murder weapon in the Fed’s hands:

Two things usually end them…. One is financial imbalances, and the other is the Fed.

Think that through, and you quickly realize that both of those things are the Fed. Is there anyone left standing who would not say the Fed’s quantitative easing in the past decade was the biggest cause of financial imbalances all over the world in history? Moreover, whose profligate monetary policies led to the Great Financial Crisis that gave us the Great Recession?

So, the Fed loads the gun with financial causes and then pulls the trigger. In fact, I think it would be hard to find a major financial imbalance in the US that the Fed did not have a hand in creating or, at least, enabling. Therefore, if those are the only two causes, then it is always the Federal Reserve that causes recessions by its own admission.

And, yet, those Fed dons look so pleased with themselves.

Yellen went on to say that when the Fed is the culprit, it is generally because the central bank is forced to tighten policy to curtail inflation and ends up overplaying its hand. (She didn’t mention that the Fed’s monetary policy may have a hand in creating financial imbalances.)

Exactly, nor did she mention that the inflation they were “forced” to curtail always happens because of financial imbalances the Fed created or enabled. That is why I call our expansion-recession cycles, rinse-and-repeat cycles.

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

Volatility Holds the Key to Markets in 2019

Volatility Holds the Key to Markets in 2019

Over the last two weeks, after making good on the four-rate interest hike of 2018, Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, became more dovish to start 2019.

His change in tone is worth considering because of his historical stance on reducing the amount of artificial stimulus coming from the Fed. Last week, after the required five-year holding period for Fed transcripts were up, we got a glimpse into Powell’s thoughts from 2013, before he was Chairman.

Powell tried to persuade then-Chairman, Ben Bernanke, to reduce the Fed’s stimulus, even though it would lead to greater near-term market volatility. That was when the third round of the Fed’s asset-buying program (QE3) was in full swing. The Fed was purchasing an estimated $85 billion per month mix of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

To indicate that the Fed wouldn’t buy bonds forever, Bernanke floated the idea of slowing down its program, or “tapering,” at some non-defined future date.

Powell, on the other hand, believed the market needed a specific “road map” of the Fed’s intentions. He said that he wasn’t “concerned about a little bit of volatility” though he was “concerned that there may be more than that here.”

Indeed, once Bernanke publicly announced the possibility of the Fed’s bond-buying program slowing down, the market tanked, in a response that became known as a “taper tantrum.” As a result, Bernanke backed off the tapering idea.

Fear of more taper tantrums kept the Fed in check after that. The Fed ultimately waited until it had raised rates sufficiently, before starting to cut the size of its balance sheet. But now Powell is the Chairman. And it seems that he is much less comfortable with volatility than he was under Bernanke, as his most recent remarks indicate.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Fed chairman has modified his views when he was in control. Alan Greenspan, for example, was a staunch advocate of the gold standard when he was younger (and as presented in Foreign Affairs). But once he was Fed head, suddenly he thought a gold standard wasn’t such a hot idea after all. Go figure.

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

Quantitative Brainwashing

Quantitative Brainwashing

We’re all familiar with the term, “quantitative easing.” It’s described as meaning, “A monetary policy in which a central bank purchases government securities or other securities from the market in order to lower interest rates and increase the money supply.”

Well, that sounds reasonable… even beneficial. But, unfortunately, that’s not really the whole story.

When QE was implemented, the purchasing power was weak and both government and personal debt had become so great that further borrowing would not solve the problem; it would only postpone it and, in the end, exacerbate it. Effectively, QE is not a solution to an economic problem, it’s a bonus of epic proportions, given to banks by governments, at the expense of the taxpayer.

But, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that governments have passed off a massive redistribution of wealth from the taxpayer to their pals in the banking sector with such clever terms. Governments of today have become extremely adept at creating euphemisms for their misdeeds in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the populace.

At this point, we cannot turn on the daily news without being fed a full meal of carefully- worded mumbo jumbo, designed to further overwhelm whatever small voices of truth may be out there.

Let’s put this in perspective for a moment.

For millennia, political leaders have been in the practice of altering, confusing and even obliterating the truth, when possible. And it’s probably safe to say that, for as long as there have been media, there have been political leaders doing their best to control them.

During times of war, political leaders have serially restricted the media from simply telling the truth. During the American civil war, President Lincoln shut down some 300 newspapers and arrested some 14,000 journalists who had the audacity to contradict his statements to the public.

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

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