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Weekly Commentary: No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works

Weekly Commentary: No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works

My interest was piqued by a Friday Bloomberg article (Ben Holland), “The Era of Cheap Money Shows No One Knows How Monetary Policy Works.” “Monetary policy is supposed to work like this: cut interest rates, and you’ll encourage businesses and households to borrow, invest and spend. It’s not really playing out that way. In the cheap-money era, now into its second decade in most of the developed world (and third in Japan), there’s been plenty of borrowing. But it’s been governments doing it.”

I remember when the Fed didn’t even announce changes in rate policy. Our central bank would adjust interest rates by measured bank reserve additions/subtractions that would impact the interbank lending market. Seventies inflation forced Paul Volcker to push short-term interest-rates as high as 20% in early-1980 to squeeze inflation out of the system. 

Federal Reserve policymaking changed profoundly under the authority of Alan Greenspan. Policy rates had already dropped down to 6.75% by the time Greenspan took charge in August 1987. Ending 1979 at 13.3%, y-o-y CPI inflation had dropped below 2% by the end of 1986. Treasury bond yields were as high as 13.8% in May 1984. But by August 1986 – yields were down to 6.9% – having dropped almost 700 bps in 27 months.  

Lower market yields and economic recovery were absolute boon for equities. The S&P500 returned 22.6% in 1983, 5.2% in 1984, 31.5% in 1985, 22% in 1986 – and another 41.5% for 1987 through August 25th. Markets had evolved into a speculative bubble.  

One could pinpointing the start of the great Credit Bubble back with the 70’s inflation. For my purposes, I date its inception at the 1987 stock market crash. At the time, many were drawing parallels between the 1987 and 1929 market crashes – including dire warnings of deflation risk – warnings that have continued off and on for more than three decades.  

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

Where The Next Financial Crisis Begins

Where The Next Financial Crisis Begins

We are not sure of how the next financial crisis will exactly unfold but reasonably confident it will have its roots in the following analysis.   Maybe it has already begun.

The U.S. Treasury market is the center of the financial universe and the 10-year yield is the most important price in the world, of which, all other assets are priced.   We suspect the next major financial crisis may not be in the Treasury market but will most likely emanate from it.

U.S. Public Sector Debt Increase Financed By Central Banks 

The U.S. has had a free ride for this entire century, financing its rapid runup in public sector debt,  from 58 percent of GDP at year-end 2002, to the current level of 105 percent, mostly by foreign central banks and the Fed.

Marketable debt, in particular, notes and bonds, which drive market interest rates have increased by over $9 trillion during the same period, rising from 20 percent to 55 percent of GDP.

Central bank purchases, both the Fed and foreign central banks, have, on average, bought 63 percent of the annual increase in U.S. Treasury notes and bonds from 2003 to 2018.  Note their purchases can be made in the secondary market, or, in the case of foreign central banks,  in the monthly Treasury auctions.

In the shorter time horizon leading up to the end of QE3,  that is 2003 to 2014,  central banks took down, on average, the equivalent of 90 percent of the annual increase in notes and bonds.  All that mattered to the price-insensitive central banks was monetary and exchange rate policy.   Stunning.

Greenspan’s Bond Market Conundrum

The charts and data also explain what Alan Greenspan labeled the bond market conundrum just before the Great Financial Crisis (GFC).   The former Fed chairman was baffled as long-term rates hardly budged while the Fed raised the funds rate by 425 bps from 2004 to 2006, largely, to cool off the housing market.

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

Paul Volcker Trashes Fed, Washington Plutocrats: World’s In “A Hell Of A Mess In Every Direction”

While we have grown used to Alan Greenspan’s flexible world views appearing regularly among US media channels, when former Fed Chair Paul Volcker speaks, it’s low frequency nature tends to make on pay attention, and he is not optimistic about the state of the world… at all.

As ‘Tall Paul’ prepares to publish his memoir (ironically titled – given the current state of the world – “The Quest For Sound Money & Good Government”), he sat down with NYTimes’ Dealbook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and was not shy about how he sees the world and where it’s going:

When he looks around now, he sees “a hell of a mess in every direction,” including a lack of basic respect for government institutions..

“Respect for government, respect for the Supreme Court, respect for the president, it’s all gone,” he said.

“Even respect for the Federal Reserve.”

“And it’s really bad. At least the military still has all the respect. But I don’t know, how can you run a democracy when nobody believes in the leadership of the country?

…a current Fed that seems to be following a completely arbitrary benchmark…

“I puzzle at the rationale,” he wrote.

“A 2 percent target, or limit, was not in my textbook years ago. I know of no theoretical justification.”

…and a “swamp” in Washington run by plutocrats.

“There is no force on earth that can stand up effectively, year after year, against the thousands of individuals and hundreds of millions of dollars in the Washington swamp aimed at influencing the legislative and electoral process,”

Finally, Volcker dispels with the myth that presidents historically haven’t tried to influence interest rates. Recounting a 1984 meeting he had with former President Ronald Reagan, then-chief of staff James Baker flatly told Volcker:

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

Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson

Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson

Photo Source Eli Christman | CC BY 2.0

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.”

– President Andrew Jackson, Washington, July 10, 1832

They are three players, all problematic in their own way.  They are the creatures of inconvenient chaos.  Donald Trump was born into the role, a misfit of misrule who found his baffling way to the White House on a grievance.  Wall Street, with its various agglomerations of vice and ambition constitute the spear of global instability while the US Federal Reserve, long seen as a gentlemanly symbol of stability, has done its fair share to avoid its remit to right unstable ships, a power in its own right.

The Federal Reserve, despite assuming the role of Apollonian stabiliser, remained blind and indifferent through the Clinton era under the stewardship of Alan Greenspan.  The creatures of Dionysus played, and Greenspan was happy to watch. While he is credited with having contained the shock of the 1987 stock-market crash, he proceeded to push a period of manically low interest rates and minimal financial regulation through the hot growth of the 1990s and early 2000s. Rather than condemning “Ninja loans” and other such bank exotica, he celebrated them as creations of speculative genius.

The mood at the Fed these days might seems chastened.  They are the monkish wowsers and party poopers, those who lock down the bar and tell the merrily sauced to head home.  The sense there is that the market, boosted and inflated, needs correction after years of keeping interest rates at floor levels. Unemployment levels are at 3.7 percent; inflation levels are close to 2 percent.  “If the strong growth in income and jobs continues,” reasoned Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell in August, “further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.”

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

The Everything Bubble: When Will It Finally Crash?

The Everything Bubble: When Will It Finally Crash?

Much like the laws of physics, there are certain laws of economics that remain constant no matter how much manipulation exists in the markets. Expansion inevitably leads to contraction, and that which goes up must eventually come down. Central banks understand this reality very well; they have spent over a century trying to exploit those laws to their own advantage.

A common misconception among people new to alternative economics is the idea that central banks only seek to keep the economy afloat, or keep it expanding forever. In reality, these institutions and the money elites behind them artificially inflate financial bubbles only to deliberately implode them at opportunistic moments.

As I have outlined in numerous articles, every economic bubble and subsequent crash since 1914 can be linked to the policy actions of central bankers. Sometimes they even admit to culpability (to a point), as Ben Bernanke did on the Great Depression and as Alan Greenspan did on the 2008 credit crisis. You can read more about this in my article ‘The Federal Reserve Is A Saboteur – And The “Experts” Are Oblivious.’

Generally, central bankers and international bankers mislead the public into believing that the crashes they are responsible for were caused “by mistake.” They rarely if ever mention the fact that they often use these crises as a means to consolidate control over assets, resources and governments while the masses are distracted by their own financial survival. Centralization is the name of the game. It is certainly no mistake that after every economic implosion the wealth gapbetween the top 0.01% and the rest of humanity widens exponentially.

Yet another crash is being weaponized by the banks, and this time I believe the motivations behind it are rather different. Or at least the goals are supercharged.

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

There’s a New Crash Coming

There’s a New Crash Coming

Donald Trump is the epitome of irrational exuberance.

You might remember that phrase from the 1990s. Alan Greenspan, the head of the Federal Reserve at the time, was describing how the tech boom was creating a bubble by generating enthusiasm way out of proportion to the actual value of the new companies.

Such an unwarranted economic boom was hardly something new, so it was easy to predict what would happen next. Periods of irrational exuberance — whether the dot-com expansion, Dutch tulipmania in the 17th century, or the housing bubble in America of the 2000s — have always led to a sudden crash and a serious hangover.

And now, here we go again.

Trump, always exuberant when talking about himself and his putative accomplishments, loves to boast about how well the American economy is chugging along. The stock market reached its all-time high at the end of August. In its second quarter this year, U.S. economic growth was 4.1 percent. Unemployment remains below 4 percent, and inflation remains moderate. Even wages are going up.

Irrationality enters the picture because there’s little if any connection between the president’s policies and the outcomes he lauds (since these trends began before he took office). Also, the prosperity that has resulted from this economic expansion has largely been enjoyed by the wealthier sectors of society. Finally, Trump’s economic fever dream is fueled by an enormous and growing amount of debt.

When it comes to irrational exuberance, it’s never if there will be a bust but when. On the tenth anniversary of the financial collapse of 2008, it’s worth looking at the potential pinpricks that will pop Trump’s hot-air balloon and send America crashing back to earth.

Mountains of Debt

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

How the Trade War Helps Hide Central Bank Sabotage Of The Economy

trade war cover up for Fed

Almost every aspect of the global economic downturn, which started ostensibly in 2007-08 and is still ongoing to this day, can be traced back to the actions and policies of central banks. The Federal Reserve, for example, used artificially low interest rates and easy money to create a supposedly no-risk loan environment. This translated into a vast amount of toxic mortgage debt along with a web of derivatives (Mortgage Backed Securities) attached to that debt.

The Fed ignored all the signs and all the alternative analyst warnings. Agencies like S&P backed the Fed narrative that all was well as they gave AAA ratings to endless toxic market products. The mainstream media backed the Fed by attacking anyone that argued the notion that the U.S. economy was unstable and ready to falter. In that era of economics, the truth was effectively hidden from the public by the system through relatively standard means. Today, things have changed slightly.

Since the 2008 crash, numerous economists and former Fed officials have come out publicly to admit to the culpability of central bankers (sort of). Alan Greenspan first claimed in 2008 that the Fed had “made a mistake” in its analysis and overlooked the potential of a market bubble. Then, in 2013 he came out and admitted all the central bankers KNEW that a bubble was present, but that they believed the markets would self-correct without much damage to GDP or the rest of the economy.

The mainstream financial media went on to blame the Fed for the conditions that caused the crisis, but made excuses for them at the same time. The narrative was that the Fed was blinded by peripheral factors and that it had been ignoring fundamentals. The Central bankers had “painted themselves into a corner” with low interest rates, and had done this unknowingly.

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

Yellen Wants Fed to Commit to Future Booms to Make Up for Busts

Former Fed Chair Yellen promotes “Lower for Longer”, a policy in which the Fed knowingly keeps interest rates too low.

Here’s the asinine policy proposal of the day: Fed Should Commit to Future ‘Booms’ to Make Up for Major Busts.

The U.S. Federal Reserve should commit to letting economic booms run on enough to fully offset collapses like the 2007 to 2009 Great Recession, former Fed chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, urging the central bank to make “lower-for-longer” its official motto for interest rates following serious downturns.

Elaborating on how the central bank should think about what to do if rates have to be cut to zero again in the future and can’t go any lower, she said the Fed should promise now that it will keep rates low enough to let a hot economy make up for lost time.

“By keeping interest rates unusually low after the zero lower bound no longer binds, the lower-for-longer approach promises, in effect, to allow the economy to boom,” Yellen said in remarks delivered at a Brookings Institution conference. “The (Federal Open Market Committee) needs to make a credible statement endorsing such an approach, ideally before the next downturn.”

What We Are Doing Already

The official policy is what we are doing already. May as well make a policy out of it.

The caveat, of course, is the Fed does not realize what it’s already doing.

Ass Backward

There is one more major flaw. It’s ass Backward. We have major busts because the Fed blew major bubbles.

The dotcom bubble arose when Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan held interest rates too low, too long with irrational fears of a Y2K disaster.

The housing bubble was a direct result of Greenspan holding rates too low, too long in the wake of dotcom and 911 disaster.

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

Weekly Commentary: Unassailable

Weekly Commentary: Unassailable

I’ve been here before and, candidly, it’s not much fun. Lodged in my mind this week was the brilliant quote from the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
It’s fascinating how it all works. Looking back, there was definitely a Bubble in 1999. Clearly, 2007 was one huge Bubble. Everything is obvious in hindsight, and most look back now and contend it was pretty conspicuous even at the time. Having toiled through both prolonged Bubble periods – arguing against deeply embedded bullish conventional wisdom – I can attest to the fact that the Bubble viewpoint was violently opposed at the late stages of both cycles.

I don’t feel I’m venturing out on a limb to predict that some years into the future the 2018 Bubble backdrop will be recalled as rather self-evident. Years of experimental “whatever it takes” global monetary stimulus (rates, QE and market manipulation) nurtured excess and imbalances on an unparalleled global scale. EM borrowed excessively, too much denominated in foreign (U.S. dollar!) currencies. The Federal Reserve (all central banks) held rates too low for much too long. Prices for virtually all asset classes were inflated to dangerous extremes.

The resulting Tech Bubble 2.0 dwarfed the earlier nineties version, culminating in a global technology arms race. China was a historic Bubble of reckless proportions. Protectionism and Trade wars were a scourge for markets and global growth. Unsound “money” fueled populism. In the end, the backdrop created a cauldron of deepening geopolitical animosities and flashpoints.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Weekly Commentary: Powell, Greenspan and Whatever it Takes

Weekly Commentary: Powell, Greenspan and Whatever it Takes

Fed Chairman Powell is in a tough spot, one made no easier now that he’s on the receiving end of disapproving presidential tweets. The global Bubble has begun to falter, which only exacerbates divergences between various markets and economies. The U.S. is booming, while China struggles and EM economies now stumble into the dark downside of an epic cycle. The U.S. economy and markets beckon for tighter financial conditions, while higher U.S. rates pose significant danger to fragile global markets already confronting a major tightening of financial conditions.

Powell played it safe in Jackson Hole. I imagine he’d have preferred to sit this one out. As such, his presentation was too heavy on rationalization and justification. The FOMC is trapped in Greenspan-style “baby steps,” and it is curious that the Fed Chairman would choose to praise Alan Greenspan for his nineties policy approach:

“Under Chairman Greenspan’s leadership, the committee converged on a risk-management strategy that can be distilled into a simple request: ‘Let’s wait one more meeting; if there are clearer signs of inflation, we will commence tightening.’ Meeting after meeting, the committee held off on rate increases while believing that signs of rising inflation would soon appear. And meeting after meeting, inflation gradually declined.”

If the Greenspan Fed had in fact adopted a “risk management strategy,” it was a failed attempt. It’s too easy these days to disregard the highly disruptive boom and bust cycles that have been prominent in U.S. and global markets (and economies) over recent decades. And here we are today, the Federal Reserve still accommodating Bubble Dynamics because of its failure to respond to financial developments and contain excess back in the nineties.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump’s Tweets End the Myth of Fed Independence

Trump’s Tweets End the Myth of Fed Independence

President Trump’s recent Tweets expressing displeasure with the Federal Reserve’s (minor) interest rate increases led to accusations that President Trump is undermining the Federal Reserve’s independence. But, the critics ignore the fact that Federal Reserve “independence” is one of the great myths of American politics.

When it comes to intimidating the Federal Reserve, President Trump pales in comparison to President Lyndon Johnson. After the Federal Reserve increased interest rates in 1965, President Johnson summoned then-Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin to Johnson’s Texas ranch where Johnson shoved him against the wall. Physically assaulting the Fed chairman is probably a greater threat to Federal Reserve independence than questioning the Fed’s policies on Twitter.

While Johnson is an extreme example, history is full of cases where presidents pressured the Federal Reserve to adopt policies compatible with the presidents’ agendas — and helpful to their reelection campaigns. Presidents have been pressuring the Fed since its creation. President Warren Harding called on the Fed to lower rates. Richard Nixon was caught on tape joking with then-Fed chair Arthur Burns about Fed independence. And Lloyd Bentsen, President Bill Clinton’s first Treasury secretary, bragged about a “gentleman’s agreement” with then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

President Trump’s call for low interest rates contradicts Trump’s earlier correct criticism of the Fed’s low interest rate policy as harming middle-class Americans. Low rates can harm the middle class, but they also benefit spend-and-borrow politicians and their favorite special interests by lowering the federal government’s borrowing costs. Significant rate increases could make it impossible for the government to service its existing debt, thus making it difficult for President Trump and Congress to continue increasing welfare and warfare spending.

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

Not All Forms Of Gold Ownership Are Equal

Ultimately, the value of gold is based on its tangibility. So, why do so many investors assume they’re getting the same protection from investments like gold futures that they’re getting from physical gold: while gold futures and ETFs will fill most of the needs of owning gold in normal circumstances, in extraordinary circumstances, something that’s intangible like a futures contract just won’t do. Because how will you collect your gold from the custody bank when all the banks have failed?

This week, the Goldnomics podcast ranks the safest ways to own gold to the least safe. The safest is, of course, owning physical gold bars. The next safest is to own allocated and segregated gold, which is owning physical gold kept in a separate physical account. The next level of safety is unallocated gold, then there are physically backed-ETFs and non-physically backed ETFs.

Further out the safety spectrum is owning shares of gold miners, which trade like equities (because they are). However, the vast majority of investors own gold via an ETF.

While it’s an easily accessible way of owning gold, it’s not designed for physical deliverability. “The idea of having gold in a systemically linked instrument like that could be convenient in normal times but when things get out of hand, suddenly those contracts don’t bear any weight.”

Like Alan Greenspan said, Gold is trusted by everybody as a form of payment. And indeed, most gold investors own the precious metal for its tangibility. And reading the fine print of these ETFs, the fund manager is protected from ever having to be found liable for delivering its gold. Instead, the gold is stored with large custodian banks, and if there’s ever any serious systemic risk, the owner of the ETF won’t ever be made hole.

“Don’t think you’re checking that hedging box if you own gold through an ETF, or a digital gold provider.”

Listen to the rest of the podcast below:

Danielle DiMartino Booth: Don’t Count On The Powell Fed To Rescue The Markets

Danielle DiMartino Booth: Don’t Count On The Powell Fed To Rescue The Markets

The new Fed Chair may break from his predecessors

The recent gut-wrenching drop in asset prices began on the first day of the job for new Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

How is Mr. Powell likely to react to a suddenly sick-looking market? Will he step in forcefully to reassure investors that there’s a “Powell put” in place as a backstop?

To address these questions, former analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Danielle DiMartino Booth, returns to the podcast this week. In her opinion, having studied Powell’s previous statements, she thinks those expecting him to continue the market support his predecessors provided will likely be quite disappointed.

Powell appears to be no large fan of continued quantitative easing, and has long been on the record as concerned about the eventual pain its unwind will cause. He very well may resist riding to the market’s rescue at this time, allowing natural market forces to finally have their way:

Look, this is a message that market participants do not want to hear: It is not the Federal Reserves job to put a floor under risky asset prices.

Compare and contrast Jerome Powell’s silence in the wake of the flash crash on his first day at work to Alan Greenspan — who got on an airplane the day after the Black Monday crash of 1987, canceling an appearance he was to have made, and reassuring the markets with a statement on Tuesday morning that the Federal Reserve was standing by and ready and willing and available to satisfy any kind of disruption in the banking and financial systems. That was the day — October 20, 1987 — that the Greenspan put was born.

…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…

Greenspan Warns: “We Have A Stock Market Bubble”

US equity markets stumbled notably as former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan told Bloomberg TV that “we have a stock market bubble.”

Greenspan stuck to his usual discussion topics of low productivity and fiscal doomsday inevitability…

Productivity has been dead in the water for the past 10 years

I’ve never believed in the Phillips Curve…

Adding that “we’ve got to confront the budget deficit,” concluding “we’re dealing with a fiscally unstable long-term outlook.”

Something we have heard before (in 2016) when Greenspan warned

Entitlements are crowding out savings, and hence capital investment. Capital investment is the critical issue in productivity growth, and productivity growth in turn is the crucial issue in economic growth. We’re running to a state of disaster unless we turn this around.

This should be the central issue of the presidential debate. Unless and until we can rein in entitlements, which have been rising at a nine percent annual rate in the United States and comparable levels throughout the world, we are going to find that productivity is going to maintain a very low rate of increase”

Greenspan also doesn’t really view recession as the biggest problem right now, he is concerned (rightfully so) about the longer term problem of low economic growth and soaring entitlement growth.

“I don’t think that’s our problem. Our problem is not recession which is a short-term economic problem, I think youhave a very profound long-term problem of economic growth at the time when in the Western world there is a very large migration from being a worker to being a recipient of social benefits

But when Greenspan said the following…

“There are two bubbles. We have a stock market bubble and a bond market bubble. At the end of the day, the bond bubble will be the big issue.

Stocks began to stumble…

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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