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Fed and Treasury Steer Their Unsinkable Ship toward Iceberg

Fed and Treasury Steer Their Unsinkable Ship toward Iceberg

Illustration of the Titanic sinking with iceberg in backgroundThis past week we got to observe Fed Chair Jerome Powell and the US stock market andthe US bond market do everything I said they would do in their complicated shuffle of ships-and-icebergs:

“I’m sure many helium-headed stock investors believe the lilly-livered Fed will turn tail and run from its goal of letting inflation rise as soon as bonds begin to clobber stocks more seriously…. I believe the Fed is more committed than ever to raising inflation as it has been saying it wanted to do for years.”

Stocks in Bondage but Fed Not Fazed

While bond yields had already begun to rise and compete against stocks, the Fed stayed the course, iceberg dead ahead. As a result, longterm bond interest rose even more because the Fed did nothing to jawbone the idea of increasing its bond-buying QE to take interest rates back down (which it accomplishes by purchasing US government bonds from banks to take them off the market, putting them on its own balance sheet).

You see, the Fed is — I believe — caught in its own catch-22. Usually, to lower interest (in order to stimulate the economy and hit the higher inflation number the Fed says it is targeting), the Fed would buy more bonds; however, buying bonds and adding them to its balance sheet tends to create more money in the system, and the bond market is already afraid of rising inflation because much of the new money is now going into the hands of average people. (This game only worked when all new money was going into the stock market.)

As a result, aiming for higher inflation by purchasing more bonds will cause the reinvigorated bond vigilantes to up their demand on bond yields to cover inflation, making it impossible to lower longterm yields by purchasing bonds.

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

 

QE During the “Everything Mania”: Fed’s Assets at $7.7 Trillion, up $3.5 Trillion in 13 months

QE During the “Everything Mania”: Fed’s Assets at $7.7 Trillion, up $3.5 Trillion in 13 months

But long-term Treasury yields have surged, to the great consternation of our Wall Street Crybabies.

The Fed has shut down or put on ice nearly the entire alphabet soup of bailout programs designed to prop up the markets during their tantrum a year ago, including the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) that bought corporate bonds, corporate bond ETFs, commercial mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, municipal bonds, etc. Its repos faded into nothing last summer. And foreign central bank dollar swaps have nearly zeroed out.

What the Fed is still buying are large amounts of Treasury securities and residential MBS, though no one can figure out why the Fed is still buying them, given the crazy Everything Mania in the markets.

But for the week, total assets on the Fed’s weekly balance sheet through Wednesday, March 31, fell by $31 billion from the record level in the prior week, to $7.69 trillion. Over the past 13 months of this miracle money-printing show, the Fed has added $3.5 trillion in assets to its balance sheet:

One of the purposes of QE is to force down long-term interest rates and long-term mortgage rates. But long-term Treasury yields started rising last summer. The 10-year Treasury has more than tripled since then and closed today at 1.72%. Mortgage rates started rising in early January. Bond prices fall as yields rise, and the crybabies on Wall Street want the Fed to do something about those rising long-term yields and the bloodbath they have created in the prices of long-term Treasury securities and high-grade corporate bonds.

But instead, the Fed has said in monotonous uniformity that rising long-term yields despite $120 billion of QE a month are a welcome sign of rising inflation expectations and a growing economy:

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

wolf richter, wolfstreet, qe, quantitative easing, money printing, credit expansion, fed, us federal reserve, central bank, interest rates, wall street

Ponzis Go Boom!!!

For the past few years, I have been critical of the Ponzi Sector. To me, these are businesses that sell a dollar for 80 cents and hope to make it up in volume. Just because Amazon (AMZN – USA) ran at a loss early on, doesn’t mean that all businesses will inflect at scale. In fact, many of the Ponzi Sector companies seem to have declining economics at scale—largely the result of intense competition with other Ponzi companies who also have negligible costs of capital.

I recently wrote about how interest rates are on the rise. If capital will have a cost to it, I suspect that the funding shuts off to the Ponzi Sector—buying unprofitable revenue growth becomes less attractive if you have other options. Besides, when you can no longer use presumed negative interest rates in your DCF, these businesses have no value. I believe the top is now finally in for the Ponzi Sector and a multi-year sector rotation is starting. However, interest rates are only a small piece of the puzzle.

Conventional wisdom says that the internet bubble blew up due to increasing interest rates. This may partly be true, but bubbles are irrational—rates shouldn’t matter—it is the psychology that matters. I believe two primary forces were at play that finally broke the internet bubble; equity supply and taxes. Look at a deal calendar from the second half of 1999. The number of speculative IPOs went exponential. Most IPOs unlock and allow restricted shareholders to sell roughly 180 days from the IPO. Is it any surprise that things got wobbly in March of 2020 and then collapsed in the months after that? Line up the un-lock window with the IPOs. It was a crescendo of supply—even excluding stock option exercises and secondary offerings…

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

adventures in capitalism, ponzi, interest rates, bubble, financial markets, psychology, speculation,

Yield Curve Control: Bubbles And Stagnation

Yield Curve Control: Bubbles And Stagnation

Central banks do not manage risk, they disguise it. You know you live in a bubble when a small bounce in sovereign bond yields generates an immediate panic reaction from central banks trying to prevent those yields from rising further. It is particularly more evident when the alleged soar in yields comes after years of artificially depressing them with negative rates and asset purchases.

It is scary to read that the European Central Bank will implement more asset purchases to control a small love in yields that still left sovereign issuers bonds with negative nominal and real interest rates. It is even scarier to see that market participants hail the decision of disguising risk with even more liquidity. No one seemed to complain about the fact that sovereign issuers with alarming solvency problems were issuing bonds with negative yields. No one seemed to be concerned about the fact that the European Central Bank bought more than 100% of net issuances from Eurozone states. What shows what a bubble we live in is that market participants find logical to see a central bank taking aggressive action to prevent bond yields from rising… to 0.3% in Spain or 0.6% in Italy.

This is the evidence of a massive bubble.

If the European Central Bank was not there to repurchase all Eurozone sovereign issuances, what yield would investors demand for Spain, Italy or Portugal? Three, four, five times the current level on the 10-year? Probably. That is why developed central banks are trapped in their own policy. They cannot hint at normalizing even when the economy is recovering strongly, and inflation is rising.

Market participants may be happy thinking these actions will drive equities and risky assets higher, but they also make economic cycles weaker, shorter, and more abrupt.

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

 

Bank of Canada Announces Balance Sheet Reduction, Suddenly Worried about “Moral Hazard”

Bank of Canada Announces Balance Sheet Reduction, Suddenly Worried about “Moral Hazard”

“Once crisis tools have served their purpose, central banks should scale them back.”

The Bank of Canada will unwind its crisis liquidity facilities, will further reduce its purchases of Government of Canada bonds, which it already started tapering in October, will let short-term assets “roll off” the balance sheet when they mature, and will as a result reduce its total assets from C$575 billion now to $C475 billion by the end of April, announced Bank of Canada Deputy Governor Toni Gravelle in a speech today.

Most of the speech was focused on the reasons for the QE and liquidity programs that the Bank of Canada unleashed starting in mid-March last year, in a two-fold role: In its role as “lender of last resort,” to deal with the “extreme stress” in the markets, as liquidity dried up and markets weren’t functioning or had “seized completely” as everyone was trying to sell everything in a mad “dash for cash.” And in its role as provider of stimulus as the economy that was spiraling down.

But these actions ballooned the balance sheet fourfold, to C$575 billion, and it created the possibility of “moral hazard.”

“Moral hazard emerges whenever market participants or other economic actors feel that they can engage in risky behavior without bearing consequences if things go wrong,” Gravelle said, a year after moral hazard became forever the guiding principle of the markets.

But moral hazard can be limited “by ensuring that such actions have a predetermined expiry date or are unwound when they’re no longer needed,” he said.

“Once crisis tools have served their purpose, central banks should scale them back to show that they are emergency measures and don’t reflect business as usual,” he said.

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

wolf richter, central banks, bank of canada, wolfstreet, canada, housing bubble, mortgage bubble, interest rates, qe, quantitative easing

Gold vs. the stock market

More than 3,000 years ago in the early 12th century BC, Greco-Roman legend tells us of a mythical pair of monsters located in the Strait of Messina in southern Italy.

The monsters were named Scylla and Charybdis. And both Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid describe the terror of sailors who came into contact with them.

Scylla was on one side of the Strait, and Charybdis on the other. But because the Strait is so narrow, it was impossible for sailors to avoid both of the monsters, essentially forcing the captain to choose between the lesser of two evils.

In Homer’s narrative, for example, Odysseus is advised that the whirlpools of Charybis could sink his entire ship, while Scylla might only kill a handful of his sailors.

So Odysseus chooses to sail past Scylla: “Better by far to lose six men and keep your ship than lose your entire crew.”

The story is a myth. But the idea of having to choose between two terrible options is very real.

It appears that the Federal Reserve has landed itself in this position.

In its efforts to boost the economy during the pandemic, the Fed slashed interest rates so much that the average 30-year mortgage rate for homebuyers reached an all-time low of 2.65% earlier this year.

Similarly, AAA-rated corporate bond yields reached record low 2.14% last summer.

The US government 10-year Treasury Note dropped to a record low 0.52%.

And the 28-day US government Treasury Bill rate actually turned negative for a brief period– something that has never happened before.

The effects of such cheap rates are obvious.

With corporate borrowing rates so low, the stock market has boomed. With consumers able to borrow money so cheaply, home prices have surged to an all-time high.

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

 

What Interest Rate Triggers The Next Crisis?

What Interest Rate Triggers The Next Crisis?

  • The Ten-year U.S. Treasury note yields 1.61%.
  • 10-year high-quality corporate bonds yield 2.09%.
  • The rate on a 30-year mortgage is 3.05%.

Despite recent increases, interest rates are hovering near historic lows.  We do not use the word “historic” lightly. By “historic,” we refer to the lowest levels since the nation’s birth in 1776.

The graph below, courtesy of the Visual Capitalist, highlights our point.

interest, What Interest Rate Triggers The Next Crisis?

Despite 300-year lows in interest rates, investors are becoming anxious because they are rising. Recent history shows they should worry. A review of the past 40 years reveals sudden spikes in interest rates and financial problems go hand in hand.

The question for all investors is how big a spike before the proverbial hits the fan again?

Debt-Driven Economy

Over the past 40 years, debt has increasingly driven economic growth.

That statement on its own tells us nothing about the health of the economy. To better quantify the benefits or consequences of debt, we need to understand how it was used.

When debt is used productively, the interest and principal are covered with higher profits and sustained economic activity. Even better, income beyond the cost of the debt makes the nation more prosperous.

Conversely, unproductive debt may provide a one-time spark of economic activity, but it yields little to no residual income to service it going forward. Ultimately it creates an economic headwind as servicing the debt in the future replaces productive investment and or consumption.

The graph below shows the steadily rising ratio of total outstanding debt to GDP. If debt, in aggregate, were productive, the ratio would be declining regardless of the amount of debt.

interest, What Interest Rate Triggers The Next Crisis?

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

 

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: Market Manias Galore, But Long-Term Interest Rates Smell a Rat

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: Market Manias Galore, But Long-Term Interest Rates Smell a Rat

These manias and the rising long-term yields are on collision course. (You can also download THE WOLF STREET REPORT wherever you get your podcasts).

wolfstreet, wolf street report, wolf richter, long-term interest rates, interest rates, financial markets

 

New Normal: High Unemployment, Near-Zero Interest Rates and Out of Control Inflation

Since the pandemic began a year ago, the term “new normal” has become part of the American lexicon. Not “new” as in better or improved. But rather “new” as in contrast to the way things used to be.

Much of the mainstream discussion argues that returning to the “old” normal isn’t likely to happen. Things like pre-pandemic employment, closer-to-normal price inflation, and less economic uncertainty just aren’t on the map.

The Street summed it up generously as: “Numerous chain reaction ripple impacts will delay the economic recovery.” Some of these “ripple effects” were in motion long before the pandemic hit.

For example, the Fed was already in a state of panic thanks to an out-of-control repo rate fiasco from 2019, mounting debt, and potential ineffectiveness of its main tools.

During the “old normal” the Fed would have been able to deploy its tools to control rates and keep unemployment under control — but that might not be possible now or in the future.

Under the post-pandemic “new normal,” the potential exists for the “ripple effects” from the state closure of small businesses, developing automation, and fractures in the food supply chain to be felt more permanently.

Is the U.S. Heading for Permanently High Unemployment?

In a way, thanks to the pandemic, yes it is. But it depends on many factors.

Wolf Richter laid out why he thinks the sudden economic shifts that happened in 2020 will take years to sort out:

Now the Pandemic has forced businesses to change. There is no going back to the old normal. And these technologies impact employment in both directions.

If the pandemic has forced businesses to adopt technologies that automate certain functions, then the employees that performed those functions will no longer be necessary.

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

 

What Happens to the Markets If Long-Term Interest Rates Double from Here? Did Low Interest Rates Boost Auto Sales? Do These Covid Markets Make Any Sense?

What Happens to the Markets If Long-Term Interest Rates Double from Here? Did Low Interest Rates Boost Auto Sales? Do These Covid Markets Make Any Sense?

Wolf Richter on This Week in Money, by HoweStreet.com:

 

Crazy days for money

Crazy days for money

This article anticipates the end of the fiat currency regime and argues why its replacement can only be gold and silver, most likely in the form of fiat money turned into gold substitutes.

It explains why the current fashion for cryptocurrencies, led by bitcoin, are unsuited as future mediums of exchange, and why unsuppressed bitcoin has responded more immediately to the current situation than gold. Furthermore, the US authorities are likely to suppress the bitcoin movement because it is a threat to the dollar and monetary policy.

This article explains why growth in GDP represents growth in the quantity of money and is not representative of activity in the underlying economy. The authorities’ monetary response to the current economic situation is ill-informed, based on a misunderstanding of what GDP represents.

The common belief in the fund management community that rising interest rates are bad for gold exposes a lack of understanding about the consequences of monetary inflation on relative time preferences. Rising interest rates will be with us shortly, and they will burst the bond bubble with negative consequences for all financial assets and the currencies that have inflated them.

In short, we are sitting on a monetary powder-keg, the danger of which is barely understood by policy makers and which could explode at any time.

Introduction

We have entered a period the likes of which we have never seen before. The collapse of the dollar and dollar assets is growing increasingly certain by the day. The money-printing of the dollar designed to inflate assets will end up destroying the dollar. We know this thanks to the John Law precedent three hundred years ago. I last wrote about this two weeks ago, here. In 1720, it was just France and Law’s livre…

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

Fed’s Near-Zero Rates Might Sound Good (Until This Happens)

But it’s much different when your retirement savings depends on getting a return on investment (ROI). In that case, near-zero interest rates can put pensions and other retirement accounts in serious jeopardy.

The Fed dropped interest rates to 0-0.25% starting last September. And according to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, those near-zero rates could stick around for a while:

Expects to hold interest rates near zero at least until 2023 because of the pandemic. That spells lower returns for retirement accounts, and it adds to the underfunding of pensions that has worried retirees for many years now.

“Low returns from the market are essentially a tax on retirees,” said Olivia Mitchell, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy.

Then there are real interest rates, which are measured by the difference between 10-year treasuries and Fed inflation expectations. We figure this out by comparing the yields on Treasury inflation protected securities (TIPS) to 10-year Treasury yields. Here’s a comparison of real interest rates (2000-present) from the official Cleveland Fed chart:

Ten-year TIPS yields vs real yields

You can see that since 2012, the real rate has struggled to get to 1%, and recently dipped into the negative.

Low rates mean low returns

According to an op-ed on MarketWatch, the drop in real interest rates isn’t a good thing:

This persistently low-rate environment means workers will have to contribute significantly more to their 401(k), or invest in riskier assets, than they did at the turn of the century.

Many of the assets retirement savers have relied on for decades, including Treasury bonds, CDs, annuities, money market accounts, even the humble savings account, cannot preserve your purchasing power any more.

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

interest rates, fed, us federal reserve, central banks, birch gold group, inflation

StoneX: Gold to “Maintain High Prices” on Inflation, Slow Recovery, Low Yields

This week, Your News to Know rounds up the latest top stories involving gold and the overall economy. Stories include: StoneX’s bullish outlook for gold in 2021, low interest rates to support gold for years to come, and a rare gold coin fetches $9.36 million at Texas auction.

StoneX: Expect gold to trend up for at least another six months

In their outlook for 2021, commodities and foreign exchange trader StoneX said that gold should continue trending upwards throughout the first half of 2021 on the back of numerous powerful drivers. These include economic risks and uncertainty as well as geopolitical turmoil, both domestic and international.

As the firm noted, last year saw precious metals emerge as the best-performing commodity group with a 27% rise year-on-year. Silver and gold supported each other’s prices as investors looked for a hedge amid conditions that seem to have very much poured over into the new year. In particular, StoneX sees additional stimulus by global central banks and the accompanying rise in inflation expectations as prominent vehicles for an extension of the bull run.

“The United States, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan have all been active with combined asset growth of over $7 trillion last year. With Congress’ approval of a $900 billion virus relief package in the United States (tied to the $1.3 trillion government funding program) there is more liquidity coming; Europe may follow suit, while Japan is looking to extend support for the corporate sector,” explained the firm.

More than inflation on its own, StoneX noted that its effect on real rates will continue driving money managers to utilize gold as a hedge, especially due to the threat of a stock market correction…

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

Interest Rate Tremors May Spell Disaster for the Dollar

As the U.S. plunges further into debt beyond a staggering $27 trillionthe dollar’s time is running out. But the problem is much deeper than that.

With inflation on the rise, and long-term bond yields rising in concert with massive debt, some disturbing scenarios could develop that spell trouble for the dollar.

The most disturbing possibility on the horizon could develop in the huge bond market (about $500 trillion in size). According to the January 14 issue of One Last Thing by Three Founders Publishing, if it were to collapse, the result would be catastrophic:

“If Treasuries begin to collapse, forcing yields through the roof, it will result in crashes in stocks, real estate, corporate bonds, and municipal bonds all at the same time.”

So let’s take a closer look at what’s happening, which could bring the possibility of a Treasury market collapse or other troubling financial realities closer to the near-term.

Starting with the U.S. Dollar

The value of the U.S. dollar rose 0.55% on Monday, January 11, and that was enough for Barron’s to trumpet, “The Dollar Is Rising.”

That’s a misleading headline. The dollar’s gain vanished quickly. Furthermore, the dollar’s value has remained fairly steady since 2015. In fact, the dollar has yet to come near its most recent peak in 2002.

Barron’s explained the fall of the dollar from March until the recent uptick:

The dollar has fallen by double-digit percentages since March because economic growth is expected to rebound faster globally than in the U.S. this year, while the Federal Reserve has slashed short-term interest rates to near zero. That has reduced the appeal of dollar-denominated debt, limiting overseas investors’ need to buy greenbacks.

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

For Stocks & Bonds, Upside Surprise of Inflation and Interest Rates “Could Prove Nasty”: Dudley

For Stocks & Bonds, Upside Surprise of Inflation and Interest Rates “Could Prove Nasty”: Dudley

Five reasons to “worry about faster inflation.” It’s “a greater danger precisely because it’s no longer perceived as such.”

“Given how completely financial markets have come to expect low inflation and interest rates, and how much support those expectations are providing to bond and stock prices, an upside surprise could prove nasty,” says former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Bill Dudley, in a warning about how markets are ignoring the rising risks of inflation.

Companies have been raising prices, and they have been getting away with it. I’m not talking about prices at the gas station or grocery store which bounce up and down, but prices for things that are more stable, particularly services, where 70% of spending takes place, such as broadband services, shipping rates, and the regular highflyers, such as healthcare. Rents on a national basis are mix of plunging rents in some cities and surging rents in other cities. There has been inflation in goods too, including used-vehicle prices which have spiked by 15% since June,

Many of the restaurants that remained open raised their prices to deal with the additional costs and the decline in seating capacity during the Pandemic, and people are willing to pay those prices to support their restaurants. This happened across other industries that have cut capacity, triggering surging prices despite a decline in demand.

Some of these price increases happened because demand was red-hot, brought on by the sudden shifts to eating at home, working at home, learning at home, playing at home, and vacationing at home, and the other distortions brought about by the Weirdest Economy Ever. Other price increases happened because there were supply constraints due to the Pandemic, and the higher prices stuck.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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