Nearly free money introduces myriad distortions in an economy that can take decades to work themselves out after the music stops. From Jeffrey Tucker at The Epoch Times via zerohedge.com:
What began in 2008 and continued for the better part of 14 years appears finally to be coming to an end. The era of cheap money and credit is over.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around the implications. It will affect all of business life and personal finances. It will dramatically change financial decisions and also affect the culture. It’s going to amount to a return to good-sense, value investing, and companies that have to actually make a profit the old-fashioned way.
I’m not just talking about layoffs in Big Tech. But those are very real. Amazon is laying off 10,000 workers in management layers—which everyone in corporate America knows are the the most useless people in any business. They got puffed up beyond reasonable size completely due to seemingly infinite resources and forever rising stock valuations based on nothing but inflated reputations.
Such cutbacks are occurring in every major company that reached gargantuan size. Twitter was just the beginning because soon after Facebook (sorry, Meta) announced the same, while many other companies that lived off ad revenue on the internet are experiencing the profitability squeeze as we headed into a solid recession (it will become obvious in months that we are already there).
It also affects real estate, the residential markets of which are already freezing up. And commercial real estate in big cities is similarly affected, particularly offices that are still only half-full. Lacking a buyers’ market, prices will have to come down relative to where they are today, though they are likely to remain inflated over valuations from 2019 due to persistent inflation that is only very gradually calming down.
A lot of zombie corporations were being kept alive by extremely low borrowing costs. Now that interest rates are rising, many of those zombies will die. From MN Gordon at economicprism.com:
On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), inflated at an annual rate of 7.7 percent in October. Investors went bananas on this apparent pullback in the headline CPI.
The stock market responded with one of its biggest single day rallies in history. The S&P 500 jumped over 5.5 percent. The NASDAQ jumped over 7.3 percent. Of greater note, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury note dropped to just 3.81 percent – its lowest yield in over a month.
So, is raging consumer price inflation no longer a concern? Has the ugly storm come and gone? Can Powell now pivot?
Probably not. More than likely, consumer price inflation will rage throughout the decade. Regardless, now’s not the time to go all in on stocks. We’ll explain why in just a moment. But first several words on consumer price inflation.
Consumer price inflation, remember, is an effect of money supply inflation. The Federal Reserve inflated its balance sheet with upwards of $5 trillion in digital monetary units – created out of thin air – between September 2019 and April 2022.
Since then, the Fed has contracted its balance sheet by about $300 billion – or by about 6 percent of the preceding inflation. Clearly, there’s still plenty more inflation to be reckoned with.
And while the Fed, in concert with the Treasury and Congress, was busy spewing reams of printing press money into the economy between fall-2019 and spring-2022, other mistakes were also being made.
A naysayer economist is saying that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, in a world that believes you can have your cake, eat it, have it again, and eat it again. From Daniel Lacalle at mises.org:
Central banks should know by now that you cannot have negative interest rates with low bond yields and strong growth. One or the other.
Central banks have chosen low bond yields at any cost, despite all the evidence of stagnation ahead. This creates enormous problems and perverse incentives.
It is not a surprise that markets have bounced aggressively, driven by the tech sector, after a slump based on concerns about the pace of economic growth. Stimulus package effects are increasingly short, and this was pretty evident in the poor figures of industrial production and the ZEW survey gauge of expectations. The same can be said about a weakening ISM index in the United States. United States ISM Services PMI came in at 60.1, below expectations (63.5) in June, precisely in the sector where the recovery should be strongest.
Interestingly, European markets declined sharply after the European Central Bank sent the ultimate dovish message, a change in its inflation target that would allow the central bank to exceed its 2 percent limit without change of policy. What does it all tell us?
When I was dating my wife Jo, her 10-year-old daughter Holly learned I was a glutton for chocolate chip cookies.
This adorable little lady grinned, loaded in the chocolate chips and baked an entire batch by herself. As she put the cookies on the cooling rack, I began to devour them. They were soft, moist and yummy!
Holly yelled, “Mom he is eating them faster than I can bake them.” Not surprising, I soon gained 25 pounds.
Today Holly owns a small business. Over the holidays she complained. Much like Dennis and chocolate chips, our wealth is being gobbled up faster than it can be created. She is spot on.
The Big Heist
On 1/1/2000 10-year treasuries were paying over 6% interest. 21 years later, they paid .93%. They are guaranteed wealth destroyers.
The government spends recklessly, bails out banks and debt soars.
Bank borrow and lend cheap money; commercial loans have skyrocketed. Untold billions went to binge-borrowing corporations buying back their stock to hype the market price, yet their debts remain.
The Fed has become the deity of the financial markets. From Sven Henrich at northmantrader.com:
We all know it yet the unspoken truth deserves to be said out aloud.
You all heard the phrases ‘Don’t fight the Fed’, and ‘ there is no alternative’. Can we be clear what these phrases really mean? They mean people are buying assets at prices they otherwise wouldn’t because a central planning committee is putting in market conditions that changes their market behavior.
People are paying forward multiples that are higher than they would if they earned higher interest income. The ‘desperate search for yield’ they call it. Think of it as a forced auction. You must pay, and you must pay more because you can’t bid on anything else and neither can anyone else hence there are now bidders for ever less available product (i.e. think shrinking share floats) driving prices wildly higher. And as central banks have become permanently dovish over the past decade Fed meetings are the principal impetus for rallies. Indeed most gains in markets come around days that have Fed Day written on them, a well established history going back decades now.
“In a 2011 paper, New York Fed economists showed that from 1994 to 2011 almost all the S&P 500’s returns came in the 3 days around an FOMC decision. Over this period the index rose by 270%, and most of those gains happened the before, the day of, and the day after a Fed meeting.”
So Pavlovian has the response become that shorts automatically cover ahead of Fed meetings and investors buy ahead of Fed meetings expecting a positive response. The Fed is the market as it’s driving its entire behavior. The “Fed put” they call it. Another phrase that explicitly acknowledges that investors are orienting their risk profile behavior on what this unelected committee does.
Endless money for deeply indebted companies that have no prospect of making a profit is not a feature of capitalism. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:
By Wolf Richter. This is the transcript of my podcast last Sunday, THE WOLF STREET REPORT. You can listen to it on YouTube, and you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and others.
Through the first half of August – which is normally a quiet period for the bond market in the US – a total of $56 billion in junk bonds and leveraged loans were issued by junk-rated companies, according to S&P Global. That was nearly 50% higher than the prior records for the same period in 2012 and 2016, and more than double the amount issued in the entire month of August last year.
The Fed’s announcement on March 23rd that it would start buying corporate bonds and bond ETFs set off a huge rally in the bond market, including in the junk-bond market.
The rally started before the Fed ever actually bought the first bond. And then the Fed hardly bought anything by Fed standards. Through the end of July, it bought just $12 billion in corporate bonds and bond ETFs, including a minuscule $1.1 billion in junk bond ETFs. It’s not even a rounding error on its $7-trillion mountain of assets.
But the announcement was enough to trigger the biggest junk-debt chase in the shortest amount of time the world has likely ever seen. And it kept the zombies walking, and it generated a whole new generation of zombies too.
Not even microscopic or negative interest rates can keep a debt bubble inflated forever. From Max Rangely at mises.org:
Much has been written about the economic consequences of covid-19, yet, just as in many of the analyses of the Great Depression and the 2008 crisis, the years of accumulating debt preceding the event do not attract the attention they deserve. Covid-19—or to be more precise, the lockdown—has initiated a cascading liquidation of the debt bubble that has been building for a generation. From the early 1980s, each recession has been responded to with iteratively lower interest rates. Following the bursting of the late 1980s credit bubble, Greenspan inaugurated the loosest monetary policy for a generation, creating the dotcom bubble. When this burst in 2000, it was responded to with even lower interest rates, reaching 1 percent from 2003–04, generating the housing bubble. When this burst in 2007/8, the response was 0 percent interest rates, turning a $150 trillion global debt bubble as it was then—already the largest In history—into a $250 trillion global debt bubble.
When central banks set interest rates it fundamentally distorts the pricing mechanisms of credit markets, just like price setting in other parts of the economy. Friedrich von Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974 for articulating that interest rates, like other prices, should be set by the market rather than central planning committees. We are not surprised when the government setting the price of food in Venezuela leads to food shortages, so we should not be surprised that 0 percent interest rates leads to a shortage in yield for investors, leading to a $250 trillion global debt bubble.
You can have market-driven financial markets or you can have central bank-driven financial markets, but you can’t have both. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:
It wasn’t really the plan to make this a series, but it seems to have turned into one. Part 1 is here: The Fed Detests Free Markets. Part 3 will follow soon. And yeah, I did think perhaps I should have called this one “End The Fed” Is No Longer Enough. Because that’s the idea here. But what’s in a name?
Okay, let’s talk a bit more about finance again. Though I still think this requires caution, because the meaning of the terminology used in such conversations appears to have acquired ever more diverse meanings for different groups of people. Up to the point where you must ask: are we really still talking about the same thing here?I’ve said multiple times before that there are no more markets really, or investors, because central banks have killed off the markets. There are still “contraptions” that look like them, like the real thing, but they’re fake. You can see this every time a Fed chief opens their mouth and every single person involved in the fake markets hangs on their lips.
They do that because that Fed head actually determines what anything will be worth tomorrow, not the markets, since the Fed buys everything up, and puts interest rates down so more people can buy grossly overpriced property and assets, and allows companies to buy their own shares so nobody knows what they’re worth anymore.
Now the plot thickens: I’ve got a former Secretary of the Treasury backing me up. We’ve already seen, including in my last podcast, how negative interest rates screw up the economy. Negative interest rates are so absurd that just thinking about them gives me a headache.
In the era of negative interest rates, owning financial assets such as government bonds, or savings in the bank, or corporate bonds, and increasingly European junk bonds, no longer produces income but a financial burden – because you have to pay the negative interest in one form or another. And so these quote unquote “assets” are not only a financial burden on you that you would want to get rid of normally, but by extension, they’re burden on the economy as a whole.
Look how economies and stocks have fared in countries with negative interest rates – such as Japan and the countries of the Eurozone: Their stocks have gotten crushed. Their bank stocks have gotten annihilated. Japanese bank stocks are down 92% from the peak 30 years ago, and European bank stocks are down 76% from 12 years ago. European bank stocks are now back where they’d first been in 1993.
The European and Japanese economies have been mired in microscopic growth interspersed with declines. In Japan, this has been going on for over two decades. In Europe it’s been a dozen years.
The world and US economy are addicted to debt and low interest rates. From the Zman at theburningplatform.com:
The Federal Reserve is making noises about cutting interest rates for the first time in several years. The reason is the trade dispute with China and now Mexico is potentially having an impact on the global economy. Even though it is only a signal of an intention, markets rallied on the news. Global investors and their robot traders love cheap credit from the Federal Reserve, so anytime there is the promise of more cheap credit, there is a rush into equities. It is a reminder of what actually drives stock indices.
It used to be that recessions were seen as a correctives for the system, as they eliminated unproductive and parasitic elements from the economy. In good times, all sorts of inefficiencies are tolerated, as everyone is making money. When times get tight, everyone gets serious again. Inefficient businesses and industries fail, thus putting those resources into more productive areas. The recession was the economy’s way of policing itself, so it was considered a necessary, if unpleasant, feature.
No one thinks like that today. Any sign of a downturn produces panic, especially among office holders. Part of it is no one has any respect for office holders, so voters will look for any reason to throw the bums out. For people who live off the public, losing an election is worse than death. Another part of it seems to be the sense among the ruling classes that they have only a tenuous grip on power. This is a bread and circus world now and they better make sure both are in ample supply.
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