Taper Tantrum Two

November 16th, 2015

Call it Taper Tantrum Two.

Two of the 12 members of the Federal Open Market Committee suggested on Thursday that it’s time to raise interest rates, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 254 points.

To get a better idea of how ludicrous this is, consider the following:

  • The two hawks represent a sixth of the board. The hawks will need to more than triple their numbers to represent a majority.
  • Stock ChartThe two Fed members were speaking at a Cato Institute event called, “Rethinking Monetary Policy.” The event was not called, “Seven More Years of ZIRP,” “Zero Everlasting” or “Bring on QE4.”  Why would anyone be surprised that they spoke in favor of a rate hike?
  • One of the two, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, is an alternate member of the FOMC and has long been advocating for a rate hike. This is the guy who caused the Dow to drop 100 points when he suggested in June 2014 that interest rates might be hiked in the first quarter of 2015.  We tried to determine the role of an alternate member, but the Federal Reserve Board’s description is about as clear as a Fed policy statement.  The page says there are 12 members of the FOMC, but lists 10, as well as four alternates.  So how do they come up with 12?  These are the people who are managing our economy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fed Policy Brings Record Stock Buybacks

November 9th, 2015

Just once, we’d like to post that the economy is growing like pumpkins in September, that personal income is soaring (or at least not falling), that jobs are being created, businesses are being started and capital is being invested.

Would that it were true.

Readers of this blog may thing we’re pessimistic by nature. We’re not. It’s just that the economy has been a disaster for as long as we’ve written this blog.Non-Farm Payrolls

Now, finally, the unemployment rate has fallen to 5% – just under 10% if you’re counting people who have given up looking for work or who are working part-time because they can’t find full-time work.  In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that personal income grew 2.5% between October 2014 and October 2015.

The economy is cyclical and it could signal that the job market is finally improving.  However, the labor force participation rate remains at its lowest level in 38 years, so we’ll leave the cheery propaganda to mainstream media. We feel an obligation to tell the truth and the truth is that the economy is still in dismal shape. We’re not in a recession – at least not according to the traditional definition of one – but defining the current period of economic non-growth as a “recovery” is a stretch.

Consider what the current recovery hath wrought: Read the rest of this entry »

A Way Out for the Fed

November 2nd, 2015

The economy grew at a tepid rate of 1.5% during the third quarter.  More than 100 million Americans aren’t working.  And the inflation rate is near zero.

That’s after seven years of the most radical monetary policy in history, which was supposed to lower unemployment while boosting the inflation rate to 2%.  If you’re the Federal Reserve Board, do you:

  • Conclude that keeping interest rates near zero isn’t helping the economy and abandon that policy.
  • Keep doing what you’re doing, hoping things will change next year, so you can take credit for it.
  • Conclude that the economy is still a mess even after you bought a few trillion dollars’ worth of bonds, so maybe you need to buy more bonds.

    When economists think rates will rise.

    When economists think rates will rise.

The correct answer, at least last week, was b., as the Fed voted to continue its zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), “surprising no one,” as The Wall Street Journal noted.

That means the Fed will keep on zirping, at least until December, but more likely into 2016.

Subject to Interpretation

The Fed’s policy statement, which has changed about as much as Fed policy over the past seven years, was interpreted by many to imply that the Fed “might” increase interest rates by a whole 0.25% when it meets in December.

Read the rest of this entry »

Show Us the Money

October 15th, 2015

The bright spot in this limp recovery has been the unemployment rate, which has fallen to 5.1%.  But don’t look too closely, or you’ll notice that the spot is not so bright.  In fact, the job market is no better than the rate of productivity, growth in gross domestic product (GDP) or numerous other depressingly underwhelming economic factors.

We’ve frequently pointed out that the oft-cited U-3 unemployment rate is meaningless, as the more people give up looking for work, the lower the rate goes.  Can anyone but a government economist think it’s a good thing when the unemployment rate goes down because millions of Americans have stopped looking for work?

A growing number of people – including, we hope, some presidential candidates – seem to be noticing that the labor force participation rate hasn’t been this low since Jimmy Carter was president.  It’s now dropped to 62.7%, a level not seen since February 1978.

But there’s another factor that demonstrates the weakness of the unemployment stats – personal income.Money

A Wall Street Journal commentary by Bob Funk, CEO of Express Employment Professionals, notes that, “There is something that the numbers are missing.  Economics — and logic — tells us that if unemployment was truly that low … wages would be rising.  Instead, wages grew at 0.2% during the second quarter, the slowest rate in 33 years.  The median family income in America is approximately $53,000, below where it was before the 2008 economic meltdown.” Read the rest of this entry »

How Ben Bernanke Saved the World

October 12th, 2015

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

                    U.S. major talking about Bến Tre, Vietnam

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t have a humor section, so “How the Fed Saved the Economy” appeared on the op-ed pages under the byline of Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

In his commentary, Bernanke takes credit for saving the economy – rather than responsibility for the most dismal recovery in history.Bernanke

Anyone who has read even one of our blog posts knows that we would disagree with any claim about the Fed saving the world, especially given that the economy continues its slow-motion deterioration after nearly eight years and several trillion dollars’ worth of “saving” by the Fed.

However, Mr. Bernanke has a book to sell.  And while it will likely appear in the non-fiction section, we’re guessing by its title that it is even more self-congratulatory and less fact-filled (if that’s possible) than his op-ed piece. Read the rest of this entry »

High-Frequency Trading Losing Frequency

October 5th, 2015

The publication of Michael Lewis’ book Flash Boys early in 2014 brought high-frequency trading (HFT) to the attention of many investors for the first time.

Lewis was quoted on “60 Minutes” saying that HFT rigs the stock market against the small investor. Media made it known that the FBI – the folks who investigate drug dealers and organized crime – was investigating HFT.

Wenning Advice had posted frequently about the practice as early as 2011, warning about the distortion that high-frequency trading causes to market fundamentals, the predatory nature of high-frequency trading, the inequity of high-frequency trading, and the risk that high-frequency trading creates for all of us.  We even pointed out that “Satan is a high-frequency trader.”

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis


But what’s happened to HFT since 2014?  And what happened to the FBI’s investigation of the practice?

HFT has not gone away. But it’s not what it used to be.

We noted in 2011 that HFT accounted for 73% of all equity trading in the U.S., up from 30% four years earlier, based on research from TABB Group.

Rosenblatt Securities estimated that HFT trading volume fell from about 3.25 billion shares a day in 2009 to 1.6 billion shares in 2012. And TABB Group estimated that HFT revenues from U.S. equity trading declined from about $7.2 billion in 2009 to $1.3 billion in 2014.  Read the rest of this entry »

Abnormalization and QE4

September 28th, 2015

It seems to be a policy of the Federal Reserve Board to never use a two-syllable word when a four- or five-syllable word is available.

So we have “quantitative easing” instead of “bond buying,” “tapering” instead of “reducing,” “forward guidance” to describe announcements of future Fed activities, and “macroprudential supervision” for “we have no idea what to do, but we have to say something that sounds important.” US-economy_try-it-now-707x404

What may be the most annoying Fed malapropism, though, is the Fed’s use of the word “normalization,” as in the following quote from Fed Chair Janet Yellen after a recent Fed meeting:

“For all of us, the appropriate policy decision is going to be data dependent and all of us will be looking at the incoming data and our opinions about the appropriate timing of normalization are likely to shift as we look at how the data evolves.”

In other words, we’re currently going through a period of abnormalization and the return to “normalization” will begin when the Fed starts raising interest rates.  Although, after eight years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), shouldn’t we consider ZIRP to be the new normal?  Read the rest of this entry »

ZIRP Everlasting

September 21st, 2015

Some things never change.  Apparently, the interest rate for Federal funds is one of them.

To the surprise of no one – except the “experts” and journalists who have been writing about an anticipated rate increase – the Federal Reserve Board voted last week to keep interest rates flatlined at about zero, which is where they’ve been since 2008.

The Fed may not have raised interest rates, but it at least raised interest this time. The International Business Times called it, “one of the most widely anticipated Federal Reserve decisions in decades.”

Really?  Why was this meeting any different from previous Fed meetings where interest rates remained unchanged?  Because the media-academic-pundit intelligentsia decided that it was time to increase rates.Yellen

In a Wall Street Journal poll of economists in August, 82% of economists thought the Fed would raise rates in September.  The week before the Fed met, 46% picked September as the most likely time for the Fed’s rate hike, 9.5% said the Fed would wait until October and 35% predicted that the Fed would wait until December.  Just 9.5% predicted the Fed would wait until 2016 to raise rates.

The economists polled don’t have seats on the Federal Open Market Committee, but everyone assumes they must know something. Read the rest of this entry »

Place Your Bets

September 14th, 2015

“What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things … ”

                            Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock 

Let’s put this in perspective. If the Federal Reserve Board raises interest rates at its meeting this week, it will likely raise them by 0.25%.

That’s 25 basis points … a quarter of a percentage point … a hair’s breadth. In the 1980s, U.S. long-term interest rates approached 20%, which is 80 times higher than the post-increase Fed rate would be.Interest-Rates-US-Fed-Funds2

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that any rate increase, even one as slight as a quarter of a point, would signal a change in direction for the Fed. It would mean that the easy money days are over. The stock market would no longer be artificially inflated by Fed policy. Yields would rise. The Keynesian bubble would burst. Read the rest of this entry »

ECB: Cheap Oil Is the Problem, Not Iran’s Nukes

September 7th, 2015

If the European Central Bank (ECB) is to be believed, the biggest threat from the Middle East is not Iran getting nukes, it’s Saudi oil.

What’s the big deal?  Saudis have had a cushy lifestyle for decades, thanks to their oil production, but U.S. fracking is making the U.S. practically oil independent and that’s cramping the Saudis’ lifestyle, so the country has turned on the tap, producing more oil, which lowers prices, which makes it less profitable for American companies to use fracking techniques to drill for oil.

Unfortunately, lower oil prices have made it difficult for central bankers to increase the rate of inflation, which has this goal-oriented group in a snit.  OMG!!!

"Government debt gdp" by Jirka.h23 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

“Government debt gdp” by Jirka.h23 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Not to worry.  Oil prices jumped a whopping 27% last week, in spite of Saudi vows to continue current production levels, in part based on the announcement that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet this week with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss “possible mutual steps” to stabilize oil prices.

Apparently, central bankers missed that news, because when the ECB met last week, inflation was the focus.  Read the rest of this entry »