Archive for the ‘Interest Rates’ Category

Why Home Ownership Is At a 50-Year Low

Monday, May 15th, 2017

After eight years of historically low interest rates, and with the unemployment rate having fallen to a point near what experts consider to be full employment, it would be logical for home ownership to be at an all-time high.

It’s not. In fact, it was recently at its lowest level in 50 years.

In 2016, there were nearly a million fewer homeowners in the U.S. then there were in 2006, even while the number of households rose by 7.5 million, according to “Homeownership in Crisis: Where are We Now? a new report from Rosen Consulting Group and the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics.

If the housing market had returned to normal levels by 2016, according to the report, more than $300 billion would have been added to the national economy, which would have boosted growth in gross domestic product by 1.8%. In other words, instead of the anemic 2% growth we’ve experienced over the past eight years, growth could be exceeding the 3.3% average.

As recently as 2004, 69.2% of Americans owned homes. As of 2016, only 63.4% were homeowners. While there are recent signs of improvement, why has home ownership been so low?

The Housing Bubble

Many factors had an impact, as we noted when we wrote about the housing market a couple of years ago. Ironically, a major one was the government effort to increase home ownership.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which became law in 1977, was meant to encourage lenders to make more mortgage loans to low-income Americans. While the CRA initially helped many struggling Americans become homeowners, over time it morphed into an abandonment of lending standards. (more…)

Rates Rising, Yet Bond Buying Sets Record

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Rising interest rates, higher inflation and tighter monetary policy should be bad news for bonds. Yet investors have been buying record volumes of new bonds.

  • Highly rated U.S. companies issued $414.5 billion of debt during the first quarter, a record for any quarter.
  • Dealogic reported that companies and governments in emerging markets sold $178.5 billion of dollar-denominated debt in the first three months of the year, the best first quarter on record.
  • U.S. companies with junk-bond ratings issued debt totaling $79.6 billion, double from a year earlier.

Why are bonds so popular now?

Economic growth remains uncertain. There’s been plenty of good economic news of late.

Chart from Motley Fool. Numbers are in millions of dollars.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in March – or 8.9% if you use the U-6 rate, which even Fed Chair Janet Yellen seems to finally agree is more accurate. The labor force participation rate, which was 62.6% on November, has nudged up to 63%. New orders are up, capital expenditures are up and housing starts are up.

Yet there’s still plenty of uncertainty about the economy, which could be affected by actions in the Middle East, Russia, Korea or elsewhere.

(more…)

All You Gotta Do Is Act Naturally

Monday, February 27th, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court isn’t the only influential government entity that President Trump will have an opportunity to make his mark on.

The Federal Reserve Board will likewise bear the Trump brand in the not-too-distant future. Two of the seven seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors are already vacant and now a third governor, Daniel K. Tarullo, has announced that he will step down in April. Called the “lead architect of post-crisis financial regulations plans” by The Wall Street Journal, Tarullo is not likely to be replaced by a pro-regulation governor.Natural Rate

In addition, the Fed’s influential general counsel Scott Alvarez, who has sometimes been referred to as “the eighth governor,” will retire this year after a 36-year career at the central bank. And the leadership term of Chair Janet Yellen expires in January 2018, while Vice Chair Stanley Fischer’s term expires in June.

The changes are likely to result in a different perspective for the board, which has been dominated by ”academics who don’t know how finance and the economy really work,” according to Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas staffer and author of a new book, Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America.

Booth describes “a tribe of slow-moving Fed economists who dismiss those without high-level academic credentials,” and she counts Ms. Yellen and predecessor Ben Bernanke among them.

“Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of Ph.D. academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink.’”

We hope the final copy offers more wit and insight than that, but you likely get the idea.  (more…)

Strength Isn’t Always Good

Monday, November 28th, 2016

With the dollar strengthening rapidly relative to other currencies, in part as a result of Donald Trump’s election victory, consider this irony: The price of imports will fall, making them more attractive to consumers—just as the incoming president prepares to clamp down on imports.

Hopefully, he’ll put aside his protectionist instincts and be persuaded by his advisors to enable American consumers to enjoy a few bargains. Otherwise, we’ll be experiencing the downside of a strong dollar without enjoying the upside.dollar

The downside is that a strong dollar makes American goods more costly abroad. The weak dollar that prevailed through most of the Obama presidency enabled American companies to compete abroad, even though corporate America is taxed at the highest rate in the industrialized world.

But add on a stronger dollar and American exports will drop, increasing our trade deficit, reducing corporate profits and making it more difficult for the economy to grow. That would cause a drop in employment and American workers would, yet again, have to wait to see their salaries increase. (more…)

The Apolitical Fed and the “Big, Fat, Ugly Bubble”

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

“ … nothing at the Fed is political.”                                                     Neil Kashkari, new head of the Minneapolis Fed

The Federal Reserve Board was designed to be a nonpartisan entity, existing solely for the benefit of the American economy. Apparently, there is a flaw in the design.

During the first debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Mr. Trump accused the Federal Reserve Board of keeping interest rates near zero to help Democrats in November, while creating a “big, fat, ugly bubble” that will pop after the election when the central bank raises rates.

According to Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley, “This riff has some truth to it.”djia

“Since the Fed began aggressive monetary easing in 2008,” Sharma wrote on Zero Hedge, “my calculations show that nearly 60% of stock market gains have come on those days, once every six weeks, that the Federal Open Market Committee announces its policy decisions.

“Put another way, the S&P 500 index has gained 699 points since January 2008, and 422 of those points came on the 70 Fed announcement days. The average gain on announcement days was 0.49%, or roughly 50 times higher than the average gain of 0.01% on other days.”

It must be a coincidence that gains are 50 times higher on days when the FOMC announces policy decisions.

Sharma’s conclusions are further supported by this chart from Showrealhist.com, which shows an inflation-adjusted Dow Jones Industrial Average.  Note the upward surge that began when the Fed began QE in 2008. (more…)

Deceptive Pricing

Monday, September 26th, 2016

If you had to believe one of the following people, who would you choose?

Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, makers of the EpiPen: “The misconception about our profits is understandable, and at least partly due to the complex environment in which pharmaceutical prices are determined.”

John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo: “First of all, this was by 1% of our people.”

Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve Board: “In general, I would not say that asset valuations are out of line with historical norms.”yellen

Two of the three people above were brought before Congressional committees so they could be scolded by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and other upstanding, ethically pure members of Congress. Which two?

And finally, which of the three people above have had the greatest impact on you and on the economy?

Stumpf Grilled

Mr. Stumpf’s days as CEO of Wells Fargo are apparently numbered, because some of his company’s minions decided to open accounts for bank customers who never authorized them to be opened. This was done by employees to make quotas and earn bonuses. (more…)

Doubling Down on Bad Ideas

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

Uh oh.

Until now, about the only thing good you could say about the Federal Reserve Board in recent years is that it hasn’t followed central banks in Europe and Japan by lowering interest rates below zero.

But that may be where we’re going next.

Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer told Bloomberg Surveillance last week that he and his Fed colleagues believe that negative interest rates are a legitimate tool for central bankers to use in their efforts to achieve full employment and economic health.Fischer

If by Fed colleagues, he means his imaginary friends, we should be okay.  But if he means his gal pal Janet Yellen et al, look out below.  Over the cliff we go.

Negative rates would be doubling down on failed policies. If you’re a political figure, like Fed Chair Yellen and her Fed brethren, it would be anathema to admit that you’re wrong about anything, so if something doesn’t work, you rationalize that you just didn’t pour enough gasoline on the fire and you pour more.

Anyone who has to pay for health insurance will recognize the doubling-down approach being used in the coming election by the Democrats who gave us Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act, to the surprise of no one who is not a Democratic member of Congress, has become unaffordable, with a majority of exchanges shutting down because they are losing money. But, with premiums increasing by about 30% this year in some states, Democrats believe the answer is more government control of healthcare. The insurers, of course, are the bad guys, because they are no longer willing to lose billions propping up Obamacare. (more…)

The Fed’s Multi-Trillion Dollar Ponzi Scheme

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

“You loan me ten bucks. I photocopy the bill four times, give you back one of the copies, and announce that we’re square. That’s monetizing the debt.”                                                                                                                                                                         From Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles

In the private sector, it would be called a Ponzi scheme.  When the Federal Reserve Board does it, it’s called “monetizing the debt.”

The Balance explained that, “The Federal Reserve monetizes debt any time it buys U.S. Treasuries. When the Federal Reserve buys these Treasuries, it doesn’t have to print money to buy them. It issues credit and puts the Treasuries on its balance sheet. Everyone treats the credit just like money, even though the Fed doesn’t print cold hard cash.”united-states-money-supply-m1@2x (1)

The process lowers interest rates, because the bonds taken out of circulation reduce supply, driving demand higher. But if reducing the supply of bonds drives prices higher and interest rates lower, shouldn’t more dollars drive the value of the dollar lower and the price of goods higher?

Logically, if you were to double the supply of money tomorrow, a dollar should be worth half of what it is worth today.  Prices would double, so the rate of inflation would be 100%.

And yet even with boatloads of new money, the inflation rate has barely budged.  The M1 money supply, which includes cash, checking accounts and other liquid monetary assets, is about 245% higher than it was eight years ago, when the Federal Reserve Board began its easy money policy.  Meanwhile, the Fed has been reluctant to increase interest rates in part because it has not been able to reach its targeted inflation rate of 2%. (more…)

Grading on a Curve

Monday, July 18th, 2016

 “We do not target the level of stock prices.                     That is not an appropriate thing for us to do.”

                                    Fed Chair Janet Yellen

 It’s the equivalent of social passing or grading on a curve. While the stock market is breaking new records, its recent performance is not a reflection of reality.

As Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” “I don’t think we have enough evidence to justify these levels in the equity market at this moment.” Buybacks

He said the recent rally has been driven by institutional investors covering shorts (i.e., hedging bets that stock prices would fall), and not by bullish individual investors. In fact, he noted that outflows in mutual funds show that individual investors are becoming squeamish about stock prices.

Institutional investors were short going into Brexit, but are recalibrating their portfolios, Fink said, given that the Brexit aftershock has not been as long-lasting as expected. While some may have been concerned about the economic impact of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, ultimately its impact on markets was muted by the knowledge that Brexit would most likely keep the Fed from increasing interest rates anytime this year.  (more…)

Theater of the Absurd

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Vladimir: “Well? What do we do?”

Estragon: “Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer.”

From “Waiting for Godot” 

In Waiting for Godot, two men spend more than an hour talking nonsense and it’s called Theater of the Absurd.

After last week’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen spent an hour talking nonsense and it was called a press conference. But, really, it could be argued that the Fed is at least as absurd as anything in Waiting for Godot. Much of the dialogue in Godot could, in fact, have come from the FOMC.  For example …

Vladimir: “I don’t understand.”

Estragon: “Use your intelligence, can’t you?”

Vladimir uses his intelligence.

Vladimir: (finally) “I remain in the dark.”

Janet Yellen: “Although the unemployment rate has declined, job gains have diminished.”talawa waiting godot

Estragon: “I can’t go on like this.”

Vladimir: “That’s what you think.”

The FOMC has continued ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) for 90 months. Estragon and Valdimir waited for Godot for only a couple of days.  (more…)