Archive for the ‘Central Banks’ Category

At a Loss over Profits

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Apparently, there are two Americas.

In one, corporate profits are soaring, the economy is booming and jobs are available for the asking.

In the other, corporate profits are dismal, America is in or close to a recession and more than 100 million Americans have left the labor force.

In one America, more people approve than disapprove of the job President Obama is doing (49.2% approve, 46.8% disapprove, according to Real Clear Politics).  In the other America, more than two thirds of the country believe the country is on the wrong track.  Real Clear Politics found that 69.3% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, while only 22.5% believe it is on the right track. Profits

While media are increasingly reporting that the economy is at or near full employment, that America is at odds with reality.  As we’ve written, participation in the labor force has dropped to 62.6%, which is near a four-decade low.

The America where the economy is booming is even more delusional.  Some may say that it’s all relative.  They may concede that U.S. growth in gross domestic product (GDP) is sluggish at best, but typically add that it’s better than GDP growth in the rest of the world. (more…)

To the Back of the Queue

Monday, June 27th, 2016

If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

The Clash                            

Maybe it was the fear of Britain being overrun by immigrating Turks.  Maybe Brits had enough of being told what to do by elitist policy makers in Brussels.  But Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union was also a rebuke of President Obama.

You may recall that President Obama announced on his recent visit to the UK that if Brits voted to leave the EU, the UK would be moved to “the back of the queue” for trade deals.  Maybe he’ll call his new policy with the United Kingdom “trading from behind.” EU

The comment didn’t endear him to British voters, but our president wasn’t exactly an anglophile to begin with, having confessed to removing the bust of Winston Churchill from the White House.  To our knowledge, he hasn’t replaced it with a bust of Che Guevara, but he’s treated Iran’s mullahs with more respect than he has our friends the Brits.

Perhaps after watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average drop more than 500 points during the early minutes of trading, President Obama’s tone was more conciliatory on Friday, as he said, “The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision,” adding that, “The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring.”  (more…)

Upending the World

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Logic has taken a 180-degree turn, running at full sprint in the opposite direction from where it should be.

As one small example, consider the good fortune of Hans Peter Christensen, recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal, who is currently being paid by his bank to borrow money.  Christensen owns a home in Aalborg, Denmark, where negative interest rates resulted in his bank paying him the equivalent of $38 in interest for the quarter for borrowing money.

Meanwhile, in other countries with negative interest rates, some banks are charging customers for their deposits.  So the bank pays you to take its money and charges you to take your money. Zero Rates

Such is the logic of today’s central bankers in much of Europe and Japan, where rates have been negative for more than a year.

The United States has not adopted negative interest rates—but Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in February that the Fed is studying the feasibility of doing so, “to give the economy an extra boost,” according to The Wall Street Journal. (more…)

Going Negative

Monday, February 29th, 2016

“More money cannot cure what too much money created.”

                                   Frank Hollenbeck

There’s nothing positive to say about negative interest rates.

If seven years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) has left the U.S. economy is such sad shape, how could negative interest rates help?  Negative rates have already been tried in Europe and Japan, and they have failed to boost the economy.

And yet some believe the Federal Reserve Board is considering replacing ZIRP with NIRP.  We’ve written plenty about the failings of ZIRP, or zero interest rate policy, and believe it would be foolish for the Fed to consider NIRP, or negative interest rate policy.

The bank of the future.

The bank of the future.

How does NIRP work?  As Zerohedge explained, “The process can be as simple as the central bank charging its member banks for holding excess reserves, although the same thing can be accomplished by more roundabout methods such as manipulating the reverse repo market.”

In other words, central banks created trillions of dollars in excess reserves throughout the banking system and now they want to charge banks for holding those reserves.  The idea is to coerce banks to lend the money, which should stimulate the economy.  (more…)

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

Monday, 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.  (more…)

China’s Fix Could Break Things

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Imagine if free markets were allowed to be free.

Of course, in today’s world, they’re not.  Central bankers and government agencies have taken control.  Not knowing what to do with it hasn’t stopped them. 

China is the latest case in point.  We recently suggested that investors worry about China, not about Greece, although for a tiny country Greece gives everyone plenty to worry about.  But China should be the center of everyone’s attention, given its attempt to fix its falling stock market and boost imports by devaluing the yuan.China

While it’s impossible to guess the intentions of China’s rulers – and they’re not about to share them – the 1.9% devaluation announced last week smacks of desperation.  China’s stock market has been swooning this summer and its exports are down by 8.3% (much larger than the expected 1.5% decrease), which is not good for future growth.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal noted, “Pockets of manufacturing have been especially hard hit, as reflected in sluggish electricity use and falling rail cargo. Especially scary is the prospect of deflation; producer prices were down 5.4% from a year ago.”

(more…)

Big Board Floored

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The Big Board is not so big anymore.

A decade ago, it accounted for 80% of stock trades.  Today, it accounts for 20%.  There are also far fewer publicly traded companies in the U.S. – 5,000+ today, compared with 8,000+ in the 1990s.  The NYSE lists about 2,800 of them.

To trade directly on the NYSE, you used to have to buy a “seat.”  In the 1990s, seats sold for as much as $4 million.  Today, you can buy a license to trade on the NYSE for $40,000.

Regardless, when “the leading stock exchange in the world“ shuts down, even for just a few hours, it’s big news.

The NYSE shut down for three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday, which was unprecedented.  Little information has been shared, but the NYSE has blamed the shutdown on a technical glitch.  Call us skeptical, but the odds of a computer glitch shutting down the NYSE, grounding United Continental Holdings planes and bringing down The Wall Street Journal’s website all on the same day are pretty small. Labor Force_1_0

Thanks to Edward Snowden and irresponsible practices by the U.S. Office of Personnel and Management, people who are not our friends now have access to a wealth of information about us.  We’d rather not think about what will happen if Chinese or Iranian hackers disrupt our electrical grid, but it’s something that should concern all of us.  Its impact not only on your investments, but on our national security, would be devastating.  (more…)

Central Bankers: Masters of the Universe

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Earlier this month, along with our usual dire observations about an economy that has come unhinged, I noted that the world was not coming to an end.  On closer inspection, I may have been wrong on that one.

One sign that all is not right in the world of investing is the increasing volatility.  Volatility is not a good thing for investors seeking to limit their risk and markets recently have been as spiked as Jonestown Kool-Aid.  The results could be nearly as disastrous. Volatility

As the chart shows, currency, oil and interest rates have been up, down and all around.  Bonds, too, have been volatile, and price shifts have been taking place with increasing frequency.

It makes me uncomfortable when I see government bonds flash crashing along with currencies of developed markets with enormous debt levels.  The Swiss National Bank’s unpegged its currency and, if Japan keeps burning yens, China is likely to unpeg its currency. When that happens, it isn’t going to be fun.

Why is this happening?  Because central bankers have become the masters of the universe.  Make that Masters of the Universe.

As Zerohedge notes, “For the last few years, valuations in more and more markets seem to have stopped following traditional relationships and instead followed global QE.  Likewise in meetings with investors, we have been struck by how little time anyone spends discussing fundamentals these days, and how much revolves around central banks.  Record-high proportions of investors think fixed income is expensive and think equities are expensive.  A growing number of property market participants seem to think real estate is expensive. And yet almost all have had to remain long, as each of these markets has rallied.  Could it be that central bank liquidity has forced investors to be the same way round more so than previously, and that this is making markets prone to sudden corrections?”  (more…)

Bet You Can’t Count to a Quadrillion

Monday, May 18th, 2015

When someone uses “quadrillion” in a headline, you know you’re in for a bit of an alarmist rant. We’re talking 1,000,000,000,000,000, which, stated another way, is a thousand million million.  Or a million billion.  Or a thousand trillion.

Stated in dollars, that’s more than the debt racked up by the federal government since President Obama took office.  Way more.  It’s even way more than the Federal Reserve Board spent buying bonds when it was in QE mode. Chart 1

So when Bill Holter of Global Research wrote an article with the headline, “Derivatives are a $1 Quadrillion ‘Ticking Time Bomb,’ ” it caught our attention.

So did the series of charts he included, which showed movements in the government bond market that were double-black-diamond steep, even without moguls.

We’re talking government bonds here, not junk bonds, not commodities, not emerging market stocks.  Government bonds are Nebraska – flat and predictable.  During volatile times, they’re the bunny slope, not a double-black diamond.

So what’s up with the volatility?

(more…)

Bazooka or Blunderbuss?

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Any day now, it seems that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s full head of hair will migrate to his chin and turn gray, as the central banker morphs into former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.Bazooka 2

Last week, the ECB began its purchase of €60 billion ($64.2 billion) a month in Eurozone government bonds, with total purchases expected to eventually exceed €1 trillion.

He’s called the purchase his “big bazooka,” but it could turn out to be a blunderbuss, an antiquated weapon that’s prone to misfiring.

(more…)