Archive for January, 2015

The United States of Europe

Monday, January 26th, 2015

The U.S. has been imitating Europe for years, boosting government spending and racking up debt, creating a healthcare system that doesn’t work and adding costly new social benefits.

Now it’s Europe’s turn to imitate the U.S.  As expected, European Central Bank head Mario Draghi announced a quantitative easing (QE) program for Europe last week.

Does this look like deflation to you?

Does this look like deflation to you?

Over the past six years, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s three QE programs boosted the Fed’s balance sheet from less than $1 trillion to $4.48 trillion.  In comparison, the ECB’s QE program is modest; the ECB will purchase $1.24 trillion of existing sovereign bonds and debt securities over the next 18 months.

But any QE program would be modest in comparison with the Fed’s.  And, long term, maybe the first round of QE doesn’t work, the ECB will continue to imitate the U.S. and follow with additional rounds of bond buying.

The ECB’s action raises a few questions:

If Draghi believes that bond buying is going to help Europe, why hasn’t he tried it before now?  The ECB has tried everything but QE, but primarily relied on forward guidance, which amounts to talking about the economy.  Forward guidance would be an absurd economic policy anywhere, but in a central bank – but not as absurd as QE.  Forward guidance also doesn’t require the purchase of trillions of dollars’ worth of assets. (more…)

Swiss Diss

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

“It is said that the Swiss love only money … this is not true. They also love gold.”                                                                                                                          Anonymous

 The last time we checked, Switzerland was still part of Europe.

Then again, Switzerland has long been different from its European brethren.  Switzerland is historically an observer, not a participant.  Neutrality gives the country points for ethics among the peace-loving folk – although it didn’t stop the Swiss from dealing with the Nazis during World War II. Swiss Franc

Switzerland is also “the vault of the world.”  It’s where money and wealth are omnipresent, but never talked about.  “Swiss” and “bank” go together like “Swiss” and “watch.”

But there’s a big difference between the Swiss National Bank and the European Central Bank.  While the ECB is likely to announce a quantitative easing program to fight deflation next week, Switzerland this week strengthened its currency with a surprise announcement that it was removing its cap on the value of the Swiss franc.

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The Year of “May”

Monday, January 12th, 2015

We’re well into January, but 2014 demanded a bit of reflection before commenting.  Was it a good year or a bad year?

We still don’t know.  We’re calling it the Year of “May,” although that title could have gone to 2013, 2012, 2011 or even 2010.

Using “may” in a sentence illustrates why 2014 was the Year of “May.”  The economy may be improving, but it may not be improving by much.  Interest rates may go up, but they may stay put for a while.  The Federal Reserve Board may be done with quantitative easing, but it may be using other easy money measures to keep the stock market lovefest going.  Europe may also begin quantitative easing.2014

In 2015, we may find out what Fed Chair Janet Yellen means by “macroprudential supervision.”  During 2014, we may have joined the rest of the world in moving toward deflation, or, if the economy really is improving, we may soon be meeting – or even exceeding – the Fed’s inflation expectations.

See how useful that word “may” is?  It sums up a year in three letters.  It’s so noncommittal, so indefinite, so milquetoast … so 2014.  We may be at war with the Islamic State, Russia may be taking over eastern Europe and the Middle East may be in worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring.  Then, again, it may not be. (more…)

It “Eats Societies Alive”

Monday, January 5th, 2015

“Oh, no!” you’ve probably been thinking.  “The cost of filling my gas tank dropped again!”

Falling prices are a good thing for the cash-strapped American consumer, whose income on-average has fallen to where it was in 1994, as we’ve reported.  But behind every silver lining, there’s a black cloud and leave it to us to find it. Deflation

Deflation is typically a sign that all is not well with the economy.  Prices drop when the economy is so weak that consumer demand drops.  When prices drop, profits decrease, stock prices drop, and unemployment and bankruptcies increase.  Consumers put off purchases and wait for prices to fall further, which contributes to even further deflation.  Deflation was an issue during the Great Depression and every period of deflation has been accompanied by a recession.

Raúl Ilargi Meijer of The Automatic Earth says deflation “eats societies alive,” explaining that “Deflation is not lower prices. Deflation is people not spending, then stores lowering their prices because nobody’s buying, then companies firing their employees, and then going broke. Rinse and repeat. Less spending leads to lower prices leads to more unemployment leads to less spending power.”

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