Now that was something else… For the week, the Dow gained 3.6% and the S&P500 rose 3%. Economically sensitive issues were on fire (as were many non-economically sensitive). The Transports gained 3%, increasing y-t-d gains to almost 19%. The Utilities added 2%, with 2004 gains of 17%. The Morgan Stanley Cyclical index jumped 6% to an all-time high (up 7% y-t-d). The Morgan Stanley Consumer index rose 4%. The broad market was quite strong. The small cap Russell 2000 surged 3.5%, and the S&P400 Mid-cap index gained 3%. The NASDAQ100 rose 2.6%, and the Morgan Stanley High Tech index advanced 3%. The Semiconductors and NASDAQ Telecommunications indices each added 1%, and The Street.com Internet index gained 2%. The Biotechs jumped 4%, increasing 2004 gains to 9.4%. The Broker/Dealers jumped 5%, and the Banks gained 3%. Bullion traded up $5 to a 15-year high $433.55. The HUI gold index gained 2%.
The vulnerable Treasury market took it on the chin. For the week, 2-year Treasury yields surged 22 basis points to 2.77%. Five-year Treasury rates jumped 20 basis points to 3.48%. Ten-year Treasury yields rose 15 basis points to 4.175%. Long-bond yields ended the week at 4.90%, up 11 basis points. Benchmark Fannie Mae MBS yields increased 10 basis points. The spread (to 10-year Treasuries) on Fannie’s 4 3/8% 2013 note was unchanged at 27, and the spread on Freddie’s 4 ½ 2013 note was unchanged at 26. The 10-year dollar swap spread increased 0.5 to 43.5. Corporate bonds were mixed but generally performed well. The implied yield on 3-month December Eurodollars jumped 9.5 basis points to 2.42%.
Corporate debt issuance dropped to $10 billion this week (from Bloomberg). Investment grade issuers included Morgan Stanley $4.5 billion, Washington Mutual $1.5 billion, Wachovia $1.0 billion, L-3 Communications $650 million, HBOS $300 million, Knight-Ridder $200 million, Leggett & Platt $180 million, and Great-West $175 million.
Junk bond inflows increased to $361 million (from AMG), with funds now enjoying positive flows in 10 of the past 11 weeks. Issuers included K&F Acquisition $315 million, Building Materials Corp $250 million, Rockwood Specialties $200 million and Herbst Gaming $170 million.
Convert issuers included Powerwave Tech $150 million, Ryerson Tull $145 million, Conmed $125 million, and Audiocodes $100 million.
Foreign dollar debt issuers included Stats Chippac $215 million.
November 5 – Bloomberg (Bharat Ahluwalia): “Indian 10-year bonds fell, pushing yields up by the most in 18 months, on speculation banks will buy less debt at a sale Nov. 8 after their surplus cash shrank. As funds with lenders dropped, bonds fell for the fifth day in six, and the central bank moved to address the shortage by adding money to the banking system for the first time since March 28, 2003… Demand also slid on concern inflation may accelerate after India’s oil refiners raised fuel prices yesterday.”
Japanese 10-year JGB yields rose 2 basis points to 1.51%. Brazilian benchmark bond yields sank 18 basis points to 8.43%. Mexican govt. yields ended the week at 5.22%, up 4 basis points. Russian 10-year dollar Eurobond yields declined 9 basis points to 5.74%.
Freddie Mac posted 30-year fixed mortgage rates rose 6 basis points this week to 5.70%. Fifteen-year fixed mortgage rates were up 7 basis points to 5.08%. One-year adjustable-rate mortgages could be had at 4.00%, up 4 basis points for the week. The Mortgage Bankers Association Purchase application surged 12% last week to the highest level since the first week of July. Purchase applications were up about 23% from one year ago, with dollar volume up 38%. Refi applications increased 3% during the week. The average Purchase mortgage dipped to $224,000, while the average ARM increased to $309,000. ARMs accounted for 34.4% of total applications last week.
Broad money supply (M3) expanded $18 billion (week of October 25). Year-to-date (43 weeks), broad money is up $480 billion, or 6.6% annualized. For the week, Currency added $1.6 billion. Demand & Checkable Deposits jumped $24.4 billion. Savings Deposits dropped $23.8 billion, with a year-to-date gain of $320 billion (12.3% annualized). Small Denominated Deposits added $1.8 billion. Retail Money Fund deposits gained $1.0 billion, while Institutional Money Fund deposits dipped $2.8 billion. Large Denominated Deposits increased $4.5 billion. Repurchase Agreements added $2.6 billion, and Eurodollar deposits increased $8.8 billion.
Bank Credit dipped $2.4 billion for the week of October 27 to $6.713 Trillion. Bank Credit has expanded $438.8 billion during the first 43 weeks of the year, or 8.5% annualized. For the week, Securities holdings slumped $21.1 billion, while Loans & Leases advanced $18.7 billion. Commercial & Industrial loans gained $5.5 billion, while Real Estate loans rose $3.5 billion. Real Estate loans are up $262.9 billion y-t-d, or 14.3% annualized. Consumer loans were about unchanged for the week, while Securities loans expanded $8.1 billion. Other loans gained $1.9 billion. Elsewhere, Total Commercial Paper rose $3.5 billion to $1.376 Trillion (up $45.3bn in five weeks). Financial CP added $3.7 billion to $1.235 Trillion, expanding at a 7.6% rate thus far this year. Non-financial CP dipped $200 million (up 35% annualized y-t-d) to $140.1 billion. Year-to-date, Total CP is up $107 billion, or 10% annualized.
This week’s ABS issuance amounted to about $12 billion (from JPMorgan). Total year-to-date issuance of $535 billion is 38% ahead of comparable 2003. 2004 home equity ABS issuance of $338 billion is running 80% ahead of last year’s record pace.
Fed Foreign “Custody” Holdings of Treasury, Agency Debt increased $1.8 billion to $1.30 Trillion. Year-to-date, Custody Holdings are up $234 billion, or 26% annualized. Federal Reserve Credit inflated $2.75 billion for the week to $773.4 billion, with y-t-d gains of $26.8 billion (4.2% annualized).
November 5 – Bloomberg (Julie Ziegler): “China said it’s concerned that eliminating its nine-year-old currency peg might trigger capital inflows at a time when the country is trying to cool the economy, according to the International Monetary Fund.”
The euro ended today at an all-time high of 1.2964 against the dollar. The dollar index declined 1% this week to a near 9-year low. The “commodity” currencies enjoyed a strong week, with the Chilean peso up 2.4%, Australian dollar 1.9%, and New Zealand and Canadian dollars 1.6%. The dollar mustered a 0.6% gain against the Nigerian naira and 0.9% rise versus the Uruguay peso, and that was about it.
November 4 – Bloomberg (Loretta Ng and Vicki Kwong): “China’s crude steel consumption may rise as much as 39 percent between 2005 and 2010 to 330 million metric tons, according to one of India’s largest exporters of iron ore. China’s steel needs should reach at least 237 million tons next year…”
With December crude declining $2.15 to $49.61, the Goldman Sachs Commodities index declined 3.8% for the week. This reduced year-to-date gains to 30.9%. The CRB index was unchanged on the week, with y-t-d gains of 11.1%.
November 1 – XFN (Claire Leow): “China’s economy will grow 8-8.5% year-on-year in 2005, according to a government think tank… ‘Considering slowing investment and cooling export growth, China’s GDP growth will slide to 8-8.5% next year,’ said the National Development and Reform Commission’s (NDRC)… The NDRC report predicts an 18% growth in investment next year, with consumer price index growth of about 3%, and retail sales -- after being adjusted for inflation -- up about 9.5%.”
November 3 – Bloomberg (Jianguo Jiang): “The worst drought in half a century in southern China has caused 4 billion yuan ($483 million) in economic losses and reduced water supply for 7.2 million people, the Xinhua news agency said…”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Koh Chin Ling): “China will need to add 2,194 new planes in the next two decades to meet demand for air travel, the China Daily newspaper reported, citing Liao Quanwang, vice-director of the Aviation Industry Development Research Centre of China. China's expected to more than triple its passenger planes to 2,373 from 664 in the period through 2023…”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Janet Ong): “China’s top foreign-exchange regulator said it will step up a crackdown on ‘speculative capital inflows’ to preserve financial stability, seeking to deter bets on a yuan revaluation after last week's interest rate increase. Illegal foreign-exchange settlements by some banks and companies are hampering government efforts to cool growth in the world’s seventh-largest economy, the Beijing-based State Administration of Foreign Exchange said…”
Asia Inflation Watch:
November 4 – Bloomberg (Rob Stewart): “JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer William Harrison said he plans to expand in India, where the government and local companies sold a record $7.1 billion of stock this year and competitors including Merrill Lynch & Co. already have local ventures. ‘The momentum here is good,’ Harrison, 61, said… ‘As Asia grows, we will continue to build our business here.’”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Cherian Thomas): “India’s inflation rate accelerated more than expected in the third week of October as food and fuel prices rose, adding pressure on the central bank to raise interest rates. Bonds extended earlier losses. Wholesale prices rose 7.38 percent from a year earlier…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Manash Goswami): “India ended a freeze on auto and cooking fuel prices in a move aimed at stemming declining profit at oil refiners, rekindling concerns over inflation in Asia’s third-largest oil consumer.”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Cherian Thomas and Kartik Goyal): “India’s Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the country can raise its economic growth rate to an 8 percent pace over the next decade…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Theresa Tang and James Peng): “Taiwan’s foreign-currency reserves, the third-highest in the world, rose in October for a 40th month to a record $235 billion… The reserves, which rank behind those of Japan and China, rose from $233 billion in September…”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Theresa Tang): “Taiwan’s economy will probably expand 5 percent next year, the Economic Daily reported, citing the cabinet’s Council for Economic Planning and Development.”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Stephanie Phang): “Malaysian exports rose at their fastest pace in nine months in September, boosted by record shipments of oil and commodities and a rebound in electronics sales to China. Exports jumped 29 percent from a year ago to 44.4 billion ringgit ($11.7 billion)…”
November 1 – Bloomberg (Seyoon Kim and Heejin Koo): “South Korean exports rose in October at their slowest pace in 11 months and growth may ease further in coming months as won strength makes the nation's products more expensive overseas, the commerce ministry said. Exports rose 21 percent from a year earlier after climbing 23 percent in September…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Francisco Alcuaz Jr. and Jun Ebias): “Philippine inflation accelerated to a five-year high in October as record crude oil costs pushed prices higher. Central bank Governor Rafael Buenaventura said interest rates are unlikely to be raised to curb price gains. The consumer price index rose 7.1 percent from a year earlier…”
November 1 – Bloomberg (Claire Leow): “Indonesia’s exports rose more than twice as fast as analysts expected in September, boosted by higher oil prices and shipments of palm oil, nickel and coal. Exports rose 41 percent from a year earlier to $7.15 billion, the highest since Indonesia’s recession in 1998…”
Global Reflation Watch:
November 4 - ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet: “Persistently high and rising oil prices have had a visible direct impact on consumer prices this year, and inflation is likely to remain significantly above 2% in the coming months. This is a worrisome development, but there is no strong indication as yet that medium-term inflationary pressures are building up in the euro area. In particular, wage growth appears to remain limited, in the context of ongoing moderate real GDP growth and weak labor markets ... However, there are upside risks to price stability over the medium term. Strong vigilance is therefore warranted with regard to all developments which could increase such risks…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Edward Evans): “U.K. demand for workers increased to its highest since January 2001 in October as skills shortages rose to their highest in seven years…”
November 1 – Bloomberg (Ben Holland): “Turkey’s exports climbed 20 percent in October from the same month last year, according to preliminary figures announced by the Turkish Exporters’ Association. The country had exports of $5.91 billion in September… Exports in the first nine months of the year rose 32 percent to $51.5 billion…”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Adriana Arai): “Mexico will keep raising interest rates after seven increases this year to push down an inflation rate that has climbed to a 17-month high, central bank Deputy Governor Jesus Marcos Yacaman said.”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Romina Nicaretta): “Brazil’s government raised its growth forecast for next year as an expected drop in domestic interest rates will fuel growth in South America’s biggest economy… Brazil’s Finance Ministry raised the country’s growth forecast for 2005 to 4.3 percent from a previous forecast of 4 percent…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Adriana Arai): “Chile’s economy grew 7.7 percent in
September from a year earlier, spurred by stronger spending at home and demand for exports abroad.”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Dylan Griffiths): “South African vehicle sales rose 23 percent in October from the same month last year, as the lowest interest rates since 1981 boosted consumer and business spending, an industry group said.”
Bubble Economy Watch:
October 31 – Dow Jones: “The most expensive presidential advertising campaign in history closes Tuesday after eight months with President Bush, Sen. John Kerry, their political parties and allied groups having spent more than $600 million. That’s triple the amount spent on TV and radio commercials in 2000.”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Brendan Murray and Simon Kennedy): “The U.S. current account deficit, which reached a record $166.2 billion in the second quarter, reflects international investment and low U.S. savings, said John Taylor, the U.S. Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs. Faster economic growth and more flexible currencies overseas along with a lower federal budget deficit and higher U.S. savings will help narrow the gap, Taylor told a conference in Washington. ‘When investment in the United States is higher than domestic saving, foreigners make up the difference and the United States has a current account deficit,’ he said. The deficit in the second quarter was equivalent to 5.7 percent of the nation’s $11.6 trillion economy, up from 5.1 percent in the first quarter. The U.S. needs to attract about $1.8 billion a day in foreign capital to plug the shortfall.”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Karen Brettell): “Two-thirds of leveraged loans issued in the U.S. primary market are packaged into structured products known as collateralized debt obligations, said Standard & Poor’s. ‘CDOs are driving the whole leveraged-loan industry at the moment,’ said Richard Gugliada, managing director of structured finance… CDOs that bundle leveraged loans are in strong demand, though the scarcity of the credits in the primary market is posing challenges for them… Banks create CDOs by packaging assets and using income on the debt to repay investors. They may be leveraged and offer higher returns than their underlying securities. Issuance of loans by U.S. institutions rose to 114 in the third quarter of this year, compared with 65 at the same time last year, and a 2003 total of 91 loans, S&P said.”
November 3 – Bloomberg (Dianne Finch): “Property insurers paid a record $21.3 billion in third-quarter claims following four hurricanes, the Associated Press reported, citing New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office Inc. Property-loss claims relating to eight disasters including Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne exceeded claims of $3.7 billion in the same period a year earlier, $715 million in 2002, and $19.15 billion in 2001...”
November 2 – The Wall Street Journal (Jane E. Kim): “At a time when health-care costs are continuing to climb at near-double-digit rates, more Americans are being forced to cut back on their retirement savings and make lifestyle changes to pay for medical care, according to a new survey. About one-quarter of U.S. households that have experienced growing medical bills have reduced their retirement-savings contributions, while nearly half have reported cutting back on their other savings… Nearly 20% say medical bills are making it more difficult to pay for necessities such as food and housing, while one-quarter say they are close to tapping out their savings to pay such bills.”
November 4 – Dow Jones: “A new survey indicates the number of foreign graduate students enrolling for the first time at American universities is down 6% this year -the third straight decline after a decade of growth. Educators worry the trend is eroding America’s position as the world’s leader in higher education.”
Mortgage Finance Bubble Watch:
November 3 – Freddie Mac: “In the third quarter of 2004, 60 percent of Freddie Mac-owned loans that were refinanced resulted in new mortgages at least five percent higher in amount than the original mortgages, according to Freddie Mac’s quarterly refinance review. This is in contrast to the second quarter of 2004, when 42 percent of refinanced loans had higher new loan amounts… Based on our October outlook for mortgage originations and refi activity in 2004, we expect the amount of home equity cashed-out to total $118 billion. Total equity cashed out in the third quarter is estimated at $41 billion, up from the estimated second quarter cash-out amount of $28.5 billion… The Cash-Out Refinance Report also revealed that properties refinanced during the third quarter of 2004 experienced a median house-price appreciation of 17 percent during the time since the original loan was made, up considerably from the seven percent appreciation on loans refinanced in the second quarter. For loans refinanced in the third quarter of 2004, the median age of the original loan was 2.6 years…”
November 3 – Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Allison Schaefers): “While many say Oahu’s residential real estate market is showing signs of cooling, demand was still hot enough last month to spark record highs for asking prices and sales prices of single-family homes. The median asking price of single-family homes climbed in October to $675,000, a year-on-year gain of 22.7 percent. Meanwhile, the median resale price of a single-family home on Oahu rose 21.5 percent to $485,000 last month, according to monthly sales data from the Honolulu Board of Realtors.”
November 3 – Dow Jones (Dawn Kopecki): “Freddie Mac won’t provide investors with timely financial statements until early in 2006, postponing registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission until the middle of that year at the earliest, executives said… The $1.5 trillion mortgage finance company hasn’t reported its financial results on time since late 2002 after Freddie replaced auditor Arthur Andersen with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which found widespread accounting problems at the company and forced it to restate several years of earnings. Freddie has delayed its statements to sort out its accounting problems and revamp internal systems, something Chief Executive Richard Syron said still needs a lot of work.”
Subprime mortgage lender New Century Financial reported quarterly earnings of $107.3 million, up 65% from 2003’s comparable quarter. Total Assets expanded at a 31% rate during the quarter to $15.9 billion. Assets have more than doubled over the past year and have increased from $2.8 billion to end last year’s first quarter. The company has completed its transformation to a REIT, while ending the quarter with Shareholder’s Equity of $818 million.
Vice President Cheney spoke confidently of having won a broad national “mandate,” while President Bush exclaimed, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” There is no reason to doubt that the Administration will forcefully pursue its ambitious agenda. The President and his team are empowered, with an overarching goal of a second term worthy of an historic legacy. It is, as well, rational that they would today edge toward overconfidence and complacency when it comes to the great risks they will confront during the next four years.
I have no intention to attempt what would surely be amateur political analysis, and I am an analyst and not a partisan. There is no shortage of political insight and pontification these days. Yet I do see a dearth of cogent analysis of the financial, economic and social backdrop that will play a profound role in the political process as we go forward. We witnessed an incredible campaign of “guns and butter” from the opposing parties, heavy on promises and featherweight on economic realities. And now the undoubting victor will attempt to lead a deeply divided nation on an aggressive course in an environment fraught with significant and myriad risks – some discernable.
Never before have financial markets played such a central role in society. More are exposed to marketable securities; more giddily play the mortgage and housing markets; and more have their retirement tied directly to the stock and bond markets. And never before have so many livelihoods been associated with financial and real estate asset prices. The melding of politics to wealth creation – in this case financial wealth - is an innate process, and fanciful notions of an “ownership society” do indeed captivate while in the bosom of an historic asset Bubble. I believe it is reasonable to suggest that had the stock market not recovered, had mortgage rates not dropped to record lows, and had home prices not inflated significantly, the political agenda today would be altogether different. I don’t think one can exaggerate the profound political and social effects of The Great Reflation. And with no intention of being flippant, I do not expect gay marriage to be a major issue in 2008.
In my mind, there is a paramount analytical issue to contemplate: The Bush administration today ardently believes that their policy choices were responsible for what has developed into sustainable economic recovery. And having persevered through a stock market scare, technology collapse, recession, 9/11, Enron and corporate malfeasance, a sinking currency and going to war, there must now be great faith that a much more favorable financial and economic backdrop exists to bless their aggressive agenda. Yet the reality of the environment is not as perceived, and this fact of life will not be efficiently recognized: An historic reflation, inciting “blow-off” Credit Bubble excess, was the dominating feature of the second-half of President Bush’s first term. It is, moreover, at best unsustainable.
It is this evening worth recalling the backdrop that greeted the 2001 inauguration. Fed funds began the year at 6.5%. The late-90s boom had filled the Treasury’s coffer, with talk of a Trillion dollar surplus and a coming shortage of government debt instruments. Gold, at $270, was near a multi-decade low. The CRB commodities index began the year at about 230, down from the 1996 high of about 260 and about where the index stood in 1990 (and significantly below 1980!). Crude oil traded near $27. With Asian, Latin American and other “developing” Credit systems still afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder, liquidity was at a premium for many economies and markets. Global price pressures were generally more forceful to the downside. The dollar index was at about 110, with more than a year remaining of its King Dollar (“blow-off”) run to 120, while the fledgling euro had stumbled badly out of the blocks.
The global appetite for U.S. securities was for all purposes insatiable, with faltering demand for tech stocks instantaneously more than compensated by a newfound lust for (Greenspan) bonds. American financial assets enjoyed a strong inflationary bias when compared to vulnerable global goods, commodities and securities markets. High quality bonds were about to enjoy an historic rally, the speculative instrument of choice for playing the Greenspan Fed’s too-well-telegraphed strategy for responding to the bursting of the equity market Bubble. GSE debt had come into its own as a higher-yielding and highly-liquid near-perfect substitute for Treasuries.
Importantly (and oh so clear in hindsight), the U.S. system in 2001 enjoyed considerable flexibility and capacity to absorb continued Credit and speculative excess without traditional inflationary effects. Indeed, the spectacular “blow-off” throughout the technology sector fogged the analysis that the Credit system and economic Bubbles had room to run. With respect to the real economy – and paralleling global imbalances – some sectors had been starved for finance as liquidity mindlessly inundated tech and telecom.
There was back in 2001 extraordinary capacity for government spending stimulus, while the Fed was heavily armed and poised for historic monetary stimulus. After years of strong expansion, the mortgage finance super-sector was quite well positioned for spectacular excess (waiting only for the next round of reflation, and for homeowners to appreciate that homes, and not stocks, always went up in price). Similar and not unrelated dynamics were in play with respect to the ballooning global “leveraged speculating community.” And with a strong (“King dollar”) bias to own U.S. securities – speculative and otherwise – heightened liquidity (domestic and global) would conveniently rush to purchase Treasuries, agencies, U.S. corporate bonds, MBS and structured products (reminder: “Liquidity Loves Inflation”). This basically gave the U.S. government, Federal Reserve, GSEs, Wall Street and the financial sector, generally, blank checks for which to stimulate and reflate. Especially when the global technology Bubble burst, the Greenspan-commanded U.S. bond market became “the only game in town” for an increasingly powerful speculating community.
With bond vigilantes an extinct species, The Game quickly evolved into a mad dash to leverage the most liquid and inflating asset in the world – U.S. long-term debt instruments – affording absolutely no constraints on over-issuance. Resulting “excess” global dollar liquidity was a misnomer, as it was readily “recycled” right back to profit from The Great Yield Collapse. There was even fancied talk of Argentina and other “developing” economies switching completely to dollar-based monetary regimes.
Many things are less than clear these days, but the stark contrast between the backdrops from 2001 and the soon to commence 2005 should not be one of them. The year 2001 provided the capacity – fiscally and monetarily – for an historic reflation, with a quite atypical global financial and economic backdrop that would prove amazingly accommodative to gross U.S. excess. A strong case can be made as to the aberrational characteristics of the King Dollar period. Importantly, few at home or abroad perceived that there were risks associated with U.S. reflationary policies, and no one protested. Many were keen to the windfall profit opportunities available from financial assets.
These days, oil and energy markets trade at all-time highs, the euro at a record, the dollar index at a multi-year low, gold at a 16-year high, the CRB index not far off all-time highs. Foreign equity and bond markets are outperforming their dollar-denominated counterparts. Most significantly, the U.S. economy and financial markets now face the uncertain and problematic downside of an historic reflation – the mirror image of 2001’s promising upside. The Fed is hopelessly behind the curve, bond yields have overshot on the downside, and equity prices have become distorted to the upside from reliquefication-induced inflated profits and excess marketplace liquidity. Real estate prices are generally over-heated, with California and other upper-end markets demonstrating dangerous Bubble excess. Mortgage finance demonstrates uncomfortable parallels to NASDAQ 1999. And while not yet appreciated, manic over-expansion and excess have destroyed profit opportunities for the bloated U.S. financial sector and leveraged speculating community. The initial light breeze of developing Credit system headwinds has made landfall.
Of more immediate concern, Monetary Disorder is fostering unsound markets. Commodities markets are increasingly unstable. The bond market succumbed to distortions, speculative excess and, more recently, a short-squeeze and is now vulnerable to a destabilizing jump in rates. And even today’s strong employment data and rate rise could not slow the dollar’s descent. The stock market has lunged higher in a bout of euphoria, hedge unwinding, and short-covering. Extrapolations and daydreams of protracted bull markets are setting the stage for disappointment and worse.
And unlike 2001 or even 2003, there is today a growing list of parties fully cognizant that they are being hurt be inflation. From drivers to homeowners to businesses, energy costs are biting. Housing affordability has become a major issue for millions; the cost and availability of medical care for tens of millions.
Importantly, the weak dollar has become a cause for serious concern. Asian central bankers are rightfully nervous, as surging energy and commodity costs along with unwieldy liquidity create great inflation and economic uncertainty. The ECB is on guard to heightened inflationary pressures, appreciating the risks associated with prolonged energy and commodity price inflation in the event of continued dollar weakness. Expect European political leaders to become increasingly vocal critics of U.S. budget and trade deficits. No longer will our Credit inflation and dollar devaluation go unnoticed or be appreciated. Blather that our massive current account deficits are caused by foreign inflows and the attractiveness of U.S. investment will not go unanswered.
Reiterating analysis from previous Bulletins, history provides some clarity with regard to the nature of inflation cycles: once unleashed, inflation becomes only more difficult to control and there are always hopes that just a little more will suffice. Few initially recognize the eventual costs, while many clamor and yearn for the perceived benefits. Politicians adore inflation, at least until their constituents learn to abhor it. Over time inflation’s losers become more attentive and the detriment more conspicuous. For society as a whole, the insidious effects of debt and inflation spawn angst, animosity, and polarization. Globally, the redistribution of wealth foments acrimony and conflict.
Today, our administration is understandably ecstatic with the prospect of four more years. And they would surely be content with four additional years of reflation and attendant dollar debasement. But our foreign creditors are being impaired and must be losing patience. Meanwhile, global central bankers are coming to grips with the prospect of ongoing dollar weakness and the associated increasingly unwieldy liquidity and pricing environment. Monetary Disorder has become manifest. And, let’s not forget, the U.S. bond Bubble. It appears that the transition away from the aberrational “weak dollar is good for bonds” period has begun, with unclear but potentially significant consequences. Myriad issues for bond holders now include foreign selling, rising risk and inflation premiums, speculative unwinding, derivative-related selling and policymakers much more attune to the needs of the economy and stock market.
Why do I have the sense that it is only a matter of time until the administration’s agenda is placed on the back burner to deal with more pressing issues such as financial and economic instability, or even the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency? The scenario I find most troubling is an oblivious policymaking team steadfast in its pursuit of a legacy, stubbornly refusing to accept reality, and in no position or having any inclination to cooperate with our global partners. And it is a tragedy that our nation will face its next crisis so ill-prepared and polarized, and in this regard there is certainly plenty of blame to spread around.