For the week, the S&P500 jumped 3.2% (up 18.4% y-t-d), and the Dow rose 3.2% (up 14.2%). The Morgan Stanley Cyclicals surged 5.8% (up 57.7%), and Transports shot 6.6% higher (up 8.9%). The Morgan Stanley Consumer index rose 2.5% (up 18.1%), and the Utilities increased 1.7% (down 2.4%). The Banks climbed 1.4% (down 3.3%), and the Broker/Dealers gained 2.6% (up 48.1%). The S&P 400 Mid-Caps rallied 3.4% (up 26.6%), and the small cap Russell 2000 rose 3.1% (up 16.2%). The Nasdaq100 jumped 3.8% (up 42.8%), and the Morgan Stanley High Tech index gained 3.4% (up 56.7%). The Semiconductors increased 1.7% (up 42.2%). The InteractiveWeek Internet index jumped 3.4% (up 64.1%). The Biotechs rallied 8.4% (up 37.6%). With bullion surging $50, the HUI gold index jumped 13.1% (up 46.2%).
One-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 4 bps, and three-month bills closed at 5 bps. Two-year government yields declined 5 bps to 0.73%. Five-year T-note yields declined one basis point to 2.24%. Ten-year yields were 10 bps higher to 3.50%. Long bond yields jumped 17 bps to 4.39%. Benchmark Fannie MBS yields added one basis point to 4.30%. The spread between 10-year Treasuries and benchmark MBS yields narrowed 9 to 80 bps. Agency 10-yr debt spreads declined 2.8 bps to negative 2.8 bps. The implied yield on December 2010 eurodollar futures dropped 9.5 bps to 1.435%. The 10-year dollar swap spread declined 2.5 to 15.75 bps; and the 30-year swap spread declined 2 to negative 10.25 bps. Corporate bond spreads were mixed to wider. An index of investment grade bond spreads widened one basis point to 149, and an index of junk spreads widened 14 bps to 569 bps.
Investment grade issuers included Dupont $2.0bn, IBM $2.0bn, Bank of New York $1.05bn, Yale $1.0bn, Regions Financial $700 million, Reinsurance Group $400 million, Equifax $275 million, Clorox $300 million, FPL Group $200 million, and Novant Health $100 million.
For the first time in 19 weeks, junk bond funds saw outflows ($177 million) this week. Junk issuers included Colt $250 million, Starwood Hotels $250 million, Cott Beverages $215 million, RSC Equipment Rental $200 million, Netflix $200 million, and Service Corp Intl $150 million.
Convert issues included Rei Agro $105 million.
International dollar-denominated debt issuers included Nordea Bank $2.0bn, Abbey National $1.5bn, Vale Overseas $1.0bn, Woodside Finance $700 million, Virgin Media $600 million, Diageo $500 million, Telefonos Mexico $500 million, Norwegian Cruise Line $450 million, Pacific Rubiales Energy $450 million, Bumi Capital $300 million, General Maritime $300 million, and Agile Property $300 million.
U.K. 10-year gilt yields surged 27 bps to 3.88%, and German bund yields jumped 13 bps to 3.36%. The German DAX equities index rallied 1.4% (up 14.1% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year "JGB" yields increased 4 bps to 1.44%. The Nikkei 225 declined 1.0% (up 10.5%). Emerging markets were mixed. Russia’s RTS equities index declined 0.9% (up 111.4%). India’s Sensex equities added 0.7% (up 67.5%). China’s Shanghai Exchange surged 5.6%, boosting 2009 gains to 73.8%. Brazil’s benchmark dollar bond yields were little changed at 5.25%.
Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates increased 3 bps to 5.03% (down 117bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year fixed rates added 3 bps to 4.46% (down 142bps y-o-y). One-year ARMs increased 3 bps to 4.57% (down 68bps y-o-y). Bankrate's survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed jumbo rates up 6 bps to 6.10% (down 147bps y-o-y).
Federal Reserve Credit declined $5.4bn last week to $2.149 TN. Fed Credit has declined $97.6bn y-t-d, although it expanded $93.1bn over the past 52 weeks (4.5%). Elsewhere, Fed Foreign Holdings of Treasury, Agency Debt this past week (ended 11/4) increased $11.2bn to a record $2.910 TN. "Custody holdings" have expanded at an 18.5% rate y-t-d, and were up $416bn over the past year, or 16.7%.
M2 (narrow) "money" supply jumped $35.8bn to $8.394 TN (week of 10/26). Narrow "money" has expanded at a 3.0% rate y-t-d and 5.7% over the past year. For the week, Currency declined $1.1bn, and Demand & Checkable Deposits dropped $9.6bn. Savings Deposits surged $63.9bn, while Small Denominated Deposits fell $7.3bn. Retail Money Funds sank $9.9bn.
Total Money Market Fund assets (from Invest Co Inst) dropped $31.3bn to $3.339 TN. Money fund assets have declined $492bn y-t-d, or 15.2% annualized. Money funds declined $269bn, or 7.5%, over the past year.
Total Commercial Paper outstanding dropped $61.7bn (12-wk gain of $241bn) to $1.315 TN. CP has declined $366bn y-t-d (26% annualized) and $285bn over the past year (18%). Asset-backed CP fell $28.0bn last week to $515bn, with a 52-wk drop of $217bn (30%).
International reserve assets (excluding gold) - as accumulated by Bloomberg’s Alex Tanzi – were up $689bn y-o-y to a record $7.489 TN. Reserves have increased $725bn year-to-date.
Global Credit Market Watch:
November 3 – Bloomberg: “The widening yield spread between China’s bills at auction and in the secondary market shows investors are speculating the central bank is set to tighten monetary policy, China International Capital Corp. said. ‘China is seeing a return of inflation,’ said Xu Xiaoqing, a bond analyst in Beijing at CICC… ‘A resumption in the increase of bill yields during auctions would indicate the central bank has switched to a ‘neutral’ from a ‘loose’ policy to control inflation expectations.’”
November 5 – Bloomberg (John Glover): “The global speculative-grade default rate rose to 12.4% in October, surpassing the record set in 1991 for the highest proportion of defaults since the Great Depression, according to Moody’s…”
Global Government Finance Bubble Watch:
November 6 – Bloomberg (Gonzalo Vina and Emma Ross-Thomas): “U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said the Group of 20 nations should develop a way to tackle asset-price bubbles as the world’s leading economies recover. ‘We have got to make sure we don’t get ourselves into a situation where some pressure starts to rise and then it becomes bigger and bigger and when the whole thing comes to an end it has catastrophic consequences,’ Darling said…”
November 3 – Bloomberg (Jon Menon and Andrew MacAskill): “Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc will receive 31.3 billion pounds ($51 billion) in a second bailout from the U.K. taxpayer in return for putting a cap on bonuses. The Treasury will inject 25.5 billion pounds of capital into RBS, for a total of 45.5 billion pounds, making it the costliest bailout of any bank worldwide. The government will fund about a quarter of Lloyds’s 21 billion-pound fundraising… The rescue will bring the government closer to full ownership over RBS, while Lloyds will escape government control.”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Jennifer Ryan): “The Bank of England raised its bond-purchase plan by 25 billion pounds ($41 billion), the third increase since March, as policy makers try to cement Britain’s recovery from its longest recession on record. The nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, led by Governor Mervyn King, today raised the amount of bonds it will buy with newly created money to 200 billion pounds.”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Juan Pablo Spinetto and Alexander Kwiatkowski): “Crude oil, which has risen 80% this year, is causing the U.S. dollar to weaken, driving metals and other commodities higher, according to Jeffrey Currie, head of commodity research at Goldman Sachs… While oil has risen, the U.S. currency has weakened, leading to speculation that the dollar’s depreciation is driving investors to buy oil as an inflation hedge, thereby pushing up the price of crude. ‘I would argue the other way,’ Currie said… ‘I would argue that higher oil prices drive the dollar down and then the weaker dollar drives the metals and soft commodities up…Oil represents 40 to 50% of the U.S. current account deficit, so a higher oil price represents an outflow of dollars that pushes the currency lower…”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Anil Varma): “The dollar…will slide further as nations that hold the world’s biggest reserves seek ‘safer’ assets including gold, BNP Paribas SA said. …China, Japan, India and Russia, four of the five biggest foreign-exchange reserve holders, raised gold stockpiles to record levels this year… India paid $6.7 billion to buy 200 tons of gold from the International Monetary Fund… China said in April it has boosted reserves of the metal by 76% since 2003. ‘The Reserve Bank of India’s gold purchase seems to be part of a broader, global theme of central banks worldwide seeking a stronger, safer alternative to the dollar to park their reserves,’ Manoj Rane, treasurer in Mumbai at BNP Paribas, France’s biggest bank, said… ‘This trend will only feed the dollar’s weakness.’”
The dollar index declined 0.7% to 75.75. For the week on the upside, the South African rand increased 3.7%, the Brazilian real 2.4%, the Australian dollar 2.0%, the Swedish krona 1.4%, the South Korean won 1.3%, the Canadian dollar 1.0%, the British pound 1.0%, the New Zealand dollar 1.0%, the Swiss franc 0.9%, and the Euro 0.9%. On the downside, the Mexican peso declined 1.6%.
November 3 – Bloomberg (Thomas Kutty Abraham and Kim Kyoungwha): “India, the world’s biggest gold consumer, bought 200 tons from the International Monetary Fund for $6.7 billion as central banks show increased interest in diversifying their holdings to protect against a slumping dollar. The transaction, equivalent to 8% of world annual mine production, was the IMF’s first such sale in nine years and propels India to the ninth-biggest government owner globally… ‘The fall in the U.S. dollar seems to be pushing all the central banks to strengthen their portfolio with gold,’ said N.R. Bhanumurthy, professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi. ‘Gold is a safe store of value compared to the U.S. dollar.’”
November 4 – Bloomberg (Claudia Carpenter): “India’s purchase of 200 metric tons of gold in two weeks was more than total European central bank sales last year, a sign that central banks may be looking to diversify their assets as the dollar slides. ‘This could be the beginning of a sea change in central bank sentiment about what they hold,’ said James Moore, an analyst at TheBullionDesk.com… ‘The perception of gold compared to five or 10 years ago has changed completely.’”
The CRB index slipped 0.3% this week (up 17.4% y-t-d). The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index (GSCI) was unchanged (up 42.4%). Gold surged 4.8% to close at $1,096 (up 24.2%). Silver surged 7.0% to $17.39 (up 54.0%). December Crude gained 69 cents to $77.69 (up 74%). December Gasoline declined 1.6% (up 82%), and December Natural Gas sank 8.6% (down 18%). December Copper was little changed (up 110%). December Wheat added 0.6% (down 19%), and December Corn increased 0.3% (down 10% y-t-d).
China Bubble Watch:
November 3 – Reuters: “New bank lending in China may have hit 300-400 billion yuan ($44-59 billion) in October, the Shanghai Securities News reported… The newspaper cited unnamed bankers who based the estimate, which is lower than the 516.7 billion yuan total in September, on a reported rise in new lending by the country’s biggest banks. Lending by the four biggest banks ‘clearly recovered’ in October, climbing to 136 billion yuan from 110 billion yuan in September, the official China Securities Newspaper reported.”
November 4 – Bloomberg: “China’s policy makers must avert stock and property market bubbles after lending swelled to a record $1.27 trillion this year, the World Bank said. The… lender raised China’s economic growth forecast for this year to 8.4% from 7.2% and Beijing-based senior economist Louis Kuijs said the central bank will “eventually” have to rein in credit to ensure resources are properly allocated.”
November 5 – Bloomberg: “China should avoid pursuing ‘excessive growth’ so that the nation can keep inflation under control as the economy recovers, said Yao Jingyuan, the statistics bureau’s chief economist. ‘China can keep inflation in check if we avoid chasing excessive growth in the fourth quarter and in 2010,” Yao said… ‘Now that China’s growth rate is assured, we should put more of our resources into rebalancing and restructuring China’s economy.’”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Chia-Peck Wong and Kelvin Wong): “Jian Sihua is counting on the Hong Kong government to create an opening for him in a property market where prices have climbed 28% this year. The 39-year-old marketing professional said he was ‘too slow’ at the start of the year when prices started surging and was ‘squeezed out’ by speculators, including rich mainland Chinese. The jump in prices has sparked a public outcry over housing costs, increased pressure on Hong Kong’s government to increase land supply and this week prompted the International Monetary Fund to warn of a possible bubble. Financial Secretary John Tsang responded yesterday by saying the government was ‘very concerned’ about the ‘sharp’ rise.”
November 6 – Bloomberg (Makiko Kitamura and Tetsuya Komatsu): “Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest carmaker, may increase vehicle sales in China 19% this year, the company said. Toyota’s sales may rise to 700,000 units…”
Asia Bubble Watch:
November 6 – Bloomberg (Seyoon Kim): “South Korea’s government plans to add as much as $7 billion next year to Korea Investment Corp., the nation’s sovereign wealth fund… Next year’s addition would increase the fund’s size to $37 billion…”
Latin America Bubble Watch:
November 3 – Dow Jones: “Brazil’s foreign currency reserves reached a new monthly record in October on persistent government purchases of U.S. dollars… Brazil’s foreign reserves totaled $232.9 billion at the end of October, up from $224.2 billion at the end of September. In the first ten months of 2009, reserves were up $26.1 billion. Reserves ended last year at $206.8 billion.”
November 3 – Bloomberg (Helder Marinho and Andre Soliani): “Brazil’s industrial output fell 7.8% in September from the year-ago month…”
Unbalanced Global Economy Watch:
November 4 – Bloomberg (Katya Andrusz): “The credit outlook for Poland’s banking system remains negative as the operating environment worsens, Moody’s… said. ‘We expect the negative trends apparent in the first half financials of most of the rated Polish banks to persist into the next forecasting period,” Irakli Pipia, Moody’s lead analyst for the Polish banking system, said…”
November 6 – Bloomberg (Josiane Kremer): “Norway’s biggest industry group warned the krone’s 7.2% advance against the euro since July is eroding profits at manufacturers… ‘Norwegian industries may have the worst time ahead of them,” Dag Aarnes, senior economist at the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, said…”
November 6 – Bloomberg (Jacob Greber and Jason Scott): “Australia’s central bank said the nation’s economy will expand at more than three times the pace forecast in August, and signaled it will continue to lead the world in raising interest rates… Gross domestic product will rise 1.75% this year and 3.25% in 2010, the bank said.”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Tracy Withers): “New Zealand’s unemployment rate rose to the highest level in more than nine years… The jobless rate increased to 6.5% from 6% in the previous three months…”
U.S. Bubble Economy Watch:
November 3 – Bloomberg (Kathleen M. Howley): “Kajal and Vishal Dharod paid $559,000 in 2006 for a new four-bedroom house built in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Today, it’s worth about $360,000. ‘We don’t know how we can come back from a loss like that,” said Kajal Dharod, 29, a first-time homeowner with a $4,200-a-month mortgage. ‘Buying the house was a mistake.’ American homeownership, once considered a path to wealth, is now leading to disillusionment.”
November 2 – Bloomberg (Oliver Staley): “Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was the highest paid leader of a U.S. private college in fiscal 2008, before the financial crisis prompted Jackson and others school leaders to freeze or lower their salaries. Rensselaer… Paid Jackson $1.6 million in salary and benefits in the year ending June 30, 2008... Presidential compensation rose 6.5% to a median of $358,746 in fiscal 2008.”
MBS/ABS/CDO/CP/Money Fund and Derivatives Watch:
November 5 – Bloomberg (Pierre Paulden): “Rising prices of collateralized loan obligations may signal higher fees for managers of the securities such as Highland Capital Management LP, Aladdin Capital Holdings LLC and KKR & Co. and spur loan sales, according to strategists. The lowest-rated pieces of CLOs, which pool high-yield, high-risk loans and slice them into securities of varying risk, have climbed to 30 cents to 40 cents on the dollar from less than 10 cents seven months ago, according to Morgan Stanley. Those ranked BBB have risen to 59 cents from 6 cents on the dollar in the past six months.”
Real Estate Watch:
November 5 – Bloomberg (Dan Levy): “Stores, apartment buildings and warehouses in the U.S. will set new vacancy records before a recovery takes hold in the job and commercial property markets, according to a forecast by CB Richard Ellis… Vacancies at industrial properties will climb to almost 16% in 2011 and apartment vacancies will top out at 8.1% this quarter, CBRE chief economist Ray Torto said… The proportion of empty space at shopping centers and malls will increase to about 13% in 2010… U.S. commercial real estate prices have plunged almost 41% since October 2007, the Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Indices show.”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Brian Louis): “U.S. mortgage lending for commercial property fell 54% in the third quarter from a year earlier… the Mortgage Bankers Association said. The dollar value of loans dropped 56% for office properties and 40% for apartment buildings… Loans for malls and shopping centers fell 62% and hotel loans declined 46%. The credit crisis has driven $138 billion worth of U.S. commercial properties into default, foreclosure or debt restructuring, according to… Real Capital Analytics Inc.”
Central Banker Watch:
November 3 – Bloomberg (Jacob Greber): “Australia raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point for the second straight month, becoming the only nation to increase borrowing costs twice this year as the global economy recovers. Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens lifted the overnight cash rate target to 3.5%...”
November 6 – Bloomberg (Brian Swint and Jennifer Ryan): “The world’s biggest central banks are starting to unwind emergency measures introduced earlier this year to stave off a second Great Depression. The euro rose after European Central Bank President Jean- Claude Trichet yesterday said his bank will withdraw some liquidity operations, and the pound climbed after the Bank of England slowed the pace of bond purchases… ‘There are all kinds of risks,’ said Jim O’Neill, chief global economist at Goldman Sachs… ‘We don’t know how much of the improvement in markets is due to central banks’ largesse, and neither do they. They’re pretty nervous, but they’ve got to get out of it at some stage.’”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Brian Swint): “Europe’s biggest central banks signaled they will start to wind up emergency policies introduced to fight the financial crisis as the global economy recovers. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said today the ECB plans to phase out its unlimited liquidity operations next year, and Governor Mervyn King’s Bank of England said U.K. officials will slow the pace of bond purchases. Central banks around the world are starting to rein back some of the measures introduced to stave off a second Great Depression. Australia and Norway have already raised interest rates…”
November 5 – Wall Street Journal (Nick Timiraos): “Fannie Mae plans to allow homeowners facing foreclosure to stay in their homes and rent them for up to one year as part of the latest effort to help troubled borrowers while keeping a glut of foreclosed properties from hitting the housing market. The Deed for Lease Program… will offer borrowers who fail to complete or don’t qualify for a loan modification or other workout to deed their property to the lender in exchange for a lease. Borrowers-turned-tenants will be able to sign leases of up to 12 months and will pay market rents, which in most cases are lower than the cost of mortgage payments.”
November 5 – Bloomberg (Emre Peker): “Cerberus Capital Management LP and Apollo Management LP had the worst-performing leveraged buyouts among the largest private-equity firms, according to Moody’s… Buyout firms spent about $640 billion on 186 transactions before the credit crisis began in July and August of 2007, Moody’s analysts led by John Rogers…said… Of those deals, 67% of Cerberus-sponsored companies and 65% of Apollo takeovers have defaulted or become distressed. ‘A lot of these firms have very unsustainable capital structures,’ Rogers said… There will be additional defaults, most likely including currently distressed firms he said. ‘We’re not at the end game yet. We’re probably in the second half.”
About a Half Paradigm:
There were key developments this week providing added confirmation to my macro thesis. First of all, this morning’s dismal payroll data (10.2% unemployment!) - after a year of unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus - confirm the depth of structural impairment overhanging U.S. recovery. Our economy is badly lagging the globe’s rebound.
Over some months, I have worked to construct a framework for analyzing the unfolding global reflation. I’ve been expecting this reflation to unfold with altogether different dynamics than previous reflationary periods. After watching developments, I am willing to go so far as to argue that we are witnessing a historic Paradigm Shift. The most robust Credit dynamics have shifted from the “Core” (U.S.) to the “Periphery” – with major ramifications. This atypical global reflationary backdrop is dictated by the emergence of a Global Government Finance Bubble and dynamics that support powerful financial flows to non-U.S. markets and economies.
Previous bouts of reflation were powered primarily by Wall Street Credit - specifically mortgage finance, securitizations and speculative leveraging. From an economic perspective, U.S. housing, consumption and the Credit/asset-inflation/consumption-based U.S. Bubble economy were at reflation’s heated epicenter. From the perspective of global speculative financial flows, dollar-denominated securities markets were consistently and predictably the asset market demonstrating the most robust inflationary biases (global financial players had to participate).
Like clockwork, systemic stress would eventually provoke the activist Federal Reserve into slashing rates, inciting higher (dollar) securities prices, and promoting speculative leveraging. This incredible mechanism would immediately inject cheap liquidity directly into U.S. housing and, only somewhat delayed, throughout the general economy. The vulnerable dollar persevered through the generosity of global flows attracted to the inflationary biases percolating throughout U.S. securities and asset markets (with the Fed and GSEs acting as powerful market liquidity backstops).
The bursting of the Wall Street/mortgage finance/housing Bubbles forever altered key dynamics. Importantly, the private-sector U.S. Credit system lost its status as the epicenter of global Credit expansion and speculation. Wall Street and U.S. mortgage finance “inflationary biases” were displaced – hence the termination of their role as powerful monetary stimulus mechanisms.
Indeed, years of dollar debasement had come home to roost. Non-dollar (i.e. global currencies, gold/precious metals, energy, commodities, China, India, Asia, Brazil and the emerging markets) assets supplanted U.S. securities as the asset class demonstrating the most enticing upward/inflationary bias. These days, activist Fed monetary looseness lavishes liquidity first and foremost out to the Periphery.
The front page of Wednesday’s Financial Times included two notable headlines: Next to “Buffett bets $26bn on US” was “India sells dollars for gold and lifts bullion to high.” I certainly view the Reserve Bank of India’s purchase of 200 tons of bullion from the IMF as exemplifying the profound shift of financial power from the Core to the Periphery – as well as the shift of “inflationary biases” from dollar securities to “undollar” asset classes.
The Indians today enjoy the financial resources, and they are apparently eager to trade dollar holdings for hard = non-dollar = assets. And as much as the media trumpeted Mr. Buffett’s railroad acquisition as a vote of confidence for US recovery, there’s surely more to his analysis. In the unfolding Paradigm shift, the U.S. “services” economy will have no alternative than to adjust to a more efficient goods-producing economic structure. Our troubled currency will require that we produce more, consume less, survive on reduced amounts of Credit – and we will have to do so in an energy-efficient manner. Within such a backdrop, the railroad business would be relatively appealing when compared to consumer-based businesses or U.S. financial assets more generally. I would also view Mr. Buffett’s aggressive move as supporting the thesis of hard assets supplanting dollar securities as the preferred asset class.
Disappointingly, the Federal Reserve this week also confirmed my macro analysis. The Bernanke Fed has now locked itself into a policy course that will ignore global reflation dynamics and instead fixate on specific U.S. economic indicators. Instead of adopting a more hawkish posture and laying the market groundwork for withdrawing extraordinary monetary stimulus, the Fed flew even farther into uncharted dovishness. This adds to a long series of (compounding) errors from our central bank. Most importantly, the Federal Reserve signaled “resource utilization” (markets read “unemployment rate”) as a key factor that will determine the course of policy normalization. If I had to choose one economic indicator guaranteed to notably lag global reflationary dynamics, well, I’d bet on U.S. payrolls.
So, from a macro perspective, a clearer view is coming into focus – a new Paradigm is emerging. New global reflationary dynamics have gained important momentum. Credit systems in China, India, Asia, Brazil and the developing world – the “Periphery” - are today significantly more robust than they are here at home (the “Core”). Powerful global financial flows to the inflating Periphery (“Monetary Processes”) also work to ensure market and economic outperformance. The rising Periphery – with its billions of consumers and rising demand for commodities – has realized a robust and self-reinforcing inflationary bias. Moreover, secular dollar weakness has increased the investment and speculative merits of commodities and other hard assets when contrasted to dollar securities. Dollar weakness begets global reflation that begets dollar underperformance that begets a new Paradigm..
The balance of financial and economic power has shifted decisively away from the U.S. The Periphery has supplanted the Core as the epicenter of global economic reflation, recovery, and expansion. Yet the more the world changes the more the Fed remains the same. Disregarding both the impaired dollar and global reflationary dynamics, the Fed has locked itself into pegging rates based singularly on dismal U.S. economic fundamentals. And these ultra-low Core rates are providing a very hefty global interest-rate anchor.
I will humbly suggest that a momentous global economic transformation is at this point About Half a Paradigm. Powerful global economic and inflationary forces have decisively shifted to the Periphery. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve (Core) still retains remarkable dominance over global market yields. I believe we are in a transition period, with the Fed’s power over global yields waning over time (or perhaps abruptly in a future crisis backdrop). In the meantime, however, global yields are mismatched to the reflationary backdrop. This predicament implies ongoing market distortions, a rather extraordinary global mispricing of the cost of finance, along with all the myriad financial and economic costs associated with unrelenting “Monetary Disorder” (i.e. assets Bubbles, imbalances, mal- and over-investment, financial and economic fragilities, etc.)
Of late, there’s some loud clamoring with respect to the dollar carry trade and global asset Bubbles. Little doubt the “carry trade” (borrowing at low rates in the U.S. to play higher-yielding assets globally) is a meaningful source of global liquidity, although it should not be overstated in the context of rapid synchronized Periphery Credit growth. And, clearly, speculative excess has found its way to “developing markets” (some years ago I would write “liquidity loves inflation” to describe how financial flows inherently gravitate toward the inflating asset classes). But I would stress that a reasonable portion of this year’s spectacular market gains are associated with a fundamentally-based revaluation of Periphery and commodity-based assets. There’s more to this year’s global market moves than mindless buying of risk assets and Bubble excess. Furthermore, I believe the Core-to-Periphery Dynamic is a secular trend that will prove less vulnerable to bursting Bubbles than others would contend.
The sources of acute systemic fragility are generally not easily or commonly recognized during periods of excess. The risks wrought from Fed-induced market distortions and mis-pricings during the Mortgage Finance Bubble were not apparent to most until it was much too late. The perception today is that our post-Bubble systemic backdrop is not vulnerable to either excesses or inflationary pressures. The bulls scoff at the notion that there are domestic risks associated with sticking with ultra-easy monetary policy (any one catch Paul McCulley’s CNBC interview late this afternoon?). The risks are there but not so visible.
A major yet unappreciated domestic risk associated with Fed policy is that ultra-low interest-rates are being only further embedded into Credit and economic structures. The Fed has manipulated short-rates and market yields in the most extreme degree. This intervention has amounted to massive distortion throughout the markets, while this process has further spurred the Paradigm shift of power from the Core to the Periphery.
Each month, the U.S. Credit system and economy become only more vulnerable to a rise in yields (mortgage and Treasury borrowing costs, in particular). Imagine the U.S. housing market in an environment of much higher mortgage rates and then ponder the scope of the Fannie/Freddie/FHLB/FHA bailouts in the event of a spike in yields. Picture the dilemma faced by Treasury if its borrowing costs jump significantly. How about the fiscal position of state and local governments? Could our frail banking system handle a surprise rise in rates? And imagine the corner policymakers would find themselves boxed into when the Fed loses control over market yields.
It is not clear to me whether it will unfold over months or years. But I do expect a more complete Paradigm shift to foster waning influence of the Fed over global market yields commensurate with fading U.S. economic dominance. Unless global reflationary forces dissipate, this implies a future adjustment period for U.S. interest-rate and risk asset markets. And when the Fed eventually loses command over market yields, the risks associated with today’s policy course will likely manifest into a very problematic financial and economic crisis. The Fed should neither peg interest rates nor telegraph the future course of interest rate manipulations – especially at near zero rates. And the Fed can today ignore global reflationary dynamics at our – and our currency’s - future peril. It’s amazing the lessons somehow not learned.