Did the Fed Bail out the Market Today?

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The good news first:

We learn by the United States Labor Department this morning that the economy took on 273,000 jobs last month.

Consensus estimates came it at 175,000.

Unemployment slipped from 3.6% to 3.5%… equaling a 50-year low.

Meantime, December and January estimates were upgraded by no less than 85,000 jobs.

Thus there is more joy in heaven.

Now the bad news:

The stock market picked up the news… and heaved it into the paper basket.

“Black Swan-dive”

The Dow Jones hemorrhaged another 800 points by 10 a.m. The other major indexes also gave generously — again.

VIX — Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” exceeded 48 this morning. It had guttered along under 15 until late February.

In all, global equities have surrendered $9 trillion in nine days — $1 trillion each day.

Never before have global equities retreated so swiftly and violently.

Meantime, the 10-year Treasury note achieved something of the miraculous this morning…

Yields collapsed to an eye-popping 0.664%.

Many were flabbergasted when yields sank to a record 1.27% low in July 2016. Yet this morning, they were nearly half.

Well and truly… these are interesting times.

Michael Every of Rabobank shrieks we are witnessing a “Black Swan-dive, as yields and stocks tumble in unison…”

A New Contrarian Indicator

But at least the crackerjacks at Goldman Sachs gave us advance notice of this thundering stampede into Treasuries…

A Bloomberg headline, dated Feb. 10:

“JPMorgan Says Bonds to Slump, Fueling a Return to Cyclicals.”

And this, bearing date of Feb. 23:

“JPMorgan Says Rally in Treasuries May Be Nearing Turning Point.”

May we suggest a new contrarian indicator?

The “JPMorgan Indicator.”

The reference is to the famed 1979 BusinessWeek cover declaring “The Death of Equities.”

Of course equities embarked upon the grandest bull market in history shortly thereafter.

Perhaps JPMorgan can provide a similar service.

As Zero Hedge reminds us, most hedge funds are clients of JPMorgan. Those who took aboard its advice are presently paying. And royally.

They “shorted” longer-term bonds — betting they would fall.

If You Don’t at First Succeed…

We imagine Mr. Jerome Powell is scratching his overlabored head today. His “emergency” rate cut Tuesday failed to fluster the fish.

But that does not mean more bait is not going on his hook…

Markets presently give 50% odds the Federal Reserve will lower rates to between 0.25% and 0.50% by April.

The central bank is already woefully unprepared to tackle the next recession. Yet it appears ready to squander what little ammunition that remains.

And Bank of America is already assuming a global recession is underway:

“[Our] working assumption is that as of March 2020 we are in a global recession.”

A global recession can wash upon these American shores.

What is the Federal Reserve to do in event it does?

Dwindling Options

It has little space to cut interest rates, as established. And purchasing Treasuries has lost its punch. Recall longer-term Treasury yields presently dip below 1%.

Additional purchases could drag yields to zero… and below.

Eric Rosengren presides over the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

He moans these conditions “would raise challenges policy makers did not face even during the Great Recession.”

Again, what could they do?

In a situation where both short-term interest rates and 10-year Treasury rates approach the zero lower bound, allowing the Federal Reserve to purchase a broader range of assets could be important.

… We should allow the central bank to purchase a broader range of securities or assets.

Full English translation:

The Federal Reserve should be authorized to purchase stocks.

But Is It Already?

This Tuesday we vented the theory that the Federal Reserve has been sneakily — and illegally — purchasing stocks.

Citing Graham Summers, senior market strategist at Phoenix Capital Research:

For years now, I’ve noted that anytime stocks began to break down, “someone” has suddenly intervened to stop the market from cratering…

[And] a year ago, I noticed that the market was behaving in very strange ways.

The markets would open sharply DOWN. Seeing this, I would begin buying puts (options trades that profit when something falls) on various securities, particularly those that had been experiencing pronounced weakness the day before.

Then, suddenly and without any warning, ALL of those securities would suddenly ERUPT higher.

Mr. Summers theorized that the Federal Reserve was purchasing Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Amazon stock.

Because these behemoths wield such vast heft, they can haul the overall market higher.

Did the Federal Reserve possibly resort to the same skullduggery today?

The Smoking Gun?

At 3:08 we noticed the Dow Jones flashing 25,268 — another whaling to conclude the week.

We next looked in shortly after 4 to tally the final damage.

Yet we were astonished to discover the index had surged to 25,938 in that hour.

For emphasis: That is a 670-point spree in the span of one hour.

It settled down to 25, 864 by closing whistle. But the index closed the day only 256 points in red — a victory of sorts.

What happened?

A quick look at Apple revealed it began rising around 3 o’clock… as if by an invisible hand.

Microsoft displayed a nearly identical pattern. And Amazon. And Google.

All mysteriously jumped at 3 p.m.

We leave you to your own conclusions.

A Record of Mischief

It’s long been argued that the Fed shouldn’t and doesn’t buy stocks.

However, the fact is that the Fed does a lot of things it’s not supposed to do. According to the Fed’s own mandates, it should never monetize the debt by printing money to buy debt securities.

The Fed’s already done that to the tune of over $3.5 TRILLION.

Moreover, we know from Fed minutes that as far back as 2012, the Fed was shorting the Volatility Index (VIX) via futures, or options. Here again, this runs completely contrary to the Fed’s official mandate. And if you think this is conspiracy theory, consider that it was current Fed Chair Jerome Powell who admitted the Fed was doing this!

Simply put, the Fed has been skirting its mandate for years in the name of “maintaining financial stability.” In fact, what usually happens is the Fed does things it shouldn’t, denies it for years and then finally admits the truth years later, by which point no one is outraged.

I believe the Fed is currently engaging in precisely such a practice when it comes to the outright rigging of the stock market today.

The Laws Fall Silent

The Federal Reserve Act does not authorize the central bank to purchase equities.

But financial emergency is akin to wartime emergency.

And as noted, the Federal Reserve took… extreme liberties with the law during the last crisis.

It may be taking additional liberties at present. And it will again if necessary.

“Inter arma enim silent lēgēs,” said Cicero — “In times of war, the law falls silent.”

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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Heading Into Negative (Real) Interest Rates

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Last July I was in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, along with a host of monetary elites, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference that established the post-WWII international monetary system. But I wasn’t just there to commemorate  the past —I was there to seek insight into the future of the monetary system.

One day I was part of a select group in a closed-door “off the record” meeting with top Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB) officials who announced exactly what you can expect with interest rates going forward — and why.

They included a senior official from a regional Federal Reserve bank, a senior official from the Fed’s Board of Governors and a member of the ECB’s Board of Governors.

Chatham House rules apply, so I still can’t reveal the names of anyone present at this particular meeting or quote them directly.

But I can discuss the main points. They essentially came out and announced that rates are heading lower, and not by just 25 or 50 basis points. Rates were 2.25% at the time. They said they have to cut interest rates by a lot going forward.

Well, that’s already happened. The Fed cut rates last September and October (each 25 basis points), bringing rates down to 1.75%. And now, after Tuesday’s emergency 50-basis point rate cut, rates are down to 1.25%.

That’s a drop of one full percentage point. If the Fed keeps cutting (which is likely), it’ll soon be flirting with the zero bound. And if the economic effects of the coronavirus don’t dissipate (very possible), the Fed could easily hit zero.

But then what?

These officials didn’t officially announce that interest rates will go negative. But they said that when rates are back to zero, they’ll have to take a hard look at negative rates.

Reading between the lines, they will likely resort to negative rates when the time comes.

Normally forecasting interest rate policy can be tricky, and I use a number of sophisticated models to try to determine where it’s heading. But these guys made my job incredibly easy. It’s almost like cheating!

The most interesting part of the meeting was the reason they gave for the coming rate cuts. They were very relaxed about it, almost as if it was too obvious to even point out.

The reason has to do with real interest rates.

The real interest rate is the nominal interest rate minus the inflation rate. You might look at today’s interest rates and think they’re already extremely low. And in nominal terms they certainly are. But when you consider real interest rates, you’ll see that they can be substantially higher than the nominal rate.

That’s why the real rate is so important. If you’re an economist or analyst trying to forecast markets based on the impact of rates on the economy, then you need to focus on real rates.

Assume the nominal rate on a bond is 4%; what you see is what you get. But the real rate is the nominal rate minus inflation. If the nominal rate is 4% and inflation is 2%, then the real rate is 2% (4 – 2 = 2).

That difference between nominal and real rates seems simple until you get into a strange situation where inflation is higher than the nominal rate. Then the real rate is negative.

For example, if the nominal rate is 4% and inflation is 5%, then the real rate of interest is negative 1% (4 – 5 = -1).

The U.S. has never had negative nominal rates (Japan, the eurozone and Switzerland have), but it has had negative real rates.

By the early 1980s, nominal interest rates on long-term Treasury securities hit 13%. But inflation at the time was 15%, so the real rate was negative 2%. The real cost of money was cheap even as nominal rates hit all-time highs.

Nominal rates of 13% when inflation is 15% are actually stimulative. Rates of 3% when inflation is 1% aren’t. In these examples, nominal 2% is a “high” rate and 13% is a “low” rate once inflation is factored in.

What is the real rate today?

The yield to maturity on 10-year Treasury notes is currently at a record low of under 1% (it actually fell to 0.899% today before edging slightly higher). That’s never happened before in history, which is an indication of how unusual these times are.

Meanwhile, inflation as measured by the PCE core deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure) is currently about 1.6% year over year, below the Fed’s 2% target.

Using those metrics, real interest rates are in the neighborhood of -.5%. But believe it or not, that’s actually higher than the early ’80s when nominal rates were 13%, but real rates were -2%.

That’s why it’s critical to understand the significance of real interest rates.

And real rates are important because the central banks want to drive real rates meaningfully negative. That’s why they have to lower the nominal rate substantially, which is what these central bank officials said at Bretton Woods.

So you can expect rates to go to zero, probably sooner or later. Then, nominal negative rates are probably close behind.

The Fed is very concerned about recession, for which it’s presently unprepared. And with the coronavirus, now even more so. It usually takes five percentage points of rate cuts to pull the U.S. out of a recession. During its hiking cycle that ended in December 2018, the Fed was trying to get rates closer to 5% so they could cut them as much as needed in a new recession. But, they failed.

Interest rates only topped out at 2.5%, only halfway to the target. The market reaction and a slowing economy caused the Fed to reverse course and engage in easing. That was good for markets, but terrible in terms of getting ready for the next recession.

The Fed also reduced its balance sheet from $4.5 trillion to $3.8 trillion, but that was still well above the $800 billion level that existed before QE1 (“QE-lite” has since taken the balance sheet up above $4 trillion, and it’s probably going higher since new cracks are forming in the repo market).

In short, the Fed (and other central banks) only partly normalized and are far from being able to cure a new recession or panic if one were to arise tomorrow.

The Fed is therefore trapped in a conundrum that it can’t escape. It needs to rate hikes to prepare for recession, but lower rates to avoid recession. It’s obviously chosen the latter option.

If a recession hit now, the Fed would cut rates by another 1.25% in stages, but then they would be at the zero bound and out of bullets.

Beyond that, the Fed’s only tools are negative rates, more QE, a higher inflation target, or forward guidance guaranteeing no rate hikes without further notice.

Of course, negative nominal interest rates have never worked where they’ve been tried. They only fuel asset bubbles, not economic growth. There’s no reason to believe they’ll work next time.

But the central banks really have no other tools to choose from. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Now’s the time to stock up on gold and other hard assets to protect your wealth.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

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EXPOSED: The Fed’s Deepest Secret

This post EXPOSED: The Fed’s Deepest Secret appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Today we don our reporter’s fedora, sit at our typewriter… and pursue a question truly scandalous.

We will be denounced for fanning “conspiracy theories.” Social media will excommunicate us for hawking “fake news.”

We expect fully to be tried for sedition… and packed off to the gallows for offending God and king.

But we will take the consequences as we must.

For we are hot to expose an illegal Federal Reserve manipulation of the stock market.

Today we haul forth forbidden evidence.

Doesn’t the Fed Already Manipulate the Market?

“But wait,” you say. “Isn’t it common knowledge that the Fed manipulates the stock market through interest rates and tricks like quantitative easing?”

Yes, it is. And it does.

Yet these are indirect influences, actions at distances, nudges at one remove.

We refer instead to a direct market intervention — and again, an illegal intervention.

It is as if the Federal Reserve has the stock market by the scruff of the neck.

And might it explain how the market came shooting from the depths late Friday… when all was in freefall?

The answer — the possible answer, in fairness — anon.

But first today’s urgent news…

Powell Rides to the Rescue

This morning we noted the Dow Jones was 250 points in red. Not 10 minutes later we glanced again — only to learn it was suddenly 300 points in green.

A 550-point sprint… in 10 minutes!

But why? Here is the answer:

Chairman Powell came charging over the hill this morning… and slashed interest rates 50-basis points.

It was the first 50-basis point cut since December 2008.

Declared Napoleon on his white horse, bloody sword in hand:

The magnitude and persistence of the overall effect on the U.S. economy remain highly uncertain and the situation remains a fluid one. Against this background, the committee judged that the risks to the U.S. outlook have changed materially. In response, we have eased the stance of monetary policy to provide some more support to the economy.

Alas, Mr. Powell’s gallantry offered only temporary inspiration…

Why the Market Retreated

Stocks were in swift retreat shortly thereafter, pulling all the way back to negative territory.

“Where are they going?” he must have shouted inwardly. “Didn’t I just give them what they wanted?

“I didn’t even wait for our FOMC meeting in two weeks. And I cut by a full 50 basis points, not a measly 25.”

But that is precisely why stocks likely fled the field of battle, Mr. Chairman. Your move suggests panic.

It tells them this coronavirus is a genuine menace, a true fee-fi-fo-fum, something really to watch.

The Dow Jones ended up retreating further still. It shed another 786 points on the day.

The S&P gave up another 87 points; the Nasdaq, 268.

An Historic Day

Meantime, the 10-year Treasury yield dropped beneath 1% today as the stampede to safety continued.

Not once in history has the 10-year slipped below 1% — not once.

And gold made a bid to reclaim safe haven status today, gaining a thumping $41.70.

But should the rout deepen…

Do not be surprised to see stocks rise unexpectedly under invisible influence — as if by conjury.

And so we return to our central questions:

Does the Federal Reserve directly intervene in the stock market?

That is, has it become its own Plunge Protection Team?

And does any evidence exist for it?

A Puzzling Market Anomaly

Graham Summers is senior market strategist at Phoenix Capital Research. And his researches have shoveled up some odd and exotic findings:

For years now, I’ve noted that anytime stocks began to break down, “someone” has suddenly intervened to stop the market from cratering…

[And] a year ago, I noticed that the market was behaving in very strange ways.

The markets would open sharply DOWN. Seeing this, I would begin buying puts (options trades that profit when something falls) on various securities, particularly those that had been experiencing pronounced weakness the day before.

Then, suddenly, and without any warning, ALL of those securities would suddenly ERUPT higher.

What made these moves even more bizarre were that they were happening at roughly the same time of day (9:50–10:00 a.m. EST). And as if that wasn’t odd enough, these violent rallies were occurring on almost NO volume, meaning that real investors were not driving them.

And this was happening almost every week.

I’m always looking for new ways to make BIG MONEY from the markets. So suffice to say, this discovery REALLY got my attention.

What followed was a labyrinthine journey into the guts of the financial system. It took several months, but after countless hours of research, I came to a startling conclusion.

Which was what, Mr. Summers?

I 100% believe the Fed is actively intervening in the stock market.

I don’t mean indirect interventions via rate cuts or quantitative easing (QE) programs… I mean that I believe the Fed is LITERALLY buying stocks directly to stop the stock market from falling.

But That’s Not Legal

It is true, some central banks such as the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan are legally authorized to purchase stocks. Both take advantage in full.

But the Federal Reserve Act — Section 14 — grants our own central bank no similar authority.

It may purchase Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities, yes. But not stocks.

You are alleging, Mr. Summers, that the Federal Reserve is acting contrary to the laws of the United States.

What evidence have you?

Look to Jan. 7., he instructs us:

Stocks opened in a sea of red based on increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Then, suddenly, stocks went absolutely vertical around 10 a.m.:

IMG 1

Your explanation, Mr. Summers?:

Fed interventions involve indiscriminate buying… Large financial institutions don’t place buy orders that move the markets… Whoever placed the buy order that triggered this wanted the market to rip higher.

Interesting. But certainly you have more evidence than that?

The Market Mysteriously Rebounds

Yes, we are told. Mr. Summers next directs us to last Friday, when markets were plunging once again.

During the previous five sessions, Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Amazon were tumbling faster than the overall S&P.

But early afternoon Friday, Apple and Microsoft mysteriously pulled up… and halted the S&P’s sell-off.

But why?

Microsoft had warned on Wednesday that manufacturing kinks in China would kink its bottom line.

Apple was similarly upset by the coronavirus.

Yet by closing whistle Friday, Microsoft posted a 2.42% gain. Alphabet, a 1.61% gain.

Meantime, Apple and Amazon nearly clawed even:

IMG 2

Again we ask… what prompted the about-face?

Perhaps Mr. Summers is correct.

Both the Dow Jones and S&P closed the day in red. But given their outsized weighting, these particular stocks halted the rout.

And both indexes ended Friday far higher than they otherwise would have.

Summers believes the Federal Reserve purchases these specific wagon-pullers to haul the freight along.

The Role of “Passive Investing”

The strategy relates directly to the “passive investing” we tackled yesterday.

Mr. Summers:

The Financial Times recently reported that according to data from JPMorgan and Lucerne Capital, only 10% of stock market volume comes from actual fundamental stock investors.

The other 90% of all market trading today is generated by passive funds/index derivatives. Meaning 90% of trading comes from automated computer trading programs that buy stocks passively. These programs buy individual stocks or entire stock indexes without thinking.

Because of this, the Fed knows it only needs a significant percentage of stocks to ratchet higher to get the entire market to rally.

Those stocks, again, are Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon.

Please, continue. Do you have additional evidence of this ongoing — and illegal — operation?

The Evidence Mounts

Fed interventions occur at specific times of day. Real investors don’t arbitrarily place large orders at particular times of the day. [But] I’ve noticed time and again that these kinds of large indiscriminate moves occur at 10:00 a.m. on days when the market opens in the red. [Also]…

Trading volume falls during Fed interventions. Volume fell as the market ripped higher, indicating that there were few real buyers in the marketplace. If this had been a real market move based on real buyers coming into the markets, the trading volume would have stayed strong or only declined slightly.

Who else could this be but the Fed?

We have no answer. You present a compelling — dare we say, convincing — case.

We demand a Congressional investigation at once. The alleged conduct is again, illegal.

This is a nation of laws after all.

And who, besides the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS  — and Department of Justice — is above the law?

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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Why the Fed Won’t Save the Market

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A very convenient conviction is rising in the panicked financial markets that the Federal Reserve will “save the market” from a COVID-19 collapse. But they won’t.

“Buy-the-dip” punters are placing bets on the belief the Fed can’t possibly let the current bubble pop.

Oh yes they can and yes they will. Why?

It’s about control. Here’s what I mean…

Just as the Fed gets panicky if interest rates start getting away from its control, the Fed also gets nervous when its speculative bubbles get away from it, even though it causes them in the first place.

When speculators no longer fear a downturn because of their faith in eventual Fed “saves,” the Fed has lost control. And that’s not what the Fed wants.

The COVID-19 pandemic is actually a godsend to the Fed.

To reestablish control, the Fed must let the current euphoric faith in its “guarantee” to rescue markets crash to Earth.

The Fed’s foolish but not stupid. They understand speculative bubbles always pop, so the COVID-19 pandemic is just the excuse they needed to let the air out of the current grossly unsustainable bubble.

All bubbles pop. That leaves the Fed with an unsavory choice: Either be viewed as responsible for the bubble bursting or engineer some fall guy to take the blame and give the Fed cover for its incompetence.

It’s also instructive to note, as many have, that the Fed enters this global recession with very little policy ammo.

Interest rates are so near zero already that a couple of rate cuts will do very little good in the real economy.

Panicky punters expect the Fed to blow its wad on saving their hides, but what would that leave the Fed for the real recession that’s just getting underway? Nothing. If the Fed starts cutting now, it’ll have nothing left.

Would the Fed be so shortsighted and stupid as to blow their last ammo just to save speculatively insane punters from the inevitable bursting of a moral hazard-driven bubble?

In a word, no.

What about the possibility of negative interest rates?

Japan and Europe have effectively proven that negative interest rates do essentially nothing to boost spending in the real economy.

All negative interest rates accomplished was further boosting speculative bubbles and wealth inequality, which threatens to destabilize the social order — something the Fed cannot control.

The reality is the COVID-19 pandemic promises to be much more consequential than the run-of-the-mill financial excesses of the past 20 years, but we already know one important thing:

All bubbles pop.

We also know this: The greater the excesses, speculative euphoria and moral hazard, the greater the reversal.

Regards,

Charles Hugh Smith
for The Daily Reckoning

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Jerome Powell Confesses

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Heaven forfend — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — the chairman of the Federal Reserve has confessed the truth.

We write from our back today, floored, still unable to recover from the blow.

For yesterday the chairman ripped the central banker’s mask from his face, and let them have it straight in the eye… and right from the shoulder.

What mighty and stupendous truth did he uncage yesterday?

Patience, dear reader, patience. You must first suffer under today’s market notes…

Can’t Shake the Coronavirus

The stock market traded at record heights today. But the coronavirus struck again this afternoon. CNBC in summary:

Equities fell sharply to start off Thursday’s session after China said it confirmed 15,152 new cases and 254 additional deaths. That brings the country’s total death toll to 1,367 as the number of people infected jumped to nearly 60,000, according to the Chinese government.

The Dow Jones ended up losing 128 points by closing whistle, to 29,423.

The S&P lost five points on the day; the Nasdaq, 14.

Gold, meantime, gained $7.30 today to close at $1,579.20.

But to return to today’s thumping question…

What sublime truth did Jerome Powell let out yesterday?

Powell’s Monetary Policy Report to the Congress

Here is the setting:

The Dirksen Senate Office Building 538, Washington, D.C. The Banking Committee of the United States Senate is in session.

Addressing the committee is the Hon. Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

He is a man heavy with duties to the American republic…

He is delivering the semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress, in fulfillment of his obligations under the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978.

It is late morning. Committee members fight valiantly to maintain consciousness, but sleep has vanquished several.

Chins rest upon chests, rising gently at longish intervals… as if buoys bobbing in lazy ocean swells.

Faint snores can be heard above Mr. Powell’s hypnotic droning.

One dreaming senator — we had best keep his identity dark — mutters something about “your sexy lips” and a name other than his wife’s.

A swift elbow from an adjacent senator nudges him awake.

But then — of a sudden — the truth came roaring from the chairman’s mouth like fire from the mouth of a cannon…

The Truth!

Out it came, knocking us flat in the process:

“Low rates are not really a choice anymore; they are a fact of reality.”

Low rates are not really a choice anymore; they are a fact of reality.

No more talk of “normalization.” No more whim-wham about “the outlook.” No more “monitoring conditions.”

Instead, low interest rates are no longer a choice. They are a “fact of reality.”

Poor Alan Greenspan would be spinning in his grave today — if only he had a grave to spin in. Old Alan yet lives and breathes.

But does Powell not realize that a central banker’s job is to dodge, to weave, to talk… but not say?

We can only speculate that the fellow was overtaken by a temporary delirium, a transient psychosis.

But Mr. Powell’s uncharacteristic outburst of honesty gives powerful, almost invincible confirmation of our deep belief…

Our belief that the Federal Reserve can never increase interest rates by any meaningful measure.

Higher Rates Would Collapse the Walls of Jericho

High interest rates — even historically normal interest rates — would bring down the very walls of Jericho.

The entire financial and economic system would come thundering down.

Please observe the chart below. It reveals that United States private financial assets — the stock market, essentially — presently rise to an obscene 5.6 times United States GDP.

And so it puts all existing records in the shade:

IMG 1

Shriek the doom mongers of Zero Hedge:

“Any sizable drop in the stock market would lead to an almost instantaneous depression.”

We fear they are correct.

The stock market and the decade-long economic “recovery” center upon ultra-low interest rates.

A meaningful rate increase means debt service becomes an impossible burden — a crushing burden.

But returning to Chairman Powell…

“We Will Have Less Room to Cut”

Our unlikely Job was not done yesterday. He confessed another truth:

“We will have less room to cut.”

The federal funds rate presently squats between 1.5% and 1.75%. But as we have noted often, the central bank requires rates between 4% and 5% to push back recession.

Should recession invade the United States tomorrow, the Federal Reserve would enter the combat at half-strength… or less.

Thus it plans to send additional quantitative easing and “forward guidance” hurtling against the onrushing enemy.

“We will use those tools,” Mr. Powell pledged yesterday. “I believe we will use them aggressively.”

We have no doubt they will. But we are not convinced they will irritate or bother the enemy.

The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet already stretches to emergency wartime levels. And each expansion packs less wallop than the previous.

How much remains?

The Point of Diminishing Returns

Even Powell’s deputy commander — Vice Chairman Richard Clarida — recognizes the limits:

The law of diminishing returns is a very powerful force in economics, and so we have to be concerned that it may also apply to quantitative easing.

What then of “forward guidance?” Is it formidable?

No, argues our own Jim Rickards. It is a mere popgun, firing a blank cartridge:

Forward guidance lacks credibility because the Fed’s forecast record is abysmal. I’ve counted at least 13 times when the Fed flip-flopped on policy because they couldn’t get the forecast right.

Thus the forked counterattack of quantitative easing and forward guidance may prove blunt in both prongs.

But might our central bank house another weapon to punch back? Yes, it might…

The Fed Looks to the Past

The chairman and his fellows may blow the dust off another anti-recession weapon — a weapon it has not employed in 69 years.

Reveals The Wall Street Journal:

As part of their contingency planning for the next recession, Federal Reserve officials are looking at a stimulus scheme the U.S. last used during and after World War II.

But what could it be?

From 1942 until 1951, the Fed capped yields on Treasury securities — first on short-term bills and later on longer-term bonds — to help finance war spending and the recovery.

Placing caps on Treasury yields. That is the anti-recession weapon under consideration.

This scheme involves intricacies far too subtle and delicate for our dull understanding.

We therefore enlist the Journal to help penetrate the mystery:

Yield caps would be a cousin to QE. In QE, the Fed committed to purchasing fixed amounts of long-term securities. With yield caps, by contrast, the Fed would commit to purchase unlimited amounts at a particular maturity to peg rates at the target.

The goals of either approach are similar: drive down longer-term interest rates to encourage new spending and investment by households and businesses…

Some officials think capping yields could deliver the same amount of stimulus while acquiring fewer securities than they did through their bond-buying programs from 2012 until 2014, when the Fed purchased more than $1.6 trillion in Treasury and mortgage securities.

Do you understand it now? Below you will find our email address. Please contact us at your earliest convenience. For we do not understand it.

Breaking the Invisible Hand of Capitalism

Yet of this we are certain:

Capping Treasury yields — whatever it is — represents a further warfare upon the free and open market, further violence against transparency and honesty.

It seizes Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capitalism… and snaps another finger in two. Few remain as is.

What is it then but a gloved admission — that all previous central bank offensives have failed in their aims?

That is, a concession that they have failed to yield a healthy, prosperous and sustainable economy.

Ten years of them and victory remains as elusive as ever before.

Yet to paraphrase the good Chairman Powell, they are now facts of reality. And they will remain facts of reality… until they are proven fictions of reality.

But this much we will say for the chairman:

He is finally honest about it…

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post Jerome Powell Confesses appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

“If There’s a Recession, Don’t Worry”

This post “If There’s a Recession, Don’t Worry” appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

“Pride goeth before destruction,” warns the Book of Proverbs… “and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The Federal Reserve might keep this biblical reproach close by…

For as one Federal Reserve magnifico boasted recently — pridefully and haughtily:

“If there’s a recession, don’t worry.”

Don’t worry, that is, because “the Fed is very powerful.”

This information we gathered through our vast web of spies…

Dispatch From a Banking Conference in Puerto Rico

The Federal Reserve hosted a recent banking conference on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

Old Daily Reckoning hand and “sovereign man” Simon Black dispatched an agent to listen in… who wired back the transcript.

Says Simon, via his man in San Juan:

One very senior Fed official… told the audience, “If there’s a recession, don’t worry,” because “the Fed is very powerful” and has all the tools it needs to support the economy.

To which instruments of power does this grandee refer?

We have no specific information. But interest rates cannot be among them…

The Fed Has Limited “Strategic Depth” to Fight Recession

History argues the Federal Reserve requires rates of 4% or 5% to vanquish a recessionary foe.

Only these elevated rates give it the “space” to slash rates sufficiently — to zero if necessary.

But today’s federal funds rate ranges only between 1.50% and 1.75%.

Thus the central bank’s last trench line — the zero bound — lies dangerously close in back of it.

That is, the Federal Reserve presently lacks the strategic depth to mount a successful rate-based defense… and wear down the enemy in its protracted meat grinder.

Should the enemy puncture the Fed’s shallow defenses, the vast rear is currently open to it. And recession would have the entire economy in siege.

What weapons, then, might remain in the Federal Reserve’s arsenal?

Additional quantitative easing? Perhaps “forward guidance”? They are on hand, yes.

But what about negative interest rates, previously confined to the drawing board? Why make the zero bound your last line of defense?

Why not stretch the barbed wire behind it, lay down mines… and dig additional trenches in negative territory?

Negative rates would deepen and stiffen the defense, their boosters argue.

Three Full Percentage Points!

Former Federal Reserve Field Marshal Ben Bernanke insists these are formidable anti-recession armaments. He sets great store by them, in fact.

Quantitative easing, forward guidance and negative interest rates — combine them one with the other, says this strategic genius…

And they equal three full percentage points of rate cuts. Three full percentage points!

By his lights then, today’s federal funds rate is not as low as 1.50% — but as high as 4.75%.

That is… the Federal Reserve presently enjoys nearly all the strategic depth required to fight back recession.

We suppose these are the weapons our anonymous central banker has in mind — those that render the central bank “very powerful.”

But we are not half so convinced. We see not an impregnable defense… but a Maginot Line, vulnerable to a superior strategy.

We envision a flanking attack, with enemy armor snaking its way through the Ardennes, bypassing the forts.

We further envision a thrust through the Moselle Valley… and into the defenseless economic interior.

The Fed’s Weak Defenses

Place no faith in the Federal Reserve’s Maginot Line, argues Jim Rickards:

Here’s the actual record…

QE2 and QE3 did not stimulate the economy at all; this has been the weakest economic expansion in U.S. history. All QE did was create asset bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate that have yet to deflate (if we’re lucky) or crash (if we’re not).

Meanwhile, negative interest rates do not encourage people to spend as Bernanke expects. Instead, people save more to make up for what the bank is confiscating as “negative” interest. That hurts growth and pushes the Fed even further away from its inflation target.

What about “forward guidance”?

Forward guidance lacks credibility because the Fed’s forecast record is abysmal. I’ve counted at least 13 times when the Fed flip-flopped on policy because they couldn’t get the forecast right.

So every single one of Bernanke’s claims is dubious. There’s just no realistic basis to argue that these combined policies are equal to three percentage points of additional rate cuts.

Fighting the Last War

Generals prepare to fight the last war, it is often argued. We suppose central bankers prepare to fight the last crisis.

Meantime, the relentless enemy is preparing to wage the next recession. It learns, it adapts. It originates new tactics, new weapons… new strategies.

It bypasses Maginot Lines.

And so we expect the next recession to catch our hidebound central bankers unaware… facing straight ahead while the tanks roll in from their flank.

But we expect a new war plan to emerge from the next recession, once all existing defenses are flat.

The New Wonder Weapon

At its center will be the wonder weapon of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT.

Up it will go in its Enola Gay… and the fiscal authorities will unload it high above Main Street.

Cash will come raining down upon the unsuspecting residents below, like so much confetti.

They will then vanish into stores, into restaurants, into theaters to disgorge their newfound bounty.

The secondhand recipients of this bounty will proceed to exchange it for autos, boats and houses.

The third-hand recipients will in turn send the money on its way, fanning out in greater circles yet.

The entire economy would soon be on the jump… and recession thrown headlong into rout, permanent and humiliating rout.

But this super-weapon packs greater wallop yet…

Everything for Everyone

It can furnish the wherewithal for a “Green New Deal,” universal health care, free college for all… and guaranteed employment.

If John is unemployed, if Jane cannot meet tuition, if Joe lacks health care… then simply print the money to make them whole.

Send it marching off for duty in the general economy, where it will make all shortages good.

MMT says unemployment, for example, is direct evidence that money is overtight.

Print enough and you have the problem licked.

But didn’t the government print money like bedlamites after the financial crisis? How can money possibly be tight?

Ah, but QE’s trillions were funneled off into credit markets, where they liquified the financial system.

They did not enter the Main Street economy. That is why inflation never got its start.

But with MMT, the money goes straight from the print press to the Treasury.

It can then be spent into public circulation — on a New Deal, for example. Green, red, blue, purple or pink… the choice is yours.

Or for free college, universal Medicare… jobs for all.

But you raise an objection. MMT is a cooking recipe for massive inflation, you say… even hyperinflation.

Inflation? No Problem

Yes, but the MMT crowd has anticipated your objection and meets you head on.

They actually agree with you. They agree MMT could cause a general inflation, possibly even a hyperinflation.

In fact, inflation is the one limiting factor they recognize, the one potential monkey wrench jamming the gears.

But they have the solution: taxation.

If inflation begins to bubble, to gurgle, the government can simply drain the excess dollars out of the system.

Under MMT the economy is the tub. Taxation is the drain.

Under the theory, in fact, stifling inflation is taxation’s central purpose. It is not to raise revenue.

“Ignoring It Would Be Foolish”

Is the theory crackpot? Yes, we are convinced it is.

But desperate times invite desperate measures. And when recession rolls on through the Federal Reserve’s defenses… desperate measures we will see.

We cannot say when of course. Nonetheless…

“[It] is coming,” warns analyst Kevin Muir. “Ignoring it would be foolish.”

Yet these are foolish times…  inhabited by foolish people.

Do you require proof?

Simply recall the recent counsel of a senior Federal Reserve official:

“If there’s a recession, don’t worry.”

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor The Daily Reckoning

The post “If There’s a Recession, Don’t Worry” appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Time to give Powell Truth Serum

This post Time to give Powell Truth Serum appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

The coronavirus has gone… “viral.” At the very least its media coverage has.

You may have therefore missed the news yesterday:

The Federal Reserve concluded its January FOMC meeting. It thereupon announced it is holding interest rates steady.

The federal funds target rate stays sandwiched between 1.50% and 1.75%.

Jerome Powell gave off his usual post-announcement whim-wham. He talked a lot, that is… but did not say much.

Example: A reporter rose before him with a question…

He asked the chairman if he feared withdrawing support for the “repo” market. The stock market may file a vigorous protest if he does, the implication being.

Powell came back at him this way:

In terms of what affects markets, I think many things affect markets. It’s very hard to say with any precision at any time what is affecting markets.

Yet here is the very picture of precision:

IMG 1

Here, once again, the precise union between the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and the S&P 500.

The two have gone happily arm in arm, linked, since early October.

Yet a Federal Reserve chairman must master the artful dodge, the skill to pretend ignorance of the most elemental facts — even the evidence of his own eyeballs.

Imagine the scene…

You enter a dining room for your evening meal. Jerome Powell is by your side.

You are astounded to discover a behemoth draft horse lounging upon the dining table. Stunned, ruffled, gobsmacked, you solicit comment from your dining mate…

“What horse?” asks he. “I don’t see a horse.”

Do we condemn the chairman? Do we impugn him, belittle him, call him into ridicule?

No. We are actually in deep sympathy with him. What — after all — is this fellow to say?

Is he to concede that the stock market is a house constructed of playing cards… and that he is its foundation?

That it would come heaping down without his determined and continuous support?

An honest answer would take the floor out of a vast fiction — the vast fiction that the stock market goes by itself, that its own pillars hold it up.

Dose him with C11H17N2NaO2S — that is, dose him with sodium pentothal — that is, dose him with truth serum…

And the ensuing geyser of honesty would collapse the Wall Street stock exchanges… as surely as the ancient Israelites collapsed the walls of Jericho.

Here is a brief sample of what Mr. Powell would confess under chemical influence:

That he is a mediocrity, a blank, a preposterous formula…

That he is far out of his depth…

That he is as fit to chair the Federal Reserve’s board of governors as he is to chair a board of barbers…

That he cannot tell you the next quarter’s GDP at the price of his soul…

That his enflamed hemorrhoids torture him ceaselessly…

That he cannot possibly determine the proper interest rate for millions upon millions of independent economic actors…

That he wields far less influence over interest rates than commonly believed…

That the president of the New York Fed smells…

That there is no actual money in monetary policy…

That he clings yet to his boyhood fantasy of becoming a salesman of life insurance…

That his wife’s cooking is a daily source of agony…

That his — no, no — we had better stop here. Some truths must remain dark. That counts double for a man of Mr. Powell’s high station.

Instead, the good chairman will babble what the world wants him to babble. Like this, for example, from yesterday:

The committee judges that the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions and inflation returning to the committee’s symmetric 2% objective.

Or this, also from yesterday:

[The] labor market continues to perform well… We see strong job creation, we see low unemployment [and] very importantly we see labor force participation continuing to move up.

And this:

Some of the uncertainties around trade have diminished recently and there are some signs that global growth may be stabilizing after declining since mid-2018.

Does Mr. Powell believe the words issuing from his own mouth? We are far from convinced.

Perhaps it truly is time to fill him with sodium pentathol…

Below, Jim Rickards shows you why the happy talk is simply that, and why the Fed has “never been more divided.” Read on.

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post Time to give Powell Truth Serum appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II

This post 5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Yesterday we hauled out evidence that interest rates have gone persistently down 500 years running.

And the high interest rates of the mid- to late 20th century?

These may be history’s true aberration, a violent but brief lurch in the chart… like a sudden burst of blood pressure.

Let us here reintroduce the graphic evidence:

IMG 1

Here is an extended picture of downward-trending rates — with the fabulous exception of the mid-to-late 20th century.

As Harvard economics professor Paul Schmelzing reckoned yesterday, as summarized by Willem H. Buiter in Project Syndicate:

Despite temporary stabilizations such as the periods 1550–1640, 1820–1850 or in fact 1950–1980… global… real rates have persistently trended downward over the past five centuries…

Can you therefore expect the downward journey of interest rates to proceed uninterrupted?

We have ransacked the historical data further still… rooted around for clues… and emerged with worrisome findings.

Why worrisome?

Details to follow. Let us first look in on another historical oddity, worrisome in its own way — the present stock market.

A Lull on Wall Street

It was an inconsequential day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones took a very slight slip, down nine points on the day.

The S&P scratched out a single-point gain; the Nasdaq gained 12 points today.

Gold and oil largely loafed, budging barely at all.

Meantime, humanity’s would-be saviors remained huddled at Davos. There they are setting the world to rights and deciding how we must live.

But let us resume our study of time… and money.

For light, we once again resort to the good Professor Schmelzing.

The arc of interest rates bends lower with time, he has established. But as he also establishes… no line bends true across five centuries of history.

Put aside the drastic mid-to-late 20th century reversal. Even the long downturning arc has its squiggles and twists, bent in the great forges of history.

To these we now turn…

“Real Rate Depression Cycles”

Over seven centuries, Schmelzing identifies nine “real rate depression cycles.”

These cycles feature a secular decline of real interest rates, followed by reversals — often sudden and violent reversals.

The first eight rate depression cycles tell fantastic tales…

They often pivoted upon high dramas like the Black Death of the mid-14th century… the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century… and World War II.

IMG 2

The world is currently ensnared within history’s ninth rate depression cycle. This cycle began in the mid-1980s.

Schmelzing says one previous cycle comes closest to this, our own. That is the global “Long Depression” of the 1880s and ’90s.

This “Long Depression” witnessed “low productivity growth, deflationary price dynamics and the rise of global populism and protectionism.”

Need we draw the parallels to today?

It is here where our tale gathers pace… and acquires point.

A Thing of Historic Grandeur

Schmelzing’s research reveals this information:

This present cycle is a thing of historical grandeur, in both endurance and intensity.

Of the entire 700-year record… only one cycle had a greater endurance. That was in the 15th century.

And only one previous cycle — also from the same epoch — exceeded the current cycle’s intensity.

By almost any measure… today’s rate depression cycle is a thing for the ages.

Turn now to this chart. The steep downward slope on the right gives the flavor of its fevered intensity:

IMG 3

Schmelzing’s researches show the real rate for the entire 700-year history is 4.78%.

Meantime, the real rate for the past 200 years averages 2.6%.

Beware “Reversion to the Mean”

And so “relative to both historical benchmarks,” says this fellow, “the current market environment thus remains severely depressed.”

That is, real rates remain well beneath historical averages.

And if the term “reversion to the mean” has anything in it, the world is in for a hard jolt when the mean reverts. Why?

Because when rates do regain their bounce — history shows — they bounce high.

Schmelzing:

The evidence from eight previous “real rate depressions” is that turnarounds from such environments, when they occur, have typically been both quick and sizeable… Most reversals to “real rate stagnation” periods have been rapid, nonlinear and took place on average after 26 years.

Twenty-six years? The present rate depression cycle runs to 36 or 37 years. We must conclude it goes on loaned time. What happens when the loan comes due?:

Within 24 months after hitting their troughs in the rate depression cycle, rates gained on average 315 basis points [3.15%], with two reversals showing real rate appreciations of more than 600 basis points [6%] within two years.

The current rate depression cycle ranges far beyond average.

It is, after all, the second longest on record… and the second most intense.

If the magnitude of the bounceback approximates the magnitude of the cycle it ends… we can therefore expect a fantastic trampolining of rates.

That is, we can likely expect rate appreciations of 6% or more.

What Happens When Rates Rise?

The stock market and the decade-long economic “recovery” center upon ultra-low interest rates. And so we recoil, horrified, at the prospect of a “rapid, nonlinear” rate reversal.

We must next consider its impact on America’s ability to finance its hellacious debt…

A violent rate increase means debt service becomes an impossible burden.

How would America service its $23 trillion debt — a $23 trillion debt that jumps higher by the minute?

Debt service already represents the fastest-growing government expense.

Interest payments will total $460 billion this year, estimates the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

CBO further projects debt service will scale $800 billion by decade’s end.

$800 billion exceeds today’s entire $738 billion defense budget. As it exceeds vastly present Medicare spending ($625 billion) and Medicaid spending ($412 billion).

CBO Doesn’t Account for Possible End to Rate Depression Cycle

But CBO pays no heed to the rate depression cycle. It — in fact — projects no substantial rate increases this decade.

But what if the present rate depression cycle closes… and interest rates go spiraling?

Debt service will likely swamp the entire federal budget.

Financial analyst Daniel Amerman:

If the interest rate on that debt were to rise by even 1%, the annual federal deficit rises by $200 billion. A 2% increase in interest rate levels would up the federal deficit by $400 billion, and if rates were 5% higher, the annual federal deficit rises by a full $1 trillion per year.

Recall, rates rocketed 6% or higher after two previous rate reversals.

Given the near-record intensity of the present rate depression cycle… should we not expect a similar rebound next time?

Hard logic dictates we should.

But what might bring down the curtain on the current cycle?

Unforeseen Catastrophe

Most previous rate depression cycles ended with death, destruction, howling, shrieking.

Examples, again, include the Black Plague, the Thirty Years War and World War II.

Perhaps a shock on their scale will close out the present cycle… for all that we know. Or perhaps some other cause entirely.

Of course, we can find no reason in law or equity why the second-longest, second-most intense rate depression cycle in history… cannot become the longest, most intense rate depression cycle in history.

The cycle could run years yet. Or it could end Friday morning.

The Lord only knows — and He is silent.

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post 5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II

This post 5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

Yesterday we hauled out evidence that interest rates have gone persistently down 500 years running.

And the high interest rates of the mid- to late 20th century?

These may be history’s true aberration, a violent but brief lurch in the chart… like a sudden burst of blood pressure.

Let us here reintroduce the graphic evidence:

IMG 1

Here is an extended picture of downward-trending rates — with the fabulous exception of the mid-to-late 20th century.

As Harvard economics professor Paul Schmelzing reckoned yesterday, as summarized by Willem H. Buiter in Project Syndicate:

Despite temporary stabilizations such as the periods 1550–1640, 1820–1850 or in fact 1950–1980… global… real rates have persistently trended downward over the past five centuries…

Can you therefore expect the downward journey of interest rates to proceed uninterrupted?

We have ransacked the historical data further still… rooted around for clues… and emerged with worrisome findings.

Why worrisome?

Details to follow. Let us first look in on another historical oddity, worrisome in its own way — the present stock market.

A Lull on Wall Street

It was an inconsequential day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones took a very slight slip, down nine points on the day.

The S&P scratched out a single-point gain; the Nasdaq gained 12 points today.

Gold and oil largely loafed, budging barely at all.

Meantime, humanity’s would-be saviors remained huddled at Davos. There they are setting the world to rights and deciding how we must live.

But let us resume our study of time… and money.

For light, we once again resort to the good Professor Schmelzing.

The arc of interest rates bends lower with time, he has established. But as he also establishes… no line bends true across five centuries of history.

Put aside the drastic mid-to-late 20th century reversal. Even the long downturning arc has its squiggles and twists, bent in the great forges of history.

To these we now turn…

“Real Rate Depression Cycles”

Over seven centuries, Schmelzing identifies nine “real rate depression cycles.”

These cycles feature a secular decline of real interest rates, followed by reversals — often sudden and violent reversals.

The first eight rate depression cycles tell fantastic tales…

They often pivoted upon high dramas like the Black Death of the mid-14th century… the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century… and World War II.

IMG 2

The world is currently ensnared within history’s ninth rate depression cycle. This cycle began in the mid-1980s.

Schmelzing says one previous cycle comes closest to this, our own. That is the global “Long Depression” of the 1880s and ’90s.

This “Long Depression” witnessed “low productivity growth, deflationary price dynamics and the rise of global populism and protectionism.”

Need we draw the parallels to today?

It is here where our tale gathers pace… and acquires point.

A Thing of Historic Grandeur

Schmelzing’s research reveals this information:

This present cycle is a thing of historical grandeur, in both endurance and intensity.

Of the entire 700-year record… only one cycle had a greater endurance. That was in the 15th century.

And only one previous cycle — also from the same epoch — exceeded the current cycle’s intensity.

By almost any measure… today’s rate depression cycle is a thing for the ages.

Turn now to this chart. The steep downward slope on the right gives the flavor of its fevered intensity:

IMG 3

Schmelzing’s researches show the real rate for the entire 700-year history is 4.78%.

Meantime, the real rate for the past 200 years averages 2.6%.

Beware “Reversion to the Mean”

And so “relative to both historical benchmarks,” says this fellow, “the current market environment thus remains severely depressed.”

That is, real rates remain well beneath historical averages.

And if the term “reversion to the mean” has anything in it, the world is in for a hard jolt when the mean reverts. Why?

Because when rates do regain their bounce — history shows — they bounce high.

Schmelzing:

The evidence from eight previous “real rate depressions” is that turnarounds from such environments, when they occur, have typically been both quick and sizeable… Most reversals to “real rate stagnation” periods have been rapid, nonlinear and took place on average after 26 years.

Twenty-six years? The present rate depression cycle runs to 36 or 37 years. We must conclude it goes on loaned time. What happens when the loan comes due?:

Within 24 months after hitting their troughs in the rate depression cycle, rates gained on average 315 basis points [3.15%], with two reversals showing real rate appreciations of more than 600 basis points [6%] within two years.

The current rate depression cycle ranges far beyond average.

It is, after all, the second longest on record… and the second most intense.

If the magnitude of the bounceback approximates the magnitude of the cycle it ends… we can therefore expect a fantastic trampolining of rates.

That is, we can likely expect rate appreciations of 6% or more.

What Happens When Rates Rise?

The stock market and the decade-long economic “recovery” center upon ultra-low interest rates. And so we recoil, horrified, at the prospect of a “rapid, nonlinear” rate reversal.

We must next consider its impact on America’s ability to finance its hellacious debt…

A violent rate increase means debt service becomes an impossible burden.

How would America service its $23 trillion debt — a $23 trillion debt that jumps higher by the minute?

Debt service already represents the fastest-growing government expense.

Interest payments will total $460 billion this year, estimates the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

CBO further projects debt service will scale $800 billion by decade’s end.

$800 billion exceeds today’s entire $738 billion defense budget. As it exceeds vastly present Medicare spending ($625 billion) and Medicaid spending ($412 billion).

CBO Doesn’t Account for Possible End to Rate Depression Cycle

But CBO pays no heed to the rate depression cycle. It — in fact — projects no substantial rate increases this decade.

But what if the present rate depression cycle closes… and interest rates go spiraling?

Debt service will likely swamp the entire federal budget.

Financial analyst Daniel Amerman:

If the interest rate on that debt were to rise by even 1%, the annual federal deficit rises by $200 billion. A 2% increase in interest rate levels would up the federal deficit by $400 billion, and if rates were 5% higher, the annual federal deficit rises by a full $1 trillion per year.

Recall, rates rocketed 6% or higher after two previous rate reversals.

Given the near-record intensity of the present rate depression cycle… should we not expect a similar rebound next time?

Hard logic dictates we should.

But what might bring down the curtain on the current cycle?

Unforeseen Catastrophe

Most previous rate depression cycles ended with death, destruction, howling, shrieking.

Examples, again, include the Black Plague, the Thirty Years War and World War II.

Perhaps a shock on their scale will close out the present cycle… for all that we know. Or perhaps some other cause entirely.

Of course, we can find no reason in law or equity why the second-longest, second-most intense rate depression cycle in history… cannot become the longest, most intense rate depression cycle in history.

The cycle could run years yet. Or it could end Friday morning.

The Lord only knows — and He is silent.

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post 5,000 Years of Interest Rates, Part II appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

5,000 Years of Interest Rates

This post 5,000 Years of Interest Rates appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

“At no point in the history of the world has the interest on money been so low as it is now.”

Here the good Sen. Henry M. Teller of Colorado hits it square.

For 10 years plus, the Federal Reserve has waged a nearly ceaseless warfare upon interest rates.

Savers have staggered under the onslaughts. But the timeless laws of economics will not be forever put to rout.

We suspect they will one day prevail, and mightily. Interest rates will then revert to historical averages.

When they do, today’s crushing debt loads will come down in a heap. They will fall directly on the heads of governments and businesses alike.

This fear haunts our days… and poisons our nights.

Wait… What?

Let us check the date on the senator’s declaration…

Kind heaven, can it be?

Our agents inform us Sen. Teller’s statement entered the congressional minutes on Jan. 12… 1895.

1895 — some 19 years before the Federal Reserve drew its first ghoulish breath!

Were the late 19th century’s interest rates the lowest in world history?

Here at The Daily Reckoning, we are entertained infinitely by the dazzling present.

Its five-minute fads, its 15-minute fames, its popinjay actors strutting vainly across temporary stages…

All amuse us vastly and grandly.

They amuse us, that is — but they do not fascinate us.

It is the long view that draws us in — the view of the soaring eagle high overhead, the view from the mountaintop.

So today we rise above the daily churn, canvass history’s broad sweep… and report strange findings.

Quite possibly scandalous findings. Scandalous?

That is, we will investigate the theory that falling interest rates the historical norm… rather than the exception.

And are central banks powerless to direct them?

The Lowest Rates in 5,000 Years

The chart below gives 5,000 years of interest rate history. It shows the justice in Sen. Teller’s argument.

Direct your attention to anno Domini 1895. Rates had never been lower. Not in all of recorded history:

IMG 1

Rates would sink lower only on two subsequent occasions — the dark, depressed days of the early 1930s — and the present day, dark and depressed in its own way.

The Arc of the Universe Bends Toward Low Interest Rates

Paul Schmelzing professes economics at Harvard. He is also a visiting scholar at the Bank of England. And he has conducted a strict inquiry into interest rates throughout history.

Many take the soaring interest rates of the later 20th century as their guide, he begins:

The discussion of longer-term trends in real rates is often confined to the second half of the 20th century, identifying the high inflation period of the 1970s and early 1980s as an inflection point triggering a multidecade fall in real rates. And indeed, in most economists’ eyes, considering interest rate dynamics over the 20th century horizon — or even over the last 150 years — the reversal during the last quarter of the 1900s at first appears decisive…

Here the good professor refers to “real rates.”

The real interest rate is the nominal rate minus inflation. Thus it penetrates the monetary illusion. It exposes inflation’s false tricks — and the frauds who put them out.

In one word… it clarifies.

And the chart reveals another capital fact…

The Long View

Revisit the chart above. Now take an eraser in hand. Run it across the violent lurch of the mid-to-late 20th century. You will then come upon this arresting discovery:

Long-term interest rates have trended downward five centuries running. It is this, the long view, that Schmelzing takes:

Despite temporary stabilizations such as the period between 1550–1640, 1820–1850 or in fact 1950–1980 global real rates have shown a persistent downward trend over the past five centuries…

This downward trend has persisted throughout the historical gold, silver, mixed bullion and fiat monetary regimes… and long preceded the emergence of modern central banks.

What is more, today’s low rates represent a mere “catch-up period” to historical trends:

This suggests that deeply entrenched trends are at work — the recent years are a mere “catch-up period”…

In this sense, the decline of real returns across a variety of different asset classes since the 1980s in fact represents merely a return to long-term historical trends. All of this suggests that the “secular stagnation” narrative, to the extent that it posits an aberration of longer-term dynamics over recent decades, appears fully misleading.

Is it true? Is the nearly vertical interest rate regime of the mid-to late 20th century a historical one-off… a chance peak rising sheer from an endless downslope?

What explains it?

Interest Rate Spikes, Explained

Galloping economic growth explains it, says analyst Lance Roberts of Real Inves‌tment Advice.

He argues that periods of sharply rising interest rates are history’s lovely exceptions.

Why lovely?

Interest rates are a function of strong, organic, economic growth that leads to a rising demand for capital over time.

In this view, rates soared at the dawn of the 20th century. It was, after all, a time of rapid industrialization and dizzying technological advance.

Likewise, the massive post-World War II rate spike owes directly to the economic expansion then taking wing. Roberts:

There have been two previous periods in history that have had the necessary ingredients to support rising interest rates. The first was during the turn of the previous century as the country became more accessible via railroads and automobiles, production ramped up for World War I and America began the shift from an agricultural to industrial economy.

The second period occurred post-World War II as America became the “last man standing”… It was here that America found its strongest run of economic growth in its history as the “boys of war” returned home to start rebuilding the countries that they had just destroyed.

Let the record show that rates peaked in 1981. Let it further show that rates have declined steadily ever since.

And so we wonder…

Was the post-World War II period of dramatic and exceptional growth… itself the exception?

The Return to Normal

Let us widen our investigation by summoning additional observers. For example, New York Times senior economic correspondent Neil Irwin:

Investors have often talked about the global economy since the crisis as reflecting a “new normal” of slow growth and low inflation. But just maybe, we have really returned to the old normal.

More:

Very low rates have often persisted for decades upon decades, pretty much whenever inflation is quiescent, as it is now… The real aberration looks like the 7.3% average experienced in the United States from 1970–2007.

That is precisely the case Schmelzing argues.

Now consider the testimony of a certain Bryan Taylor. He is chief economist at Global Financial Data:

“We’re returning to normal, and it’s just taken time for people to realize that.”

Just so. We must nonetheless file a vigorous caveat…

A Pursuit of the Wind

Drawing true connections between historical eras can be a snare, a chasing after geese, a pursuit of the wind.

Success requires a sharpshooter’s eye… a surgeon’s hand… and an owl’s wisdom.

The aforesaid Schmelzing knew the risks before setting out. But he believes he has emerged from the maze, clutching the elusive grail of truth.

Today’s low rates are not the exceptions, he concludes in reminder. They represent a course correction, a return to the long, proper path.

How long will this downward trend continue, professor Schmelzing?

The Look Ahead

Whatever the precise dominant driver — simply extrapolating such long-term historical trends suggests that negative real rates will not just soon constitute a “new normal” — they will continue to fall constantly. By the late 2020s, global short-term real rates will have reached permanently negative territory. By the second half of this century, global long-term real rates will have followed…

But can the Federal Reserve throw its false weights upon the scales… and send rates tipping the other way?

With regards to policy, very low real rates can be expected to become a permanent and protracted monetary policy problem…

The long-term historical data suggests that, whatever the ultimate driver, or combination of drivers, the forces responsible have been indifferent to monetary or political regimes; they have kept exercising their pull on interest rate levels irrespective of the existence of central banks… or permanently higher public expenditures. They persisted in what amounted to early modern patrician plutocracies, as well as in modern democratic environments…

We have argued previously that central banks wield far less influence than commonly supposed. Here we are validated.

But we are unconvinced rates are headed inexorably and unerringly down.

Tomorrow, another possible lesson — a warning — from the book of interest rates.

Regards,

Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

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