Two rate hikes since last year have weakened the dollar. Why is that, and what’s ahead for dollar, currencies & gold? And while we are at it, we’ll chime in on what may be in store for the stock market…
The chart above shows the S&P 500, the price of gold and the U.S. dollar index since the beginning of 2016. The year 2016 started with a rout in the equity markets which was soon forgotten, allowing the multi-year bull market to continue. After last November’s election we have had the onset of what some refer to as the Trump rally. Volatility in the stock market has come down to what may be historic lows. Of late, many trading days appear to start on a down note, although late day rallies (possibly due to retail money flowing into index funds) are quite common.
Where do stocks go from here? Of late, we have heard outspoken money manager Jeff Gundlach suggests that bear markets only happen if the economy turns down; and that his indicators suggest that there’s no recession in sight. We agree that bear markets are more commonly associated with recessions, but with due respect to Mr. Gundlach, the October 1987 crash is a notable exception. The 1987 crash was an environment that suffered mostly from valuations that had gotten too high; an environment where nothing could possibly go wrong: the concept of “portfolio insurance” was en vogue at the time. Without going into detail of how portfolio insurance worked, let it be said that it relied on market liquidity. The market took a serious nosedive when the linkage between the S&P futures markets and their underlying stocks broke down.
During the last 129 months, the Fed has held 86 meetings. On 83 of those occasions it either cut rates or left them unchanged.
So you can perhaps understand why Wednesday’s completely expected (for the last three weeks!) 25 bips left the day traders nonplussed. The Dow rallied over 100 points that day.
Traders understandably believe that this monetary farce can continue indefinitely, and that our Keynesian school marm’s post-meeting presser was evidence that the Fed is still their friend.
No it isn’t!
Our monetary politburo has expanded its balance sheet by a lunatic 22X during the last three decades and in the process has systematically falsified financial asset prices and birthed a mutant debt-fueled of simulacrum of prosperity.
But once it begins to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from the canyons of Wall Street as per its newly reaffirmed “normalization” policy, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse.
There will be a stock market implosion soon, and that will in turn generate panic in the C-suites as the value of stock options vanish. Like in the fall of 2008 — except on an even more sweeping and long-lasting scale — corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street.
But there is nothing left to brake the casino’s fall.
As we reported on Wednesday evening, something interesting took place on Thursday morning in Beijing: in a case of eerie coordination, China tightened monetary conditions across many of the PBOC’s liquidity-providing conduits just 10 hours after the Fed raised its own interest rate by 0.25% for only the third time in a decade.
The oddly matched rate hikes, prompted Bloomberg to think back to the mysterious “Shanghai Accord” of February 2016, which took place during the peak days of last year’s global capital markets crisis, and whose closed-door decisions – to this day kept away from the public – prompted the market rally that continues to this day. As Bloomberg wrote, the coordinated “response suggests that pledges by the Group of 20 economies a little over a year ago in Shanghai to “carefully calibrate and clearly communicate” policies may not have been hollow after all.”
That said, it was not the first time the People’s Bank of China has acted on the heels of a Fed move. At the peak of the financial crisis, the PBOC cut lending rates after six of its counterparts, including the Fed, had announced a simultaneous rate cut. That October 2008 move enhanced China’s emerging reputation as a global player on the international economic-policy circuit. “Growth divergence is morphing into growth synchronization,” said Chua Hak Bin, a Singapore-based senior economist with Maybank. “Policy divergence was also a narrative for those expecting a strong dollar, but that is moving now to policy synchronization.”
Coordinated or not, as of last night financial conditions in China, like in the US, have become incrementally tighter even if both the Chinese and US stock markets failed to respond accordingly.
As the vulture pundits in the mainstream media pick apart hollow political scandals, the essential bankruptcy of the federal government looms just ahead. The national debt is creeping toward 20 trillion dollars, and the United State’s largest problem is once again staring the world in the face.
Just before the government was slated to shut down in 2015 (as it did in 2013), Congress was able to pass a delay on the debt ceiling decision until March 15th of this year — Wednesday of this week. Recurring uncertainty caused by events like this has implications that extend far beyond our own borders. The amount of leverage in the current system has already forced foreign holders of U.S. debt to question the real value of America’s full faith and credit.
2016 was a record-setting year for the liquidation of foreign-held U.S. bonds, topping out at nearly $405 billion. The selling was led by China, America’s second-biggest creditor, which currently holds over $1 trillion of U.S. debt, almost 28% of the total held by foreign central banks. They weren’t alone, though, and even the U.S.’ number one lender, Japan, has rolled back their positions to protect themselves as the reality of U.S. insolvency comes into focus. A gradual change has been set in motion, and the global superpower status of the United States may be systematically eroded — not militarily, but economically.
If the government does shut down again, the Treasury Department reportedly has as little as $66 billion in reserves and just enough income from taxes to meet its essential obligations.
The fed hike case is built on a strong consumer led recovery. That’s good when people have money to spend, and when wages give them that money to spend. The wages (average hourly earnings) in the jobs reports report showed pay running at a decent 2.8% y/y. Today we get the inflation adjusted wage numbers in the CPI report and they don’t look as hot.
Last month, year on year real average weekly wages dropped for the first time since the start of 2014.
US real average weekly wages y/y
That’s not good news for the supposedly strong consumer and rate hikes won’t make the situation any better.
I’m quite surprised that the Fed will be raising so quickly after the Dec hike instead of letting that hike filter through, and monitoring the effects. To me that suggests that behind the scenes there’s something they are worried about. If they’re willing to hike in a moment when their whole basis for hikes (the consumer) might start finding things tougher, there’s something amiss.
It’s a straw clutch to try and find anything that could derail the hike tonight but there’s plenty of evidence in why they might throw in some additional caution about future hikes, and the wages numbers today may aid that sentiment.
According to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars. Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars, but for the purposes of this article let’s use the more conservative number. If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally.
So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.
With the Fed expected to further tighten financial conditions following its now guaranteed March 15 rate hike, and the ECB recently announcing the tapering of its QE program from €80 to €60 billion monthly having run into a substantial scarcity of eligible collateral, the third big central bank – the BOJ – appears to have also quietly commenced its own monteary tightening because, as Bloomberg calculates looking at the BOJ’s latest bond-purchase plan, the central bank is on track to miss an annual target, by a substantial margin, prompting investor concerns that the BOJ has commenced its own “stealth tapering.”
While in recent weeks cross-asset traders had been focusing on the details and breakdown of the BOJ’s “rinban” operation, or outright buying of Japan’s debt equivalent to the NY Fed’s POMO, for hints about tighter monetary conditions and how the BOJ plans to maintain “yield curve control”, a far less subtle tightening hint from the BOJ emerged in the central bank’s plan released Feb. 28, which suggests a net 66 trillion yen ($572 billion) of purchases if the March pace were to be sustained over the following 11 months. As Bloomberg notes, that’s 18 percent less than the official target of expanding holdings by 80 trillion yen a year.
Some more details: the central bank forecast purchases of 8.9 trillion yen in bonds in March, based on the midpoint of ranges supplied in the operation plan. Maintaining that pace for 12 months will see it accumulate about 107 trillion yen of debt. At the same time, 41 trillion yen of existing holdings will mature, leaving it with a net increase of 66 trillion yen, well below the stated goal of 80 trillion yen.
Just as everyone was finally accepting the idea of deflation and negative interest rates, inflation decides to pay a return visit. In the past week, articles with the following headlines appeared in major publications around the world:
What happened? Well, towards the end of 2015 most of the world’s major governments apparently got spooked by deflation and decided to ramp up their borrowing and money creation. China, for instance, generated the following stats in 2016:
New loans totaling 12.65 trillion yuan, or $1.8 trillion.
M2 money supply growth of 11%.
Debt-to-GDP ratio jump from 254% to 277%.
In Europe, the European Central Bank ramped up its bond buying program, pumping about a trillion newly-created euros into the Continental economy: