As world stock markets have continued to climb to cyclical – if not all-time – highs, it has become almost the norm for industry Talking Heads to season their smatterings of media insight with a brief, talismanic expression of scepticism, uttered partly to appease the ever-jealous God of the Markets but mainly so as to be on record as ‘having foreseen the crash’ as and when one eventually occurs.
At the end of last month, the Mighty Oz’s and Grand Panjandrums of central banking descended upon the rural splendours of Wyoming in order to engage in a very public display of navel gazing and to enact a ritual, group reinforcement of confirmation bias.
There, we heard much nonsense talked about low – even negative -‘natural interest rates’ and of the seeming impossibility of triggering an alchemically meaningful dose of price inflation with which to restore the balance of the humours in the global economy.
It was most timely, then, for the ever-mischievous BIS to publish a paper first presented last year by Charles Goodhart & Manoj Pradhan which challenged much of the received wisdom of our monetary overlords and which broadly affirmed arguments I, too, have long been offering against their approach.
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[An edited version of the following appeared in Moneyweek under the title, ‘What’s unsettling the US Dollar?‘]
‘Dollar makes worst start to the year since 1985,’ screamed the headlines a few weeks ago in a classic click-bait attempt to get people to read about what they already should know by using a somewhat artificial statistic – after all, since when did the world revolve around what happened specifically between Dec 31st and July 31st?
In an earlier Monitor, we alluded to a possible monetary reason for suspecting that the past year’s spectacular (and inflationary) bounce in Chinese revenues and earnings might have reached its high-water mark.
Here we take a more detailed look at the situation in the Middle Kingdom:-
Certain schools of thought – among them the so-called ‘Market Monetarists’, as well as George Selgin’s Fractional Free Bankers – believe – in line with the thinking of the later Hayek – that the Fed would be better off effecting policy with regard to the maintenance of a steady rate of growth of nominal GDP.
Consciously or otherwise, we would argue that this is largely what it has done, over the years, and that this insight helps us tie together developments in the PMI, in business income streams, and in the Fed funds rate.
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In her recent set-piece testimony before Congress, Janet Yellen made clear that she is determined to repeat the sort of ‘gradualism’ in raising rates that proved so disastrous after the Tech bust. In other words, that she will not so much boil the frog slowly as encourage him to go out and make a further raft of foredoomed, highly-leveraged investment decisions before he realises he’s been cooked.
[This article appeared in slightly abridged form in the Epoch Times under the title, ‘The Fed’s Quantitative Tightening‘]
The older a bull market gets, those who are paid to comment on it become more and more desperate for new things to say about it – a professionally pressing need which tends to split the pundits into two distinct camps, each equally one-eyed about whether prospects are good or bad.
The more our would-be Philosopher Kings attempt to display the awesome panoply of their intellectual armour, the more we think, not of the Greek sage from whom they seem to draw inspiration, but of Mickey Mouse’s dopey canine friend.
In bonds, the Bears are mounting another one of their forlorn hope charges against the central bank ramparts which is, in turn, rendering equities a little more expensive in relative, as well as absolute, terms. Commodities, meanwhile, are firmly rooted in mean reversion mode.
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No, Mario is NOT about to give up – whatever! China monetary trends might mean the industrial earnings cycle has peaked. US debt levels are still OK, but the low cost is promoting slightly worrisome growth – nor are Tech balance sheets entirely without blemish. Commodities – clueless and friendless.
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Falling returns in the US. Tight money in China. An upswing in Japan. Deflation in India. Gold goes cold. Fretting the Fed on falling CPI and a flattening curve? No need to panic, just yet.
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