Wracked by the actions of the various central banks – which gave us another key reminder that volatility does not equate to risk – yet not wishing to start rethinking their entire thesis, a characteristic loss confidence has started to set in among those who were telling themselves over the Christmas trukey just what geniuses they were. We could have an interesting couple of weeks in store – not helped by the fact that we are about to enter the great Chinese data avoid as the lunar new year approaches.
So, finally, the world’s most open conspiracy came to full fruition and Magic Mario actually got to do a little of ‘whatever it takes’ after 2 1/2 long years of bluster. Sweeping aside the objections of what appears to have been most of Northern Europe, the triumph of the Latins was near complete. For all his stubborn resistance, Jens Weidmann proved no Arminius and the airy council rooms of the ECB building in Frankfurt no Teutoburger Wald whose mazy forest tracks and swampy margins proved so deadly to the legions of that earlier Roman legate, Publius Quinctilius Varus.
Still struggling to move from its ‘Three Overlay’ period – essentially the indigestion added by the post-GFC ‘stimulus’ burst to the already unbalanced economic structure – to its vaunted ‘New Normal’ – slower headline growth but growth of much higher quality, to be concentrated not in building steel mills, metal smelters, and dormitory towns just for the sake of it but on high-tech and clean energy and all sorts of other touchy-feely, Googleworld concepts – China nonetheless managed to eke out a face saving final quarter GDP number of 7.4% yoy and an industrial production uptick to 7.9%.
In the wake of the SNB decision last week to remove its infamous 1.20 euro floor rate, the ever ingenious – and no less self-assured – Willem Buiter has been expressing his outrage that any central banker might dare to deviate from a consensus which shares three articles of faith, each engraved by the Deity on the tablets he handed down to His prophets at MIT.
On Wednesday, we were all utterly not shocked to learn that the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice, Pedro Cruz Villalón, had decided that he could see no major objections to Mario Draghi’s Fed-wannabe programme of so-called Outright Monetary Transactions – a decision upon the legality of which was earlier referred to that august body by the German Constitutional Court like the hot potato it was.
Though Snr. Cruz Villalón’s decision is not binding – a decision of the full body sometime in the middle of the year is needed for that to occur – it was nevertheless highly suggestive of the way the court might rule and was therefore seized upon by stimulus junkies everywhere as a result.
Though pausing occasionally to correct short-term oversold conditions, crude still seems locked in a one timeframe down market. As we suggested several months ago, the dominant narrative has become one which now finds reasons to project the move ever lower, conveniently forgetting all previous ideas of cost-of-production floors at $90, then $80, then $60 as each has been breached in turn.
Regular readers of these pages (whether here or in the author’s previous professional incarnations) will recognise that the analysis is informed by a core belief that while money should never be confused with wealth – and that therefore the latter cannot be conjured up by the central bank like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, however much people might wish it were so – the former is anything but neutral in its effect upon the creation, the distribution, and even the destruction of said wealth.
A secondary, but still highly important distinction to which we insist it is necessary to hold fast is that money – the supreme present good, the demand liability instantly and universally redeemable today at par, the generally dominant (if not absolutely exclusive) medium responsible for the smooth and efficient exchange of goods and services, the great enabling mechanism which obviates the need not just for barter, but for interpersonal trust among a transaction’s counterparties – is different from credit – which latter is actually a claim on money (and hence on the potential to acquire all other goods) only realisable in the future.
Another ‘surprise’ which is all but given is that the upcoming UK election is uniquely poised to confuse all those who affect to practice the dark arts of psephology. By way of a brief synopsis, the state of play, with just over four months to go to polling day, is as follows.
Traditionally, this is a time of year when all we pundits try to garner headlines by setting out a list of ‘surprises’ for the coming months. At root, it is not hard to recognise this as an exercise in self-contradiction since a surprise you can predict is obviously not one worthy of the name. What we, as a class, therefore tend to produce is either a set of low-conviction forecasts which we prognosticators fear to issue on their own merits lest we incur the derision of our peers, or a catalogue of cod attempts at trying to escape briefly from a consensus to which we still hew.