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David Stockman: We’ve Been Lied To, Robbed, And Misled

And we’re still at risk of it happening all over again

by Adam Taggart
Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:42 PM

Then, when the Fed’s fire hoses started spraying an elephant soup of liquidity injections in every direction and its balance sheet grew by $1.3 trillion in just thirteen weeks compared to $850 billion during its first ninety-four years, I became convinced that the Fed was flying by the seat of its pants, making it up as it went along. It was evident that its aim was to stop the hissy fit on Wall Street and that the thread of a Great Depression 2.0 was just a cover story for a panicked spree of money printing that exceeded any other episode in recorded human history.

David Stockman, The Great Deformation

David Stockman, former director of the OMB under President Reagan, former US Representative, and veteran financier is an insider’s insider. Few people understand the ways in which both Washington DC and Wall Street work and intersect better than he does.

In his upcoming book, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, Stockman lays out how we have devolved from a free market economy into a managed one that operates for the benefit of a privileged few. And when trouble arises, these few are bailed out at the expense of the public good.

By manipulating the price of money through sustained and historically low interest rates, Greenspan and Bernanke created an era of asset mis-pricing that inevitably would need to correct.  And when market forces attempted to do so in 2008, Paulson et al hoodwinked the world into believing the repercussions would be so calamitous for all that the institutions responsible for the bad actions that instigated the problem needed to be rescued — in full — at all costs.

Of course, history shows that our markets and economy would have been better off had the system been allowed to correct. Most of the “too big to fail” institutions would have survived or been broken into smaller, more resilient, entities. For those that would have failed, smaller, more responsible banks would have stepped up to replace them – as happens as part of the natural course of a free market system:

Essentially there was a cleansing run on the wholesale funding market in the canyons of Wall Street going on. It would have worked its will, just like JP Morgan allowed it to happen in 1907 when we did not have the Fed getting in the way. Because they stopped it in its tracks after the AIG bailout and then all the alphabet soup of different lines that the Fed threw out, and then the enactment of TARP, the last two investment banks standing were rescued, Goldman and Morgan [Stanley], and they should not have been. As a result of being rescued and having the cleansing liquidation of rotten balance sheets stopped, within a few weeks and certainly months they were back to the same old games, such that Goldman Sachs got $10 billion dollars for the fiscal year that started three months later after that check went out, which was October 2008. For the fiscal 2009 year, Goldman Sachs generated what I call a $29 billion surplus – $13 billion of net income after tax, and on top of that $16 billion of salaries and bonuses, 95% of it which was bonuses.

Therefore, the idea that they were on death’s door does not stack up. Even if they had been, it would not make any difference to the health of the financial system. These firms are supposed to come and go, and if people make really bad bets, if they have a trillion dollar balance sheet with six, seven, eight hundred billion dollars worth of hot-money short-term funding, then they ought to take their just reward, because it would create lessons, it would create discipline. So all the new firms that would have been formed out of the remnants of Goldman Sachs where everybody lost their stock values – which for most of these partners is tens of millions, hundreds of millions – when they formed a new firm, I doubt whether they would have gone back to the old game. What happened was the Fed stopped everything in its tracks, kept Goldman Sachs intact, the reckless Goldman Sachs and the reckless Morgan Stanley, everyone quickly recovered their stock value and the game continues. This is one of the evils that comes from this kind of deep intervention in the capital and money markets.

Stockman’s anger at the unnecessary and unfair capital transfer from taxpayer to TBTF bank is matched only by his concern that, even with those bailouts, the banking system is still unacceptably vulnerable to a repeat of the same crime:

The banks quickly worked out their solvency issues because the Fed basically took it out of the hides of Main Street savers and depositors throughout America. When the Fed panicked, it basically destroyed the free-market interest rate – you cannot have capitalism, you cannot have healthy financial markets without an interest rate, which is the price of money, the price of capital that can freely measure and reflect risk and true economic prospects.

Well, once you basically unplug the pricing mechanism of a capital market and make it entirely an administered rate by the Fed, you are going to cause all kinds of deformations as I call them, or mal-investments as some of the Austrians used to call them, that basically pollutes and corrupts the system. Look at the deposit rate right now, it is 50 basis points, maybe 40, for six months. As a result of that, probably $400-500 billion a year is being transferred as a fiscal maneuver by the Fed from savers to the banks. They are collecting the spread, they’ve then booked the profits, they’ve rebuilt their book net worth, and they paid back the TARP basically out of what was thieved from the savers of America.

Now they go down and pound the table and whine and pout like JP Morgan and the rest of them, you have to let us do stock buy backs, you have to let us pay out dividends so we can ramp our stock and collect our stock option winnings. It is outrageous that the authorities, after the so-called “near death experience” of 2008 and this massive fiscal safety net and monetary safety net was put out there, is allowing them to pay dividends and to go into the market and buy back their stock. They should be under house arrest in a sense that every dime they are making from this artificial yield group being delivered by the Fed out of the hides of savers should be put on their balance sheet to build up retained earnings, to build up a cushion. I do not care whether it is fifteen or twenty or twenty-five percent common equity and retained earnings-to-assets or not, that is what we should be doing if we are going to protect the system from another raid by these people the next time we get a meltdown, which can happen at any time.

You can see why I talk about corruption, why crony capitalism is so bad. I mean, the Basel capital standards, they are a joke. We are just allowing the banks to go back into the same old game they were playing before. Everybody said the banks in late 2007 were the greatest thing since sliced bread. The market cap of the ten largest banks in America, including from Bear Stearns all the way to Citibank and JP Morgan and Goldman and so forth, was $1.25 trillion. That was up thirty times from where the predecessors of those institutions had been. Only in 1987, when Greenspan took over and began the era of bubble finance – slowly at first then rapidly, eventually, to have the market cap grow thirty times – and then on the eve of the great meltdown see the $1.25 trillion to market cap disappear, vanish, vaporize in panic in September 2008. Only a few months later, $1 trillion of that market cap disappeared in to the abyss and panic, and Bear Stearns is going down, and all the rest.

This tells you the system is dramatically unstable. In a healthy financial system and a free capital market, if I can put it that way, you are not going to have stuff going from nowhere to @1.2 trillion and then back to a trillion practically at the drop of a hat. That is instability; that is a case of a medicated market that is essentially very dangerous and is one of the many adverse consequences and deformations that result from the central-bank dominated, corrupt monetary system that has slowly built up ever since Nixon closed the gold window, but really as I say in my book, going back to 1933 in April when Roosevelt took all the private gold. So we are in a big dead-end trap, and they are digging deeper every time you get a new maneuver.

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Fed Up: Bernanke Declares War On The Poor

September 14, 2012

This week, we saw both the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve deliver massive amounts of stimulus to the markets.

The ECB is now backed by the 500 billion euro European Stability Mechanism facility, which has been ratified by the German parliament. This is a game-changer for Europe, as now it is finally moving toward a federalist system, similar to the one in the United States. This measure has been successful in bringing down the bond yields for Spain, Italy and Ireland to a very manageable level. And it is likely that those central banks might not even need to tap the ESM.

The big surprise this week, however, came from the Federal Reserve.

The Fed has decided to go all-out in fueling the next massive asset bubbles through its QE3 bazooka. The Fed announced plans to buy $40 billion worth of mortgage securities per month on an open-ended basis, while continuing to reinvest its income from the securities purchased during QE1 and QE2.

The following statement from the Fed shows its clear intent to support its mandate of full employment. But I fail to see how it will manage to do that “in the context of price stability” while creating asset price inflation through unabashed QE programs.

If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability.

This new move by the Fed is unleashing massive amounts of money into the risk assets. Markets will now believe that, between the ECB and the Fed, all tail risks to the markets have gone.

In other words, this could mean that all the money that was hiding in the safety of U.S. Treasuries will now leave the Treasury markets and flow into equities and commodities.

If so, I would not be surprised to see a parabolic move into year-end in both gold and equities that could take the S&P 500 to 1,650 and gold to $2,000 per troy ounce by year-end.

Now here is the dangerous side to this equation. This rally will also lead oil and grains to new highs, which will results in higher gas prices at the pump and food prices at the grocery store. While employment and wages are still low, this will hurt the working class.

This massive and irresponsible Fed stimulus package by Ben Bernanke & Co. will make the rich richer by fueling their asset portfolios and bringing loads of misery to the poor, who will find it harder to make ends meet.

Besides the poor, this latest move also declares war on the retirees or those who subsist on fixed income returns from bonds. With the Fed’s monetary policy stuck at zero for another three years at least and more Federal money creating artificial demand for fixed income assets, yields will not rise for quite a while. This means that the coupons on newly issued government and agency bonds will be stuck at below inflation rates.

Another debilitating aspect of the latest round of QE is that by removing coupon generating bonds from the monetary system, it reduces the amount of money in the economy, thus reducing aggregate demand.

In summary, QE will reduce net savings of U.S. dollar holders and increase paper wealth in terms of higher equity market valuations.

While the initial reaction of the markets has been to sell the U.S. dollar, fewer U.S. dollars as a result of QE will result in the dollar eventually rallying hard, especially against the EUR. My target will be around 1.3500 before EUR/USD starts heading back down towards parity.

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The Evidence Of A Coming Recession Is Overwhelming

by Comstock Partners

We first noticed the first signs that the economy was beginning to soften about three months ago.  Now the evidence of a slowdown has become so overwhelming that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are headed for a recession.  We cite the following as evidence.

Retail sales (both total and non-auto) have dropped for three consecutive months.  This has happened only five times since 1967—-four times in 2008, and one now.  Vehicle sales have tapered off with May and June being the two weakest months of the year.  Consumer confidence for both the Conference Board index and the University of Michigan Survey are at their lowest levels of 2012.

On the labor front, June payroll numbers were weak once again and averaged only 75,000 in the second quarter. The latest weekly new claims for unemployment insurance jumped back up to 386,000 and the last two months have been well above the numbers seen earlier in the year.

The ISM manufacturing index for June fell 3.8 points to 49.7, its first sub-50 reading in the economic recovery.  The ISM non-manufacturing index for June dropped to its lowest level since January 2010.  Most recently the Philadelphia Fed Survey for July was negative (below zero) for the third consecutive month.

The small business confidence index declined in June to its lowest level since October and has now dropped in three of the last four months.  Plans for capital spending and new hiring have dropped sharply.

Despite all of the talk about a housing bottom, June existing home sales fell 5.4% to its lowest level since the fall of last year.  In addition mortgage applications for home purchases have been range-bound since October.

Core factory orders, while volatile on a month-to-month basis, have declined 2.6% since year-end, and the ISM numbers cited above indicate the weakness is likely to continue.

The Conference Board Index of leading indicators has declined for two of the last three months and is now up only 1.4% over a year earlier, the lowest since November of 2009, when it was climbing from recessionary numbers.  The ECRI Weekly Leading Index is indicating a recession is either here now or will begin in the next few months.

The breadth and depth of the slowdown are greater than the growth pauses experienced in mid-2010 and mid-2011, and indicate a strong likelihood of recession ahead.  In addition the foreign economies will be a drag as well.  A number of European nations are already in recession and others are on the cusp.  The debt, deficit and balance sheet problems of the EU’s southern tier are a long way from any solution, and will not remain out of the news for long.  China is coming down from a major real estate and credit boom, and is not likely to avoid a hard landing.  The Shanghai Composite is in a major downtrend, declining 28% since April 2011.  The view that China is immune because of their unique economic system reminds us of what people were saying about Japan in 1989.

The stock market is ignoring these fundamentals as it did in early 2000 and late 2007 in the belief that the Fed can pull another rabbit out its hat.  It couldn’t do it in 2000 or 2007 when it had plenty of weapons at its disposal.  Now there is little that the Fed can do, although it will try since it will not get any help, as Senator Schumer so aptly pointed out at Bernanke’s Senate testimony.  In sum, we believe that the stock market is in store for a huge disappointment.

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Quantitative Easing Forever?

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Central bankers don’t see their mistakes.

Posted August 10, 2011
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Despite assertions that it has ended its policy of quantitative easing (QE), the Fed is unlikely to be able to do so until it also ends its zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP). This deadly policy duo has had terrible consequences for the American economy and every country using U.S. dollars, which continue to depreciate.

It is as though the Fed were riding on the back of a double-headed monster. It cannot hang on forever, but it cannot dismount the beast without being devoured. As it is, the U.S. Treasury depends on ZIRP to fund America’s ballooning debt. As investors flee an enfeebled dollar and ponder S&P’s downgrade, the Fed is likely to be the “buyer of first resort” so that the price of Treasuries does not fall, pushing up interest rates. So with the Fed insisting that short-term interest rates will remain near zero “for an extended period,” a phrase used for the past two years, a new round of QE is almost inevitable.

Excess Liquidity

For its part, QE involves flooding financial institutions with excess liquidity to try to flatten out the yield curve and depress long-term interest rates in hopes of sparking a recovery. But QE has created a massive overhang of excess reserves in the banking system that constitute repressed price inflation. And the sums involved are truly staggering with the Fed having injected at least $2.3 trillion into the financial system since Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008.

From late 2008 through March 2010, the Fed bought longer-term securities worth $1.7 trillion (QE1). This included purchases of $500 billion of mortgage securities and $100 billion of agency debentures with a target of $1.25 trillion for mortgage debt. purchasing mortgage-backed securities and bailing out AIG and Bear Stearns, as well as buying other securities, led to an increase in the monetary base of 140 percent.

In November 2010 the Fed began QE2 by buying an additional $600 billion in longer-term Treasury securities, a program that officially expired at the end of June. Yet the Fed has indicated it will continue buying Treasuries using proceeds from maturing debt it already owns, allowing it to engage in continuing quantitative easing by another name.

With over $112 billion of the Fed’s government bond holdings maturing over the coming 12 months, replacement alone would involve purchases of Treasurys of over $9 billion each month. It also has more than $914 billion of mortgage-backed debt and $118 billion of debentures issued by government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). As such, this is a “stealth” continuation of QE with only a limited, if any, decrease in the money-creation process.

Last Gasp

For all the fanfare about QE, it must be said that it constitutes a last-gasp step and admission of failure of other monetary policy tools. Consider the case of Japan. Its central bank, the Bank of Japan (BoJ), began asset purchases under QE to offset deflation and stimulate its ailing economy in early 2001.

After nearly a decade of setting interest rates near zero, the BoJ realized it had been unable to conjure up an economic recovery. Then after five years of gradually expanding its bond purchases, the BOJ exercised an exit strategy from QE in 2006, only to begin again.

Last March the BoJ increased its QE program from ¥5 trillion to ¥10 trillion (about $130 billion) scheduled until the end of 2012. Recently, it announced another expansion to ¥15 trillion ($183 billion).

A child untutored in economics might think it makes no sense to continue massive increases of liquidity into the economy that have been ineffective for so long. But most central bankers and many economists demur that previous amounts were too little and more is needed.

No Growth

But the incentives that QE and ZIRP create for commercial banks make it easy to see why these policies cannot promote economic growth. On the one hand, low interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing, which should encourage more investment spending. But on the other, commercial banks pay almost nothing to borrow yet receive interest payments from the Fed to hold excess reserves, making them unlikely to extend new loans.

A sufficiently high interest rate paid on bank reserves will induce banks to choose a risk-free, interest-bearing asset rather than lending to private-sector borrowers. And so it is that commercial banks are earning record profits while making very few new loans.

The question of whether the Fed or the BoJ have an effective “exit strategy” from their policies of monetary expansion using near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing remains open. One possibility for the Fed is to engage in repurchase agreements (reverse repos) to remove some of the excess liquidity that it pumped into the financial system.

These reverse repos involve selling securities to commercial banks with the Fed agreeing to buy them back at a higher price at a later date. But once again, commercial banks will find the choice between holding risk-free, interest-bearing assets a much better bet than issuing new commercial loans.

Repressed Inflation

In the end both QE and ZIRP have been ineffective in restoring economic vitality while also creating a massive overhang of repressed inflation. Most economists view business startups, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, as the key to economic recovery and growth. Yet QE and associated central-bank policies are diverting credit away from newly forming firms.

The Fed has now announced it will continue the “exceptionally” low short-term interest rates until the middle of 2013! This indicates that U.S. central bankers are unconvinced of the errors of their ways in their policy choices. That they are unwilling and unable to change course means that the U.S. and Japanese economies are doomed to painfully slow economic growth for the foreseeable future.

Christopher Lingle is visiting professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala and research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi.See All Posts by This Author

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BERNANKE TO SAVERS: We Don’t Owe You A Living

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Jeff Miller, A Dash of Insight

While we wait for the employment report, there was another big story yesterday — the Fed treatment of savers.

Fed Chair Bernanke testified before the House Budget Committee, responding to some illuminating questions from Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R. WI).  Joe Weisenthal, who is usually on the track of the biggest story, anticipated this one yesterday:

DEAR SAVERS AND RETIREES: Stop Whining About Those Lousy Rates You’re Getting From The Bank

Here is Joe’s conclusion:

And while we sympathize with people not getting returns on their money, the fact of the matter is that the big problem we have right now is that people have too much debt, not an abundance of cash that’s just sitting there not returning anything.

The bottom line is this: Yes, it sucks that pensioners and garden-variety savers aren’t getting returns, but it also sucks for everyone in the U.S. right now, because the economic outlook seems to be so mediocre. Welcome to the club!

Until growth and inflation return to anything that looks robust, savers will have to be stuck with the same garbage returns boat the rest of us are in.

The confirmation came in Congressional testimony by Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and the ensuing questions.

There is a lot of buzz about the role of the Fed and also the leadership of Bernanke.  The leading Republican candidates all want to fire Bernanke, and some of them even want to abolish the Fed.  Some of the GOP House Budget Committee members have joined the criticism.

Here at “A Dash” I focus on investments, not politics.  Years ago some readers called me a “Bush apologist” and a blatant “supply sider.”  I have tried to explain that I do not have a partisan perspective, but an investment perspective.  I want to find the best investments no matter who is in power.  My perspective changes with the evidence.

With that in mind, let me suggest a few propositions for your consideration.  If these are not obvious, I recommend more research.

  • Bernanke is a Republican, with a conservative background.  This is typical for Fed Chairs.
  • If President Bush had been re-elected, the current GOP fiscal argument would be different.  There would be support for stimulus, including both tax cuts or spending.  If you do not believe this, look back in history to the end of the Bush administration.
  • If President Bush had been re-elected, the GOP monetary story would be different.  They would be screaming for easy money, as both parties have always done, including past GOP administrations, and including Bush senior.
  • Paul Ryan is an ambitious and aspiring VP candidate who has a theme that resonates — balancing the budget.  It is an effective political argument — for the party out of power.

Meanwhile, the Fed is doing a good job of ignoring politics and focusing on the economy.

Investment Conclusion

I continue my plea:  Look beyond politics.  Most recently, look beyond the popular ploy of making a villain out of the Fed.

The Fed has a dual mandate including both price stability and employment.  Here is the official statement:

The Congress established two key objectives for monetary policy–maximum employment and stable prices–in the Federal Reserve Act. These objectives are sometimes referred to as the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate.

There are many who have criticized the US approach suggesting that there should be only a single mandate – price stability.

So let us all be clear about this — very clear.

The Fed has no Third Mandate.  There is no interest rate guarantee for savers!

It is difficult enough to balance economic growth and price stability.  The idea that the Fed should be judged by a third criterion — maintaining interest rates for savers — is misguided, politically biased, displaying favoritism for one group, and basically wrong.

More importantly, it is not going to happen.  Our investment decisions should be based upon reality, not the wishful thinking of those with a partisan agenda.

I understand the plight of savers and senior citizens.  I work with such investors every day, helping them find a combination of a bond ladder, dividend stocks, and enhanced yield.  Those who do not have a job at all face a more difficult problem.  Until we have a stronger economic recovery, we are all in this together.

Read more: BI

The Fed’s Black Sky Scenario Revealed

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by Eric Platt

The dark clouds in the Federal Reserve’s 2012 annual stress test are keeping bankers up at night, as banks are being asked to imagine their balance sheet situation under some horrible economic scenarios.

Under the Fed’s bleakest black sky scenario, financial institutions will have to weather 13.1% unemployment, the Dow at 5,600, and Europe in severe recession.

The test, known as the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, includes 12 other metrics for the U.S. market including GDP and inflation, with another 11 points for global economies.

Here are some of the key metrics, complete with headline numbers, for what would happen in the Fed’s worst scenario:

U.S. Real GDP:

  • 4Q11: -4.84%
  • 1Q12: -7.98%
  • 2Q12: -4.23%
  • 3Q12: -3.51%
  • 4Q12: +0.00%
  • 1Q13: +0.72%
  • 2Q13: +2.21%
  • 3Q13: +2.32%
  • 4Q13: +3.45%

U.S. Unemployment:

  • 4Q11: 9.68%
  • 1Q12: 10.58%
  • 2Q12: 11.40%
  • 3Q12: 12.16%
  • 4Q12: 12.76%
  • 1Q13: 13.00%
  • 2Q13: 13.05%
  • 3Q13: 12.96%
  • 4Q13: 12.76%

U.S. 10-Year Treasury Yield:

  • 4Q11: 2.07%
  • 1Q12: 1.94%
  • 2Q12: 1.76%
  • 3Q12: 1.67%
  • 4Q12: 1.76%
  • 1Q13: 1.74%
  • 2Q13: 1.84%
  • 3Q13: 1.98%
  • 4Q13: 1.97%

Dow Jones Industrial Average Price:

  • 4Q11: 9,504.48
  • 1Q12: 7,576.38
  • 2Q12: 7,089.87
  • 3Q12: 5,705.55
  • 4Q12: 5,668.34
  • 1Q13: 6,082.47
  • 2Q13: 6,384.32
  • 3Q13: 7,084.65
  • 4Q13: 7,618.89

EU Real GDP:

  • 4Q11: -1.03%
  • 1Q12: -3.49%
  • 2Q12: -5.40%
  • 3Q12: -6.91%
  • 4Q12: -4.92%
  • 1Q13: -0.88%
  • 2Q13: +0.35%
  • 3Q13: +1.11%
  • 4Q13: +1.50%

Remember, banks have less than two months to stress test their portfolios against these, and 21 other metrics. For a full list of scenario inputs visit the Federal Reserve’s site.

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