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Economics

Yield curve and the US economy

So far in August the differential between the yield on the 10-year Treasury note and the yield on the 3-month Treasury bill stood at 2.38% against 2.95% in December 2013.

Historically the yield differential on average has led the yearly rate of growth of industrial production by fourteen months. This raises the likelihood that the growth momentum of industrial production will ease in the months ahead, all other things being equal.

 

Yield Spread

It is generally held that the shape of the yield curve is set by investors’ expectations. According to this way of thinking – also labeled as the expectation theory (ET) – the key to the shape of the yield curve is the notion that long-term interest rates are the average of expected future short-term rates.

If today’s one-year rate is 4% and next year’s one-year rate is expected to be 5%, the two-year rate today should be (4%+5%)/2 = 4.5%.

It follows that expectations for increases in short-term rates will make the yield curve upward sloping, since long-term rates will be higher than short-term rates.

Conversely, expectations for a decline in short-term rates will result in a downward sloping yield curve. If today’s one-year rate is 5% and next year’s one – year rate is expected to be 4%, the two-year rate today (4%+5%)/2 = 4.5% is lower than today’s one year rate of 5% – i.e. downward sloping yield curve.

But is it possible to have a sustained downward sloping yield curve on account of expectations? One can show that in a risk-free environment, neither an upward nor a downward sloping yield curve can be sustainable.

An upward sloping curve would provoke an arbitrage movement from short maturities to long maturities. This will lift short-term interest rates and lower long-term interest rates, i.e., leading towards a uniform interest rate throughout the term structure.

Arbitrage will also prevent the sustainability of an inverted yield curve by shifting funds from long maturities to short maturities thereby flattening the curve.

It must be appreciated that in a free unhampered market economy the tendency towards the uniformity of rates will only take place on a risk-adjusted basis. Consequently, a yield curve that includes the risk factor is likely to have a gentle positive slope.

It is difficult to envisage a downward sloping curve in a free unhampered market economy – since this would imply that investors are assigning a higher risk to short-term maturities than long-term maturities, which doesn’t make sense.

 

The Fed and the shape of the yield curve

Even if one were to accept the rationale of the ET for the changes in the shape of the yield curve, these changes are likely to be of a very short duration on account of arbitrage. Individuals will always try to make money regardless of the state of the economy.

Yet historically either an upward sloping or a downward sloping yield curve has held for quite prolonged periods of time.

We suggest an upward or a downward sloping yield curve develops on account of the Fed’s interest rate policies (there is an inverse correlation between the yield curve and the fed funds rate).

While the Fed can exercise a certain level of control over short-term interest rates via the federal funds rate, it has less control over long-term interest rates.

FedFundsVsYield

For instance, the artificial lowering of short-term interest rates gives rise to an upward sloping yield curve. To prevent the flattening of the curve the Fed must persist with the easy interest rate stance. Should the Fed slow down on its monetary pumping the shape of the yield curve will tend to flatten. Whenever the Fed tightens its interest rate stance this leads to the flattening or an inversion of the yield curve. In order to sustain the new shape of the curve the Fed must maintain its tighter stance. Should the Fed abandon the tighter stance the tendency for rates equalisation will arrest the narrowing or the inversion in the yield curve.

The shape of the yield curve reflects the monetary stance of the Fed. Investors’ expectations can only reinforce the shape of the curve. For instance, relentless monetary expansion that keeps the upward slope of the curve intact ultimately fuels inflationary expectations, which tend to push long-term rates higher thereby reinforcing the positive slope of the yield curve.

Conversely, an emerging recession on account of a tighter stance lowers inflationary expectations and reinforces the inverted yield curve.

A loose Fed monetary policy i.e. a positive sloping curve, sets in motion a false economic boom – it gives rise to various false activities. A tighter monetary policy, which manifests through an inversion of the yield curve, sets in motion the process of the liquidation of false activities i.e. an economic bust is ensued.

A situation could emerge however where the federal funds rate is around zero, as it is now, and then the shape of the yield curve will vary in response to the fluctuations in the long-term rate. (The fed funds rate has been around zero since December 2008).

Once the Fed keeps the fed funds rate at close to zero level over a prolonged period of time it sets in motion a severe misallocation of resources – a severe consumption of capital.

An emergence of subdued economic activity puts downward pressure on long-term rates. On the basis of a near zero fed funds rate this starts to invert the shape of the yield curve.

At present, we hold the downward slopping yield curve has emerged on account of a decline in long term rates whilst short-term interest rate policy remains intact.

We suggest this may be indicative of a severe weakening in the wealth generation process and points to stagnant economic growth ahead.

Note again the downward sloping curve is on account of the Fed’s near zero interest rate policy that has weakened the process of wealth formation.

Economics

Why doesn’t monetary pumping help economic growth?

Despite all the massive monetary pumping over the past six years and the lowering of interest rates to almost zero most commentators have expressed disappointment with the pace of economic growth. For instance, the yearly rate of growth of the EMU real GDP fell to 0.7% in Q2 from 0.9% in the previous quarter. In Q1 2007 the yearly rate of growth stood at 3.7%. In Japan the yearly rate of growth of real GDP fell to 0% in Q2 from 2.7% in Q1 and 5.8% in Q3 2010.

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In the US the yearly rate of growth of real GDP stood at 2.4% in Q2 against 1.9% in the prior quarter. Note that since Q1 2010 the rate of growth followed a sideways path of around 2.2%. The exception is the UK where the growth momentum of GDP shows strengthening with the yearly rate of growth closing at 3.1% in Q2 from 3% in Q1. Observe however, that the yearly rate of growth in Q3 2007 stood at 4.3%.

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In addition to still subdued economic activity most central bankers are concerned with the weakness of workers earnings.

Some of them are puzzled that despite injecting trillions of dollars into the financial system so little of it is showing up in workers earnings?

After all, it is held, the higher earnings are the more consumers can spend and consequently, the stronger the economic growth is going to be, so it is held.

The yearly rate of growth of US average hourly earnings stood at 2% in July against 3.9% in June 2007.

In the EMU the yearly rate of growth of weekly earnings plunged to 1.3% in Q1 from 5.4% in Q2 2009.

In the UK the yearly rate of growth of average weekly earnings fell to 0.7% in June this year from 5% in August 2007.

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According to the Vice Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Stanley Fischer the US and global recoveries have been “disappointing” so far and may point to a permanent downshift in economic potential. Fisher has suggested that a slowing productivity could be an important factor behind all this.

That a fall in the productivity of workers could be an important factor is a good beginning in trying to establish what is really happening. It is however, just the identification of a symptom – it is not the cause of the problem.

Now, higher wages are possible if workers’ contribution to the generation of real wealth is expanding. The more a particular worker generates as far as real wealth is concerned the more he/she can demand in terms of wages.

An important factor that permits a worker to lift productivity is the magnitude and the quality of the infrastructure that is available to him. With better tools and machinery more output per hour can be generated and hence higher wages can be paid.

It is by allocating a larger slice out of a given pool of real wealth towards the buildup and the enhancement of the infrastructure that more capital goods per worker emerges (more tools and machinery per worker) and this sets the platform for higher worker productivity and hence to an expansion in real wealth and thus lifts prospects for higher wages. (With better infrastructure workers can now produce more goods and services).

The key factors that undermine the expansion in the capital goods per worker are an ever expanding government and loose monetary policies of the central bank. According to the popular view, what drives the economy is the demand for goods and services.

If, for whatever reasons, insufficient demand emerges it is the role of the government and the central bank to strengthen the demand to keep the economy going, so it is held. There is, however, no independent category such as demand that drives an economy. Every demand must be funded by a previous production of wealth. By producing something useful to other individuals an individual can exercise a demand for other useful goods.

Any policy, which artificially boosts demand, leads to consumption that is not backed up by a previous production of wealth. For instance, monetary pumping that is supposedly aimed at lifting the economy in fact generates activities that cannot support themselves. This means that their existence is only possible by diverting real wealth from wealth generators.

Printing presses set in motion an exchange of nothing for something. Note that a monetary pumping sets a platform for various non-productive or bubble activities – instead of wealth being used to fund the expansion of a wealth generating infrastructure, the monetary pumping channels wealth towards wealth squandering activities.

This means that monetary pumping leads to the squandering of real wealth. Similarly a policy of artificially lowering interest rates in order to boost demand in fact provides support for various non-productive activities that in a free market environment would never emerge.

We suggest that the longer central banks world wide persist with their loose monetary policies the greater the risk of severely damaging the wealth generating process is. This in turn raises the likelihood of a prolonged stagnation.

All this however, can be reversed by shrinking the size of the government and by the closure of all the loopholes of the monetary expansion. Obviously a tighter fiscal and monetary stance is going to hurt various non-productive activities.

Economics

Where is the US$ heading against major currencies?

Within the framework of our econometric model the key variable that drives a currency rate of exchange is the relative money supply rate of growth between respective economies. On this score our analysis shows that since October 2011 the money growth differential is currently favourable for the US$ against major currencies. Various key US data continue to display strength. We hold that on account of a downtrend in the growth momentum of AMS since October 2011 economic activity is likely to come under pressure in the months ahead. Meanwhile the growth momentum of the Euro-zone consumer price index has likely bottomed in May. We hold that a fall in the lagged growth momentum of German AMS is behind the weakening in some of the recent key German data. The S&P500 index could weaken for a few months before bouncing back. By next year our model expects the S&P500 to follow a declining path. According to our model the yield on the 10-year US T-Note is forecast to follow a declining path during 2015.

 

Prospects for US$ against the Euro

At the end of June the price of the Euro in US$ terms closed at 1.369 versus 1.363 in May – an increase of 0.4%. The yearly rate of growth of the price of the Euro stood at 5.3% against 4.9% in May. After closing at 13.6% in October 2011, the money growth differential (expressed in terms of our AMS) between the US and the Euro-zone settled at 0.7% in April.  On account of long time lags we suggest that for the time being the effect of a rising differential between June 2010 and October 2011 is likely to dominate the scene. As time goes by the effect from a fall since October 2011 is expected to assert itself. (The US$ should strengthen).

The simulation of the model against the actual data is on the chart on the left below. Based on our model we expect the price of the Euro in US$ terms to close at 1.37 by March before settling at 1.36 in December next year.

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Prospects for the British pound (GBP) against the US$

The price of the GBP in US$ terms closed at the end of June at 1.71 versus 1.675 at the end of May – an increase of 2.1%. Year-on-year the rate of growth climbed to 12.4% in June from 10.2% in the month before. The money growth differential fell from 10.4% in October 2011 to 0.6% in April.

We have employed our model to assess the future trend of the rate of exchange. The model simulation against the actual is presented on the left below. We expect the effect from the declining growth differential of money supply to gain strength as time goes by. By December next year the £Sterling-USD rate of exchange could settle at 1.66. 

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Prospects for the A$ against the US$

At the end of June the price of the A$ in US$ terms closed at 0.943 – an increase of 1.3%. The yearly rate of growth jumped to 3.2% from minus 2.7% in May. After closing at 15.5% in April 2012 the money growth differential between the US and Australia fell to minus 8.1% in April this year. Note that between January 2011 and April 2012 the yearly rate of growth was trending up.

According to our model (see the simulation on the left below) based on a declining money growth differential the A$ could come under pressure as time goes by. By June next year the Australian $ could close at 0.896 before settling at 0.91 by December next year.

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Prospects for the Yen against the US$

The price of the US$ in Yen terms closed at the end of June at 101.3 – a fall of 0.5% from May. Year-on-year the rate of growth of the price of US$ rose to 2.2% from 1.3% in May. The money growth differential between the US and Japan fell from 12.8% in August 2011 to 3.9% in January 2013. There after the yearly rate of growth followed a horizontal path closing at 4.6% in May this year.

The simulation of the model is presented on the left below (see chart). According to the model the price of the US$ could increase to 102.3 by March before falling to 101.5 by May. Afterwards the price is forecast to follow a sideways movement closing at 101.2 by December 2015.

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Prospects for the CHF against the US$

The price of the US$ in CHF terms closed at 0.887 at the end of June – a fall of 0.9% from May when it increased by 1.7% from April. The yearly rate of growth of the price of the US$ in CHF terms stood at minus 6.2% against minus 6.3% in May. The money growth differential between the US and Switzerland climbed to 4.8% in April 2013 from minus 6% in August 2012. This strong increase in the differential is providing strong support to the CHF against the US$ – note also that the differential fell sharply to minus 2.8% in April from 3.1% in January this year.

The simulation of the model against the actual data is presented on the left below (see chart). According to our model the price of the US$ in CHF terms is forecast to settle at 0.890 by December this year. By September next year the price is forecast to fall to 0.83 before stabilizing at 0.834 by December 2015.

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Focus on US economic indicators

Manufacturing activity in terms of the ISM index eased slightly in June from May. The index closed at 55.3 versus 55.4 in May. Based on the lagged growth momentum of real AMS we suggest that the ISM index is likely to follow a declining path. The growth momentum of light vehicle sales has eased in June from May. The yearly rate of growth stood at 6.9% in June against 8.3% in the previous month. Our monetary analysis points to a likely further softening ahead in light vehicle sales.

The growth momentum of manufacturing orders eased in May from April. Year-on-year the rate of growth fell to 2.4% from 5.1%. Based on the lagged growth momentum of AMS we can suggest that the growth momentum of manufacturing orders is likely to follow a declining trend. Also, the growth momentum of expenditure on construction eased in May from April with the yearly rate of growth softening to 6.6% from 7.9%. Using the lagged yearly rate of growth of AMS we hold that the growth momentum of construction expenditure is likely to come under pressure ahead.

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US employment up strongly above expectations in June

Seasonally adjusted non-farm employment increased by 288,000 in June after rising by 224,000 in the month before. That was above analysts’ expectations for an increase of 215,000. The growth momentum of employment has strengthened last month. Year-on-year 2.495 million jobs were generated in June after 2.408 million in the prior month. Using the lagged manufacturing ISM index we can suggest that from July the growth momentum of US employment is likely to visibly weaken (see chart). The diffusion index of employment in the private sector one month span, which increased to 64.8 in June from 62.9 in May is forecast to follow a declining trend in the months to come (see chart).

 

Manufacturing employment increased by 16,000 last month after rising by 11,000 in May. Based on the lagged growth momentum of real AMS we expect the growth momentum of manufacturing employment to come under pressure in the months to come. In the meantime, the unemployment rate stood at 6.1% in June against 6.3% in May, while the number of unemployed declined by 325,000 last month to 9.474 million.

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Focus on non US economic indicators

Manufacturing activity has eased slightly in Australia in June from May. The manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) fell to 48.91 from 49.22 in May. Based on the lagged growth momentum of Australian real AMS we suggest that the Australian PMI is likely to be well supported ahead. The yearly rate of growth of the EMU consumer price index (CPI) stood at 0.5% in June the same as in May. Using the lagged growth momentum of EMU AMS we hold that the yearly rate of growth of the EU CPI is likely to strengthen ahead.

Year-on-year the rate of growth of German factory orders in real terms fell to 5.8% in May from 6.6% in April. Using the lagged growth momentum of German real AMS we can suggest that the yearly rate of growth of German factory orders is likely to weaken further in the months ahead. Meanwhile, the Swiss manufacturing PMI rose to 53.96 in June from 52.54 in the month before. According to the lagged growth momentum of Swiss real AMS the Swiss PMI is likely to display volatility (see chart).

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Prospects for the CRB commodity price index

At the end of June the CRB commodity price index closed at 308.22 – an increase of 0.9% from May when it fell by 1.3%. The growth momentum of the index has strengthened with the yearly rate of growth rising to 11.8% in June from 8.4% in May.

 

The CRB index to its 12-month moving average ratio eased to 1.0546 in June from 1.055 in the month before.

 

 

We have employed our model to assess the future course of the CRB index (see chart). The model is driven by the state of US and Chinese economic activity and by US monetary liquidity.

 

According to our large scale econometric model the CRB index is forecast to close at 303 by November before jumping to 316 in February. There after the index is forecast to follow a slightly declining path closing by December at 312.

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S&P500 up on the week

The S&P500 added 0.55% on Thursday to close at 1,985.43. For the week the index climbed 1.25%. The stock price index rallied after strong employment report for June with the employment rising by 288,000 against the consensus for an increase by 215,000. Against the end of June the stock price index advanced 1.3% whilst year-on-year the rate of growth eased to 17.8% from 22% in June. The S&P500 to its 12 month moving average ratio has eased to 1.0833 from 1.0843 in June.

 

We have employed our large scale econometric model to assess the future course of the stock price index. Within the model’s framework the S&P500 is driven by our measure of monetary liquidity and by the state of US industrial production. (See the actual versus the model data on the left below). According to our model the S&P500 index could weaken for a few months before bouncing back. By next year our model “expects” the S&P500 to follow a declining path. 

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US long – term Treasuries yields up against the end of June

On Thursday US Treasuries fell – pushing 10-year note yields to the highest in two months in response to a strong June employment report. This lifted bets that the US central bank may consider raising interest rates sooner than previously thought. The yield on the 10-year T-Note rose one basis point to close at 2.64% against 2.53% at the end of June. Two-year note yield rose three basis points to 0.51%. Traders pushed up their bets for a June rate increase to 49% from 44% and 33% at the end of May. The yield spread between the 10 year and the 2 year T-note stood at 2.13% versus 2.08% in June.

 

The “TED” spread stood at 0.222% against 0.205% in June. We have employed our econometric model to establish the future direction of the yield on the 10-year T-Note. In the model’s framework the yield on the 10-year T-note is driven by monetary liquidity, by the state of US economic activity and by price inflation (see chart on the left below).  According to our model the 10-year yield is forecast to follow a declining path during 2015.

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Economics

Are economic sanctions behind a possible recession in Russia?

According to commentators, sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union are pushing Russia towards a recession. However, we hold that some key Russian economic data have been displaying weakening prior to the annexation of Crimea to Russia. This raises the likelihood that sanctions might not be the key factor for an emerging recession.

The yearly rate of growth of monthly real gross domestic product (GDP) eased to 0.3% in February from 0.7% in January and 1.8% in July last year. After closing at 12.2% in March last year the yearly rate of growth of retail sales fell to 7.7% in January before settling at 9.6% in February.

Russia real GDP

Russia retail sales

We suggest that the key factor behind any emerging slowdown and a possible recession is a sharp decline in the yearly` rate of growth of money supply (AMS) from 67.1% in May 2005 to minus 12.2% by September 2009. We hold that the driving force behind this sharp decline is a strong decline in the growth momentum of the central bank’s balance sheet during that period (see chart).

Graphs 3 4 Russia

There is a long time lag from changes in money supply and its effect on economic activity. We suspect that it is quite likely that the effect from a fall in the growth momentum of money during May 2005 to September 2009 is starting to dominate the present economic scene.

This means that various bubble activities that emerged on the back of the prior strong increase in money supply are at present coming under pressure. So from this perspective irrespective of sanctions, the Russian economy would have experienced a so-called economic slowdown, or even worse a recession.
Now, to counter a further weakening in the ruble against the US$ the Russian central bank has raised the seven day repo rate by 1.5% to 7%. The price of the US$ in ruble terms rose to 36.3 in March from 30.8 rubles in March last year – an increase of 18%.

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Whilst a tighter interest rate stance can have an effect on the present growth momentum of money supply this is likely to have a minor effect on the emerging economic slowdown, which we suggest is predominately driven by past money supply.

There is no doubt that if sanctions were to become effective they are going to hurt economic activity in general i.e. both bubble and non-bubble activities.

On this one needs to exercise some caution given the possibility that major world economies are heading toward a slower growth phase.

Hence from this perspective, regardless of sanctions the pace of the demand for the Russian exports is likely to ease.

We hold that it is quite likely that the Euro-zone, an important Russian trading partner, is unlikely to enforce sanctions in order to cushion the effect of the possible emerging economic slowdown in the Euro-zone. (Sanctions are likely to have a disruptive economic effect not only on Russia but also on the Euro-zone). Observe that Russia’s export to the Euro-zone as a percentage of its total exports stood at 54.1% in 2013 against 52.9% in 2012. In contrast Russia’s export to the US as a % of total stood at 2.1% in 2013. As a percentage of total imports Euro-zone imports from Russia stood at 8% in January whilst American imports from Russia as a percentage of total imports stood at 0.8%. Note that the Euro-zone relies on Russia for a third of its energy imports. Hence it will not surprise us if the Europeans are likely to be more reluctant than the US in enforcing sanctions.

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Russia’s foreign reserves have weakened slightly in February from the month before. The level of reserves fell by 1.1% to $493 billion after declining by 2.1% in January. The growth momentum of reserves also remains under pressure. Year-on-year the rate of growth stood at minus 6.2% in February against a similar figure in January. A possible further weakening in China’s economic activity and ensuing pressure on the price of oil is likely to exert more pressure on foreign reserves.

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Meanwhile, the growth momentum of the Russian consumer price index (CPI) displays a visible softening. The yearly rate of growth stood at 6.2% in February against 6.1% in January. Observe that in February last year the yearly rate of growth stood at 7.3%. Based on the lagged growth momentum of our Russian monetary measure AMS we can suggest that the yearly rate of growth of the Russian CPI is likely to weaken further in the months ahead.

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Summary and conclusion

According to some experts sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union are likely to push Russia into a recession. We suggest that the key factor which is likely to push Russia into a recession is not sanctions as such but a sharp decline in the growth momentum of money supply between May 2005 and September 2009. Given the possibility that major world economies are heading towards a renewed economic slowdown, we suggest that regardless of sanctions the pace of the demand for Russia’s exports is likely to ease. Now, given that the Euro-zone relies on Russia for a third of its energy imports it will not surprise us if the Euro-zone proves likely to be more reluctant than the US in enforcing sanctions.

Economics

Is inflation good for economic growth?

After settling at 3.9% in July 2011 the yearly rate of growth of the consumer price index (CPI) fell to 1.6% by January this year. Also, the yearly rate of growth of the consumer price index less food and energy displays a visible downtrend falling from 2.3% in April 2012 to 1.6% in January.

US CPI

On account of a visible decline in the growth momentum of the consumer price index (CPI) many economists have concluded that this provides scope for the US central bank to maintain its aggressive monetary stance.

Some other economists, such as the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank’s Charles Evans are even arguing that the declining trend in the growth momentum of the CPI makes it possible for the Fed to further strengthen monetary pumping. This, Evans holds, will reverse the declining trend in price inflation and will bring the economy onto a path of healthy economic growth. According to the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank president the US central bank should be willing to let inflation temporarily run above its target level of 2%. He also said that an unemployment rate of about 5.5% and an inflation rate of about 2% are indicative of a healthy economy.

But how is it possible that higher price inflation will make the economy stronger? If price inflation slightly above 2% is good for the economy, why not aim at a much higher rate of inflation, which will make the economy much healthier?

Contrary to Evans a strengthening in monetary pumping to lift the rate of price inflation will only deepen economic impoverishment by allowing the emergence of new bubble activities and by the strengthening of existing bubble activities.

It will increase the pace of the wealth diversion from wealth generators to various non-productive activities, thereby weakening the process of wealth generation.

Evans and other economists are of the view that a strengthening in monetary pumping will strengthen the flow of monetary spending, which in turn will keep the economy stronger.

On this way of thinking an increase in the monetary spending of one individual lifts the income of another individual whose increase in spending boosts the incomes of more individuals, which in turn boosts their spending and lifts the incomes of more individuals etc.

If, for whatever reasons, people curtail their spending this disrupts the monetary flow and undermines the economy. To revive the monetary flow it is recommended that the central bank should lift monetary pumping. Once the monetary flow is re-established this sets in motion self-sustaining economic growth, so it is held.

Again we suggest that monetary pumping cannot set in motion self-sustaining economic growth. It can only set in motion an exchange of something for nothing i.e. an economic impoverishment.

As long as the pool of real wealth is still growing monetary pumping can create the illusion that it can grow the economy. Once however, the pool is declining the illusion that the Fed’s loose policies can set in motion an economic growth is shattered.

If on account of the deterioration of the infrastructure a baker’s production of bread per unit of time is now 8 loaves instead of 10 loaves and the shoemaker’s production per unit of time is now 4 pair of shoes instead of 8 pair of shoes, then no amount of money printing can lift the production of real wealth per unit of time i.e. of bread and shoes. Monetary pumping cannot replace non-existent tools and machinery.

On the contrary the holders of newly printed money who don’t produce any real wealth will weaken the ability of wealth generators to produce wealth by diverting to themselves bread and shoes thereby leaving less real wealth to fund the maintenance and the expansion of the infrastructure.

Now, Fed officials give the impression that once they put the economy onto the so called self-sustained growth path the removal of the monetary stimulus will not generate major side effects. Note that a loose monetary policy sets in motion bubble activities. The existence of these activities is supported by the monetary pumping, which diverts to them real wealth from wealth generating activities.

Once monetary pumping is aborted bubble activities are forced to go under since they cannot fund themselves without the support of loose monetary policy – an economic bust ensues. The illusion that the Fed can bring the economy onto a self-sustaining growth path is shattered.

Summary and conclusion

On account of a visible decline in the growth momentum of the US price index many economists have concluded that this provides scope for the US central bank (the Fed) to maintain its aggressive monetary stance. Some economists such as the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, Charles Evans, even argue that the declining trend in the growth momentum of the CPI makes it possible for the Fed to further strengthen monetary pumping. This, it is held, will reverse the declining trend in price inflation and will bring the US economy onto a path of healthy economic growth. We suggest that contrary to Evans a strengthening in monetary pumping will only deepen economic impoverishment by allowing the emergence of new bubble activities and by the strengthening of existing bubble activities.

Economics

Is bad weather the key cause behind weak US economic data?

Some key US economic data shows visible weakening. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment index slumped to 46 in February from 56 in January.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Empire State general business conditions index fell to 4.48 in February from 12.51 the month before.

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Also, the yearly rate of growth of housing starts fell to minus 2% in January from 6.6% in the month before. Whilst the yearly rate of growth existing home sales fell to minus 5.1% in January from minus 0.2% in December – the third consecutive month of negative growth.

Furthermore, the Philadelphia Fed business index fell to minus 6.3 in February from 9.4 in January.

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Most economic commentators blame the weakening in economic data on bad weather conditions that have gripped much of the US. On this way of thinking the economy remains strong and short setbacks are on account of consumers and businesses putting off purchases. However, this should reverse, so it is held, once the weather improves.

There is no doubt that weather conditions can cause disruptions in economic activity. However, we hold that the recent weakening in the data could be in response to the emerging economic bust brought about by a decline in the growth momentum of money supply (see more details below).

Also, we suggest that the phenomena of recessions is not about the weakness of the economy as such as depicted by various economic indicators, but about the liquidation of various activities that sprang up on the back of the increase in the rate of growth of money supply. Here is why.

An increase in money supply sets in motion an exchange of nothing for something, which amounts to a diversion of real wealth from wealth generating activities to non-wealth generating activities. In the process this diversion weakens wealth generators and this in turn weakens their ability to grow the overall pool of real wealth i.e. weakens their ability to grow the economy.

The expansion in the activities that sprang up on the back of rising money supply is what an economic ‘boom’, or false economic prosperity, is all about.

Note that once there is a strengthening in the pace of monetary expansion, irrespective of how strong and big a particular economy is, the pace of the diversion of real wealth is going to strengthen. Once, however, a slowdown in that pace of monetary expansion emerges, this slows down the diversion of real wealth from wealth producers to non-wealth producers.

This means that various bubble activities or non-productive activities are now getting less support from the money supply – they fall into trouble.

A weakening in bubble activities is what a recession is all about. Irrespective of how big and strong an economy is, a decline in the rate of growth in money supply is going to undermine various uneconomic activities that sprang up on the back of the previous increase in the money supply.

This means that recessions or economic busts have nothing to do with the so-called strength of an economy, improved productivity, or better inventory management by companies.

For instance, as a result of a loose monetary stance on the part of the Fed and the subsequent expansion in the money supply rate of growth various false activities emerge.

Now, even if these activities are well managed and maintain very efficient inventory control, this fact cannot be of much help once the central bank reverses its loose monetary stance. Again, these activities are the product of the loose monetary stance of the central bank. Once the stance is reversed, regardless of efficient inventory management, these activities will come under pressure and run the risk of being liquidated.

Having established that recessions are about the liquidations of unproductive activities, why are they recurrent? The reason for this is the central bank’s ongoing policies that are aimed at fixing the unintended consequences that arise from its earlier attempts at stabilising the so-called economy.

On account of the time lags from changes in money to changes in economic activity the central bank or the Fed is forced to respond to the effects of its own previous monetary policies. These responses to the effects of past policies give rise to the fluctuations in the rate of growth of money supply and in turn to recurrent boom – bust cycles.

We suggest that a fall in the yearly rate of growth of AMS from 14.8% in October 2011 to 8.1% in January 2014 poses a threat to various bubble activities that emerged on the back of an increase in the yearly rate of growth of AMS from 2.2% in June 2010 to 14.8% in October 2011.

Given the fact that there is a time lag between changes in money and changes in economic activity it is quite likely that the increase in the growth momentum of AMS during June 2010 to October 2011 is still dominating the economic scene.

As time goes by however, we suggest that a fall in the growth momentum of AMS during October 2011 to January 2014 can be expected to assert its dominance. This will be mirrored by the decline in bubble activities and in turn in various economic activity indicators.

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Economics

Why some emerging markets are heading for a bust

In countries such as Turkey and Argentina a tighter stance implemented by central banks has set in motion an economic bust. In Turkey the central bank has raised the one week repo rate to 10 percent from 4.5 percent while in Argentina the 3-month Treasury bill rate climbed to 25.89 percent from 16 percent in early January. In Argentina an increase in rates took place once the central bank aggressively curbed its monetary pumping, while in Turkey the central bank raised its policy rate.

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What prompted the tighter stance? The main reason was the sharp decline in the exchange rate of domestic currencies against the US dollar. The Turkish lira fell to 2.39 per US dollar from 1.76 liras in January last year — a depreciation of almost 36 percent. The price of the US dollar in terms of the Argentina peso jumped to 8 pesos from 5 pesos in January last year — an increase of 60 percent. Note that in the black market the price of the US dollar stood at 12.5 pesos.

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The catalyst for the currency depreciation in both economies has been strong increases in the money supply on account of the loose monetary policies of the respective central banks. In Turkey the yearly rate of growth of AMS stood at 30 percent in August this year while in Argentina the yearly rate of growth stood at 40 percent. The underlying currency rate of exchange is set in motion by the relative increases in the money supply. This means that if Turkey and Argentina allow their money supply rate of growth to exceed the rate of growth of the US money supply, both Turkey’s and Argentina’s currency will weaken against the US dollar.

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Observe that in Turkey and Argentina the strong increase in the money supply rate of growth was accompanied by strong increases in so called real GDP. In Turkey by Q1 2010 the yearly rate of growth stood at 12.6 percent while in Argentina in Q2 2010 the rate of growth stood at 11.8 percent. Given that GDP reflects changes in the money supply rate of growth we suggest that the growth in GDP mirrors the build-up of bubble activities. The stronger the GDP the stronger the pace of bubble formation is. Obviously then a tighter monetary stance is going to undermine the rate of growth of money supply and thus weaken the support for various bubble activities. It is this that sets in motion an economic bust. We suggest that a similar scenario is awaiting other economies that have been generating a strong real GDP rate of growth by means of monetary pumping.

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This article was previously published at Mises.org.

Economics

Bubbles and central banks – is there a connection?

According to the popular way of thinking, bubbles are an important cause of economic recessions. The main question posed by experts is how one knows when a bubble is forming. It is held that if the central bankers knew the answer to this question they might be able to prevent bubble formations and thus prevent recessions.

On this, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland on January 27, 2010, Nobel Laureate in Economics Robert Shiller argued that bubbles could be diagnosed using the same methodology psychologists use to diagnose mental illness. Shiller is of the view that a bubble is a form of psychological malfunction. Hence the solution could be to prepare a checklist similar to what psychologists do to determine if someone is suffering from, say, depression. The key identifying points of a typical bubble according to Shiller, are,

  1. Sharp increase in the price of an asset.
  2. Great public excitement about these price increases.
  3. An accompanying media frenzy.
  4. Stories of people earning a lot of money, causing envy among people who aren’t.
  5. Growing interest in the asset class among the general public.
  6. New era “theories” to justify unprecedented price increases.
  7. A decline in lending standards.

What Shiller outlines here are various factors that he holds are observed during the formation of bubbles. To describe a thing is, however, not always sufficient to understand the key factors that caused its emergence. In order to understand the causes one needs to establish a proper definition of the object in question. The purpose of a definition is to present the essence, the distinguishing characteristic of the object we are trying to identify. A definition is meant to tell us what the fundamentals or the origins of a particular entity are. On this, the seven points outlined by Shiller tell us nothing about the origins of a typical bubble. They tell us nothing as to why bubbles are bad for economic growth. All that these points do is to provide a possible description of a bubble. To describe an event, however, is not the same thing as to explain it. Without an understanding of the causes of an event it is not possible to counter its emergence.

Defining bubbles

Now if a price of an asset is the amount of money paid for the asset it follows that for a given amount of a given asset an increase in the price can only come about as a result of an increase in the flow of money to this asset.

The greater the expansion of money is, the higher the increase in the price of an asset is going to be, all other things being equal. We can also say that the greater the expansion of the monetary balloon is, the higher the prices of assets are going to be, all other things being equal. The emergence of a bubble or a monetary balloon need not be always associated with rising prices – for instance if the rate of growth of goods corresponds to the rate of growth of money supply no change in prices will take place.

We suggest that what matters is not whether the emergence of a bubble is associated with price rises but rather with the fact that the emergence of a bubble gives rise to non-productive activities that divert real wealth from wealth generators. The expansion of the money supply, or the monetary balloon, in similarity to a counterfeiter, enables the diversion of real wealth from wealth generating activities to non productive activities.

As the monetary pumping strengthens, the pace of the diversion follows suit. We label various non-productive activities that emerge on the back of the expanding monetary balloon as bubble activities – they were formed by the monetary bubble. Also note that these activities cannot exist without the expansion of money supply that diverts to them real wealth from wealth generating activities.

From this we can infer that the subject matter of bubbles is the expansion of money supply. The key outcome of this expansion is the emergence of non wealth generating activities.

It follows that a bubble is not about strong asset price increases but about the expansion of money supply. In fact, as we have seen, bubbles – i.e. an increase in money supply – can take place without a corresponding increase in prices. Once we have established that an expansion in money supply is what bubbles are all about, we can further infer that the key damage that bubbles generate is by setting non-productive activities, which we have labelled as bubble activities. Furthermore, once it is established that formation of bubbles is about the expansion in money supply, obviously it is the central bank and the fractional reserve banking that are responsible for the formation of bubbles. As a rule, it is the central bank’s monetary pumping that sets in motion an expansion in the monetary balloon.

Hence to prevent the emergence of bubbles one needs to arrest the monetary pumping by the central bank and to curtail the commercial banks’ ability to engage in fractional reserve banking – i.e. in lending out of “thin air”. Once the pace of monetary expansion slows down in response to a tighter central bank stance or in response to commercial banks slowing down on the expansion of lending out of “thin air” this sets in motion the bursting of the bubbles. Remember that a bubble activity cannot fund itself independently of the monetary expansion that diverts to them real wealth from wealth generating activities. (Again bubble activities are non-wealth generating activities).

The so-called economic recession associated with the burst of bubble activities is in fact good news for wealth generators since now more wealth is left at their disposal. (An economic bust, which weakens bubble activities, lays the foundation for a genuine economic growth). Note again that it is the expansion in the monetary balloon that gives rise to bubble activities and not a psychological disposition of individuals in the market place.

Psychology and economics

Psychology was smuggled into economics on the grounds that economics and psychology are inter-related disciplines. However, there is a distinct difference between economics and psychology. Psychology deals with the content of ends. Economics, however, starts with the premise that people are pursuing purposeful conduct. It doesn’t deal with the particular content of various ends.

According to Rothbard,

A man’s ends may be “egoistic” or “altruistic”, “refined” or “vulgar”. They may emphasize the enjoyment of “material goods” and comforts, or they may stress the ascetic life. Economics is not concerned with their content, and its laws apply regardless of the nature of these ends.[1]

Whereas,

Psychology and ethics deal with the content of human ends; they ask, why does the man choose such and such ends, or what ends should men value?[2]

Therefore, economics deals with any given end and with the formal implications of the fact that men have ends and utilize means to attain these ends. Consequently, economics is a separate discipline from psychology. By introducing psychology into economics one obliterates the generality of the theory, and renders it useless. The use of psychology is counterproductive as far as economic analyses are concerned.

Summary and conclusions

Contrary to Shiller, in order to establish that a bubble is forming we don’t need to apply the same methodology employed by psychologists. What we require is the establishment of a correct definition of what bubbles are all about. Once it is done, one discovers that bubbles have nothing to do with some kind psychological malfunction of individuals – they are the result of loose monetary policies of the central bank.

Furthermore, once we observe an increase in the rate of growth of money supply we can confidently say that this sets the platform for bubble activities – for an economic boom.

Conversely, once we observe a decline in the rate of growth of money supply we can confidently say that this lays the foundations for the burst of bubble activities – an economic bust.


[1] Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State, (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing) p63.

[2] Ibid.,p63.

Economics

Fed’s tightening and economic activity

On September 17-18 US central bank policy makers are likely to decide on the reduction in their monthly purchases of bonds by between $10 billion to $15 billion. A major determining factor on the size of the reduction is going to be set by their view regarding improvements in the labour market. On this the yearly change in employment stood at 2.2 million in August against the same figure in the month before.

Most experts are of the view that given the still subdued growth momentum of employment Fed policy makers are likely to announce that the US central bank is going to keep its near zero interest rate policy for a prolonged period of time. This, it is held, should prevent negative side effects coming from the reduction in bond purchases.

For instance, in 1994 when the Fed started a tightening cycle the federal funds rate rose from 3.05% in January 1994 to 6.04% in April 1995. This, it is held, caused a sharp fall in the pace of economic activity. The yearly rate of growth of industrial production fell from 7% in December 1994 to 2.7% by December 1995.

We suggest that it is changes in money supply rather than changes in interest rates that drive economic activity as such. Interest rates are just an indicator as it were.

A fall in the growth momentum of industrial production during December 1994 to December 1995 occurred on account of a sharp decline in the yearly rate of growth of AMS from 13.7% in September 1992 to minus 0.3% in April 1995.

This sharp fall in the growth momentum of AMS has weakened the support for various bubble activities that sprang up on the back of the previous rising growth momentum of AMS.

(Now even if the Fed would have kept the fed funds rate at a very low level what would have dictated the pace of economic activity is the growth momentum of AMS).

Note that a fall in the growth momentum of AMS was in line with the fall in the growth momentum of the Fed’s balance sheet – the yearly rate of growth of the balance sheet fell from 12.7% in June 1993 to 4.4% by December 1995.

What ultimately limits the pace of growth of AMS is the growth momentum of bank inflationary lending. The yearly rate of growth of inflationary bank lending fell from 23.3% in September 1992 to minus 0.7% by July 1995 – note that a fall in the growth momentum of the Fed’s balance sheet during June 1993 to December 1995 exacerbated the decline then in the growth momentum of banks inflationary lending.

Contrary to the 1993 to 1995 period, this time around the Fed’s monetary pumping as depicted by the growth momentum of its balance sheet has been ineffective in boosting the growth momentum of money supply given the banks reluctance to aggressively expand lending. (Bank’s lending growth at present doesn’t respond to changes in the Fed’s balance sheet).

The yearly rate of growth of the Fed’s balance sheet stood at 29.8% so far in September versus minus 1.4% in September last year.

Despite this pumping banks have chosen to accumulate cash rather than lending it out and are sitting on $2.1 trillion in cash. Given banks reluctance to aggressively expand lending the yearly rate of growth of AMS fell from 14.8% in October 2011 to 7.7% by August 2013.

We suggest that it is this fall in the growth momentum of AMS that will dictate the future pace of economic activity regardless of what the Fed is going to do.

(Note that the effect of changes in money supply on economic activity works with a time lag. It takes time for changes in money supply to diffuse its effect on the various parts of the economy).

We need to add to all of this the possibility that the pool of real wealth might be currently in difficulties on account of the Fed’s reckless policies.

(The near zero interest rate policy has caused a severe misallocation of scarce real savings – it has weakened the wealth generation process and thus the economy’s ability to support stronger real economic growth).

If our assessment is valid on this, we can suggest that a stagnant or declining pool of real wealth is likely to put more pressure on banks’ lending. Remember that it is the state of the pool of real wealth that dictates banks ability to lend without going belly up.

We can conclude that regardless of changes in the Fed’s balance sheet it is a fall in the growth momentum of AMS since October 2011 that will determine the pace of economic activity irrespective of the planned actions by the Fed. Given the possibility that the pool of real wealth might be in trouble this could put further pressure on the growth momentum of bank lending and thus the growth momentum of money supply.

Economics

Can quantitative easing lift economic growth?

Some commentators such as Mohamed El-Erian, the chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management (PIMCO), are of the view that the Federal Reserve’s policy of massive asset purchases has added very little to economic growth. A study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Arvind Krishnamurthy and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, August 9, 2013) explores various channels through which monetary pumping can grow the US economy. On this the study indicates that the Fed’s purchases of mortgage backed securities (MBS) can have a strong beneficial effect. The study however suggests that with respect to the purchases of Treasury Bonds the effect on the economy is minimal.

Now, as a result of the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) the long term mortgage interest rate fell from 6.32% in June 2008 to 3.35% by November 2012. Consequently, the growth momentum of the housing market has had a strong response to this fall in rates with the yearly rate of growth of housing starts jumping from minus 55% in January 2009 to 42% by March 2013. The yearly rate of growth of new home sales climbed from minus 46.4% in January 2009 to 35.5% by January 2013.


But does it all make much sense?  Contrary to the popular way of thinking and the Kansas Fed study, we argue that it is erroneous to suggest that there are some channels through which monetary pumping can exert a beneficial effect on the economy.Now, the yield on the 10-year Treasury – Note fell from 4.07% in May 2008 to 1.615% by November 2012. After rising to 3.3% in Q1 2012 from minus 4.1% in Q2 2009 the yearly rate of growth of real GDP has been displaying softening, closing at 1.6% by Q2 this year. From this it is concluded that it is much more effective for economic growth if the Fed were to focus on purchases of MBS’s given the strong response of the housing data to declining interest rates.

For instance the so called benefits to the economy from the interest rate channel are on account of an artificial lowering of interest rates by the central bank. Such a lowering cannot set the wealth generation process in motion – this latter is what real economic growth is all about. It can only lead to the misallocation of scarce capital and the weakening of the wealth generation process.

Likewise the real balances channel (not discussed in the study but popular with the mainstream thinking) i.e. an increase in the money supply relative to the increase in price inflation, will only result in an increase in the consumption un-backed by the production of real wealth – and leads to the consumption of capital and to the weakening of the wealth generation process.

Hence various studies that supposedly show that the Fed’s quantitative easing can grow the US economy are fallacious. To suggest that monetary pumping can grow an economy implies that increases in the money supply will result in increases in the pool of real wealth.

This is however a fallacy since all that money does is serve as the medium of exchange. It enables the exchange of the produce of one specialist for the produce of another specialist and nothing more. If printing money could somehow generate wealth then world wide poverty would have been eliminated by now.

On the contrary, monetary pumping sets in motion a process of economic impoverishment by activating an exchange of something for nothing. It diverts real wealth from wealth generating activities towards non-productive activities.

We suggest that as the Fed continues with its aggressive monetary pumping there is the risk that the pool of real wealth – the key for economic growth, will become stagnant or worse will start declining. If this were to happen, economic growth will follow suit and no monetary tricks of the Fed will be able to help.

On the contrary, the more aggressive the monetary pumping becomes the faster the pool of real wealth is going to shrink and the worse economic conditions will become.

Eventually even the government’s own data such as GDP will start displaying weakness. Remember that changes in GDP are a reflection of changes in monetary pumping – the more is pumped the greater the rate of growth of GDP.

Once, however, the pool of real wealth comes under pressure, bank lending weakens and this in turn weakens the expansion of credit out of “thin air”. Consequently, the growth momentum of money supply comes under pressure, which in turn after a time lag puts pressure on the growth momentum of real GDP.

On this the yearly rate of growth of the Fed’s balance sheet (monetary pumping) jumped to 27.6% in August from 1.8% in January. The yearly rate of growth of inflationary credit however fell to 2.3% in August from 14.4% in August last year.

The yearly rate of growth of our monetary measure AMS has been in a steep decline since October 2011 with the yearly rate of growth falling from 14.8% in October 2011 to 7.1% in August 2013.

Summary and conclusion

A study published by the Federal Reserve of Kansas City explores various channels through which monetary pumping by the Fed can grow the US economy. On this the study indicates that as opposed to Treasury bonds purchases the Fed’s purchases of mortgage backed securities (MBS) can have a strong beneficial effect. We maintain that it is erroneous to hold that there are some channels through which monetary pumping can produce a beneficial effect to the economy. We hold that monetary pumping is always bad news for the economy since it leads to the weakening of the wealth generation process and thus to economic impoverishment.