Fed Up

The S&P 500 had its best week since mid July as central bank largess was increased yet again. On the menu this week was a buffet served up by not only the Bank of Japan (BOJ) but by the United States own, Federal Reserve. The BOJ refuses to give up on its intention to foster inflation north of 2% and in doing so announced that it will now attempt to control (manipulate?) the yield curve in Japan. Analysts that we follow are polar opposite on their views of where the new Japanese policy has us headed. We value both analysts’ opinions. We are facing a binary environment and either outcome is possible. Japanese central bank policy will only succeed in driving a vicious cycle. If price pressure does begin to mount this new central bank policy will only drive more inflation. If deflation begins to rise central bank policy will only bring more deflation. Here is more from George Saravelos from Deutsche Bank. One thing that we are fully confident in is that we are at the precipice of a decline in confidence in central bank policy.

In a note titled “It may be over for the BOJ”, DB’s George Saravelos writes that “by targeting nominal rates the BoJ is relinquishing control of real rates. This creates a policy asymmetry that becomes highly pro-cyclical. Consider a negative demand shock that raises demand for JGBs and depresses inflation expectations. The BoJ will end up reducing the amount of JGBs it buys and raising real rates.Consider the opposite: a huge fiscal stimulus from the government that puts upward pressure on yields: the BoJ would effectively monetize the debt raising inflation expectations even further. We worry that a self-fulfilling tightening is more likely than an easing in coming months.”

However, once the curve starts shifting substantially, either parallel-shifting or steepening the central bank would quickly lose control as its intervention would only exacerbate the underlying move 

We are in a very binary atmosphere. We could tip towards recession without the necessary tools to fight it in central banker’s hands or inflation could rise with central bankers without the political will to fight it. Central banks are losing credibility and that could spiral out of control very quickly. 

Donald Trump, while trying to bait Fed Chair Yellen into raising rates, proved that the Federal Reserve does make political decisions as a decision to do nothing is still a decision. Confused? Think about how Janet Yellen feels. Get the Tylenol ready for Monday night’s debate. While Yellen was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t she managed to come out looking political anyway. Maybe this is Trump’s true genius. He accused Yellen of running a political body in the Federal Reserve and she by not raising rates looked political. We never thought that the Fed would raise rates in front of the election but that is because we know they are a political body. Let’s be fair. They have to play politics. Congress is their boss. That, in the end, is the problem and why they will never meaningfully raise rates. They are boxed in. I think though you can now bet on rate rise in December if Trump pulls off a victory.

Professional investors are under invested and under performing. According to Goldman Sachs 16% of Large Cap money managers are beating their benchmarks. There are some very high levels of cash at mutual funds and under performing managers looking to protect their jobs. While we think that a tightening and a downward move in assets prices is more likely we could start to move out control to the up side as well. If under invested under performing mutual funds begin to chase the market and inflation begins to move higher central banks will be reluctant to take away the punch bowl. Ironically, a Trump win could be the cover they are looking for to take it away.

Vicious and virtuous spirals could be headed our way. While we think the line on this game is for a tightening and markets to head lower we think that move down might have to wait until after the election. In a repeat of last year we could see assets move higher until December while 2017 could have some early bumps.


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