The Center of the Universe

St Croix, United States Virgin Islands

MOSLER'S LAW: There is no financial crisis so deep that a sufficiently large tax cut or spending increase cannot deal with it.

Archive for May 25th, 2009

Britain looks to the land of the rising sun with envy

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 25th May 2009

[Skip to the end]

Starts off good and then goes bad.

Britain looks to the land of the rising sun with envy

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

May 22 (Telegraph) — Perhaps most surprising is that Japan fell in 1998, though it was by then
the world’s top creditor with more than $1.5 trillion of net foreign assets
(now $3 trillion). Lender abroad, it is a mega-debtor at home, the result of
Keynesian pump-priming to fight perma-slump. The stimulus vanished into
those famously empty bridges in Hokkaido.

“The Japanese didn’t take the downgrade seriously,” said Russell Jones, of
RBC Capital, a Japan veteran from the 1990s. “They didn’t think they would
have any trouble funding their debt.”

They were right. Yields on 10-year bonds fell to 1pc by the end of the
decade, and to 0.5pc in the deflation scare of 2003 – confounding those who
expected Japan’s emergency stimulus to stoke inflation and push up yields.

Eisuke Sakakibara, then the finance ministry’s “Mr Yen”, was insouciant
enough to swat aside the Moody’s downgrade as an irrelevance. “Personally, I
think if Moody’s continues to behave like that, the market evaluation of
Moody’s will go down,” he said.

Japan had a crucial advantage: its captive bond market. Some 95pc of
government debt was held by Japanese savers or the big pension funds.

Not! Does not matter. The funds to buy government securities ‘come
from’ the government deficit spending.

Deficit spending adds reserve balances at the central bank,
buying govt securities reduces reserve balances at the same central bank.

It is all a matter of data entry by the central bank its own spread sheet.

The foreign share of UK public debt has risen from 18pc to 34pc over the
past six years. The central banks of Asia, Russia and emerging economies
like gilts because they offered 1pc extra yield over bunds. This was the
“proxy euro” trade.

Does not matter.

“We’re far more vulnerable than Japan ever was,” said Albert Edwards, global
strategist at Société Générale.


“Japan had a huge current account surplus
and a strong currency. The UK is a deficit country, at risk of a sterling

Yes, the currency might go down, but seems to be doing ok for the moment!

Years of UK macro-mismanagement have dragged the UK economy to the
edge of a precipice.”

As the BOE’s Charles Goodhart once responded,
Yes, they have been telling us that for 300 years.


Posted in Japan, UK | 1 Comment »

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Naimi Says Oil to Reach $75 a Barrel

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 25th May 2009

[Skip to the end]

No reason to expect it won’t happen if they want it to happen.

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Naimi Says Oil to Reach $75 a Barrel

by Adam L. Freeman

May 23 (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali al- Naimi said the price of oil will climb to $75 a barrel when demand picks up.

“We’ll get there eventually,” al-Naimi told reporters in Rome today where he will attend meetings with energy ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations. “The trick is keeping it between $70 and $80. It will be achieved as demand rises and the fundamentals are better than they are now.”

To reach that goal, Naimi said he will recommend OPEC members “stay the course” at their meeting in Vienna on May 28. Saudi Arabia is the biggest and most influential member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which produces about 40 percent of the world’s oil.

The group is likely to keep daily output quotas unchanged at 24.845 million barrels at the Vienna gathering, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Crude oil for July delivery rose 62 cents to settle at $61.67 a barrel at 2:45 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday. The July contract increased 8.2 percent this past week. Oil is up 38 percent this year.

Naimi said oil should keep at about $75 a barrel “because that is what is desired for the world economy.”

Saudi Arabia produced less than its quota of 8 million barrels a day last month, according to a May 13 OPEC report. The Saudis produced 7.9 million barrels of OPEC’s 25.3 million- barrel daily output.

Naimi said last month that helping to keep oil prices at $50 a barrel was his country’s contribution to the world economy, which is fighting the worst recession in six decades. Since he made those comments in Tokyo on April 25, crude prices have climbed more than 20 percent to above $60 a barrel.

Exceed Ceiling

The 12 members of OPEC, which overshot their ceiling by 410,000 barrels last month, will update their policy on oil output at this month’s meeting. At the last summit on March 15, the group decided to leave quotas unchanged and adhere to its earlier commitment to restrict supply by a total of 4.2 million barrels a day from levels in September 2008.

Naimi said his country “very recently” started production at the Nuayyim oil field and it pumping 100,000 barrels a day. He added that even though Saudi Arabia has opened new production global markets don’t need the product.

“The problem is the market, that the demand is only in one place — Asia and that’s all.”

The group’s production rate rose during April, and most members are still producing more than their quota, a report from the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna showed earlier this month.

OPEC cut its 2009 forecast on May 13 and now estimates daily oil demand will fall by 1.57 million barrels, or 1.8 percent, to 84.03 million barrels of oil a day this year.


Posted in Articles, Comodities, Oil | No Comments »

Dollar Is Dirt, Treasuries Are Toast, AAA Is Gone: Gilbert

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 25th May 2009

[Skip to the end]

Dollar Is Dirt, Treasuries Are Toast, AAA Is Gone

by Mark Gilbert

May 21 (Bloomberg) —

The odds on the dollar, Treasury
bonds and the U.S. government’s AAA grade all heading for the
dumpster are shortening.

True, but for the wrong reason. There is no solvency issue, but markets are pricing it in anyway.

While currency forecasting is a mug’s game and bond yields
can’t quite decide whether to dive toward deflation or surge in
anticipation of inflation, every time I think about that credit
rating, I hear what Agent Smith in the “Matrix” movies called
“the sound of inevitability.”

Several policy missteps suggest that investors should stop
trusting — and lending to — the U.S. government. These include
the state’s pressure on Bank of America Corp. to buy Merrill
Lynch & Co.; the priority given to Chrysler LLC’s unions over
the automaker’s secured creditors; and the freedom that some
banks will regain to supersize executive bonuses by giving back
part of the government money bolstering their balance sheets.

When you buy treasury securities the government debits your transaction account and credits your securities account at the Fed.

When those securities mature the government debits your securities account and credits your transaction account. That is all there is too it.

There is no solvency issue at the operational level

Currency markets have been in a weird state of what looks
almost like equilibrium for the past couple of months. What’s
really going on is something akin to an evenly matched tug of
war that fails to move the ribbon tied around the center of the
rope, giving the impression of harmony while powerful forces do
silent battle until someone slips.

“All currencies are being debased dramatically by their
central banks at extraordinary speeds and so in relative terms
it appears there is no currency problem,” Lee Quaintance and
Paul Brodsky of QB Asset Management said in a research note
earlier this month. “In reality, however, paper money is highly
vulnerable to a public catalyst that serves to acknowledge it is
all merely vapor money.”

The ‘value’ is the purchasing power of real goods and services.
The largest and deepest thing for sale is labor.
Seems like currency still buys labor at pretty much the same price as the recent past,
And maybe even a bit more.

In fact, it may buy a bit more of just about everything vs a year ago. Particularly houses and land.

But yes, next year can always bring a different story.

Flesh Wounds

Why pick on the dollar, though? Well, not necessarily
because the U.S. economy is in worse shape than those of the
euro area, the U.K. or Japan. The biggest problem is that
external investors — particularly China — have more skin in
the dollar game than in euros, yen or pounds, which makes the
U.S. currency the most likely candidate to meet the cleaver in a
crisis of confidence about post-crunch government finances.

China owns about $744 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds in its
$2 trillion of foreign-exchange reserves.

Chinese exports, though, are dropping as the global economy
weakens, with overseas shipments declining 23 percent in
April from a year earlier, leaving a nation that has already
expressed concern about its U.S. investments with less to spend
in future.

China doesn’t ‘spend’ it’s dollars on real goods and services which is why they
Have a trade surplus in the first place.

They sold things in exchange for ‘dollar balances’ which are financial assets and
then exchanged some of those balances for alternative USD financial assets as they
accumulated $744 billion of financial assets.

‘Heavy Hand of Government’

Those kinds of concerns are starting to surface in a
steepening of the U.S. yield curve, driven by an increase in 10-
and 30-year U.S. Treasury yields.

True, though there is no economic imperative for the treasury to issue a 30 year security in the first place.

In fact, the treasury issuing securities and the Fed later buying them is functionally identical to the treasury never issuing them in the first place.

(note that Charles Goodhart of the Bank of England has recently been proposing the UK do exactly that- cease issuing long securities rather than issuing them and having the BOE buy them.)

The 10-year note currently
yields 3.23 percent, about 235 basis points more than the two-
year security, which marks a near doubling of the spread since
the end of last year.

Yes, though from very low flight to quality yields at the height of the fear of oblivion.

“When the government parks its tanks on capitalism’s
lawns, that spells trouble for those who invest, add value and
create jobs,” says Tim Price, director of investments at PFP
Wealth Management in London. “Trillion-dollar bailouts do not
only leave massive public-sector deficits in their wake, they
also leave the presence of the heavy hand of government all over
industry and markets, so the outlook for government bonds is
less promising than the economic textbooks on deflation would
have us believe.”

A totally confused chain of logic, though government does often reduce shareholder value when it intervenes. But that’s a different point.

Earlier this month, the U.S. reported the first budget
deficit for April in 26 years, with spending exceeding revenue
by $20.9 billion, even though that’s the month when taxpayers
have to stump up to the Internal Revenue Service and the
government’s coffers should be overflowing. So far this fiscal
year, the U.S. shortfall is $802.3 billion, more than five times
the $153.5 billion gap in the year-earlier period.

Those are the ‘automatic stabilizers’ at work, which, fortunately, are out of the hands of
Congress. While they work the ugly way- falling employment and rising transfer payments- they do work to restore net financial assets to the private, non government sectors and thereby reverse the contraction.

Budget deficits = non govt ‘savings’ of financial assets
To the penny
It’s even an accounting identity. Not theory. Ask anyone at the CBO.

Deathly Deficit

For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the Congressional
Budget Office forecasts a record deficit of $1.75 trillion,

That includes the purchase of financial assets which doesn’t add to aggregate demand.

Up until now the fed has always bought the financial assets when government wanted to do that and that hasn’t ‘counted’ as deficit spending for exactly that reason.

This time around the treasury bought financial assets and confused things, much like 1936 when social security first started and was accounted for off budget rather than consolidated as we quickly figured out was the right way to do it and it’s fortunately been done that way ever since.

almost four times the previous year’s $454.8 billion shortfall
and about 13 percent of gross domestic product. Bear in mind
that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the
euro was a deficit no greater than 3 percent of GDP.

Yes, which is responsible for their poor economic performance as well.

David Walker, a former U.S. comptroller general,

And foremost US deficit terrorist

wrote in
the Financial Times on May 12 that the U.S.’s top credit rating
looks incompatible with “an accumulated negative net worth” of
more than $11 trillion and “additional off-balance-sheet
obligations” of $45 trillion. “One could even argue that our
government does not deserve a triple A credit rating based on
our current financial condition, structural fiscal imbalances
and political stalemate,” he wrote.

As if government payments are operationally constrained by revenues.

They are not, as chairman Bernanke made clear a few weeks ago
when he explained how he makes payments by changing numbers in bank accounts.

That is the only way there is for government to spend in its own currency, which
is nothing more than the process of making spread sheet entries on its own books.

Any constraints on the US ability to make payments in dollars is necessarily self imposed (and
can just as readily be removed by those wanting to spend the money.)

Said another way, government checks don’t bounce unless government decides to bounce its own checks.

If you want to claim govt won’t pay because it will vote not to pay, fine.

But not because ‘deficits can’t be financed’ or any other nonsense like that.

No Default

It is undeniable that the U.S. government’s ability to
finance its borrowing commitments has deteriorated as its
deficit has ballooned.

The ability to deficit spend is the ability to make entries on its own spreadsheets.
Nothing more.
The idea that that can ‘deteriorate’ indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of monetary operations.

Dropping the U.S. from the top rating
grade, though, wouldn’t mean the nation is about to default on
its debt obligations; there’s a subtle distinction between
ability to pay and propensity to fail to pay.

And a less subtle distinction between knowing how it works and not knowing how it works.

There’s also a
compelling argument that no government should be enjoying the
benefits of a top credit grade in the current financial climate.

There’s nothing to ‘enjoy’ or even care about.

Note Japan was heavily downgraded with a debt to GDP ratio triple the US,
With no ill effects as three month rates remained near 0 for the last
15 years and 10 year Japanese govt bonds fluctuated between .5 and 1.5%

Using the definitions outlined by Standard & Poor’s, a one-
step cut into the AA rated category would nudge the U.S.’s
creditworthiness into a “very strong” capacity to fulfill its
commitments, just weaker than the “extremely strong”
capabilities demanded of AAA rated borrowers.

S&P cannot change the actual creditworthiness of the US, or any other
issuer of its own currency. There can be no solvency issue no matter what they do.

That seems an
appropriately nuanced sanction — albeit one that the rating
companies might turn out to be too cowardly to impose.

(Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions
expressed are his own.)


Posted in Articles, Currencies, Japan, USA | 1 Comment »

Dallas Fed interview

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 25th May 2009

[Skip to the end]

Don’t Monetize the Debt

by Mary Anastasia O’Grady

May 23 (WSJ) — From his perch high atop the palatial Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, overlooking what he calls “the most modern, efficient city in America,” Richard Fisher says he is always on the lookout for rising prices. But that’s not what’s worrying the bank’s president right now.

His bigger concern these days would seem to be what he calls “the perception of risk” that has been created by the Fed’s purchases of Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities and Fannie Mae paper.

Mr. Fisher acknowledges that events in the financial markets last year required some unusual Fed action in the commercial lending market. But he says the longer-term debt, particularly the Treasurys, is making investors nervous. The looming challenge, he says, is to reassure markets that the Fed is not going to be “the handmaiden” to fiscal profligacy. “I think the trick here is to assist the functioning of the private markets without signaling in any way, shape or form that the Federal Reserve will be party to monetizing fiscal largess, deficits or the stimulus program.”

If he actually understood it I would expect him to say the concept is inapplicable with a non convertible currency and floating exchange rate regime.

Richard Fisher.

The very fact that a Fed regional bank president has to raise this issue is not very comforting. It conjures up images of Argentina. And as Mr. Fisher explains, he’s not the only one worrying about it. He has just returned from a trip to China, where “senior officials of the Chinese government grill[ed] me about whether or not we are going to monetize the actions of our legislature.” He adds, “I must have been asked about that a hundred times in China.”

Without knowing the right answer which is that lending is in no case reserve constrianed.
Causation runs from loans to deposits and reserves, and not from reserves to loans.

A native of Los Angeles who grew up in Mexico, Mr. Fisher was educated at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

Must have skipped the classes in reserve accounting.

He spent his earliest days in government at Jimmy Carter’s Treasury. He says that taught him a life-long lesson about inflation. It was “inflation that destroyed that presidency,” he says. He adds that he learned a lot from then Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who had to “break [inflation's] back.”

Deregulating natural gas in 1978 is what broke the back of inflation as utilities switched from crude to natural gas and even cuts of 15 million barrels per day by OPEC were not enough to keep control of prices.

Mr. Fisher has led the Dallas Fed since 2005 and has developed a reputation as the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) lead inflation worrywart. In September he told a New York audience that “rates held too low, for too long during the previous Fed regime were an accomplice to [the] reckless behavior” that brought about the economic troubles we are now living through. He also warned that the Treasury’s $700 billion plan to buy toxic assets from financial institutions would be “one more straw on the back of the frightfully encumbered camel that is the federal government ledger.”

In a speech at the Kennedy School of Government in February, he wrung his hands about “the very deep hole [our political leaders] have dug in incurring unfunded liabilities of retirement and health-care obligations” that “we at the Dallas Fed believe total over $99 trillion.”

Hopefully he is worried about possible inflation and not solvency.

In March, he is believed to have vociferously objected in closed-door FOMC meetings to the proposal to buy U.S. Treasury bonds. So with long-term Treasury yields moving up sharply despite Fed intentions to bring down mortgage rates, I’ve flown to Dallas to see what he’s thinking now.

Hopefully he is concerned with the purchases possibly lowering interest rates too much for his liking and not about the size of the fed’s balance sheet.

Regarding what caused the credit bubble, he repeats his assertion about the Fed’s role: “It is human instinct when rates are low and the yield curve is flat to reach for greater risk and enhanced yield and returns.” (Later, he adds that this is not to cast aspersions on former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and reminds me that these decisions are made by the FOMC.)

“The second thing is that the regulators didn’t do their job, including the Federal Reserve.” To this he adds what he calls unusual circumstances, including “the fruits and tailwinds of globalization, billions of people added to the labor supply, new factories and productivity coming from places it had never come from before.” And finally, he says, there was the ‘mathematization’ of risk.” Institutions were “building risk models” and relying heavily on “quant jocks” when “in the end there can be no substitute for good judgment.”

Never does mention the role of fiscal policy. Like the massive 2003 retro tax cuts and spending increases that drove the next few years, including housing. Helped of course by the lender fraud.

What about another group of alleged culprits: the government-anointed rating agencies? Mr. Fisher doesn’t mince words. “I served on corporate boards. The way rating agencies worked is that they were paid by the people they rated. I saw that from the inside.” He says he also saw this “inherent conflict of interest” as a fund manager. “I never paid attention to the rating agencies. If you relied on them you got . . . you know,” he says, sparing me the gory details. “You did your own analysis. What is clear is that rating agencies always change something after it is obvious to everyone else. That’s why we never relied on them.” That’s a bit disconcerting since the Fed still uses these same agencies in managing its own portfolio.

Agreed. Can’t have it both ways. And now they are threatening to downgrade the US government as well

I wonder whether the same bubble-producing Fed errors aren’t being repeated now as Washington scrambles to avoid a sustained economic downturn.

He surprises me by siding with the deflation hawks. “I don’t think that’s the risk right now.” Why? One factor influencing his view is the Dallas Fed’s “trim mean calculation,” which looks at price changes of more than 180 items and excludes the extremes. Dallas researchers have found that “the price increases are less and less. Ex-energy, ex-food, ex-tobacco you’ve got some mild deflation here and no inflation in the [broader] headline index.”

Mr. Fisher says he also has a group of about 50 CEOs around the U.S. and the world that he calls on, all off the record, before almost every FOMC meeting. “I don’t impart any information, I just listen carefully to what they are seeing through their own eyes. And that gives me a sense of what’s happening on the ground, you might say on Main Street as opposed to Wall Street.”

It’s good to know that a guy so obsessed with price stability doesn’t see inflation on the horizon. But inflation and bubble trouble almost always get going before they are recognized. Moreover, the Fed has to pay attention to the 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act — a.k.a. Humphrey-Hawkins — and employment is a lagging indicator of economic activity. This could create a Fed bias in favor of inflating. So I push him again.

“I want to make sure that your readers understand that I don’t know a single person on the FOMC who is rooting for inflation or who is tolerant of inflation.” The committee knows very well, he assures me, that “you cannot have sustainable employment growth without price stability. And by price stability I mean that we cannot tolerate deflation or the ravages of inflation.”

Mr. Fisher defends the Fed’s actions that were designed to “stabilize the financial system as it literally fell apart and prevent the economy from imploding.” Yet he admits that there is unfinished work. Policy makers have to be “always mindful that whatever you put in, you are going to have to take out at some point. And also be mindful that there are these perceptions [about the possibility of monetizing the debt], which is why I have been sensitive about the issue of purchasing Treasurys.”

Yes, seems the Fed is worried about perceptions they know not to be true, but struggles to come with a way to communicate the operational realities.

He returns to events on his recent trip to Asia, which besides China included stops in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea. “I wasn’t asked once about mortgage-backed securities. But I was asked at every single meeting about our purchase of Treasurys. That seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those that were invested with their surpluses mostly in the United States. That seems to be the issue people are most worried about.”

As I listen I am reminded that it’s not just the Asians who have expressed concern. In his Kennedy School speech, Mr. Fisher himself fretted about the U.S. fiscal picture. He acknowledges that he has raised the issue “ad nauseam” and doesn’t apologize. “Throughout history,” he says, “what the political class has done is they have turned to the central bank to print their way out of an unfunded liability. We can’t let that happen. That’s when you open the floodgates. So I hope and I pray that our political leaders will just have to take this bull by the horns at some point. You can’t run away from it.”

Does not sound like he understands, operationally, what that is currently all about, but instead still uses gold standard rhetoric.

Voices like Mr. Fisher’s can be a problem for the politicians, which may be why recently there have been rumblings in Washington about revoking the automatic FOMC membership that comes with being a regional bank president. Does Mr. Fisher have any thoughts about that?

This is nothing new, he points out, briefly reviewing the history of the political struggle over monetary policy in the U.S. “The reason why the banks were put in the mix by [President Woodrow] Wilson in 1913, the reason it was structured the way it was structured, was so that you could offset the political power of Washington and the money center in New York with the regional banks. They represented Main Street.

Yes, there is a power struggle going on in the Fed

“Now we have this great populist fervor and the banks are arguing for Main Street, largely. I have heard these arguments before and studied the history. I am not losing a lot of sleep over it,” he says with a defiant Texas twang that I had not previously detected. “I don’t think that it’d be the best signal to send to the market right now that you want to totally politicize the process.”

Speaking of which, Texas bankers don’t have much good to say about the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), according to Mr. Fisher. “Its been complicated by the politics because you have a special investigator, special prosecutor, and all I can tell you is that in my district here most of the people who wanted in on the TARP no longer want in on the TARP.”

At heart, Mr. Fisher says he is an advocate for letting markets clear on their own. “You know that I am a big believer in Schumpeter’s creative destruction,” he says referring to the term coined by the late Austrian economist. “The destructive part is always painful, politically messy, it hurts like hell but you hopefully will allow the adjustments to be made so that the creative part can take place.” Texas went through that process in the 1980s, he says, and came back stronger.

This is doubtless why, with Washington taking on a larger role in the American economy every day, the worries linger. On the wall behind his desk is a 1907 gouache painting by Antonio De Simone of the American steam sailing vessel Varuna plowing through stormy seas. Just like most everything else on the walls, bookshelves and table tops around his office — and even the dollar-sign cuff links he wears to work — it represents something.

He says that he has had this painting behind his desk for the past 30 years as a reminder of the importance of purpose and duty in rough seas. “The ship,” he explains, “has to maintain its integrity.” What is more, “no mathematical model can steer you through the kind of seas in that picture there. In the end someone has the wheel.” He adds: “On monetary policy it’s the Federal Reserve.”

Ms. O’Grady writes the Journal’s Americas column.


Posted in Articles, Fed, Inflation, Interest Rates | 1 Comment »