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Comments on Stanlely Fisher’s ‘Lessons from Crises, 1985-2014′

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 18th March 2014

Lessons from Crises, 1985-2014

Stanley Fischer[1]


It is both an honor and a pleasure to receive this years SIEPR Prize. Let me list the reasons. First, the prize, awarded for lifetime contributions to economic policy, was started by George Shultz. I got my start in serious policy work in 1984-85, as a member of the advisory group on the Israeli economy to George Shultz, then Secretary of State. I learned a great deal from that experience, particularly from Secretary Shultz and from Herb Stein, the senior member of the two-person advisory group (I was the other member). Second, it is an honor to have been selected for this prize by a selection committee consisting of George Shultz, Ken Arrow, Gary Becker, Jim Poterba and John Shoven. Third, it is an honor to receive this prize after the first two prizes, for 2010 and for 2012 respectively, were awarded to Paul Volcker and Marty Feldstein. And fourth, it is a pleasure to receive the award itself.

When John Shoven first spoke to me about the prize, he must have expected that I would speak on the economic issues of the day and I would have been delighted to oblige. However, since then I have been nominated by President Obama but not so far confirmed by the Senate for the position of Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. Accordingly I shall not speak on current events, but rather on lessons from economic crises I have seen up close during the last three decades and about which I have written in the past starting with the Israeli stabilization of 1985, continuing with the financial crises of the 1990s, during which I was the number two at the IMF, and culminating (I hope) in the Great Recession, which I observed and with which I had to deal as Governor of the Bank of Israel between 2005 and 2013.

This is scheduled to be an after-dinner speech at the end of a fine dinner and after an intensive conference that started at 8 a.m. and ran through 6 p.m. Under the circumstances I shall try to be brief. I shall start with a list of ten lessons from the last twenty years, including the crises of Mexico in 1994-95, Asia in 1997-98, Russia in 1998, Brazil in 1999-2000, Argentina in 2000-2001, and the Great Recession. I will conclude with one or two-sentence pieces of advice I have received over the years from people with whom I had the honor of working on economic policy. The last piece of advice is contained in a story from 1985, from a conversation with George Shultz.


I. Ten lessons from the last two decades.[2]


Lesson 1: Fiscal policy also matters macroeconomically. It has always been accepted that fiscal policy, in the sense of the structure of the tax system and the composition of government spending, matters for the behavior of the economy. At times in the past there has been less agreement about whether the macroeconomic aspects of fiscal policy, frequently summarized by the full employment budget deficit, have a significant impact on the level of GDP. As a result of the experience of the last two decades, it is once again accepted that cutting government spending and raising taxes in a recession to reduce the budget deficit is generally recessionary. This was clear from experience in Asia in the 1990s.[3] The same conclusion has been reached following the Great Recession.

Who would have thought?…

At the same time, it needs to be emphasized that there are circumstances in which a fiscal contraction can be expansionary particularly for a country running an unsustainable budget deficit.

Unsustainable?
He doesn’t distinguish between floating and fixed fx policy. At best this applies to fixed fx policy, where fx reserves would be exhausted supporting the peg/conversion. And as a point of logic, with floating fx this can only mean an unsustainable inflation, whatever that means.

More important, small budget deficits and smaller rather than larger national debts are preferable in normal times in part to ensure that it will be possible to run an expansionary fiscal policy should that be needed in a recession.

Again, this applies only to fixed fx regimes where a nation might need fx reserves to support conversion at the peg. With floating fx nominal spending is in no case revenue constrained.

Lesson 2: Reaching the zero interest lower bound is not the end of expansionary monetary policy. The macroeconomics I learned a long time ago, and even the macroeconomics taught in the textbooks of the 1980s and early 1990s, proclaimed that more expansionary monetary policy becomes either impossible or ineffective when the central bank interest rate reaches zero, and the economy finds itself in a liquidity trap. In that situation, it was said, fiscal policy is the only available expansionary tool of macroeconomic policy.

Now the textbooks should say that even with a zero central bank interest rate, there are at least two other available monetary policy tools. The first consists of quantitative easing operations up and down the yield curve, in particular central bank market purchases of longer term assets, with the intention of reducing the longer term interest rates that are more relevant than the shortest term interest rate to investment decisions.

Both are about altering the term structure of rates. How about the lesson that the data seems to indicate the interest income channels matter to the point where the effect is the reverse of what the mainstream believes?

That is, with the govt a net payer of interest, lower rates lower the deficit, reducing income and net financial assets credited to the economy. For example, QE resulted in some $90 billion of annual Fed profits returned to the tsy that otherwise would have been credited to the economy. That, with a positive yield curve, QE functions first as a tax.

The second consists of central bank interventions in particular markets whose operation has become significantly impaired by the crisis. Here one thinks for instance of the Feds intervening in the commercial paper market early in the crisis, through its Commercial Paper Funding Facility, to restore the functioning of that market, an important source of finance to the business sector. In these operations, the central bank operates as market maker of last resort when the operation of a particular market is severely impaired.

The most questionable and subsequently overlooked ‘bailout’- the Fed buying, for example, GE commercial paper when it couldn’t fund itself otherwise, with no ‘terms and conditions’ as were applied to select liquidity provisioning to member banks, AIG, etc. And perhaps worse, it was the failure of the Fed to provide liquidity (not equity, which is another story/lesson) to its banking system on a timely basis (it took months to get it right) that was the immediate cause of the related liquidity issues.

However, and perhaps the most bizarre of what’s called unconventional monetary policy, the Fed did provide unlimited $US liquidity to foreign banking systems with its ‘swap lines’ where were, functionally, unsecured loans to foreign central banks for the further purpose of bringing down Libor settings by lowering the marginal cost of funds to foreign banks that otherwise paid higher rates.

Lesson 3: The critical importance of having a strong and robust financial system. This is a lesson that we all thought we understood especially since the financial crises of the 1990s but whose central importance has been driven home, closer to home, by the Great Recession. The Great Recession was far worse in many of the advanced countries than it was in the leading emerging market countries. This was not what happened in the crises of the 1990s, and it was not a situation that I thought would ever happen. Reinhart and Rogoff in their important book, This Time is Different,[4] document the fact that recessions accompanied by a financial crisis tend to be deeper and longer than those in which the financial system remains operative. The reason is simple: the mechanisms that typically end a recession, among them monetary and fiscal policies, are less effective if households and corporations cannot obtain financing on terms appropriate to the state of the economy.

The lesson should have been that the private sector is necessarily pro cyclical, and that a collapse in aggregate demand that reduces the collateral value of bank assets and reduces the income required to support the credit structure triggers a downward spiral that can only be reversed with counter cyclical fiscal policy.

In the last few years, a great deal of work and effort has been devoted to understanding what went wrong and what needs to be done to maintain a strong and robust financial system. Some of the answers are to be found in the recommendations made by the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision and the Financial Stability Board (FSB). In particular, the recommendations relate to tougher and higher capital requirements for banks, a binding liquidity ratio, the use of countercyclical capital buffers, better risk management, more appropriate remuneration schemes, more effective corporate governance, and improved and usable resolution mechanisms of which more shortly. They also include recommendations for dealing with the clearing of derivative transactions, and with the shadow banking system. In the United States, many of these recommendations are included or enabled in the Dodd-Frank Act, and progress has been made on many of them.

Everything except the recognition of the need for immediate and aggressive counter cyclical fiscal policy, assuming you don’t want to wait for the automatic fiscal stabilizers to eventually turn things around.

Instead, what they’ve done with all of the above is mute the credit expansion mechanism, but without muting the ‘demand leakages’/'savings desires’ that cause income to go unspent, and output to go unsold, leaving, for all practical purposes (the export channel isn’t a practical option for the heaving lifting), only increased deficit spending to sustain high levels of output and employment.

Lesson 4: The strategy of going fast on bank restructuring and corporate debt restructuring is much better than regulatory forbearance. Some governments faced with the problem of failed financial institutions in a recession appear to believe that regulatory forbearance giving institutions time to try to restore solvency by rebuilding capital will heal their ills. Because recovery of the economy depends on having a healthy financial system, and recovery of the financial system depends on having a healthy economy, this strategy rarely works.

The ‘problem’ is bank lending to offset the demand leakages when the will to use fiscal policy isn’t there.

And today, it’s hard to make the case that us lending is being constrained by lack of bank capital, with the better case being a lack of credit worthy, qualifying borrowers, and regulatory restrictions- called ‘regulatory overreach’ on some types of lending as well. But again, this largely comes back to the understanding that the private sector is necessarily pro cyclical, with the lesson being an immediate and aggressive tax cut and/or spending increase is the way go.

This lesson was evident during the emerging market crises of the 1990s. The lesson was reinforced during the Great Recession, by the contrast between the response of the U.S. economy and that of the Eurozone economy to the low interest rate policies each implemented. One important reason that the U.S. economy recovered more rapidly than the Eurozone is that the U.S. moved very quickly, using stress tests for diagnosis and the TARP for financing, to restore bank capital levels, whereas banks in the Eurozone are still awaiting the rigorous examination of the value of their assets that needs to be the first step on the road to restoring the health of the banking system.

The lesson remaining unlearned is that with a weaker banking structure the euro zone can implement larger fiscal adjustments- larger tax cuts and/or larger increases in public goods and services.

Lesson 5: It is critical to develop now the tools needed to deal with potential future crises without injecting public funds.

Yes, it seems the value of immediate and aggressive fiscal adjustments remains unlearned.

This problem arose during both the crises of the 1990s and the Great Recession but in different forms. In the international financial crises of the 1990s, as the size of IMF packages grew, the pressure to bail in private sector lenders to countries in trouble mounted both because that would reduce the need for official financing, and because of moral hazard issues. In the 1980s and to a somewhat lesser extent in the 1990s, the bulk of international lending was by the large globally active banks. My successor as First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, Anne Krueger, who took office in 2001, mounted a major effort to persuade the IMF that is to say, the governments of member countries of the IMF to develop and implement an SDRM (Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism). The SDRM would have set out conditions under which a government could legally restructure its foreign debts, without the restructuring being regarded as a default.

The lesson is that foreign currency debt is to be avoided, and that legal recourse in the case of default should be limited.

Recent efforts to end too big to fail in the aftermath of the Great Recession are driven by similar concerns by the view that we should never again be in a situation in which the public sector has to inject public money into failing financial institutions in order to mitigate a financial crisis. In most cases in which banks have failed, shareholders lost their claims on the banks, but bond holders frequently did not. Based in part on aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act, real progress has been made in putting in place measures to deal with the too big to fail problem. Among them are: the significant increase in capital requirements, especially for SIFIs (Systemically Important Financial Institutions) and the introduction of counter-cyclical capital buffers for banks; the requirement that banks hold a cushion of bail-in-able bonds; and the sophisticated use of stress tests.

The lesson is that the entire capital structure should be explicitly at full risk and priced accordingly.

Just one more observation: whenever the IMF finds something good to say about a countrys economy, it balances the praise with the warning Complacency must be avoided. That is always true about economic policy and about life. In the case of financial sector reforms, there are two main concerns that the statement about significant progress raises: first, in designing a system to deal with crises, one can never know for sure how well the system will work when a crisis situation occurs which means that we will have to keep on subjecting the financial system to tough stress tests and to frequent re-examination of its resiliency; and second, there is the problem of generals who prepare for the last war the financial system and the economy keep evolving, and we need always to be asking ourselves not only about whether we could have done better last time, but whether we will do better next time and one thing is for sure, next time will be different.

And in any case an immediate and aggressive fiscal adjustment can always sustain output and employment. There is no public purpose in letting a financial crisis spill over to the real economy.

Lesson 6: The need for macroprudential supervision. Supervisors in different countries are well aware of the need for macroprudential supervision, where the term involves two elements: first, that the supervision relates to the financial system as a whole, and not just to the soundness of each individual institution; and second, that it involves systemic interactions. The Lehman failure touched off a massive global financial crisis, a reflection of the interconnectedness of the financial system, and a classic example of systemic interactions. Thus we are talking about regulation at a very broad level, and also the need for cooperation among regulators of different aspects of the financial system.

The lesson are that whoever insures the deposits should do the regulation, and that independent fiscal adjustments can be immediately and aggressively employed to sustain output and employment in any economy.

In practice, macroprudential policy has come to mean the deployment of non-monetary and non-traditional instruments of policy to deal with potential problems in financial institutions or a part of the financial system. For instance, in Israel, as in other countries whose financial system survived the Great Recession without serious damage, the low interest rate environment led to uncomfortably rapid rates of increase of housing prices. Rather than raise the interest rate, which would have affected the broader economy, the Bank of Israel in which bank supervision is located undertook measures whose effect was to make mortgages more expensive. These measures are called macroprudential, although their effect is mainly on the housing sector, and not directly on interactions within the financial system. But they nonetheless deserve being called macroprudential, because the real estate sector is often the source of financial crises, and deploying these measures should reduce the probability of a real estate bubble and its subsequent bursting, which would likely have macroeconomic effects.

And real effects- there would have been more houses built. The political decision is the desire for real housing construction.

The need for surveillance of the financial system as a whole has in some countries led to the establishment of a coordinating committee of regulators. In the United States, that group is the FSOC (Financial Stability Oversight Council), which is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury. In the United Kingdom, a Financial Policy Committee, charged with the responsibility for oversight of the financial system, has been set up and placed in the Bank of England. It operates under the chairmanship of the Governor of the Bank of England, with a structure similar but not identical to the Bank of Englands Monetary Policy Committee.

Lesson 7: The best time to deal with moral hazard is in designing the system, not in the midst of a crisis.

Agreed!
Moral hazard is about the future course of events.

At the start of the Korean crisis at the end of 1997, critics including friends of mine told the IMF that it would be a mistake to enter a program with Korea, since this would increase moral hazard. I was not convinced by their argument, which at its simplest could be expressed as You should force Korea into a greater economic crisis than is necessary, in order to teach them a lesson. The issue is Who is them? It was probably not the 46 million people living in South Korea at the time. It probably was the policy-makers in Korea, and it certainly was the bankers and others who had invested in South Korea. The calculus of adding to the woes of a country already going through a traumatic experience, in order to teach policymakers, bankers and investors a lesson, did not convince the IMF, rightly so to my mind.

Agreed!
Nor did they need an IMF program!

But the question then arises: Can you ever deal with moral hazard? The answer is yes, by building a system that will as far as possible enable policymakers to deal with crises in a way that does not create moral hazard in future crisis situations. That is the goal of financial sector reforms now underway to create mechanisms and institutions that will put an end to too big to fail.

There was no too big to fail moral hazard issue. The US banks did fail when shareholders lost their capital. Failure means the owners lose and are financially punished, and new owners with new capital have a go at it.

Lesson 8: Dont overestimate the benefits of waiting for the situation to clarify.


Early in my term as Governor of the Bank of Israel, when the interest rate decision was made by the Governor alone, I faced a very difficult decision on the interest rate. I told the advisory group with whom I was sitting that my decision was to keep the interest rate unchanged and wait for the next monthly decision, when the situation would have clarified. The then Deputy Governor, Dr. Meir Sokoler, commented: It is never clear next time; it is just unclear in a different way. I cannot help but think of this as the Tolstoy rule, from the first sentence of Anna Karenina, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

It is not literally true that all interest rate decisions are equally difficult, but it is true that we tend to underestimate the lags in receiving information and the lags with which policy decisions affect the economy. Those lags led me to try to make decisions as early as possible, even if that meant that there was more uncertainty about the correctness of the decision than would have been appropriate had the lags been absent.

The lesson is to be aggressive with fiscal adjustments when unemployment/the output gap starts to rise as the costs of waiting- massive quantities of lost output and negative externalities, particularly with regard to the lives of those punished by the government allowing aggregate demand to decline- are far higher than, worst case, a period of ‘excess demand’ that can also readily be addressed with fiscal policy.

Lesson 9: Never forget the eternal verities lessons from the IMF. A country that manages itself well in normal times is likely to be better equipped to deal with the consequences of a crisis, and likely to emerge from it at lower cost.

Thus, we should continue to believe in the good housekeeping rules that the IMF has tirelessly promoted. In normal times countries should maintain fiscal discipline and monetary and financial stability. At all times they should take into account the need to follow sustainable growth-promoting macro- and structural policies. And they need to have a decent regard for the welfare of all segments of society.

Yes, at all times they should sustain full employment policy as the real losses from anything less far exceed any other possible benefits.

The list is easy to make. It is more difficult to fill in the details, to decide what policies to
follow in practice. And it may be very difficult to implement such measures, particularly when times are good and when populist pressures are likely to be strong. But a country that does not do so is likely to pay a very high price.

Lesson 10.

In a crisis, central bankers will often find themselves deciding to implement policy actions they never thought they would have to undertake and these are frequently policy actions that they would have preferred not to have to undertake. Hence, a few final words of advice to central bankers (and to others):

Lesson for all bankers:
Proposals for the Banking System, Treasury, Fed, and FDIC

Never say never


II. The Wisdom of My Teachers

:(

Feel free to distribute, thanks.

Over the years, I have found myself remembering and repeating words of advice that I first heard from my teachers, both academics and policymakers. Herewith a selection:


1. Paul Samuelson on econometric models: I would rather have Bob Solow than an econometric model, but Id rather have Bob Solow with an econometric model than Bob Solow without one.

2. Herb Stein: (a) After listening to my long description of what was happening in the Israeli economy in 1985: Yes, but what do we want them to do?”

(b) The difference between a growth rate of 2% and a growth rate of 3% is 50%.

(c) If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.
3. Michel Camdessus (former head of the IMF):

(a) At 7 a.m., in his office, on the morning that the U.S. government turned to the IMF to raise $20 billion by 9:30 a.m: Gentlemen, this is a crisis, and in a crisis you do not panic

(b) When the IMF was under attack from politicians or the media, in response to my asking Michel, what should we do?, his inevitable answer was We must do our job.

(c) His response when I told him (his official title was Managing Director of the IMF) that life would be much easier for all of us if he would only get himself a cell phone: Cell phones are for deputy managing directors.

(d) On delegation: In August, when he was in France and I was acting head of the IMF in Washington, and had called him to explain a particularly knotty problem and ask him for a decision, You have more information than me, you decide.

4. George Shultz: This event happened in May 1985, just before Herb Stein and I were due to leave for Israel to negotiate an economic program which the United States would support with a grant of $1.5 billion. I was a professor at MIT, and living in the Boston area. Herb and I spoke on the phone about the fact that we had no authorization to impose any conditions on the receipt of the money. Herb, who lived in Washington, volunteered to talk to the Secretary of State to ask him for authorization to impose conditions. He called me after his meeting and said that the Secretary of State was not willing to impose any conditions on the aid.

We agreed this was a problem and he said to me, Why dont you try. A meeting was hastily arranged and next morning I arrived at the Secretary of States office, all ready to deliver a convincing speech to him about the necessity of conditionality. He didnt give me a chance to say a word. You want me to impose conditions on Israel? I said yes. He said I wont. I asked why not. He said Because the Congress will give them the money even if they dont carry out the program and I do not make threats that I cannot carry out.

This was convincing, and an extraordinarily important lesson. But it left the negotiating team with a problem. So I said, That is very awkward. Were going to say To stabilize the economy you need to do the following list of things. And they will be asking themselves, and if we dont? Is there anything we can say to them?

The Secretary of State thought for a while and said: You can tell them that if they do not carry out the program, I will be very disappointed.

We used that line repeatedly. The program was carried out and the program succeeded.

Thank you all very much.

[1] Council on Foreign Relations. These remarks were prepared for presentation on receipt of the SIEPR (Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research) Prize at Stanford University on March 14, 2014. The Prize is awarded for lifetime contributions to economic policy. I am grateful to Dinah Walker of the Council on Foreign Relations for her assistance.

[2] I draw here on two papers I wrote based on my experience in the IMF: Ten Tentative Conclusions from the Past Three Years, presented at the annual meeting of the Trilateral Commission in 1999, in Washington, DC; and the Robbins Lectures, The International Financial System: Crises and Reform Several other policy-related papers from that period appear in my book: IMF Essays from a Time of Crisis (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004). For the period of the Great Recession, I draw on Central bank lessons from the global crisis, which I presented at a conference on Lessons of the Global Crisis at the Bank of Israel in 2011.

[3] This point was made in my 1999 statement Ten Tentative Conclusions referred to above, and has of course received a great deal of focus in analyses of the Great Recession.

[4] Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2009.

Posted in Banking, Bonds, CBs, Credit, Currencies, Deficit, ECB, Employment, Government Spending, Housing, Interest Rates | No Comments »

Remember all the talk about the deficit causing rates to go up in Japan?

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 24th February 2014


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Posted in Bonds, Interest Rates, Japan | No Comments »

Yes, the Fed can set mortgage rates if it wants to!

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 20th December 2013

One of the main reasons for the Fed’s (near) 0 rate policy is to support the housing market. And after nearly 5 years of 0 rates, and mortgage rates dipping below 3.5%, though ‘off the bottom’ housing remains far below what would be considered ‘normal’.

And then, not long ago, and immediately after the Fed first hinted at reducing its QE purchases, mortgage rates spike by over 1%:


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And, since then, mortgage refinance activity has all but vanished, and the number of mortgage applications for the purchase of homes swung from increasing nicely to decreasing alarmingly:


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The ‘Fed speak’ for this rise in rates ‘tightening financial conditions’. And one of the Fed’s concerns about tapering QE purchases was the concern that higher mortgage rates would slow the recovery. Therefore, in addition to announcing the reduction in purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage backed securities, they were careful to emphasize what’s called their ‘forward guidance’ with regard to the Fed funds rate. That is, they stated that they expected to be keeping short term rates low for the next couple of years or so, and maybe even longer than that, maybe even after unemployment goes below 6.5%, and presuming their inflation measure stops decelerating and moves back up towards their target.

Unfortunately for the Fed mortgage rates moved higher after the announcement, and not due to a burst of mortgage applications (see above charts), and not due to any immediate drop in Fed purchases, which continue in large size. Instead, what the Fed sees is a market that believes the Fed changed course because it believes the economy is recovering, and with recovery just around the corner rate hikes will come sooner rather than later. And with rate hikes on the way, investors would rather wait for the higher yields they believe are just down the road, than take the lower yields today.

Therefore, if you want to borrow today to buy a house, you have to pay investors a higher interest rate. And if you don’t want to pay the higher rate today, investors are willing to wait for those higher rates, and the house doesn’t get sold. And when the house doesn’t get sold the Fed leaves rates low for that much longer and their forecast again (they’ve been over estimating growth for 5 years now) turns out to be wrong.

So with ‘forward guidance’ not doing the trick, is there anything else can the Fed can do if it wants mortgage rates back down? Yes!

First, they can simply announce that they are buyers of 10 year treasury notes at, say, a yield of 2%, in unlimited quantities.

This would immediately bring the 10 year yield down from 2.92% to no more than 2%, and most likely the Fed would buy few if any at that price. That’s because when people know the Fed will buy at a price, they know they can then buy at a slightly lower interest rate, knowing that ‘worst case’ they can always sell to the Fed at a very small loss. That way they can earn the, say, 1.99% yield for as long as they hold the 10 year Treasury note. And there’s always a chance yields come down further as well, which means their securities increased in value as well.

And the lower 10 year rate would quickly translate into much lower mortgage rates as well. And, of course, the Fed could also do the same thing with the mortgage backed securities its already buying, which more directly targets mortgage rates.

So why isn’t the Fed doing this? Probably out of fear of offering to buy unlimited quantities might lead to them buying ‘too many’ Treasury securities. This fear, unfortunately, stems from their lack of understanding of their own monetary operations. Treasury securities are simply dollar balances in securities accounts at the Fed. When the Fed buys these securities they just debit the owner’s securities account and credit the reserve account of his bank. And when the Treasury issues and sells new securities, the Fed debits the buyer’s bank’s reserve account and credits his securities account. Whether the dollars are in reserve accounts or securities accounts is of no operational consequence and imposes no particular risk for the Fed, so those fears are groundless.

Second, the Fed (or Treasury or the Federal Financing Bank) could lend directly to the housing agencies at a fixed rate of say, 3% for the further purpose of funding their mortgage portfolio of newly originated agency mortgages. The agencies would then pass along this fixed rate, with some permitted ‘markup’ and fees to the borrowers. The Fed would then be repaid by the pass through of the monthly payments including prepayments made by the new mortgages. This would target mortgage rates directly and, as these mortgages would be held by the agencies and not sold in the market place, dramatically reduce what I call parasitic secondary market activity.

Has any of this been discussed? Not publicly or seriously that I know of.

Here’s a piece I wrote several years ago on these and other proposals:
Proposals for the Banking System, Treasury, Fed, and FDIC

And this which includes why it’s the Fed that sets rates, and not markets:
The Natural Rate of Interest Is Zero

Posted in Bonds, Fed, Interest Rates | No Comments »

Bernanke and Yellen pushing back on higher mortgage rates

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 20th November 2013

Seems to me the Fed is making an all out effort to push back on the higher longer term rates, particularly mortgage rates. However, at least so far those rates remain elevated and at least so far mortgage purchase applications remain down year over year.

Again, seems to me it comes down to the notion that if forward guidance works to firm the economy, rates will move higher/sooner than if it doesn’t work to firm the economy.

This means forward guidance works to bring long rates down only if markets don’t believe it helps the economy.

So what’s a Fed to do to bring long rates down?
Seems to me the only tool left is unconditional guidance or purchasing securities on a price basis, rather than a quantity basis. Which does of course work, to the basis point.

That is, if the Fed announced it had a 2% bid for unlimited quantities of 10 year notes they would not trade higher than 2% while that bid was active. My recollection was that this was done during WWII.

And that we didn’t lose.
;)

Posted in Bonds, Fed, Housing, Interest Rates | No Comments »

U.S. to Sell $10 Billion to $15 Billion in Floating Notes

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 6th November 2013

Morons
:(

U.S. to Sell $10 Billion to $15 Billion in Floating Notes

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Fama’s Fallacy

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 15th October 2013

Here’s how you have to think to win a Nobel prize:

Fama’s Fallacy:

There is an identity in macroeconomics… private investment [PI] must equal the sum of private savings [PS], corporate savings (retained earnings) [CS], and government savings [GS]…. (1) PI = PS + CS + GS…. Government bailouts and stimulus plans seem attractive when there are idle resources – unemployment. Unfortunately, bailouts and stimulus plans are not a cure. The problem is simple: bailouts and stimulus plans are funded by issuing more government debt…. The added debt absorbs savings that would otherwise go to private investment…. [G]overnment infrastructure investments must be financed — more government debt. The new government debt absorbs private and corporate savings, which means private investment goes down by the same amount…. Suppose the stimulus plan takes the form of lower taxes… lower tax receipts must be financed dollar for dollar by more government borrowing. The government gives with one hand but takes them back with the other, with no net effect on current incomes…

Eugene Fama

good grief!!!
:(

Posted in Bonds, Government Spending | No Comments »

New home sales hammered, prompting doubts about recovery

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 24th August 2013

Down and both prior months revised down as well. And this was before mtg rates spiked, and before mass layoffs were announced by mortgage originators, etc. And ‘months supply’ rose to a somewhat ‘normal’ 5.2 months of supply at the current sales pace, taking some wind out of the ‘supply shortage’ story. And a measure of price declined from last month softening that story as well. All still up some from the same month last year, but the year over year gains are decelerating post fiscal tightening

It’s now hard to say housing has improved since the last Fed meeting.

The August employment report will be telling, as the initial report of July job increase dropped to 160,000. A lower number means that series would be worse than what the Fed was expecting as well

Two things:

First, this report and the revisions, like the revisions to Q1, fit the narrative that austerity works to slow the economy. And so do the ‘revised’ numbers such as Q1 GDP. It’s the 200+ year old identity that in a monetary economy the demand leakages (agents spending less then their incomes) have to be overcome by others spending more than their incomes, or the output doesn’t get sold. So last year’s growth included the govt spending maybe 7% more than it’s income for that GDP to be posted. And this year, through automatic and proactive measures, govt is limited to spending 3% more than it’s income. That means the difference has to come from other agents spending more than their incomes or that much output doesn’t get sold. Yes, that kind of private sector credit expansion is possible, but I sure don’t see any evidence of that kind of credit expansion. So I don’t see growth increasing until that does happen. It’s not about ‘the govt cuts subtracted from GDP, so when that effect passes growth resumes’ Instead, it’s ‘govt was adding 7%, and now it’s adding only 3%, and growth will cause that to fall further via the automatic stabilizers until the cycle ends.’ That’s why they are called ‘stabilizers’- they cause the deficit to grow in a down turn until they cause the deficit to get large enough to reverse the decline, and they cut net govt spending until it’s too small to support the credit structure and it all goes into reverse.

And, of course, no one of political consequence sees it that way, as Congress and most others continue to judge deficit reduction as success that will somehow
lead to prosperity. So I only see it getting worse.

Also, as previously discussed, I see growth of industrial production as a sign of duress. Globally, for the most part that kind of thing goes to the nation that can feed its workers the fewest calories, in a brutal race to the bottom. Like Japan’s recent currency depreciation initiative taking a 25% bite out of real wages followed by export growth, etc.

Second, the whole QE thing is ‘perverse’ in that it doesn’t actually do anything of further economic consequence but market participants, and the Fed, act as if it does matter for the macro economy. And it also has some what can be called ‘supply side’ effects as it shifts available private sector assets between reserves, tsy secs, and agency mortgage backed securities.

So, for example, if tapering is on, stocks fall as its presumed the reason stocks went up was QE, and tsy and mbs yields rise as the Fed will be buying fewer of those things. And mixed into all that is the notion that the Fed tapers because it thinks the economy is strong, which should be good for stocks, but also cause yields to rise, which is bad for stocks. So the entire thing is a confusion of reaction functions and misperceptions.

It’s all something like the Keynesian beauty contest but with all the judges legally blind.

So if it goes ‘tapering off’ due to weak employment numbers from a weakening economy, is that good for stocks because QE continues, or bad because the economy is faltering?

And it will result in lower yields for both reasons.

One last thing.
The Fed minutes stated, as they always do, is that one of the reasons supporting their ‘improving growth’ forecast is the positive effect from ‘monetary accommodation’ that, in my humble opinion, as in Japan that has done far more far longer than we have, has failed to materialize going 5 years now. And all they have it the counterfactual using the same methodology that shows how much worse it would have been otherwise .

Again, in my humble opinion, history will not be kind to any of these people.

Posted in Bonds, Deficit, Employment, Exports, GDP, Housing | No Comments »

Fed minutes, comments on full text

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 21st August 2013

Comments in below and highlights mine:

Developments in Financial Markets and the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet
The Manager of the System Open Market Account reported on developments in domestic and foreign financial markets as well as the System open market operations during the period since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met on June 18-19, 2013. By unanimous vote, the Committee ratified the Open Market Desk’s domestic transactions over the intermeeting period. There were no intervention operations in foreign currencies for the System’s account over the intermeeting period.

In support of the Committee’s longer-run planning for improvements in the implementation of monetary policy, the Desk report also included a briefing on the potential for establishing a fixed-rate, full-allotment overnight reverse repurchase agreement facility as an additional tool for managing money market interest rates. The presentation suggested that such a facility would allow the Committee to offer an overnight, risk-free instrument directly to a relatively wide range of market participants, perhaps complementing the payment of interest on excess reserves held by banks and thereby improving the Committee’s ability to keep short-term market rates at levels that it deems appropriate to achieve its macroeconomic objectives. The staff also identified several key issues that would require consideration in the design of such a facility, including the choice of the appropriate facility interest rate and possible additions to the range of eligible counterparties. In general, meeting participants indicated that they thought such a facility could prove helpful; they asked the staff to undertake further work to examine how it might operate and how it might affect short-term funding markets. A number of them emphasized that their interest in having the staff conduct additional research reflected an ongoing effort to improve the technical execution of policy and did not signal any change in the Committee’s views about policy going forward.

This would tend to work against the larger banks to the extent larger depositors could access the Fed directly.

Staff Review of the Economic Situation
The information reviewed for the July 30-31 meeting indicated that economic activity expanded at a modest pace in the first half of the year. Private-sector employment increased further in June, but the unemployment rate was still elevated. Consumer price inflation slowed markedly in the second quarter, likely restrained in part by some transitory factors, but measures of longer-term inflation expectations remained stable. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its advance estimate for second-quarter real gross domestic product (GDP), along with revised data for earlier periods, during the second day of the FOMC meeting. The staff’s assessment of economic activity and inflation in the first half of 2013, based on information available before the meeting began, was broadly consistent with the new information from the BEA.

Modest growth and inflation low and stable.

Private nonfarm employment rose at a solid pace in June, as in recent months, while total government employment decreased further. The unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in June, little changed from its level in the prior few months. The labor force participation rate rose slightly, as did the employment-to-population ratio. The rate of long-duration unemployment decreased somewhat, but the share of workers employed part time for economic reasons moved up; both of these measures remained relatively high. Forward-looking indicators of labor market activity in the near term were mixed: Although household expectations for the labor market situation generally improved and firms’ hiring plans moved up, initial claims for unemployment insurance were essentially flat over the intermeeting period, and measures of job openings and the rate of gross private-sector hiring were little changed.

Manufacturing production expanded in June, and the rate of manufacturing capacity utilization edged up. Auto production and sales were near pre-recession levels, and automakers’ schedules indicated that the rate of motor vehicle assemblies would continue at a similar pace in the coming months. Broader indicators of manufacturing production, such as the readings on new orders from the national and regional manufacturing surveys, were generally consistent with further modest gains in factory output in the near term.

Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased more slowly in the second quarter than in the first. However, some key factors that tend to support household spending were more positive in recent months; in particular, gains in equity values and home prices boosted household net worth, and consumer sentiment in the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers rose in July to its highest level since the onset of the recession.

Slower PCE increase and stocks and the Michigan survey mentioned subsequently reversed some.

Conditions in the housing sector generally improved further, as real expenditures for residential investment continued to expand briskly in the second quarter. However, construction activity was still at a low level, with demand restrained in part by tight credit standards for mortgage loans. Starts of new single-family homes were essentially flat in June, but the level of permit issuance was consistent with gains in construction in subsequent months. In the multifamily sector, where activity is more variable, starts and permits both decreased. Home prices continued to rise strongly through May, and sales of both new and existing homes increased, on balance, in May and June. The recent rise in mortgage rates did not yet appear to have had an adverse effect on housing activity.

Subsequently mortgage apps continued to fall as rates rose.

Growth in real private investment in equipment and intellectual property products was greater in the second quarter than in the first quarter.2 Nominal new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft continued to trend up in May and June and were running above the level of shipments. Other recent forward-looking indicators, such as surveys of business conditions and capital spending plans, were mixed and pointed to modest gains in business equipment spending in the near term. Real business expenditures for nonresidential construction increased in the second quarter after falling in the first quarter. Business inventories in most industries appeared to be broadly aligned with sales in recent months.

Real federal government purchases contracted less in the second quarter than in the first quarter as reductions in defense spending slowed. Real state and local government purchases were little changed in the second quarter; the payrolls of these governments expanded somewhat, but state and local construction expenditures continued to decrease.

Didn’t mention tax collections were up.

The U.S. international trade deficit widened in May as exports fell slightly and imports rose. The decline in exports was led by a sizable drop in consumer goods, while most other categories of exports showed modest gains. Imports increased in a wide range of categories, with particular strength in oil, consumer goods, and automotive products.

Exports subsequently firmed some.

Overall U.S. consumer prices, as measured by the PCE price index, were unchanged from the first quarter to the second and were about 1 percent higher than a year earlier. Consumer energy prices declined significantly in the second quarter, although retail gasoline prices, measured on a seasonally adjusted basis, moved up in June and July. The PCE price index for items excluding food and energy rose at a subdued rate in the second quarter and was around 1-1/4 percent higher than a year earlier. Near-term inflation expectations from the Michigan survey were little changed in June and July, as were longer-term inflation expectations, which remained within the narrow range seen in recent years. Measures of labor compensation indicated that gains in nominal wages and employee benefits remained modest.

Inflation remained low.

Foreign economic growth appeared to remain subdued in comparison with longer-run trends. Nonetheless, there were some signs of improvement in the advanced foreign economies. Production and business confidence turned up in Japan, real GDP growth picked up to a moderate pace in the second quarter in the United Kingdom, and recent indicators suggested that the euro-area recession might be nearing an end. In contrast, Chinese real GDP growth moderated in the first half of this year compared with 2012, and indicators for other emerging market economies (EMEs) also pointed to less-robust growth. Foreign inflation generally remained well contained. Monetary policy stayed highly accommodative in the advanced foreign economies, but some EME central banks tightened policy in reaction to capital outflows and to concerns about inflationary pressures from currency depreciation.

Not much prospect for meaningful export growth.

Staff Review of the Financial Situation
Financial markets were volatile at times during the intermeeting period as investors reacted to Federal Reserve communications and to incoming economic data and as market dynamics appeared to amplify some asset price moves. Broad equity price indexes ended the period higher, and longer-term interest rates rose significantly. Sizable increases in rates occurred following the June FOMC meeting, as investors reportedly saw Committee communications as suggesting a less accommodative stance of monetary policy than had been expected going forward; however, a portion of the increases was reversed as subsequent policy communications lowered these concerns. U.S. economic data, particularly the June employment report, also contributed to the rise in yields over the period.

Stocks down, term interest rates higher, job growth a bit lower subsequently.

On balance, yields on intermediate- and longer-term Treasury securities rose about 30 to 45 basis points since the June FOMC meeting, with staff models attributing most of the increase to a rise in term premiums and the remainder to an upward revision in the expected path of short-term rates. The federal funds rate path implied by financial market quotes steepened slightly, on net, but the results from the Desk’s July survey of primary dealers showed little change in dealers’ views of the most likely timing of the first increase in the federal funds rate target. Market-based measures of inflation compensation were about unchanged.

Over the period, rates on primary mortgages and yields on agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) rose about in line with the 10-year Treasury yield. The option-adjusted spread for production-coupon MBS widened somewhat, possibly reflecting a downward revision in investors’ expectations for Federal Reserve MBS purchases, an increase in uncertainty about longer-term interest rates, and convexity-related MBS selling.

Spreads between yields on 10-year nonfinancial corporate bonds and yields on Treasury securities narrowed somewhat on net. Early in the period, yields on corporate bonds increased, and bond mutual funds and bond exchange-traded funds experienced large net redemptions in June; the rate of redemptions then slowed in July.

Market sentiment toward large domestic banking organizations appeared to improve somewhat over the intermeeting period, as the largest banks reported second-quarter earnings that were above analysts’ expectations. Stock prices of large domestic banks outperformed broader equity indexes, and credit default swap spreads for the largest bank holding companies moved about in line with trends in broad credit indexes.

Municipal bond yields rose sharply over the intermeeting period, increasing somewhat more than yields on Treasury securities. In June, gross issuance of long-term municipal bonds remained solid and was split roughly evenly between refunding and new-capital issuance. The City of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing reportedly had only a limited effect on the market for municipal securities as it had been widely anticipated by market participants.

Credit flows to nonfinancial businesses showed mixed changes. Reflecting the reduced incentive to refinance as longer-term interest rates rose, the pace of gross issuance of investment- and speculative-grade corporate bonds dropped in June and July, compared with the elevated pace earlier this year. In contrast, gross issuance of equity by nonfinancial firms maintained its recent strength in June. Leveraged loan issuance also continued to be strong amid demand for floating-rate instruments by investors. Financing conditions for commercial real estate continued to recover slowly. In response to the July Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices (SLOOS), banks generally indicated that they had eased standards on both commercial and industrial (C&I) and commercial real estate loans over the past three months. For C&I loans, standards were currently reported to be somewhat easy compared with longer-term norms, while for commercial real estate loans, standards remained somewhat tighter than longer-term norms. Banks reported somewhat stronger demand for most types of loans.

Financing conditions in the household sector improved further in recent months. Mortgage purchase applications declined modestly through July even as refinancing applications fell off sharply with the rise in mortgage rates. The outstanding amounts of student and auto loans continued to expand at a robust pace in May. Credit card debt remained about flat on a year-over-year basis. In the July SLOOS, banks reported that they had eased standards on most categories of loans to households in the second quarter, but that standards on all types of mortgages, and especially on subprime mortgage loans and home equity lines of credit, remained tight when judged against longer-run norms.

Mortgage purchase applications subsequently continued to fall as rates rose.

Increases in total bank credit slowed in the second quarter, as the book value of securities holdings fell slightly and C&I loan balances at large banks increased only modestly in April and May. M2 grew at an annual rate of about 7 percent in June and July, supported by flows into liquid deposits and retail money market funds. Both of these components of M2 may have been boosted recently by the sizable redemptions from bond mutual funds. The monetary base continued to expand rapidly in June and July, driven mainly by the increase in reserve balances resulting from the Federal Reserve’s asset purchases.

Ten-year sovereign yields in the United Kingdom and Germany rose with U.S. yields early in the intermeeting period but fell back somewhat after statements by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England were both interpreted by market participants as signaling that their policy rates would be kept low for a considerable time. On net, the U.K. 10-year sovereign yield increased, though by less than the comparable yield in the United States, while the yield on German bunds was little changed. Peripheral euro-area sovereign spreads over German bunds were also little changed on net. Japanese government bond yields were relatively stable over the period, after experiencing substantial volatility in May. The staff’s broad nominal dollar index moved up as the dollar appreciated against the currencies of the advanced foreign economies, consistent with the larger increase in U.S. interest rates. The dollar was mixed against the EME currencies. Foreign equity prices generally increased, although equity prices in China declined amid investor concerns regarding further signs that the economy was slowing and over volatility in Chinese interbank funding markets. Outflows from EME equity and bond funds, which had been particularly rapid in June, moderated in July.

Staff Economic Outlook
The data received since the forecast was prepared for the previous FOMC meeting suggested that real GDP growth was weaker, on net, in the first half of the year than had been anticipated. Nevertheless, the staff still expected that real GDP would accelerate in the second half of the year. Part of this projected increase in the rate of real GDP growth reflected the staff’s expectation that the drag on economic growth from fiscal policy would be smaller in the second half as the pace of reductions in federal government purchases slowed and as the restraint on growth in consumer spending stemming from the higher taxes put in place at the beginning of the year diminished. For the year as a whole, the staff anticipated that the rate of growth of real GDP would only slightly exceed that of potential output. The staff’s projection for real GDP growth over the medium term was essentially unrevised, as higher equity prices were seen as offsetting the restrictive effects of the increase in longer-term interest rates. The staff continued to forecast that the rate of real GDP growth would strengthen in 2014 and 2015, supported by a further easing in the effects of fiscal policy restraint on economic growth, increases in consumer and business confidence, additional improvements in credit availability, and accommodative monetary policy. The expansion in economic activity was anticipated to lead to a slow reduction in the slack in labor and product markets over the projection period, and the unemployment rate was expected to decline gradually.

The staff’s forecast for inflation was little changed from the projection prepared for the previous FOMC meeting. The staff continued to judge that much of the recent softness in consumer price inflation would be transitory and that inflation would pick up somewhat in the second half of this year. With longer-run inflation expectations assumed to remain stable, changes in commodity and import prices expected to be modest, and significant resource slack persisting over the forecast period, inflation was forecast to be subdued through 2015.

The staff continued to see numerous risks around the forecast. Among the downside risks for economic activity were the uncertain effects and future course of fiscal policy, the possibility of adverse developments in foreign economies, and concerns about the ability of the U.S. economy to weather potential future adverse shocks. The most salient risk for the inflation outlook was that the recent softness in inflation would not abate as anticipated.

Participants’ Views on Current Conditions and the Economic Outlook
In their discussion of the economic situation, meeting participants noted that incoming information on economic activity was mixed. Household spending and business fixed investment continued to advance, and the housing sector was strengthening. Private domestic final demand continued to increase in the face of tighter federal fiscal policy this year, but several participants pointed to evidence suggesting that fiscal policy had restrained spending in the first half of the year more than they previously thought. Perhaps partly for that reason, a number of participants indicated that growth in economic activity during the first half of this year was somewhat below their earlier expectations. In addition, subpar economic activity abroad was a negative factor for export growth. Conditions in the labor market improved further as private payrolls rose at a solid pace in June, but the unemployment rate remained elevated. Inflation continued to run below the Committee’s longer-run objective.

Participants generally continued to anticipate that the growth of real GDP would pick up somewhat in the second half of 2013 and strengthen further thereafter. Factors cited as likely to support a pickup in economic activity included highly accommodative monetary policy, improving credit availability, receding effects of fiscal restraint, continued strength in housing and auto sales, and improvements in household and business balance sheets. A number of participants indicated, however, that they were somewhat less confident about a near-term pickup in economic growth than they had been in June; factors cited in this regard included recent increases in mortgage rates, higher oil prices, slow growth in key U.S. export markets, and the possibility that fiscal restraint might not lessen.

Consumer spending continued to advance, but spending on items other than motor vehicles was relatively soft. Recent high readings on consumer confidence and boosts to household wealth from increased equity and real estate prices suggested that consumer spending would gather momentum in the second half of the year. However, a few participants expressed concern that higher household wealth might not translate into greater consumer spending, cautioning that household income growth remained slow, that households might not treat the additions to wealth arising from recent equity price increases as lasting, or that households’ scope to extract housing equity for the purpose of increasing their expenditures was less than in the past.

The housing sector continued to pick up, as indicated by increases in house prices, low inventories of homes for sale, and strong demand for construction. While recent mortgage rate increases might serve to restrain housing activity, several participants expressed confidence that the housing recovery would be resilient in the face of the higher rates, variously citing pent-up housing demand, banks’ increasing willingness to make mortgage loans, strong consumer confidence, still-low real interest rates, and expectations of continuing rises in house prices. Nonetheless, refinancing activity was down sharply, and the incoming data would need to be watched carefully for signs of a greater-than-anticipated effect of higher mortgage rates on housing activity more broadly.

Subsequently mtg purchase apps fell further and there has been anecdotal evidence of mortgage originators cutting staff, while homebuilder confidence has continues to firm.

In the business sector, the outlook still appeared to be mixed. Manufacturing activity was reported to have picked up in a number of Districts, and activity in the energy sector remained at a high level. Although a step-up in business investment was likely to be a necessary element of the projected pickup in economic growth, reports from businesses ranged from those contacts who expressed heightened optimism to those who suggested that little acceleration was likely in the second half of the year.

Participants reported further signs that the tightening in federal fiscal policy restrained economic activity in the first half of the year: Cuts in government purchases and grants reportedly had been a factor contributing to slower growth in sales and equipment orders in some parts of the country, and consumer spending seemed to have been held back by tax increases. Moreover, uncertainty about the effects of the federal spending sequestration and related furloughs clouded the outlook. It was noted, however, that fiscal restriction by state and local governments seemed to be easing.

No mention of increased state and loval tax collection.

The June employment report showed continued solid gains in payrolls. Nonetheless, the unemployment rate remained elevated, and the continuing low readings on the participation rate and the employment-to-population ratio, together with a high incidence of workers being employed part time for economic reasons, were generally seen as indicating that overall labor market conditions remained weak. It was noted that employment growth had been stronger than would have been expected given the recent pace of output growth, reflecting weak gains in productivity. Some participants pointed out that once productivity growth picked up, faster economic growth would be required to support further increases in employment along the lines seen of late. However, one participant thought that sluggish productivity performance was likely to persist, implying that the recent pace of output growth would be sufficient to maintain employment gains near current rates.

Recent readings on inflation were below the Committee’s longer-run objective of 2 percent, in part reflecting transitory factors, and participants expressed a range of views about how soon inflation would return to 2 percent. A few participants, who felt that the recent low inflation rates were unlikely to persist or that the low PCE inflation readings might be marked up in future data revisions, suggested that, as transitory factors receded and the pace of recovery improved, inflation could be expected to return to 2 percent reasonably quickly. A number of others, however, viewed the low inflation readings as largely reflecting persistently deficient aggregate demand, implying that inflation could remain below 2 percent for a protracted period and further supporting the case for highly accommodative monetary policy.

Both domestic and foreign asset markets were volatile at times during the intermeeting period, reacting to policy communications and data releases. In discussing the increases in U.S. longer-term interest rates that occurred in the wake of the June FOMC meeting and the associated press conference, meeting participants pointed to heightened financial market uncertainty about the path of monetary policy and a shift of market expectations toward less policy accommodation. A few participants suggested that this shift occurred in part because Committee participants’ economic projections, released following the June meeting, generally showed a somewhat more favorable outlook than those of private forecasters, or because the June policy statement and press conference were seen as indicating relatively little concern about inflation readings, which had been low and declining. Moreover, investors may have perceived that Committee communications about the possibility of slowing the pace of asset purchases also implied a higher probability of an earlier firming of the federal funds rate. Subsequent Federal Reserve communications, which emphasized that decisions about the two policy tools were distinct and underscored that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy would remain appropriate for a considerable period after purchases are completed, were seen as having helped clarify the Committee’s policy strategy. A number of participants mentioned that, by the end of the intermeeting period, market expectations of the future course of monetary policy, both with regard to asset purchases and with regard to the path of the federal funds rate, appeared well aligned with their own expectations. Nonetheless, some participants felt that, as a result of recent financial market developments, overall financial market conditions had tightened significantly, importantly reflecting larger term premiums, and they expressed concern that the higher level of longer-term interest rates could be a significant factor holding back spending and economic growth. Several others, however, judged that the rise in rates was likely to exert relatively little restraint, or that the increase in equity prices and easing in bank lending standards would largely offset the effects of the rise in longer-term interest rates. Some participants also stated that financial developments during the intermeeting period might have helped put the financial system on a more sustainable footing, insofar as those developments were associated with an unwinding of unsustainable speculative positions or an increase in term premiums from extraordinarily low levels.

Equities are subsequently down substantially.

In looking ahead, meeting participants commented on several considerations pertaining to the course of monetary policy. First, almost all participants confirmed that they were broadly comfortable with the characterization of the contingent outlook for asset purchases that was presented in the June post meeting press conference and in the July monetary policy testimony. Under that outlook, if economic conditions improved broadly as expected, the Committee would moderate the pace of its securities purchases later this year. And if economic conditions continued to develop broadly as anticipated, the Committee would reduce the pace of purchases in measured steps and conclude the purchase program around the middle of 2014. At that point, if the economy evolved along the lines anticipated, the recovery would have gained further momentum, unemployment would be in the vicinity of 7 percent, and inflation would be moving toward the Committee’s 2 percent objective. While participants viewed the future path of purchases as contingent on economic and financial developments, one participant indicated discomfort with the contingent plan on the grounds that the references to specific dates could be misinterpreted by the public as suggesting that the purchase program would be wound down on a more-or-less preset schedule rather than in a manner dependent on the state of the economy. Generally, however, participants were satisfied that investors had come to understand the data-dependent nature of the Committee’s thinking about asset purchases. A few participants, while comfortable with the plan, stressed the need to avoid putting too much emphasis on the 7 percent value for the unemployment rate, which they saw only as illustrative of conditions that could obtain at the time when the asset purchases are completed.

Second, participants considered whether it would be desirable to include in the Committee’s policy statement additional information regarding the Committee’s contingent outlook for asset purchases. Most participants saw the provision of such information, which would reaffirm the contingent outlook presented following the June meeting, as potentially useful; however, many also saw possible difficulties, such as the challenge of conveying the desired information succinctly and with adequate nuance, and the associated risk of again raising uncertainty about the Committee’s policy intentions. A few participants saw other forms of communication as better suited for this purpose. Several participants favored including such additional information in the policy statement to be released following the current meeting; several others indicated that providing such information would be most useful when the time came for the Committee to begin reducing the pace of its securities purchases, reasoning that earlier inclusion might trigger an unintended tightening of financial conditions.

Finally, the potential for clarifying or strengthening the Committee’s forward guidance for the federal funds rate was discussed. In general, there was support for maintaining the current numerical thresholds in the forward guidance. A few participants expressed concern that a decision to lower the unemployment threshold could potentially lead the public to view the unemployment threshold as a policy variable that could not only be moved down but also up, thereby calling into question the credibility of the thresholds and undermining their effectiveness. Nonetheless, several participants were willing to contemplate lowering the unemployment threshold if additional accommodation were to become necessary or if the Committee wanted to adjust the mix of policy tools used to provide the appropriate level of accommodation. A number of participants also remarked on the possible usefulness of providing additional information on the Committee’s intentions regarding adjustments to the federal funds rate after the 6-1/2 percent unemployment rate threshold was reached, in order to strengthen or clarify the Committee’s forward guidance. One participant suggested that the Committee could announce an additional, lower set of thresholds for inflation and unemployment; another indicated that the Committee could provide guidance stating that it would not raise its target for the federal funds rate if the inflation rate was expected to run below a given level at a specific horizon. The latter enhancement to the forward guidance might be seen as reinforcing the message that the Committee was willing to defend its longer-term inflation goal from below as well as from above.

Committee Policy Action
Committee members viewed the information received over the intermeeting period as suggesting that economic activity expanded at a modest pace during the first half of the year. Labor market conditions showed further improvement in recent months, on balance, but the unemployment rate remained elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced, and the housing sector was strengthening, but mortgage rates had risen somewhat and fiscal policy was restraining economic growth. The Committee expected that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth would pick up from its recent pace, resulting in a gradual decline in the unemployment rate toward levels consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate. With economic activity and employment continuing to grow despite tighter fiscal policy, and with global financial conditions less strained overall, members generally continued to see the downside risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having diminished since last fall. Inflation was running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, partly reflecting transitory influences, but longer-run inflation expectations were stable, and the Committee anticipated that inflation would move back toward its 2 percent objective over the medium term. Members recognized, however, that inflation persistently below the Committee’s 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance.

In their discussion of monetary policy for the period ahead, members judged that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy was warranted in order to foster a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability. In considering the likely path for the Committee’s asset purchases, members discussed the degree of improvement in the labor market outlook since the purchase program began last fall. The unemployment rate had declined considerably since then, and recent gains in payroll employment had been solid. However, other measures of labor utilization–including the labor force participation rate and the numbers of discouraged workers and those working part time for economic reasons–suggested more modest improvement, and other indicators of labor demand, such as rates of hiring and quits, remained low. While a range of views were expressed regarding the cumulative improvement in the labor market since last fall, almost all Committee members agreed that a change in the purchase program was not yet appropriate. However, in the view of the one member who dissented from the policy statement, the improvement in the labor market was an important reason for calling for a more explicit statement from the Committee that asset purchases would be reduced in the near future. A few members emphasized the importance of being patient and evaluating additional information on the economy before deciding on any changes to the pace of asset purchases. At the same time, a few others pointed to the contingent plan that had been articulated on behalf of the Committee the previous month, and suggested that it might soon be time to slow somewhat the pace of purchases as outlined in that plan. At the conclusion of its discussion, the Committee decided to continue adding policy accommodation by purchasing additional MBS at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month and to maintain its existing reinvestment policies. In addition, the Committee reaffirmed its intention to keep the target federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and retained its forward guidance that it anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored.

Members also discussed the wording of the policy statement to be issued following the meeting. In addition to updating its description of the state of the economy, the Committee decided to underline its concern about recent shortfalls of inflation from its longer-run goal by including in the statement an indication that it recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, while also noting that it continues to anticipate that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term. The Committee also considered whether to add more information concerning the contingent outlook for asset purchases to the policy statement, but judged that doing so might prompt an unwarranted shift in market expectations regarding asset purchases. The Committee decided to indicate in the statement that it “reaffirmed its view”–rather than simply “expects”–that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the Committee voted to authorize and direct the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, until it was instructed otherwise, to execute transactions in the System Account in accordance with the following domestic policy directive:

“Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Federal Open Market Committee seeks monetary and financial conditions that will foster maximum employment and price stability. In particular, the Committee seeks conditions in reserve markets consistent with federal funds trading in a range from 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee directs the Desk to undertake open market operations as necessary to maintain such conditions. The Desk is directed to continue purchasing longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of about $45 billion per month and to continue purchasing agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of about $40 billion per month. The Committee also directs the Desk to engage in dollar roll and coupon swap transactions as necessary to facilitate settlement of the Federal Reserve’s agency mortgage-backed securities transactions. The Committee directs the Desk to maintain its policy of rolling over maturing Treasury securities into new issues and its policy of reinvesting principal payments on all agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. The System Open Market Account Manager and the Secretary will keep the Committee informed of ongoing developments regarding the System’s balance sheet that could affect the attainment over time of the Committee’s objectives of maximum employment and price stability.”

The vote encompassed approval of the statement below to be released at 2:00 p.m.:

“Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June suggests that economic activity expanded at a modest pace during the first half of the year. Labor market conditions have shown further improvement in recent months, on balance, but the unemployment rate remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment advanced, and the housing sector has been strengthening, but mortgage rates have risen somewhat and fiscal policy is restraining economic growth. Partly reflecting transitory influences, inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth will pick up from its recent pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the Committee judges consistent with its dual mandate. The Committee sees the downside risks to the outlook for the economy and the labor market as having diminished since the fall. The Committee recognizes that inflation persistently below its 2 percent objective could pose risks to economic performance, but it anticipates that inflation will move back toward its objective over the medium term.

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months. The Committee will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes. In determining the size, pace, and composition of its asset purchases, the Committee will continue to take appropriate account of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases as well as the extent of progress toward its economic objectives.

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.”

Voting for this action: Ben Bernanke, William C. Dudley, James Bullard, Elizabeth Duke, Charles L. Evans, Jerome H. Powell, Sarah Bloom Raskin, Eric Rosengren, Jeremy C. Stein, Daniel K. Tarullo, and Janet L. Yellen.

Voting against this action: Esther L. George.

Ms. George dissented because she favored including in the policy statement a more explicit signal that the pace of the Committee’s asset purchases would be reduced in the near term. She expressed concerns about the open-ended approach to asset purchases and viewed providing such a signal as important at this time, in light of the ongoing improvement in labor market conditions as well as the potential costs and uncertain benefits of large-scale asset purchases.

It was agreed that the next meeting of the Committee would be held on Tuesday-Wednesday, September 17-18, 2013. The meeting adjourned at 12:30 p.m. on July 31, 2013.

Notation Vote
By notation vote completed on July 9, 2013, the Committee unanimously approved the minutes of the FOMC meeting held on June 18-19, 2013

Posted in Bonds, Credit, Deficit, Employment, Equities, Exports, Fed, GDP, Housing, Inflation, Interest Rates, USA | No Comments »

macro update

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 21st August 2013

While the Fed believes labor markets have improved sufficiently to start somehow unwinding QE, they have made it clear the data and their forecasts are not going to trigger any actual Fed rate hikes anytime soon. For one thing there is currently no sign of any kind of developing private sector credit expansion that would cause them to immediately hike rates to ‘cool down’. In fact, at this point they are keeping rate policy arguably ‘as accommodative as possible’ to remain supportive of private credit expansion.

On the other hand, the ‘markets’ have become concerned about ‘supply side’ effects of ‘tapering’, fearing fewer Fed purchases will mean higher term rates, and particularly higher mortgage rates, even as the Fed funds rate remains well anchored at current levels.

So what we are seeing is a ‘market determined’ decision to hike longer term rates based mainly on supply fears and not on fears of ‘excess demand’ driving up rates.

And adding to the volatility is the notion that should the Fed someday decide things have ‘normalized’ and the economy no longer ‘needs’ negative real rates,
that would translate into the Fed shifting the Fed funds rate to maybe 3-4% to be at some ‘neutral’ spread to ‘inflation’ etc.

So it’s pretty much binary- we stay near 0 (life support) until it’s time to ‘normalize’ to 3-4%.

All of this makes it rational for market indifference levels to shift a full 1% or more-turning term financing on or off- on nuances of Fed language.

All of which comes back to the fact that the term structure of risk free rates, with floating fx, is necessarily a policy decision, best left to political decision vs market decision, because with floating fx ‘market decision’ is necessarily nothing more than forecasting reaction functions of those setting the rates. That is, the ‘feedback’ from today’s rates determined by market forces is nothing more than what markets think the Fed will vote into policy down the road.

And I see no value in paying the real price of the volatility/uncertainty we are seeing to get that kind of information.

So best to cut the highly disruptive volatility that goes with letting markets determine longer term risk free rates by having the Fed peg the entire term structure of risk free rates with, for example, a bid for the entire tsy curve at their target rate ceiling, along with an open ended securities lending facility.

That is, in my humble opinion best for the FOMC to vote on the entire term structure of risk free rates than today’s policy of voting on just the Fed funds rate and using ‘language’ to influence the curve.

But that’s just me…

(feel free to distribute)

Posted in Banking, Bonds, Employment, Fed | No Comments »

China’s Treasury Holdings Fall 21 Bln Amid Fed Talk on Taper Timing

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 16th August 2013

I’d guess most of that was runoff of short term bills so wouldn’t alter the longer term rates but it also might be the case that China told the fed they wouldn’t buy any more secs unless they ceased QE.

The Fed doesn’t realize that we don’t need China or anyone else to keep interest rates on tsy’s anywhere we want them, so it’s likely intimidated by that kind of threat that China perhaps has already begun carrying out to make the point, as it did in 2011 when it let its entire bill portfolio run off and only started buying again after Bernanke’s ‘strong dollar’ speech and twist instead of QE, etc.

China’s Treasury Holdings Fall Amid Fed Talk on Taper

By Daniel Kruger

August 15 (Bloomberg) — Holdings of Treasuries in China, the largest foreign lender to the U.S., fell in June for the first time in five months amid discussion by Federal Reserve officials about slowing the pace their bond purchases.

China’s stake dropped by $21.5 billion in June, or 1.7 percent, to $1.276 trillion, according to Treasury Department data released yesterday. Yields climbed after June 19 when Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said policy makers might reduce the size of their $85 billion a month in purchases of Treasuries and mortgage securities in coming months.

The pullback by China comes as overseas holdings of Treasuries have grown $26.8 billion, or 0.5 percent this year, the slowest pace since a 2.8 percent decline in the first six months of 2006. Treasuries have lost 3.1 percent this year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes, headed for the worst performance since 2009.

“What you saw was a knee-jerk reaction” from China, said Adrian Miller, director of fixed-income strategies at GMP Securities LLC in New York. The drop wasn’t “any kind of a message as to a concerted effort to wind down excess exposure because of some duration risk given the Fed’s tapering goals,” he said.

Treasury Selloff

China’s holdings in May were $1.297 trillion, less than the $1.316 trillion reported by the Treasury last month. The Treasury revises the data on a monthly basis based on the nationality of the beneficial holder of the debt, while the initial figure is derived from the location of the purchase.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield rose 36 basis points or 0.36 percentage point, to 2.49 percent in June. It touched 2.82 percent yesterday, the highest since Aug. 1, 2011.

The decline in China’s stake “does help explain why the Treasury market sold off in June,” said Michael Pond, head of global inflation-linked research at Barclays Plc, one of 21 primary dealers that trade with the Fed.

Currency reserves have risen 5.6 percent through June to $3.5 trillion, according to data from the People’s Bank of China. Reserve growth in 2012 was 4.1 percent, the slowest pace since 1998, the data show. Reserves had grown at a double-digit pace for 11 consecutive years.

China’s Treasury position has risen $55.4 billion or 4.5 percent so far this year after a 5.9 percent increase in 2012. The holdings declined 0.7 percent to $1.152 trillion in 2011, the first annual decline on record going back to 2001.

Investors in China held 11.1 percent of the $11.4 trillion of marketable U.S. debt in June compared with a record 14 percent in June 2009.

All foreign investors owned 49.1 percent of the marketable debt, the least since May 2011, the data, known as Treasury International Capital, show.

Demand for the debt from overseas investors fell by $56.5 billion, or 1 percent in June to $5.6 trillion. It was the first three-month decline in overseas holdings since 2001.

Posted in Bonds, China, Fed | No Comments »

stocks bonds qe dynamics

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 27th June 2013

Until markets recognize QE for the tax that it actually is, the QE policy is stabilizing for stocks, destabilizing for bonds.

For example, good economic news is fundamentally good for stocks, but means QE may end, so the effects are offsetting.

Same with bad economic news. Fundamentally bad, but means QE continues, so offsetting.

Bonds are different. Good econ news is fundamentally bad for bonds and means QE may end, both negatives. And bad econ news is fundamentally good for bonds, and means QE continues, also good.

Posted in Bonds, Equities, Fed | No Comments »

Bill Gross – Fed tapering plan may be hasty:

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 26th June 2013

I agree with a lot of this

‘Mortgage originations have plummeted by 39% since early May.’

The Fed’s financial obligations ratios have turned up as well.

But it’s not about QE in any case

It takes private credit expansion or net exports to overcome fiscal drag.

Bill Gross: Fed tapering plan may be hasty

By William H. Gross

June 25 (Bloomberg) — “June Gloom,” as the fog and clouds that often linger over the Southern California coast this time of year are known, appears to have spread to the Federal Reserve. At his press conference last week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank may begin to let up on the gas pedal of monetary stimulus by tapering its asset purchases later this year and ending them in 2014.

We agree that QE must end. It has distorted incentives and inflated asset prices to artificial levels. But we think the Fed’s plan may be too hasty.

Fog may be obscuring the Fed’s view of the economy—in particular, the structural impediments that will inhibit its ability to achieve higher growth and inflation. Bernanke said the Fed expects the unemployment rate to fall to about 7% by the middle of next year. However, we think this is a long shot.

Bernanke’s remarks indicated that the Fed is taking a cyclical view of the economy. He blamed lower growth on fiscal austerity, for example, suggesting that should it be removed from the equation the economy would suddenly be growing at 3%. He similarly attributed rising housing prices to homeowners who simply like or anticipate higher home prices, as opposed to emphasizing the mortgage rate, which is really what provided the lift in the first place.

Our view of the economy places greater emphasis on structural factors. Wages continue to be dampened by globalization. Demographic trends, notably the aging of our society and the retirement of the Baby Boomers, will lead to a lower level of consumer demand. And then there’s the race against the machine; technology continues to eliminate jobs as opposed to provide them.

Bernanke made no mention of these factors, which we think are significant forces that will prevent unemployment from reaching the 7% threshold during the next year. Falling below “NAIRU” (the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment—usually estimated between 5% and 6%) is an even more distant goal.

Indeed, the Fed’s views on inflation may be the foggiest of all. Bernanke said the Fed sees inflation progressing toward its 2% objective “over time.” At the moment, we’re nowhere near that.

The Fed’s plan strikes us as a bit ironic, in fact, because Bernanke has long-standing and deep concerns about deflation. We’ve witnessed this in speeches going back five or 10 years—the “helicopter speech,” the references not only to the Depression but to the lost decades in Japan. He badly wants to avoid the mistake of premature tightening, as occurred disastrously in the 1930s. Indeed, on several occasions during his press conference, Bernanke conditioned his expectations of tapering on inflation moving back toward the Fed’s 2% objective.

The chairman, of course, may be equally concerned about the market effects of tapering and determined to signal its moves early. However, as the spike in interest rates shows, this path is fraught with danger, too.

We’re in a highly levered economy where households can’t afford to pay much more in interest expense. Monthly payments for a 30-year mortgage have jumped 20% to 25% since January. Mortgage originations have plummeted by 39% since early May.

High levels of leverage, both here and abroad, have made the global economy far more sensitive to interest rates. Whereas a decade or two ago the Fed could raise the fed funds rate by 500 basis points and expect the economy to slow, today if the Fed were to hike rates or taper suddenly, the economy couldn’t handle it.

All this suggests that investors who are selling Treasurys in anticipation that the Fed will ease out of the market might be disappointed. If inflation meanders back and forth around the 1% level, Bernanke may guide the Committee towards achieving not only an unemployment rate but also a higher inflation target.

It’s reasonable, of course, for Bernanke to try to prepare markets for the inevitable and necessary wind down of QE. But if he has to wave a white flag three months from now and say, “Sorry, we miscalculated,” the trust of markets and dampened volatility that has driven markets over the past two or three years could probably never be fully regained. It would take even longer for the fog over the economy to lift.

Posted in Bonds, CBs, Fed | No Comments »

Friday update- deficits matter, a lot!

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 21st June 2013

So back to basics

For 16t in output to get sold there must have been 16t in spending, which also translates into 16t in some agent’s income.

And (apart from unsold inventory growth), for all practical purposes nominal GDP growth is another way to say sales growth.

To state the obvious, sales = spending, income = expense, etc. Working against growth is ‘unspent income’, also called ‘demand leakages’. Those include pension contributions, insurance reserves, retained earnings, foreign CB fx purchases, cash hoards, etc. etc. etc. And for every agent that spent less than his income, some other agent spent more than his income, to the tune of the 16t GDP.

And GDP growth is a function of that much more of same.

Well, the 2% or so growth we’ve been getting once included the govt spending maybe 10% more than its income to keep sales growing more than the demand leakages were working against sales growth. And with growth, the so called automatic fiscal STABILIZERS work to temper that growth, as growth causes govt revenues to increase and govt transfer payments to decline.

You can think of this as institutional structure that causes the economy to have to go uphill to grow. That’s because as the economy grows, the growth of govt net spending is ‘automatically’ reduced.

So after a couple of years growth the govt went from spending maybe 10% more than its income to something under 6% of its income, which translated into about 2% real growth, and about 3.5% nominal growth.

Well, to keep this going in the face of the demand leakages, some other agents were picking up the slack.

Looking at the charts it seems to me it was the home buyers and car buyers who were consistently spending more than their incomes, driving the nominal GDP growth.

But then on Jan 1 fica taxes went up as did some income tax rates, by about 3.5 billion/week, removing that much income from potential spenders. And a few months later the sequesters hit, both reducing GDP by the amount of those spending cuts and reducing income by about another 1.5 billion per week.

In other words, the govt suddenly reduced the amount it was spending beyond its income by about 1.5% of GDP, which had been working along with the domestic credit expansion to outpace the demand leakages.

So how has domestic credit managed to expand to fill that spending gap caused by the already retreating govt deficit spending proactively dropping another 1.5%?

With great difficulty!

Since January, after climbing steadily, car sales look to have gone sideways. And looks to me like the rate of domestic deficit spending on housing has declined as well. In any case there hasn’t been an the increase these ‘credit expansion engines’ needed to fill the spending gap from the proactive drop in govt deficit spending. And add to that decelerating person income stats (and remember, the pay for additional jobs comes from someone else’s income, and hopefully income spent on output).

And in any case to keep growing at about 2% credit expansion has to overcome the demand leakages and climb the hill of the automatic fiscal stabilizers as with the current institutional structure nominal growth automatically reduces the contribution of govt deficit spending, which is now maybe down to 4% of GDP. Note that with forecasts of 2% growth the forecast for the govt deficit spending falls to only 2% of GDP, implying far more rapid increases of ‘borrowing to spend’ in the domestic sector. And if that net new borrowing doesn’t materialize, the sales don’t either.

Is it possible for housing related credit expansion to suddenly accelerate? Sure, but is it likely, especially in the face of the drag the govt layoffs and tax increases that made the hill the domestic credit expansion needs to climb that much steeper? And sure, the foreign sector could suddenly spend that much more of its income in the US, but is a US export boom likely in the current anemic global economy? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Now add this to the taper nonsense.

As previously discussed, QE is at best a placebo, and more likely a negative as it removes interest income from the economy.

But with none of the name institutions of higher learning teaching this, today’s portfolio managers think it’s somehow a ‘stimulus’ and act accordingly, driving up stock prices globally, supporting global ‘confidence’, even as growth and earnings show signs of fading. And then when the Fed even discusses the possibility of reducing the volume of QE, they all stampede the other way, with bonds reacting to the same misguided QE logic as well. But in any case, these are misguided, one time portfolio shifts, that tend to reverse with time as the reality of the underlying economy/earnings eventuates, refudiating the presumed effects of QE… :)

To conclude, I just don’t see the source of the credit expansion needed for anything more than modest nominal growth, which has now continued to decelerate to maybe 3% of GDP, and a real risk that the domestic credit expansion can’t even keep up with the demand leakages, and real GDP goes negative, along with top line growth and earnings growth.

In fact, with annual population growth running at about 1.25%, per capita GDP is already only about equal to productivity growth, as the labor force participation rate hovers at multi decade lows.

Have a nice weekend!

Ciao!

Posted in Bonds, CBs, Deficit, GDP, Government Spending | No Comments »

Taper worms at the wheel

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 24th May 2013

The taper worms are still driving things this am.

To the taper worms, tapering equals ‘bonds’ higher in yield and stocks lower in price.

Fundamentally, however, the Fed only tapers if the economy is strong which is good for stocks.

And no tapering means the economy is weak, which is fundamentally bad for stocks and bond friendly (lower yields).

That is, the Fed uses the taper message to signal its economic forecast, and it’s that economic forecast that is fundamentally meaningful for stocks and bonds.

But in this thin/illiquid May market the whims of global hedge funds and portfolio managers rule.

Posted in Bonds, Equities | No Comments »

Gross market move

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 10th May 2013

Data point- with a couple of trillion under management your tweet moves bonds 10 basis points:

Posted in Bonds | No Comments »

Tsy floaters

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 3rd May 2013

Yes, the Treasury is in fact selling notes that float off of its own bills.

:(

The Treasury provided a preliminary term sheet for the floating rate note program that will launch sometime in Q4 or Q1. In addition, they said the first auction would have a 2yr maturity, and that the expected pace of issuance would be $10bn to $15bn per month.

  • A 2yr maturity would be eligible to be purchases by money market funds, but the maturity is a bit long for them from a weighted average life (WALA) perspective. Fortunately, we think another investor base will pick up any slack left from the 2a-7 funds.
  • Bills: Watch the seasonality. As expected, the initial FRNs will be linked to the results of 3m T-bill auctions. But in a modest surprise, the rate will only reset quarterly.

Posted in Bonds, TREASURY | No Comments »

Rogoff & Reinhart answering my call in FT – Austerity is not the only answer to a debt problem

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 2nd May 2013

Good to see Ken, who I’ve never met, and Carmen who I do know, no doubt assisted by her husband Vince, beginning to come clean with this response. While not complete, it’s the beginning of an encouraging, epic reversal and a first step in the right direction!

My comments added below:

Austerity is not the only answer to a debt problem

By Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart

May 1 (FT) — The recent debate about the global economy has taken a distressingly simplistic turn. Some now argue that just because one cannot definitely prove very high debt is bad for growth (though the weight of the results still say it is),

They could add here ‘though likely via the reaction functions of govts and not the high debt per se.’

then high debt is not a problem. Looking beyond the recent public debate about the literature on debt we have already discussed our results on debt and growth in that context the debate needs to be reconnected to the facts.

Let us start with one: the ratios of debt to gross domestic product are at historically high levels in many countries, many rising above previous wartime peaks. This is before adding in concerns over contingent liabilities on private sector balance sheets and underfunded old-age security and pension programmes. In the case of Germany, there is also the likely need to further cushion the debt loads of eurozone partners.

Adding here ‘as they are ‘users’ of the euro the way US states are ‘users’ of the dollar, and not the actual issuer of the currency like the ECB, the Fed, the BOE, the BOJ, and the rest of the world’s central banks.’

Some say not to worry, pointing to bursts of growth after the world wars. But todays debts,

Add ‘while they pose no solvency risk for the issuer of the currency.’

will not be dealt with by boosts to supply from postwar demobilisation and to demand from the lifting of wartime controls.

To be clear, no one should be arguing to stabilise debt, much less bring it down, until growth is more solidly entrenched if there remains a choice, that is.

BRAVO!!!! And add ‘as is always the case for the issuer of the currency.’

Faced with, at best, haphazard access to international capital markets and high borrowing costs, periphery countries in Europe face more limited alternatives.

Add ‘as is the case for ‘users’ of a currency in general, including the US states, for example’.

Nevertheless, given current debt levels, enhanced stimulus should only be taken selectively and with due caution. A higher borrowing trajectory is warranted, given weak demand

BRAVO!

and low interest rates,

Add ‘which are confirmation by the CB policy makers who set the rates low that they too believe demand is weak’.

where governments can identify high-return infrastructure projects. Borrowing to finance productive infrastructure raises long-run potential growth, ultimately pulling debt ratios lower. We have argued this consistently since the outset of the crisis.

BRAVO! And add ‘additionally, weak demand can be addressed by tax reductions, recognizing that counter cyclical fiscal policy of currency users, like the euro zone members, requires funding support from the issuer of the currency, which in this case is the ECB.’

Ultra-Keynesians would go further and abandon any pretense of concern about longer-term debt reduction.

Add ‘without a credible long term inflation concern, as for the issuer of the currency inflation is the only risk from excess demand.’

This position has been in the rhetorical ascendancy in recent months, with new signs of weaker growth. It throws caution to the wind on debt

Add ‘with regards to solvency, as is necessarily the case for the issuer of the currency.’

and, to quote Star Trek, pushes governments to go where no man has gone before

Add ‘apart from war time, when the importance of maximum output and employment takes center stage.’

The basic rationale

Add ‘of the mainstream deficit doves (not the ultra Keynesian MMT school of thought)’

is that low interest rates make borrowing a free lunch.

Unfortunately,

Add ‘the mainstream believes’

ultra-Keynesians are too dismissive of the risk of a rise in real interest rates. No one fully understands why rates have fallen so far so fast,

Add ‘apart from the Central Bankers who voted to lower them this far and this fast, and in some cases provide guarantees to other borrowers.’

and therefore no one can be sure for how long their current low level will be sustained.

Add ‘as it’s a matter of second guessing those central bankers.’

John Maynard Keynes himself wrote How to Pay for the War in 1940 precisely because he was not blas about large deficits even in support of a cause as noble as a war of survival. Debt is a slow-moving variable that cannot and in general should not be brought down too quickly. But interest rates can change rapidly.

Add ‘all it takes is a vote by central bankers.’

True, research has identified factors that might combine to explain the sharp decline in rates.

Add ‘in fact, all you have to do is research the votes at the central bank meetings.’

Greater concern

Add ‘by central bankers’

over potentially devastating future events such as fresh financial meltdowns may be depressing rates. Similarly, the negative correlation between returns on stocks and long-term bonds, while admittedly quite unstable, also makes bonds a better hedge. Emerging Asias central banks have been great customers for advanced economy debt, and now perhaps the Japanese will be once more. But can these same factors be relied on to keep yields low indefinitely?

Add ‘In the end, it’s all a matter of the central bank’s reaction function.’

Economists simply have little idea how long it will be until rates begin to rise. If one accepts that maybe, just maybe, a significant rise in interest rates in the next decade

Add ‘due to inflation concerns’

might be a possibility, then plans for an unlimited open-ended surge in debt should give one pause.

Add ‘if he does not see the merits of leaving risk free rates near 0 in any case, as there is no convincing central bank research that shows rate hikes reduce inflation rates, and even credible theory and evidence to be concerned that rate hikes instead exacerbate inflation.’

What, then, can be done? We must remember that the choice is not simply between tight-fisted austerity and freewheeling spending. Governments have used a wide range of options over the ages. It is time to return to the toolkit.

First and foremost,

Add ‘only’

governments

Add ‘who fail to recognize that these are merely matters of accounting that don’t themselves alter output and employment’

must be prepared to write down debts rather than continuing to absorb them. This principle applies to the senior debt of insolvent financial institutions, to peripheral eurozone debt and to mortgage debt in the US.

Add ‘Additionally’

For Europe, in particular, any reasonable endgame will require a large transfer

Add ‘of public goods production’

from Germany to the periphery.

Add ‘which in fact would be a real economic benefit for Germany.’

The sooner this implicit transfer becomes explicit, the sooner Europe will be able to find its way towards a stable growth path.

There are other tools. So-called financial repression, a non-transparent form of tax (primarily on savers), may be coming to an institution near you. In its simplest form, governments cram debt into domestic pension funds, insurance companies and banks

By removing governmental support of higher rates from their net issuance of debt instruments, particularly treasury securities.

Europe is there already and it has been there before, several times. How to Pay for the War was, in part, about creating captive audiences for government debt. Read the real Keynes, not rote Keynes, to understand our future.

One of us attracted considerable fire for suggesting moderately elevated inflation (say, 4-6 per cent for a few years) at the outset of the crisis. However, a once-in-75-year crisis is precisely the time when central banks should expend some credibility to take the edge off public and private debts, and to accelerate the process bringing down the real price of housing and real estate.

It is therefore imperative for the central bankers to make it clear to the politicians that there is no solvency risk, and that central bankers, and not markets, are necessarily in control of the entire term structure of risk free rates, and that their research shows that rate hikes are not the appropriate way to bring down inflation, should the question arise’

Structural reform always has to be part of the mix. In the US, for example, the bipartisan blueprint of the Simpson-Bowles commission had some very promising ideas for simplifying the tax codes.

There is a scholarly debate about the risks of high debt. We remain confident in the prevailing view in this field that high debt is associated with lower growth

Add ‘but must add that the risk is that of misguided policy response, and not the level of debt per se.’

Certainly, lets not fall into the trap of concluding that todays high debts are a non-issue.

Add ‘as we must be ever mindful of the possibility of excess demand using up our productive capacity’

Keynes was not dismissive of debt. Why should we be?

The writers are professors at Harvard University. They have written further on carmenreinhart.com

Posted in Bonds, Credit, Currencies, Employment, EU, Fed, GDP, Germany | No Comments »

Norway oil fund makes big move from bonds to stocks

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 29th April 2013

Seems like this ‘quasi’ govt type of thing is often later shown to be behind ‘difficult to explain’ ‘liquidity driven’ equity moves.

Norway oil fund makes big move from bonds to stocks

By Richard Milne in Oslo

April 29 (FT) — Norway’s oil fund has reduced its bond holdings to their lowest ever level as the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund signals its discomfort with the effects of western central banks money printing.

The fund held just 36.7 per cent of its $726bn assets in bonds at the end of the first quarter, the lowest proportion since it first received money in 1996. Its equity holdings were close to a record high, accounting for 62.4 per cent of the total.

Yngve Slyngstad, the funds chief executive, told the Financial Times there had been a significant change in rhetoric away from its previous comments that it was comfortable with a high level of equity holdings.

Now it is that we are not so comfortable with the low returns in the bond portfolio. It is not enthusiasm for the equity market but a lack of enthusiasm for the bond market, he said.

The worlds biggest sovereign wealth fund by some distance, Norways oil fund has for some time been concerned about the low level of government bond yields and what that will mean for fixed income return.

But Norges Bank Investment Management, as it is also known, is reluctant to comment about money printing, known as quantitative easing, by the US Federal Reserve, Bank of England or Bank of Japan as the fund is part of the Norwegian central bank.

Still, Mr Slyngstad said unconventional actions were riskier than normal measures, signalling his unease. Unconventional in this context means untried. Things that are untried have a different risk profile than things that have been tried, he added.

The fund has been shifting both its bond and equity holdings away from dollar, yen, euro and sterling assets to those of emerging markets . But the fund is noticeably more positive on US Treasuries than other western government bonds with Mr Slyngstad saying they serve [a] double purpose of being a haven and highly liquid.

Mr Slyngstad said the fund could take several courses of action to reduce the risk of a sharp fall in bond prices, including buying real assets such as property and diversifying into new currencies. It has also reduced the average duration of its bond holdings from about six to five years.

His comments came as the fund delivered its biggest ever quarterly increase in its market value of NKr366bn. It posted a 5.4 per cent overall return with equities gaining 8.3 per cent and fixed income just 1.1 per cent. Apple, Santander and BHP Billiton were its worst-performing investments while BlackRock, Nestl and Novartis were the best. The oil fund also formally unveiled its plans to become a more active investor , as first revealed by the Financial Times. Mr Slyngstad has joined the nomination committee of Swedish truckmaker Volvo , the first time the fund has formally participated in the selection of board directors.

Posted in Bonds, CBs, Currencies, Equities | No Comments »

Professor Terzi on R and R reposted

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd April 2013

Very good to see this here!

However, so far the politics haven’t changed, so place your bets accordingly!

Why the Reinhart-Rogoff paper was flawed right from the start

By Andrea Terzi

Posted in Bonds, Deficit, Government Spending | No Comments »

Reinhart-Rogoff data errors found!

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 16th April 2013

If true, this is very bad:

Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems.

By Mike Konczal

April 16 (Bloomberg) — In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff released a paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” Their “main result is that…median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90 percent of GDP are roughly one percent lower than otherwise; average (mean) growth rates are several percent lower.” Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact.

This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity budget states their study “found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth.” The Washington Post editorial board takes it as an economic consensus view, stating that “debt-to-GDP could keep rising and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.”

Is it conclusive? One response has been to argue that the causation is backwards, or that slower growth leads to higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. But this assumes that the data is correct. From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren’t releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right – it couldn’t be done.

In a new paper, “Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff,” Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadsheet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff’s data was constructed.

They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don’t get their controversial result. Let’s investigate further:

Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years. The paper didn’t disclose which years they excluded or why.

Herndon-Ash-Pollin find that they exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). This has consequences, as these countries have high-debt and solid growth. Canada had debt-to-GDP over 90 percent during this period and 3 percent growth. New Zealand had a debt/GDP over 90 percent from 1946-1951. If you use the average growth rate across all those years it is 2.58 percent. If you only use the last year, as Reinhart-Rogoff does, it has a growth rate of -7.6 percent. That’s a big difference, especially considering how they weigh the countries.

Unconventional Weighting. Reinhart-Rogoff divides country years into debt-to-GDP buckets. They then take the average real growth for each country within the buckets. So the growth rate of the 19 years that England is above 90 percent debt-to-GDP are averaged into one number. These country numbers are then averaged, equally by country, to calculate the average real GDP growth weight.

In case that didn’t make sense let’s look at an example. England has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for England.

Now maybe you don’t want to give equal weighting to years (technical aside: Herndon-Ash-Pollin bring up serial correlation as a possibility). Perhaps you want to take episodes. But this weighting significantly reduces the average; if you weight by the number of years you find a higher growth rate above 90 percent. Reinhart-Rogoff don’t discuss this methodology, either the fact that they are weighing this way or the justification for it, in their paper.

Coding Error. As Herndon-Ash-Pollin puts it: “A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis. [Reinhart-Rogoff] averaged cells in lines 30 to 44 instead of lines 30 to 49…This spreadsheet error…is responsible for a -0.3 percentage-point error in RR’s published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category.” Belgium, in particular, has 26 years with debt-to-GDP above 90 percent, with an average growth rate of 2.6 percent (though this is only counted as one total point due to the weighting above).

Being a bit of a doubting Thomas on this coding error, I wouldn’t believe unless I touched the digital Excel wound myself. One of the authors was able to show me that, and here it is. You can see the Excel blue-box for formulas missing some data:



This error is needed to get the results they published, and it would go a long way to explaining why it has been impossible for others to replicate these results. If this error turns out to be an actual mistake Reinhart-Rogoff made, well, all I can hope is that future historians note that one of the core empirical points providing the intellectual foundation for the global move to austerity in the early 2010s was based on someone accidentally not updating a row formula in Excel.

So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find “the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim].” Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.

This is also good evidence for why you should release your data online, so it can be probably vetted. But beyond that, looking through the data and how much it can collapse because of this or that assumption, it becomes quite clear that there’s no magic number out there. The debt needs to be thought of as a response to the contigent circumstances we find ourselves in, with mass unemployment, a Federal Reserve desperately trying to gain traction at the zero lower bound, and a gap between what we could be producing and what we are. The past guides us, but so far it has failed to provide an emergency cliff. In fact, it tells us that a larger deficit right now would help us greatly.

Posted in Bonds, GDP, Inflation | No Comments »