Central Banks

     

 

 

A Piece of Paper Alone Cannot Secure Liberty

The idea of a constitution and/or written legislation to secure individual rights so beloved by conservatives and among many libertarians has proven to be a myth. The US Constitution and all those that have been written and ratified in its wake throughout the world have done little to protect individual liberties or keep a check on State largesse.

 

Sound money vs. a piece of paper – which is the better guarantor of liberty? [PT]

 

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Federal Reserve Credit Contracts Further

We last wrote in July about the beginning contraction in outstanding Fed credit, repatriation inflows, reverse repos, and commercial and industrial lending growth, and how the interplay between these drivers has affected the growth rate of the true broad US money supply TMS-2 (the details can be seen here: “The Liquidity Drain Becomes Serious” and “A Scramble for Capital”).

 

The Fed has clearly changed course under Jerome Powell – for now, anyway.

 

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Orchestrated Larceny

The government continues its approach towards full meltdown. The stock market does too. But when it comes down to it, these are mere distractions from the bigger breakdown that is bearing down upon us.

 

Prosperity imbalance illustrated. The hoi-polloi may be getting restless. [PT]

 

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Conditioned to Absurdity

The unpleasant sight of a physical absurdity is both grotesque and interesting.  Only the most disciplined individual can resist an extra peek at a three-legged hunch back with face tattoos.  The disfigurement has the odd effect of turning the stomach and twisting the mind in unison.

 

Francesco Lentini, the three-legged man. Born in Sicily in 1881 with “three legs, four feet, sixteen toes and two pair of functioning genitals” he made a career of his disfigurement and worked for circus sideshows until his death at age 78. [PT]

 

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Capital Flight vs. The Effect of QE

Mish recently discussed the ever increasing imbalances of the euro zone’s TARGET-2 payment system again in response to a few articles which played down  their significance. He followed this up with a nice plug for us by posting a comment we made on the subject. Here is a chart of the most recent data on TARGET-2 available from the ECB; we included the four largest balances, namely those of  Germany, Italy, Spain and the ECB itself.

 

The most prominent (largest) TARGET-2 imbalances in the euro area have reached new record highs this year. Is or isn’t this a reason for concern?

 

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A Spike in Bank Lending to Corporations – Sign of a Dying Boom?

As we have mentioned on several occasions in these pages, when a boom nears its end, one often sees a sudden scramble for capital. This happens when investors and companies that have invested in large-scale long-term projects in the higher stages of the production structure suddenly realize that capital may not be as plentiful as they have previously assumed. The wake-up call usually involves a surge in market interest rates and subtle shifts in relative prices in  the economy (consider for instance the recent decline in new home prices amid declining sales). Interest rates have certainly provided a signal lately:

 

Short term USD interest rates: 2-year treasury note yield, 3-month t-bill discount rate and LIBOR (USD interbank lending rate in London, used as a benchmark for rate adjustments of countless bonds, loans, swaps, derivatives, etc.).

 

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US Money Supply Growth Stalls

Our good friend Michael Pollaro, who keeps a close eye on global “Austrian” money supply measures and their components, has recently provided us with a very interesting update concerning two particular drivers of money supply growth. But first, here is a chart of our latest update of the y/y growth rate of the US broad true money supply aggregate TMS-2 until the end of June 2018 with a 12-month moving average.

 

US TMS-2: y/y growth rate with 12-month moving average. Since the short term spike in March (we believe this was largely driven by repatriation), broad US money supply growth has stalled and currently stands at 4.4% y/y. Traces of the repatriation effect remain in evidence, as US Treasury deposits with the Fed remain at around USD 348 billion, a historically still very large amount. The 12-month moving average of TMS-2 growth continues to decline and has reached a new multi-year low of 3.7% (the lowest reading in the 12-month ma since February 2008).

 

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Another Early Warning Siren Goes Off

Our friend Jonathan Tepper of research house Variant Perception (check out their blog to see some of their excellent work) recently pointed out to us that the volume of mergers and acquisitions has increased rather noticeably lately. Some color on this was provided in an article published by Reuters in late May, “Global M&A hits record $2 trillion in the year to date”, which inter alia contained the following chart illustrating the situation. This snapshot was taken shortly after a particularly busy “Merger Monday” in May, which saw $28 billion in takeover announcements:

 

Getting frisky: captains of industry and private equity funds evidently feel supremely confident again and have embarked on a major shopping spree. This mainly goes to show that no-one ever learns a thing in financial markets (presumably this goes for “learning from history” generally, but the remarkable thing in this case are the small time intervals between the markets teaching lessons and the subsequent collective forgetting exercise). The people responsible for all this breathless activity get paid more than at any other time in history, both in nominal and real terms – and one of their major characteristics is apparently that they have the attention span of gnats.

 

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Redefined Terms and Absurd Targets

At one time, the Federal Reserve’s sole mandate was to maintain stable prices and to “fight inflation.”  To the Fed, the financial press, and most everyone else “inflation” means rising prices instead of its original and true definition as an increase in the money supply.  Rising prices are a consequence – a very painful consequence – of money printing.

 

Fed Chair Jerome Powell apparently does not see the pernicious effects of inflation (at least he seems to be looking around… [PT])

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

 

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Junk Bond Spread Breakout

The famous dead parrot is coming back to life… in an unexpected place. With its QE operations, which included inter alia corporate bonds, the ECB has managed to suppress credit spreads in Europe to truly ludicrous levels. From there, the effect propagated through arbitrage to other developed markets. And yes, this does “support the economy” – mainly by triggering an avalanche of capital malinvestment and creating the associated boom conditions, while “investors” (we use the term loosely) pile into ridiculously overvalued bonds that will eventually saddle them with eye-watering losses.

 

The famous dead parrot

 

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Tightening Credit Markets

Daylight extends a little further into the evening with each passing day.  Moods ease.  Contentment rises.  These are some of the many delights the northern hemisphere has to offer this time of year. As summer approaches, and dispositions loosen, something less amiable is happening.  Credit markets are tightening.  The yield on the 10-Year Treasury note has exceeded 3.12 percent.

 

A change in pace: yields are actually going somewhere. There is a fly in the ointment for treasury bears though: the net speculative short position in futures across the yield curve is seemingly establishing new record highs every week. While this is not bullish for treasuries per se, it definitely makes yields vulnerable to a sharp pullback. The question is what might cause such a pullback. Our guess would be that either “unexpected economic weakness” will enter the scene, or crisis conditions in emerging markets will worsen and eventually spark “flight to safety” behavior. [PT]

 

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Effects of Monetary Pumping on the Real World

As long time readers know, we are looking at the economy through the lens of Austrian capital and monetary theory (see here for a backgrounder on capital theory and the production structure). In a nutshell: Monetary pumping falsifies interest rate signals by pushing gross market rates below the rate that reflects society-wide time preferences; this distorts relative prices in the economy and sets a boom into motion – which is characterized by widespread malinvestment of scarce capital and over-consumption; eventually, the distorted capital structure proves unsustainable – interest rates begin to rise, and boom turns to bust. Many businessmen belatedly realize that the accounting profits of the boom were an illusion – in reality, capital was consumed. Many as yet unfinished investment projects have to be abandoned, as they either turn out to be unprofitable at higher rates and/or the resources needed to complete them are lacking.

 

When capital runs short: several of countless housing developments in Spain which had to be abandoned when the bust of 2007-2009 started. The image on the right hand side shows a Spanish construction machinery graveyard in 2010. Money supply growth in the US and the euro area exploded after the turn of the millennium, as central banks pumped heavily to combat the demise of the tech boom. In the process they egged on an even more dangerous bubble in real estate. In their great wisdom they have now replaced the expired real estate boom with an even larger, more comprehensive bubble in everything.

 

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