Can US house prices bounce?

The US housing market is seeing two tsunami style forces at once but in opposite directions. The first is the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus pandemic on both wages (down) and unemployment (up). Unfortunately the official statistics released only last week are outright misleading as you can see below.

Real average hourly earnings increased 6.5 percent, seasonally adjusted, from May 2019 to May 2020.
The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.9 percent in the average
workweek resulted in 7.4-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

We got a better idea to the unemployment state of play on Thursday as we note the scale of the issue.

The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 18,919,804, a decrease of 178,671 (or -0.9 percent) from the preceding week.

The only hopeful bit is the small decline. Anyway let us advance with our own view is that we will be seeing much higher unemployment in 2020 although hopefully falling and falling real wages.

The Policy Response

The other tsunami is the policy response to the pandemic.

FISCAL STIMULUS (FEDERAL) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – on March 27 including a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

That was the Reuters summary of the policy response which has been added to in the meantime. In essence it is a response to the job losses and an attempt to resist the fall in wages.

Next comes the US Federal Reserve which has charged in like the US Cavalry. Here are their words from the report made to Congress last week.

Specifically, at two meetings in March, the FOMC lowered the target range for the federal funds rate by a total of 1-1/2 percentage points, bringing it to the current range of 0 to 1/4 percent.

That meant that they have now in this area at least nearly fulfilled the wishes of President Trump. They also pumped up their balance sheet.

The Federal Reserve swiftly took a series of policy actions to address these developments. The FOMC announced it would purchase Treasury securities and agency MBS in the amounts needed to ensure smooth market functioning and the effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. The Open Market Desk began offering large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Federal Reserve coordinated with other central banks to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements and announced the establishment of temporary U.S. dollar liquidity arrangements (swap lines) with additional central banks.

Their explanation is below.

 Market functioning deteriorated in many markets in late February and much of March, including the critical Treasury and agency MBS markets.

Let me use my updated version of my financial lexicon for these times. Market function deteriorated means prices fell and yields rose and this happening in the area of government and mortgage borrowing made them panic buy in response.

Mortgage Rates

It seems hard to believe now but the US ten-year opened the year at 1.9%, Whereas now after the recent fall driven by the words of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell it is 0.68%. Quite a move and it means that it has been another good year for bond market investors. The thirty-year yield is 1.41% as we note that there has been a large downwards push as we now look at mortgage rates.

Let me hand you over to CNBC from Thursday.

Mortgage rates set new record low, falling below 3%

How many times have I ended up reporting record lows for mortgage rates? Anyway we did get some more detail.

The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 2.97% Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily……..For top-tier borrowers, some lenders were quoting as low as 2.75%. Lower-tier borrowers would see higher rates.

Mortgage Amounts

CNBC noted some action here too.

Low rates have fueled a sharp and fast recovery in the housing market, especially for homebuilders. Mortgage applications to purchase a home were up 13% annually last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

According to Realtor.com the party is just getting started although I have helped out with a little emphasis.

Meanwhile, buyers who still have jobs have been descending on the market en masse, enticed by record-low mortgage interest rates. Rates fell below 3%, to hit an all-time low of 2.94% for 30-year fixed-rate loans on Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily.

Mortgage demand is back on the rise according to them.

For the past three weeks, the number of buyers applying for purchase mortgages rose year over year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications shot up 12.7% annually in the week ending June 5. They were also up 15% from the previous week.

Call me suspicious but I thought it best to check the supply figures as well.

Mortgage credit availability decreased in May according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI)………..The MCAI fell by 3.1 percent to 129.3 in May. A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while increases in the index are indicative of loosening credit.

So a decline but still a lot higher than when it was set at 100 in 2012. The recent peak at the end of last year was of the order of 185 and was plainly singing along to the Outhere Brothers.

Boom boom boom let me here you say way-ooh (way-ooh)
Me say boom boom boom now everybody say way-ooh (way-ooh)

What about prices?

As the summer home-buying season gets underway, median home prices are surging. They shot up 4.3% year over year as the number of homes for sale continued to dry up in the week ending June 6, according to a recent realtor.com® report. That’s correct: Prices are going up despite this week’s announcement that the U.S. officially entered a recession in February.

Comment

As Todd Terry sang.

Something’s goin’ on in your soul

The housing market is seeing some surprises although I counsel caution. As I read the pieces about I note that a 4.3% rise is described as “shot up” whereas this gives a better perspective.

While that’s below the typical 5% to 6% annual price appreciation this time of year, it’s nearly back to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Median prices were rising 4.5% in the first two weeks of March before the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Nationally, the median home list price was $330,000 in May, according to the most recent realtor.com data.

But as @mikealfred reports there is demand out there.

Did someone forget to tell residential real estate buyers about the recession? I’m helping my in-laws buy a house in Las Vegas right now. Nearly every house in their price range coming to market sees 40+ showings and 5+ offers in the first few days. Crazy demand.

Of course there is the issue as to at what price?

So there we have it. The Federal Reserve will be happy as it has created a demand to buy property. The catch is that it is like crack and if they are to keep house prices rising they will have to intervene on an ever larger scale. For the moment their policy is also being flattered by house supply being low and I doubt that will last. To me this house price rally feels like trying to levitate over the edge of a cliff.

Podcast

 

 

 

Where will all the extra US Money Supply end up?

Today brings both the US economy and monetary policy centre stage. The OECD has already weighed in on the subject this morning.

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought the longest economic expansion on record to a juddering halt. GDP
contracted by 5% in the first quarter at an annualised rate, and the unemployment rate has risen
precipitously. If there is another virus outbreak later in the year, GDP is expected to fall by over 8% in 2020
(the double-hit scenario). If, on the other hand, the virus outbreak subsides by the summer and further
lockdowns are avoided (the single-hit scenario), the impact on annual growth is estimated to be a percentage
point less.

Actually that is less than its view of many other countries. But of course we need to remind ourselves that the OECD is not a particularly good forecaster. Also we find that the official data has its quirks.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate
declined to 13.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today……In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. By contrast, employment
in government continued to decline sharply……….The unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points to 13.3 percent in May, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 2.1 million to 21.0 million.

Those figures not only completely wrong footed the forecasters they nutmegged them as well in one of the most spectacular examples of this genre I have seen. I forget now if they were expecting a rise in unemployment of eight or nine million but either way you get the gist. We do not know where we are let alone where we are going although the Bureau of Labor Statistics did try to add some clarity.

If the workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work due to “other  reasons” (over and above the number absent for other reasons in a typical May) had
been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, the overall unemployment rate  would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported (on a not seasonally  adjusted basis).

We learn more about the state of play from the New York Federal Reserve.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -25.5% for 2020:Q2 and -12.0% for 2020:Q3. News from this week’s data releases increased the nowcast for 2020:Q2 by 10 percentage points and increased the nowcast for 2020:Q3 by 24.5 percentage points. Positive surprises from labor, survey, and international trade data drove most of the increase.

As you can see the labo(u)r market data blew their forecasts like a gale and leave us essentially with the view that there has been a large contraction but also a wide possible and indeed probable error range.

The Inflation Problem

We get the latest inflation data later after I publish this piece. But there is a problem with the mantra we are being told which is that there is no inflation. Something similar to the April reading of 0.3% is expected. So if we switch to the measure used by the US Federal Reserve which is based on Personal Consumption Expenditures the annual rate if we use our rule of thumb would in fact be slightly negative right now. On this basis Chair Powell and much of the media can say that all the monetary easing is justified.

But there are more than a few catches which change the picture. Let me start with the issues I raised concerning the Euro area yesterday where the numbers will be pushed downwards by a combination of the weights being (very) wrong, many prices being unavailable and the switch to online prices. It would seem that the ordinary person has been figuring this out for themselves.

The May 2020 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows small signs of improvement in households’ expectations compared to April. Median inflation expectations increased by 0.4 percentage point at the one-year horizon to 3.0 percent, and were unchanged at the three-year horizon at 2.6 percent. ( NY Fed Research from Monday)

It is revealing that they describe an increase in inflation that is already above target as an “improvement” is it not? But we see a complete shift as we leave the Ivory Towers and media palaces as the ordinary person surveyed expects a very different picture. Still the Ivory Towers can take some solace from the fact that inflation is in what they consider to be non-core areas.

Expected year-ahead changes in both food and gasoline prices displayed sharp increases for the second consecutive month and recorded series’ highs in May at 8.7% and 7.8%, respectively, in May.

Just for the avoidance of doubt I have turned my Irony meter beyond even the “turn up to 11” of the film Spinal Tap.

Central bankers will derive some cheer from the apparent improvement in perceptions about the housing market.

Median home price change expectations recovered slightly from its series’ low of 0% reached in April to 0.6% in May. The slight increase was driven by respondents who live in the West and Northeast Census regions.

Credit

More food for thought is provided in this area. If we switch to US Federal Reserve policy Chair Jerome Powell will tell us later that the taps are open and credit is flowing. But those surveyed have different ideas it would seem.

Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago deteriorated for the third consecutive month, with 49.6% of respondents reporting credit to be harder to get today than a year ago (versus 32.1% in March and 48.0% in April). Expectations for year-ahead credit availability also worsened, with fewer respondents expecting credit will become easier to obtain.

Comment

I now want to shift to a subject which is not getting the attention it deserves. This is the growth in the money supply where the three monthly average for the narrow measure M1 has increased in annualised terms by 67.2% in the three months to the 25th of May. Putting that another way it has gone from a bit over US $4 trillion to over US $5 trillion over the past 3 months. That gives the monetary system quite a short-term shove the size of which we can put into context with this.

In April 2008, M1 was approximately $1.4 trillion, more than half of which consisted of currency.  ( NY Fed)

Contrary to what we keep being told about the decline of cash it has grown quite a bit over this period as there is presently a bit over US $1.8 trillion in circulation.

Moving to the wider measure M2 we see a similar picture where the most recent three months measured grew by 40.6% compared to its predecessor in annualised terms. Or if you prefer it has risen from US $15.6 billion to US $18.1 billion. Again here is the historical perspective from April 2008.

 M2 was approximately $7.7 trillion and largely consisted of savings deposits.

So here is a question for readers, where do you think all this money will go? Whilst you do so you might like to note this from the 2008 report I have quoted.

While as much as two-thirds of U.S. currency in circulation may be held outside the United States….

The Investing Channel

 

The USA will Spend! Spend! Spend! As we wonder whatever happened to the debt ceiling?

Yesterday evening there was a piece of news which created a stir even in these inflated times. So without further ado let me hand you over to the US Treasury Department.

During the April – June 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $2,999 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-June cash balance of $800 billion.  The borrowing estimate is $3,055 billion higher than announced in February 2020.

I have to confess the numbers did not look right so I checked the February release.

During the April – June 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to pay down $56 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-June cash balance of $400 billion.

This was to be quite an improvement on where it was at the time.

During the January – March 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $367 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-March cash balance of $400 billion.

So we return to the concept of some US 3 trillion dollars being borrowed in a single quarter. As to the higher cash balance which is in the process of being doubled that looks as though it is simply because the US is spending at such a rate it needs more to avoid the risk of a cash crunch. Indeed the process is well under way.

During the January – March 2020 quarter, Treasury borrowed $477 billion in privately-held net marketable debt and ended the quarter with a cash balance of $515 billion.  In February 2020, Treasury estimated privately-held net marketable borrowing of $367 billion and assumed an end-of-March cash balance of $400 billion. The $110 billion increase in borrowing resulted primarily from the higher end-of-quarter cash balance.

Where is the money going?

The US Treasury is light on some detail but the Paycheck Protection Program had spent some US $350 billion very quickly so we then saw this.

Washington (CNN)The Trump administration announced Sunday that 2.2 million small business loans worth $175 billion have been made in the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program……Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a joint statement that the average size of a loan made under the second iteration of the program, which began Monday, was $79,000.

The original stimulus effort was described below by CNN.

Congressional lawmakers put the finishing touches on a $2 trillion stimulus bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with cash and assistance for regular Americans, Main Street businesses and hard-hit airlines and manufacturers, among others……..Key elements of the proposal are $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

We can see that like the small business loans the numbers are likely to have been climbing higher and higher. As to the new higher employment benefits they seem to be being paid to ever higher numbers.

The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 17,776,006, an increase of 1,498,784 (or 9.2 percent) from the preceding week. The seasonal factors had expected a decrease of 648,558 (or -4.0 percent) from the previous week. A year earlier the rate was 1.1 percent and the volume was 1,647,874 ( Department of Labor)

I think we can figure out for ourselves what has been happening to tax revenues.

Treasury Bonds and QE

In ordinary times one might have expected this market to have cratered. I have worked through times when futures markets prices limits are employed ( it was initially 2 points and then moves to 3 points). But the surge in expected borrowing has provided nothing of the sort and these days eyes turn first to the US Federal Reserve and its Quantitative Easing programme. The emphasis below is mine.

To support the flow of credit to households and businesses, the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning, thereby fostering effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. In addition, the Open Market Desk will continue to offer large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Committee will closely monitor market conditions and is prepared to adjust its plans as appropriate.

That is a sort of combination of “whatever it takes” and “To Infinity! And Beyond!” in my opinion. We saw purchases of US $75 billion a day in the height of the panic and we should not forget that in the heat of the “Not QE” phase some US $60 billion of US Treasury Bills were bought a month. So we see that it now owns some US $3.97 trillion of Treasury Securities which has risen by US $1.8 trlllion on the past year.

Thus although we are now seeing a much lower daily amount of QE purchases the surge of buying has anaesthetised the market. This week only US $8 billion a day is being bought and yet we see the benchmark yield for the ten-year Treasury Note if a mere 0.67%. The long bond ( 30 year) has responded a little but at 1.33% is less than half what it was this time last year.

Foreign Holdings

There is a long wait for such numbers but here is what the US Treasury thinks that they are.

The survey measured the value of foreign portfolio holdings of U.S. securities as of end-June 2019 to be $20,534 billion, with $8,630 billion held in U.S. equities, $10,991 billion in U.S. long-term debt securities [/1] (of which $1,417 billion are holdings of asset-backed securities (ABS) [/2] and $9,575 billion are holdings of non-ABS securities), and $913 billion held in U.S. short-term debt securities.

Comment

Remember the debt ceiling?

Congress has always acted when called upon to raise the debt limit. Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. Congressional leaders in both parties have recognized that this is necessary. ( US Treasury )

Anyway the total national debt was US $23.7 trillion at the end of March and is about to go on something of a tear. On the other side of the coin economic output as measured by GDP or Gross Domestic Product is about to plunge.

The WEI is currently -11.58 percent, scaled to four-quarter GDP growth, for the week ending April 25 and -10.86 percent for April 18; for reference, the WEI stood at 1.58 percent for the week ending February 29. ( New York Fed )

Or if you prefer.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -9.3% for 2020:Q2.

Also the US Federal Reserve is about to get rather popular as we note how this trend will change in 2020.

In 2019, the Federal Reserve remitted a total of $54.9 billion to the Treasury, less than the $65.3 billion remitted in 2018, owing primarily to a decline in net income resulting from a decrease in average SOMA domestic securities holdings.

I guess both the US Federal Reserve and Treasury will be singing along with Prince for a while.

Money don’t matter to night
It sure didn’t matter yesterday
Just when you think you’ve got more than enough
That’s when it all up and flies away
That’s when you find out that you’re better off
Makin’ sure your soul’s alright
‘Cause money didn’t matter yesterday,
And it sure don’t matter to night

 

How many US Dollars are enough?

The issue of what you might call King Dollar is not one which gets the coverage it deserves. Instead the media coverage tends to highlight claims that its period of rule is on the way out with China demanding more use of the Yuan or Russia the rouble and so on. Or we get the various proclamations that we need some sort of world currency which to my mind are more like pie in the sky thinking than blue sky thinking. When we looked at the IMF on the I noted the suggestions that its SDRs ( Special Drawing Rights) could become the world currency but there are all sorts of flaws there.

So far SDR 204.2 billion (equivalent to about US$281 billion) have been allocated to members, including SDR 182.6 billion allocated in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis. The value of the SDR is based on a basket of five currencies—the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling.

If we look at the issues of the Euro can anybody even imagine trying to apply a fixed exchange-rate to the whole world? We would have all sorts of individual booms and busts before we even get to the idea of a joint interest-rate. That is before we get to the track record of the IMF after all can you imagine trying to get its currency accepted in Argentina and Greece.

Supply of US Dollars

It is not as if the taps have been turned off.

The numbers: The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet expanded to a record $6.6 trillion in the week ended April 22, an increase of $205 billion from the prior week, the central bank said Thursday.

What happened: Holdings of U.S. Treasurys rose by $120.5 billion to $3.9 trillion. The central bank has been purchasing Treasurys at a rapid pace in a bid to restore functioning to this key U.S. financial market. The central bank’s holdings of mortgage-backed securities rose $54 billion to $1.6 trillion. ( MarketWatch)

As you can see the balance sheet is expanding at a rapid rate and let me just add that if you really think the US Federal Reserve is buying US Treasury Bonds to “restore functioning to this key U.S. financial market.” I have a London bridge to sell you. The truth is that it is implicitly financing the US Budget Deficit as we note that the ten-year yield is a mere 0.58% and the long bond is a mere 1.17% in spite of surging expenditure.

We can now switch to the money supply for further insight because we have noted in the past that QE does not go straight into the numbers as one might assume. Looking at the ECB data has shown that what should be clear cut narrow money creation seems to sometimes go missing in action. However we are seeing quite a surge in the money supply as we note that the narrow money measure ( M1) only went through US $4 trillion as March began but by the 13th of April was already US $4.73 trillion.

I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
I’ll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched me once will smile and take me in ( Steve Winwood )

Putting that another way the annual rate of increase is 11.6% the annualised six-monthly one is 15.7% and the quarterly one is 23.4%. You can see which way that is going and I would point out that only a month or so ago 11.6% would be considered very high.

Peering into the detail we see that the surge in narrow money is mostly deposits, There has been a rise in cold hard cash, dirty money as Stevie V would say but deposits have risen by around US $700 billion over the past couple of months.

Sending Dollars To Friends Abroad

This a subject I have covered throughout the credit crunch and NPR seem to have caught up with.

As the global economy shuts down, the U.S. Federal Reserve has begun sending billions of dollars to central banks all over the world. Last month, it opened up 14 “swap lines” to nations such as Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Norway. A “swap line” is like an emergency pipeline of dollars to countries that need them. The dollars are “swapped,” i.e., traded for the other country’s currency.

The numbers here have ballooned and are the missing link so to speak in the balance sheet data above. As of last night some US $432.3 billion have been supplied to foreign central banks. I will let that sink in and then point out that it means banks in those countries or regions either cannot get US Dollars at all or can only get them at an interest-rate which challenges their solvency.

As to the demand then we always expected it to be mainly from the following too although not always in this order. Bank of Japan US $215 billion and the ECB $142 billion. Particularly troubling from the Japanese point of view is that as well as being the leader of the pack they are needing ever more. When we note that the Bank of England has only asked for US $27.3 billion which is low when you look at the size of the UK’s banks we see the Bank of Japan needed another US $19 billion overnight.

One factor of note is that the Norges Bank requested some US $3.6 billion for 84 days yesterday. So the heat is on for at least one Norwegian bank.

Also the extension of the swaps to Emerging Markets as requested by @trinhonomics has been used. The Bank of Korea has taken US $16.6 billion, the Bank of Mexico some US $6.6 billion and the Monetary Authority of Singapore some US $5.9 billion.

Exchange Rate

In spite of the balance sheet rises and the effort to become in effect the world’s central bank by supplying US Dollars the exchange rate remains firm. We can look at it in terms of the broad index being 123.2 as opposed to the 114.7 it ended 2019 or simply that it was set at 100 in 2006.

Comment

There are plenty of influences here but one thing we can be sure of is that the US Dollar is in demand. Let me give you some examples.

Kenya shilling hits a new all-time low of 107.6500 against the US dollar according to data from @business

 

Rupee falls to all-time low of 76.87 against US dollar in early trade ( Press Trust of India from Wednesday)

 

At the start of the year, $1 bought you 4.00 Brazilian reals. It now buys you 5.53 reais. That’s a 38% rise for the dollar (27% fall for the real) in less than four months. ( @ReutersJamie )

We have looked at India before and back then going through 70 seemed significant. As to Kenya an interest-rate of 7.25% is not helping much is it? Then we have Brazil showing how the Dollar has impacted South America.

So economics 101 is having another bad phase because a massively increased supply is not pushing the price down. In come respects it may even be creating more demand because if you know there is a ready supply then you may then use it more. Ouch! After all the much lower oil price should be reducing the demand for US Dollars and indeed the negative price such as it applied should be depth-charging it.

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime? ( Bing Crosby )

 

The US Federal Reserve moves nearer to bùying equities

Yesterday as the media clustered around the news from the Bank of England the real news came from the US Federal Reserve which in many respects is acting as the world’s central bank. So it has two roles right now the first is for the world’s largest economy and the second is for the rest of us.For the avoidance of doubt that is the order in which it will operate if its past track record is any guide. There was something of an irony as so many US financial commentators were looking at the Bank of England. Some of you may have spotted me pointing out to the Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman that he was spreading an economics version of fake news.

The Trigger

This was provided by the latest weekly update on the US labour market

The latest round of coronavirus-induced layoffs and furloughs soared by another 6.6 million in the first week of April, bringing total job losses in less than a month to 16.8 million.Initial jobless claims, a rough proxy for job losses, have now posted increases of 6.6 million, 6.8 million and 3.3 million in the last three weekly readings since the middle of March.

To put these mind-boggling numbers in perspective, before the March 21 surge, the highest single weekly reading ever recorded was 695,000 in 1982,” said chief economist Joshua Shapiro of MFR Inc. ( Marketwatch )

As you can see these were really bad and came with a sub-plot that there had been so many claims that the offices processing this had been struggling to keep up. Thus the real situation was likely to be even worse.

The Federal Reserve’s Response

The US central bank came out of the blocks like a 60 metres sprinter

The Federal Reserve on Thursday took additional actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy. This funding will assist households and employers of all sizes and bolster the ability of state and local governments to deliver critical services during the coronavirus.”

Apart from the rapid response there was an immediate impact from the sum quoted as this was slightly over half the size of the pre Corona Virus peak of the Fed’s balance sheet. So in modern parlance a bazooka.

There was something rather familiar in there which was a central bank “interpreting” its mandate. Let me cover that by looking at the market response via the Financial Times.

The high-yield market, often referred to as “junk”, encompasses the debt issued by lower-rated, riskier companies that are more exposed to deteriorating economic conditions stemming from the viral outbreak and the collapse in oil prices.

In response to the Fed’s move on Thursday, the biggest high-yield bond ETF — run by Blackrock which is also administering the Fed’s bond purchases — jumped by more than 7 per cent, on course for its largest one-day move since 2008.

Therè are two points to consider here which is the expansion of the role of the Fed and the way that Blackrock seems to have surpassed the Vampire Squid Goldman Sachs. As it administers a process which sees its own fund surge! Here is the view from CNBC.

As part of its announcement, the Fed expanded its corporate lending programs to take it into an entirely new area, including ETFs of companies that are rated below investment grade. It had previously announced a program to buy investment-grade corporate debt and ETFs. It also will now accept triple-A-rated commercial mortgage-backed securities and collateralized loan obligations as part of its Term Asset-Backed Securities Lending Facility, first created in the financial crisis.

The Details

Below is the report from the Fed itself and the significant factor is how often these policies need to be underwritten by the US taxpayer.

Bolster the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by supplying liquidity to participating financial institutions through term financing backed by PPP loans to small businesses. The PPP provides loans to small businesses so that they can keep their workers on the payroll. The Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF) will extend credit to eligible financial institutions that originate PPP loans, taking the loans as collateral at face value;

 

Ensure credit flows to small and mid-sized businesses with the purchase of up to $600 billion in loans through the Main Street Lending Program. The Department of the Treasury, using funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) will provide $75 billion in equity to the facility;

 

Increase the flow of credit to households and businesses through capital markets, by expanding the size and scope of the Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF) as well as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). These three programs will now support up to $850 billion in credit backed by $85 billion in credit protection provided by the Treasury; and

 

Help state and local governments manage cash flow stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic by establishing a Municipal Liquidity Facility that will offer up to $500 billion in lending to states and municipalities. The Treasury will provide $35 billion of credit protection to the Federal Reserve for the Municipal Liquidity Facility using funds appropriated by the CARES Act.

Comment

Back in the day my boss was convinced that the US authorities were buying equities when the market fell and such thoughts became what half – jokingly became called The Plunge Protection Team. That then developed into the concept of central banks providing a Put Option for equity markets via not letting them fall.The most explicit version of that is the Bank of Japan which bought over 500 billion Yen of equities this month . Hence its nickname of The Tokyo Whale.

Now we see the US Fed heading on that road and there is one bit it is copying from Japan which is the use of Exchange Traded Funds or ETFs. I guess that is to avoid having to go to any AGMs and the like. But as to the Fed buying equities well I hope by now I have taught you all what to do with these.

Mnuchin says no talks right now about potential to have fed buy stocks

In terms of monetary policy the balance sheet is already over US $6 trillion and will go much higher. In terms of the money supply the recent growth rate of narrow money was already 13.4% at the end of March and now seems set to surge.

Happy Easter and I hope you have the same weather as London today.

The Emerging Markets Problem and debt jubilees

Some familiar topics are doing the rounds and making a few headlines and today I shall use the focus of the problems of many of what are called Emerging Markets to focus in on them. So let me open with the issue of the apparent lust for US Dollars that keeps popping up and return to an issue we analysed on the 18th of March.

*Bank Indonesia Governor Says New York Fed Will Provide $60B Repo Line ( @VPatelFX )

So we see another country on its way into the US Federal Reserve liquidity swaps club so let us ask the Carly Simon question which is why?

Indonesia’s foreign exchange (forex) reserves dropped US$9.4 billion in March to $121 billion as Bank Indonesia (BI) stepped up market intervention to stabilize the rupiah exchange rate amid heavy capital outflows, according to the central bank.

Forex reserves have continued to decrease since February,  when they dropped from $131.7 billion in January, the second-highest level in the country’s history. March’s figure is enough to support seven months of imports and payments of the government’s short-term debts and is above the international adequacy standard of about three months of imports. ( Jakarta Post

Di you notice how Bank Indonesia reports its foreign currency reserves in US Dollars? That is a slap in the face for those reporting its hegemony is over and as an opening salvo confirms the issue at hand. The secondary issue is that the level of foreign exchange reserves is only $10 billion below the second highest ever and yet if not panic stations there are clear worries. Next comes something I have pointed out before when a crisis hits it is the rate of change of reserves which worries people more than the size left. So in fact only a certain percentage of reserves are what one might call “usable” in that you them have to do something else as well. Finally we get to the nub of the issue which is how long you can pay for your imports and finance your debts. Of course borrowing in US Dollars in size is something that is on our checklist of trouble as well.

The Jakarta Post goes onto point out that the heat is on.

The fear has induced capital outflow and amplified exchange rate pressures on the rupiah, especially in the second and third week of March 2020,” BI wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

The rupiah lost around 15 percent of its value against the dollar in March as investors rushed to sell riskier assets and flock to safe haven assets amid fears over COVID-19’s rapid spread.

Also on March 19th I did point out that QE ( Quantitative Easing) seems to be spreading everywhere.

The central bank has purchased Rp 172.5 trillion in government bonds, including Rp 166.2 trillion from foreign investors in the secondary market.

Indeed if we switch to Fitch Ratings this morning another response to this crisis is the beginning of what is literal printing money.

Another extraordinary measure is the decision to give Bank Indonesia (BI), the central bank, the authority to buy government securities in the primary market…….However, the move raises a number of risks, including central bank financing of the fiscal deficit (which could increase the monetary base and raise inflationary expectations), increased political interference in monetary policy decision-making and the erosion of the market’s ability to price Indonesian public debt.

As a counterpoint the extent of the crisis is shown by the fact that by one metric Indonesia has been quite conservative in economic terms.

 We believe that the fiscal loosening will push general government (GG) debt to a peak of 37% of GDP in 2022, from about 30% in 2019,

As an aside it is interesting that Bank Indonesia will be applying QE at an interest-rate of 4.5% I will be looking later at how they account for that as it is a long way from ZIRP or around 0%.

Argentina

On the 19th of March the International Monetary Fund summarised a grim situation as follows.

Since July 2019, the peso has depreciated by over 40 percent, sovereign spreads have risen by
over 2700 basis points , net international
reserves fell by half, and real GDP contracted more
than previously anticipated. As a result, gross public
debt rose to nearly 90 percent of GDP at end-2019,
13 percentage points higher than projected at the
time of the Fourth Review.

A 27% increase in sovereign spreads! This was all very different from the words of Christine Lagarde when she was managing director of the IMF.

These efforts are starting to yield results, and should lay the foundation for the return of confidence and growth.

That was then and this is now or rather the Buenos Aires Times from yesterday.

The government has issued a decree to postpone close to US$10 billion in dollar-denominated debt payments issued under local law, cancelling all such actions until the end of the year.

The move, which should relieve pressure on payments due this year, does not impact Argentina’s wider bid to restructure around US$70-billion worth of debt in foreign currency issued under international law.

So it is the dollar denominated debt which sings along with Lindsey Buckingham.

I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.

I would have thought that reporters in Argentina would be familiar with the concept of default but apparently not.

Some experts warned that the move could be interpreted by creditors as putting Argentina in “technical default,” as it implies a change in the conditions under which those bonds were issued.

Anyway a sign of the trouble Argentina is in is show by two separate factors. Firstly how much it saves.

And by allowing the government to save some US$8.5 billion in local payments this year, it could actually be a boon for holders of foreign-law debt by freeing up cash.

Secondly it has tried to avoid affecting these foreign bonds presumably knowing that just like The Terminator “I’ll be back”

Argentina has already been unilaterally delaying payments on some peso-denominated debt, even as it kept current on overseas obligations and embarked on restructuring talks over its overseas notes.

Comment

We have looked at two different ends of the spectrum today as we see why so many what we call Emerging Markets are in trouble. There are quite a few metrics where Indonesia is strong but the US Dollar is making it creak and of course poor Argentina is at the basket case end of the spectrum. Indeed I rarely quite from Zerohedge but this is a masterpiece.

There is a saying: three things in life are certain: death, taxes and another Argentina default.

Also it reminds me of something that bemused me at the time as I note this from the 21st of May last year.

The 100 year bond is trading at 68.5, but I suppose you have 98 or so years left to get back to 100.

They still have 97 or so years to go but with a price of 28.5 now a lot further to go.

The pressure is leading to two suggestions. Firstly from DebtJubilee.

Borrower governments have it within their power to stop making debt payments but they should not suffer any penalties for doing so. All lenders should therefore agree to the immediate cancellation of debt payments falling due in 2020, with no accrual of interest and charges and no penalties.

It has its strengths but ignores what happens to those who were relying on the interest payments as you may simply be kicking the problem can elsewhere.

There is also this from the Brookings Institute.

Last week, we put forward a proposal for a major issuance of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as a key tool to attack the worldwide spread of the financial fallout. In essence, we proposed that IMF members agree to an allocation of the equivalent of at least $500 billion as part of the global response to the crisis generated by the corona virus pandemic.

The catch is that you can create money as this does. But there are two problems that immediately occur to me. If you have more money but as we stand fewer goods and services you are solving one problem by creating another ( inflation) for others. That may be asset inflation ( look at equity markets right now) more than consumer inflation. Next is the way that non elected bodies get power and distribute it, who are they responsible too?

 

It is all about the banks once again

As so often we find ourselves returning to the topic of the banks as they are at the heart of the financial system. They are the group which most exemplify the dictum if you want to enrich yourself get as close as you can to flows of money. The best description of this was provided by Matt Taibbi some years ago.

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

Now we find ourselves in a situation where central banks are hurriedly devising schemes to protect the banking sector which is odd in a way for something they have kept describing as “resilient”. Of course the original medicine of interest-rate cuts has turned into an overdose as the banks remain terrified of the consequences of reducing interest-rates for the ordinary depositor below 0% in case it creates a run on deposits. Such a thing which expose some of the illusions that banking relies on. So now we have other policies such as more Quantitative Easing of which there will be an extra £4.5 billion in the UK today for example. Also we are in an era of “credit easing” with what is called the Term Funding Scheme for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises or TFSME as below.

 In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 5% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate……….Experience from the Term Funding Scheme launched in 2016 suggests that the TFSME could provide in excess of £100 billion in term funding.

Last time around the money leaked straight into the mortgage market thus providing a double boost for the banks as they were able to lend out funds they got cheaply as well as boost their balance sheet as the consequent higher house prices improve their mortgage book.

But in spite of that there are plenty of signs of this.

Trouble, trouble, trouble
Oh, oh
Trouble, trouble, trouble ( Taylor Swift).

Lloyds Bank

Let me give you a different perspective on this with some news that flashed a warning sign yesterday.

*LLOYDS BANK STARTS CASH TENDER FOR 12% PERPETUAL CAP SECURITIES Wow, this is stunning. ( @jeuasommenulle)

These securities are part of the capital of a bank and some US $2 billion was issued. As junior subordianated debt it is not at the top of the line but this is hardly the time for a buyback of any sort of capital especially when we note the news below. Switching to the interest-rate well that is what banks had to pay when the credit crunch was raging in last 2009.

This poses a question of why the Bank of England is allowing this? Which leads to the conclusion that one of the holders of the bond may be desperate for cash/liquidity and is being offered a type of out or if you prefer an olive branch. Regular readers are unlikely to be surprised by this being in US Dollars.

Dividends

According to the Financial Times these are something for yesterday and some unspecified date in the future but not now.

The UK’s largest lenders bowed to pressure from Britain’s top financial regulator and halted their dividends after they were warned against paying out billions of pounds to shareholders during the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of co-ordinated statements on Tuesday evening, Lloyds, RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Santander and Standard Chartered said they would cancel their dividends for 2019 and refrain from setting cash aside for investor payouts this year. They also pledged not to carry out any share buybacks.

So the banks will save the amount below and accordingly get a capital boost.

By bowing to the regulator’s wishes on dividends, the banks have avoided being subjected to formal action. But the decision to cancel last year’s payouts — worth £7.5bn — will prove unpopular with some investors, especially retail shareholders who rely on the payout for their income.

Investors though who have been hoping for dividends will lose out. Now whilst owning a share is supposed to be risky there is an awkward optic here in the era of central bank put options for equities as well as the fact that some of these had been announced.

The Asia-focused bank had been due to pay a dividend totalling $4.2bn on April 14. HSBC’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell as much as 9.9 per cent on Wednesday morning…….Barclays had been due to pay a full-year dividend of 6p per share on Friday, worth roughly £1bn.

Bonuses

These too are supposed to be put on hold.

The regulator also said it “expects” the banks and Nationwide, the building society, to refrain from paying any cash bonuses to senior staff and signalled they should stop setting money aside for variable pay during the “coming months”. ( Financial Times )

As someone who is suspicious of such announcements it immediately occurs to me that bonuses in shares are not excluded according to that statement. Furthermore bank shares are very cheap right now, of which more later. So bonuses would probably have been in shares anyway.

If North Man is correct there is also another issue.

Absolute scandal – the banks have just paid their 2019 bonus pools in the LAST 2 WEEKS (e.g. c http://1.bn Barc and c. 3bn HSBC paid out). If a capital cushion is required, why didn’t the PRA ensure these were stopped as well?…….Why doesn’t the FT article mention this – any serious financial article would question why 19 bonuses can be paid, but the 19 dividend can’t and challenge this glaring inconsistency. Surely has to be same treatment for both whether it is pay, cut or suspend.

He has a point I think.

The US Dollar Shortage

I have been writing for a couple of years or so now about the apparent shortage of US Dollars. It would appear that the US Federal Reserve is coming around to my point of view. It was only on the 16th of last month I noted the expansion of its liquidity or FX Swaps. As of last week’s update some US $206 billion was drawn on them. But it seems that was not enough. The emphasis is mine.

The FIMA Repo Facility will allow FIMA account holders, which consist of central banks and other international monetary authorities with accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to enter into repurchase agreements with the Federal Reserve. In these transactions, FIMA account holders temporarily exchange their U.S. Treasury securities held with the Federal Reserve for U.S. dollars, which can then be made available to institutions in their jurisdictions.

 

Comment

The financial system is plainly creaking and clearly so are some of the banks. I have looked above at the issue of US Dollar liquidity and it is not necessarily a shortage of them outright but that now some are considered too risky to be lent them. As banks rely in such flows there is a danger of a financial form of contagion. I doubt it is a coincidence that the bond Lloyds Bank are planning to redeem is US Dollar denominated.

On the other side of the coin the banks are under pressure to support the economy. There must be extraordinary demands on them to support smaller businesses for example. I see the big read in the Financial Times is this.

Will the coronavirus crisis rehabilitate the banks?

I would not be any sort of son if I did not point out that my father’s ashes will be spinning at maximum speed. For newer readers I looked at his experiences with the banks during economic slow downs last Thursday. This from the FT piece is really rather extraordinary.

We are the doctors of the economy now.

If that is a parody then please forgive me for missing it.

Returning to the UK banks we see in an irony of the times the Bank of England remaining a follower of the ECB as it was it who started the dividend suspension theme. However there is a catch which is the effect on already weak bank share prices as we learn there are a lack of free gifts in this area. For example Barclays Bank is at 88 pence as I type this down another 6 pence today. Meanwhile Royal Bank of Scotland in which the UK government invested UK taxpayers money at a bit over £5 is at £1.07 as I type this also down 7 pence today.

Yet Lloyds Bank can apparently buy a bond back? With a share price of 30 pence?

Meanwhile the owner of Brewdog when asked by CNBC if the banks were doing all they can replied.

No I don’t

The world wants and needs US Dollars and it wants them now

In the midst if the financial market turmoil there has been a consistent theme which can be missed. Currency markets rarely get too much of a look in on the main stream media unless they can find something dramatic. But CNN Business has given it a mention.

The US dollar is rallying against virtually every other currency and it seems like nothing can stop it.

There are lots of consequences and implications here but let us start with some numbers. My home country has seen an impact as the UK Pound £ has been pushed back to US $1.20 and even the Euro which has benefited from Carry Trade reversals ( people borrowed in Euros to take advantage of negative interest-rates) has been pushed below 1.10. Even the Japanese Yen which is considered a safe haven in such times has been pushed back to 107.50. We can get more thoughts on this from The Straits Times from earlier today.

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – The Australian dollar was ravaged on Wednesday (March 18) after toppling to 17-year lows as fears of a coronavirus-induced global recession sent investors fleeing from risk assets and commodities, with panic selling even spilling over into sovereign bonds.

The New Zealand dollar was also on the ropes at US$0.5954, having shed 1.7 per cent overnight to the lowest since mid-2009.

The Aussie was pinned at US$0.6004 after sliding 2 per cent on Tuesday to US$0.5958, depths not seen since early 2003.

So there are issues ans especially in a land down under as an Aussie Dollar gets closer to the value of a Kiwi one. In fact the Aussie has been hit again today falling to US $0.5935 as I type this. No doubt it is being affected by lower commodity prices signalled in some respects by Dr. Copper falling by over 4% to US $2.20

Sadly the effective or trade-weighted index is not up to date but as of the 13th of this month the official US Federal Reserve version was at 120.7 as opposed to the 115 it began the year.

Demand for Dollars

It was only on Monday we looked at the modifications to the liquidity or FX Swaps between the world’s main central banks. Hot off the wires is this.

BoE Allots $8.210B In 7 Day USD Repo Operation ( @LiveSquawk )

This means that even in the UK we are seeing demands for US Dollars which cannot be easily got in the markets right now. Maybe whoever this is has been pushing the UK Pound £ down but we get a perspective by the fact that this facility had not been used since mid-December when the grand sum of $5 million was requested. There were larger requests back in November 2008.

I was surprised that so little notice was taken when I pointed this out yesterday.

Interesting to see the Bank of Japan supply some US $30.3 billion this morning until June 11th. Was it Japanese banks who were needing dollars?

Completing the set comes the European Central Bank or ECB.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank on Wednesday lent euro zone banks $112 billion at two auctions aimed at easing stress in the U.S. dollar funding market, part of the financial fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The ECB said it had allotted $75.82 billion in its new 84-day auction, introduced by major central banks last weekend in response to global demand for greenbacks, and $36.27 billion at its regular 7-day tender.

Actually it was good the ECB found the time as it is otherwise busy arguing with itself.

With regards to comments made by Governor Holzmann, the ECB states:

The Governing Council was unanimous in its analysis that in addition to the measures it decided on 12 March 2020, the ECB will continue to monitor closely the consequences for the economy of the spreading coronavirus and that the ECB stands ready to adjust all of its measures, as appropriate, should this be needed to safeguard liquidity conditions in the banking system and to ensure the smooth transmission of its monetary policy in all jurisdictions.

So we see now why the Swap Lines were reinforced and buttressed.

Oh and even the Swiss Banks joined in.

*SNB GETS $315M BIDS FOR 84-DAY DOLLAR REPO ( @GregBeglaryan )

Emerging Markets

This is far worse and let me give you a different perspective on this. During the period of the trade war we looked regularly at the state of play in the Pacific as it was being disproportionately affected.

Let me hand you over to @Trinhnomics or Trinh Nguyen.

Swap lines to EM please (also to Australia – we like Australia in Asia too as it’s APAC). “the supply of liquidity by central banks is beneficial only to those who can access it,

Her concern was over that region and EM is Emerging Markets. I enquired further.

Operationally, the bid for USD in Asia and squeeze in liquidity reflects the massive role of the USD in the global economy & finance. For example, 87% of China merchandise trade is invoiced in US. and the loss of income from export earnings will further push higher the demand of USD. To overcome the global USD squeeze, the Fed must step up its operational support via swap lines with economies such as South Korea.

That was from a piece she wrote for the Financial Times but got cut from it. On twitter she went further with a theme regular readers will find familiar

Guys, the reason why we have a dollar shortage is because we have levered!!!!!!!!!!! So when income collapses, we got major problem because we have leveraged & so debt needs servicing etc. Aniwaize, the stress u see is because we live in a world that’s too leveraged!!!

And again although I would point out that leverage can simply be a gamble rather than a hope for better times.

Don’t forget that low rates only lower interest expense, u still got principal that is high if ur debt stock is high. When u lever, u think the FUTURE IS BETTER THAN TODAY. Obvs very clearly that whoever thought there was growth is in for a surprise given the pandemic situation.

She looks at this from the perspective of the Malaysian Ringgit which has fallen to 4.37 versus the US Dollar and the Singapore Dollar which is at 1.44.

Comment

We are now seeing a phase of King Dollar or Holla Dollar and let me add some more places into the mix. We have previously looked at countries which have borrowed in US Dollars and they will be feeling the strain especially if they are commodity producers as well. This covers quite a few countries in Latin America and of course some of those have their own problems too boot. I also recall Ukraine running the US Dollar as pretty much a parallel currency.

The beat goes on.

In times of stress, capital flees emerging markets to seek safety in $USD . This crisis is no different. ( @IceCapGlobal)

which got this reply.

Investors have yanked at least US$55bn from EMs since January 21, according to the Institute of International Finance, exceeding the withdrawal in 2008. ( @alexharfouche1 )

Let me finish by reminding you that ordinarily we discuss matters around the price of something. But here as well as that we are discussing how much you can get and for some right now that people will not trade with you at all. That is why we are seeing what is effectively the world’s central bank the Federal Reserve offering US Dollars in so many different ways. It is spraying US $500 billion Repo operations around like confetti but I am reminded of the words of Glenn Frey.

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

The Investment Channel

The biggest move by the US Federal Reserve was the one concerning liquidity or FX Swaps

Last night the week started with the arrival of the Kiwi cavalry as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced this.

The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is 0.25 percent, reduced from 1.0 percent, and will remain at this level for at least the next 12 months.

With international sporting events being cancelled this was unlikely to have been caused by a defeat for the All Blacks as the statement then confirmed.

The negative economic implications of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise warranting further monetary stimulus.

But soon any muttering in the virtual trading rooms was replaced by quite a roar as this was announced.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals. This action will help support economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation returning to the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective. ( US Federal Reserve)

So a 1% interest-rate cut to the previous credit crunch era low for interest-rates and whilst the timing was a surprise it was not a shock. This is because on Saturday evening President Donald Trump had ramped up the pressure by saying that he had the ability to fire the Chair Jeroen Powell. The odd points in the statement were the reference to returning to being “on track” for its objectives which seems like from another world as well as reminding people of Greece which has been “on track” to recovery all the way through its collapse into depression. Also “strong labor market conditions” is simply untrue now. All that is before the reference to inflation returning to target when some will be paying much higher prices for goods due to shortages.

QE5

This came sliding down the slipway last night which will have come as no surprise to regular readers who have followed to my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

To support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities that are central to the flow of credit to households and businesses, over coming months the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.

This is quite punchy as we note that the previous peak for its balance sheet was 4.5 trillion Dollars and now it will go above 5 trillion. The Repos may ebb and flow bad as we stand it looks set to head to 5.2 trillion or so. The odd part of the statement was the reference to the “smooth functioning” of the Treasury Bond market when buying such a large amount further reduces liquidity in a market with liquidity problems already. For those unaware off the run bonds ( non benchmarks) have been struggling recently. The situation for mortgage bonds is much clearer as some will no doubt be grateful for any buyers at all. Although whether buying the latter is a good idea for the US taxpayer underwriting all of this is a moot point. At least the money used is effectively free at around 0%.

Liquidity Swaps

This was the most significant announcement of all for two reasons. Firstly it was the only one which was coordinated and secondly because it stares at the heart of one of the main problems right now. Cue Aloe Blacc.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me
Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow.

I have suggested several times recently that there will be banks and funds in trouble right now as we see simultaneous moves in bond, equity and oil markets. That will only be getting worse as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil approaches US $31. This means that some – and the rumour factory will be at full production – will be finding hard to get US Dollars and some may not be able to get them at all. So the response is that the main central banks will be able to.

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing a coordinated action to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

These central banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points, so that the new rate will be the U.S. dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points.

So it appears that price matters for some giving us a hint of the scale of the issue here. If I recall correct a 0.5% cut was made as the credit crunch got into gear. Also there was this enhancement to the operations.

 To increase the swap lines’ effectiveness in providing term liquidity, the foreign central banks with regular U.S. dollar liquidity operations have also agreed to begin offering U.S. dollars weekly in each jurisdiction with an 84-day maturity, in addition to the 1-week maturity operations currently offered. These changes will take effect with the next scheduled operations during the week of March 16.

Then we got something actively misleading because the real issue here is for overseas markets.

The new pricing and maturity offerings will remain in place as long as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of U.S. dollar funding markets.

For newer readers wondering who these might be? The main borrowers in recent times have been the European Central Bank and less so the Bank of Japan. This is repeated at the moment as some US $58 million was borrowed by a Euro area bank last week. Very small scale but maybe a toe in the water.

Comment

Some of the things I have feared are taking place right now. We see for example more and more central banks clustering around an interest-rate of 0% or ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy). Frankly I expect more as you know my view on official denials.

#BREAKING Fed’s Powell says negative interest rates not likely to be appropriate ( @AFP )

You could also throw in the track record of the Chair of the US Federal Reserve for (bad) luck.

Meanwhile rumours of fund collapses are rife.

Platinum down 18%, silver down 14% Palladium down 12%, Gold down 4% – someone is getting liquidated ( @econhedge )

Some of that may be self-fulfilling but there is a message in that particular bottle.

As to what happens next? I will update more as this week develops but I expect more fiscal policy back stopped by central banks. More central banks to buy equities as I note the Bank of Japan announced earlier it will double its operations this year. Helicopter Money is a little more awkward though as gathering to collect it would spread the Corona Virus. As Bloc Party put it.

Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)

Let me sign off for today by welcoming the new Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

Podcast

I would signpost the second part of it this week as eyes will turn to the problems in the structure of the ECB likely to be exposed in a crisis.

 

 

What and where next for US interest-rates?

Later today the US Federal Reserve will make and announce its latest policy decision on interest-rates and Quantitative Easing. Unless it feels that they can battle the outbreak of the Corona Virus in China it will make no move today but looking ahead it faces quite a few decisions. It was only on Monday that we looked at the impact of the Corona Virus on China and then the world economy and since then events have moved on. For example the last British Airways flights to and from China during the outbreak have now taken off. According to the South China Morning Post there is also this.

The rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus through China could sharply curtail Beijing’s ability to meet the purchasing agreement elements of the trade deal struck with the United States earlier this month, analysts said.As part of the phase one deal signed on January 15, China is obliged to buy US$200 billion in additional US imports over two years on top of pre-trade war purchase levels.

There are two issues here for the US economy. The first is simple which is the reduction in demand for US products and the second is more complex which is the response of US President Donald Trump to this. Also the SCMP gives an example of a company which hit the news with its latest figures only last night.

On Tuesday, Nikkei Asian Review reported that Apple’s suppliers in China had warned that its demands to increase iPhone production by 10 per cent this year may be difficult, since their manufacturing facilities are located in Henan and Guangdong provinces, both of which have been hit by the coronavirus.

So there will be knock-on effects for the US.

What about the US economy now?

The latest nowcast was released by the Atlanta Federal Reserve only yesterday

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2019 is 1.9 percent on January 28, up from 1.8 percent on January 17. After last week’s and this week’s data releases by the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of fourth-quarter real gross private domestic investment growth increased from -2.3 percent to -2.0 percent..

The durable good release of yesterday did not have a large impact in spite of it generating a lot of column inches. The bit from the Census Bureau that impacts GDP almost spelt out Boeing.

Shipments of manufactured durable goods in December, down six consecutive months, decreased $0.5
billion or 0.2 percent to $250.4 billion. This followed a 0.1 percent November decrease. Transportation
equipment, also down six consecutive months, led the decrease, $0.4 billion or 0.4 percent to $83.2 billion

The 737 Max issue and its consequences continue as you can see.

Switching to the overall picture assuming the same adjustment the New York Fed will now be suggesting 1.3% annualised GDP growth in the final quarter of last year. It’s last reading for this quarter was 1.7%.

Looking Ahead

There was some positive news yesterday in terms of consumer expectations.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® increased in January, following a moderate increase in December. The Index now stands at 131.6 (1985=100), up from 128.2 (an upward revision) in December.

This led to a rather bold statement in the circumstances.

“Consumer confidence increased in January, following a moderate advance in December, driven primarily by a more positive assessment of the current job market and increased optimism about future job prospects,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director, Economic Indicators, at The Conference Board. “Optimism about the labor market should continue to support confidence in the short-term and, as a result, consumers will continue driving growth and prevent the economy from slowing in early 2020.”

However if we look further into Conference Board research the situation is not so rosy. From the 23rd of this month.

“The US LEI declined slightly in December, driven by large negative contributions from rising unemployment insurance claims and a drop in housing permits,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “The LEI has now declined in four out of the last five months

The Leading Economic Index has been heading south in recent times leading to this comment from Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab.

Leading Economic Index (LEI) from @Conferenceboard

now below prior 2 mid cycle slowdowns (2013 & 2016) in y/y terms (white); & has been flat in level terms (blue) for over a year.

Money Supply

What we see here is a consequence of the monetary policy easing we saw last year. There were the interest-rate cuts which replaced the promised rises and leaves the official range at 1.5% to 1.75% as well as the end to QT or Quantitative Tightening. Actually we did see some “not QE” as well as the Federal Reserve started to buy some US $60 billion of Treasury Bills each month to try to oil the wheels of the monetary system to help deal with the Repo Crisis. Yesterday’s operations which added a further US $55,75 billion on a daily basis and US $28.95 billion on a fortnightly one show that it has not gone away.

The consequence of this is that money supply growth has strengthened. The narrow money measure or M1 has seen annualised quarterly growth rise to 7.7% replacing the 6.2% of 2019 as a whole. So there has been an economic boost applied from stronger narrow money growth which should be feeding in in the early part of this year.

Looking further ahead broad money growth ( M2 ) has risen as well in response to the monetary stimulus. On the same basis as above it has risen from 6.7% to 7.8%. In terms of economic impact this is more of a slow burner as it takes around 2 years and is split between actual growth and inflation.

The Dollar

Recent events have seen the US Dollar rally again. In terms of specific currencies it has pushed the UK Pound £ back to US $1.30 and the Euro back to 1.10. Switching to a broader perspective the Dollar Index has risen above 98. This does not have the same effect as on other countries because most commodity prices are in dollars so the inflation effect is smaller but over time it is contractionary on economic output.

Comment

As you can see from the above the situation may be quiet on the surface in some respects but there is a lot going on below. For example how will the Fed deal with the ongoing Repo crisis? But as we note the move back towards monetary stimulus we need to also note that as we looked at on the 16th of this month there has been the Trump fiscal boost as well. There are two ways of looking at this. No doubt both will present it as policy responding correctly to an economic slow down ( assuming of course the Donald will admit it has slowed). But there is the deeper issue that growth is lower than it was, and looks like being on an annual basis 2% at best even with the various stimuli. So what happens when they wear off?

In such an environment we may see thoughts turn to what we looked at on the 4th of this month.

The Fed should also consider maintaining constructive ambiguity about the future use of negative short-term rates, both because situations could arise in which negative short-term rates would provide useful policy space; and because entirely ruling out negative short rates, by creating an effective floor for long-term rates as well, could limit the Fed’s future ability to reduce longer-term rates by QE or other means.

This returns us to our main credit crunch theme which is why do we always need more stimulus? Whilst the US has done better than elsewhere in economic growth terms it has deployed a fiscal stimulus as well. So whilst they will deny it members of the US Federal Reserve will be getting nervous just like many of their colleagues as it all goes on and on and on. They need something to change for the better.

Meanwhile whilst we can all make a mistake the claimed omniscience of central bankers as the former Vice-President of the ECB Vitor Constancio confessed he was unaware that Imputed Rents make up 24% of the US CPI.

yes, I just checked and you are right but it is easy to calculate the US CPI excluding the imputed rents and that is what is shown in my second tweet, indicating a small difference in the inflation rate., which was the point I wanted to make. Thanks

Actually the difference looks material to me…..