The mad world of negative interest-rates is on the march

Yesterday as is his want the President of the United States Donald Trump focused attention on one of our credit crunch themes.

Just finished a very good & cordial meeting at the White House with Jay Powell of the Federal Reserve. Everything was discussed including interest rates, negative interest, low inflation, easing, Dollar strength & its effect on manufacturing, trade with China, E.U. & others, etc.

I guess he was at the 280 character limit so replaced negative interest-rates with just negative interest. In a way this is quite extraordinary as I recall debates in the earlier part of the credit crunch where people argued that it would be illegal for the US Federal Reserve to impose negative interest-rates. But the Donald does not seem bothered as we see him increasingly warm to a theme he established at the Economic Club of New York late last week.

“Remember we are actively competing with nations that openly cut interest rates so that many are now actually getting paid when they pay off their loan, known as negative interest. Who ever heard of such a thing?” He said. “Give me some of that. Give me some of that money. I want some of that money. Our Federal Reserve doesn’t let us do it.” ( Reuters )

That day the Chair of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell rejected the concept according to CNBC.

He also rejected the idea that the Fed might one day consider negative interest rates like those in place across Europe.

The problem is that over the past year the 3 interest-rate cuts look much more driven by Trump than Powell.

Of course, there are contradictions.Why does the “best economy ever” need negative interest-rates for example? Or why a stock market which keeps hitting all-time highs needs them? But the subject keeps returning as we note yesterday’s words from the President of the Cleveland Fed.

Asked her view on negative interest rates, Mester told the audience that Europe’s use of them “is perhaps working better than I might have anticipated” but added she is not supportive of such an approach in the United States should there be a downturn.

Why say “working better” then reject the idea?  We have seen that path before.

The Euro area

As to working better then a deposit-rate of -0.5% and of course many bond yields in negative territory has seen the annual rate of economic growth fall to 1.1%. Also with the last two quarterly growth readings being only 0.2% it looks set to fall further.

So the idea of an economic boost being provided by them is struggling and relying on the counterfactual. But the catch is that such arguments are mostly made by those who think that the last interest-rate cut of 0.1% made any material difference. After all the previous interest-rate cuts that is simply amazing. Actually the moves will have different impacts across the Euro area as this from an ECB working paper points out.

A striking feature of the credit market in the euro area is the very large heterogeneity across countries in the granting of fixed versus adjustable rate mortgages.
FRMs are dominant in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, while ARMs are prevailing in Austria, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (ECB, 2009; Campbell,
2012)

Actually I would be looking for data from 2019 rather than 2009 but we do get some sort of idea.

Businesses and Savers in Germany are being affected

We have got another signal of the spread of the impact of negative interest-rates .From the Irish Times.

The Bundesbank surveyed 220 lenders at the end of September – two weeks after the ECB’s cut its deposit rate from minus 0.4 to a record low of minus 0.5 per cent. In response 58 per cent of the banks said they were levying negative rates on some corporate deposits, and 23 per cent said they were doing the same for retail depositors.

There was also a strong hint that legality is an issue in this area.

“This is more difficult in the private bank business than in corporate or institutional deposits, and we don’t see an ability to adjust legal terms and conditions of our accounts on a broad-based basis,” said Mr von Moltke, adding that Deutsche was instead approaching retail clients with large deposits on an individual basis.

So perhaps more than a few accounts have legal barriers to the imposition of negative interest-rates. That idea gets some more support here.

Stephan Engels, Commerzbank’s chief financial officer, said this month that Germany’s second largest listed lender had started to approach wealthy retail customers holding deposits of more than €1 million.

Japan

The Bank of Japan has dipped its toe in the water but has always seemed nervous about doing anymore. This has been illustrated overnight.

“There is plenty of scope to deepen negative rates from the current -0.1%,” Kuroda told a semi-annual parliament testimony on monetary policy. “But I’ve never said there are no limits to how much we can deepen negative rates, or that we have unlimited means to ease policy,” he said. ( Reuters )

This is really odd because Japan took its time imposing negative interest-rates as we had seen 2 lost decades by January 2016 but it has then remained at -0.1% or the minimum amount. Mind you there is much that is crazy about Bank of Japan policy as this next bit highlights.

Kuroda also said there was still enough Japanese government bonds (JGB) left in the market for the BOJ to buy, playing down concerns its huge purchases have drained market liquidity.

After years of heavy purchases to flood markets with cash, the BOJ now owns nearly half of the JGB market.

In some ways that fact that a monetary policy activist like Governor Kuroda has not cut below -0.1% is the most revealing thing of all about negative interest-rates.

Switzerland

The Swiss found themselves players in this game when the Swiss Franc soared and they tried to control it. Now they find themselves with a central bank that combines the role of being a hedge fund due to its large overseas equity investments and has a negative interest-rate of -0.75%.

Nearly five years after the fateful day when the SNB stopped capping the Swiss Franc we get ever more deja vu from its assessments.

The situation on the foreign exchange market is still fragile, and the Swiss franc has appreciated in trade-weighted terms. It remains highly valued.

Comment

I have consistently argued that the situation regarding negative interest-rates has two factors. The first is how deep they go? The second is how long they last? I have pointed out that the latter seems to be getting ever longer and may be heading along the lines of “Too Infinity! And Beyond!”. It seems that the Swiss National Bank now agrees with me. The emphasis is mine.

This adjustment to the calculation basis takes account of the fact that the low interest rate environment around the world has recently become more entrenched and could persist for some time yet.

We have seen another signal of that recently because the main priority of the central banks is of course the precious and we see move after move to exempt the banks as far as possible from negative interest-rates. The ECB for example has introduced tiering to bring it into line with the Swiss and the Japanese although the Swiss moved again in September.

The SNB is adjusting the basis for calculating negative interest as follows. Negative interest will continue to be charged on the portion of banks’ sight deposits which exceeds a certain exemption threshold. However, this exemption threshold will now be updated monthly and
thereby reflect developments in banks’ balance sheets over time.

If only the real economy got the same consideration and courtesy. That is the crux of the matter here because so far no-one has actually exited the black hole which is negative interest-rates. The Riksbank of Sweden says that it will next month but this would be a really odd time to raise interest-rates. Also I note that the Danish central bank has its worries about pension funds if interest-rates rise.

A scenario in which interest rates go up
by 1 percentage point over a couple of days is not
implausible. Therefore, pension companies should
be prepared to manage margin requirements at
all times. If the sector is unable to obtain adequate
access to liquidity, it may be necessary to reduce the
use of derivatives.

Personally I am more bothered about the pension funds which have invested in bonds with negative yields.After all, what could go wrong?

 

 

The central banks are losing their grip as well as the plot

The last 24 hours have shown an instance of a central bank losing its grip and another losing the plot. This is significant because central banks have been like our overlords in the credit crunch era as they slashed interest-rates and when that did not work expanded their balance sheets using QE and when that did not work cut interest-rates again and did more QE. This made Limahl look rather prescient.

Neverending story
Ah
Neverending story
Ah
Neverending story
Ah

Also in terms of timing we have today the last policy meeting of ECB President Mario Draghi who has been one of the main central banking overlords especially after his “What ever it takes ( to save the Euro) ” speech. Next month he will be replaced by Christine Lagarde who has given an interview to 60 Minutes in the US.

Christine Lagarde shows John Dickerson how she fakes drinking wine at global gatherings.

US Repo Problems

Regular readers will recall that we looked at the words of US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on the 9th of this month.

To counter these pressures, we began conducting temporary open market operations. These operations have kept the federal funds rate in the target range and alleviated money market strains more generally.

This involved various moves as the overnight Repos found this added too.

Term repo operations will generally be conducted twice per week, initially in an offering amount of at least $35 billion per operation.

These have been for a fortnight and added to this was a purchase programme for Treasury Bills.

In accordance with this directive, the Desk plans to purchase Treasury bills at an initial pace of approximately $60 billion per month, starting with the period from mid-October to mid-November.

Regular readers will recall that I described this as a new version of QE and it has turned out that the Treasury Bill purchases will be larger than the early estimates by at least double.

This theme of “More! More! More!” continued yesterday with this announcement from the New York Federal Reserve.

Consistent with the most recent FOMC directive, to ensure that the supply of reserves remains ample even during periods of sharp increases in non-reserve liabilities, and to mitigate the risk of money market pressures that could adversely affect policy implementation, the amount offered in overnight repo operations will increase to at least $120 billion starting Thursday, October 24, 2019.  The amount offered for the term repo operations scheduled for Thursday, October 24 and Tuesday, October 29, 2019, which span October month end, will increase to at least $45 billion.

Apologies for their wordy opening sentence but I have put it in because it contradicts the original statement from Jerome Powell. Because the “strains” seem to be requiring ever larger interventions. Or as Brad Huston puts it on Twitter.

9/17: We’re doing repos today and tomorrow.

9/19: We’re extending repos until 10/10. $75B overnight, $30B term

10/4: We’re extending repos until 11/4

10/11:We’re extending repos until Jan 2020

10/23:We’re expanding overnight repo offering to $120B, $45B term

This reinforces the point that I believe is behind this as I pointed out on the 25th of September

The question to my mind going forwards is will we see a reversal in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era? The supply of US Dollars is now being reduced by it and we wait to see what the consequences are.

This added to the US Dollar shortage we have been looking at for the past couple of years or so. It would seem that the US Federal Reserve is worried about a shortage at the end of this month which makes me wonder what they state of play will be at the year end when many books are squared? Also in terms if timing we will get the latest repo announcement at pretty much the same time as Mario Draghi starts his final ECB press conference.

The Riksbank of Sweden

It has made this announcement today.

In line with the forecast from September, the Executive Board has therefore decided to leave the repo rate unchanged at –0.25 per cent. As before, the forecast indicates that the interest rate will most probably be raised in December to zero percent.

I will come to my critique of this in a moment but we only have to progress another sentence or two to find that the Riksbank has provided its own critique.

The forecast for the repo rate has therefore been revised downwards and indicates that the interest rate will be unchanged for a prolonged period after the expected rise in December.

That is really quite a mess because we are supposed to take notice of central bank Forward Guidance which is now for lower interest-rates which will be achieved by raising them! Time for a reminder of their track record on this front.

As you can see their Forward Guidance has had a 100% failure rate. You do well by doing the reverse of what they say. As for now well you really could not make the bit below up!

If the prospects were to change, monetary policy may need to be adjusted going forward. Improved prospects would justify a higher interest rate. If the economy were instead to develop less favourably, the Executive Board could cut the repo rate or make monetary policy more expansionary in some other way.

QE

Well that never seems to go away does it?

In accordance with the decision from April 2019, the Riksbank is purchasing government bonds for a nominal total amount of SEK 45 billion, with effect from July 2019 to December 2020.

The central bank will keep the government sweet by making sure it can borrow very cheaply. The ten-year yield is negative albeit only just ( -0.03%) although in an undercut Sweden is running a fiscal surplus. That becomes really rather odd when we look at the next bit.

The Economy

I have criticised the Riksbank for pro-cyclical monetary policy and it seems set to do so again.

after several years of good growth and
strong economic activity, the Swedish economy is now growing more slowly.

So they have cut interest-rates in the good times and now seem set to raise them in weaker times.

Next comes this.

As economic activity has entered a phase of lower growth in
2019, the labour market has also cooled down. Unemployment is deemed to have increased slightly during the year.

If we switch to last week’s release from Sweden Statistics we see something of a challenge to the “increased slightly” claim.

In September 2019 there were 5 110 000 employed persons. The unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, an increase of 1.1 percentage points compared with September 2018……In September 2019, there were 391 000 unemployed persons aged 15─74, not seasonally adjusted, an increase of 62 000 compared with September 2018.

If we move to manufacturing then the world outlook seemed to hit Sweden in pretty much one go in September according to Swedbank.

The PMI dropped by 5.5 points in September to 46.3 from a downward revision of 51.8 in August. This is the largest monthly decline since autumn 2008 and was part of the reason why the PMI fell in the third quarter to the lowest level since early 2013.

Comment

The US Federal Reserve is the world’s central bank of last resort and currently that is not going especially well. So far it has added around US $200 billion to its balance sheet and seems set to push it back over US $4 trillion. Yet the problem seems to be hanging around rather than going away as it feels like a plaster is being applied to a broken leg. A gear or two is grinding in the banking system.

Moving to Sweden we see a case of a central bank adopting pro-cyclical monetary policy and now finds itself planning to raise interest-rates in a recession. Yet the rise seems to make interest-rates lower in the future! I am afraid the Riksbank has really rather jumped the shark here. It now looks as if it has decided that negative interest-rates are a bad idea which I have a lot of sympathy with but as I have argued many times the boom was the time to end it.

Sweden has economic growth of 4% with an interest-rate of -0.5% ( 28th of July 2017)

The Investing Channel

A new era of US QE starts with it being renamed Reserve Management

Last night saw something of an epoch making event as all eyes turned to Denver Colorado. This time it was not for the famous “hurry up offence” of John Elway in the NFL but instead there was a speech by Jerome Powell the Chair of the US Federal Reserve. In it he confirmed something I have been writing about on here for some time and the emphasis is mine.

Reserve balances are one among several items on the liability side of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, and demand for these liabilities—notably, currency in circulation—grows over time. Hence, increasing the supply of reserves or even maintaining a given level over time requires us to increase the size of our balance sheet. As we indicated in our March statement on balance sheet normalization, at some point, we will begin increasing our securities holdings to maintain an appropriate level of reserves. That time is now upon us.

This of course raises my QE ( Quantitative Easing) to infinity theme. I also note Chair Powell raises the issue of the balance sheet so let us look at that. It peaked at around US $4.5 trillion as we moved into 2015 and stayed there until October 2017 when the era of QT ( Quantitative Tightening) or reverse QE began and it began to shrink. Over the last year it shrank from US $4.17 trillion to US $3.76 trillion before the repo crisis struck.

In mid-September, an important channel in the transmission process—wholesale funding markets—exhibited unexpectedly intense volatility. Payments to meet corporate tax obligations and to purchase Treasury securities triggered notable liquidity pressures in money markets. Overnight interest rates spiked, and the effective federal funds rate briefly moved above the FOMC’s target range. To counter these pressures, we began conducting temporary open market operations. These operations have kept the federal funds rate in the target range and alleviated money market strains more generally.

What this misses out is that US Dollar liquidity has been singing along with Queen for some time.

Pressure: pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets.

Here I am from the 25th of September last year.

The question to my mind going forwards is will we see a reversal in the QT or Quantitative Tightening era? The supply of US Dollars is now being reduced by it and we wait to see what the consequences are.

As you can see the phrase “unexpectedly intense volatility” is not true of anyone who is a follower of my work. One way of looking at this is that forwards pricing of the US Dollar has been in the wrong place for theory. This is one of the reasons why German bond yields have gone so negative ( as I type this the benchmark ten-year yield is -0.58%) because if you try to switch to US Treasury Bonds to gain the 1.54% or 2% higher yield you find that exchange rates take away the gain. To get a higher yield you have to take an exchange rate risk. Returning to the Chair Powell statement we see that it is more realistic to say we were hovering near an edge and then slipped over it.

If we return to the balance sheet we see that it has risen to US $3.95 trillion for a rise of the order of 190 billion in response to the repo crisis. The exact amount varies daily with the individual repo operations and also fortnightly as we now have those too. Just as an example the difference between the operations on Monday and yesterday was some US $9.55 billion lower. I point this out as some places have been claiming you add the repo operations up which is really rather odd when most so far only have the lifespan of a Mayfly.

Those who analyse events via the prism of bank reserves should be happy with this bit.

Indeed, my colleagues and I will soon announce measures to add to the supply of reserves over time. Consistent with a decision we made in January, our goal is to provide an ample supply of reserves to ensure that control of the federal funds rate and other short-term interest rates is exercised primarily by setting our administered rates and not through frequent market interventions.

An official denial

By now you should all know how to treat this.

I want to emphasize that growth of our balance sheet for reserve management purposes should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis.

Indeed the next part is simply untrue or if you are less kind a lie.

Neither the recent technical issues nor the purchases of Treasury bills we are contemplating to resolve them should materially affect the stance of monetary policy, to which I now turn.

One of the roles of a central bank is setting interest-rates as part of monetary policy. Those who follow my podcasts will know I defined it as there second role after the existence and provision of a currency, in this case the US Dollar. Briefly monetary policy was affected as overnight interest-rates went outside the official range as described below by the Financial Times.

the pressures that bubbled up in September and sent the cost of borrowing cash overnight via repurchase, or repo, agreements as high as 10 per cent.

That is not as large as you might think as the impact is only for each day but it was way outside the official range. Also there were times when the role of a central bank was in setting the interest-rate for overnight money in terms of its monetary policy. The credit crunch moved events along as that did not have the hoped for impact on the real economy ( and hence we got QE) but the underlying principle remains.

Comment

So we find that the new version of Quantitative Easing or what will no doubt be called QE4 had the champagne bottle smashed on it last night by Jerome Powell as it got ready to go down to the slipway. It remains for it to be fully fitted out as I do not believe it will stop here.

making the case instead for the Fed to buy anywhere from $200bn to more than $300bn of shorter-dated Treasury bills over the next six months. ( Financial Times)

As you can see the lower estimate pretty much coincides with the change in the balance sheet do far with the repo operations. The larger amount perhaps aims for some sort of margin.

The difference between this and the QE we have seen so far is the term of the assets purchased. Treasury Bills last for up to a year whereas Treasury Bonds are for longer periods of time with what is called the long bond being for thirty-years. Also bills do not pay interest as you pay less for them to allow for that.

So there are minor differences with past QE efforts but the direction of travel is the same. Let me put it another way with this from the US Federal Reserve,

Total assets of the Federal Reserve have increased significantly from $870 billion on August 8th, 2007

They have indeed as we wonder how long it will be before we get back to the previous peak of US $4.5 trillion and presumably beyond.

If QE really worked it would not need so many new names would it? Japan now calls it QQE and now the US calls it reserve management. Perhaps Governor Carney will call it climate-related QE.

 

 

 

What are the prospects for the US economy?

We find ourselves in a curious situation as we wait for ( or for readers over the weekend) mull the speech of Fed Chair Jerome Powell at Jackson Hole. There are several reasons for this and let me start with the pressure being applied by President Trump.

Germany sells 30 year bonds offering negative yields. Germany competes with the USA. Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do. They put us at a disadvantage against our competition. Strong Dollar, No Inflation! They move like quicksand. Fight or go home!…….The Economy is doing really well. The Federal Reserve can easily make it Record Setting! The question is being asked, why are we paying much more in interest than Germany and certain other countries? Be early (for a change), not late. Let America win big, rather than just win!

We can see that The Donald has spotted that the US Dollar is strong with reports that the broad trade-weighted index is at an all time high. Care is needed with that as it starts in 1995 and the Dolllar peak was a decade before it, but the basic premise holds. But the real issue here is of course calling for interest-rate cuts when you are saying that the economy is strong! Is it?

Nowcasting

Let me hand you over to the Atlanta Fed.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2019 is 2.2 percent on August 16, unchanged from August 15 after rounding. After this morning’s new residential construction report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of third-quarter real residential investment growth increased from -1.2 percent to 0.7 percent.

That is not appreciably different to the New York Fed which has estimated 1.8%. So let us go forwards with 2% as an average. In terms of past definitions from President Trump ( 3%-4%) that is not doing really well but is hardly a call for an interest-rate cut.

Business Surveys

Something caught the eye yesterday in the Markit PMI survey.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S.
Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™
(PMI™) registered 49.9 in August, down from 50.4
in July and below the neutral 50.0 threshold for the
first time since September 2009.

The eye-catching elements were it going below the neutral threshold and the fact this is the lowest reading for nearly a decade. Some of this is symbolism as the PMI is not accurate to anything like 0.1 but there is also the downwards direction of travel. Also it had a consequence as we look wider.

August’s survey data provides a clear signal that
economic growth has continued to soften in the third
quarter. The PMIs for manufacturing and services
remain much weaker than at the beginning of 2019
and collectively point to annualized GDP growth of
around 1.5%

So we started with ~2% and now are at 1.5%.Prospects look none too bright either.

The past isn’t what we thought it was

Earlier this week we saw quite a revision affecting employment trends.

For national CES employment series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent of total nonfarm employment. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of -501,000 (-0.3 percent).

This begs several questions as it means the monthly non-farm payroll numbers were too high in the year to March by more than 40,000 a month. The worst problem areas were retailing,,professional and business services and leisure and hospitality.

The change in the picture is covered by MarketWatch.

“This makes some sense, as the 223,000 average monthly increase in 2018 seemed too good to be true in light of how tight the labor market has become and how much trouble firms are said to be having finding qualified workers,” said chief economist Stephen Stanley of Amherst Pierpont Securities

In a sense that is both good and bad as he implies the economy might be at a literal version of full employment, at least in some areas. The bad is that growth was weaker than thought.

Money Supply

Back on the eighth of May I posted this warning.

The narrow measure of the money supply or M1 in the United States saw a fall of just over forty billion dollars in March. That catches the eye because it does not fit at all with an economy growing at an annual rate of 3.2%. Indeed we see now that over the three months to March M1 money supply contracted by 2.7%. That means that the annual rate of growth has been reduced to 1.9%. Thus we see that it has fallen below the rate of economic growth recorded which is a clear warning sign. Indeed a warning sign which has worked very well elsewhere.

That has played out and whilst it is a coincidence that the annual rate of economic growth seems now to be what narrow money supply growth was the broad sweep has worked. However that was then and this is now because M1 has been on something of a tear and the last three months have seen annualised growth of 8% pulling the actual annual rate of growth to 4.8%.

Will it be “Boom!Boom! Boom!” a la the Black-Eyed Peas? Well thank you to @RV3003 on twitter who drew my attention to this from Hosington.

First, Treasury deposits at the Fed, which
are not included in M2, fell dramatically as a
result of special measures taken to avoid hitting
the debt ceiling, thus giving M2 a large boost as
Treasury deposits moved to the private sector.
Once the debt ceiling is raised, Treasury deposits
will rebound, reversing the process and slowing
M2 growth.

Did this affect M1? Well maybe as demand deposits have risen by US $75 billion since the March and since the debt ceiling was raised they have fallen back by US $14 billion.

As you can imagine I will be tapping my foot waiting for the next monthly update. Fake money supply growth?

Comment

We can see that the US economy has slowed but if the money supply data is any guide is simply slowing for a bit and may then pick up. That scenario does not fit with the way that bond markets have surged expecting more interest-rate cuts. In fact bond market analysts are arguing that the Federal Reserve needs to cut interest-rates to keep up and avoid losing control, although they are not entirely clear what it would be losing control of.

So I have a lot of sympathy with Jerome Powell who has a very difficult speech to give today. The picture is murky and I would wait for more money supply data before giving any hints of what I would do next. In short I would be willing to be sacked rather than bowing to Presidential pressure.

 

 

The bond market surge is the financial news story of 2019

This has been quite an extraordinary year in financial markets and we find that even the summer lull is being very active.Or rather it tried to go quiet and then kicked off again. The good news is that amongst a sea of indifference and sadly ignorance we have been on the case. What I am referring to is the surge in bond markets that has taken them to quite extraordinary heights and changes a large proportion of the financial landscape. So let’s get straight to it and where else to start but with President Trump.

Trade talks are continuing, and…..during the talks the U.S. will start, on September 1st, putting a small additional Tariff of 10% on the remaining 300 Billion Dollars of goods and products coming from China into our Country. This does not include the 250 Billion Dollars already Tariffed at 25%…

So he now plans to expand his tariff trade war to pretty much everything Chine exports to the US. This has had the usual impact of lowering equity markets, strengthening the Yen ( into the 106s versus the US Dollar) and more importantly for our purposes today sending bond markets surging again.

This is our first lesson of the day which is that the financial markets version of economics 101 does still apply in some areas. What I mean by this is that sharp falls in equity markets still make bond markets rally. The logic such as it is comes from the fact that bonds pay a regular coupon as opposed to lower equity returns which makes the bonds more attractive. I am sure that many of you have spotted what Shakespeare would call the “rub” in this so for the moment let our analysis remain in the United States where there still are positive bond yields.

The situation now is that the ten-year Treasury Note now yields a mere 1.84% whereas yesterday I was reviewing a post US Federal Reserve 2,04%. The exact levels will change as this is a febrile volatile environment but the general picture has been singing along with Alicia Keys.

Oh baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

I keep on
Fallin’

This has caught out US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he was doing his best to pour cold water on the view that interest-rates are about to be chopped. In a sense this shows that whilst central banks have a lot of power they were accurately described by Hall and Oates.

You’re out of touch

Anticipation of the extra US $40 billion of bond purchases on their way via the (even earlier) ending of QT or Quantitative Tightening will have pushed the market higher on their own. But they found that The Donald was there with some petrol and a match. Oh and according to Market watch he may have just found another petrol can.

President Donald Trump on Friday will make an announcement on European Union trade at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, according to the White House’s daily guidance. Trump has threatened tariffs on European Union cars as well as food and alcohol, and plane makers Airbus AIR, -4.54% and Boeing BA, -2.02% have also been the source of trade tensions between the two sides.

So let me conclude the section on the world’s largest bond market with two points. Chair Powell thinks he is in charge but in reality a combination of President Trump and the markets are running rings around him, Next is that the real world economic effects of this will be cheaper fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing as well as lower borrowing costs for the US government. Leaving us with a view that the Trump era is a curious combination of blazing away incoherently in the moment but also showing signs of an underlying plan as he gets lower bond yields for his fiscal expansionism.

Negativity

He was right by the way it is more today. Also as a nuance the amount of corporate debt that has a negative yield has passed the US $1 trillion mark. A nice little earner for some and of course as we look at the overall picture I find myself musing about future trends.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole

The UK

The situation here is remarkable in its own way. Even Bank of England Governor Mark Carney could not entirely blame Brexit for the situation.

Since May, global trade tensions have intensified, global activity has remained soft, and the perceived likelihood of a no-deal Brexit has increased significantly. These developments have led to substantial declines in market interest rates and a marked depreciation of sterling.

Let me give credit to Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC who asked a question about Forward Guidance. After all Governor Carney has been giving Forward Guidance about interest-rate rises through the period that bond yields have plunged. Sadly he deployed the tactic of answering a question he would have preferred to have been asked, gambling that no-one in the press corps would have the chutzpah to point that out.

This matters because we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation with the five-year yield at a mere 0.33% this morning. Firstly let me point out the ongoing excellence of the comments section of this blog as Kevin suggested we would reach 0.4% a while back when such views were deeply unfashionable elsewhere. Next this should be impacting on fixed-rate mortgages as banks can fund very cheaply in this area now although so far there seems to have been little sign of this, so perhaps the banks are keeping the change here for themselves. Finally the UK can borrow ever more cheaply an issue which the media and the “think-tanks” keep ignoring as they pontificate over whether the government can spend more? Of course it can at these yields! Whether that is a good idea or whether it will spend it wisely are different matters.

There is a curious situation in the UK yield curve where the five year yield at 0.33% is below the two-year at 0.42% and the ten-year at 0.55% so let me explain it. We have a 0.75% Bank Rate which in explicit terms only applies overnight but let us more loosely say until the next Bank of England meeting. That has more of an influence on the two-year which is why it is higher. But even so it is some 0.33% below the Bank Rate.

Before I move on let me point out how extraordinary this is by reminding everyone that the last time we were here the Bank of England was involved in making some £60 billion of purchases at almost any price. In fact as it wanted lower Gilt yields back then it wanted to pay more. How insane in the membrane is that?

Comment

It is rather kind of financial markets to help me out here as just as I start typing this section they reach a threshold.

German bonds at -0.5% yield Klaxon.

The benchmark ten-year yield is already telling us what it expects the new ECB deposit rate to be. Or perhaps I should say the maximum as the two-year is at -0.78%.

Let me resume my insane in the membrane theme with this.

Putting it another way here is Bloomberg.

Borrowing costs for house purchases and companies in Italy are at an all-time low

Politicians must wish they had thought of the idea of creating “independent” central banks even earlier than they did……

What could go wrong? Well let me start you off, with a quarterly and annual economic growth rate of 0% it does not seem to be doing Italy much good.

What use is Forward Guidance that keeps being wrong?

Last night brought one of the most anticipated U-Turns in monetary policy as the US Federal Reserve announced this.

In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 2 to 2-1/4 percent.

Thus we saw the expected interest-rate cut of 0.25% and there was also an accelerated end to the era of QT ( Quantitative Tightening).

The Committee will conclude the reduction of its aggregate securities holdings in the System Open Market Account in August, two months earlier than previously indicated.

Whilst we are on the subject let us use the words of the Clash as we may not see QT again and we certainly will not be seeing it for a while.

Yeah, wave bye, bye

At this point on a superficial level this looks like a success for Forward Guidance as the Treasury Note ten-year yield around the 2.04% level where it had started. But there are two big catches with this. The first revolves around when economic agents were making plans for 2019 because back then the Federal Reserve was talking of “normalisation” which involved 4 then 3 then 2 interest-rate increases in 2019. Now we have a cut and as I will discuss later am expecting another.

Last Night

The response of observers to the effort to provide new Forward Guidance by Chair Jerome Powell was to sing  along with The Strokes.

And say, people, they don’t understand
Your girlfriends, they can’t understand
Your grandsons, they won’t understand
On top of this, I ain’t ever gonna understand

Here via CNBC was his opening effort.

Looking at the history of the Fed, Powell cautioned against assuming that this week’s cut is the beginning of the cycles that happened in the past.

“That refers back to other times when the FOMC has cut rates in the middle of a cycle and I’m contrasting it there with the beginning of a lengthy cutting cycle,” he said. “That is not what we’re seeing now, that’s not our perspective now.”

So it was “one and done” was it? I doubt anyone including Chair Powell actually believed that especially if they looked at the knee-jerk response which was for a stronger US Dollar. Indeed in the same press conference he seemed to correct himself.

“Let me be clear: What I said was it’s not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts,” Powell said. “I didn’t say it’s just one or anything like that. ( CNBC )

He also managed to talk about interest-rate rises for a while as things got even more out of control. So you could have pretty much any view you like as we had guidance towards no more cuts,more cuts and perhaps rises too. That is quite a fail when the scale of your operations which already are the elephant in the room are about to get larger.

Oh and did I mention an elephant in the room?

What the Market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, The European Union and other countries around the world……..As usual, Powell let us down, but at least he is ending quantitative tightening, which shouldn’t have started in the first place – no inflation. We are winning anyway, but I am certainly not getting much help from the Federal Reserve!

That was of course President Trump who may tweet excitedly but so far has given us better forward guidance than the Fed. Who will bet against the US Federal Reserve making another interest-rate cut this year?

European Central Bank

The ECB has been on a not dissimilar road to the Federal Reserve. I am sure the “ECB Watchers” would like us to forget that they were predicting an increase in the Deposit Rate this year as a result of their inside knowledge. They of course ended up scuttling away into the dark but the ECB kept this up until the 18th of June.

We now expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the first half of 2020, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

The informal hint that a change was on it way provided by Mario Draghi on the 18th of June became formal a week ago.

We expect them to remain at their present or lower levels at least through the first half of 2020, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to our aim over the medium term.

So not as grand a scale as the Federal Reserve but up has become the new down here too, or to be more precise is on its way in September. Assuming of course this guidance is correct.

Bank of England

Governor Carney has been even slower on the uptake than his international colleagues. As 2019 has progressed and we have seen interest-rate cuts proliferate he has cut an increasingly isolated figure.

The Committee continues to judge that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its May Inflation Report projections that included an assumption of a smooth Brexit, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

It is revealing that the sentence needs to be so long but the message is that the plan is to tighten monetary policy and apparently ignore the rush in the other direction. More realistically of course the reality is that we should be prepared for the return of the Unreliable Boyfriend as he has a track record of cutting interest-rates after promising rises.

Also this is revealing.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England says “there will be great fortunes made” for companies preparing for and tackling climate change. ( Channel 4 News)

These days he seems to spend much of his time discussing climate change. If we skip the issue of him having both no mandate and indeed no qualifications in this area we find that he is deflecting us from his troubles with monetary policy. From his personal point of view discussing it is also part of his application for the IMF job.

Meanwhile as we move through the “Super Thursday” procedure he constructed I hope the media will concentrate on how he is forecasting interest-rate increases in the current economic environment.

Comment

It is more than six years ago that Michael Woodford told us this.

Greater clarity within the policy committee itself about the way in which policy is expected to be conducted in the future is likely to lead to more coherent policy decisions, and greater clarity on the part of the public as to how policy will be conducted is likely to improve the degree to which the central bank can count on achieving the effects that it intends through its policy.

As you can see the initial point failed last night as Chair Powell was pretty incoherent. Whilst Mario Draghi of the ECB is a much more professional operator he too struggled at his last press conference on the subject of the inflation target. It is about to be Governor Carney’s turn to face the music and he is usually the most incoherent. This means that they cannot give the public “greater clarity” and in fact have misled them which means they are undermining their own policies.

Of course there is also the Riksbank of Sweden to make the others feel better.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

 

 

Central Banks have a big problem with the future

A feature of 2019 so far has been a succession of U-Turns by central banks and by two of the world’s major central banks in particular. This has been most marked at the US Federal Reserve where it was not so long ago that some were suggesting we would see four interest-rate increases ( of 0.25%) this year on the road to what was called normalisation. Regular readers will recall that we were one of the few places that were troubled by the fact that we simply do not know what and where normal is anymore. But for our purposes today the main issue is that the US Federal Reserve looks set to cut later this month and perhaps one more time in 2019. Should that scenario come to pass then the previous concensus will have been wrong by a net 6 interest-rate changes. Seeing as interest-rates are so low these days that is quite an achievement.

This is on my mind because if we take the advice of Kylie Minogue and step back in time just under 7 years central banks were heavily influenced by this from Micheal Woodford and Jackson Hole.

The first of these is forward guidance — explicit statements by a central bank about the outlook for future policy, in addition to its announcements about the immediate policy actions that it is undertaking.

This was always going to be adopted as it flattered central banking egos and provided an alternative at a time when central bankers were afraid of being “maxxed out”. But as my opening paragraph pointed out it has been a complete failure in recent times in the United States where it began.

Europe

This has been something of a two stage failure process for Forward Guidance. The opening part got some intellectual backing last September from Benoit Coeure of the ECB.

Communicating our expectation that the ECB key interest rates would remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 was therefore consistent with the “risk management” approach to monetary policy that the Governing Council has repeatedly applied in recent years,

This had two steps as it was perceived like this.

Yet, on my next slide you can see that, at some point in early 2018, markets expected the ECB to hike its deposit facility rate one month after the expected end of net asset purchases.

So that was a bit of a fail and it continued long after this speech. It was something I found hard to believe but the idea that the ECB would raise interest-rates in 2019 was like these lyrics from Hotel California.

And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast.

It seemed to exist in an evidence-free zone but somehow survived. But events recently took a dreadful turn for it and by implication ECB Forward Guidance.

In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required……..This applies to all instruments of our monetary policy stance. Further cuts in policy interest rates and mitigating measures to contain any side effects remain part of our tools.

So the interest-rate rises had not only morphed into unchanged but now we were being forward guided to a cut. Could that be any worse? Apparently it can as the incoming ECB President switches to downplaying the size of the interest-rate cuts on the horizon.

*IMF SAYS THERE MAY ONLY BE LIMITED ROOM FOR ECB RATE CUTS ( @lemasabachthani )

But apparently forward guidance is another beast that our steely knives cannot kill.

We remain able to enhance our forward guidance by adjusting its bias and its conditionality to account for variations in the adjustment path of inflation.

Bank of England

Gertjan Vlieghe has given a speech on this subject and he is in the mood for change and I do not blame him but sadly it does not start well.

In particular, communicating more about the Monetary Policy Committee’s preferred future path of interest rates
would be easier to understand than our current approach.

Preferred? I would prefer England to win the cricket world cup final on Sunday but a balanced reality involves looking at the strengths of New Zealand. Also it is not often central bankers do humour and when they do it is mostly unintentional.

Global central banks have changed their outlook for policy significantly in recent months.

He has a go at placing a smokescreen over events as well.

and the UK outlook for monetary policy continues to be materially affected by Brexit uncertainty.

This is misleading in my view mostly because none of us know what will happen so we cannot allow for it. Even if you think there is an effect right now then it is too late to do anything about it because an interest-rate move takes around 18 months to fully impact.

It feels for a while that we are getting some honesty.

Before diving into the details of the argument I want to stress that a far bigger challenge to monetary policy is
that the future is uncertain, and my suggested communications improvement will not change that. Today’s
preferred path of interest rates will change tomorrow, if the economy turns out differently from what we
expected.

But sadly as so often with Gertjan he drops the ball at the crucial point.

But I am arguing that we can achieve a modest improvement in the understanding that
businesses, households and financial markets have of what our objectives are, and what we think we need
to do to meet those objectives.

Most people only vaguely know who they are at best, so they idea they will be hanging on their every word is laughable. Financial markets do, of course, but how much of the real economy gets missed out?

The next bit reminds me of this from Queen.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?

Here is Gertjan pedalling hard.

Moreover, the Swedish central bank reported that the quality of its own internal deliberations and discussions
with staff had improved, and that discussion of monetary policy by external observers had become “less
speculative”

Meanwhile if we go back to real life.

The Riksbank has become pretty much a laughing-stock.

Comment

As you can see Forward Guidance has been one of the failures of our times. On an internal level down keeps being the new up but also it is part of a framework where the environment keeps getting worse. What I mean by that is after all the policy accommodation economic growth now has a “speed limit” of 1.5% and 2019 is proving to be a difficult year for the world economy. It flatters central banking egos, gives markets a hare to chase and journalists something to copy and paste, but not so much for the real economy.

The piece de resistance to all this is provided by Gertjan who you may recall has been Forward Guiding us to interest-rate increases for a while now. He has another go.

This would justify further limited and gradual rate increases, such that we might reach 1.00% in a year’s time,
1.25% in two years’ time, and 1.75% in three years’ time, with large uncertainty bands around this central
path.

You may notice the use of the word “might” here. Whereas he seems a lot more sure about this road.

On balance I think it is more likely that I would move to cut Bank Rate towards the effective lower bound of close to 0% in the event of a no deal scenario.

Just for clarity the Bank of England now thinks this is at 0.1% after assuring us for quite a long period ( Governor Carney repeated it more than once) that it was 0.5%.

So if we just look at Gertjan’s career at the Bank of England he looks ro be pointing us towards a situation where he has twice “Forward Guided” us to interest-rate increases and then cut them! I await your thoughts on how useful you think he will have been in such a scenario?