The problematic nature of current bond yields

One of the features of the credit crunch era has been the falls in first world interest-rates and bond yields. The first phase saw the slashing of official short-term interest-rates and once that was seen to be inadequate, central banks directly purchased bonds to reduce yields further. It is seldom put like this but there was already an implied failure as according to the models back then the interest-rate cuts should have done the trick. Back then I was already looking ahead to when there would have to be ch-ch-changes and posted the view that central banks would delay what has become called policy normalisation.

For example back on the 24th of February 2011 I pointed out this about a speech from David Miles of the Bank of England.

 My problem with this is that when you act as they have and you have in effect used what weapons the Bank of England has virtually to the maximum by cutting interest-rates by 4.75%% and spending some £200 billion on asset purchases then you have been extraordinarily interventionist. Accordingly it is then hard for you to blame events because some of them are the consequence of your own actions……

What that illustrates is that already the truth was being manipulated and also I am glad I wrote “virtually to the maximum” as of course the amount of asset purchases has more than doubled. In addition we have seen credit easing in the UK via such policies as the Term Funding Scheme and the start of full-scale QE from the European Central Bank as well as negative interest-rates.

But the point about delaying proved to be very accurate as the Euro area is still actively pursuing QE and in net terms the UK has managed to raise interest-rates by a measly 0.25%. The opportunity in 2014/15 was meant with promises via Forward Guidance but no action.

The US

This is the one country which has taken clear action on the path to normalisation. Here is the current state of play.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 2 to 2-1/4 percent.

That is currently working out be be around 2.2% and more rises are promised. Also there is some reversing of the QE or Qualitative Tightening.

The Committee directs the Desk to continue
rolling over at auction the amount of principal
payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings
of Treasury securities maturing during each
calendar month that exceeds $30 billion, and to
continue reinvesting in agency mortgage-backed
securities the amount of principal
payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings
of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed
securities received during each calendar month
that exceeds $20 billion.

That combined with forecasts of another interest-rate rise in a fortnight and at least a couple next year seemed to put pressure on bond markets. However this sentence in a speech from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell shook things up on the 28th of last month and the emphasis is mine.

We therefore began to raise our policy rate gradually toward levels that are more normal in a healthy economy. Interest rates are still low by historical standards, and they remain just below the broad range of estimates of the level that would be neutral for the economy‑‑that is, neither speeding up nor slowing down growth.

You may note we seem to have travelled from “policy normalisation” to neutral. But what the neutral interest-rate represents is an attempt to figure out what interest-rate would neither stimulate or contract the economy. Or a sort of measure of what we might aim for as a new normal. When they are trying to put a pseudo scientific gloss on things economist and central bankers call it r-squared.

However the “just below” dropped the expected path for US interest-rates by 0.5%.

Bond Markets

Let me take you to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

This quarter, yields on longer-dated bonds have dropped and those on two-year Treasurys are flat. The gap between two and 10-year Treasury yields is now around 0.11 percentage point, compared with around 0.55 percentage point at the beginning of the year.

This is attracting a lot of attention in the financial media but the change of 0.44% is pretty much my 0.5% suggestion above. Now let us look at the US ten-year yield which is 2.9% as I type this and we see that in basic terms it is predicting a couple more 0.25% interest-rate rises. This will come in the next year or so if true so it is not very different to the two-year yield of 2.76%.

If we look beyond Federal Reserve policy we have seen a fall in the price of oil over the past month or two. If we look at it in Brent Crude terms then just above US $86 of early October has been replaced by below US $59 this morning as oil follows equity markets lower. The exact amount of the change varies but the path for inflation now seems set to be lower as it has been rare in 2018 for the oil price to be below where it was this time last year. That is another reason for lower bond yields.

Is this a signal of a recession? Here is the St.Louis Fed from last week.

Does the recent flattening of the yield curve portend recession? Not necessarily. The flattening of the real yield curve may simply reflect the fact that real consumption growth is not expected to accelerate or decelerate from the present growth rate of about 1 percent year over year. On the other hand, a 1 percent growth rate is substantially lower than the U.S. historical average of 2 percent. Because of this, the risk that a negative shock (of comparable magnitude to past shocks) sends the economy into technical recession is increased.

That is a fascinating way of looking at it and in my experience precisely zero bond market participants will look at it like that. It is also revealing that we seem to just assume growth will now be lower. Didn’t they save us?

Comment

I wanted to look at this subject today because of the clear changes which are happening. Now it looks much less likely that US interest-rates will pass 3% and if they do not by much. So “normalisation” will be at best about two-thirds of what it might have been considered to be pre credit crunch ( 4.5%). Some of you have suggested that we can no longer afford interest-rates and yields above 3% so well done at least if we stay where we are! If Italy folds you may get a second tick in that box.

But as we look wider we see even more extraordinary developments. Let me take a look at my own country the UK which is in political disarray yet the ten-year Gilt yield is below 1.3%. So those predicting a surge in Gilt yields are slipping back into the bushes whilst I note the extraordinary absolute level and the persistence of negative real yields which bust past metrics. Germany has a ten-year yield of 0.26% and a five-year one of -0.3% as we note again more metrics which are busted.

So my view is that we cannot rely on old recession metrics because another cause of all of this is that QE4 from the US Fed has got closer. I have worried all along that interest-rate rises might run into more QE and if they do we will be singing along to Coldplay.

Oh no I see
A spider web and it’s me in the middle
So I twist and turn
Here am I in my little bubble

 

 

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Is a reversal of the carry trade behind the rise of the US Dollar?

This morning brings us back to what has been a regular topic in 2018 which has been the US Dollar. Let’s look at it from the perspective of the sub-continent.

The rupee weakened further and dipped by 54 paise to 73.04 against the US dollar Monday, owing to increased demand for the American currency from importers amid increasing global crude oil prices.

International benchmark Brent crude was trading higher by 2.04 per cent at USD 71.61 per barrel.

Forex traders said besides increased demand for the US currency from importers, the dollar’s strength against some currencies overseas weighed on the domestic unit.

From India’s point of view this is not as bad as it has been as twice the Rupee has fallen through 74 versus the US Dollar. However the overall trend has been down as we recall promises it would not go through 70 and the fact it is 11% or so lower than a year ago. The recent dip – until this weekend’s OPEC meeting – did not benefit the Rupee much in comparison.

For Pakistan things have been even worse as it own troubles have led it back into the arms of the International Monetary Fund ( IMF). The Pakistan Rupee is at 134.3 versus the US Dollar or 28% lower than a year ago.

The Euro

This morning the Euro has dipped to 1.125 and Bloomberg is on the case.

The euro fell to its weakest in more than 16 months on Monday as traders fret political risks from Italy to Brexit.

Actually Bloomberg mostly ignores the Euro and concentrates on Brexit which of course is an influence but far from the only one. The weaker phase for the Euro area economy where quarterly economic growth has fallen from 0.7% to 0.2% does not merit a mention. Nor does the expansionary monetary policy of the ECB with its negative interest-rate and ongoing QE which still has a couple of months to run in monthly flow terms. On the other side of the coin is the ongoing trade surplus which supports the Euro but not so much today.

President Macron of France made a suggestion on this front on CNN over the weekend.From Politico.

Macron also talked in the interview about the need to strength the euro’s position as a global reference currency — not as a challenge to the U.S. dollar but as an alternative for purposes of stability.

I guess it and the Chinese Yuan will have to compete but I am not sure how several reference currencies would work? The Euro is of course very widely traded but still a long way behind the US Dollar.

Returning to economic policy this will give both Euro area inflation and the economy a boost. With inflation already around its target the ECB will not welcome the former but will the latter as economic growth has faded. Should it be out of play for a while in terms of monetary policy then the Euro area would have to deal with any further slow down with fiscal policy. That would be awkward after spending so much time telling Italy that it does not work.

The Dollar Index

If we broaden our view and look at an index of which President Macron would approve ( because of the high Euro weighting) we see that the Dollar Index has hit a 2018 high of just above 97.5 this morning. Whilst that is not up an enormous amount on a year ago ( less than 3%) there has been quite a push since it fell below 89 at the opening of the year.

The move has technical analysts in a spin as some see this as the start of a big move higher and others see this as an inflexion point. This proves that it is not only economists who can tell you that a market may go up or down!

US Monetary Policy

Economics 101 will be pleased that at least some of it can be brought out into the sun as the so-called normalisation of US monetary policy leads to a higher dollar. We seem set for another interest-rate increase next month as well as 2/3 more in 2019 meaning US interest-rates look set for the 3 handle.

Also there is a quantity issue as US Dollars are being withdrawn via the advent of Quantitative Tightening or QT. That is happening at the rate of 50 billion dollars a month which is a large sum in spite of the fact that these times have made us somewhat numb about such matters.

Comment

The media seem keen to find reasons for this burst of US Dollar strength which have nothing to do with the US itself. Personally I think the US holiday may be a factor in today’s move but as well as the change in monetary policy stance something else has been at play in 2018. This is the apparent shortage of US Dollars which back on the 18th of May was affecting relative interest-rates.

The problem is a spike in the differential between LIBOR and the Overnight Index Swap, or the premium over the risk-free rate non-US banks pay to borrow dollars outside of the US.

The spread has risen to 42 basis points, the highest since February 2012, and up from 25 basis points at the start of last month and just 10 basis points in November.

While the rise does not pose a systemic risk, it has nevertheless raised the cost, and reduced the availability, of dollar-denominated loans for non-US banks by a considerable margin and in short space of time. ( Bank Pictet).

That improved but has returned to some extent ( 30 earlier this month) and of course in the meantime US interest-rates are higher. On September 25th we looked at the way a new carry trade had developed but apparently stopped.

 The overall amount of dollar credit to the non-bank sector outside the United States has climbed from 9.5% of global GDP at end-2007 to 14% in the first quarter of 2018. Since end-2016, however, the growth in dollar credit has been flat.

What if that reverses? We know from what happened with the Swiss Franc and Japanese Yen that reversals of international carry trades can have powerful effects. At this time of year there is also usually demand for US Dollars for the end of the year. Although frankly if you are thinking of it now you are likely to be too late. For now at least it is time for 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

As the US observes Veterans Day let me give a plug to They Shall Not Grow Old which was on BBC 2 last night and was quite something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the economic impact of tighter US monetary policy?

It is time for us to look West again and see what is happening in the new world and this week has brought a curious development. Ordinarily it is central bankers telling us about wealth effects and then trying to bathe in the implications of their own policies but in the US right now there is an alternative.

Stock Market up more than 400 points yesterday. Today looks to be another good one. Companies earnings are great!

That is from the Twitter feed of @realDonaldTrump and continues a theme where this seems if numbers of tweets on the subject are any guide to be his favourite economic indicator. Indeed on Tuesday he was tweeting other people’s research on the matter.

“If the Fed backs off and starts talking a little more Dovish, I think we’re going to be right back to our 2,800 to 2,900 target range that we’ve had for the S&P 500.” Scott Wren, Wells Fargo.

There is a danger in favouring one company over another when you are US President especially with the recent record of Wells Fargo. But the Donald is clearly a fan of higher equity markets, especially on his watch, and was noticeably quiet when we saw falls earlier this month. This does link in a way with the suggestions of a trade deal with China that boosted equity markets late on yesterday, although with the People’s Bank of China hinting at more easing the picture is complex.

The US Federal Reserve

Unless Standard and Poorski is correct below then the Fed is currently out of the wealth effects game.

FEDERAL RESERVE ANNOUNCES IT WILL BEGIN PURCHASES OF APPLE IPHONES AND IWATCHES AT A PACE OF $1 BILLION PER MONTH

One cautionary note is that humour in this area has a habit of becoming reality later as someone in authority might see this as a good idea. Also even the many central banking apologists may struggle with the US Fed buying Apple shares from the Swiss National Bank.

The current reality is rather different because as we stand QE ( Quantitative Easing) has morphed into QT  where the T is for Tightening. For example yesterday’s weekly update told us that its balance sheet  has shrunk by US $299 billion dollars to  US $4.1 trillion and the reduction was mostly due to the sale of US Treasury Bonds ( US $173 billion) followed by US $101 billion of Mortgage-Backed Securities. Over the next year we will expect to see around double the rate of change if it continues at its new raised pace.

 Effective in October, the Committee directs the Desk to roll over at auction the amount of principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of Treasury securities maturing during each calendar month that exceeds $30 billion, and to reinvest in agency mortgage-backed securities the amount of principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities received during each calendar month that exceeds $20 billion. ( Federal Reserve ).

Consequences

From the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

After hovering around 2.3% for most of the spring and summer, the three-month London interbank offered rate, or Libor, has been climbing since the middle of September, settling at 2.53% on Monday, its highest level since November 2008.

I am sure most of you are thinking about the rises in US official interest-rates and the shrinking balance sheet as well as the year-end demand for US Dollars I looked at back on the 25th of September . Well your Easter Egg hunt looks likely to be much more fruitful than the one at the WSJ.

Analysts don’t fully know why the spread has moved the way it has in recent months.

If we ignore the why and move onto what happens next? Lisa Abramowich of Bloomberg is on the case.

3-month U.S. Libor rates have surged to a new post-crisis high, of 2.54%, more than double where it was last year. This is important because so much debt, including leveraged loans, are pegged to this rate. Companies will find themselves paying more interest on their debt…

As to how much debt I note Reuters have been estimating it at US $300 trillion which even if we take with a pinch of salt puts the Federal Reserve balance sheet into perspective. Oh and remember the booming leveraged loan market that had gone to about US $1.1 trillion if I recall correctly? Well Lisa has been on the case there too.

Short interest in the biggest leveraged-loan ETF has risen to a record high.

So in areas which bankers would describe as being “innovative” we see that Glenn Frey is back in fashion.

The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on
Oh it’s on the street, the heat is on

We can add that to the troubles we have seen in 2018 in emerging markets as the double combination of higher US interest-rates and a stronger Dollar have turned up the heat there too.

The US Dollar

Firstly we need to establish that whilst talk of challenges abounds the US Dollar remains the world’s reserve currency. So a rise impacts on other countries inflation via its role in the pricing of most commodity contracts and more helpfully may make their economies more competitive. But if we are looking for signs of trouble it hits places which have borrowed in US Dollars and that has been on the rise in recent times. I have reported before on the Bank for International Settlements or BIS data on this and here is the September update.

The US dollar has become even more dominant as the prime foreign currency for international borrowing. Dollar credit to the non-bank sector outside the US rose from 9.5% of global GDP at end-2007 to 14% in Q1 2018…….The growth in dollar borrowing by EMEs or  emerging market economies  has been especially strong, but dollar exposures vary substantially both across countries and in terms of sectoral composition.

An example of this has been Argentina which is caught in a trap of its own making as for example a devaluation would make its US Dollar debts more expensive. Or if we look at India it seems its shadow banks have caught something of a cold in this area.

India Is Said to Expect Shadow Banking Default Amid Cash Squeeze- Bloomberg Non-bank financiers and mortgage lenders have 2.7 trillion rupees ($37 billion) of debt maturing in the next five months, immediately ( @SunChartist )

 

Comment

So far we have mostly looked at the international impact of US monetary policy so let us now look more internally. If we look at interest-rates then the 30 year fixed rate mortgage has risen to 4.83% having started the year at 4% and which takes it back to early 2011. This reflects rising Treasury Bond yields which will have to be paid on ever more debt with official suggestions saying US $1.34 trillion will need to be issued in the next year.

Against that the economy continues to be in a boom. We will find out more later as for example will wages growth reach 3%? But economic growth has been above that as the last 6 months suggests around 3.8% in annual terms assuming it continues. So for now it looks fine but then it always does at times like this as for example a slow down and rising bond yields could in my opinion switch things from QT to QE4 quite quickly. After all worries about US stock market falls  started with it still quite near to what are all time highs.

Also if you want some more numbers bingo the BIS provided some more for Halloween.

The notional value of outstanding OTC derivatives increased from $532 trillion at end-2017 to $595 trillion at end-June 2018. This increase in activity was driven largely by US dollar interest rate contracts, especially short-term contracts.

 

 

 

 

Higher bond yields and higher inflation mean higher national debt costs

The last week or so has brought a theme of this blog back to life and reminds me of the many years I spent working in bond markets. They have spent much of the credit crunch era being an economic version of the dog that did not bark. Much of that has been due to the enormous scale of the QE ( Quantitative Easing) sovereign bond buying policies of many of the major central banks. The politicians who came up with the idea of making central banks independent and then staffing them with people who were anything but should be warmly toasted by their successors. The successors would never have got away with a policy which has benefited them enormously in terms of ability to spend because of lower debt costs.

Italy

However the times are now a-changing and this morning has brought more bad news on this front from Italy. The BTP bond future for December has fallen to 120 which means it has lost a bit over 7 points over the last ten or eleven days. Putting that into yield terms it means that the ten-year yield has reached 3.5% which has a degree of symbolism. A factor in this is described by the Financial Times.

The commission issued its warning to the Five Star and League governing coalition after Rome deviated from the EU’s fiscal rules by proposing a budget deficit equivalent to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product instead of the 1.6 per cent previously mooted by the finance minister Giovanni Tria. Although the new plans keep Italy under the EU’s 3 per cent deficit threshold, the country’s high debt levels — the highest in the eurozone after Greece — means Rome is required to cut spending to bring debt levels gradually lower.

However the chart below tells us that in fact you can look at it from another point of view entirely.

Actually I think that the situation is more pronounced than that as the ECB has bought 356 billion Euros worth. But you get the idea. It is hard not to think that a major factor in the recent falls is the halving of ECB QE purchases since the beginning of this month and to worry about their end in the New Year. In case you were wondering why the share prices of Italian banks have been tumbling again recently? The fact they have been buying in size in 2018 when one of the trades of 2018 has been to sell Italian bonds gives quite a clue.

If we switch to the consequences for debt costs then a rough rule of thumb is to multiply the 3.5% by the national debt to GDP ratio of 1.33 which gives us 4.65%. In practice this takes time as there is a large stock of debt and the impact from new debt takes time. For example Italy issued 2 billion Euros of its ten-year on the 28th of last month at 2.9%. So a fair bit less than now although much more expensive that it had got used too. This below from the Italian Treasury forecasts gives an idea of how the higher yields impact over time.

The redemptions in 2018 are approximately €184 billion (excluding BOTs) including approximately
€3 billion in relation to the international programme……..the average life of the stock of
government securities, which was 6.9 years at the end of 2017.

Oh and the tipping point below has been reached. From the Wall Street Journal.

Harvinder Sian, a bond strategist at Citigroup, thinks a 10-year yield of 3.5%-4% is now the tipping point, after which yields jump toward the 7% reached at the height of the last euro crisis

Personally I am not so sure about tipping point as the “gentlemen of the spread” ( with apologies to female bond traders) have been selling it at quite a rate anyway.

 

The United States

Here bond yields have been rising recently and let us take the advice of President Trump and look at what has happened during his term of office. Whilst back then Newsweek was busy congratulating Madame President Hilary Clinton my attention was elsewhere.

There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

We see that it has risen in the Trump era to 3.4% although maybe not by as much as might have been expected. However if we look to shorter maturities we see a much stronger impact.For example the two-year now yields some 2.9% and the five-year some 3.07%. So if you read about flat yield curves this is what is meant although it is not (yet) literally true as there is a 0.5% difference. Thus the US now faces a yield of circa 3% or so looking ahead. This does have an impact as the New York Times has pointed out.

The federal government could soon pay more in interest on its debt than it spends on the military, Medicaid or children’s programs.

In terms of numbers this is what they think.

Within a decade, more than $900 billion in interest payments will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other programs. Already the fastest-growing major government expense, the cost of interest is on track to hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

If we switch to the Congressional Budget Office it breaks down some of the influences at play here.From its September report.

Outlays for net interest on the public debt increased by $62 billion (or 20 percent), partly because of a higher rate of inflation.

The CBO points out a factor the New York Times missed which is that countries with index-linked debt are also hit by higher inflation. As the US has some US $1.38 trillion of these it is a considerable factor.

Also the US is borrowing more.

The federal budget deficit was $782 billion in fiscal year 2018, the Congressional Budget Office estimates,
$116 billion more than the shortfall recorded in fiscal year 2017………The 2018 deficit equaled an estimated 3.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), up from 3.5 percent in
2017. (If not for the timing shifts, the 2018 deficit would have equaled 4.1 percent of GDP.)

Higher bond yields combined with higher fiscal deficits mean more worries about this factor.

At 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal
debt held by the public is now at its highest level since
shortly after World War II. If current laws generally
remained unchanged, the Congressional Budget Office
projects, growing budget deficits would boost that
debt sharply over the next 30 years; it would approach
100 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade and
152 percent by 2048 . That amount would
be the highest in the nation’s history by far.

I counsel a lot of caution with this as 2048 will have all sorts of things we cannot think of right now. But the debt is heading higher in the period we can reasonably project and I note the CBO is omitting the debt held by the US Federal Reserve so that QE would make the figures look better but the current QT makes it look worse.

Comment

Debt costs and the associated concept of the mythical bond vigilantes have been in a QE driven hibernation but they seem to be showing signs of waking up. If we look at today’s two examples we see different roads to the destination. If we look at the road to Rome we see that the longer-term factor has been the lost decades involving a lack of economic growth. This has made it vulnerable to rising bond yields and which means that the straw currently breaking the camel’s back has been what is a very small fiscal shift. It is also a case of bad timing as it has taken place as the ECB departs the bond purchases scene.

The US is different in that it has a much better economic growth trajectory but has a President who has also primed the fiscal pumps. Should it grow strongly then the Donald will win “bigly” as he will no doubt let us know. However should economic growth weaken or the long overdue recession appear then the debt metrics will slip away quite quickly. That is a road to QE4.

Returning back home I note that UK Gilt yields are higher with the ten-year passing 1.7% last week for the first time for a few years.So the collar is a little tighter.The main impact on the UK came from the rise in inflation in 2017 leading to higher index-linked debt costs. This was the main factor in our annual debt costs rising by around £10 billion between 2015/16 and 2017/18.

 

 

 

 

Where next for US monetary policy?

So much of the economic news in 2018 has related to developments in the US economy. In particular monetary policy as the world has found itself adjusting to what is called these days a “normalisation” of policy in the United States. To my mind that poses the immediate question of what is normal now? I am sure we can all agree that monetary policy has been abnormal over the past decade or so but along that path it has also begun to feel normal. People up to the age of ten will know no different and if we allow some time to be a child maybe even those at university regard what we have now as normal. After all they will have grown up in a world of low and then negative interest-rates. The media mostly copy and paste the official pronouncements that tell us it has been good for us and “saved” the economy.

I am thinking this because the US Federal Reserve last night gave a hint that it thinks something else may be the new normal.

The staff provided a briefing that summarized its analysis
of the extent to which some of the Committee’s monetary
policy tools could provide adequate policy accommodation
if, in future economic downturns, the policy
rate were again to become constrained by the effective
lower bound (ELB)

This begs various questions of which the first is simply as we have just been through the biggest trial ever of such policies surely they know them as well as they ever will? Next comes another troubling thought which is the rather odd theory that you need to raise interest-rates now so that you have room to cut them later. This is something which is not far off bizarre but seems to be believed by some. Personally I think you should raise interest-rates when you think there are good reasons for doing so as otherwise you are emulating the Grand Old Duke of York. Also there are costs to moving interest-rates so if you put them up to bring them down you have made things worse not better.

You may also note that the Zero Lower Bound or ZLB  has become the ELB with Effective replacing zero. Is there a hint here that the US would be prepared to move to negative interest-rates next time around? After all we exist in a world where in spite of the recorded recovery we still have negative interest-rates in parts of Europe and in Japan. Indeed the -0.4% deposit rate at the ECB has survived what the media have called the “Euroboom”.

Effective Lower Bound

There are some odd statements to note about all of this. For example.

Accordingly,in their view, spells at the ELB could become
more frequent and protracted than in the past, consistent
with the staff’s analysis.

Seeing as we have been there precisely once what does “more frequent” actually mean? Also considering how long we were there the concept of it being even more protracted is not a little chilling if we consider what that implies. Also this next bit is not a little breathtaking when we consider the scale of the application of the policy “toolkit”

They also emphasized that there was considerable uncertainty about the economic effects of these tools. Consistent with that view, a few participants noted that economic researchers had not yet reached a consensus about the effectiveness of unconventional policies.

I do not know about you but perhaps they might have given that a bit more thought before they expanded the Federal Reserve balance sheet to above 4 trillion dollars! As to possible consequences let me link two different parts of their analysis which would give me sleepless nights if I had implemented such policies.

A number of participants indicated that there might be significant costs associated with the use of unconventional policies……….. That decline was viewed as likely driven by various factors, including slower trend growth of the labor force and productivity as well as increased demand for safe assets.

Policy Now

This is the state of play for interest-rates.

The Committee expects that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity,

How far? Well Robert Kaplan of the Dallas Fed gave a road map on Tuesday.

With the current fed funds rate at 1.75 to 2 percent, it would take approximately three or four more federal funds rate increases of a quarter of a percent to get into the range of this estimated neutral level.

At this stage, I believe the Federal Reserve should be gradually raising the fed funds rate until we reach this neutral level.

So circa 2.5% is the target and that seems to have been accepted by the bond market as we see the ten-year Treasury Note yield at 2.82% and the thirty-year Treasury Bond yield at 2.98%. When you read about the “yield curve” and in particular reports of it being flattish this is what they mean as we have a difference of a bit over 1% between the official interest-rate and the thirty-year bond.

There has been a lot of discussion about what this means but to my mind it simply means that the bond market has figured out where the US Federal Reserve intends to send interest-rates and has set prices in response. It will have noted the problems abroad that the interest-rate rises have contributed too and the discussions about possible future cuts and adjusted yields downwards. Whether that turns out to be right or wrong is a matter of opinion but to my mind whilst we have QT now ( the Federal Reserve balance sheet is being shrunk albeit relatively slowly) regular readers will be aware I think there are scenarios where interest-rates go up and the QE purchases begin again. Some such thoughts were perhaps on the mind of Robert Kaplan on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that the current economic expansion is the second longest in the postwar period, U.S. government debt held by the public now stands at 75.8 percent of GDP, and the present value of unfunded entitlements is estimated at approximately $54 trillion. The recent tax legislation and bipartisan budget compromise legislation are likely to exacerbate these issues. As a consequence of this level of debt, the U.S. is much less likely to have the fiscal capacity to fight the next recession.

Notice the reference to US debt held by the public which of course omits the holdings by the Fed itself.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and so far I have left out two factors. The first is the Donald who has expressed a dislike for interest-rate rises but so far on a much more minor scale than say President Erdogan in Turkey. Next is the issue of the Dollar which is two-fold as in its exchange-rate and how many of them there are to go around. As to the dollar exchange rate then stormy times for the US President seem to have capped it for the short-term. But as to quantity the era of QT seems unsurprisingly to have reduced the supply around the world and therefore contributed to troubles in places which relied on there being plenty of them.

This brings us to the Jackson Hole symposium which starts today where central bankers gather to discuss what to do next. For example back in 2012 Micheal Woodford gave a speech about Forward Guidance which has now become an accepted part of the “toolkit”. Central bankers seem to inhabit a world where it is not a laughing-stock and instead is avidly received and listened to by an expectant population. This time around the official story is of “normalisation” as even the unreliable boyfriend has raised interest-rates albeit only a nervous once. Also the Swedes are again promising to reduce their negativity although that has become something of a hardy perennial.

But in the backrooms I suspect the conversation will shift to “what do we do next time?” when the next recession hits and for the market aware that may be added to by the recent price behaviour of Dr,Copper. On such a road the normalisation debate may suddenly become an Outkast.

I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson, I am for real
Never meant to make your daughter cry
I apologize a trillion times

What is happening to US house prices?

If you are a believer that the extraordinarily stimulatory monetary policies of the credit crunch era have boosted house prices via their impact on asset prices then the United States currently provides food for thought. This is because of this.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent.

For younger readers the US Federal Reserve has raised official interest-rates to extraordinary heights and for older ones it has barely got into the foothills. Either way The Fed-Home as Google now describes us thinks this.

 The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative,

In addition to the series of increases in interest-rates we have seen and continue to expect we are now in what I guess we need to call the QT or Quantitative Tightening era or as Marketwatch described it last month.

Last fall, the Fed announced plans to slowly reduce its balance sheet on auto-pilot, allowing holdings to shrink by $20 billion each month this quarter and moving up to a maximum of $50 billion per month by the end of the year.

From the peak of US $4.5 trillion the balance sheet has shrunk from US $4.5 trillion at its peak to US $.4.4 trillion as of the latest update. So QT has had an impact in terms of a small flow reduction which has led to a small stock reduction. Thus we have gone from small up to small down if we look at it like that although of course in other terms US $100 billion or so was a lot of money.

If we look ahead then Marketwatch point out that we were given a hint of a possible future late last year.

The Fed has not announced how low it wants to shrink its balance sheet. New Fed Chairman Jerome Powell discussed a target range of $2.5 trillion to $2.9 trillion in his confirmation hearing last fall.

Okay what does this impact?

A central bankers heart will gladden when they see these numbers from Money Magnify.

In the second quarter of 2017, real estate values in the United States surpassed their pre- housing crisis levels. The total value of real estate owned by individuals in the United States is $24 trillion, and total mortgages clock in at $9.9 trillion. This means that Americans have $13.9 trillion in homeowners equity.12 This is the highest value of home equity Americans have ever seen.

As they do not let me point out that such value calculations have the flaw of using a marginal price for an average concept which looks great when prices rise but not to great when they fall. If we move on we also see a consequence of the credit crunch era.

Current homeowners have mortgage payments that make up an average of just 16.5% of their annual household income.

That will be changing but not in the way that you think as the US market is mostly one of fixed-rate mortgages. So whilst both the policy changes above may affect it we see that over time QT is likely to have the largest impact. This is because the main player is the 30 year fixed rate mortgage which means that the 30 year Treasury yield is more of a factor that short-term interest-rates. When you look at what it has done you see that in a broad sweep the US Fed helped reduce it by around 1% from 2013 to late 2016 and it then rose by 1% to the current 4.44%. Actually if you look at the chart it is hard not to have a wry smile as for all the rhetoric and talk about QT the main player seems to have been the Donald as most of the rise was around the election of President Trump. Humbling for central bankers and their dreams of ruling the world! If you want to know how this took place I looked at it on the 9th of November 2016.

Before I depart the economic situation let me point out that we may well end up discussing as so often two different markets.

Today, half of all borrowers put down 5% or less. More than 10% of borrowers put 0% down. As a result, the average loan-to-value ratio at origination has climbed to 87%

Manhattan

Is this a case of a perfect storm? We have the effect of the factors above although of course they affect the 0.1% much less than the rest of us. But the winds of change as we have seen in central London have been blowing against capital city ( in which category New York is unofficially if not officially) property prices after many years of plenty. Also there has been this according to the Financial Times.

Some buyers held off buying real estate as they grappled with the impact of President Donald Trump’s changes to the federal tax code, which introduced a cap on the deduction of state and local taxes, including property taxes, from federal tax bills. It also reduced the size of mortgages eligible for interest deductions. The change is expected to hit high earners in high-tax states including New York, particularly in New York City.

This has led to this.

The number of co-op and condominium sales in Manhattan fell nearly 25 per cent during the first quarter compared to the same period last year………..It was the largest annual decline in sales in nine years, according to the report.

Okay so what about prices?

The average sale price across Manhattan fell by 8.1 per cent from the year-earlier quarter, and the average price per square foot also recorded a sharp decline, falling by 18.5 per cent to $1,697.

Perhaps fearing a lack of sympathy amongst even its readers the FT takes its time to point out what this means.

The average sales price of a luxury apartment fell 15.1 per cent, down from $9.36m in the first quarter of 2017 to $7.94m in the first quarter of this year, and the number of sales was down 24.1 per cent. The number of newly built apartments that went into contract fell 54 per cent.

As to lack of sympathy that was at play in the comments.

So now the average luxury apartment in Manhattan costs only $8 million? Not yet a bargain then? ( Genghis)

As was some perspective.

1600 usd per sqf for prime ? Still a bargain compared to London (JP1)……..I know. And positively a steal compared to Hong Kong !! (observer).

Looking wider

You might from the above expect lower prices but in fact at the end of last week we were told this. From Zillow Research.

The continuing inventory pinch helped boost the U.S. national Case Shiller index 6.2 percent in January from a year earlier, down from a 6.3 percent gain in December. Case-Shiller’s 10-City Composite rose 6 percent, while the 20-City Composite climbed 6.4 percent year-over-year.

Some places are in fact red hot.

Home prices in Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Francisco posted the highest annual gains among the 20 cities, rising 12.9 percent, 11.1 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.

Zillow remain of the view that house prices will continue to rise as I note that rather like us in the UK there is a perception that too few houses have and indeed are being built. For perspective I note that a different piece of research tells us this.

Home values rose 7.6 percent year-over-year to a median of $210,200, with the San Jose, Calif., metro posting astonishing annual home value growth of 26.4 percent, reaching a median of $1.25 million.

Comment

We find ourselves reflecting on the words of Glenn Frey again.

The heat is on

Except not in the way that economics 101 would have predicted as we continue to see house price rises if we ignore the “international effect”. According to the Brookings Institute there may be a deeper factor as human behaviour returns to what it was.

The Census Bureau’s annual county and metropolitan area estimates through 2017 reveal a revival of suburbanization and movement to rural areas along with Snow Belt-to-Sun Belt population shifts. In addition, the data show a new dispersal to large- and moderate-sized metro areas in the middle of the country—especially in the Northeast and Midwest. If these shifts continue, they could call into question the sharp clustering of the nation’s population—in large metropolitan areas and their cities—that characterized the first half of the 2010s.

So the suburbs are back in favour so let me leave you with the thoughts of Arcade Fire on the subject.

And all of the walls that they built in the seventies finally fall
And all of the houses they built in the seventies finally fall

Maybe they got onto the consumer society as well in a different song.

(Everything now!) I need it
(Everything now!) I want it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live
(Everything now!)