Full employment in the US next year?

This morning has seen the focus shift to the United States and in particular onto a couple of TV interviews given by the new Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The main focus with CNN was on the impact of the planned stimulus on unemployment.

“The Congressional Budget Office issued an analysis recently and it showed that if we don’t provide additional support, the unemployment rate is going to stay elevated for years to come,” she added. “It would take (until) 2025 in order to get the unemployment rate down to 4% again.”

Whereas if the stimulus plan is passed then something of a magic wand will be waved.

“I would expect that if this package is passed that we would get back to full employment next year,” Yellen told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

On the face of it that is a pretty extraordinary claim. After all even if the stimulus bill was passed it would take some time to spend all the money. Whilst stimulus checks can go out quickly other types of fiscal policy have plenty of leads and lags. That is why it is monetary policy which responded to the pandemic first because it is expected to act more quickly. There is a slight irony of course from Secretary Yellen previously heading the US Federal Reserve. Perhaps she briefly forgot not only the “always an economist” on her Twitter bio but also all her economics training.

There were two triggers for this and let us start with the CBO or Congressional Budget Office.

Real GDP expands rapidly over the coming year, reaching its previous peak in mid-2021 and surpassing its potential level in early 2025. The annual growth of real GDP averages 2.6 percent during the five-year period, exceeding the 1.9 percent growth rate of real potential GDP

So economic growth will be pretty good for these times and will be 3.7% this year. As to “potential GDP” nobody with any sense thinks they have any idea what that is right now but we do learn something from it and it is a subject we will return to. Because what they are really saying is that there is an inflation risk. Of course they water that down for their actual inflation forecast but even so they suggest there is a risk after 2023.

Now let us switch to unemployment.

Labor market conditions continue to improve. As the economy expands, many people rejoin the civilian labor force who had left it during the pandemic, restoring it to its prepandemic size in 2022.1 The unemployment rate gradually declines throughout the period, and the number of people employed returns to its prepandemic level in 2024.

As you can see our “always” an economist has put in another swerve which is switching to unemployment ( with all the measurement issues that raises) as opposed to employment to gain an extra year. Actually I could write a whole article on the concept of “full employment” as it is as slippery as an eel as for example for the Bank of England it went from 6.5% ( 7% if we are harsh) to 4.25%.

The other factor at play was this from Friday.

The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 6.3 percent in January, while
nonfarm payroll employment changed little (+49,000), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today

Secretary Yellen would want us to focus on the lack of job creation which in fact left us worse off than we thought we were due to this.

With these revisions, employment in November
and December combined was 159,000 lower than previously reported.

Of course you would have to look away from the actual unemployment rate which improved a fair bit. That leaves us with an awkward situation where apparently the unemployment rate is a bad guide to itself in the future.

Inflation

This is an issue raised by the size of the stimulus plan and the Financial Times pointed out it was under fire.

The size of the proposed package came under attack this week when Larry Summers, who served as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary and Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, warned that Biden’s plan might trigger “inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability”.

In official speak we are back to potential output where the stimulus plus expected growth is above what would be potential output. Whilst the numbers have more holes than a Swiss cheese there is a point here. Indeed the point is reinforced by the denial.

Addressing Summers’ fears that the package would cause inflation, Yellen conceded that it was “a risk that we have to consider”. But Yellen, who as former Fed chair oversaw US monetary policy, added: “I’ve spent many years studying inflation and worrying about inflation. And I can tell you we have the tools to deal with that risk if it materialises.”

Revealingly she stopped short of naming them.

The Market Response

The benchmark US ten-year yield rose to 1.2% overnight and the thirty-year has touched 2%. By past standards this is a minor move and certainly not a return for the bond vigilantes. But there is another context which is the rising amount of the US national debt which means that even small yield rises will be very expensive. These days it is just under US $28 trillion.

In another form the bond yields are still way to low. Even if you take Secretary Yellen at her word inflation will rise towards the 2% per annum target. So in real terms the thirty-year yield offers you nothing and the ten-year a loss.

Comment

We can open with the issue of “tools” which is another subject Secretary Yellen has brought over from the central banking world. What are they to defeat inflation? The first is raising interest-rates, except that very quickly hits the issue of the increased debt. Last time around the US Federal Reserve under her successor Jerome Powell got the official interest-rate up to 2.5% before retreating, so even then it did not reach the “normal” level of 3% or so. Now the situation is even more difficult and reminds me of the advice from the song The Gambler.

He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind my sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces

Fiscal policy is another potential way but that is a no-go road unless they intend to abandon ship on the stimulus. Another is wage and price controls which would only be suggested by someone who has little or no idea of how they have actually worked in practice. Or who believes this nonsense from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Real average hourly earnings increased 3.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from December 2019 to
December 2020. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 1.2 percent in
the average workweek resulted in a 4.9-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this
period.

If we switch to the US Federal Reserve which is buying some US $80 billion of US bonds a month we are left wondering what happened to Yield Curve Control? Or is it now planning to taper? I think that is what you call a confused message!

Podcast

The Bank of Japan has endgamed itself

This week is one where the main news is coming from the East and the Orient. Indeed today we will be looking at so many of our themes being in play that it is hard not raise a wry smile. So let me start with the apparent news that an institution which is one of the world’s biggest control freaks is considering some ch-ch-changes.

The BOJ will also consider loosening its grip on yield curve control (YCC) to allow super-long interest rates to rise more, as its dominance in the market keeps yields in an extremely tight range, they said.  ( Reuters)

I have no idea where the journalist thinks they are going with the reference to “super-long” but anyway here is a reminder of what Bank of Japan yield curve control is.

With this in mind, yield curve control, in which the Bank seeks a decline in real interest rates by controlling short-term and long-term interest rates, has been placed at the core of the new policy framework.

So control-freakery as we note the more precise details below.

The long-term interest rate:
The Bank will purchase a necessary amount of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) without setting an upper limit so that 10-year JGB yields will remain at around zero percent.
While doing so, the yields may move upward and downward to some extent mainly depending on developments in economic activity and prices.2

They have bought just under 534 trillion Yen of them which I think is a new record in terms of large numbers for us. So we can mull “the yields may move upward and downward to some extent ” because if you wish to buy a Japanese Government Bond you do so at a yield and price which the BOJ has decided. Just in case that point was not rammed home you may note I have left point 2 in above. What does it say?

In case of a rapid increase in the yields, the Bank will purchase JGBs promptly and appropriately.

So yields may move up or down just not up! Indeed as I have been pointing out for a while not down either. This is because the purchases are at or very close to 0% for the ten-year yield which keeps it there when otherwise it would have gone much lower. Otherwise it may well have been more like Germany with its benchmark yield more like -0.5%, so this has been a shambles which most have ignored. It was supposed to cap yields and instead put a floor under them.

What can the Bank of Japan do? Blame the markets as they can’t really complain because they do not exist anymore.

“Prolonged easing has made markets rigid and complacent, so the BOJ needs to change that,” one of the sources said.

“The key is to heighten flexibility in the BOJ’s policy so it can respond to any big shock effectively,” the source said on condition of anonymity, a view echoed by four other sources. ( Reuters)

So the open mouth operation is to blame somebody else which the journalist has fallen for.

The Tokyo Whale

We can now switch to the 35 trillion Yen of purchases of equities which have helped drive the Nikkei 225 index above 28,000. Indeed it was up another 391 points at 26,833 overnight. Whenever there is a down day the Bank of Japan buys providing a put option and acquiring the moniker of The Tokyo Whale.

TOKYO, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan will discuss ways to scale back a controversial programme that buys massive amounts of exchange traded funds without stoking market fears of a full-fledged retreat from ultra-loose policy, sources say.

Again we are back to the concept of “market fears” when policy has been to destroy the market. So we are in a blame game. In this instance the market has not be a neutered as the bond market bit there is an issue.

The programme will come up in the BOJ’s March policy review, largely because of policymakers’ concerns over the ballooning size of the central bank’s stock exchange-traded funds (ETF) holdings which, at 35 trillion yen ($337 billion), account for roughly 80% of Japan’s ETF market, said five sources familiar with the BOJ’s thinking. ( Reuters )

Have you noticed that however much the BOJ increases its purchases it still apparently only holds 80% of the ETF market? Regular readers will find something familiar about the next bit from Reuters.

It also pledges to buy ETFs at an annual pace of up to 12 trillion yen, although actual purchases have slowed well below this level in recent months as Tokyo stock prices rally.

Remember 2/3 years ago when we were told by the media that the BOJ was going to taper its ETF purchases? Well that was from 6 trillion whereas now it is 12 trillion. Up was the new down. The next bit is rather revealing as why is it buying at all when markets are calm?

The BOJ will also look at ways to more flexibly slow ETF buying when markets are calm, the sources said.

Comment

So is The Tokyo Whale getting cold feet? I do not think so. Central banks indulge in so much PR these days or what we have come to call “Open Mouth Operations”. This often suggests a reduction in policy as an intention but as I have noted with the ETF tapering plan an intention to taper from 6 trillion Yen a year morphed into buying 12 trillion Yen a year. Indeed even the Reuters leak hints at this sort of thing.

While replacing the numerical guidance on the pace of ETF buying is among options being discussed at the BOJ, some are cautious for fear of triggering a market sell-off, they said.

The last thing the BOJ wants is a communication mishap that jolts markets at a time many Japanese firms close their books at the March fiscal year-end.

When you force a market to a particular level as the Bank of Japan has done there is no reason for it to stay there should you depart. We are back to Elvis Presley.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

If investors wanted to buy the Nikkei 225 at 28,000+ they would have bought it but the BOJ would not wait. Even worse for it many will have bought learning on its purchases and thus may sell if it exits. So it can talk as much as it likes but unless the world suddenly has a lust for Japanese equities how can it even stop buying without the market dropping? Let alone ever sell.

The bond market one is different because the BOJ completely misfired here and in price terms rather than keeping it up it has prevented it from rising as I explained earlier. With the Japanese concept of “face” it cannot admit this but it could buy at different levels which might mean letting the “market” rise and yields fall. Awkward.

With Japan’s large national debt and fiscal deficits it has to keep buying in some form as the government’s position would deteriorate quickly should bond yields rise.

So in summary the BOJ is in a mess of its own central planning making. If we switch to the objective of inflation at 2% per annum all I see is utter failure.

  The consumer price index for Japan in November 2020 was 101.3 (2015=100), down 0.9% over the year before seasonal adjustment, and down 0.4% from the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

All that effort for prices to go nowhere. The truth is that the bond purchases oil the wheels of government spending and the equity ones give profits to those owning equities. So some gain but remember others lose as for example any long-term saving at these levels looks expensive at best.

Also there is no real market or price discovery. In response to this news the Japanese bond future dropped 30 ticks from 151.88 which is not much and then closed at 151.72 as people realised a reality where the BOJ is trapped.

Oh, oh I’m trapped
Like a fool I’m in a cage
I can’t get out
You see I’m trapped
Can’t you see I’m so confused?
I can’t get out ( Colonel Abrams)

There is some inflation around as Platts noted last week but best of luck with telling Japanese consumers it will make them better off.

 In Japan, day-ahead power prices breached Yen 220/kWh, or $618/MMBtu on Jan. 12, Japan Electric Power Exchange data showed. This compares to around Yen 100/kWh a week earlier and single digit price levels in December, indicating a surge of more than 40 times.

 

 

Where next for interest-rates and bond yields?

2021 has opened by reminding us that the world has become increasingly bi-polar.Perhaps I should refine that to the human world. Prospects for interest-rates are doing that as well and let me give you an example of one trend.

Government bond #yield keeping higher: 10 year German #Bund yield at -0.48%, 10 year UK Treasury #Gilt yield at 0.32% and 10 year US #Treasury yield at 1.15%. (@CIMBank_News)

The player here is the United States. I noted yesterday the impact of higher US bond yields on the price of Gold and in the meantime the ten-year has nudged higher to 1.15%. Part of this has been caused by the way that the prospects for Yield Curve Control ( essentially more QE bond buying) have collided with this.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve could begin to trim its monthly asset purchases this year if distribution of coronavirus vaccines boosts the economy as expected, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Monday in what amounted to a bullish outlook for the coming months.

As you can see they have been talking bond yields higher just as they were expected to be heading in the opposite direction. So much for Forward Guidance! This is more like a car crash as we wait for the handbrake turn. Just to add to the land of confusion there was also this.

In separate comments, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans also said policymakers were poised to push bond-buying in either direction – adding more if the economy seems to need it but also open to cutting back if the recovery and vaccines gain traction. ( Reuters)

On a technical level this just reminds us how useless Forward Guidance is. We have seen central bankers and their acolytes push it as a policy tool but right now they are pulling in every direction. How can anyone take guidance from this.

Mr and Mrs Market have decided to push bond yields higher and see if they break.Those who remember what was called the Taoer Tantrum and the climb down of the US Federal Reserve in the face of pressure from President Trump will no doubt be thinking when they climb down. Such thoughts are no doubt behind the rise in bond yields because so far QE has been an example of the genius of the song Hotel California.

“Relax”, said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Negative Interest-Rates

On the other side of the coin is the negative interest-rate enthusiast of the Bank of England Silvana Tenreyro. Yesterday she gave a speech setting out her views on them.

Financial-market channels appear to be unimpeded under negative rates, and some may even be
stronger than usual.
 While pass-through to household deposit rates can be constrained near zero, pass-through appears
to be less constrained for corporate deposit rates, which may stimulate spending by firms.
 There is strong evidence of transmission into looser bank lending conditions, even if this is
somewhat constrained relative to ‘normal’.
 There is no clear evidence that negative rates have reduced bank profits overall, and a number of
studies find positive impacts, once you take into account the boost to the economy.
 Taking these points together, the evidence suggests that negative rates can provide significant
stimulus.

Let us examine these in detail. Her view on the financial market channel is really rather extraordinary, so let us take a look in more detail. The emphasis is mine.

For example, estimates from the Bank’s suite of models suggest that financial market channels – operating via the exchange rate, firms’ cost of capital and households’
financial wealth – account for a third to two thirds of the total medium-term impact on output from Bank Rate
changes, and a half to three quarters of the impact on inflation.

Yes we are back to wealth effects again with no addressing of the issuing for younger people of how they will have to buy more expensive assets is inflation for them.We look at this usually in terms of housing. Also if firms cost of capital responded to Bank Rate in the manner hinted at we would not have had the Funding for Lending and Term Funding Schemes. 

Next is the issue of corporate deposit rates which “may” stimulate corporate spending. Well after the years of evidence now about the impact of negative interest-rates in the Euro area then if you can only say “may” it means the answer is no. Although Silvana keeps plugging away at this.

This suggests one aspect of the banking channel of negative rates which could be more powerful than usual.

How bank lending can be both “looser” and “somewhat constrained” speaks for itself so I will leave that there.

Next comes the issue of the banks. The issue her is one of profitability or rather lack of. Her Silvana finds herself trapped between her theories and real world examples where people are backing their views with their money.

Interestingly, a number of studies48 – though not all49 – find that bank equities tend to fall after policy rate
cuts below zero are announced. That seems at odds with the more sanguine results on bank profitability.

Revealingly she decides that she is right and they are wrong.

One interpretation is that financial markets initially focussed on net interest income, but did not initially
account for the indirect boost to profits from negative rates arising from improvements in other sources of
income.

Indeed they have been wrong for quite some time according to her. It would be too cruel to look at the Italian banking sector so let us go to the benchmark for the Euro area banking sector which is Deutsche Bank. Back in 2015 there were two occasions when its share price approached 29 Euros whereas now it is 9.57 Euros. If we take out the Covid-19 pandemic then we see it does not change much as in February last year it was 10.2 Euros. So the share price has plunged over the era of negative interest-rates and bond yields because markets have failed for over five years to spot the “improvements in other sources of income.” Come to think of it the accountants and auditors have missed it as well!

We seem to be entering something of an alternative universe here.

And I have previously highlighted that in the UK interest rates affect inflation more quickly than in the past.

The ECB in fact published some work a few years back suggesting the reverse. I can only think that Silvana has misunderstood what happened in the summer of 2016.

Also we already have negative UK bond yields in the UK at the shorter maturities mostly due to all the QE bond buying she does not think is that important.Meanwhile that influences the increasing number of fixed-rate mortgages. On that road Bank Rate is ever less important which she seems to miss.

Comment

There are several contexts here so let me set out my view. There is a clear asymmetry between how central bankers regard interest-rate rises and cuts. The former are a vague wish and the latter are a clear desire often implemented via panic. Indeed interest-rate rises are often reversed ( the UK is an example of this ) and the new scenario is lower. For example the Bank of England told us the “lower bound” for UK interest-rates was 0.5% whereas Bank Rate is presently 0.1%. In a sane world we would be projecting interest-rate increases but in the insane one we inhabit any further economic weakness will see more cuts.

Next comes the issue of negative interest-rates which so far have been singing along with Muse.

Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
(Super massive black hole)

The main place that has implemented them which is the Euro area is still there. In fact last year it cut again, although contrary to the Tenreyro rhetoric it only cut by 0.1% showing it sees risks. If negative rates had the impact claimed surely things would have got better and interest-rates could have been raised or at least returned to zero? The Riksbank in Sweden has raised back to 0% but that only illustrates the issue. It cut into negative territory in a boom and ended up so unsure about it all that it raised interest-rates in a bust. If they worked surely Sweden would have them now?

 

What are the consequences of bond yields rising further?

This week has brought an unusual development for the credit crunch era. Let me illustrate with an example of the reverse and indeed what we have come to regard as the new normal from last week.

AMSTERDAM, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Italy’s five-year bond yield turned negative for the first time on Thursday as uncertainty from the U.S. election supported government bonds in Europe.

Prima facie that seems insane but of course as I will explain later it is more complicated than that. That is for best when we add in this from Marketwatch on Monday.

Investors now pay Greece for the privilege of owning its debt, an incredible turnaround from its securities being the source of global financial instability a decade ago.

Greece’s three-year debt turned negative on Friday, and then the country received more good news after the surprise decision by Moody’s Investors Service on Friday night to upgrade the nation’s debt. The upgrade, from Ba3 from B1 previously, still leaves Greek debt in junk market territory, and three notches away from becoming investment grade.

The yield on Greek 10-year debt TMBMKGR-10Y, 0.834% fell 4 basis points to 0.77%. In 2012, the yield on Greek 10-year debt surpassed 35%.

Amazing in its own way and well done to investors who got their timing right in these markets. Although a large Grazie is due to Mario Draghi who set things in motion.

US Treasury Bonds

However there has been something of a contrary signal from the US bond market. There was a hint of something going on in what is called the Long Bond which is the thirty-year maturity. Some of you may recall at the height of the pandemic panic in financial markets in March the yield here dipped below 1%. This was driven by two factors.The first was a move to a perceived safe haven in times of trouble and US Treasury Bonds are AAA rated as well as being in the world’s reserve currency. Also there would have been some front-running of the expected bond buying or QE from the US Federal Reserve. It did indeed charge in like the US Cavalry with purchases at the peak of US $75 billion per day.

But around 2 weeks ago the mood music was rather different as the debate was then about whether the yield would break above the 1.6% level that market traders felt was significant. As the election results began to come in it did so and now we find it at 1.75%.

If we switch to the benchmark ten-year ( called the Treasury Note) we see a slightly delayed pattern but also a move higher. In fact it gave us a head fake as the initial response to the election was a rally leading to lower yields and we noted it at 0.72%. But there were ch-ch-changes on the way and now we see it is 0.96%. So perhaps on the cusp of what is called a big figure change should it make 1%.

Why does this matter?

The first reason is for the US economy itself and there is a direct line in from mortgage rates.

Over the course of the past few days, 10yr yields are up roughly 0.2%.  This time around, the mortgage market hasn’t been able to avoid taking its lumps with the average lender now quoting 30yr fixed rates that are 0.125% higher compared to last Thursday.    ( Mortgage Daily News)

The housing market has been juiced by ever lower and indeed record low mortgage rates up until now. The change will feed into other personal and corporate borrowing as well.

Next comes its role as the world’s biggest bond market with some US $21.1 billion and of course rising at play here. I will come back to the domestic issues but there is a worldwide role here.For example back in my days in the UK Gilt ( bond) market the beginning of the day was checking what the US market had done overnight before pricing in any UK changes. That theme will be in play around the world and in fact on spite of the Italian and Greek moves above we have seen it.

For the US there is the domestic issue of debt costs. These have been a pack of dogs that have not barked but with the increases in the size of the bond market and hence higher levels of borrowing and refinancing smaller moves now matter. We know that President Elect Biden wants to spend more and looked at this on the 5th of this month although there remains doubt over how much of it he will be able to get through what looks likely to be a Republican controlled Senate. Even before this here are the projections of the Congressional Budget Office.

Debt. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public is projected to rise sharply, to 98 percent of GDP in 2020, compared with 79 percent at the end of 2019 and 35 percent in 2007, before the start of the previous recession. It would exceed 100 percent in 2021 and increase to 107 percent in 2023, the highest in the nation’s history.

Best I think to take that as a broad sweep as there are a lot of moving parts in the equations used.

Yield Curve Control

This is, as you can see, not going so well! We have looked at the Japanese experience as recently as Monday and in the US it would be a case of recycling a wartime policy.

In early 1942, shortly after the United States declared war, the Fed effectively abdicated its responsibility for monetary policy despite its concern about inflation and focused instead on helping the Treasury finance the conflict. After a series of negotiations with the Treasury, the Fed agreed to peg the Treasury-bill yield at 0.375 percent, to cap the critical long-term government bond yield at 2.5 percent, and to limit all other government securities’ yields in a consistent manner.  ( Cleveland Fed)

The Long Bond yield is still quite some distance from the 2.5% of back then but as I have already explained the situation is I think more exposed now.

Oh and there was a concerning consequence to this.

The Treasury, however, did not wish to relinquish its control over Fed monetary policy and only acquiesced to small increases in short-term interest rates starting in July 1947, after inflation had been hovering around 18 percent for a year. The Treasury believed that it could not possibly finance its unprecedented levels of public debt at reasonable interest rates without the Fed’s continued participation in the government-securities market; in its view, only unrealistically high interest rates could coax enough private-sector savings to finance the debt.

Comment

Let me now switch to what we might expect if we had free markets. The extra borrowing we have looked at would be pushing yields higher. Another influence would be the fact the real ( after inflation) bond yields are heavily negative unless you think US inflation will be less than 1% per year for the next ten years. Even then it is not much of a return, especially compared to the 5% in one day some equity markets have just provided. The reality is that bond markets provide the prospect of capital gains rather than interest right now.

Also the modern era provides something very different from free markets as the US Federal Reserve will be thinking at what point will it intervene? Or to be more precise at what point will it do so on a larger scale as it is already buying some US $80 billion per month of US treasury bonds. It was not so long ago that such amounts were considered to be a lot. The path to Yield Curve Control may be via bond yield rises now followed by its response. So the real question is what level will they think is too much? This quickly becomes an estimate of what they think the US government can afford? As they have become an agent of fiscal policy again.

 

More QE will be on the agenda of the US Federal Reserve

Later today the policymakers of what is effectively the world’s central bank meet up to deliberate before making their policy announcement tomorrow evening UK time. Although there is a catch in my description because the US Federal Reserve goes through sustained periods when it effectively ignores the rest of the world and becomes like the US itself can do, rather isolationist. The Financial Times puts it like this.

US coronavirus surge to dominate Federal Reserve meeting…..Central bank policymakers face delicate decision on best way to deliver more monetary support.

As it happens the coronavirus numbers look a little better today. But there are clearly domestic issues at hand which is a switch on the initial situation where on the middle of March the US Federal Reserve intervened to help the rest of the world with foreign exchange liquidity swaps. We were ahead of that game on March 16th. Anyway, that was then and now we see the US $446 billion that they rose to is now US $118 billion and falling.

The US Dollar

There has been a shift of emphasis with Aloe Blacc mulling a dip in royalties from this.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me

This was represented back in the spring not only by a Dollar rally that especially hit the Emerging Market currencies but the Fed response I looked at above. Since then we have gone from slip-sliding away to the Fallin’ of Alicia Keys. Putting that into numbers the peak of 103.6 for September Dollar Index futures on March 19th has been replaced by 93.9 this morning.

If we look at the Euro it fell to 1.06 versus the Dollar and a warning signal flashed as the parity calls began. They had their usual impact as it is now at 1.17. Actually there were some parity calls for the UK Pound $ too so you will not be surprised to see it above US $1.28 as I type this. In terms of economic policy perhaps the most significant is the Japanese Yen at 105.50 because the Bank of Japan has made an enormous effort to weaken it and looks increasingly like King Canute.

There are economic efforts from this as I recall the words of the then Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer from 2015.

Figure 3 uses these results to gauge how a 10 percent dollar appreciation would reduce U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) through the net export channels we have just discussed. The staff’s model indicates that the direct effects on GDP through net exports are large, with GDP falling over 1-1/2 percent below baseline after three years.

We have seen the reverse of that so a rise in GDP of 1.5%. Of course such moves seem smaller right now and they need the move to be sustained but a welcome development none the less.

Whilst the US economy is less affected in terms of inflation than others due to the role of the US Dollar as the reserve currency in which commodities are prices there still is an impact.

This particular model implies that core PCE inflation dips about 0.5 percent in the two quarters following the appreciation before gradually returning to baseline, which is consistent with a four-quarter decline in core PCE inflation of about 0.3 percent in the first year following the shock.

Again this impact is the other way so inflation will rise. For those unaware PCE means Personal Consumption Expenditures and as so familiar for an official choice leads to a lower inflation reading than the more widely known CPI alternative.

Back Home

Interest-Rates

This is a troubled area for the US Federal Reserve which resembles the shambles of General Custer at Little Big Horn. We we being signposted to a “normalisation” where the new interest-rate would be of the order of 3%+ or what was called r*. I am pleased to report I called it out at the time as the reality was that the underpinnings of this particular Ivory Tower crumbled as the eye of Trump turned on it. The pandemic in this sense provided cover for the US Federal Reserve to cut to around 0.1% ( strictly 0% to 0.25%).

Back on March 16th I noted this and you know my view in official denials.

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

I also not this from Reuters yesterday,

With U.S. central bank officials resisting negative interest rates,

How are they resisting them? They could hardly have cut much quicker! This feels like a PR campaign ahead of applying them at some future date.

Yield Curve Control

This is the new way of explaining that the central bank is funding government policy. Although not on the scale some are claiming.

Foreigners have levelled off buying US Debt. Federal Reserve buying has gone parabolic. This tells us all this additional debt the govt is issuing by running HUGE budget deficits is being purchased by directly the Fed. That is what they do in “banana republics”. #monetizethedebt

That was from Ben Rickert on Twitter and is the number one tweet if you look for the US Federal Reserve. Sadly for someone who calls himself The Mentor actual purchases of US government bonds have declined substantially.

the Desk plans to continue to increase SOMA holdings of Treasury securities at that pace, which is the equivalent of approximately $80 billion per month.  ( New York Fed.)

That is less in a month than it was buying some days as I recall a period when it was US £125 billion a day.

If Ben had not ramped up his rhetoric he would be on the scent because Yield Curve Control is where the central bank implicitly rather than explicitly finances the government. Regular readers will have noted my updates on the Bank of Japan doing this and there have been several variations but the sum is that the benchmark ten-year yield has been kept in a range between -0.1% and 0.1%.

There is an obvious issue with the US ten-year yield being around 0.6% and we may see tomorrow the beginning of the process of getting it lower. On the tenth of this month I pointed out that some US bond yields could go negative and if we are to see a Japanese style YCC then the Fed needs to get on with it for the reasons I will note below.

Comment

As the battleground for the US Federal Reserve now seems to be bond yields it has a problem.

INSKEEP: Senator, our time is short. I’ve got a couple of quick questions here. Is there a limit to how much the United States can borrow? Granting the emergency, its another trillion dollars here. ( NPR)

Even in these inflated times that is a lot and the Democrat opposition want treble that. With an election around the corner we are likely to see more grand spending schemes. But returning to the Fed that is a lot to fund and $80 billion a month looks rather thin in response. So somewhere on this yellow brick road I am expecting more QE.

Oh and if you look at Japan if it has done any good it is well hidden. But that seems not to bother policymakers much these days. Also another example of Turning Japanese is provided by giving QE  new name. After all successes do not need one do they?

Still at least the researchers at the Kansas City Fed have kept their sense of humour.

Based on the FOMC’s past use of forward guidance, we argue that date-based forward guidance has the potential to deliver much, though not all, of the accommodation of yield curve control.

The Bank of Japan fears no longer being the “leader of the pack”

The next two weeks look set to bring a situation you might not expect. After all Japan has built a reputation as the “leader of the pack” as the Shangri-Las would put it in terms of monetary policy easing. Except that it is now facing a situation where it looks set to be left behind. On Thursday the European Central Bank will announce its latest moves and its President Mario Draghi has been warming us up for some action. Either he will announce an interest-rate cut or he will signal one for September. So there are two perspectives here for Japan. The first is that the Euro area looks set to cut by the total amount that Japan has below zero as 0.1% is the minimum and of course 0.2% would be double it. Next is the issue that the new rate of -0.5% or -0.6% would be a considerable amount lower than in Japan.

If we now shift to the United States the US Federal Reserve looks set to cut interest-rates as well when it meets at the end of the month. There was a spell last week when financial markets switched to expecting a 0.5% cut which would put the new rate at 1.75% to 2%. Personally I am far from convinced by that and a 0.25% cut seems much more likely but nonetheless it puts the Bank of Japan under pressure.

The Yen

The factors we have looked at above will be putting some upwards pressure on the Yen as interest-rate expectations shift against it. This has been reinforced by an unintended consequence of the policy applied by the central planners at the Bank of Japan.

The Bank will purchase Japanese government bonds (JGBs) so that 10-year JGB yields will remain more or less at the current level (around zero percent). With regard
to the amount of JGBs to be purchased, the Bank will conduct purchases more or less in line with the current pace — an annual pace of increase in the amount outstanding
of its JGB holdings at about 80 trillion yen — aiming to achieve the target level of a long-term interest rate specified by the guideline. JGBs with a wide range of maturities will continue to be eligible for purchase, while the guideline for average remaining maturity of the Bank’s JGB purchases will be abolished.

The problem here as I have pointed out before is that something which was supposed to have kept Japanese Government Bond ( JGB) yields down has ended up keeping them up. Ooops! As world bond markets have surged Japan has been left behind because its bond market is essentially run by the Bank of Japan ( 80 trillion yen a year buys you that) and it has been wrong footed completely. The recent surge began in early March and the German ten-year yield has fallen as much as by 0.6% and the US by 0.8% but Japan by only 0.16%.

So as you can see relative interest-rates and yields have moved to support the Yen since the early spring of this year. The policy of “yield curve control” aiming for bond yields of 0% to -0.1% no doubt seemed a good way of continuing the Abenomics policy of weakening the Yen at the time. However over the period that bond markets have surged the Yen has strengthened from 112 versus the US Dollar to 108 now. That is before we see any shift in the rhetoric of President Trump who as the tweet from the early part of this month below points out, wants a weaker US Dollar.

China and Europe playing big currency manipulation game and pumping money into their system in order to compete with USA. We should MATCH, or continue being the dummies who sit back and politely watch as other countries continue to play their games – as they have for many years!

That will have been viewed with horror in Tokyo because whilst The Donald is not currently putting Japan in his cross hairs they have looking to weaken the Yen since Abenomics began back in 2013. This would be quite a reverse for Japan as it would not want to get into a currency war with the United States.

Moving to other currencies we see that the Yen has been strengthening against the Euro and the UK Pound as well. Indeed we get another perspective I think from looking at Switzerland which regular readers will know I labelled as a “Currency Twin” with Japan due to the way both currencies were borrowed heavily in the pre credit crunch period. There are increasing rumours that the Swiss National Bank has been getting the equivalent of an itchy collar over the strength of the Swiss Franc and has been checking the markets as a hint that it may intervene again. It may well find itself having to match any ECB interest-rate cut and that will echo in Tokyo as well as giving us a new low for negative interest-rates.

The Pacific Trade Crisis

The stereotype of this area is of fast growing economies with the image of many of them being Pacific Tigers compared to the more sclerotic Western nations. Yet troubles are there too now so let us go to Seoul on Thursday.

The Monetary Policy Board of the Bank of Korea decided today to lower the Base Rate by 25 basis points, from 1.75% to 1.50%.

Okay why?

With respect to future domestic economic growth, the Board expects that the adjustment in construction investment will continue and exports and facilities investment will recover later than originally expected,
although consumption will continue to grow. GDP is forecast to grow at the lower-2% level this year, below the April forecast (2.5%).

This morning has brought more news on that front. From Bloomberg.

South Korea’s exports, a bellwether for global trade, appear set for an eighth straight monthly decline as trade disputes take a toll on global demand. Exports during the first 20 days of July fell 14 percent from a year earlier, data from the Korea Customs Service showed Monday. Semiconductor sales plunged 30 percent, while shipments to China, the biggest buyer of South Korean goods, fell 19 percent.

Korea is a bellwether as these numbers are released very promptly and many of its companies are integrated into global supply chains, so it gives a signal for world trade. Currently it is not good and there is a direct link to Japan.

Imports from the U.S. rose 3.7 percent, while those from Japan dropped 15 percent.

Also on Thursday Bank Indonesia decided to join the party.

The BI Board of Governors agreed on 17th and 18th July 2019 to lower the BI 7-day Reverse Repo Rate by 25 bps to 5,75%,

A day earlier say troubling news for the economy of Singapore.

SINGAPORE’S exports, already in double-digit decline for three straight months, fell again in June, according to Enterprise Singapore data released on Wednesday morning.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) were down by 17.3 per cent on the year before – a six-year low  ( Business Times )

Comment

The Bank of Japan finds itself between a rock and a hard place on quite a few fronts. The Yen has been strengthening and other central banks are on their way to matching its policies. That is before we get to the issue of the clear trade slow down in the Pacific region. This will add to the problem hidden in what looked on the surface as solid economic growth in the first part of the year.

In the three-month period, exports dropped 2.4 percent and imports sank 4.6 percent, as in the initial reading. As a result, net exports — exports minus imports — pushed up GDP by 0.4 percentage point. ( Japan Times).

In all other circumstances the Bank of Japan would cut interest-rates in a week. But they do not like negative interest-rates much and they are buying pretty much everything ( bonds, equities and commercial property) as it is! In October another Consumption Tax rise is due as well. Perhaps Bryan Ferry was right.

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Japan is the land with no inflation

The concept of the “lost decade” in Japan which of course now encompasses at least two of them has many features but one of them is the lack of inflation. This has continued in spite of the enormous effort to create some driven by the Abenomics economic policy of the current government and the Bank of Japan. Or as James Mackintosh put it yesterday.

Japanese consumer prices are now at the same level as in October 1998. Not inflation, but the *level* of CPI.

So not quite two lost decades although care is needed because as regular readers will be aware my view is that the inflation obsession of the world’s central banks is misguided. After all the 2% annual target was something that seemed right rather than being a considered thought out plan.

If we move to more recent developments we see a familiar tale of not much going on as the annual inflation rate was 0.7% in June. The index based at 2015 levels is at 100.9. Even in an area where you would expect inflation which is medical services ( for an aging population) there is not much as it is 2% and 103.3 respectively. This is a world where the 100 Yen machine still exists and you get the same drink or chocolate bar you got years ago. The feature that sticks in my mind from when I worked in Tokyo was the gloriously named “Pocari Sweat” which tasted better than in sounds. Another feature that is different to the UK in particular is the housing sector where there is little or no inflation either as it registers a 0.1% fall in the last year and the index is at 99.6. That’s where it was in 1996!

The Bank of Japan

There have been developments here this week as it once again faces the prospect of failing with regards to it inflation target. This is analagous to Mario Draghi calling for reform in the Euro area which is also in every policy statement. This morning saw the release of its latest research into underlying inflation which of course central bankers love when the headline isn’t behaving. But if anything it makes things worse as we plough through the trimmed mean, the weighted median and the mode. If I was Governor I would be rather pleased to see the weighted median at 0% but Governor Kuroda of course is not.

Here is yesterday’s response described by NHK News.

The Bank of Japan has made a move to curb the recent rise in long-term interest rates.

BOJ officials said on Monday that they are offering to buy an unlimited amount of Japanese government bonds at a fixed rate.

There is a bit of hype in the use of “unlimited amount” as whilst Japan issues plenty of bonds the Tokyo Whale has gobbled quite a few up already. Also the yield movements are very Japanese.

On Monday morning, the yield on the benchmark 10-year government bond briefly hit 0.090 percent on speculation the central bank may review its bond-buying program at next week’s meeting. The BOJ’s target for the yield is around zero percent.

After the officials made the suggestion, the yield fell to 0.065 percent.

Firstly let us note the small difference here before we look at the  Reuters perspective

The country’s government bond yields rose sharply on Monday, the first chance Asian traders had to react to a Reuters report that the central bank was debating whether to scale back monetary stimulus………Yields on the benchmark 10-year Japanese government bonds, or JGBs, shot up nearly six basis points on Monday before the central bank offered to buy unlimited amounts at a yield of 0.11 percent.

So returning to the yield issue it is not much but is better in real terms than in many places especially if you take a broad sweep of Japanese inflation. You may also note that the Bank of Japan more threatened to buy rather than actually buying. This is the new yield curve control programme which has seen its purchases slow. The hint it might step back has the problem that for so long it has pretty much centrally planned the Japanese Government Bond market which otherwise has withered on the vine.

 

The economy

There have been problems here too as we remind ourselves of what happened in the first quarter.

The economy shrank by an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2018 as consumers kept their purse strings tight despite signs that paychecks are finally beginning to rise after decades of flat wages. ( Japan Times).

This morning’s PMI business survey for manufacturing has done little to improve the mood.

Japan Flash Manufacturing PMI falls to 20-month
low of 51.6 in July, from 53.0 in June…….New business grew at a much weaker rate and was broadly flat,
while export demand, despite further yen depreciation,
deteriorated for a second month running ( Markit ).

Actually these developments bring things more into line with the Bank of Japan in the sense that it felt the Japanese economy had outperformed in the previous 2 years.

However the labour market remains strong.

The unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in more than 25 years in May as companies ramped up hiring amid solidifying economic conditions, government data showed Friday……..The rate fell to 2.2 percent, against an estimated 2.5 percent, the lowest since 1992, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said. Separate data released the same day by the labor ministry showed the job-to-applicant ratio was 1.6, the highest since 1974.

There was also a flicker from wage growth in May as bonuses boosted the numbers meaning that real wages were 1.3% higher than a year before. It has led t the usual flurry of excitement from the media desperate to justify all their past pro Abenomics headlines who presumably follow the advice of “look away now” at the previous months as 3 out of 4 showed negative annual growth. Still for fans of “output gap” style analysis it is an improvement from complete disaster to mere failure assuming it lasts. They would be expecting the equivalent of the 41 degrees celsius recorded near to Tokyo yesterday.

Comment

Actually the twenty years of being an inflation free zone has not gone that badly for Japan. Collectively the economic growth rate has been weak but individually it has done better as we see a positive spin on the falling population level. Personally I think that pumping up inflation to 2% per annum would be likely to inflict economic danger on Japan because if we look across to the west we see that the Ivory Tower assumption that wages would automatically rise in response is another error.

But as so often the cry for “More! More! More!” goes up as I note this from Gavyn Davies in the Financial Times.

Even with very careful communication and forward guidance, monetary policy may not be sufficient, on its own, to reach the inflation target. Eventually, unconventional fiscal easing may also be needed, though this is not remotely on the horizon at present.

So the monetary policy which apparently could not fail has so lets pump up fiscal policy. That starts from an interesting level of the national debt and from a curious view of where inflation has been.

Bank of Japan faces the return of very low inflation

How can you return if you never went away?