Courtesy of The Automatic Earth.
Herbert Mayer Honi soit qui mal y pense: Aug 1939
This is not the first time I’ve written on this topic, but I want to do it again, because rate hikes, when they come, will have a tremendous effect on everybody’s loves and economies, wherever you live. And because I think there’s still far too much complacency out there, far too much ‘conviction’ that higher rates will come only after a comfortable period of time, and even then only gradually.
There are three steps in the Fed’s ‘policies’. There’s QE, which will end in October. There’s ultra low interest rates, which have so far been maintained. And then there’s the dollar, whose rate many people still think is determined by the ‘markets’, even if the Fed is in effect the ‘markets’. When the Fed buys, or makes third parties buy, bonds and stocks (and we know it has), it’s not going to let the dollar roam free. That makes no sense.
Which means the rising dollar (about 10% vs the euro in mere weeks) is due to Fed actions. The Fed manipulates what it can. It’s the motivation behind its actions that catches people on the wrong foot. Most continue to have this idea that Janet Yellen, and Ben Bernanke before her, seek and sought their alleged dual mandate of full employment and price stability. Ironically, those are two things they have zero control over.
What they do instead, what motivates their actions, is seek to maximize Wall Street bank profits, and, in the same vein and same breath, hide these banks’ losses. Once you realize and acknowledge that, policies over the past 8 years – and before, cue Greenspan – make a lot more sense then when you try to see them through that alleged dual mandate view.
QE is all but done. This alone already has started a capital flight move away from emerging markets. Many of whom will soon look a whole lot less emerging because of it. The capital will continue to flow back to the global financial center from the periphery, leaving dozens of countries and companies scrambling to find dollars to pay off the loans that looked so cheap.
The rising dollar will only make that worse. And moreover, it will catch many other countries, for instance southern European ones, in the same dragnet the emerging economies were already in. If and when your currency loses 10%+ against the currency more commodities and debts are denominated in, and you have such debts and need such commodities, you stand to lose, in all likelihood, a lot.
That leaves interest rates. Given the recent Fed actions on QE and the dollar, why would it NOT raise rates? The dual mandate? To affect price stability in the US? With the dollar moving the way it has, that’s gone anyway. To help Americans get jobs? The only reason US jobless numbers are not much higher is A) millions left the job market altogether and B) millions who were once account managers are now burger flippers, WalMart greeters and self-employed.
The definitions were changed as we went along, that’s why, at least officially, unemployment is not at 15% or 20%. And that is al part of the same opaque truth, that nothing the Fed did since 2008 has mattered one bit when it comes to jobs for Americans. All it has effectively achieved is that trillions of dollars in Main Street money and future obligations were shifted to Wall Street.
The objectives of the Fed’s dual mandate have turned out to be a total joke when the chips came down. Not surprising, because they were always a joke to begin with. A central bank should not be involved in job creation, and it should not hand trillions of dollars to the banks that are its owners, to ostensibly keep prices stable in the real economy, where none of those trillions end up. It’s all just a joke, albeit a very costly one.
QE was never meant to benefit Main Street. Neither was the suppression of the dollar. Why then would the Federal Reserve NOT hike rates only to protect the real American economy? Nothing it has done so far has been aimed at that goal, so why start now? There’s no logic there.
The Fed will continue to do what it’s done all these years: enact those policies that promise to bring the greatest profits to the banks that own it. And right now, those profits are not in more bond buying, and not in artificially low rates, and not in an artificially low dollar. Simply because that’s what everybody else is betting on, and the money when that happens is on the opposite side of the bet.
I cited this piece by Philip Van Doorn at MarketWatch 5 weeks ago, and it’s as relevant now as it was then:
[..] … the debate at the Federal Reserve has now shifted to the timing of interest rate increases. Most economists expect the federal funds rate to begin climbing in the second half of 2015, but it could well happen sooner than that. For most banks, the extended period of low interest rates has become quite a drag on earnings. Net interest margins – the spread between the average yield on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings – are still being squeezed, since banks realized the bulk of the benefit of very low interest rates years ago …
Once you you’ve metastasized that, and the truth about the dual mandate thing, and you’ve read the ‘Secret Goldman Tapes’ stories earlier this week, which showed in a blinding fashion how Goldman Sachs controls the Fed, not the other way around, then maybe your idea about those ‘soft slow’ rate hikes are due for a review as well.
Just look at what Dallas Fed head Richard Fisher had to say over the weekend:
“I don’t want to fall behind the curve here,” Fisher said in a Fox News interview. “I think we could suddenly get a patch of high growth, see some wage-price inflation, and that is when you start to worry.” Fisher dissented on Sept. 17 at the last meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, when the Fed retained a pledge to keep rates near zero for a “considerable time” after its asset purchases halt at the end of next month.
He called U.S. second-quarter growth “uber strong,” referring to the upward revision last week to an annualized rate of 4.6% from 4.2% previously estimated, and said history had shown that wage pressures could accelerate when unemployment got below current levels of 6.1%. In addition, Fisher said surveys of wage-price pressures in the Dallas Fed’s district, which includes Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico, were the highest since before the recession, and other indictors were also buoyant. “We’re going to be releasing some data on Monday and Tuesday, our new surveys, that I think will just knock your socks off,” he said.
I’d say Fisher is uber happy, and those data did come in as he predicted – though I think everyone wearing socks still has them on. Fisher wants that rate hike now, not next summer or fall. And he has a voice, even if he himself and fellow hawk Philly Fed head Charles Plosser are poised to step down some 6 months from now. I’m reading ‘experts’ who claim that will relieve the pressure on Yellen and her doves, but it’s the other way around: they’re going to make sure their – departing – voices will be heard one last time.
But of course down the line that’s all theater. The rate hike is a foregone conclusion. As is the mayhem it will give birth to. Prepare yourselves accordingly. And from now on always keep in the back of your mind what the Fed really is. It is not your friend. Unless you too own a piece.