Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Money Is Now As "Easy" As It Was During The Great Depression!

The Ten year is currently yielding 2.09%.

The only difference is in the Great Depression was caused by a collapse in the money supply while the current recession is the result of a massive increase in the demand for cash.  The results are the exact same (although much less severe this time).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Market Reaction To FOMC Announcement

(Before data was taken at 2:00 pm, After data was recorded at market closing prices)

S&P 500
Before : 1138.64
After : 1172.53

2 year
Before : 0.27
After : 0.20
10 Year
Before : 2.33
After : 2.26
30 Year
Before : 3.68
After : 3.64

Inflation Expectations
2 year inflation swaps
Before : 1.43
After : 1.39

5 Year TIPS Breakeven rate
Before : 1.81
After : 1.78

10 Year TIPS spread
Before : 2.27
After : 2.22

30 Year TIPS spread
Before : 2.64
After : 2.61

Bloomberg Commodity Index
Before : 1601.42
After : 1598.48

Before : 1.4221
After : 1.4339

(Data from

The market reaction to the Fed announcement today was certainly interesting. Fed Funds Futures unsurprisingly fell in reaction to the commitment to leave them at 0% until 2013. Equities took a while to figure out how they felt, seesawing up and down before finally rising about 3% from their pre-meeting rallies. Treasury yields fell, especially at the medium end of the curve (only because the short end can't fall any further). Inflation expectations also fell slightly as well, along with commodities and the dollar. 

Personally I think the Fed announcement was underwhelming. Committing (whether loosely or strictly, no one really knows how serious they are about this commitment, or even whether it is a commitment at all - are they simply predicting they will need to do this?) to leaving rates at 2013 is another way of telling us that they predict a significant output gap will remain at least until then and won't take the necessary actions to do anything about it. Is there anyone who isn't thinking about Japan now?

The dissents are puzzling... if 3 members are going to dissent, why not do something more like lower interest on reserves? Maybe they would have had even more dissents if they did, if so, we are in serious trouble... if not, they obviously should have tried more. Christina Romer said the dissents might be a sign Bernanke is now more willing to work without unanimous approval of policies, but why not do more right now?

I don't blame markets for their "confusion"... I'm not really sure how to read this either. It was certainly better than nothing, but not much better. Much more stimulus is needed. Still, today once again demonstrated that markets don't buy either liquidity trap or easy money stories.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Debt Problems Are All About Insufficient Aggregate Demand

Look at this chart comparing Debt to NGDP...

It's pretty obvious that had NGDP been allowed to continue its trend growth, the US government debt burden would be significantly lower. Of course, raising NGDP by unexpectedly inflating is always an option (and always a bad one), but we are talking about continuing a trend that was the implicit goal of the Fed for the previous 20 years!

And remember, Lower NGDP resulted in lower real GDP as well. This increased government debt burden far beyond what the decline in NGDP relative to debt implies. Had NGDP continued to grow at trend, its reasonable to assume public debt would be closer to $7.6 trillion than $9.6 trillion.

Assuming NGDP stayed on trend (but debt still rose to $9.6 trillion), Debt/GDP would be 56% rather than 64%. Under a more plausible scenario, debt would have grown more slowly had NGDP stayed on trend and Debt/GDP would be even lower at ~44%.

Obviously entitlements are the biggest problem in the long run, and I think S&P was incorrect in downgrading the credit rating of the US, but this recession has still needlessly and dramatically increased our debt burden. Any true deficit hawk should be screaming for easier monetary policy.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Disaster That Is Federal Reserve policy.

Tim Duy nicely sums up how incompetent Fed policy has been over the past few years.
Bottom Line:  The market nosedive does not yet guarantee Fed action in the near future.  History has shown the Fed tends to react with a lag.  They should have learned better by now, but if they had learned anything, they would not have pushed forward with hawkish rhetoric earlier this year.  Arguably, they will hold firm, let the markets think they are out of the game and further bid down implied inflation expectations, and then, once the damage is done, up the level of stimulus.  Terrible way to run an economy, I know.
I think this is exactly right, and it shows how misguided the Fed is right now. If the Fed is looking at market inflation expectations (and they have made it clear they are) they seem to be forgetting that those expectations have expected monetary policy built into them. To the extent that expectations deviate from the Fed's implicit goal (2-3%), they already represent policy failure.

To use a "Sumnerian" analogy, it would be like the captain of the Titanic looking at market expectations of their eventual destination and saying "Expectations say we'll be in New York City on time, looks like my job is done!", without realizing those expectations exist because he is expected to appropriately react to changing conditions (and avoid icebergs!).

It's actually worse than this though, because the Fed will never make up for "lost" NGDP growth. They've already made it quite clear they aren't comfortable with inflation above ~2% under any circumstances, and so we are left with a permanently lower NGDP and 
price level trend.

To put this into perspective, in 2008, when the financial crisis began, a good guess for 2018 NGDP would have been about $26 trillion. Right now, even if we get 5% NGDP from this point forward it will be just over $22 trillion! Over the course of a decade this will have added up to a $27 trillion* difference in nominal income! Too bad for anyone paying wage contracts, but at least employees got a nice real wage boost! And sure, it hurts debtors, but investors have done fantastically! 
You may detect a hint of sarcasm. So much for the "trade offs" of inflation/deflation between creditors and debtors that some are pushing.

* I originally mistakenly wrote it would result in a $105 trillion difference because I forgot I was dealing with quarterly annualized numbers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fed Funds and Aggregate Demand 8/4/2011

S&P 500
May 11 : 1342.08
June 8 : 1279.56
July 7 : 1353.22
August 4 : 1200.07

2 year
May 11 : 0.55
June 8 : 0.38
July 7 : 0.47
August 4 : 0.26

10 Year
May 11 : 3.18
June 8 : 2.94
July 7 : 3.16
August 4 : 2.42

30 Year
May 11 : 4.29
June 8 : 4.19
July 7 : 4.38
August 4 : 3.69

Inflation Expectations
2 year inflation swaps
May 11 : 2.16
June 8 : 2.01
July 7 : 1.92
August 4 : 1.65
5 Year TIPS Breakeven rate
May 11 : 2.19
June 8 : 2.02
July 7 : 2.10
August 4 : 1.79
10 Year TIPS spread
May 11 : 2.42
June 8 : 2.27
July 7 : 2.49
August 4 : 2.22
30 Year TIPS spread
May 11 : 2.53
June 8 : 2.45
July 7 : 2.67
August 4 : 2.58

Bloomberg Commodity Index
May 11 : 1672.35
June 8 : 1713.68
July 7 : 1717.93
August 4 : 1660.55

May 11 : 1.4249
June 8 : 1.4577
July 7 : 1.4351
August 4 : 1.4105

(Data from

Expectations have fallen dramatically the last couple weeks. Fed intervention of some kind is likely, but we still don't exactly know what the Fed's goal is. Will they react to past inflation rates? Commodities? Job growth? Financial markets? Inflation expectations? Only the FOMC knows. We also don't know how they'll intervene exactly. Hopefully they'll try something more flexible than QE2 was.

Here are predictions I made a couple of months ago. I think they've held up pretty well. The only thing I was off on was underestimating the importance of Europe's debt troubles. Although Europe's woes are also caused by tight money (the European Central Bank seems more concerned with what's good for Germany than what's good for Europe as a whole), there's no reason they should be lowering U.S. NGDP unless the Fed doesn't respond to higher dollar demand... but the Fed isn't responding (at least not until things get really bad), so Europe's woes are lowering U.S. NGDP.