Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper?

By Danielle DiMartino Booth

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of a great plumber

Had it not been for the genius of Thomas Crapper, champion inventor of the water-waste-preventing cistern syphon, Victorians would have been left to make their trek to that malodorous darker place otherwise known as the Out House, or perhaps the crockery pot stashed under the bed for a while longer.

Born in 1836, Crapper was apprenticed to a master plumber at the tender (today) age of 14 and had hung his shingle in Chelsea by his mid-twenties. Such was Crapper’s renown and stellar reputation, that even the Royals themselves were early adopters. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, is the first known to grace the invention with his regal rear. Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey would be appointed in short order ensuring safe and sanitarily stately relief as the royal “We” traveled from castle to castle.

Of course, it took rude Americans to nick his last name, giving future generations of boisterous boys endless joy at having a humorous potty word to reference the potty. Crapper took great pride in publicly peddling his patented products. Legend has it prim British ladies would faint upon happening upon his Marlborough Road shop, such was the shock at the sight of this and that model of the technological wonder behind huge pane glass windows.

By our very nature, we are nothing if not imperfect, Crapper included. One of his innovative inventions fell flat, or better put, jumped too high. It would seem his spring-loaded loo seat, which leapt upwards as derrieres ascended, automating flushing in the process, was too ill-conceived and thus ill-fated, to be purveyed after all.

Continue reading Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper?

Ending the Fed’s Drug Problem

By Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra

Gross Domestic Product was revised slightly higher for Q4 2016, which is to say it wasn’t meaningfully different. At 2.05842%, real GDP projects output growing for one quarter close to its projected potential, a less than desirable result. It is fashionable of late to discuss 2% or 2.1% as if these are good numbers consistent with a healthy economy. This level of advance, however, factors none of the imbalances and drags still unresolved from the huge dislocation in output during the Great “Recession.” The economy simply fell down and never got back up.

Policymakers would have us forget about that first part so as to concentrate on the plus signs – at least GDP suggests a positive growth rate overall. But even here the results are disastrous, for it used to be economic potential including recessions was in the long run at least a half of a percent more, if not a full percent. Over time that difference is enormous owing to compounding, the true economic cost, meaning the economy is so far below capacity without even accounting for its shrinking nine years ago.

Having been forced to accept this reality, the race is now on to figure out why. Economists handicapped by their blindness this last decade have put forth only absurdities in that effort. Whether the “skills mismatch” of retired Baby Boomers and heroin addicts or the mere mention of productivity (without specifying a cause for low productivity), there are no good answers being offered in the mainstream for this lowly, dangerous state.

The GDP accounts, however, provide a good deal of them anyway. Concurrent with the regular revision to quarterly GDP, the BEA also released its estimates for corporate profits. The trajectory of profits over the past few years is already familiar to stock investors paying closer attention to EPS. In year-over-year terms, Q4 seemed to be a relatively good bounce-back from the depths of late 2015. By comparing to what has been so far the bottom of the “rising dollar” period, the growth rate in the latest quarter starts out seemingly in impressive fashion.

Corporate Profits After Tax were up 22%, while those with IVA and CCAdj increased by 25%. Those numbers, however, obscure the depths of the declines last year and the year before. In Q4 2015, Profits After Tax were down almost 20% from Q4 2014, which means that profits in the current quarter are actually less than in the same quarter two years ago, and aren’t appreciably greater than five years ago.

Continue reading Ending the Fed’s Drug Problem

Discussions on the Fed Put

By Doug Noland

Credit Bubble Bulletin: Discussions on the Fed Put

Market focus this week turned to troubled healthcare legislation, with the GOP Friday pulling the vote on the repeal of Obamacare. This “Republican Catastrophe” (Drudge ran with a Hindenburg photo) provided a timely reminder that Grand Old Party control over the presidency and both houses of congress doesn’t make it any easier to come to a consensus for governing a deeply-divided country. The reality is that it’s a highly fractious world, nation, Washington and Republican party – and the election made it only more so. Perhaps Monday’s sell-off was an indication that reality has begun to seep back into the marketplace. If repealing Obamacare is tough, just wait for tax reform and the debt limit.

CNBC’s Joe Kernen (March 20, 2017): “For a guy that was there trying to deal with the housing Bubble – that would be the other thing that people would bring up to you. That you don’t know what low rates are really doing. You don’t know where the next dislocation is going to be. You’re not seeing a lot of benefits from zero, and who knows if you might be inflating something somewhere that comes home to roost in the future. That’s probably what they’d say: ‘You must know there’s nothing on the horizon then.’”

Neel Kashkari, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank president: “It’s a very fair question and people point to the stock market’s been booming. And my response to those folks is, we care about asset price movements if we think a correction could lead to financial instability or financial crisis. If you think about the tech Bubble – the tech Bubble burst. It was not good for the economy – obviously it hurt. But there was no risk of a financial collapse, not like the housing Bubble. So, the difference is the housing market has so much debt underneath it. It’s much more dangerous if there’s a correction. If equity markets drop, it’s going to be painful for investors. But there’s so little debt relative to housing, it doesn’t look like it has a risk of leading to any kind of financial crisis. So, our job is to let the markets adjust.”

Less than an hour later Kashkari appeared on Bloomberg Television: “Some people have said we should be raising rates because markets are getting hot – and the stock market keeps climbing. I think we should only pay attention to markets if we believe it could lead to financial instability. So, go back to the tech Bubble, when tech burst it was painful for the economy; it was painful for investors. But it did not lead to any kind of economic collapse or financial instability. So, if stock markets fall it’ll hurt investors. But that’s not the Fed’s job. The Fed’s job is not to protect stock market investors. We have to pay attention to potential financial instability risks, and the fact is there’s a lot more debt underlying the housing market than underlying the stock market. That’s why the housing bust was painful for the economy. A stock market correction will probably be a lot less painful.”

Neel Kashkari these days provides interesting subject matter. It’s no coincidence that he’s been discussing shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet while also addressing the “Fed put” in the stock market. I’m sure Kashkari and the FOMC would prefer that market participants were less cocksure that the Fed stands ready to backstop the markets. Too late for that.

Fed officials are not blind. They monitor stock prices and corporate debt issuance; they see residential and commercial real estate market values. Years of ultra-low rates have inflated Bubbles throughout commercial real estate – anything providing a yield – in excess of those going into 2008. Upper-end residential prices are significantly stretched across the country, also surpassing 2007. They see Silicon Valley and a Tech Bubble 2.0, with myriad excesses that in many respects put 1999 to shame. I’ll assume that the Fed is concerned with the amount of leverage and excess that has accumulated in bond and Credit markets over the past eight years of extreme monetary stimulus.

Continue reading Discussions on the Fed Put

Again?

By Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra

It would have been better in 2011 for central banks to sit that one out, to let a second crash develop even if it was equal in size and duration to the first one

It is more than interesting that Herbert Hoover has become the modern ideal of the liquidationist. In these very trying times, one is either that or a Keynesian, Hoover’s supposed opposite, an interventionist who believes there is no good in any recession or deflation at any time. To “prove” the superior foundations of the latter, the ideological associates of that position will always invoke the Great Depression. In what is the economic equivalent of Godwin’s Law, in some ways just a corollary since it was the Great Depression that made the Nazi extreme possible, to advocate free market liquidation is to be pressed into the corner of wanting another Great Depression.

It is, of course, a true non sequitur, for most who are committed to free markets can be so without ever having the slightest desire for calamity. It has been in the decades since the 1930’s a common tactic to associate free markets with such dangerous messiness and the role of government the virtuous economic janitor forced to clean up from the chaos. The panic in 2008 gives us a great test to some of those theories, especially as intervention was the rule almost from the start (August 2007 rather than February 2007, but still close enough to the initial rupture).

The fact that the Fed interceded at every turn but also on every count humiliatingly failed demonstrates one fact of false interventionist lore – that without the skill and courage, as Mr. Bernanke himself has called it, the Great “Recession” would have become a second Great Depression. In other words, without QE in this specific case there would have been no stopping the destructive capacity of the panic; it would have gone on and on and on until there was nothing left to the global economy.

That was always an irrational assumption, as even the messiest of free markets undergoing the messiest of liquidations reach on their own an end. No economy will ever liquidate down to zero. The idea that a crash will just keep on going until the enlightened central banker stops it is more politics than economics. In the case of 2008, it was truly absurd because nothing any central banker did led to any positive effects whatsoever. If the Panic of 2008 stopped, it was because it was always going to stop.

The case of the Great Depression was a singular, unique one; though there are enormous similarities of general outline between the 1910’s to 1930’s and the 1990’s to the so far 2010’s, in truth there are a great many differences especially monetarily. In the former period the public payment system was greatly endangered by its close and often direct connection to asset markets; in the latest period, the public’s money was never in such peril, as it was only interbank money where panic was realized. The worst of this age was never what happened up front in late 2008, it has been instead the lack of growth following it.

Even though the 2007-09 liquidation stopped largely on its own, intervention has continued almost constantly anyway. Largely based on the credit central bankers had initially given themselves, they kept at it year after year after year even though after several years it was more than enough time to realize “something” wasn’t working. As of last year, even central bankers have quietly surrendered, leaving them to finally admit that something was their “stimulus” – though they have yet to truly consider why.

The problem is primarily global economic potential, on that point even the interventionists have finally agreed. The Great “Recession” in other words was never actually a recession, it was instead a giant and permanent rupture in global economic function. Orthodox economists have no idea why even if they now recognize it for that condition. This is the so-called “supply side” where “stimulus” is exclusively intended for aggregate demand; if the supply side is so impaired then it is no wonder demand side stimulus failed to stimulate.

But how could the supply side become so shrunken? There is no mechanism in their literature that could explain it, which is why economists and policymakers have turned to the ludicrous almost exclusively. They will never willingly re-evaluate the assumptions that underpinned their interventionist stance. Including:

“All the stakeholders emphasized today that we have to avoid delays,” EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a news conference after the meeting. “That would be very harmful. That would impair the confidence of investors and consumers. That would be detrimental to economic recovery.”

I have to confess that when I read this paragraph I actually laughed. It was an inappropriate one, and so more about again the ridiculousness of it the ideas expressed literally rather than the plight which was being described related to it. The article which contains that passage is one published initially yesterday relating apparently a new crisis in Greece, the fifth or sixth depending upon your definitions; which is to say the same crisis of Greece that has been ongoing for now seven years without interruption no matter the intervention.

Continue reading Again?

Another Missed Opportunity

By Doug Noland

Credit Bubble Bulletin: Another Missed Opportunity

March 16 – Financial Times (Robin Wigglesworth, Joe Rennison and Nicole Bullock): “When Romeo impatiently hankered after Juliet, the sage friar Lawrence dispensed some valuable advice: ‘Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.’ It is a dictum the Federal Reserve clearly intends to live by, despite the improving economic outlook. There have been rising murmurs in financial markets that after years of the Fed being too optimistic on the economy, inflation and interest rates, it is now behind the curve. But on Wednesday the US central bank sent a clear message to markets that it is not in a hurry to tighten monetary policy.”

Yes, markets had begun fretting a bit that a sense of urgency might be taking hold within the Federal Reserve. But the FOMC’s two-day meeting came and went, and chair Yellen conveyed business as usual. Policy would remain accommodative for “some time.” The focus remains resolutely on a gradualist approach, with Yellen stating that three hikes a year would be consistent with gradualism. And three baby-step hikes a year would place short rates at 3.0% in early 2020 (the Fed’s “dot plot” sees 3% likely in 2019). It’s not obvious 3% short rates three years from now will provide much restraint on anything. As such, the Fed is off to a rocky start in its attempt to administer rate normalization and a resulting tightening of financial conditions.

Yellen also suggested that the committee would not be bothered by inflation overshooting the Fed’s 2.0% target: “…The Fed is not inclined to overreact to the possibility that inflation could drift slightly — and in the Fed’s view temporarily — above 2% in the coming months.” There would also be no reassessment of economic prospects based on President Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and deregulation. “We have plenty of time to see what happens.” Moreover, the Yellen Fed did not signal that it is any closer to articulating a strategy for reducing its enormous balance sheet.

Bloomberg had the most apt headlines: “Yellen Calms Fears Fed’s Policy Trigger Finger Is Getting Itchy;” “Yellen Faces New Conundrum as Conditions Defy Hike;” “The Market Is Acting Like the Fed Cut Rates.”

Ten-year Treasury yields dropped 11 bps on FOMC Wednesday to 2.49%, the “largest one-day drop since June.” Even two-year yields declined a meaningful eight bps to 1.30%. The dollar index fell 1.0%, with gold surging almost $22. The GSCI commodities index rose more than 1%. EM advanced, with emerging equities (EEM) jumping 2.6% to the high since July, 2015.

I think back to the last successful Fed tightening cycle. Well, I actually don’t recall one. Instead it’s been serial loose financial conditions and resulting recurring booms and busts. And, once again, the Fed seeks to gradually raise rates without upsetting the markets. Yellen: “I think if you compare it with any previous tightening cycle, I remember when rates were raised at every meeting, starting in mid-2004. And I think people thought that was a gradual pace, measured pace. And we’re certainly not envisioning something like that.” Heaven forbid…

In her press conference, Yellen again addressed the “neutral rate” – “The neutral level of the federal funds rate, namely the level of the federal funds rate, that we keep the economy operating on an even keel. That is a rate where we neither are pressing on the brake nor pushing down on the accelerator. That level of interest rates is quite low.”

Yellen may not believe the Fed is “pushing down on the accelerator,” yet the truck is racing down the mountain.

March 14 – Bloomberg (Claire Boston): “Companies are issuing bonds in the U.S. at the fastest pace ever… Investment-grade firms are on track to complete the busiest first quarter for debt sales since at least 1999. Firms… have pushed new issues to more than $360 billion so far in 2017, closing in on the previous record of $381 billion from 2009… That puts bond sales 14% ahead of last year’s record pace… High-yield bond offerings have also roared back after a plunge in commodity prices muted new issues last year. Junk-rated firms have sold more than $72 billion in 2017 through Monday, compared with $41.7 billion in the first quarter of 2016.”

March 16 – Bloomberg (Sid Verma and Julie Verhage): “Financial markets are telling Janet Yellen there’s more work to be done — or else. While the Federal Reserve chair raised interest rates by 25 bps as expected Wednesday, the outlook was less hawkish than market participants foresaw, with projections for the medium-term tightening cycle largely unchanged… ‘Our financial conditions index eased by an estimated 14 bps on the day — about 2.3 standard deviations and the equivalent of almost one full cut in the funds rate — and is now considerably easier than in early December, despite two funds rate hikes in the meantime,’ Goldman Chief Economist Jan Hatzius and team wrote…”

Continue reading Another Missed Opportunity

Behind the Curve? Pussycat Yellen Confronts “Largest Dovish Policy Deviation Since the 70s”

By Heisenberg

Some folks will be talking about the Fed today.

In just a few hours we’ll get a hike, but once again, it’s all about the messaging. Any kind of dovish lean would be a (bigly) surprise. What’s got some people spooked is the possibility that, in their rush to prove they aren’t behind the proverbial curve, they get too aggressive with the messaging. Here’s what SocGen said overnight (and please, just forget that you ever heard the term “pussy-cat” in a sentence that refers to Janet Yellen):

The Fed is a pussy-cat that would like to change its spots into something more like a leopard’s. In practical terms, that means that this evening’s FOMC announcement (6pm GMT, with a press conference half an hour later) is all about the Fed’s projections rather than whether they raise rates or not. Anything other than a 25bp rate hike would be a huge surprise to the market. Discounting that possibility on the grounds that the Fed is so (too) obsessed with managing market expectations ahead of policy moves, what we’ll watch are the ‘dots’ showing FOMC’s projections of where Fed Funds might go. Market pricing of Fed Funds through 2017- 19 is at the bottom of what the Fed currently projects. Our US economists think that the 2017/18 dots probably won’t move but beyond that, an upward adjustment is possible to send a signal to the market that the FOMC is serious about normalising policy.

Yes, “to send a signal to the market that the FOMC is serious about normalizing policy.” And see that’s the problem. The Fed already tried that. And since March odds converged on 100%, we’ve seen nothing but signs that while this market will probably be willing to write off one hike as a positive development (you know, as confirmation of the reflation narrative’s legitimacy), anything beyond that in terms of an overzealous normalization trajectory could very well trigger a tantrum and undercut oil prices further.

So is the Fed behind the curve? Or, put differently, are we right to fear an FOMC that sees itself as playing catch up? In short, probably. Here’s Goldman:

Exhibit 1 shows the gap between the funds rate and the rule-implied rates. Positive values indicate that policy is “too tight,” while negative values indicate that policy is “too easy.” The results using the HLW estimate of r* imply that policy is just over 1pp easier than the rule-prescribed rate, while the results using a 2% neutral rate imply that policy is almost 3pp easier. Accounting for the impact of the balance sheet would make both gaps moderately larger. The constant neutral rate assumption implies that the current policy stance represents the largest dovish policy deviation since the 1970s, though it is only half as large as the most extreme gaps of the 1960s and 1970s.

BehindTheCurve

If the Fed is behind, what would it take to catch up? Last week, we showed that the Fed’s projections over the next few years already correct the modestly “too easy” stance implied by its depressed r* view. Under the alternative assumption that critics of the low r* thesis are right and a 2% neutral rate is a better guide, current policy is about 3.5pp too easy and the Fed’s terminal rate estimate about 1pp too low, requiring 1 additional hike per year beyond those already planned to catch up by 2020.

Got that? Ok, good.

Continue reading Behind the Curve? Pussycat Yellen Confronts “Largest Dovish Policy Deviation Since the 70s”

Fed Rate Hikes, Fiscal vs. Monetary Policy and Why Again the Case for Gold?

By NFTRH

I’ve been thinking about the current Fed Funds rate hike cycle, which is logically gaining forward momentum now that the Fed can stand down from its 8-year, ultra-lenient monetary policy cycle.  That is because the Obama administration’s goals required a compliant Federal Reserve to continually re-liquefy the economy as its fiscal policies drained it.

With the coming of Trump mania and its very different fiscal policy goals, we will witness the end of much of what I considered to be the “evil genius” employed by the Federal Reserve, mostly under Ben Bernanke.  When he oversaw the brilliant and completely maniacal painting of the macro known as Operation Twist in 2011, I knew we were not in Kansas anymore.  We’d gone off the charts and off the balance sheet into a Wonderland of financial and monetary possibilities.

What else would you call a plan to sell the government’s short-term debt and buy its long-term debt in the stated effort to “sanitize” (the Fed’s word, not mine) inflationary signals on the macro?  It was evil, it was genius, and it worked.  So too did various other financial manipulations that took place before and after Op/Twist.  And here we are.

The Republican view is one where businesses and consumers are stimulated, not money supplies.  I think it is a better economically, but not by much in this case.  That is because the Trumpian ‘reflation’ would simply be another form of man-made stimulation attempting to deny market and economic excesses from being cleared.  A normal economy goes through normal cycles.  We have not had a normal economy or a normal cycle since at least pre-2000.

Since Alan Greenspan panicked and blew the credit bubble of last decade, we have been on a continuum further into uncharted waters.  Trump’s policies are not going to stop it, either.  Besides, he inherits this (chart source: SlopeCharts).

s&p 500 and monetary base

What we see above is a dangerous correlation between Monetary Base, which is the product of monetary policy, and the S&P 500.  We see that the S&P 500, which followed the Base in lockstep for much of the bull market, is playing a little catch up to the Base, which itself is only bouncing within a topping structure.  That is a dangerous looking chart if the assumption that monetary policy will be withdrawn as fiscal policy is anticipated/enacted is a good one.

Continue reading Fed Rate Hikes, Fiscal vs. Monetary Policy and Why Again the Case for Gold?

No Mere Trivia

By Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra

There is a grave misunderstanding about the reasons the Fed is “raising rates” in the first place

We are at the stage ten years later where it is still necessary to define terms. In every finance and economics textbook, the chapter on monetary policy defines “tight” money as when the Federal Reserve (or whatever central bank) raises its policy rate(s). Conversely, “accommodative” money is where it lowers the rate(s). In the US system, the technical reason given is open market operations, where the FOMC acting through the Open Market Desk of its New York Branch (FRBNY) will buy and sell securities as necessary to achieve the target rate.

From the perspective of the banking system, that means the Fed will, if pushed, provide whatever level of bank reserves necessary to keep the Effective Federal Funds rate sufficiently near the policy rate. When the policy rate is being raised, as it was in the middle 2000’s, it was in theory moving upward because money market participants fully believed that the Fed would sell bonds into the market (if needed) to reduce the level of available reserves – “tightening.”

That policy was instituted at that time because the FOMC felt the change in stance was warranted given an economy that finally appeared to be recovering from the unusually durable after-effects of the unusually mild dot-com recession. The Fed raised the federal funds rate to achieve that “tightening” so as to reduce economic momentum before it became overly inflationary. It is this assumed set of conditions which are used today to characterize the current action of monetary policy.

But on the most basic level, is that what happens? Is raising the federal funds rate truly equivalent to tightening? The answer is emphatically, unequivocally no.

Starting in the middle of 2004, Alan Greenspan’s Fed began a series of “rate hikes” meant to accomplish a “tighter” monetary stance for the reasons stated above. Between June 2004 and June 2006, the FOMC voted 17 times to increase the federal funds target, bringing it up from 1.00% to 5.25%. During that time, inflation continued to accelerate, as did all manner of other monetary indications outside of the traditional money supply statistics (the M’s, including the drastically incomplete M3). There is no way to characterize that period or the year immediately thereafter as “tight.”

From September 2007, however, through October 2008, the FOMC did just the opposite. In much more condensed fashion, the FOMC voted to reduce the federal funds target from 5.25% back to 1.00%. There is absolutely no way to characterize that period as anything even approaching “accommodative”, especially as it encompasses two of the three liquidation events associated with what was truly a bank panic (and the third one followed the introduction of ZIRP).

Continue reading No Mere Trivia

Credit QE

By Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra

Although he didn’t state it specifically in his November 2010 Washington Post op-ed formally justifying QE2, it was very clear that then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke intended it to work through lending and especially the bank channel. Though he doesn’t explain, nor has any official ever, why a second one was needed given that the first was “quantitatively” determined, Bernanke was unusually clear about what he expected to happen for it:

This approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again. Stock prices rose and long-term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action. Easier financial conditions will promote economic growth.

If one is of the mood to be hugely charitable toward QE, you can claim that judging from this narrow benchmark it worked. According to the Fed’s Z1 statistics, bank lending resumed steady growth in Q2 2011. Since that quarter, the total of loans on the books of depository institutions has increased by 31%. It is unclear if QE was the motivation for that change, or perhaps it was the 2011 crisis which might have convinced banks to get out of the money dealing business so as to at least get back to the lending business, but again if we are being purposefully favorable we can attribute it to the Fed’s signature monetary policy.

It took a little while longer, and another two QE’s, for the other financial sectors to follow what banks were doing. The non-bank sector, after shrinking precipitously after the panic (Q3 2008), finally resumed positive numbers in the middle of 2013. Like the bank sector, it isn’t clear what motivated the change as that time period like 2011 was characterized by not just additional QE’s but also a great deal of financial turmoil.

The rest of the economy contributed positive loan growth in greater appreciation, though once again the inflection coincides with a prospective QE as well as a great many economic and financial questions (maybe lending doesn’t work the way it is theorized?).

Continue reading Credit QE

That Smell in the Fed’s Elevator

By Michael Ashton

A new paper that was presented last week at the 2017 U.S. Monetary Policy Forum has garnered, rightly, a lot of attention. The paper, entitled “Deflating Inflation Expectations: The Implications of Inflation’s Simple Dynamics,” has spawned news articles such as “Research undercuts Fed’s two favorite U.S. inflation tools”(Reuters) and “Everything the Market Thinks About Inflation Might Be Wrong,”(Wall Street Journal) the titles of which are a pretty decent summary of the impact of the article. I should note, because the WSJ didn’t, that the “five top economists” are Stephen Cecchetti, Michael Feroli, Peter Hooper, Anil Kashyap, and Kermit Schoenholtz, and the authors themselves summarize their work on the FiveThirtyEight blog here.

The main conclusion – but read the FiveThirtyEight summary to get it in their own words – is that the momentum of the inflation process is the most important variable (last year’s core inflation is the best predictor of this year’s core inflation), which is generally known, but after that they say that the exchange rate, M2 money supply growth, total nonfinancial credit growth, and U.S. financial conditions more broadly all matter more than labor market slack and inflation expectations.

Whoops! Who farted in the Fed’s elevator?

The Fed and other central banks have, for many years, relied predominantly on an understanding that inflation was caused by an economy running “too hot,” in that capacity utilization was too high and/or the unemployment rate too low. And, at least since the financial crisis, this understanding has been (like Lehman, actually) utterly bankrupt and obviously so. The chart below is a plain refutation of the notion that slack matters – although much less robust than the argument from the top economists. If slack matters, then why didn’t the greatest slack in a hundred years cause deflation in core prices? Or even get us at least close to deflation?

I’ve been talking about this for a long time. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that! Chapters 7-10 of my book “What’s Wrong With Money?: The Biggest Bubble of All” concerns the disconnect between models that work and the models the Fed (and most Wall Street economists) insist on using. In fact, the chart above is from page 91. I have talked about this at conferences and in front of clients until I am blue in the face, and have become accustomed to people in the audience staring at me like I have two heads. But the evidence is, and has long been, incontrovertible: the standard “expectations-augmented-Phillips-Curve” makes crappy predictions.[1] And that means that it is a stupid way to manage monetary policy.

I am not alone in having this view, but until this paper came out there weren’t too many reputable people who agreed.

Now, I don’t agree with everything in this paper, and the authors acknowledge that since their analysis covers 1984-present, a period of mostly quiescent inflation, it may essentially overstate the persistence of inflation. I think that’s very likely; inflation seems to have long tails in that once it starts to rise, it tends to rise for some time. This isn’t mysterious if you use a monetary model that incorporates the feedback loop from interest rates to velocity, but the authors of this paper didn’t go that far. However, they went far enough. Hopefully, this stink bomb will at last cause some reflection in the halls of the Eccles building – reflection that has been resisted institutionally for a very long time.

[1] And that, my friends, is the first time I have ever used “crap” and “fart” in the same article – and hopefully the last. But my blood pressure is up, so cut me some slack.