Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Central Banks: Not So Easy
The major central banks of the world have been easing their monetary policies significantly since the financial crisis of 2008. They’ve succeeded in averting another financial crisis so far. They’ve also succeeded in recovering most of the fortunes that were lost during the crisis. Equity investors have benefited from the stock market rally. Bond investors also enjoyed big gains as yields fell and prices rose. The 12-month average of the median existing home price is up 29% since February 2012.

Nevertheless, the central banks have been frustrated by the slow pace of the recoveries in their economies since the crisis of 2008. Reviving self-sustaining economic growth hasn’t been as easy as easing has been. The ultra-easy monetary policies of the central banks might perversely have contributed to the slow pace of economic growth. Yesterday, I listed several reasons why the Fed’s policies actually have contributed to the subpar pace of the US economic recovery. Allow me to further elaborate:

(1) Not much trickling down from the wealth effect. It is widely believed that many retail investors who left the stock market following the bursting of the Internet bubble and the bear market of 2007-2008 never returned. If so, the wealth effect from the current bull market in stocks hasn’t trickled down to most Americans.

(2) Forcing savers to save more. Savers have been forced to save more, and spend less, as a result of the Fed’s NZIRP (near-zero-interest-rate policy). The 12-month sum of personal saving has been running around $700 billion since the end of the financial crisis in 2008, double the pace during the 1990s and the first half of the previous decade.

(3) Enabling fiscal excesses. Last Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that one of the headwinds that the economy faced during the current recovery until recently was fiscal drag. That’s true, as measured by federal, state, and local government spending in the real GDP accounts. However, it’s hard to see any such fiscal austerity in the federal deficit, which reflects the need to finance all government spending, including entitlements, in excess of tax receipts.

The Fed has clearly enabled the federal government to run large deficits. Fed officials may deny that their QE programs have monetized the debt, but that’s exactly what they have done. The Fed’s balance sheet now has $2.46 trillion in Treasury securities. The effective cost of that debt to the Treasury is just 25bps since all interest earned by the Fed is returned to the Treasury less expenses, which mostly includes the 0.25% paid on bank reserves deposited at the Fed.

(4) Worsening income inequality. Fed Chair Yellen in a 10/17/14 speech said, “The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me.” She is quite alarmed: “It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority.” She doesn't acknowledge that the Fed’s policies might also be contributing to inequality. An important source of income for many senior citizens has been the interest they receive on their fixed-income securities. Income inequality has certainly been worsened by the fact that older people are living longer on less interest income.

(5) Misallocating capital. The Fed’s policies have led to significant misallocations of capital. As a result of the Frank-Dodd Act, the Fed and other banking regulators have forced the banks to tighten lending standards. At the same time, extremely low interest rates have allowed investors to raise lots of money in the capital markets to buy up distressed properties around the country. As a result, home prices have rebounded significantly over the past few years, reducing affordability for first-time home buyers. Corporate bond yields have been trading below the S&P 500’s forward earnings yield since 2004, providing companies with an incentive to buy back their shares and engage in M&A rather than invest in plant and equipment. Relatively weak business spending to expand payrolls and capacity has boosted profit margins; the S&P 500 margin rose to a record-high 10.4% last quarter. Buybacks boosted earnings per share.

The result has been a great bull market in stocks, largely reflecting financial engineering rather than healthy economic activity.
(Based on an excerpt from YRI Morning Briefing)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.