NEW$ & VIEW$ (11 DECEMBER 2013)

Pointing up Pointing up Pointing up The Fed Plan to Revive High-Powered Money

By Alan Blinder
Don’t only drop the interest paid rate paid on banks’ excess reserves, charge them.

Unless you are part of the tiny portion of humanity that dotes on every utterance of the Federal Open Market Committee, you probably missed an important statement regarding the arcane world of “excess reserves” buried deep in the minutes of its Oct. 29-30 policy meeting. It reads: “[M]ost participants thought that a reduction by the Board of Governors in the interest rate paid on excess reserves could be worth considering at some stage.”

As perhaps the longest-running promoter of reducing the interest paid on excess reserves, even turning the rate negative, I can assure you that those buried words were momentous. The Fed is famously given to understatement. So when it says that “most” members of its policy committee think a change “could be worth considering,” that’s almost like saying they love the idea. That’s news because they haven’t loved it before. (…)

Not long ago—say, until Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008—banks held virtually no excess reserves because idle cash earned them nothing. But today they hold a whopping $2.5 trillion in excess reserves, on which the Fed pays them an interest rate of 25 basis points—for an annual total of about $6.25 billion. That 25 basis points, what the Fed calls the IOER (interest on excess reserves), is the issue. (…)

At this point, you’re probably thinking: “Wait. If the Fed charged banks rather than paid them, wouldn’t bankers shun excess reserves?” Yes, and that’s precisely the point. Excess reserves sitting idle in banks’ accounts at the Fed do nothing to boost the economy. We want banks to use the money.

If the Fed turned the IOER negative, banks would hold fewer excess reserves, maybe a lot fewer. They’d find other uses for the money. One such use would be buying short-term securities. Another would probably be lending more, which is what we want. (…)

Deal Brings Stability to U.S. Budget

House and Senate negotiators, in a rare bipartisan act, announced a budget agreement Tuesday designed to avert another economy-rattling government shutdown and to bring a dose of stability to Congress’s fiscal policy-making over the next two years.

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who struck the deal after weeks of private talks, said it would allow more spending for domestic and defense programs in the near term, while adopting deficit-reduction measures over a decade to offset the costs.

Revenues to fund the higher spending would come from changes to federal employee and military pension programs, and higher fees for airline passengers, among other sources. An extension of long-term jobless benefits, sought by Democrats, wasn’t included.

The plan is modest in scope, compared with past budget deals and to once-grand ambitions in Congress to craft a “grand bargain” to restructure the tax code and federal entitlement programs. But in a year and an institution characterized by gridlock and partisanship, lawmakers were relieved they could reach even a minimal agreement. (…)

The Murray-Ryan deal will likely need considerable Democratic support to pass the GOP-controlled House. Many Republicans, as well as a large number of conservative activists off Capitol Hill, argue that the sequester cuts have brought fiscal austerity to the federal budget and that they should not be eased. (…)

The depth of conservative opposition will become apparent as lawmakers absorb the details, which were released to the public Tuesday night. To draw support from the GOP’s fiscal conservatives, the deal includes additional deficit-reduction measures: While the agreement calls for a $63 billion increase in spending in 2014 and 2015, it is coupled with $85 billion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years, for a net deficit reduction of $22.5 billion.

The deal achieves some of those savings by extending an element of the 2011 budget law that was due to expire in 2021. The sequester currently cuts 2% from Medicare payments to health-care providers from 2013 through 2021. The new deal extends those cuts to 2022 and 2023. (…)

A Least Bad Budget Deal

The best that can be said about the House-Senate budget deal announced late Tuesday is that it includes no tax increases, no new incentives for not working, and some modest entitlement reforms. Oh, and it will avoid another shutdown fiasco, assuming enough Republicans refuse to attempt suicide a second time.

The worst part of the two-year deal is that it breaks the 2011 Budget Control Act’s discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The deal breaks the caps by some $63 billion over the two years and then re-establishes the caps starting in 2016 where they are in current law at $1.016 trillion. Half of the increase will go to defense and half to the domestic accounts prized by Democrats. (…)

The deal means overall federal spending will not decline in 2014 as it has the last two years. (…)

All of this doesn’t begin to match the magnitude of America’s fiscal challenges, but it is probably the best that the GOP could get considering Washington’s current array of political forces. (…)

Four Signs the Job Market Is Getting Better 

Layoffs keep on falling: 1.5 million Americans were laid off or fired in October, the fewest since the government began keeping track in 2001. The October drop was unusually large and may be a fluke, but the trend is clear: Layoffs are back at or below prerecession levels.

Quits are rising: (…)  2.4 million Americans left their jobs voluntarily in October, the most since the recession ended and 15% more than a year earlier. Quits are still below normal levels, but they’re finally showing a clear upward trend.

And openings too: Employers posted 3.9 million job openings in October, also a postrecession high. (…) There were 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening in October, the third straight month under 3 and down from a more than 6:1 ratio during the recession.

Hiring is finally rebounding: (…) Hiring has topped 4.5 million for three straight months for the first time in the recovery, and has been up year-over-year for four consecutive months.(…)

But don’t get too excited: (…)The three-to-one ratio of jobseekers to openings is nearly double its prerecession level, and would be higher if so many unemployed workers hadn’t abandoned their job searches. Companies remain reluctant to hire, and many of the jobs that are getting created are in low-wage sectors — nearly a third of October’s hiring came in the low-paying hospitality and retail sectors. The epidemic of long-term unemployment has shown little sign of easing. Despite signs of healing, in other words, a healthy job market remains a long way off.

Wells Fargo Chief Sees Healing Economy

Wells Fargo& Co. Chief Executive John Stumpf said Tuesday the economy is healing, five years after the bank purchased Wachovia Corp. in the midst of a global financial meltdown.

He said government progress on a budget deal, lower unemployment and signs businesses are looking to expand give him reason to be optimistic. “As I’m talking with our customers, especially our small business and middle-market customers, I’m starting to hear a little more about expanding businesses,” he said.

Now, go back to Alan Blinder’s op-ed above.

European carmakers: speeding up

(…) Consultants at LMC Automotive reckon that November saw a 0.7 per cent rise year on year. That follows increases of over 4 per cent and almost 5.5 per cent in October and September respectively – so, at long last, a sustained upward trend for Europe’s crisis-hit sector. 

High five In three of the big markets – Germany, France and Italy – the November sales pace was lacklustre at best and down by over 4 per cent at worst. Spain, which saw a strong advance, benefited from a very easy year-on-year comparison and scrappage incentives. Pricing, too, remains weak across the sector. Last week, Fiat detailed transaction (as opposed to listed) price trends, in segments ranging from economy to basic luxury models for both the German and Italian markets. As of September, these were barely above 2007 levels and, after allowing for inflation in the intervening period, well down in real terms.

Above all, given the small number of plant closures since 2008, Europe still has massive overcapacity on the production side. If 2013 ends with under 12m cars sold in western Europe and 4.5m in eastern Europe, the total will be down by a fifth on 2007 levels. Europe’s light vehicle production, meanwhile, will probably top 19m units – just two-thirds of estimated plant capacity. Sales rises of 2-3 per cent, say, in 2014 will make only modest inroads on that gap so pricing pressures may persist.

China New Yuan Loans Higher Than Expected

Chinese financial institutions issued 624.6 billion yuan ($103 billion) worth of new yuan loans in November, up from 506.1 billion yuan in October and above economists’ expectations.

Total social financing, a broader measurement of credit in the economy, came to 1.23 trillion yuan in November, up from 856.4 billion yuan in October.

China’s broadest measure of money supply, M2, was up 14.2% at the end of November compared with a year earlier, slightly lower than the 14.3% rise at the end of October, data from the People’s Bank of China showed Wednesday.

IEA Boosts 2014 Global Oil Demand Forecast on U.S. Recovery

The IEA estimated today in its monthly oil market report that demand will increase by 1.2 million barrels a day, or 1.3 percent, to 92.4 million a day next year, raising its projection from last month by 240,000 a day. U.S. fuel use rose above 20 million barrels a day in November for the first time since 2008, according to preliminary data. While the agency boosted its forecast for the crude volume OPEC will need to supply, “making room” for the potential return of Iranian exports “could be a challenge for other producers” in the group, it said.

“The geopoliticals are now bearish, while the fundamentals are bullish,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts, said before the IEA published its report. “This is quite a change from just recently. People are anticipating tighter supplies as we go into next year. Demand will be higher.”

The agency raised estimates for supplies required next year from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries by about 200,000 barrels a day, to 29.3 million a day. That’s still about 400,000 a day less than the group’s 12 members pumped in November, according to the report.

OPEC’s output fell for a fourth month, by 160,000 barrels a day, to 29.7 million a day in November, as a result of disruptions in Libya and smaller declines in Nigeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. The group decided to maintain its production target of 30 million barrels a day when it met on Dec. 4 in Vienna.

Saudi Arabia, the organization’s biggest member and de facto leader, kept production unchanged last month at 9.75 million barrels a day, the report showed.

This chart via FT Alphaville reveals how OPEC is effectively managing supply.

SENTIMENT WATCH

Can We Finally All Agree That This Is Not a Bubble?  All the bubble chatter over the past few months is increasingly looking like just a bunch of hot air.

A look at the IPO and M&A markets also point to caution rather than exuberance. “A hot market for mergers and acquisitions has often been a sign of an overheated stock market as confident corporate executives seek to aggressively expand their businesses,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at Boston-based brokerage firm LPL Financial. While M&A activity is trending higher, it remains far below the peak 2007 levels, and 2000 for that matter, he pointed out.

RBC Capital has the chart:

image

 

Media bubble?

It seems to me that most media have been giving a positive spin to the not so great economic news of the past few months. This RBC Capital chart carries no emotion:

image

 

High Yield Spreads Hit a Six Year Low

(…) At a current reading of 411 basis points (bps) over treasuries, spreads are at their lowest level in more than six years (October 2007)!

With high yield spreads at their lowest levels since October 2007, skeptics will argue that the last time spreads were at these levels marked the peak of the bull market.  There’s no denying that, but we would note that in October 2007, spreads had already been at comparably low levels for more than three and a half years before the bear market started.  Additionally, back in the late 1990s we also saw a prolonged period where spreads were at comparably low levels before the market began to falter.

Another reason why the low level of spreads is of little concern is because default rates are also at historically low levels.  According to Moody’s, the default rate for junk rated American companies dropped to 2.4% in November, which according to Barron’s, “is barely more than half its long-term historic average and down from 3.1% a year ago.”

Not really bubbly, but getting closer…

Here’s an interesting chart:

Performance of Stocks vs Bonds

(…)  With the S&P 500 up 23.4% and long-term US Treasuries down 10.2% over the last 200-trading days, the current performance spread between the two asset classes is above 30 percentage points.  (…)

While it is common for equities to outperform treasuries, the current level of outperformance is relatively uncommon.  In the chart below, anything above the green line indicates a performance spread of more than 30 percentage points.  As you can see, the only other periods where we saw the spread exceed 30 were in 1999, 2003, 2009, and 2011.

What makes the current period somewhat different, though, is the period of time that the spread has been at elevated levels.  With the spread first exceeding 30 percentage points back in March, we are now going on nine months that the spread has been at elevated levels.  At some point you would expect the two to revert back to their long-term historical average.

Hedge funds attract billions in new money
Investor inflows jump sharply even as performance lags stocks

Funds brought in $360bn this year in investment returns and inflows from investors, an increase of 15.7 per cent on their assets under management at the end of 2012, according to figures from the data provider Preqin.(…)

“We are seeing a shift in how investors view hedge funds,” said Amy Bensted, head of hedge funds at Preqin. “Pre-2008, investors thought of them – and hedge funds marketed themselves – as a source of additional returns.

“Now, they are not seen just being for humungous, 20 per cent-plus returns, but for smaller, stable returns over many years.”

With the same humongous fees…

Yesterday, I posted on this:

 

Fatter Wallets May Rev Up Recovery

The net worth of U.S. households and nonprofit organizations—the values of homes, stocks and other assets minus debts and other liabilities—rose 2.6%, or about $1.9 trillion, in the third quarter of 2013 to $77.3 trillion, according to the Fed.

Which deserves two more dots to explain the feeble transmission pattern of the past several years:

The Federal Reserve gives us the nominal value of total net worth, which is significantly skewed by money illusion. Here is my own log scale chart adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

Click to View

  • And these charts from RBC Capital:

imageimage

image

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *