Search This Blog

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Gargantuan Financial Trap

David Stockman explains why the global financial system is a Gargantuan Financial Trap in The Futility of Our Global Monetary Experiment:
Sometimes we get so caught up in the monthly so-called incoming data and the short-term releases — that are seasonally maladjusted anyway and get revised four times over — that we really lose track of where we are. So, the other day I said let's just look at two extended periods of time that occurred in different economic and policy environments and do an assessment of where we are.
I took 1953 to 1971, that representing the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Great Prosperity in the middle century, ending in the August 1971 fatal mistake that Nixon made when he closed down Bretton Woods and the rest. I call that the Golden Era of Prosperity. During that period, the economy grew and I use real final sales to measure the growth because that takes out the inventory fluctuations and distortions that are in the GDP number per se. But, if you take real final sales for that eighteen-year period, it was 3.6 percent a year compounded during a time in which the Fed was run by William McChesney Martin, a survivor — or veteran, you might say — of the 1929 crash and the trauma of the 1930s. He was a man who wasn't necessarily, in the classic sense, a hard-money gold-standard advocate, but he certainly was a wise financial hedge who understood the dangers of speculation in the financial markets and of too much heavy-handed intervention in the financial system.
During that eighteen-year period from 1953 to 1971, the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve expanded by only $42 billion over eighteen years. (Now during QE, that was about two weeks worth of expansion at the peak.) More importantly, if you look at it in real terms — in inflation-adjusted terms — the balance sheet of the Fed in that period grew about 3 percent a year, and the economy grew at nearly 4 percent. Therefore, the Fed was engaged in a very modest light-touch policy allowing the mechanism of capitalism, including the financial markets at the heart of it, to function. The balance sheet of the Fed grew by 0.8 percent of the growth in the GDP.
Now, let's take the last fourteen years, we're in a totally different world. Greenspan has changed the whole notion of the role of the central bank, followed by Bernanke and Yellen. During that period, GDP growth of the economy has down shifted sharply to 1.8 percent a year over the last fourteen years, half of what occurred during the golden era. By contrast, the balance sheet of the Fed grew from $500 billion to four and a half trillion. But look at it in the same annual terms: 17 percent a year growth in the balance sheet, and 15 percent after adjusting for inflation.
That means that the Fed's balance sheet grew eight times more rapidly than the economy during the last fourteen years. That's just the inverse of the relationship that occurred back in the Golden Era.
So, I think if you need any proof at all of this massive intrusion into the financial system isn't working; the huge amount of money printing and balance sheet expansion; the unremitting financial repression and pegging of interest rates; look at the fundamental comparison that I just made. It's not working in the real economy. That is, it's not generating expansion and giving standard gains on Main Street.
The only thing it's really doing is simply inflating the serial bubble that ultimately reach unsustainable peaks and collapse. We've had two of them this century already from that policy and we're now overwhelmingly — if you really look at the evidence — in a third great bubble that is in some ways more fantastic than the earlier two. It's only a matter of time before it bursts and implodes and we'll then be back to square one.
Hopefully on the third strike, the people who gave us these bubbles will be out. I think that might be a fair metaphor or proposition to make. Hopefully, when this next big bust comes — and surely it will when you look at the degree of speculation of the stock market in the high yield market or many other sectors that we can talk about — there will be a great day of reckoning in the country in terms of demanding a fundamental change in monetary policy and we'll see the resignation of all the people who are sitting on the Fed today that have led us right into this gargantuan financial trap.