Comstock Partners, Inc.November 04, 2014
Did the Fed Save us from a "Liquidity Trap"?
Is this a Global Central Bank Bubble? How will the Markets React?
There have been a number of very sophisticated economists who recently made some presentations on the financial networks discussing just how effective the Federal Reserve was in being able to avoid a “liquidity trap”. One economist in particular used the avoidance of a “liquidity trap” a number of times as he praised the Fed.
We, at Comstock, were shocked at the praise given to the Fed when we don’t believe the Fed rescued the U.S. from the ravages of a “liquidity trap” at all, but even more shocking to us was the response of the interviewers. We are sure that there were not many people watching on TV that understood the definition of a “liquidity trap”. Yet the economist was never asked to explain it. Hopefully, in this comment we will explain what a “liquidity trap” is, and why we don’t think the Fed avoided the “trap”. We will also explain why we think the Fed painted themselves into a corner and will have to keep rates very low, continue increasing their balance sheet, and maybe even resort to QE 4. We are skeptical that going back to the same old fashioned government subsidies used by the Fed over the past six years will work any better than they did for the past six years.
A “liquidity trap” as defined by BusinessDirectory.com, is a situation when bank cash holdings are rising and banks cannot find a sufficient number of qualified borrowers even at incredibly low rates of interest. It usually arises where people are not buying and firms are not borrowing (for inventory or plant and equipment) because economic prospects look dim, investors are not investing because expected returns from investments are low. People and businesses hold on to their cash and thus get trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Wikipedia agrees that a liquidity trap is caused when people hoard cash because they expect an adverse event such as deflation, insufficient aggregate demand, or war. Thus, if an economy enters a “liquidity trap”, further increases in the money stock will fail to lower interest rates and, therefore, fail to stimulate.
We believe that this country and many other countries across the globe are intertwined in this “liquidity trap” presently. It is clear that the Fed has tried to pump as much money as possible into the U.S., but for the past 50 years M1, M2, and M3 have grown at around 7.5% and this past year the Ms grew at 1.5%. According to the Federal Reserve figures and Moebs Service the average checking account balances have averaged about $2,000 for most of the post WW II period, but now they have grown to $3,700 in 2011, $4,400 in 2012, $5,000 in 2013, and $5,800 now.
We are clearly in the same “liquidity trap” that Japan has suffered from for the past 24 years. This is the main reason that this economic recovery from the “great recession” is so weak. We understand that the 3rd quarter GDP came in at 3.5%, but the U. S. has been growing at around 2.2% over the past 6 years. The average recovery from recessions since WWII has been closer to 5%. That is just about double the recovery rate we are experiencing today following the worst recession since the “great depression”.
There was a lot of trepidation in the U.S. stock market as investors were concerned about QE 3 ending. Many investors were worried about the ending being similar to the 12% and 14% declines that followed QE 1 and QE 2. Instead, the markets handled that fairly well, which surprised us.
Then the news came out of Japan! The Bank of Japan (BOJ), the Ministry of Finance (MOF), and the Government Pension & Insurance Fund (GPIF) decided to do even more than our Fed. The BOJ raised its goal for the monetary base to 80 tn. yen from 65 tn. yen. The central bank’s governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, stated that this was aimed at “ending Japan’s deflationary mind-set.”
This past September, the GPIF was supposed to invest in more Japanese equities (going from 12.5% to 25%), but postponed the move until year end. They surprised most global investors last Thursday by not waiting until December. They announced that they would double their positions in Japanese equities to 25%. But, they were so concerned about deflation they also raised their positions in international equities exposure from 12.5% to 25%. They raised the cash to make these investments by trimming their domestic bonds from 60% to 35%. This announcement drove up all international markets significantly this past Friday (including a 7% upward move in the Nikkei).
We suspect strongly that this outrageous surprise move will not help the Japanese market over the long term and be just as ineffective as all the other moves the Japanese made over the past 24 years. Remember, they tried our form of QE about 20 months ago with no apparent inflationary results. Their latest quarterly GDP was down about 7%. They will keep trying to offset the deflation in Japan by exporting it to their trading partners by driving down their yen in relation to their trading partners’ currencies. This is called “competitive devaluation” and we have been stuck for years on this part of our “Cycle of Deflation”(which is attached). Soon, many countries that are caught in the “Cycle” will be forced to move down the “Cycle” to “protectionism and tariffs” and then next to “beggar-thy-neighbor” (an example of this is Saudi Arabia lowering the price of oil today in an attempt to gain market share from the U.S.). They are doing this in an attempt to export their deflation.
This global deflationary environment has resulted in a Central Bank “bubble” that we believe will end badly both here and abroad! The reason for this difficult deflationary environment all over the world is explained very well in The Geneva report titled "Deleveraging, What Deleveraging?" It explains that, most believed that the 2008 crash (caused by the debt explosion) would result in deleveraging. But, instead, due mostly by government spending, worldwide debt grew rapidly. According to the report, global debt as a percentage of GDP has risen 36 percentage points since 2008, to a record 212%.