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Ten Seconds Into The Darkness PDF Print E-mail
Written by Burnham Banks   
Thursday, 21 August 2014 06:57

Central banks have been printing money aggressively since 2008. The US Fed is now slowing its money printing with a view to a static stance in the near future. What are the consequences for markets and the economy?

When money is printed it has to go somewhere. So far it has gone into asset markets to a far greater extent than it has to the real economy. The transmission mechanism from large scale asset purchases and suppressed interest rates has directed liquidity to stabilizing the mortgage market, and keeping interest rates low across the USD term structure. This has stabilized the housing market and restored household balance sheets to stronger equity positions, strengthened bank balance sheets through their mortgage loan portfolios, and driven yield seeking investors to supporting the corporate bond market which in turn finances share buybacks buoying the equity markets. The impact of QE on financial markets and capital values has been significant yet the impact on the real economy, on employment and wages and on cash flows has been less ebullient.

After 3 rounds and 5 years of QE we are only beginning to see some impact on employment, investment and output. Yet the Fed began, in 2013, to slow its Large Scale Asset Purchases and is expected to end it altogether by October 2014. It is unclear when the Fed will actually either raise rates or shrink its balance sheet; it is currently expected to continue to reinvest coupon and maturing bond principal. The implications of an expanding Fed balance sheet are now known but what about the effects of a static or shrinking balance sheet?

The transmission of QE has thus far directed liquidity to asset markets, notably the agency mortgage backed securities market and the US treasury market. Liquidity, however, has struggled to spur bank lending to financing growth as banks lend out of capital and not just liquidity, and the SMEs which rely on bank lending have faced tight credit underwriting standards. The treatment of riskier, smaller loans under bank regulatory capital rules also hampers such lending. Larger businesses, usually with listed equities, have access to the corporate bond market and have taken advantage of lower rates to raise debt capital. Companies with listed equities have aggressively raised debt to buy back shares thus increasing earnings per share growth without the challenge of having to actually grow their businesses organically. Smaller companies without listed equities do not have this luxury.

That business investment has been slow is concerning. Corporates have raised significant levels of debt in the bond markets, yet hold substantial cash on balance sheet, or engage in share buybacks and M&A. Surveys of business sentiment notwithstanding, the actions of business leaders is not encouraging.

Equity valuations in the developed markets are no longer cheap. Even in Europe, the market has been selective and quality is expensive. Asia is the only region showing any significant value. Yet for equities to push higher, assuming fundamentals are in place, liquidity needs to flow into the asset class. The US Fed is close to neutral, the BoJ, ECB and BoE are all expansionary and the PBoC is probably at an inflection point ready to run loose again. As long as the world's central banks are in aggregate accommodative, markets will find some support. Under neutral liquidity, such as in the US, for equity and other risky assets to rise, liquidity must be diverted from the real economy. The equity market is therefore highly vulnerable to inflation since such would signal a substation to current consumption. Low inflation has been a sign that liquidity was being directed to investment. The other example is Europe, where inflation has been significantly below expectations and targets. Absent direct asset purchases, a pick up in inflation is in fact a bear signal.

The current structure of the economy is possibly a consequence of income and wealth inequality and that policy has favored the rich. Whereas expansionary monetary policy is normally inflationary, where the benefits of such policy accrue to the rich, the tendency to save or invest the new wealth is high and the marginal propensity to consume is low. Perhaps this is one price of inequality: that monetary policy is blunted and diverted towards more investment and less consumption. Policy makers may wish to consider how the distribution of wealth impacts policy efficacy. Policy that is blind to the distribution of wealth and income can create positive feedback loops which lead to unstable paths or accumulating imbalances.

6 years after the crisis, monetary and fiscal policies have not improved the economy significantly, especially when taken in the context of the financial resources and measures deployed. Global growth has slowed, unemployment remains high and where it has recovered has done so at the expense of the participation rate, income inequality has worsened at the individual and commercial level and geopolitical turbulence has risen, in part from America’s energy boom but in no small part due to growth withdrawal symptoms. What is concerning is that central banks and governments appear to have exhausted their crisis management resources and tools. Interest rates are acutely low, negative in the Eurozone, central bank balance sheets are grossly inflated, and sovereign balance sheets while improving, remain fragile. That inflation is low is a relief for high inflation would inflict serious losses for holders of duration heavy assets such as government bonds which fill the balance sheets of many commercial banks, but low inflation is also failing to erode the value of the stock of debt.

How long can central banks and governments go on supporting asset markets in the hope that sentiment can drag along the real economy? How long can wealth and income inequality continue or worsen, aided and abetted by current economic policy? How long are central banks happy to carry on with their policy tools fully deployed while their efficacy has become blunted? What are the consequences of resetting policy tools such as asset purchases and suppressed interest rates? What if inflation picks up?

Rates, Bonds, Inflation. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Burnham Banks   
Monday, 25 August 2014 01:05

The near term direction of rates and bonds are not dependent on whether or not the Fed actually hikes rates in Q3 2015 or Q1 2016. They are dependent on when the market thinks the Fed will hikes rates in Q3 2015 or Q1 2016. It is clear from the ruminations of central bankers that they themselves don’t know when they will hike rates; so much is dependent on data. Each piece of data exerts a pull on the Fed, some towards raising rates and some towards delaying the day.

  1. The US economy is stronger than the Fed or the market thinks. Especially relative to the new lower long term potential mean.
  2. The labour market is healthier than consensus.
  3. Economic nationalism will favor economies with a deep consumer base, intellectual property generation and manufacturing capability. NAIRU will, however, be lower.
  4. Inflation may surprise on the upside. Inflation could arrive sooner than expected as slack in the economy is underestimated.
  5. The US treasury’s funding requirements may be lower than expected on the back of stronger tax revenues.
  6. The substitution of funding type from fixed coupon to floating creates a relative shortage of fixed coupon.
  7. War may change the funding requirements for Treasury. Currently, however, military spending is expected to continue to decline.

Point 1 above allows one to trade around cyclical assets as the market misjudges the cycle by misjudging growth relative to long term mean. Cyclical slowdowns are pauses which can be misinterpreted as fails creating buy opportunities. Cyclical lows are misjudged as fails when in fact they are inflexion points. Trading should be buying and selling earlier than the consensus cycle.

Point 2, 3 and 4 may introduce volatility to the treasury market and duration assets. Point 5 and 6 could imply a relative oversupply of corporate duration relative to sovereigns translating into spread widening.

Points 5 and 6 in isolation of 2, 3 and 4 suggest buying the dips of longer dated treasuries. Unless 7 takes hold.





Credit Spreads in Pictures. Aug 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Burnham Banks   
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 23:34


Without considering fundamentals, lets look at some pictures…


The global economy is in relatively rude health. The US continues to grow and employment is becoming broader based. The UK is one of the faster growing economies in the developed world. China is recovering nicely as the PBOC eases. The ECB is underwritten the Eurozone economy and is cleaning up the banks. LatAm and some other emerging markets are flirting with stagflation but China, India, Indonesia, are healthy. The MENA is in turmoil and but this is in part a consequence of their waning energy importance. On balance, the world economy looks alright. But there is a right price for everything. Sadly we just don’t know what it is until after the fact. So here are a few pictures for you to make up your own minds.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 06:37
Credit Market Turbulence. How To Think About Credit Investing August 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Burnham Banks   
Wednesday, 06 August 2014 06:38

After a year of abnormally low volatility, high yield markets are correcting across the globe. Since 2008 the high yield market has experienced 3 bouts of turbulence

  1. The European sovereign crisis in 2011.
  2. The “Taper Tantrum” of 2013.
  3. The last few weeks.

Why have high yield credit markets exhibited this volatility recently?

Ten Seconds Into The Future. July 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Burnham Banks   
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 23:19

Equity, bond, FX, swaption and commodity volatility have one thing in common. They have contracted steadily from 2008/9 levels to 2006 levels, almost in lockstep. To some, this is a sign of complacency, to others, calm.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 06:41
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