"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." - Anton Chekhov
One could argue as well that Chekhov's analogy amounts simply to Tuco's philosophy from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk" - Tuco
And when it comes to central bankers, it looks to us that Bank of Japan has indeed recently applied Tuco's recommendation when it comes to its latest merry go round of QE but we ramble again...
Of course this post is a continuation of what we discussed in our last conversation in relation to the need of QE in Europe:
"What would be a solution for the EU? We have repeatedly said it: Either full fiscal union or monetization of the sovereign debts. Anything in between is an intellectual exercise of dubious utility." - Martin Sibileau
Therefore in this week's conversation we will discuss into more details the need for a European QE and the potential effects the various QEs have had on the real economy.
When it comes to QE and its impact on asset prices, we have largely discussed its effect in our September 2013 conversation "The Cantillon Effects":
"Cantillon effects" describe increasing asset prices (asset bubbles) coinciding with an increasing "exogenous" (central bank) money supply.
We also commented at the time about the increase of money supply on the art market as posited by our friend Cameron Weber, a PhD Student in Economics and Historical Studies at the New School for Social Research, NY, in his presentation entitled "Cantillon effects in the market for art":
Back in September 2012, in our conversation "Zemblanity", (Zemblanity being defined as the inexorable discovery of what we don't want to know), we discussed the relationship between credit growth and domestic demand and why ultimately our central bankers will fail in their useless reflationary attempts:
"credit growth is a stock variable and domestic demand is a flow variable"
We even asked ourselves at the time the following question:
"Does the end (lowering unemployment levels) justify the means (increasing M) or do the means justify the end (deflationary bust)?"
The importance of domestic demand being a flow variable should not be underestimated particularly in the case of Europe due to the lack or slack in aggregate demand thanks to high unemployment levels and in many cases what Richard Koo has coined as "Balance Sheet Recession" (think Spain and Ireland when it comes to real estate bubbles and "damaged" households balance sheet).
As a reminder from our conversation "Zemblanity", it is very important to understand the core concept of "stocks versus "flows" from Mr Michael Biggs and Mr Thomas Mayer on voxeu.org from their post entitled - How central banks contributed to the financial crisis: "We have argued at some length in the past that because credit growth is a stock variable and domestic demand is a flow variable, the conventional approach of comparing credit growth with demand growth is flawed (see for example Biggs et al. 2010a, 2010b).
To see this, assume that all spending is credit financed. Then total spending in a year would be equal to total new borrowing. Debt in any year changes by the amount of new borrowing, which means that spending is equal to the change in debt. And if spending is equal to the change in debt, then the change in spending is equal to the change in the change in debt (i.e. the second derivative of the development of debt). Spending growth, in other words, should be related not to credit growth, but rather the change in credit growth.
We have called the change in debt (or the change in credit growth) the 'credit impulse'. The credit impulse is effectively the private sector equivalent of the fiscal impulse, and the analogy might make the reasoning clearer. The measure of fiscal policy used to estimate the impact on spending growth is not new borrowing (the budget deficit), but rather the change in new borrowing (the fiscal impulse). We argue that this is equally true for private sector credit." - Mr Michael Biggs and Mr Thomas Mayer on voxeu.org
So you might wonder where we going when it comes to discussing "Chekhov's gun" and the impact QEs have had on real economy, Japan being a good illustration.
On that specific case, we agree with Richard Koo, chief economist at the Nomura Research Institute in his latest note from the 11th of November entitled "BOJ's surprise announcement: monetary easing by a currency interventionist":
"QQE has had almost no impact on real economy
What effect has QQE had in the 18 months since it began? It has clearly had a major influence on the forex and equity markets, where surprises can be very effective tools, but has had almost no impact on the real economy.
If domestic demand is indeed a flow variable, the big failure of QE on the real economy is in "impulsing" spending growth via the second derivative of the development of debt, namely the change in credit growth.
QE will not be sufficient enough on its own in Europe to offset the lack of Aggregate Demand (AD) we think.
In textbook macroeconomics, an increase in AD can be triggered by increased consumption. In the mind of our "Generous Gamblers" (aka central bankers) an increase in consumer wealth (higher house prices, higher value of shares, the famous "wealth effect") should lead to a rise in AD.
Alternatively an increase in AD can be triggered by increased investment, given lower interest rates have made borrowing for investment cheaper, but this has not led to increase capacity or CAPEX investments which would increase economic growth thanks to increasing demand. On the contrary, lower interest rates have led to buybacks financed by cheap debt and speculation on a grand scale.
In relation to Europe, the decrease in imports and lower GDP means consumer have indeed less money to spend. We cannot see how QE in Europe on its own can offset the deflationary forces at play.
In the case of Europe, deflationary forces can be ascertained by slowing global trade in the shipping industry as we discussed in our conversation of January 2013entitled "The link between consumer spending, housing, credit and shipping - a follow-up":
"The relationship between container shipping and consumer spending, traffic is indeed driven by consumer spending".
Any changes in consumer spending will directly impact global containerized traffic volumes. Containerized traffic is dominated by the shipment of consumer products."
The latest warning in slowing global trade sent across by shipping leader and giant Maersk as reported in the Financial Times in their article entitled "Maersk warns of slowing global trade" should not be ignored:
"“We see a slowdown in emerging markets, partly driven by a lower need for raw materials from China. Europe – it’s very slow growth, if any, at the moment, and there’s no reason to expect a big change here,” said Nils Andersen, Maersk’s chief executive." - source Financial Times
On the subject of the risk of continued QE and its negligible impact on AD and the real economy, we read with interest RBS's take on the subject in their note entitled "The Silver Bullet - The risks of QE infinity:
"The supporting idea for QE is that a positive wealth shock can support spending and confidence, and absorb other negative shocks to the economy. But what happens if QE continues, and consumers expectations' adapt to a QE-after-QE environment?
In a basic (rational) economic model of consumption, households try to maximise lifetime income, i.e. the maximum value they can achieve with their wages. In a QE infinity world with stable/low interest rates and flat/negative inflation, the price of goods stays stable or declines over time, while the value of financial assets is expected to grow. The incentive for those holding financial assets can become to delay spending or investment.
There are of course many factors in play when it comes to consumer spending and corporate investment decisions: expectations of long term permanent income, the life cycle, interest rates, confidence, etc.
"The problem is that treating monetary policy like currency intervention also has side effects. Over the last decade it has become standard practice around the world to conduct monetary policy with a minimum of surprises based on careful dialogue with market participants.
Until the mid-1980s, monetary policy decisions tended to be made in closed rooms, something then-Fed chairman Paul Volcker was very good at. In Japan, it was even considered “acceptable” for authorities to openly lie in the lead-up to decisions on the official discount rate (or the timing of snap elections).
Since the Greenspan era, however, transparency has gradually come to be viewed as a desirable characteristic in the conduct of monetary policy. This trend gathered momentum under the leadership of Mr. Bernanke, who had been making a case for greater transparency in monetary policy since his days in academia. During his tenure at the Fed, this view was reflected in the shortening of the time required for FOMC minutes to be released, the holding of press conferences by the Fed chair, and the release of interest rate forecasts by FOMC members.
Kuroda abandons forward guidance
It was because of this approach that the Fed has been able to conduct policy now known as forward guidance based on expectations of its future actions, something that had not been possible in the past. It was precisely because the Fed avoided surprises that market participants trusted it when it said it would keep interest rates at exceptionally low levels for a considerable amount of time.
Policymaking evolved in this direction because of a growing awareness that monetary policy has a major impact on the economy and is fundamentally different from intervention on the currency market, which basically involves only a handful of participants.
But with the 31 October easing announcement Mr. Kuroda deliberately chose to shock the markets. By doing so, he effectively removed forward guidance from the BOJ’s toolkit.
When the head of the central bank enjoys surprising the market, market participants will no longer take anything he says at face value. Mr. Kuroda claimed in his Upper House testimony just three days before the announcement that the economy was making “steady progress” towards achieving the 2% price stability target even as he was secretly moving ahead with preparations for the surprise easing.
Ending QE will now be far harder for BOJ than for Fed
The BOJ governor’s decision to utilize the element of surprise could lead to major problems when it comes time to bring quantitative easing to an end. Careful dialogue with the market—including forward guidance—is essential when winding down such a policy, as the IMF has repeatedly warned.
There is, of course, no guarantee that the exit from QE will proceed smoothly simply because the central bank maintains a close dialogue with the markets. Even Mr. Bernanke, with his reputation for being a good communicator, caused a great deal of turmoil in both the developed and the emerging economies when his remarks on 22 May 2013 concerning the possibility of tapering sent US long-term interest rates sharply
The Fed’s intensive forward guidance under both Mr. Bernanke and his successor, Janet Yellen, succeeded in calming markets by persuading them the Fed had no intention of raising rates in the near future. It remains to be seen how Mr. Kuroda will respond when he finds himself in the same situation.
In summary, the BOJ’s shock announcement could make it far more difficult for the Japanese central bank to end quantitative easing than it has been for the Fed." - source Richard Koo, Nomura Research Institute
To some extent, both the Bank of Japan and the Fed have been fast QE gun drawers, but, when it comes to winding down QE, the exit from the program will not proceed that smoothly, rest assured.
While it has been easy to somewhat front-run the QE cowboys thanks to "Pascal's Wager", the end of QE in the US coincide with a renewed period of weaker global trade, historically high asset price levels and record low bond yields making it more likely we will see a return of higher volatilities regime in the near future making future equities return questionable and long bond US Treasuries enticing (we are keeping on our very long duration exposure via ETF ZROZ).
On a final note we leave you with a chart for Bank of America Merrill Lynch latest Thundering Word note entitled "Humiliation, Hubris & Gold" displaying Japan's free-float market cap as a percentage of world:
Finally, Japan’s humiliating decline as % of world market cap (Chart 10) and the explicit war on deflation launched by the Bank of Japan keeps us overweight Japan, in contrast to China and Europe. In addition, Japan has high operating leverage and stronger earnings momentum. Our bullish view on volatility, particularly currency volatility, is strengthened by the knowledge that liquidity trends in the US and Japan will be moving in different directions over coming quarters." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"Every gun makes its own tune." - Blondie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly