Why They Never See It Coming

Mainstream economists fail to see why crises occur.

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Fed Could Delay Tapering Until After December

Frank Shostak, Mises Institute

Most economists surveyed by Bloomberg News are now of the view that the Federal Reserve will begin tapering asset purchases in December. Contrary to expectations on the 18-19 of September, Federal Reserve policymakers have decided to continue with a very loose monetary stance and postpone the tapering of asset purchases.

Most policymakers are of the view that the U.S. economy is not strong enough to generate self-sustained economic growth. Hence it is held the economy still requires support from the Fed.

If Fed policymakers were to decide to taper bond purchases, most experts are of the view Fed policymakers are likely to announce that the U.S. central bank is going to keep its near-zero interest rate policy for a prolonged period of time. This, it is held, should prevent negative side effects coming from the reduction in bond purchases.

For instance, in 1994 when the Fed started a tightening cycle the federal funds rate rose from 3.05 percent in January 1994 to 6.04 percent in April 1995. This, it is argued, caused a sharp fall in the pace of economic activity. The yearly rate of growth of industrial production fell from 7 percent in December 1994 to 2.7 percent by December 1995.

 

We suggest that it is changes in money supply rather than changes in interest rates that drive economic activity as such. Interest rates are just an indicator, as it were.

A fall in the growth momentum of industrial production during December 1994 to December 1995 occurred on account of a sharp decline in the yearly rate of growth of AMS (our measure of money supply) from 13.7 percent in September 1992 to minus 0.3 percent in April 1995.

This sharp fall in the growth momentum of AMS has weakened the support for various bubble activities that sprang up on the back of the previous rising growth momentum of AMS.

(Even if the Fed would have kept the fed funds rate at a very low level, what would have dictated the pace of economic activity is the growth momentum of AMS.)

Note that a fall in the growth momentum of AMS was in line with the fall in the growth momentum of the Fed’s balance sheet — the yearly rate of growth of the balance sheet fell from 12.7 percent in June 1993 to 4.4 percent by December 1995.

 

Whilst in the 1993 to 1995 period, changes in the Fed’s balance sheet were positively associated with changes in the growth momentum of money supply. This time around this is not the case. (Changes in money supply are not responding to changes in the Fed’s balance sheet.) The key reason for that is bank reluctance to aggressively expand lending notwithstanding the aggressive pumping by the Fed.

So far in September, the growth momentum of the Fed’s balance sheet climbed to 30.6 percent from 28 percent in August. (Despite this massive pumping banks remain reluctant to aggressively expand lending.) In September banks were sitting on massive cash reserves of $2.2 trillion against $2.17 trillion in August and $2.4 billion in January 2008.

 

Consequently, the growth momentum of our measure of money supply AMS has visibly weakened. The yearly rate of growth stood at in September at 6.7 percent against 7.7 percent in August.

We suggest that irrespective of what the Fed is currently doing it will have very little effect on the economy at present and in the immediate future. Given a decline in the yearly rate of growth of AMS from 14.8 percent in October 2011 to 6.7 percent in September this year, we suggest this likely to depress economic activity going forward.

Again, this is likely to happen irrespective of the decision the Fed is going to take with respect to the tapering of assets purchases.

Based on the lagged growth momentum of AMS we expect that the yearly rate of growth of industrial production to fall to minus 1 percent by October from 2.7 percent in August.

 

Given the possibility of a sharp decline in economic activity on account of the fall in the growth momentum of AMS it is quite likely that Fed policymakers will decide to postpone the tapering of asset purchases also in December.

We need to add to all of this the possibility that the pool of real wealth might be currently in difficulties on account of the Fed’s reckless policies.

(The near zero interest rate policy has caused a severe misallocation of scarce real savings — it has weakened the wealth generation process and thus the economy’s ability to support stronger real economic growth.)

If our assessment is valid on this, we can suggest that a stagnant or declining pool of real wealth is likely to put more pressure on banks’ lending. Remember that it is the state of the pool of real wealth that dictates banks’ ability to lend without going belly up.

Conclusion

We can conclude that regardless of changes in the Fed’s balance sheet, it is a fall in the growth momentum of AMS since October 2011 that will determine the pace of economic activity irrespective of the planned actions by the Fed. Given the possibility that the pool of real wealth might be in trouble this could put further pressure on the growth momentum of bank lending and thus the growth momentum of money supply.

Yield on Canadian Government Bonds Rising

About three weeks ago, I speculated that the bottom on interest rates had come and gone, and interest rates were rising.

This now seems more and more certain. Because of Abenomics, yields on Japanese government bonds have shot up and set off an ugly chain reaction. Bond prices are falling and yields are rising. Rather quickly, I might add.

Take a look at these charts of yields for selected Canadian government bonds. Pay extra attention to the longer-term bonds.

First, marketable bonds. The average yield on 1-3 year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 1 to 3 year

Now 3-to-5 year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 3 to 5 year

5-10 year:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 5 to 10 year

Here’s the average for 10+ year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - over 10 years

Now the benchmark bonds.

First, the 2-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 2 year

The 3-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 3 year

The 5-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 5 year

The 7-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 7 year

The 10-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 10 year

Long-term benchmark bonds:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - long-term

Here’s the long-term real return bond yield:

Real return bond - long term

You can draw your own conclusions from this data, I’m sure.

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