Bank of Canada Has More Assets Than Ever

The Bank of Canada’s balance sheet is now bigger than ever. The central bank grows fat on the debts created by Ottawa.

boc may14

The rate of growth had slowed a bit in recent months, but the latest data tells us that Governor Poloz really doesn’t know what to do other than create new money and buy stuff. This is exasperating the business cycle and driving down the price of the Canadian dollar.

The Bank of Canada’s assets are 99% Canadian government bills and bonds. Buying more of these bids up their prices and pushes interest rates lower than they would be otherwise.

The newly created money enters the capital markets, and begins distorting the market’s allocation of resources. This is the cause of business cycles.

Interestingly, rates are so low in Canada that capital is nearly free, but the Eastern economy is still a mess. According to Keynesianism, the entire country should be on the verge of Utopia.

The aggressive monetary policy was kicked off by Carney, shortly after selling off the Bank’s emergency acquisitions of the financial crisis. Poloz is continuing this policy. He is trying to juice the Canadian economy by driving down the value of the Canadian dollar, thereby increasing exports, as he told us in his April 16 rate decision. This kind of short-sighted and special-interest-serving policy is to be expected from central bankers, particularly ones who worked Export Development Canada for more than a decade, like Poloz.

Hilariously, a few days ago the mainstream media churned out a puff piece about how Poloz is the “king” of central bankers and other central bankers want to be like him. The article presents Poloz as a really cool dude because when he says something, the Canadian dollar’s value is more greatly affected than the value of other currencies when their central bankers talk.

It never seems to occur to anyone that this is a horrible, horrible thing. It shows that the dollar is dangerously sensitive to the whims of central bankers, and that is not healthy for an economy. Uncertainty due to regulatory hazard is destructive to economic opportunity.

But of course, words are one thing, and the biggest impact on the economy emerges from the BoC’s actions — i.e. printing money. And as we can see, the Bank of Canada still going full steam ahead with that plan.

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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.

When Will Interest Rates Rise?

Everyone wants to know: when will long-term interest rates rise?

Are we so sure they aren’t rising now?

Let’s consider a few recent events: Microsoft recently raised $2 billion selling bonds. Soon after, Apple raised $17 billion selling bonds. These companies have historically shied away from borrowing long-term money. Microsoft has not sold debt since 1996. The last time Apple sold debt was 20 years ago.

They both have huge amounts of cash, but the interest rates on these instruments were ridiculously low for both companies. Investors wanted a slightly higher rate from Apple than from Microsoft. In any case, both normally debt-averse companies believe that now is the time to lock in low rates. These companies must believe that rates will stay low or rise. Either way, they do well at the expense of bondholders. If rates rise, then they have cheap borrowed money with which to cash in on the higher rates. They borrow at 4-5% and make double, triple, or more on that money. If rates fall, then they can buy back the bonds and reissue the debt at lower rates.

When asked about Apple bonds specifically, Warren Buffett said: “We’re not buying bonds of Apple — we’re not buying bonds of anybody. It has nothing to do with them being a tech company. The yields are too low.” Berkshire Hathaway has been selling corporate bonds over the last two years.

I had a spasm of intuition in reading about the above events. “Are we at or around the bottom”? It seems to be a fair interpretation that “smart money” is selling bonds, and “dumb money” is buying bonds. Look at corporate debt — can those rates seriously go lower?

FRED Graph

The economy is bad, but is it Great Depression bad? Apparently not, so maybe the rates can’t go any lower… for now.

This year, it seems those rates have been pushed up. Is fear of inflation creeping in there?

Look at the 30 year Treasury yield, which has fallen to insane lows post-2008. Yet at the right end of the graph, we see the rate trending upward despite Operation Twist.

Chart forTreasuryYield30Years (^TYX)

I am talking about long-term rates. Short-term rates are basically going nowhere. As I wrote last year, I believe this is because there is fear and “regime uncertainty.”

FRED Graph

Even so, data seems to indicate that real rates are climbing back into positive territory.

fed real int

CONCLUSION

While people can describe the conditions under which rates will rise, they cannot reliably predict when this will occur. It seems assured that anytime someone says with confidence, “Rates cannot get any lower,” the rates still get lower. If you want an example that baffles investors endlessly, look at Japan. There is a reason shorting Japanese government bonds is a trade known as the “widow-maker.”

I don’t want to be one of “those” guys, but I think we are around the bottom on long-term interest rates for this stage of the business cycle. I’m not making a “hard” prediction on this, because I think a recession will push rates down further. I think that recession will occur soon. However, it is theoretically possible to muscle through the recession with expansionary monetary policy and keep the “boom” going. The Fed is in full offensive mode. Short-term and long-term rates will rise if the Fed continues this policy and banks are no longer willing to stockpile excess reserves. In Canada, the BoC has been buying debt for Harper and the Conservatives, resulting in net increases in assets for two years. I interpret this to mean that both American and Canadian central banks are desperate to hold off recession.

“The yields are too low.”

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