Why did we focus so much attention yesterday on a post in which the IMF confirmed what we had said since last October, namely that the BOJ’s days of ravenous debt monetization are coming to a tapering end as soon as 2017 (as willing sellers simply run out of product)? Simple: because in the global fiat regime, asset prices are nothing more than an indication of central bank generosity. Or, as Deutsche Bank puts it: “Ultimately in a fiat money system asset prices reflect “outside” i.e. central bank money and the extent to which it multiplied through the banking system.“
The problem is that the BOJ and the ECB are the only two remaining central banks in a world in which Reverse QE aka “Quantitative Tightening” in China, and the Fed’s tightening in the form of an upcoming rate hike (unless the Fed loses all credibility and reverts its pro-rate hike bias), are now actively involved in reducing global liquidity. It is only a matter of time before the market starts pricing in that the Bank of Japan’s open-ended QE has begun its tapering (followed by a QE-ending) countdown, which will lead to devastating risk-asset consequences. The ECB, which is also greatly supply constrained as Ewald Nowotny admitted yesterday, will follow closely behind.
But while we expanded on the Japanese problem to come in detail yesterday, here are some key observations on what is going on in both the US and China as of this moment – the two places which all now admit are the culprit for the recent equity selloff, and which the market has finally realized are actively soaking up global liquidity.
Here the problem, as we initially discussed last November in “How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed“, is that as a result of the soaring US dollar and collapse in oil prices, Petrodollar recycling has crashed, leading to an outright liquidation of FX reserves, read US Treasurys by emerging market nations. This was reinforced on August 11th when China joined the global liquidation push as a result of its devaluation announcement, a topic which we also covered far ahead of everyone else with our May report “Revealing The Identity Of The Mystery “Belgian” Buyer Of US Treasurys”, exposing Chinese dumping of US Treasurys via Belgium.
We also hope to have made it quite clear that China’s reserve liquidation and that of the EM petro-exporters is really two sides of the same coin: in a world in which the USD is soaring as a result of Fed tightening concerns, other central banks have no choice but to liquidate FX reserve assets: this includes both EMs, and most recently, China.
Needless to say, these key trends covered here over the past year have finally become the biggest mainstream topic, and have led to the biggest equity drop in years, including the first correction in the S&P since 2011. Elsewhere, the risk devastation is much more profound, with emerging market equity markets and currencies crashing around the globe at a pace reminiscent of the Asian 1998 crisis, while in China both the housing and credit, not to mention the stock market, bubble have all long burst.
Before we continue, we present a brief detour from Deutsche Bank’s Dominic Konstam on precisely how it is that in the current fiat system, global central bank liquidity is fungible and until a few months ago, had led to record equity asset prices in most places around the globe. To wit:
Let’s start from some basics. Global liquidity can be thought of as the sum of all central banks’ balance sheets (liabilities side) expressed in dollar terms. We then have the case of completely flexible exchange rates versus one of fixed exchange rates. In the event that one central bank, say the Fed, is expanding its balance sheet, they will add to global liquidity directly. If exchange rates are flexible this will also mean the dollar tends to weaken so that the value of other central banks’ liabilities in the global system goes up in dollar terms. Dollar weakness thus might contribute to a higher dollar price for dollar denominated global commodities, as an example. If exchange rates are pegged then to achieve that peg other central banks will need to expand their own balance sheets and take on dollar FX reserves on the asset side. Global liquidity is therefore increased initially by the Fed but, secondly, by further liability expansion, by the other central banks. Depending on the sensitivity of exchange rates to relative balance sheet adjustments, it is not an a priori case that the same balance sheet expansion by the Fed leads to greater or less global liquidity expansion under either exchange rate regime. Hence the mere existence of a massive build up in FX reserves shouldn’t be viewed as a massive expansion of global liquidity per se – although as we shall show later, the empirical observation is that this is a more powerful force for the “impact” of changes in global liquidity on financial assets.
That, in broad strokes, explains how and why the Fed’s easing, or tightening, terms have such profound implications not only on every asset class, and currency pair, but on global economic output.
Liquidity in the broadest sense tends to support growth momentum, particularly when it is in excess of current nominal growth. Positive changes in liquidity should therefore be equity bullish and bond price negative. Central bank liquidity is a large part of broad liquidity and, subject to bank multipliers, the same holds true. Both Fed tightening and China’s FX adjustment imply a tightening of liquidity conditions that, all else equal, implies a loss in output momentum.
But while the impact on global economic growth is tangible, there is also a substantial delay before its full impact is observed. When it comes to asset prices, however, the market is far faster at discounting the disappearance of the “invisible hand”:
Ultimately in a fiat money system asset prices reflect “outside” i.e. central bank money and the extent to which it multiplied through the banking system. The loss of reserves represents not just a direct loss of outside money but also a reduction in the multiplier. There should be no expectation that the multiplier is quickly restored through offsetting central bank operations.
Here Deutsche Bank suggests your panic, because according to its estimates, while the US equity market may have corrected, it has a long ways to go just to catch up to the dramatic slowdown in global plus Fed reserves (that does not even take in account the reality that soon both the BOJ and the ECB will be forced by the market to taper and slow down their own liquidity injections):
Let’s start with risk assets, proxied by global equity prices. It would appear at first glance that the correlation is negative in that when central bank liquidity is expanding, equities are falling and vice versa. Of course this likely suggests a policy response in that central banks are typically “late” so that they react once equities are falling and then equities tend to recover. If we shift liquidity forward 6 quarters we can see that the market “leads” anticipated” additional liquidity by something similar. This is very worrying now in that it suggests that equity price appreciation could decelerate easily to -20 or even 40 percent based on near zero central bank liquidity, assuming similar multipliers to the post crisis period.
Some more dire predictions from Deutsche on what will happen next to equity prices:
If we only consider the FX and Fed components of liquidity there appears to be a tighter and more contemporaneous relationship with equity prices. The suggestion is at one level still the same, absent Fed and FX reserve expansion, equity prices look more likely to decelerate and quite sharply.
The Fed’s balance sheet for example could easily be negative 5 percent this time next year, depending on how they manage the SOMA portfolio and would be associated with further FX reserve loss unless countries, including China allowed for a much weaker currency. This would be a great concern for global (central bank liquidity).
Once again, all of this assumes a status quo for the QE out of Europe and Japan, which as we pounded the table yesterday, are both in the process of being “timed out”
The tie out, presumably with the “leading” indicator of other central bank action is that other central banks have been instrumental in supporting equities in the past. The largest of course being the ECB and BoJ. If the Fed isn’t going doing its job, it is good to know someone is willing to do the job for them, albeit there is a “lag” before they appreciate the extent of someone else’s policy “failure”.
Worse, as noted yesterday soon there will be nobody left to mask everyone one’s failure: the global liquidity circle jerk is coming to an end.
What does this mean for bond yields? Well, as we explained previously, clearly the selling of TSYs by China is a clear negative for bond prices. However, what Deutsche Bank accurately notes, is that should the world undergo a dramatic plunge in risk assets, the resulting tsunami of residual liquidity will most likely end up in the long-end, sending Treasury yields lower. To wit:
… if investors believe that liquidity is likely to continue to fall one should not sell real yields but buy them and be more worried about risk assets than anything else. This flies in the face of recent concerns that China’s potential liquidation of Treasuries for FX intervention is a Treasury negative and should drive real yields higher.… More generally the simple point is that falling reserves should be the least of worries for rates – as they have so far proven to be since late 2014 and instead, rates need to focus more on risk assets.
The relationship between central bank liquidity and the byproduct of FX reserve accumulation is clearly central to risk asset performance and therefore interest rates. The simplistic error is to assume that all assets are treated equally. They are not – or at least have not been especially since the crisis. If liquidity weakens and risk assets trade badly, rates are most likely to rally not sell off. It doesn’t matter how many Treasury bills are redeemed or USD cash is liquidated from foreign central bank assets, US rates are more likely to fall than rise especially further out the curve. In some ways this really shouldn’t be that hard to appreciate. After all central bank liquidity drives broader measures of liquidity that also drives, with a lag, economic activity.
Two points: we agree with DB that if the market were to price in collapsing “outside” money, i.e. central bank liquidity, that risk assets would crush (and far more than just the 20-40% hinted above). After all it was central bank intervention and only central bank intervention that pushed the S&P from 666 to its all time high of just above 2100.
However, we also disagree for one simple reason: as we explained in “What Would Happen If Everyone Joins China In Dumping Treasurys“, the real question is what would everyone else do. If the other EMs join China in liquidating the combined $7.5 trillion in FX reserves (i.e., mostly US Trasurys but also those of Europe and Japan) shown below…
… into an illiquid Treasury bond market where central banks already hold 30% or more of all 10 Year equivalents (the BOJ will own 60% by 2018), then it is debatable whether the mere outflow from stocks into bonds will offset the rate carnage.
And, as we showed before, all else equal, the unwinding of the past decade’s accumulation of EM reserves, some $8 trillion, could possibly lead to a surge in yields from the current 2% back to 6% or higher.
In other words, inductively reserve liquidation may not be a concern, but practically – when taking in account just how illiquid the global TSY market has become – said liquidation will without doubt lead to a surge in yields, if only occasionally due to illiquidity driven demand discontinuities.
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So where does that leave us? Summarizing Deutsche Bank’s observations, they confirm everything we have said from day one, namely that the QE crusade undertaken first by the Fed in 2009 and then all central banks, has been the biggest can-kicking exercise in history, one which brought a few years of artificial calm to the market while making the wealth disparity between the poor and rich the widest it has ever been as it crushed the global middle class; now the end of QE is finally coming.
And this is where Deutsche Bank, which understands very well that the Fed’s tightening coupled with Quantiative Tightening, would lead to nothing short of a global equity collapse (especially once the market prices in the inevitable tightening resulting from the BOJ’s taper over the coming two years), is shocked. To wit:
This reinforces our view that the Fed is in danger of committing policy error. Not because one and done is a non issue but because the market will initially struggle to price “done” after “one”. And the Fed’s communication skills hardly lend themselves to over achievement. More likely in our view, is that one in September will lead to a December pricing and additional hikes in 2016, suggesting 2s could easily trade to 1 ¼ percent. This may well be an overshoot but it could imply another leg lower for risk assets and a sharp reflattening of the yield curve.
But it was the conclusion to Deutsche’s stream of consciousness that is the real shocker: in it DB’s Dominic Konstam implicitly ask out loud whether what comes next for global capital markets (most equity, but probably rates as well), is nothing short of a controlled demolition. A premeditated controlled demolition, and facilitated by the Fed’s actions or rather lack thereof:
The more sinister undercurrent is that as the relationship between negative rates has tightened with weaker liquidity since the crisis, there is a sense that policy is being priced to “fail” rather than succeed. Real rates fall when central banks back away from stimulus presumably because they “think” they have done enough and the (global) economy is on a healing trajectory. This could be viewed as a damning indictment of policy and is not unrelated to other structural factors that make policy less effective than it would be otherwise – including the self evident break in bank multipliers due to new regulations and capital requirements.
What would happen then? Well, DB casually tosses an S&P trading a “half its value”, but more importantly, also remarks that what we have also said from day one, namely that “helicopter money” in whatever fiscal stimulus form it takes (even if it is in the purest literal one) is the only remaining outcome after a 50% crash in the S&P:
Of course our definition of “failure” may also be a little zealous. After all why should equities always rise in value? Why should debt holders be expected to afford their debt burden? There are plenty of alternative viable equilibria with SPX half its value, longevity liabilities in default and debt deflation in abundance. In those equilibria traditional QE ceases to work and the only road back to what we think is the current desired equilibrium is via true helicopter money via fiscal stimulus where there are no independent central banks.
And there it is: Deutsche Bank saying, in not so many words, what Ray Dalio hinted at, namely that the Fed’s tightening would be the mechanistic precursor to a market crash and thus, QE4.
Only Deutsche takes the answer to its rhetorical question if the Fed is preparing for a “controlled demolition” of risk assets one step forward: realizing that at this point more QE will be self-defeating, the only remaining recourse to avoid what may be another systemic catastrophe would be the one both Friedman and Bernanke hinted at many years ago: the literal paradropping of money to preserve the fiat system for just a few more days (At this point we urge rereading footnote 18 in Ben Bernanke’s “Deflation: Making Sure “It” Doesn’t Happen Here” speech)
While we can only note that the gravity of the above admission by Europe’s largest bank can not be exaggerated – for “very serious banks” to say this, something epic must be just over the horizon – we should add: if Deutsche Bank (with its €55 trillion in derivatives) is right and if the Fed refuses to change its posture, exposure to any asset which has counterparty risk and/or whose value is a function of faith in central banks, should be effectively wound down.
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While we have no way of knowing how this all plays out, especially if Deutsche is correct, we’ll leave readers with one of our favorite diagrams: Exter’s inverted pyramid.