Hysterianomics! Focusing on M2 Money Growth Is Misguided (Deficits and Debt Are What Is Scary)

I attended an investors presentation last week. Having given presentations to investors in the past, I thought I knew what to expect. I was dead wrong. The presentation was one chart, M2 Money Stock, and why the US economy is doomed because of rampant inflation. The sales pitch was to buy gold and other precious metals because the world is ending!! I just rolled my eyes.

Here is the chart (not their chart, but the same one from the Federal Reserve of St Louis).

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M2 is a measure of the money supply that includes all elements of M1 as well as “near money.” M1 includes cash and checking deposits, while near money refers to savings deposits, money market securities, mutual funds and other time deposits.

To be sure, The Federal Reserve has ramped-up M2 Money Stock, particularly starting with the Clinton Administration and Alan Greenspan’s Fed. I suggested plotting M2 Money growth and population growth on the same chart.

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But if we look at the same chart in Year-over-year (YoY) terms, you will see that US population growth has declined from 1992 to today. Yet starting in 1995, M2 Money Stock growth soared (although it has been declining over the past year).

m2popyoy

But what about M2 Money VELOCITY (M2 Money/GDP)? M2 Money VELOCITY peaked shortly after Greenspan’s Fed started to rapidly expand M2 Money Stock. But M2 Money Velocity has kind of died (lowest in recorded history).

m2gm2v

What about the “runaway inflation”? He made it sound like The Weimar Republic is coming next! I requested that he plot M2 Money growth YoY on the same chart as Core PCE Prices YoY (core inflation). M2 is growing at 4.7% while Core PCE Prices are growing at … 1.5%.

m2gcorepcep

Besides, if one is worried about inflation, you can purchase Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (or TIPS).

And The Dow just broke 26,000 for the first time!

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The real problem is the growing Federal Budget deficits.

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With exploding healthcare costs (as in Medicare), spending is rapidly diverging from tax revenue.

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And with over $20 trillion in public debt, the US is facing hard decisions on spending and taxation.

M2 Money growth is NOT causing Weimar or Venezuela like inflation. But Gold is still a good alternative to Fiat currency.

Children playing with stacks of hyperinflated currency during the Weimar Republic, 1922

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Has The Fed Lost Control? VIX (Stock Vol) Falls Below 10, TYVIX (T-Note Vol) Falls Below 4

Are markets out of control due to The Federal Reserve keeping rates so low for so long?

The VIX just hit an all-time low.

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The VIX (Chicago Board Options Exchange SPX Volatility Index) has fallen below 10 and the S&P500 index has soared with massive Federa Reserve stimulus (aka, the punchbowl).

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The TYVIX (CBOE CBOT 10 year U.S. Treasury Note Volatility Index) has fallen below 4 despite Fed rate increases and their lame unwinding of their prodigious balance sheet.

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This bring up the question: Has The Fed lost control of markets? This is important in that it may lead the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) to raise rates as a faster pace, as indicated by The Fed’s “Dot Plot.”

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Meanwhile, “inflation” remains subdued at 1.5% YoY.

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We will see if The Fed is speeding up their balance sheet unwind after today at 3pm EST.

Will there be a trigger event that will bring markets crashing back to earth?

Janet Yellen better start drinking a few Tequila Sunrises if that happens.

janet-yellen-382

 

Addicted To Gov: VIX and TYVIX Volatility Have Been Suppressed By The Fed (And Aren’t Increasing YET With Rates Increasing And “Unwinding”)

In 2008, The Federal Reserve embarked on their infamous quantitative easing (QE) program, that together with their Zero-interest rate program (ZIRP) has suppressed both stock market volality (VIX) and Treasury note volatility (TYVIX).

(Bloomberg) It’s pretty simple: in three decades since the Cboe Volatility Index was invented, 2017 will go down as the least exciting year for stocks on record. There are three trading days left and the VIX’s average level has been 11.11, about 10 percent lower than the next-closest year.

It’s tempting to say nobody thinks it will last, but that would be to ignore the walls of money that remain stacked up in bets that it will. Going just by the sliver represented by listed securities, about $2.4 billion is in the short volatility trade as of this month, the most on record. Hundreds of billions more are betting against beta in things like volatility futures.

Still, that doesn’t mean investors are ignoring the possibility of a resurgence, or at least a reversion to the mean. Here’s a look at volatility positioning as it stands now.

Surging Cost of Protection Against VIX Upside

Nervousness about next year is visible in the relative cost of betting on an increase in volatility, which has surged to a peak compared with wagers on a decline. (The spread is based on three-month VIX skew in data compiled by Bloomberg.) Someone, somewhere is spending money to capitalize on a rebound in the gauge.

bettingonvol

But it’s the furthest thing from a one-way bet. The global short volatility trade currently has more than $2 trillion in various strategies, according to an October report by Christopher Cole, the founder of Artemis Capital Advisers hedge fund. He compared the strategy of betting that volatility, already near record lows, will fall even further, to a snake “blind to the fact that it is devouring its own body.”

Reptilian autosarcophagy aside, as of December 2017, betting against volatility has been the trade that worked. An analysis on the ETF.com website Tuesday said that seven of the 20 worst-performing exchange-traded securities this year were long VIX and other volatility measures.

Investors see a 74 percent probability that equity price swings will widen next year as the current levels of volatility are “unsustainable,” according to asurvey of 229 investors representing $6 trillion in managed assets conducted by Absolute Strategy Research. The VIX rose for a second day to 10.25 on Tuesday after hanging below 10 for about 20 percent of the time this year.

Record Number of Investors See Stocks as Overvalued
Between rising corporate profits, a pick-up in global growth and laudable message-management by central banks, volatility has had few catalysts. But as the S&P 500 Index has reached 62 all-time highs this year, a record number of investors see stocks as overvalued, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey last month.
Perhaps as a result, smart-beta exchange-traded funds purporting to offer a haven from chaos have taken in more than $3.5 billion in 2017.

bvol

Anyone in a short-volatility position should be aware that when the end comes, it usually comes fast.

“Look at what happened in January 2016, a drop of more than 5 percent in the S&P — and a spike in volatility — came out of the blue,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. “When vol goes up, it moves quickly, making it hard to exit when you’re short volatility in a significant amount.”

Earnings Dispersion and Volatility Pick-Up
For Mike Wilson, Morgan Stanley’s chief U.S. equity strategist, the death knell for dormant volatility next year will come from less benign global macro conditions. A more challenging global growth environment, the Federal Reserve tightening coupled with the tax uncertainty will lead to a wider dispersion in economic data and earnings data, resulting in more volatility.

vol18

Another hint that the low VIX doesn’t bespeak a dumbfounded unanimity is the volatility curve.

In a blog post last month, New York Federal Reserve economists pointed out that investors are paying noticeably more to hedge against price swings a year from now than for shorter-term volatility. Their analysis found that the difference between one-month implied volatility and one-year was about three times as steep as it normally is.

Ah, but what the New York Fed’s blog is not discussing is the impact that The Federal Reserve had on both stock and bond volatility due to their zero-interest rate policies (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) 10-year programs.

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But as The Fed has started raising their target rate (4 times in a little over a year compared to once in 8 years under Obama) and unwinding their T-notes and T-bonds, we have yet to see a rebound (or mean reversion) in stock and bond volatility.

somavix

The lack of mean reversion in volatility is largely because The Fed is SLOWLY raising rates and unwinding their $4.4 trillion balance sheet. What happens when The Fed REALLY starts raising rates to some long-term average (and shrinks their balance sheet to something like only $1 trillion)? By NOT being more “speedy” about withdrawing their tenacles in financial markets, The Fed is actually perpetuating low-zero volatility.

Did zero-interest rate policies get replaced with zero-volatility policies?

You might as well face it, you’re addicted to gov. And risk mispricing.

yellensinging

 

 

 

 

Do The Double-up! As Rents Rise, More Renters Turn to Doubling Up (L.A. The Worst!)

Zillow has a fascinating, yet troubling study.  It says that rent consumes a growing share of household income in many cities, some people must relocate or find ways to offset rising prices. An increasingly popular way to cut costs is by adding a roommate. Nationally, 30 percent of working-age adults—aged 23 to 65—live in doubled-up households, up from a low of 21 percent in 2005 and 23 percent in 1990.

Doubing up is a close relative of young adults continuing to live with their parents. Even though U-6 unemployment is at 8%, wage growth continues to be considerably lower than before the financial crisis. This offers a partial explanation for the doubling-up phenomenon.

Of course, doubling-up is typical is high cost of living areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and Washington DC. Not surprising is the doubling-up trend in Mexican border cities like El Centro California, Tucson and Yuma Arizona and El Paso and Laredo Texas.

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This nice graphic shows the trend over time, with Los Angeles leading the way.

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And yes, The Federal Reserve’s super low rate policies have contributed to rent growth (but not wage growth).

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So, let’s do the double-up with Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston Texas.

Even The Dude (aka, Jeffrey Lebowski) didn’t have to double-up with Donnie or Walter Sobchak in the film The Big Lebowski in 1998. Likely all three would have to live together if filmed in 2017.

-the-big-lebowski-the-room

 

 

2017: A Review Of The Fed, Treasuries, Mortgages and Housing (Volatility and Velocity)

2017 has been an interesting year. Donald Trump was elected President and seated in January 2017. The Federal Reserve kept rates near zero with a massive balance sheet for almost all of Obama’s 8 years as President, then started to raise rates and unwind their massive balance sheet AFTER Trump was elected. Note the decline in M2 Money growth after Trump’s election.

m2fed

Inflation? Both Core PCE Price growth and Core CPI growth have declined in 2017 (yet The Fed has raised their target rate 4 times since Trump’s election but only once during Obama’s term despite declining inflation.

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The M1 Money Multiplier and M2 Money Velocity have finally stabilized.

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Mortgages? Mortgage purchase applications have declined since the financial crisis and have been slowly recovering, hampered by Dodd-Frank and CFPB rules and regulations.

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New and existing home sales? Smokin’!

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Home prices? Their YoY growth rates are continuing to rise, despite being almost 3 times YoY earnings growth for most Americans.

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How about 30 year mortgage rate and the 10 year Treasury yield? While the 10 year Treasury yield has increased over the year, the 30 year mortgage rate has declined. Although both have been increasing since early September.

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Both the 30Y-2Y and 10Y-2Y Treasury curve slopes have been flattening over the year.

yc2017

The 10 year Treasury volatility and term premium have both been declining over the year.

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With 2018 just around the corner, let’s see how many times The Fed raises their target rate and continues to unwind their balance sheet.

somafed

 

S&P 500 Dividend Yield FINALLY Above US Treasury 2Y Yield (10 Years Afer)

The last time that the S&P 500 dividend yield was above the US Treasury 2Y yield was in September 2008, just prior to The Federal Reserve launching their quantitative easing (mass purchases of Treasury Notes/Bonds and Agency MBS).

For the first time since 2008, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 Index and theyield on two-year Treasury notes are essentially the same. For years after the financial crisis, the gap between the income generated from holding equities relative to government securities bolstered the case for U.S. stock markets to climb to record highs. Now, with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, the yield on short-term Treasuries is attracting investors like BlackRock Inc.

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But Ten Years After, massive monetary stimulus is finally going home. By helicopter.

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Is A Recession Looming? Low Unemployment And Declining Treasury Curve Occur Just Before Recessions (And Lousy Wage Growth)

US Real GDP is growing at 2.3% YoY.  What’s not to like?

How about the lowest unemployment rate since 2000 and the worst wage “recovery” in modern times? AND a flattening Treasury yield curve?

Yes, we are once more staring into the abyss of a recession where unemployment rates are low (as they seemingly always are just prior to the end of a business cycle). Throw in a skidding Treasury curve and … this is it?

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As we are painfully aware,  wage growth is the worst it has been in modern times after The Great Recession. Despite the staggering printing of money by The Fed (and ultra-low interest rates).

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Of course, The Fed is raising rates cautiously and unwinding their balance sheet very slowly in order not to disrupt markets (and pop the numerous asset bubbles).