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Financial Skeptic Bulletin, 2013

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In top top news we present selected items which demonstrated superior level of their insight (and, unfortunately, to judge that is possible only in retrospect). In 2013 for Jan-May those would be people who understood that bond bubble is about to unwind. One can be counted them on one hand :-( ).

For full monthly selections see:

  1. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, January 2013
  2. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, February 2013
  3. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, March 2013
  4. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, April 2013
  5. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, May 2013
  6. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, June 2013
  7. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, July 2013
  8. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, August 2013
  9. Financial Skeptic Bulletin, September 2013

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[Aug 10, 2013] Fed Watch Is Inflation a Consideration

Looks like FED is bend on ending tapering. Using Bill Gross model, we probably entered the right part of smiley face, at least for bonds. A huge bond selloff on the first trigger event is now baked into a cake.
August 9, 2013 | Economist's View

Thus, according to Pianalto, QE3 was never about inflation, but instead was always about the labor market. And, by her assessment, they can roll out the "Mission Accomplished" banner. In short, the improvement in the labor market - or, more specifically, the stability of the labor market in light of fiscal contraction - is a driving force in the tapering decision. Hence why officials are not willing to end speculation on a September taper despite no evidence that inflation is trending back toward the Fed's target in a timely fashion. Inflation management, it would seem, is a problem that many policymakers simply think is a task best left for interest rate policy.

Christiaan Hofman:

Doesn't Pianalto know *why* unemployment is going down? Doesn't she know it's *not* because there is more employment, but because there's more people dropping out of the work force? She is again showing why using unemployment rather than employment numbers is wrong in the current situation.

Matt Young:

No, she implied that using employment numbers does not help the fed. Fiscal policy is needed to increase employment. The fed mainly wants traction in the labor market, whether it is done by attrition or fiscal action, the fed cannot determine.

cawley:

"No, she implied that using employment numbers does not help the fed."

Not sure where this interpretation came from unless you're putting a hugely disproportionate weight on a questionable reading of one line: "Labor market data comes in every month and is subject to different interpretations."

She doesn't even single out the UE rate in that sentence. Nor does it seem to deter her from confidently asserting throughout this portion of her speech that the labor market has improved.

She does cite employment growth but seems totally oblivious to context. Sure, if we were close to full employment, 187,000 jobs a month would be good - maybe even worrisome if labor markets were really tight. But that isn't anywhere near the situation we're in.

Cynthia:

The economic trajectory is still debt deflation. QE is barely keeping the drowning patient's head above water. The debts of the post-industrial western world cannot be fully repaid. There must be some defaults along with the correlating decrease in asset values. The question is who is going to get stiffed and who is going to be able to monetize their paper assets at full value?

Doug of North Texas:

President Pianalto unfortunately makes no reference to fiscal contraction that you reference in your assessment. It is reasonable to presume that the last 3 quarters of GDP show its impact.

The problem is that fiscal contraction is ongoing with more coming under current law that mandates continuous cuts for almost a decade.

How the Fed generally and President Pianalto specifically can base their beliefs on a game (austerity) that is only in the first inning, ignoring the obvious impasse that it has created for the foreseeable future, up to nine more years?

They would have to base their favorable outlook on the changing of the fiscal austerity legislation, in other words, on something of a far less than certain outcome. Chairman Bernanke and some Fed Governors have appealed for Congress (and the Administration) to play their part in relieving monetary policy of the full burden of full employment - without success.

So how can sudden success be both presumed and the basis for action this year or next by the Fed? This seems outright irresponsible. They should address the situation based on the legislation in place, not wishful thinking or the "green shoots" of getting through only the initial setback that this year's austerity has provided.

Reading the speech, Gov. Pianalto states that 6% is the max low unemployment for the district (low bar to end QE) AND, more important, she has a structural view of unemployment (extended comments on knowledge areas versus traditional manufacturing areas) - is it a signal that the FOMC central opinion believes too highly in the structural causation of unemployment despite some Fed Governors citing a cyclical causation as primary?

carlyle:

"In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed lady is king" The problem is that none of these high powered bankers have any idea of what the life of under employed Americans is like. They have never met one of the forty seven million Americans on food stamps, many of whom are working. They ignore the fact that many of the jobs added and included in the total labor force are part time. You must add eight million workers on part time that want real jobs to our twenty two million unemployed. These bankers have never met any of the thirty five percent of Americans earning less than twenty five thousand dollars a year. The working American is participating in a disaster that will not end well and the banker ninnies have no idea.

[Jul 18, 2013] Research Labor force participation rate expected to stay flat through 2015

Jul 18, 2013 | Calculated Risk

I've written frequently about the participation rate (the percent of the civilian noninstitutional population in the labor force). A few posts: Understanding the Decline in the Participation Rate, Update: Further Discussion on Labor Force Participation Rate, Merrill Lynch on Labor Force Participation Rate, Labor Force Participation Rate Research

The participation rate was expected to decline for structural reasons even before the great recession started (baby boomers retiring, younger Americans staying in school longer, etc.). A key question is how much of the recent decline in the participation rate was due to long term trends, and how much was cyclical (economic weakness)?

Here is some research from Macroeconomic Advisers: Where's Labor Force Participation Heading?

Comrade Troyski wrote on Thu, 7/18/2013 - 5:00 pm

Graph: Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Credit Market Instruments; Liability (CMDEBT)/Compensation of Employees: Wages & Salary Accruals (WASCUR) - FRED - St. Louis Fed

I've got your cycle right here

Comrade Troyski
Civilian Noninstitutional Population - 55 years and over (LNU00024230) - FRED - St. Louis Fed

"catch the wave"

1 currency now -yogi

Aggregate, circular macroeconomic garbage is still garbage.

sum luk

from: Labor Force Participation Is Not Coming Back - NYTimes.com

... the model suggests that the Fed is right to focus on the unemployment rate as it decides how long to pursue its various stimulus campaigns.

If the model is right, further declines in unemployment will reflect job growth, not declines in participation. It will mean that things are actually getting better.

merchants of fear
Elmo! labor force participation... participating in labor... interesting conceptual description

[Jun 28, 2013] Blogs review: Profits without investment in the recovery By Jérémie Cohen-Setton

June 28, 2013 | Bruegel

What's at stake: Paul Krugman has kicked off an interesting debate in the blogosphere about a new disconnect between profits and production, which may have slowed the recovery. In contrast to previous downturns, investment has been especially slow to recover. This seems paradoxical given that profits have recovered from the slump. Krugman provides an explanation for this puzzle based on the growing importance of monopoly rents in the 21st century economy.

Paul Krugman writes that the growing importance of monopoly rents is producing a new disconnect between profits and production. Since around 2000, the big story has been one of a sharp shift in the distribution of income away from wages in general, and toward profits. But here's the puzzle: Since profits are high while borrowing costs are low, why aren't we seeing a boom in business investment?

Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment (PFNI, red) and Corporate Profits After Tax (CP, blue)

Note to Brad DeLong: you're getting that PNFI is back to its pre-crisis level because you express it in terms of potential GDP.

Buttonwood writes that US business investment has not recovered from the slump even though profits have. The Cleveland Fed notes that in the United States, private fixed investment has averaged about 15.3 percent of GDP over the postwar period; however, more recently it has run below this ratio. It crashed down to 10.5 percent in 2009 and has since hovered around 13 percent. This is unusual since investment is more volatile than income. Typically, investment will fall more than GDP during recessions, and it did in the last recession; but historically it then rebounds just as sharply. This gives the ratio of investment-to-GDP a "V-shape" over recessions. So far the most recent case has not displayed this same pattern. In contrast to previous downturns, investment has been especially slow to recover after this most recent recession.

Paul Krugman writes that you might suspect that this can't be good for the broader economy, and you'd be right. If household income and hence household spending is held down because labor gets an ever-smaller share of national income, while corporations, despite soaring profits, have little incentive to invest, you have a recipe for persistently depressed demand. I don't think this is the only reason our recovery has been so weak — weak recoveries are normal after financial crises — but it's probably a contributory factor.

Explaining the gap between profits and investment

Paul Krugman writes that there's no puzzle here if rising profits reflect rents, not returns on investment. A monopolist can, after all, be highly profitable yet see no good reason to expand its productive capacity. And Apple provides a case in point: It is hugely profitable, yet it's sitting on a giant pile of cash, which it evidently sees no need to reinvest in its business.

Owen Zidar sends us to a paper by Loukas Karabarbounis and Brent Neiman that provides evidence consistent with the idea that markups may have increased in a non-trivial way. It's a bit hard to see but many large countries, including the US, appear to be fairly close to the 45 degree line with both lower labor and capital shares, which is roughly consistent with the growing importance of markups. However, as shown by the best-fit line, labor has lost more than capital on average.

Buttonwood writes that there are alternative explanations than that of increasing rents: one might be that US companies are investing abroad, not at home; another might be that business are worried about the growth or regulatory outlook; a third might be that there not many capital-intensive projects that look attractive.

Sketching a model for explaining the decrease in both capital and labor shares

Paul Krugman considers an economy in which two factors of production, labor and capital, are combined via a Cobb-Douglas production function to produce a general input that, in turn, can be used to produce a large variety of differentiated products. Now consider two possible market structures. In one, there is perfect competition. In the other, each differentiated product is produced by a single monopolist. So, with perfect competition, labor receives a share a of income, capital a share 1-a, end of story. If products are monopolized, however, each monopolist will charge a price that is a markup on marginal cost that depends on the elasticity of demand. A bit of crunching, and you'll find that the labor share falls to a(1-1/e). But who gains the income diverted from labor? Not capital — not really. Instead, it's monopoly rents. In fact, the rental rate on capital — the amount someone who is trying to lease the use of capital to one of those monopolists receives — actually falls, by the same proportion as the real wage rate.

Paul Krugman explains that in national income accounts, of course, we don't get to see pure capital rentals; we see profits, which combine capital rents and monopoly rents. So what we would see is rising profits and falling wages. However, the rental rate on capital, and presumably the rate of return on investment, would actually fall. What you have to imagine, then, is that some factor or combination of factors has moved us from something like version I to version II, raising the profit share while actually reducing returns to both capital and labor.

Brad DeLong writes that such a setup holds the possibility of explaining not just a rise in inequality, an extraordinary growth in the share of firms that have no visible support in production, falling unionization, and falling median wages, but also high average Q with low marginal Q, and hence depressed investment.

Nick Rowe tweaks Paul Krugman's model. In the Krugman's model, consumption and investment goods are perfect substitutes in production, with a marginal rate of transformation always equal to one, so that (under competition) the price of the capital good will always equal one (taking the consumption good as numeraire). This means that the rate of interest will always be equal to MPK. A decrease in 'a' will reduce labor's share, MPL and wages for labor, increase capital's share, MPK and rentals on capital, and raise the rate of interest. An increase in 'A' will raise both wages and capital rentals, and raise the rate of interest. In the second model, consumption and investment goods are still perfect substitutes in production, but the marginal rate of transformation now equals 1/A, so that (under competition) the price of the capital good will always equal 1/A. As A increases over time, capital goods become cheaper in terms of consumption goods. The rate of interest must equal the rate of return on owning capital goods, but that rate of return is lowered by the fact that the price of those capital goods is falling over time. Here is an explanation of a higher capital share but lower real rate of interest: (1-a) has increased; but Adot/A has increased too.

[Feb 26, 2013] There is No 'Great Rotation' By Chad Karnes

Feb 26, 2013 | Yahoo! Finance

The "Great Rotation" from bonds to stocks is underway, or is it?

There is no doubt the investment world is confident we are still in a bond "bubble" that is sure to pop, but that opinion is now a few years old and has largely been incorrect.

Regardless of what the mainstream thinks, we remain skeptical of any bond bubble and are actually looking at a bond buying opportunity. Let's analyze some of the reasons.

A Phony Rotation

Once the money flow data was released for January showing decade high Mutual Fund (VFINX - News) and ETF (VTI - News) inflows, Wall Street went crazy with reports that the "great rotation" was in full swing as it justified buying equities (VT - News) at the expense of selling bonds (BOND - News).

The great rotation argument implies a zero sum game where money is either in stocks (SPY - News) or it is in bonds (TIP - News) and the two asset classes jockey for investors' dollars. When investors put money into stocks, it must come from bonds. When money is put into bonds, it is at the expense of stocks.

But, the facts simply don't support such a scenario of recent rotation.

In order to justify January's equity fund inflows as part of the great rotation, the money that flowed into equity funds should have come out of bonds. But, bonds also had inflows of $30B. Not exactly a rotation out of bonds.

In reality the Great Rotation, was a "fake" as most of the money flowing into equities (EEM - News) came from savings and money market accounts that were ballooned by the accelerated pay that occurred in December as a result of the non-recurring "fiscal cliff" episode.

Times like these it often helps to step back from the day to day headlines and see what is really going on in the bigger picture. One of the best ways to do this is by examining the charts.

Seeing the Big Picture

One simple question: Does this chart of the iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury (TLT - News) look bullish or bearish?

The long term trend in bonds has been up in price and down in yield. Although long term Treasury prices have recently pulled back from their highs (what all the fuss is about), it barely even shows up in the chart above. Bonds are firmly in a bullish uptrend.

When Sentiment Gets Out of Whack

On 7/1/12 bonds also were experiencing a plethora of bearish sentiment as prices dipped to $125 on the TLT. Along with the shorter-term technical picture, the sentiment background helped us stay long treasuries.

In a post to our readers we wrote:

"Continue to disregard the media and talking heads that say bonds are overvalued and inflation is around the corner. Until we see it in price, it is not happening. Price is the only true leading indicator, and we will rely on it to tell us when inflation is here. Until then, we continue to stay long the longer duration treasury bonds. We are set up for all three time frames pointing in the same direction (up)".

As we alerted, U.S. Treasuries continued to rally and we swiftly exited on 7/20/12 when TLT was $130 and sentiment flipped to extremely bullish levels.

Are Treasuries a Buy?

The technical setup for TLT is intriguing right now for a few reasons. With price around $116, the recent pullback is now at a level near numerous support zones, which should keep the downside risk minimal.

Some of these support levels surround Fibonacci retracement levels, last year's $107-$113 support zone, as well as a long term uptrend support line.

A sizable decline in the equities (IWM - News) market also would only help increase bond prices as investors flee to bond safety. Couple this with the pessimistic sentiment surrounding bonds and the recipe is in place for another Treasury bond rally.

The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter and Technical Forecast provide comprehensive analysis and formulate profit strategies based on fundamental, technical, and sentiment research including locations for stop losses and targets for profit taking.

January

[Jan 30, 2013] Eric Sprott On Ignoring The Obvious by Tyler Durden

The purpose of asset purchases by the Fed might no longer be improvements in the real economy, but rather a more subtle financing of U.S. government deficits.
01/26/2013

The purpose of asset purchases by the Fed might no longer be improvements in the real economy, but rather a more subtle financing of U.S. government deficits.

However, in the long run, expanding the money supply inevitably leads to inflationary pressures. Luckily for the Fed and the U.S. government, there is so much slack in the labor market that inflation might be years away.

And, if we are right about the long run unemployment rate being structurally higher, then the Fed has all the room it needs to continue Quantitative Easing (QE) to infinity. This might allow them to continue to hide the true financial position of the government for many years to come.

Nonetheless, the rising GAAP deficit and the sheer size of the U.S. Federal Government's liabilities to its citizens makes it clear that one day or another, services (health care, social security) will have to be cut. Financial alchemy can hide reality, but it does not provide any tangible services. Europe's (unresolved) experience with its debt crisis provides an insightful window into the future.

Austerity measures in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece have caused tremendous pain to their citizens (25% unemployment rates) and wreaked havoc in their economies (double digit retail sales declines). Are we going to ignore the obvious?

[Jan 25, 2013] Marc Faber Fears 1987 Redux As "Markets Will Punish Interventionists"

01/25/2013 | Tyler Durden

"Regardless of what the markets do near-term, a correction is overdue," Marc Faber tells Bloomberg TV's Betty Liu. From discussing Europe's 'apparent' stabilization - "anything can go up when you print money"; to US equity exuberance - "a correction is overdue and February is a seasonally weak month"; Faber sees no change from Geithner's handover to Lew as he opines: "The only thing I know is one day the markets will punish the interventionists, the Keynesians and the monetary policy that the Federal Reserve and ECB has enforced because the markets will be more powerful one day. How will this look like? Will the bond market collapse or equity markets become a bubble, which would be embarrassing for the Fed's sake if the U.S. market became a gigantic bubble and at the same time the economy does not recover."

[Jan 24, 2013] Shiller Says U.S. Housing Market May Drop Further: Tom Keene by Scott Hamilton

Jan 24, 2013 | Bloomberg

A U.S. housing-market revival may prove illusory and the threat of further weakness remains, said Robert Shiller, a professor at Yale University and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values.

"The housing market has been declining for something like six years now, it could go on, that's my worry," Shiller told Tom Keene in a Bloomberg Television interview today in Davos, Switzerland. "The short-term indicators are up now, it definitely looks better, but we saw that in 2009."

The property market has shown signs of recovery and homebuilding has rebounded as low borrowing costs spur buyer demand, bolster prices. Values rose 7.4 percent in November from a year earlier, the ninth straight increase and the biggest gain since May 2006, Irvine, California-based data provider CoreLogic said last week.

"It's a good housing market in the sense that mortgage rates are very low and prices have come down to normal levels, so yes, it's a good time to buy if nothing bad happens," Shiller said. "But it's also a very bad housing market in that most of the mortgages are being supported by the government, and we have the Fed and this buying program. It's a very abnormal market. There's a lot of uncertainty going forward."

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.38 percent in the week ended Jan. 17 from 3.4 percent, McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac (FMCC) said that day. The average rate dropped to a record 3.31 percent in November. New-home sales in December picked up to a 385,000 annual rate, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg ahead of a Commerce Department report tomorrow.

Attending Davos

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities increased an annual 4.3 percent in October, the biggest 12-month advance since May 2010, the group said on Dec. 26. The next report is due on Jan. 29.

Data on Jan. 22 showed sales of U.S. existing homes unexpectedly fell in December. Purchases fell 1 percent to a 4.94 million annual rate last month, the National Association of Realtors said. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey was for a gain to a 5.1 million rate.

Shiller, who spoke while attending the World Economic Forum's 2013 annual meeting, also said that while global economic conditions are "a little better," there are still risks to the recovery.

"We've been five years in a slow economy, and it could go quite a bit longer," he said. "We've seen gross domestic product growth at sub-normal levels."

He added, "I think we're pretty far from irrational exuberance, maybe 50 years away."



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