by David Stockman, David Stockman’s Contra Corner:
During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different—-it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance.
It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion—-a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered.
Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse. During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry—-rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X.
And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy—-meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices.
During the 20 months from the July 2007 peak to the March 2009 bottom, the RUT gave it all back. And we mean every bit of it—-as the index bottomed 60% lower at 340. This time the value of household equities plunged by $6 trillion, and still millions more baby-boomers were carried out of the casino on their shields never to return.
Now has come the greatest central bank fueled bubble ever. During nine years of radical monetary experimentation under ZIRP and QE, the value of equities owned by US households exploded still higher—-this time by $12.5 trillion. Yet this eruption, like the prior two, was not a reflection of main street growth and prosperity, but Wall Street speculation fostered by massive central bank liquidity and price-keeping operations.
Nevertheless, this time is, actually, very different. This time the central banks are out of dry powder and belatedly recognize that they have stranded themselves on or near the zero bound where they are saddled with massively bloated balance sheets.
So an epochal pivot has begun—-led by the Fed’s committement to shrink its balance sheet at a $600 billion annual rate beginning next October. This pivot to QT (quantitative tightening) is something new under the sun and was necessitated by the radical money printing spree of the past three decades.
What this momentous pivot really means, of course, is ill understood in the day-trading and robo-machine driven casinos at today’s nosebleed valuations. Yet what is coming down the pike is nothing less than a drastic, permanent downward reset of financial asset prices that will rattle the rafters in the casino.
This time is also very different because there will be no instant financial market reflation by the central banks. And that means, in turn, that there will be no fourth great bubble, either. Here’s why.
As we explained in Part 1, the most dangerous place on the planet financially is now the Wall Street casino. In the months ahead, it will become ground zero of the greatest monetary/fiscal collision in recorded history.
For the first time ever both the Fed and the US treasury will be dumping massive amounts of public debt on the bond market—upwards of $1.8 trillion between them in FY 2019 alone—and at a time which is exceedingly late in the business cycle. That double whammy of government debt supply will generate a thundering “yield shock” which, in turn, will pull the props out from under equity and other risk asset markets—-all of which have “priced-in” ultra low debt costs as far as the eye can see.
The anomalous and implicitly lethal character of this prospective clash can not be stressed enough. Ordinarily, soaring fiscal deficits occur early in the cycle. That is, during the plunge unto recession, when revenue collections drop and outlays for unemployment benefits and other welfare benefits spike; and also during the first 15-30 months of recovery, when Keynesian economists and spendthrift politicians join hands to goose the recovery—-not understanding that capitalist markets have their own regenerative powers once the excesses of bad credit, malinvestment and over-investment in inventory and labor which triggered the recession have been purged.
By contrast, the Federal deficit is now soaring at the tail end (month #102) of an aging business expansion. And the cause is not the exogenous effects of so-called automatic fiscal stabilizers associated with a macroeconomic downturn, but deliberate Washington policy decisions made by the Trumpian GOP.
During FY 2019, for example, these discretionary plunges into deficit finance include slashing revenue by $280 billion, while pumping up an already bloated baseline spending level of $4.375 trillion by another $200 billion for defense, disasters, border control, ObamaCare bailouts and domestic pork barrel of every shape and form.
These 11th hour fiscal maneuvers, in fact, are so asinine that the numbers have to be literally seen to be believed. To wit, an already weak-growth crippled revenue baseline will be cut to just $3.4 trillion, while the GOP spenders goose outlays toward the $4.6 trillion mark.
That’s right. Nine years into a business cycle expansion, the King of Debt and his unhinged GOP majority on Capitol Hill have already decided upon (an nearly implemented) the fiscal measures that will result in borrowing 26 cents on every dollar of FY 2019 spending. JM Keynes himself would be grinning with self-satisfaction.
Moreover, this foolhardy attempt to re-prime-the-pump nearly a decade after the Great Recession officially ended means that monetary policy is on its back foot like never before.
What we mean is that both Bernanke and Yellen were scared to death of the tidal waves of speculation that their money printing policies of QE and ZIRP had fostered in the financial markets. So once the heat of crisis had clearly passed and the market had recovered its pre-crisis highs in early 2013, they nevertheless deferred, dithered and procrastinated endlessly on normalization of interest rates and the Fed’s elephantine balance sheet.
So what we have now is a central bank desperately trying to recapture lost time via its “automatic pilot” commitment to systematic and sustained balance sheet shrinkage at fixed monthly dollar amounts. This unprecedented “quantitative tightening” or QT campaign has already commenced at $1o billion of bond sales per month (euphemistically described as “portfolio run-off” by the Eccles Building) during the current quarter and will escalate automatically until it reaches $50 billion per month ($600 billion annualized) next October .
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