Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What a mess?

Alan Greenspan, very famously told this about quantitative easing and zero percentage interest rate that - It was like urinating in the bed in the night. Until you wake up in the morning you don't realize what a mess you have created.

After the 2008 financial crisis - the US Fed announced to the world of the extra-ordinary measures needed to save the global economy from a 1930s style great depression by bringing down the federal funds rate to zero and buying back trillions in treasuries and mortgage bonds to support an ailing economy. We are almost nine years since and have not reached the 1% mark yet. The other Central banks of the world were no different and followed the US Fed with its quantitative easing programs.

If you can recollect what happened in 2007 - this is just before the bursting of the  US housing bubble - everything seems to be going great until one thing happened. The Fed started rising the funds rate aggressively.

It is no different now.

Its like an ailing patient on a ventilator. The patient is just fine until he is on the ventilator. The moment it is taken away - the patient is going to have complications. In medical terms - its called weaning. The patient is taken off the ventilator and the hope is he can live without it. But as soon as there is a complication - which includes unable to breathe and possibility of instant death, the patient is hooked back to the ventilator. That would be a apt description of how the US economic state is now. The 0.25% federal funds rate increase in December of 2015 and then again in December of 2016 were just token increases for the Fed to save its faces rather than for economic tightening. The patient being on ventilator for too long had become the biggest ailment than the initial disease.

With the employment numbers well under the Fed's target and inflation now creeping well above the 2% mark - also with the Dow Jones index hitting 21K - with historic consecutive winning sessions - an act not seen in last 30 years, it can be agreed that the economy is heating enough and warrants a rate hike.

If the Fed reacts, it will burst the monster bubble it created.

If the Fed doesn't react - the bubble would only get bigger and bigger, to cause a 1930 style great depression - which exactly the Fed is taking credit for saving the world from.

The bubble in the silicon valley is very obvious. If the Nasdaq 5k was a bubble in year 2000 - it is a bubble now too with Nasdaq lingering around the 6k mark. The fundamentals have not changed. The start-up environment in the silicon valley is so much heated up - it just doesn't make monetary sense. Recently Snapchat published what it thinks was its valuation of 24 billion dollars - and admitted that it may never be profitable. Any investor that is in sound mental health knows - not to throw a penny to it. If this is not a bubble what else is? Why would you want to invest money on a company which themselves say - it will only take in more money than giving it back. Who would take the loses from those transactions?

Company valuations, particularly start-up companies are simply ridiculous. There is no way - they are worth what they say they are. Investors are going to rush out of the silicon valley and no one will be spared. The party might just be over.

It is very striking that the Snapchat IPO and Dow hitting 21K on the same day - would be recollected in history as the peak moment for the whole big bubble.

For anyone who has lived through the 2003-2008, can easily re-collect the pain from the crash in the US housing prices. Proxy-government entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had loaded toxic mortgage backed securities with AAA ratings on unsure investors. It was the biggest piece of odourless crap ever assembled as investment material. When everything started collapsing the US government and treasury had to step in to save the market by buying these mortgage bonds - that no one would buy. In the process - the government only managed to increase its own debt. What wasn't good for the investor - was not good for the government. Except that it was left out in the open as the only buyer in the market. The house prices have retraced their path to the top now, thanks to the low lending rates. Now there are lot of hedge funds that have bought in to the real-estate hype and the result would be no different than what happened in 2007/2008. The mere scale of it might be much larger than 2008.

With the government and global Central banks stepping in to the bond market - the whole market is artificially priced. With all the risks mitigated by the policy makers, there isn't a free market for bonds. Why do you want to hold bonds when you could make a lot of money on a stock market running on steroids? In that case - the yields on the bonds fall dramatically and as is the case - the price of bond increases. Sovereign debt funds are squashed with bonds. What is really not priced in is the serious consequence of inflation that could have a lasting effect on bonds sold already. Just imagine the inflation reaches a 4% mark - why would you want to hold to a 10-year US treasury bond that yields 2.5 % or less.  Already the spread between the CPI and yield on the 10-year is bad. So whatever bursts the bubble - one market that is sure to get ruined is the bond market. With the patient in a ventilator for a decade- the bond market was never in fair play.

For the US Fed - It is damn if you and damned if you don't moment finally.

If the recessions in 2000 and again in 2008 were painful - the one that is getting formed in the horizon is bigger than both combined. The bigger the bubble, the bigger the consequences.

This cannot end well. Buckle up folks, it just may be dawn!

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