Tag Archives: balance sheet growth

The Real Stock Market Is Declining

The major stock indices – the Dow, SPX and Nasdaq –  have wafted up to all-time highs on a cloud of Central Bank printed money.  Interestingly, most of the stocks in all three indices are below to well below their all-time highs.  Breadth of the move is shockingly thin.  Very few stocks are responsible for pushing the indices higher. The Dow’s move last Friday, for instance, was primarily attributable to AAPL (by far the biggest contributor), MSFT, HD, UTX and JPM. Of those, only AAPL, UTX and JPM hit their all-time high on Friday.  MSFT and HD were close.

Many of the Dow stocks are down significantly this year. If you find this hard to believe, run the 1yr charts of the 30 Dow stocks. I’m certain the same is true for the SPX and Naz.

Despite the appearance of the stock market moving higher, most of the stocks that make up the 2800 stocks on the NYSE are well below their all-time and/or YTD highs. There’s plenty of money to be made shorting stocks despite the headline, mainstream media and White House’s euphoria over the stock market’s performance. Moreover, short interest in the SPY ETF has plunged to a level that has, in the past, led to sharp sell-offs in the stock market.

And then there’s this, which is the best measure of the real rate of return stocks:

Over the past 52 weeks through November 6th, the S&P 500 has declined 10.5% when measured in terms of gold – i.e. real money.  Money printing at a rate in excess of real wealth output diminishes the marginal value of the currency.  Because the price of gold moves inversely with the inherent value of the dollar, the chart above reflects the effect of dollar devaluation on financial assets.

Thus,  the real upward movement of the stock market highly deceptive in terms of both the number of stocks in the NYSE participating in move higher and in terms of using real money to measure the price of stocks.

The Fed Cranks Up Its Printing Press

“Like gold, U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.” Helicopter Ben Bernanke’s address to the National Economic Club, 2002

It took the Fed more than 4 1/2 years to remove from the banking system just $750 billion of the $4.5 trillion in money it printed. The Fed stopped the removal process (“Quantitative Tightening”) at the beginning of September. But just 13 days later the Fed began adding liquidity back into the banking system via its repo operations. 42 days later, the Fed’s balance sheet has spiked up by $253 billion and is back over $4 trillion:

41% of that $253 billion ($104 billion) was put into the banking system in the last three days of this past week.

Apparently the repo/term repo operations were not enough.  On October 11th, the Fed announced that it was going to purchase at least $60 billion T-bills per month through at least the 2nd quarter of 2020.  The rationale was “in light of recent and expected increases in the Federal Reserves non-reserve liabilities” (link).  “Non-reserve liabilities” refers specifically to “currency in circulation.” The only way to increase currency in circulation is to create it. Thus, the above rationale is a decorative phrase for “money printing.”

The problems in the banking system targeted by the Fed’s money printing are likely getting worse by the day.  The Fed has now conducted three outright money printing operations since October 11th. Each operations has been progressively more over-subscribed. Today’s operation of $7.5 billion had nearly $6 of demand for every $1 printed and offered.

As I have asserted since the Fed’s repo operations commenced, the problem is significantly more profound than the “quarter-end liquidity” needs of corporations and banks. I suggested that the liquidity injection program would quickly increase in size and duration, ultimately morphing into permanent QE/balance sheet growth/money printing.

While some of the money being printed will be used absorb the massive amount of new Treasury issuance, the nexus of the problem is seeded in the big bank balance sheets and business operations. The problems leading up to the 2008 crisis were never fixed – just papered over. Furthermore, the legislation that was promoted to prevent a repeat of 2008 and protect the taxpayers was nothing more than window dressing which enabled the banks to hide their massive fee-generating recklessness (Dodd-Frank, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

The “Too Big To Fail” bank balance sheets collectively are close to double their size in 2008. A frighteningly large portion of these assets are sub-prime or near-sub-prime loans plus OTC derivatives that have been well-hidden off-balance-sheet. One of the regulatory initiatives put into effect in 2010 enabled banks to hide their total derivatives holdings behind a nebulous concept called “net derivatives exposure.” The “net” metric supposedly measures a bank’s unhedged net economic risk exposure, netting out off-setting hedges with counterparties.

But counterparty defaults were one of the key detonators of the 2008 financial melt-down. Unfortunately, Congress and the Fed have enabled the banks, after monetizing their catastrophic business decisions in 2008, to create a financial Frankenstein that is now financially apocalyptic in scale. The rapid escalation of the repo operations is evidence that the fuses on the various financial bombs have been lit.

The Fed’s Money Printing Escalates

Last week the Fed announced that it was going to start buying $60 billion in T-Bills per month at least into Q2 2020.  The Fed will also rollover the proceeds as the T-Bill’s mature. The rationale was to address the decline in the “non-reserve” liabilities of the Fed.  So what are “non-reserve” liabilities?  Federal Reserve Notes.

The directive as written was “Fed Speak” which means that the Fed would print $60 billion per month for the next 4-6 to months cumulatively.  If it’s only 4 months, it means that the Fed will be printing at least a quarter trillion dollars which apparently will be become permanently part of the Fed’s balance sheet.

Chris Marcus invited me onto this Arcadia Economics podcast to discuss probably reasons why the Fed has ramped up its money printing operations despite explaining a month ago that it was only temporary to address quarter-end issues:

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Fed Delivers More QE “Light” And Gold Responds

On October 4th, as I expected would happen, the Fed announced that it was extending its overnight and term repo operations out to November 26th (the November 12th two-week term repo matures on the 26th).

The Fed added 7 more 2-week  “term repos, ” plus a 6-day “term repo,” with the next three operations upped to $45 billion. It extended the overnight repos until at least November 4th.  Well then, I guess the “end of quarter” temporary liquidity issue with corporate tax payments was not the problem.

Follow the money -The Fed’s repo operation extension further validates the analysis in my last post in which I made the case that an escalation in the non-performance of bank assets (loan delinquencies and defaults and derivatives), caused by contracting economic activity, has created a liquidity void in the banking system that is being “plugged” by the Fed. The Fed’s balance sheet has increased $186 billion since August 28th.

Not only did the Fed end “QT” (balance sheet reduction) two months earlier than originally planned in January, the Fed has effectively reversed in the last 5 weeks all of the QT that occurred since March 28th.

The evolution of Orwellian propaganda terminology for “money printing” has been quite amusing. It seems that the Fed has subtly inserted the phrase “balance sheet growth” into its lexicon. While Jerome Powell referenced “organic balance sheet growth” in his press circus after the last FOMC meeting,  expect that it will be considered politically/socially incorrect to use “QE” or “money printing” instead of “balance sheet growth” in reference to this de facto banking system bailout.

Meanwhile,  thank the Fed for providing the amount of money printing/currency devaluation needed to offset China’s absence from the physical gold market for the last week:

Given the technical set-up in gold plus the enormity of the Comex bank/commercial short position in paper gold, many gold market participants, including me, expected a much bigger price-attack on gold during Golden Week than has occurred. In fact, gold has held up well, with the December future testing and holding $1500 three times in the last week. Business activity in China, including gold and silver trading, resumes tonight.

The Fed’s QE Light program will likely transition into outright permanent money printing before the end of 2019. The November meeting is scheduled for the end of this month (Oct 29-30). But I doubt the Fed will turn its repo money printing into permanent money printing – aka “POMO” or “balance sheet growth” – until the December FOMC meeting (Dec 10-11).