Most people associate ‘inflation’ with rising prices, but the disease goes much deeper than that. Inflation is a phenomenon wherein money becomes so abundant it disrupts relative price formation and hence interferes with the vital transmission of information about the state of the countless interactions of supply and demand, plenty and scarcity, which take place on the market. As the fever rises, mistakes accumulate, conflicts intensify, timings clash, finances become stretched, and coherence is lost. A rising price is one thing. Prices -plural- rising at varying speeds and in an ever less predictable manner is a much more dangerous pathology.
This essay attempts a review of the economics – and the prevailing economic thinking – which have brought us to our present pass of high-leverage and heavy debt-dependence. It helps set the backdrop for an in-depth look at markets which will follow shortly…
With the latest CBO estimates for the US Federal budget for August just in, we are again in a position to take stock of the scale of the burden which the COVID-19 lockdowns and more general restrictions have imposed upon the nation’s finances. It does not make for happy reading.
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It’s not just the leaves that often turn when the year begins, with gathering pace, to slip towards its chilly end. Markets often do, too.
Given this backdrop, the sell-off in the Nasdaq – in the marvelled-at ‘Growth’ stocks, in the FAANGs, and in Tesla – comes at a moment which is particularly intriguing for reasons which go far beyond whatever coup SoftBank may or may not have attempted and whether those irritating Lockdown Livermores have finally gotten their comeuppance.
On April 13th, a financial pundit with a wide media following made the following (loosely transcribed) proposition about US banking stocks: Banks won’t rally because rates -long and short- are too low; Japan is our marker – banks there falling while their US/EZ peers rose pre-GFC and have not made any ground since; vis-à-vis their EZ peers, US bank returns have long been anomalous, ergo their out-performance won’t be repeated. We demur in the main.
With many commodity prices touching multi-year lows and with mounting fears for real estate valuations and car-lease residuals, numerous commentators seem convinced that ours is now a deflationary future. QE failed to raise CPI by anywhere near what the spin promised, they say, partly because it was ‘unsupported’ by fiscal policy. Therefore, if we don’t get Roosevelt, we’ll get Brüning, they conclude, and, meanwhile, we need the Fed to cut rates below zero, said one prominent pundit on April 5th. We replied:-