Inflation, Milton Friedman famously said, is a monetary phenomenon. But it is also one given the readiest of outlets through recourse to what we call ‘fiscal’ policy – i.e., by spendthrift governments borrowing money created at their call and forced into the system by means of warfare, welfare, contracting, cronyism, bureaucratic expansion and plain old boondogglery. Arguably, this is where we find ourselves today, in a world where supply is no longer likely to meet demand as abundantly and as effortlessly as has been the case these past twenty years.
Markets seem happy for now to focus on the carrot of a vaccine while ignoring the stick of the further severe restrictions to life and liberty being implemented while we await its delivery. Whether or not it offers a release from bondage, the state’s rediscovered taste for authoritarianism will, however, take some good time to dispel, while its corollary – the move toward taking an ever greater role amid the wreckage of the private economy – is being pursued with relish. Whatever the sloganizing, this is very unlikely to Build anything Back Better – only dearer and scarcer.
The ink has not even dried on the US ballot papers (!) but the Market already thinks it knows what this will all mean. And then there’s Pfizer’s vaccine announcement – perhaps similarly preliminary in nature – but, hey, the Herd will always take every silver lining it can find. Some of the themes we touched upon at the end of the Summer are still in play: Japan has been attracting money, non-oil commodities are rallying, gold has lost some lustre, bond yields are creeping higher, and Value may just be topping out at last v Growth.
While stocks have generally tended to offer better returns than Treasuries, it has not all been plain sailing for equity investors. Intriguingly, the last 50 years’ ups and downs share more than a few similarities with the first half of the last century. Could that uncanny resemblance continue to hold henceforward?
Bond yields have started to creep higher – and curves to flex steeper – as the market begins to fret that the willing fiscal subservience of the central bank can only presage a coming inflation. With bond volatility still reasonably cheap, now might be the time to take cognisance of this.
If we compare like with like, we find that the semi-mythical ‘equity risk premium’ may not be quite the yardstick it’s made out to be. In fact, the right sort of bonds have proven every bit as rewarding as stock, over the years and it’s cheap to bet they might do so again
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.
While politicians anxiously check the shifting weather-vanes of public opinion and scientists squabble over facts as well as interpretations, central banks are resolutely doing what they do best – wildly exceeding their briefs and trying to drown all problems in a flood of newly-created money. As ever, the underconsumptionists worry that a lack of demand will usher in deflation, in spite of all such efforts. Some of us, however, worry more about what it will do to supply. Here, we explain why.
The poster girl of the voguish crankdom that is Modern Monetary Theory (“MMT”) – Stephanie Kelton, has been out pimping her new book – “The Deficit Myth” – with a great deal of help from the unofficial PR department which she seems to have, nestled within the House Organ of Davos, the execrable FT.
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:-