Death Star? Fed Seems Resigned to Bubble Risk in Effort to Extend Expansion (Declining R-Star)

Asset bubbles abound thanks to Central Bank low rate policies. And these aren’t tiny bubbles, but gargantuan asset bubbles.

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(Bloomberg) — Some Federal Reserve policy makers seem resigned to running a heightened risk of asset bubbles and other financial excesses as they seek to keep the economic expansion going.

That’s one of the messages tucked inside the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s March 19-20 policy making meeting.

“A few participants observed that the appropriate path for policy, insofar as it implied lower interest rates for longer periods of time, could lead to greater financial stability risks,’’ according to the minutes, published April 10.

Chairman Jerome Powell could be one of those officials. He’s publicly pointed out that the last two expansions ended not in a burst of inflation, but in financial froth, first a dot-com stock market boom, then a housing bubble.

A willingness by the Fed to court such perils by holding rates down should be good for the economy for a while. After all, the aim of such a policy would be to sustain growth at a healthy enough clip to meet the Fed’s twin goals of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.

But that monetary stance could store up trouble down the road should the financial threats materialize.

“Easy financial conditions today are good news for downside risks in the short-term but they’re bad news in the medium term,” senior International Monetary Fund official Tobias Adriantold a Boston Fed conference last year.

In economists’ parlance, here’s the Fed’s dilemma: R-star — the neutral interest rate that stabilizes the economy when it’s meeting the Fed’s goals — may be so low that it also prompts super-risky behavior by investors.

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Behind the fall in R-star: an aging population and slower productivity growth that has boosted savings and depressed investment.

Catch a falling star? Or is it a Death Star?

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Bring Out Your Fed! Existing Home Sales Fall -5.44% YoY In March (EHS Inventory Lowest Since 1999)

Bring out your Fed!

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing home sales tanked -5.44% YoY in March.

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At the same time, the INVENTORY of existing home sales rose in March, but still remains near its lowest level since 1999.

Existing home sales Median Price YoY has slowed to 3.8% with The Fed’s quantitative tightening (QT). As opposed to 13.4% YoY during The Fed’s QE3.

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Time to bring out your Fed!

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Raw Oyster Stew! BoJ’s Kuroda Says That There Is Room For Interest Rate Reduction (The Swiss Miss?)

Much like the Three Stooges bit “Raw Oyster Stew”,  using Central Banks to stimulate a structurally flawed economy is like Curly trying to eat the raw oyster.

(Reuters) – Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told CNBC that there is room for reducing long-term and short-term interest rates.

“I think there (is) still some room for further monetary easing if needed,” he said, adding that it isn’t necessary at this stage.

Kuroda also said that the Japanese economy has “slightly slowed down”, partly because Japan’s exports to China have become “somewhat” weak.

Yes, Kuroda can try to push Japanese sovereign rates lower. The benchmark for low interest rates is … Switzerland. (Aka, The Swiss Miss!)

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Swaps? Yen versus Franc swap rates:

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So, Kuroda is suggesting a Swiss put on rates. Or a Swiss Miss!

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My Kuroda!!  

“The Sag” In The US Sovereign And Dollar Swaps Curve Continues, But Germany, UK And Japan Curves Are Sagging Too!

It’s the same all over the world.

The US Treasury actives curve and dollar swaps curves are markedly sagged (or kinked).

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But other countries are experiencing curve sags as well, but just not as pronounced. Germany, Japan, UK and France are all sagging, but less notably.

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Numerous risks abound in the global economy such as Brexit, China trade disagreement, etc.

On the other hand, there is Venezuela which has entered a seemingly permanent sag.

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And the SAG award goes to … the USA for short-term SAG.

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The permanent SAG award goes to …. Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela.

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Fed’s Powell Turns Dove And Throws In The Towel As Yield/OIS Curves Remain Kinked

With a projected slowing economy and core inflation still under 2%, Fed Chair Jerome Powell officially threw in the towel on monetary normalization yesterday by announcing  no more rate increases this year and balance sheet reduction will cease in September.

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The US Treasury Actives curve remains kinked from 6 months to 10 years reflecting economic slowdown. The overnight indexed swap curve is hyper-kinked.

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A closer look at the US  Overnight Indexed Swap rate flattened after The Fed’s last rate hike, signaling that there be no more in the short run.

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One can view Powell as Mean Mr. Mustard (and Yellen as Polythene Pam), the surrender on monetary normalization is welcome by equity markets and mortgage lenders.

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An Occurrence At The Federal Reserve: Increased SMART Money & Equity Volatility, Crushed Bond Volatility

Ambrose Bierce wrote a short story about a man being hanged during the American Civil War and what went through his mind in his final moments. It is called “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.” Hauntingly similar to today’s plight: overoptimistic expectations before being hung, then …. snap.

In summary., Ben Bernanke and The Federal Reserve entered the markets in 2008 in force. The Fed Funds Target rate was raised once during President Obama’s two terms as President, but eight times since President Trump’s election as President. Plus, The Fed’s Quantitative Tightening (in terms of its balance sheet) begin in earnest in 2019.

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Once The Fed hurled its monetary weight at the economy in 2008, the stock market had an amazing run. but since The Fed started to raise rates and began their balance sheet unwind, the S&P 500 index has increased in volatility as has the SMART Money Flow Index.

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The bond market volatility indices have gotten crushed by central banks.

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On the real estate front, equity REITs, like the small cap Russell equity indices, seemed to be benefit greatly from The Fed’s Zero Interest Rate Policy and QE. Mortgage REITs, on the other hand, kind of died with the financial crisis and never recovered. The RCA CPPI commercial real estate index too off like a missile.

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Like in the Ambrose Bierce short story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” The Fed and other central banks are quitting any attempts at rate normalization (for fear that they might hear that dreaded “snap” at the end of the monetary rope].

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Did The Federal Reserve Kill Off 10-Year Swaption Volatility? (Lowest Since 2005)

10-year Swaption volatility has sunk to the lowest level since 2005. Did The Federal Reserve provide too much liquidity for too long, effectively drowning bond volatility?

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The Fed’s lingering Target Rate near zero and its three rounds of asset purchases helped kill of bond volatiilty. And with rising Fed Target rate and balance sheet unwind (removing liquidity from markets) has pushed bond volatility to 2006-2007 levels.

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So, the answer is … YES!

(Vol has been) shot through the heart and The Fed’s to blame! The Fed gives central banks a.bad name.

MOVE 3-month Option Volatility Index Hits All-time Low (Bond Market Bernanke’d!)

The  Merrill Lynch Option Volatility Estimate 3-Month has just hit an all-time low.

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The MOVE index is a yield curve weighted index of the normalized implied  volatility on 3-month Treasury options. It is the weighted average of volatilities on the CT2, CT5,  CT10, and CT30.

Even since Fed Chair Ben Bernanke started ZIRP and QE in 2008, continued by Janet Yellen, interest rate volatility has subsided to an all-time low under current Chairman Powell.

Not a great time for volatility traders!

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US New Home Sales Decline 4.1% YoY In January As Median Price Continues To Decline

Has. the US housing market peaked?

In terms of new home sales, perhaps. January new home sales declined 4.1% YoY and the downward trend continues.

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The median prices of one family houses declined once again as one family houses for sales increased.

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The new home sales figures are disturbing given the decline in the 30-year mortgage rate since November 2018.

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US Residential Construction Spending Slumps For 6th Straight Month As US Banks Report $251 Billion of “Unrealized Losses” On Securities Investments in 2018

Today is a double whammy for bad news for the US economy.

First, The Census Bureau monthly construction spending report reveals that highway and street spending rose 11.7% in January. The biggest decline was communication spending.

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BUT, US residential construction spending slumped for the 6th straight month. It is beginning to resemble “The Matterhorn” plunge of the 2000s.

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The second whammy is the FDIC report  revealing that US banks reported $251 billion of “unrealized losses” on securities investments in 2018, the most since 2008.

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For a less grim chart from The Federal Reserve (and a different metric), here is US Commercial Bank Liabilities Net Unrealized Gains (Losses) Available for Sale.

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Double whammy!

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