Category Archives: Monetary policy

On “hopium” and the delusions of crowds.

 

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Karl Marx

In a world with scant, if any, religious feelings left, hope is the establishment’s spurious replacement. In the well known Marxist quote above, you just have to change the term “religion” and read “hope” instead. The wise but controversial adage is still valid today. The establishment and CB politburos have been using Hope & Opium to kick the ball forward -for a seemingly endless decade. So far so good, but it pays to remember that hope never was, and will never be, a viable investment strategy.

It’s bad for morale to discredit hope, and I am aware of the high probability of being ignored as the automatic defense mechanisms for “cognitive dissonance” immediately pop up. If you need the yield or the return (ROI), financially you just have to be  “all in”. Most investors are additionally even selling some volatility to enhance their returns, regardless of being aware of assuming undue financial risks. It is all understandable. If I need the return, TINA is my criteria of choice (load up with equities, sell volatility). And if I were all in, I would hate to read my posts. Nevertheless, take a close look at the next chart. It shows the exuberant levels of risk in the system and gives me the shivers.

It could all well be the result of a new era. And, according to Heli-Ben debt doesn’t matter (LOL). Apparently, valuation doesn’t either (low rates are thought to provide a waiver that protects them from valuation excesses). But, at least, let’s look at financial valuations in relative terms (compared to physical assets) in the next chart. Sobering, ain’t it?

Finally, I can’t resist talking valuation in absolute terms, if only for a short overview. The Schiller CAPE confirms all our fears (see for yourselves online). So do charts on market cap related to gross value added, or price to revenues ratios -and all others that do not use “estimated future adjusted earnings” and current rates. That applies to most markets, Japan being the exception.

But complacency is soothing, and its appeal is difficult to resist when investors feel that they hold a CB put covering their back. No wonder everybody and their dog is short the VIX, and markets are rallying on little more than hopium. I have no words. I can do no better than Paul Brodsky at summarizing what’s going on.

“Rising markets, an unwillingness to acknowledge fat tails (unlikely knowns), and the inability to model Black Swans (unknown unknowns) have concentrated popular wealth into a narrowly distributed range of highly vulnerable assets and investment strategies. … 

We cannot help but conclude that asset prices are generally rising due mostly to inertia, in spite of unreason, and that the most likely outcome will be something unexpected and disappointing. …

 A socialized market framework with implicitly guaranteed perpetual positive returns for all must fail. … Helping to close unsustainable distortions is the only way capitalism can survive. Capitalism without failure is like Catholicism without hell.” Continue reading

A subtle, self-restrained, change of heart.

Regarding eternity, it is my conviction that nothing; not even love, hope, or faith, springs eternal. Neither does life. Thankfully, there is an expiration date for all of us. Emotions, hopes, and beliefs are, more frequently than not, faded at some point. To all appearances, our Central Bank deities are also impaired by this human weakness. The very same year the 1975’s have begun to sing about it, most Central Banker’s, discreetly and dispassionately, have, all of a sudden, had A change of heart. About time! As Unamuno (famous Spanish essayist) once stated, a man has the permanent right to contradict himself. Good to know that, because it might come in handy soon enough!

Following up on that sudden change of heart, please don’t make too much of it. It’s not an abandonment of their firm beliefs in Keynesian utopia, and it is circumscribed to some specific, but highly relevant, matters. Like…. Well, amazingly enough, it is related to the merits and efficacy of “nirping” and “printing” ourselves all the way to financial disaster.

Most Central Bankers had a nightmare this summer, and the Kalecki path to monetary destruction was clearly exposed to them in a dream. It was a MLK kind of dream, vivid and clear -they are now scared to death. Of late, I can see the fear in the whites of their eyes -as they inevitably question their deeply held faith that the Bernanke policy mix would save the world. Bad for them, but, I will concede, it comforts me deeply. Apparently, insanity, unlike stupidity, does have some limits after all.

Not that the dream couldn’t have come earlier. It was crystal clear to anybody who wanted to see what was going on. In fact, it took ages. To prove the assertion, I am reproducing three great charts, courtesy of Tad Rivelle at TCW, John Hussman, and Jeffrey Sneider. They all summarize what the FOMC members have done over the last 25+ years (Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen tenure).091916-tradingsecrets-01

wmc160919aabook-sept-2016-inefficiency-net-worth-to-spendingTake your time working on them. It is their simplicity that makes them so valuable. They are further explained at TCW’s, Hussman’s, and Alhambra’s websites. It is pretty obvious that there is no way to leave this party unscathed. To add insult to injury, the amount of global leverage (next chart) puts us, worldwide, in absolute terms, well past the Minsky moment. Stability, as he said, generates instability, as Ponzi debt takes over productive debt. At some point, leverage goes past the amount of income needed to service the debt. Then, the credit boom stalls and asset markets and the economy crash. Negative interest rates postpone this, but at the cost of suppressing productivity increases -because Schumpeterian creative destruction comes to a standstill. Hyman P. Minsky was a visionary. He saw, decades ago, what reality is only confirming right now.leverageglobal-zh

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Confusion Reigns Supreme.

It has been an awfully hot summer in Spain. I did well enough (you can always do better) while sail racing intensely with my team, and, sadly, it’s time to engage in something more substantial. Not that I really crave for substance at this “Prozac” time of the year. I love the pleasures inherent to my bourgeois way of life that, save for my adrenaline generating sail racing, and abundant brainstorming, blend nicely with “easy economics”. So let me disclose my current emotional bias in favor of the Welfare States, Easy money, Easy credit, Liestatistics, Hail Mary passes, NIRPs, QEs, and bubbles of all kinds. They all increase the apparent NAV of our accumulated wealth. Next step is hugging good old Heli-Ben -and I’m real close to that right now.

No, I am not drunk! But I’m not serious anyway. This summer has further eroded my year to date return, as the sovereign spreads -and all others- collapsed to mind-numbing figures (considering the underlying fundamentals). I underestimated the quest for yield, and CB resolve, once again. On top of that, and confirming the fact that bad news rarely travel on their own, the Fed managed to contain and reverse, USD appreciation -that didn’t help.  My new updated return YTD is only 3% by now. When you are not happy, it helps to laugh at yourself -and anything that moves as well.

For an insight of the logic of these moves, I cherry picked two charts, on the fundamentals of the Italian Sovereign spread.20160713_italy_07d2b89a7-57ae-4550-8ddd-498409cc7bbc

And another two, related to the consistency of the USD weakness of late. Of course, in the new CB economic textbook, an upswing in the Ted spread is a clear precursor of an imminent dollar depreciation (excess dollars around?!!!). Am I being too sarcastic for my own good?8-TED-spreadABOOK-August-2016-TIC-TED Continue reading

Learning the lessons of recent history

Aldous Huxley brilliantly reminded us, quite some time ago, that the main lesson of history is that we, the “homo not so sapiens” species, never learn from it. Being a touch deterministic, and consequently agnostic about the real chances of single-handedly steering clear of a pervasive human mistake, I plan nonetheless to give it a fresh try once again.

Frankly, this last Central Bank coordinated intervention has confused me somewhat. Surprisingly enough, because it’s hardly the first time Central Bankers cost me serious money. I was indeed, well prepared for that (I had previously made it, in the downdraft preceding their intervention), so I have no real damage to report. But the downside to the confusion is not just two great trades (my stock market shorts/my credit spread widener) gone down the drain, for a meager profit (I am still positioned in both trades with a reduced profile). The real harm is allowing for the situation to affect my self-confidence and, furthermore, cloud my view of the actual financial landscape. That could easily cost me big.

In my last post, I allowed for defeat, with that “mea culpa” Latin wording repeated twice -in bold characters. I tried to remain focused on what really counts: overwhelming debt levels. Reading it once again, I stand by every word in it. But now, being critical of my own work, I think it is hardly worth the typing (never mind the reading) if it just serves the purpose of reminding everybody of our precarious debt situation. Even underlining Central Bank stealth PKO techniques, as I did, is all but evident now when looking back.

The good news is that Barron’s now dares label the US stock market as a “Bullard market”. Conspirationists like me, repeatedly bashed in the past, have somehow stolen the spotlight now -a strikingly fast transition! In a brief concession to my ego, I will take pride in the fact that just after the Bullard October 2014 low, I outspokenly described him as “the most inconsistent central banker in the world”, suggesting he was actually the head cheerleader for manipulation techniques. I was afraid to be denied future entrance in the US at the time! If Barron’s now nods to manipulation, the assertion must be as close to stating the obvious as one can ever get.

And, once the PKO (price-keeping operation) situation, and the Bullard rigging, are an accepted fact of life, it is easier to note that debt is, notoriously, the other elephant in the financial room. Unnervingly, we have no alternative options to keep living and investing in this environment, so it’s best to concentrate on getting the next elephant (Bullard and/or debt) moves right, beforehand. The timing of prospective events adds value, whilst market rigging and debt have become too self-explanatory to be further discussed to some avail.

The real added value comes when finding a path forward that enables us to survive the hurricane season that is constantly being delayed by the financial climate change perpetrated by Central Banks. We do not have a nature driven financial climate anymore. The Fed and its acolytes plan and implement the financial weather daily. So prospective weather patterns have to allow for plenty of behavioral science -in order to be meaningfully accurate. Finding that hurricane safe path implies having some homework to do. I feel compelled to sum up the most relevant lessons of recent history. And learn from them.

1.- Gradually, during the Greenspan tenure at the Fed, the developed world changed the economic model from a savings and investment, productivity growth enhanced, business model, to an easy money, consumption and credit-driven growth. Neoclassics, Keynesians, and Friedmanites converged to point at the monetary mistakes during the great depression as the sole reason for what happened then. The real economy was not at fault, it was just a question of insufficient monetary stimulus, they said.

They then set up wonderful econometric models, fostered Central Bank independence (from parliaments, not from banks and the elites), bought themselves some helicopters and printing presses, and firmly believed that Keynesian fiscal and monetary policies, well used, would make the business cycle something of the distant past. Econometric models would allow them to preview the future value of the main variables of the economic machine, and thus target the adequate stimulus for them in order to stabilize the economies along their, saddle-like, self-sustaining path to eternal prosperity (in earth as it is in heaven; Amen).

Well, it didn’t work as expected. By now most of the Keynesian and Neoclassical economists are belatedly admitting that the experiment was a failure. They are, however, still sustaining that excess money and credit at least did no harm. “Excusatio non-petita accusatio manifesta”. No further comment on that. University is where paradigmatic changes in scientific perception take place. We ought to welcome this gradual change of status of the economic doctrine. In due time, this increasingly-felt shift will become mainstream. More printing will be met with increased contempt and incredulity by financial pundits. Continue reading

The top is in (save 4 QE4)

Life comes with an expiration date, only we don’t know it. Everything in life expires as well. In the world economy the time has come, for the end to a means (maximizing growth with easy money and easy credit). A means of achieving a laudable end (super-welfare states, unlimited credit, and two cars and houses  per middle income family). A great end. Yeah! I know the reader loves that “end”. We now think happiness depends on the make of your car. We can’t do without our BMW, or can we?

camper_van_1_1112565i

Will this do for a Hummer?

Don’t be upset. The end to a means doesn’t mean it is the end of “the end” (perpetual prosperity) itself. There are other means we can use to achieve it (depending on how lavishly you define prosperity). wallpapers-hummer-h2And that must be what super Mario had in mind when he stated he would do “anything it takes” to save … the euro, his job, and prosperity (at least for himself and his family).

Three disagreements. First, the end doesn’t justify the means, no matter how laudable it might turn out to be. Second, he got the option spectrum wrong. More of the same will not do. I said that five years ago, and I was 90% confident. Now, I’m 100% confident my call is correct. Third, the euro will not survive in its actual form, regardless of the means used by the ECB. It’s just a matter of time. It is unfortunate that I share Varoufakis’ point of view, but that’s the way it is. I can’t help it.

From now on, it will take something else, something different. More credit growth and easy money (in any of the garden varieties available) will not hold this farce together much longer. Unless it is a load of brand new USD notes. So he, Dragui, and them at the politburos of our beloved Central Banks, will have to come up with an entirely new hat trick. Smart people, and cheaters, always have one last ace up their sleeve. Let’s pray they do. Do you think Mario is smart? A liar he certainly is. But he gets paid to do that -or that’s exactly what his friend Junckers told him he had to do when things got difficult enough. He should have been rewarded with a super bonus for the best lie since Puzo’s “The Godfather”.

Because if they don’t … Well, Houston, we’ve got a problem here. The top is in for risky assets, and debt write downs will begin in earnest.

We’ve been here before. Why won’t easy money suffice any longer? Because they have already fooled themselves and the population for too long. The common knowledge game is losing players by the hour. When you play liars poker, you just have to be patient and wait long enough -liars always set their own traps. They (our central bankers and politicians) have as well. Think global. They are cornered now. It has taken humanity a full seven years to realize that more credit and heli-money was a bluff. It will only take a couple more months (more than two in fedspeak) to put the last nail in the coffin for that paradigm. The medicine is not working any more. With every new round of credit and currency debasement people are becoming more and more skeptical. For a reason (see chart)3-debtdebt-and-GDP-1024x485

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All u can borrow ¡for free!

Dear Ben (Bernanke),

Thank you for your famous blog. A compelling compilation of quaint narrative essays where all the conventions of storytelling: plot, character, setting, and ending, are present. Needless to say, you do experience that special feeling when reading through the specific, and often sensory details, provided to get the reader involved in the conveniently biased sequence of the story.

Fairy tales at their very best. Indeed, I expected no less. You have induced some interesting thinking in some readers. We must be grateful for your efforts to stimulate our minds, even if it comes at the cost of offending our “uncommon sense”.

The first thing that has come to my mind, is the stark contrast between your conduct and that of your predecessor Paul Volcker. You and Greenspan have validated that old latin adage that goes to say “Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta”. Funny how Volcker has never felt the urge to talk about his incumbency at the Fed. Okay, to be fair, maybe it’s just that you and the maestro are more outspoken. Perhaps.

And you are smart as well Ben. You sure know how to cover your tracks. Your last post “Should monetary policy take into account risks to financial stability?” is a compendium of self-serving prose. Let me see if I got you right:

1.- The Fed has kept rates low, “conditioned by the great recession”. No previous mistakes at all. No cause effect dynamics between the great recession and previous easy monetary policy. The miraculous “great moderation” that preceded the great recession was awesome, and fully enabled by the Fed. It was just bad luck that the great recession ensued. You don’t know why it happened. Monetary policy had nothing to do with it. It was a black swan. Nobody could have seen it coming. You did not keep rates too low for too long. We are not making the same mistake again.

2.- You, and the Fed, saved America, or at least, in your own words, “Fed policies had a lot to do with that”. And you did that despite the “headwinds” arising from fiscal policy, the financial crisis, and “other factors” (again, none of them your fault).  Superman wouldn’t have done better. No mistakes, only action of the right kind, accurately following the Princeton sect manual.

3.- The actual economic environment in the US is excellent, jobs have improved, and the terrible ogre of deflation is under control. Everything is as well as it could possibly be, particularly considering the difficult circumstances that you encountered during your tenure as chairman. Janet should be grateful for the wonderful position she finds herself in. You haven’t painted her into a corner at all. She’s a dove, and ought to feel comfortable with ZIRP anyway.

4.- Best of all, and topping the list, is the fact that Ajello, Laubach, and López-Salido have provided some insight on the fact that monetary policy cannot be used  to promote financial stability or pop asset bubbles. Nothing is said about inducing them with excess money and credit creation.  After all, monetary policy is, in your own words, a “blunt tool”, and “to the extent that it is diverted to the task of reducing risks to financial stability, (it) is not available to help the Fed attain its near-term objectives of full employment and price stability”. That makes sense because, in the long run, we are all dead, and who cares. So the near term objectives are all that counts. ¿Right?

5.- In truth, you are certain that monetary policy never generates instability and/or bubbles (the subtle implied message reading between the lines), and it is too blunt a tool to help prevent them. Instability just happens to exist, as Minsky said, and we have to use methods other than monetary policy to restrain it as much as possible. And if we can’t, well … tough luck. Again, it’s not your fault (see picture of your favourite pet).

6.- Even if moneatry policy is a blunt tool, it is the tool that God gave you (the last messiah after the maestro), to attain “full employment and price stability”. And, blunt as it is, you nevertheless used it wisely to save America and the world. It is for that reason and no other, that real interest rates below the five year term, have been negative for six years and still counting. But we should not think of you as a cold-hearted individual. You are after all, a compassionate man and feel sorry for retired savers. You and your people at the Fed lament their bad luck. But they really don’t matter because, even in the short run, they will probably be dead. Zero return on their savings will help them get there sooner (and suffer less on their way to the end).

You’ve done very well Ben. I hear you get a six figure number for every event you attend. Make sure you cash in a lot of money. If you live a long live you are going to need it (ask pension fund managers). pension underfunding gets worse ds9janUnfortunately Ben, one of the consequences of your policies is that it will probably cost you a couple of basis points (see fedspeak for the meaning of a couple) anually, just to remain invested in a portfolio of global safe bonds. More so, if you pay a wealth tax and the depositary. But don’t despair, you will probably make enough money beforehand to account for that.

Brilliant writing. Keep it up. It is always best to suffer martyrdom, than confess to any mischief or wrongdoing. Never do that. Beware of perfection though. Because nobody can be perfect, perfection puts your life at risk unnecessarily. I would recommend you allow for some minor imperfections, like not exercising enough, drinking too much cofee, or the likes. It would be good for your image as well.

And, not to forget, good luck with your equity portfolio if you have one. Hold on to it, you have to help preserve the wealth effect. No rushing for the exits when the time comes please, we don’t need another italian ship captain. Hold on to equities for the long run, and some new chairman will bail you and Siegel out. Trust the Fed.

Yours faithfully, Continue reading

They have no other options left.

Sailboat racing is very much like Central Banking’. It is always about choices: starboard or port, right or left, higher or lower (prioritize angle or speed). A sailboat racer must be ambivalent; good reasons impel us to do one thing, but other reasons may compel us to do the other.

Just like Central Bankers, when racing, sometimes you have all the choices available, and some you don’t.  In order to have complete freedom of choice, you have to be in a good position. Unfortunately it is the nature of the game that all sailboat racers have spent more time in the middle of the fleet, than they would care to admit. It could have happened because we were not the fastest boat in our group (one of the problems with handicap racing). Alternatively it could have been a bad choice of the side to sail in the first beat. Or it could well be inadequate sail trim, generating below polar boatspeed. Maybe it was just a bad start or, worse yet, a full OCS (translated: an early start makes you go around the start line again). When various factors accumulate, your choices become limited. When you hit the layline, you have run out of them. Most of the CB’s are sailing their starboard laylines right now.Sailing_Performance

In the economy, the same situations apply. An economic system is much like a sailboat racing environment. It has to deal with structures of essential complexity whose characteristic properties can be exhibited only by DSGE models with large numbers of variables. It is also a system, as Hayek once said, of “organized complexity”. Events are not only determined by the properties of the individual elements that concur, but also on the manner in which the individual elements are connected with each other. Our tactics when racing condition the tactics of the rest. It is not all about the pure physical interaction of boat speed, wind, and currents. Every economic decision has not only objective direct implications on other variables (lagged or not), but game theory implications on the conduct of the other participants as well.

Central Banks are a substantial part of the economic system. They have climbed the ladder of economic relevance all the way up to a regrettable point -they are the only game in town. Their actions condition the reactions of the rest of the economic agents. Furthermore, they also condition the actions of the other Central Banks.

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Un nuevo patrón monetario (II)

“Es injusto que una generación sea comprometida por la precedente. Hay que encontrar un modo de preservar a las venideras de la avaricia o inhabilidad de las presentes.”

Napoleón Bonaparte

No podemos proteger a nuestros hijos de nuestra inhabilidad. Y, lo de protegerles de nuestra avaricia, tiene matices. Transferimos a las generaciones venideras un balance. En el lado del activo podemos dejar un aparato productivo mejor o peor,  y un uso de los recursos naturales  más o menos mesurado. Pero es difícil blindar su calidad, solo con una macro bien enfocada. El pasivo del balance a transmitir, es otra cosa. Aquí sí que podemos impedir que las generaciones anteriores se endeuden para anticipar el consumo de las venideras. No individualmente, pero sí de manera agregada. Impedir que ello suceda equivale a impedir el llamado llamado superciclo crediticio (por su larga duración de hasta sesenta años).

¿Y cómo se evita el ciclo crediticio? Controlando la creación del bien de intercambio del sistema: el dinero. El exceso de dinero, empuja a la sobrevaloración de los activos con un efecto burbuja evidente, y además, permite a las generaciones actuales anticipar el consumo de las futuras, con el crédito al consumo. Si el dinero se crea cuidadosamente en cantidad, y tiene un coste de oportunidad tangible, minimizamos esos daños. Hay que evitar que vuelva a suceder esto:

Tabla endeudamiento global

¿Definimos “cuidadosamente”? Fácil: Justo al contrario de cómo lo venimos creando en los últimos veinticinco años. Lo siento, pero creo que hay que despedir a los politburós de los bancos centrales, íntegros. Solo dejaría a los secretarios del consejo que redactan las actas. Y alguna secretaria. No es personal.

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En primer lugar, hemos de recuperar un patrón para las divisas fiduciarias (lamentablemente todas lo son hoy). En contra de la opinión de la mayoría de compañeros de la escuela austríaca, mucho más talibanes en materia de dinero que yo, creo que abandonar el patrón oro fue una buena idea. No son tan buenos los motivos por los que se hizo. Se abandonó en 1971, para posibilitar una huida económica hacia adelante; y lo hizo Nixon, y eso ya es indicativo de algo turbio.

Pero el patrón oro tenía que acabarse un día u otro.  Coincido plenamente con Warren Buffet. Lo del oro es de locos: nos gastamos un dinero en excavarlo del subsuelo y fundirlo a lingotes, para luego volverlo a guardar en una cámara acorazada excavada también en el subsuelo (Fort Knox). No he visto actividad más inútil. ¡Y sin embargo suma al PIB!

images

Quitar el oro no fue el problema, lo terrible fue que no se organizase un patrón alternativo. Darle el poder absoluto de imprimir a destajo la divisa de reserva del sistema, al presidente de turno, fue como darle una pistola a un niño. Mejor dicho,  en la propia terminología inglesa de los politburós: un “bazooka”.

Poco despues del Smithsonian Agreement, la inflación, previsiblemente, se descontroló. Llegó Paul Volker, todo integridad, y no le gustó lo que veía: embridó la maquinaria monetaria y, con mucho sacrificio, metió en cintura la inflación de dos dígitos en la divisa de reserva. Pero la vida siguió. Y llegó Greenspan, su sucesor, que era adicto al saxo, y al “monopoly”. De hecho imprimir y jugar con los tipos de interés le salvó los muebles, nada más aterrizar en el cargo, en el crack del 87. Quedó muy agradecido a la portentosa eficacia de su maletín de herramientas. ¡Olé! Podía imprimir y manipular tipos a mansalva.

Una década después, cuando aburrido ya, se planteó por primera vez moderar el ciclo crediticio y el boom bursátil, se le echaron encima todos los medios de comunicación. Soy viejo, y recuerdo con exactitud sus famosas palabras: “irrational exhuberance”. Con ellas se le ocurrió manifestar su preocupación por el aún desconocida “inflación de activos” que se iniciaba, y se desarrollaría a continuación. Casi le cuesta el cargo. Nunca más lo hizo. Ni él, ni sus sucesores, igual de adictos al dinero fácil, pero, lamentablemente, mucho menos diestros con el clarinete o el saxo.

Ahora, casi veinte años después, navegamos en deuda y billetes, pero la sociedad vive del subsidio, no llega a fin de mes, y tiene a sus hijos en paro, en un subempleo, o con un sueldo de miseria. No deberíamos sorprendernos de estas consecuencias. Sin patrón monetario, hemos animado a todo el mundo a usar billetes de “monopoly” como bien de intercambio. Tenemos mucho billete pero poca riqueza; tanto humana (acervo espiritual y cultural) como económica (un aparato productivo ecológico y bien orientado al valor futuro).

Hay que volver a someter la creación de dinero a un patrón. El dinero no puede ser chicle. Para encontrarlo, debemos recordar su rol: es un bien de intercambio. Es el embrague imprescindible para pasar de una economía de trueque a una economía con un medio de pago. Hay que usar el embrague con mesura, o se quema. Continue reading

Un nuevo patrón monetario (I)

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

Henry Ford

foto de billetes de euro

La ignorancia es, a veces, pocas veces, útil. Al menos, como decía Henry Ford, en temas relativos a nuestro sistema monetario. Eso sí, su utilidad avisa de que algo no funciona bien en el sistema económico. Y hay muchas cosas que no funcionan bien en el sistema económico internacional. No solemnicemos lo evidente. Pero lo cierto es que la raíz de todas las disfunciones actuales ha sido el desmadre del sector de creación de dinero y crédito: el sector financiero.

Post Henry Ford, el desmadre financiero ha llegado a sus máximos. Un juego de despropósitos continuado en el tiempo, que da para un documental jugoso. Hagamos los “créditos” de esta actuación, que pasará sin duda a la historia de la humanidad:

  • Actores principales: banca y “shadow banking” (entidades parabancarias).
  • Actores secundarios: Comisiones nacionales de valores, fondos de garantía de depósitos (FDIC y similares), FMI, y Banco Mundial.
  • Director: politburó de Bancos Centrales.

Me gustaría salvar el honor del BIS (Banco Internacional de Pagos). Le han echado valor, aunque nadie les hizo caso: merecen un respeto. Mención especial para su ex economista jefe: William White. “Chapeau”.

Ya he manifestado que una mayoría de sectores productivos necesita un replanteamiento general. Pero el sistema financiero, y la creación de dinero en su más amplio sentido, deberían constituir la reforma paradigmática. Por tres razones. Primero, porque nos ahorraremos un largo calvario a la japonesa, si evitamos zombificar el sistema actual. Segundo, porque sin creación desordenada de dinero, evitaremos que la burbuja crediticia actual se vuelva a repetir. Tercero, porque reformar la creación de dinero daría legitimidad a las otras reformas que hay que hacer. No podemos pedirle a la población que acepte indexar las prestaciones sociales al PIB, o el bono sanitario o el escolar, si no ven que los sacrificios también afectan a la “beautiful people”.

Richard Cantillón

Richard Cantillón

El primer economista que entendió en profundidad los efectos de la creación de dinero, fue Richard Cantillon. Su aportación económica se condensa en su famoso “Essai sur la nature du commerce en general”, que circuló manuscrito en círculos intelectuales. Un incunable que no se publicó hasta décadas después de su muerte.  De hecho es el único economista citado expresamente por Adam Smith en su “Riqueza de las naciones”.

Su obra planteó problemas a su entorno. En primer lugar, no habla de la “mano invisible”, un concepto meritorio de su casi contemporáneo Adam Smith, en el que se basa la economía de mercado (la que teníamos antes del “directoriado de los bancos centrales”). Pero, sobre todo, un concepto de un liberalismo muy conveniente para la oligarquía del sistema.

Cantillón era irlandés, aunque vivió finalmente en París. Y, como la mayoría de los irlandeses, debía ser tozudo. En vez de abundar sobre el valor del liberalismo económico, se le ocurrió aportar tres ideas novedosas e inoportunas.

  • Poner de manifiesto que es un error identificar dinero y riqueza. Una confusión muy conveniente con la población iletrada, que aún hoy necesita recordarse. El dinero es la unidad monetaria de valoración de la riqueza, pero no es riqueza. Tesla tiene el mismo valor real cotizando a 250 dólares, que a diez. Recuerden la Q de James Tobin. Las cosas valen lo que valen por razones de reposición, o de valoración actual de flujos prospectivos. Si Bernanke imprime, e impone una NIRP, parece que valgan más, pero valen lo mismo. Aunque el valor de su casa suba, usted no es más rico. Siempre necesitará una para vivir.
  • Adicionalmente, el valiente Cantillón resaltó que los incrementos en la masa monetaria (tanto dinero base como magnitudes que incluyan el crédito o dinero bancario)) impactan la economía cambiando los precios relativos. Nos avisó pues (aunque Bernanke-Krugman no se hayan dado por enterados), de que los procesos de intensa creación de dinero alteran la asignación de recursos a favor de los bienes de inversión (y hoy, los productos cotizados como inversión titulizada que son). La realidad le ha validado, basta mirar las secuelas de las sucesivas expansiones cuantitativas.
  • Y, por último, su contribución más osada. Los que más se benefician de un proceso de creación de dinero son los actores económicos que estás más próximos a la misma. Esta incómoda realidad se ha etiquetado como el “Efecto Cantillon”. Es la versión monetaria del conocido refrán: “quien a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija”.

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La elección de Hobson.

La expresión “La elección de Hobson” da título a una película protagonizada por Charles Laughton, y filmada en 1954, que permitió que el término tomase relevancia en la literatura escrita. Su significado es que en realidad el sujeto que opta, esta condicionado, y solo puede tomar una, de las múltiples opciones que en apariencia se le ofrecen.

La elección de Hobson es la incómoda situación a la que empiezan a enfrentarse los dos grandes proveedores de liquidez globales hoy: la Reserva Federal, y el Banco de Japón. El Banco de Inglaterra y el Banco Nacional Suizo por su lado, aunque de mucho menos tamaño e influencia global, empiezan también a enfrentarse a su propio dilema. Sus mercados inmobiliarios empiezan a dar muestras (abundantes en el caso británico) de sobrecalentamiento. En China, el dilema no lo tiene el Banco Central, sino todo el sistema bancario. Su carácter público ha permitido que los estímulos monetarios se hagan directamente mediante la expansión del crédito, sin necesidad de recurrir a la expansión de bases monetarias como modelo.

Hasta muy recientemente, todo ha sido navegación viento en popa para los impresores globales. La ampliación de bases monetarias no ha generado inflación, porque la contrapartida contable de esos incrementos en el activo de los bancos centrales no ha sido más que reservas en el sistema bancario. Esas reservas no han seguido el camino hacia la economía real, y se han aparcado en mercados monetarios,  mercados de bonos y acciones, y en general cualquier activo capaz de generar retornos mínimamente  aceptables (con desprecio absoluto por el riesgo que pudieran comportar).

Prueba de ello es este gráfico de la inagotable base de datos de la Reserva Federal de Sant Louis http://research.stlouisfed.org/. La velocidad de circulación del dinero continúa desplomándose, lo que nos indica que el dinero creado no transita hacia la economía real.

Velocidad dinero

Otro gráfico que apunta en la misma dirección, es el aportado por John Hussman en www.hussmanfunds.com , que permite visualizar el mimetismo de las dos variables (una de ellas invertida). Siempre hay que advertir que correlación no es causación, pero en este caso parece evidente que los incrementos de M2 se han ido compensando con la “V” para que el producto total (P*Q) permanezca constante.

hussmancorrelationQEvelocityofmoney

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