Saturday , 16 December 2017


These 9 Charts Show Financial Conditions Are About As Good As They Get!

In the past week or so I’ve see more and more people worrying about theeconomy8 flattening of the Treasury yield curve. I’ve also seen breathless stories about how the nation’s malls are emptying, subprime auto loan defaults are surging, and student loans are defaulting. While these are all disturbing developments, a lot of other things will need to happen before the economy is at risk of falling into another recession…The following charts put some meat on my argument.

The original article, written by Scott Grannis, is presented here by munKNEE.com – “ The internet’s most unique site for financial articles! (Here’s why)” – in an edited ([ ]) and revised (…) format to provide a fast & easy read. Visit our Facebook page for all the latest – and best – financial articles!
Chart #1
The first chart sums it all up: it’s Bloomberg’s index of all the factors that contribute to financial market conditions. By this measure, financial conditions are about as good as they get.

The following charts drill down into these factors to see how they stack up and what they mean.

Chart #2
The chart below is one of my favorites. It shows that two things have preceded every recession since 1960:
  1. real interest rates (blue line) have risen sharply,
  2. and the Treasury yield curve has gone flat or inverted (red line).

That’s another way of saying that the Fed has been the proximate cause of every recession in modern times. They have tightened monetary policy to such an extent that the economy just couldn’t take it anymore.

Until 2008, when Quantitative Easing started, the Fed tightened policy by withdrawing bank reserves from the financial system. Banks need reserves to back up their deposits, so when reserves become scarce they must pay more to get the reserves they need. This

  • pushes up short-term interest rates
  • and results in a general scarcity or shortage of liquidity.

Rising rates and tighter liquidity conditions start eroding the economy’s underpinnings. The economic and financial fundamentals deteriorate until people are forced to sell and panic ensues.

Chart #3

This time around, however, things are VERY different. Because of Quantitative Easing, the Fed can’t tighten like they used to. They can’t even begin to make bank reserves scarce enough to forces short-term rates higher.

As Chart #3 below shows, there are about $2 trillion of excess reserves in the system: way more than banks need to back up their deposits. The Fed gets around this by paying interest on reserves, which it never did before. In the old days banks always wanted to minimize their reserve holdings because they paid no interest. Nowadays banks don’t worry so much, because reserves pay interest that is close to what T-bills pay; reserves are an asset today, whereas they were a deadweight loss before.

By increasing the rate it pays on reserves, the Fed directly impacts all short-term interest rates without there being any shortage of liquidity, so this tightening cycle that we are now in will be very different from past tightening cycles, because it will be a long time (years) before the banking system approaches the point at which bank reserves become scarce.

The Fed is going to unwind its balance very slowly. The Fed can “tighten” by raising short-term interest rates, but they can’t create a shortage of liquidity like they did before so it’s not surprising that despite higher short-term interest rates and a flattening of the yield curve, there is, as yet, no sign that financial market conditions are deteriorating, as the following charts demonstrate.

Chart #4
Chart #4 below shows the 40-year history of the Treasury yield curve. The bottom two lines show the yields on 2- and 10-yr Treasuries, while the top line (blue) shows the difference between the two (i.e., the slope of the yield curve). Here we see that:
  • flatter and inverted curves are always the result of short-term interest rates rising by more than long-term interest rates. That’s the Fed in action.
  • the yield curve can be fairly flat, as it is today, for many years before a recession hits (e.g., the mid-90s). To really squeeze the economy, you need not only a flat curve but much higher interest rates and a shortage of liquidity.
Chart #5
Chart #5 below shows the real yield curve in action. Real yields are the true measure of how high or low interest rates are. A 10% yield in a 10% inflation environment is not a big deal, but a 10% yield in a 2% inflation environment is a killer. The blue line is the Fed’s real short-term interest rate target. Currently it is about zero, or it will be next month, when the Fed will almost surely announce that the rate it pays on reserves will rise to 1.5%. That’s just a tiny bit less than the underlying rate of inflation (1.6%), according to the PCE core deflator, which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation. (PCE Core inflation is typically about 30 to 40 bps less than CPI inflation.)
As the chart also shows, the front end of the real yield curve is pretty flat. What that means is that the market doesn’t expect the Fed to tighten much more after the December meeting. The 5-yr real yield on TIPS is effectively the markets’ expectation for what the real Fed funds rate will average over the next 5 years. Note that prior to the last two recessions the real yield curve inverted: the blue line rose above the red line. That meant that the market expected the Fed to start lowering interest rates in the foreseeable future, because the market sensed that monetary conditions were beginning to undermine the economy’s fundamentals. That’s not the case today.
Chart #6
2-yr swap spreads are among my most favorite indicators, because they have been good leading indicators of economic conditions. In normal times, swap spreads are 10-30 basis points. Today they are 18 bps. Just about perfect. That means that liquidity is abundant and systemic risk is low. The financial markets are not worried at all about widespread defaults or a liquidity squeeze. The Fed hasn’t tightened at all, by this measure.

As charts 7 and 8 below show, credit spreads are fairly low. Despite the news of defaults in certain sectors of the economy, investors by and large are not worried much about widespread defaults. This also tells us that the Fed hasn’t really tightened at all. Corporations can borrow as much as they want without having to pay onerous interest rates.

Chart #7 

Chart #8

Chart #9

Finally, Chart #9 below shows that the market’s expectation for consumer price inflation over the next 5 years is 1.85%, just a bit shy of the Fed’s professed target of 2%. That’s plenty good enough for government work, as they say. The Fed has delivered 2% CPI inflation (annualized) for the past 20 years, and the market fully expects more of the same. Nobody is worried that the Fed is going to have to tighten unexpectedly.

Conclusion

Until we see:

  1. the yield curve actually invert,
  2. real yields move substantially higher,
  3. swap and credit spreads moving significantly higher,
  4. and until inflation expectations move significantly higher,

a recession is very unlikely for the foreseeable future.

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