February 20, 2018
Before diving into the topic, let’s be clear about one thing: The economic definition of “inflation” is the increase in money supply relative to the marginal increase of wealth output (GDP) in the economic system for which money supply is created. This is differentiated from “price inflation,” which is “a general rise in prices.”
Money and credit creation in excess of wealth output causes currency devaluation. It is this currency devaluation that arises from money and credit printing that causes “price inflation.” More money (and credit) chasing a relatively less amount of “goods.”
Furthermore, the commonly used price inflation reference is the Government’s CPI. The CPI measurement of inflation has been discredited ad nauseum. And yet, 99% of analysts, commentators, bloggers, financial media meat-with-mouths, etc uses the CPI as their inflation trophy. But the CPI has been statistically manipulated to mute price inflation since the early 1970’s, when then-Fed Chairman, Arthur Burns, correctly understood that the currency devaluation that was going to occur after Nixon closed the gold window would have adverse political consequences. Today, the CPI measurement of price inflation is not even remotely close to the true rise in prices that has occurred over the last 8 years. Over the last 47 years, for that matter.
This notion of rising inflation seems to be the en vogue “economic” discussion now. But the event that causes the evidence of currency devalution – aka “inflation” – has largely occurred over the past 8 years of global money printing. If your general basket of expenditures for necessities – like housing, healthcare, food, energy, and transportation – has risen by a considerable amount more over the last 5-7 years than is reflected in the CPI, ask either the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the CPI report – or the moronic analysts who insist erroneously on using the CPI as the cornerstone of their suppositions – why that is the case.
The Fed’s Catch 22 – It’s been estimated that the Treasury will need to sell $1.4 trillion new bonds this year to cover the spending deficit that will result from the tax cuts combined with the record level of Government spending just approved by Congress and Trump. With the dollar declining, foreign Treasury buyers are sitting on significant losses on their Treasury holdings. As an example, since March the dollar has dropped 16% vs. the euro. Add this to falling Treasury bond prices (rising yields), and European holders of Treasuries, especially those who have to sell now for whatever reason, have incurred a large drop in the euro-value of their Treasury bonds. The same math applies to Japanese Treasury bond investors, as the dollar has fallen nearly 9% vs. the yen since March.
One of the primary fundamental factors causing the dollar decline is the continuously deteriorating fiscal condition of the U.S. Government. If the Fed continues hiking interest rates at the same pace – 1.25% in Fed Funds rate hikes over two years – the dollar will continue declining. The pace of the rate hikes is falling drastically behind just the official measurement of inflation (CPI). Imagine the spread between the real rate of inflation (John Williams estimates actual inflation to be at least 6%) and the Fed funds rate, also known as “real interest rates.” Real interest rates using a real measure of inflation are thus quite negative (6% inflation rate minus 1.25% Fed funds = negative 4.75% real rate of interest). As negative real rates widen, it exerts further downward pressure on the value of the dollar.
The Fed could act to halt the falling dollar by hiking rates at a faster pace and actually sticking to its stated balance sheet reduction schedule. But in doing so, the Fed risks sending the economy into a rapid tail-spin. Higher rates and less banking system liquidity will choke-off the demand for the low-cost credit – auto, credit card and mortgage loans – that has been stimulating consumer spending. In fact, I have made the case in recent SSJ issues that the average household is now near its limitations on taking on more debt. Consumer borrowing, and thus consumer spending, will decelerate/decline regardless of the cost of borrowing. We are seeing this show up in retail sales (more on retail sales below) and in stagnating home sales.
As it stands now, based on its reluctance to reduce its balance sheet at the $10 billion per month rate initially set forth by Janet Yellen, it appears that the Fed is fully aware of its Catch 22 predicament. Last week, in response to the nearly 10% plunge in the Dow/SPX, the Fed actually increased its QE holdings by $11 billion. It did this by adding $11 billion in mortgages to its SOMA account (the Fed’s QE balance sheet account). This is an injection of $11 billion in liquidity directly into the banking system. This $11 billion can, theoretically, be leveraged into $99 billion by the banks (based on a 10% reserve ratio). The dollar “saw” this move and dropped over 2.2% in the first four trading days this past week before experiencing a small technical bounce on Friday. The 10-yr Treasury hit 2.93% last week before settling Friday at 2.87%. 2.87% is a four-year high on the 10-yr.