The Fed met today—and they made no change to policy. As we all know, their words will be parsed endlessly. But the fact is, the Fed, at this point, is a side show. It’s two other central banks (BOJ and ECB), and likely policy makers in China that will dictate what stocks do, what commodities do and what the global economy does for the next year (or few).
With that, the real event is tomorrow night. The Bank of Japan will decide on their next move. And the BOJ holds many, if not all of the cards for the U.S. stock market and the global economy. Today we’re going to talk about why that’s the case.
As we said yesterday, the consensus view is that the BOJ will do nothing this week. That sets up for a surprise, which Japanese policymakers like and want. It gives their policy actions more potency.
We talked yesterday about the role central banks have played in the long and slow global recovery. To put it simply, central banks have manufactured the global economic recovery. Without the intervention, there would have been a global economic collapse and blood in the streets, still. It was all led by the Fed. They slashed interest rates to zero. They rolled out the unprecedented bond buying program that pinned down mortgage rates (putting a bottom in the housing market), and helped to recapitalize the big banks that were drowning in defaulted debt, withering deposits and an evaporation of loan demand. They opened up currency swap lines (access to U.S. dollars) with global central banks so that those central banks could fend off collapse in their respective banking sectors.
Most importantly, with all of the intervention, and after spending and committing trillions of dollars in guarantees, backstops and bailouts, the Fed clearly communicated to the public, by their actions, that they would not let another shock event destabilize the world economy. Europe was next to step up, to do the same.
When the weak members of the European Monetary Union were spiraling toward default, which would have destroyed the euro and Europe all together, the leading euro zone nations stepped in with a bailout package.
Still, a year later, bigger trouble was brewing, as big countries like Italy and Spain were on the precipice of default. That’s when the European Central Bank (ECB) went “all–in”, effectively guaranteeing the debt of Italy and Spain by saying they would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro (and the euro zone).
Those were the magic words: “whatever it takes.”
That statement meant that the central bank would buy the debt of those countries, if need be, to keep them solvent, for as much and as long as needed…”whatever it takes.” That was the line in the sand. If you bought European stocks that day, you’ve doubled your money will little–to–no pain.
Similarly, Japan read from Draghi’s script a few months ago (late September of 2015) when global stocks were falling sharply and threatening to destabilize the world again. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe was in New York, and in a prepared speech, said they would do “whatever it takes” to return Japan to robust sustainable growth. Once again, the magic words put a bottom in global stocks and led to a sharp rebound.
“Whatever it takes” means, if need be, they print more money, they will support government debt markets, they will outright buy stocks, they will devalue currencies, they will do whatever it takes to promote growth and to prevent a shock that would derail the global economy. Why? Because they know the alternative scenario/the negative scenario is catastrophic.
Not surprisingly, in the past six days, with global stocks in turmoil, Draghi stepped in again. This time, he conjured up some new magic words. He said there are no limits to what the ECB can buy (as part of their QE program). Guess who followed his lead? The head of the BOJ sat in front of a camera the next day and said the exact same thing. This tells me stocks are fair game. We already know that’s the case for the BOJ. They are already outright buying stocks. But it also tells me commodities are fair game. And high yield corporate debt. Anything that is threatening to destabilize global markets and threatening to knock the global economic recovery off path—it’s fair game for the ECB and BOJ to put a floor under (i.e. by buying up assets with freshly printed currency).
What does it all mean? It means the ECB and the BOJ are now at the wheel. They relieved pressure from the Fed, allowing the Fed to begin the path of removing the emergency policies (albeit very slowly) of the past nine years. The Fed only makes this move because they believe the U.S. economy is robust enough to handle it. And, more importantly, they only start this path because they know that two other major central banks in the world will continue to provide fuel for the global economy and defend against shocks through their aggressive policies.
Now, within this monetary policy dominated world, where everyone is all–in, the policy actions have simply kept the global economy alive and breathing, they have done nothing to address the major structural problems the world is enduring: Massive debt and slow–to–no growth.
What’s the solution? There hasn’t been one. Until Japan unveiled their massive stimulus program in 2013. The potential solution: A massive devaluation of the Japanese yen.
Japan, unlike many other major central banks (including the Fed), has all of the right ingredients to achieve its inflation goal via the printing press—it has the biggest debt load in the world (which can be inflated away by yen printing), it has persistent deflation (which can be reversed by printing), and it has decades of economic stagnation (which can be reversed with hyper easy money and improvements in the global economy).
In short, they can do all of the things that other powerful central banks/economies can’t do—and it can result in a huge benefit not just in Japan but for fueling a recovery in the global economy (as capital pours out of Japan). In a world with few antidotes to the structural economic problems, this is a potential solution for everyone. So perhaps the most important ingredient for a successful campaign in Japan°they have the full support/hope/wishes of the major global economic powers (US, Europe, UK).
The Bank of Japan is targeting to run their aggressive QE program at full tilt until they can produce a target of 2% inflation in their economy. Their latest inflation data is closer to zero than 1% (still very far from 2%). So they still have a lot of work to do. They completed two years of their big, bold plan—and two years was the timeline they projected to achieve their goal. Clearly, they haven’t met the inflation goal. And they have since, as we’ve said, committed to do whatever it takes to do it, and for as long as it takes. With that, we expect more expansion to their QE program (possibly this week). And, importantly, a huge part of their success is (and will be) dependent upon higher Japanese stocks, and a weaker yen. They have explicitly said so. It’s part of their game plan.
Japan’s Prime Minister Abe was elected on his aggressive plan to end deflation. That was, and is, his priority. He hand-selected the Bank of Japan governor to carry out his plan.
Here’s the quick and dirty summary: With free–falling oil and depressed commodity prices threatening widespread defaults across the energy sector, which would soon be followed by sovereign debt defaults from oil producing nations (like Russia), don’t be surprised if we see the BOJ (and maybe the ECB) step in and gobble up dirt cheap commodities as a policy initiative. It would put a floor under stocks, commodities, and promote stability and growth.
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