Wham! Pow! Biff!
Shares, property, and income. They are the three pillars of personal wealth. And in the Western world, they are all taking a beating, especially in America. Is it true in Australia as well? We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, just how desperate is the U.S. Federal Reserve? For the first time since 1974, all three components of household wealth (shares, income, housing) are falling in real terms. This may push the Fed to repeat the policy that kicked off the credit boom: cut interest rates below the rate of inflation. Why? And what does it mean for resource and share prices?
When real interest rates are negative, there is absolutely no incentive for anyone to save or invest in fixed income instruments (bonds). By pushing interest rates below the rate of inflation, the Fed creates a massive incentive for Americans to spend cash rather than save it, where its purchasing power will be eaten away by inflation.
Yes, yes, it sounds crazy. But the Fed is convinced that the only way to save an economy driven by consumption rather than production (and by spending rather than savings and investment) is to punish people for doing anything but spending. The Fed fears Japanese style deflation, in which asset prices like stocks and real estate go into decade-long slumps.
Japan, at least, had a high savings rate when its household wealth was pummeled by falling stock and real estate prices. Japanese wages have held up well owing to the countries high-tech, export-driven economy. By contrast, American wages (and Australian wages to some extent) are under assault from globalization, which has exercised a deflationary influence on world wide manufacturing wages.
So the Fed will fight the trifecta of declining real wealth by cutting interest rates to accelerate its pace. To save the American consumer it was first necessary to bankrupt him, apparently. “The Federal Reserve may push interest rates below the pace of inflation this year to avert the first simultaneous decline in U.S. household wealth and income since 1974,” reports Craig Torres at Bloomberg.
All of this means that the Fed will not just cut interest rates tomorrow; it will keep on cutting them. It will be one last attempt to keep the bubble going. But we think it will be better for gold than stock prices. It will also increase the yield differential between the U.S. and Australian dollars. That explains why the Aussie touched .89 in overnight trading. Also, if the Fed creates negative real interest rates, we may have to reconsider our forecast for oil prices. Stay tuned.
A number is beginning to surface about the cost of a collapse in the bond insurers. It’s a big one. “Banks that raised US$72 billion to shore up capital depleted by subprime-related losses may require US$143 billion more if bond insurers are cut, according to analysts at Barclays Capital,” reports John Glover at Bloomberg. This is why we are not convinced financial stocks are worth buying today.
Markets and Money